Jun 30, 2013

Magical Plants of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The unbreakable bond of man and nature is best explained with one Bogomil legend. Sine God created man out of earth, he left him to dry in the sun and went to get the soul which will breathe life into the earthen body. Seeing the earthen creature, the devil used the moment of gods absence to poke 41 holes in the body and escaping. When god returned and blew the soul through the nostrils it went out through the holes that the devil poked. At that moment realising what kind of prank the devil played, he healed all the holes with the help of herbs, except one hole. This hole was determined for the soul's exit after death. Giving life to the human, god explained which herbs he placed inside his body, and in that sense revealing to him which herb heals which part of the body. That's why in folk medicine in BIH this number was always taken to set how long a certain tea needs to be consumed, how long to apply an ointment or something similar.
How much the Bogomil tradition was influential in traditional medicine is confirmed by the following recipe for various diseases. One would pick 40 types of herbs and store them in an earthen pot which would be filled with clean spring water. The pot would be sealed shut and buried to stay there for 40 days. After that the water from the pot would have to be drunk during 40 days since it was considered to be a panacea or medicine for all afflictions. According to traditional instructions, each morning on an empty stomach one would drink an amount of mixture that could fit in a small fildžan (traditional coffee cup).
Verem (Calamintha officinalis) - this Bosnian name for this plant comes from a Turkish word for sorrow and is traditionally used for treating the disease behind which lies depression.
Verem was used to make tea which was drunk by people who felt sorrow or melancholy. Especially susceptible to depression in the past were women of various age to whom it was suggested to drink tea from Verem and to go to a creek or river every day and dragging a cloth across the surface of the water to utter: "O dear water if you only knew how I felt" she would confide to the water and listen to the calming sound which would psychologically calm and relax them.
Stravna trava (Glechoma hederacea) in the ritual of fear elimination or another type of shock which appeared after a traumatic experience this plant was used. Stravarke, traditional Bosnian healers, boiled it in a vessel with water sometimes adding pieces of bread. When the water started to boil stravarka would, holding an empty pan, pour the boiling water above the head of the diseased into this pan along with the plant and she would flip that vessel upside down to create a vacuum in order for the fluids to return into the vessel. After the water cooled the diseased person would use it to wash his face and to drink it and the rest was thrown outside usually on the road or a cross road.
Still today most Bosnian herb healers are familiar with the effects of Stravna herb which in combination with time yields amazing results in depression treatment, treating anxiety and stress. According to the recipe of Ajla Jusupović from Foča a pinch of Verem and Strava herb is used and poured over with hot water. The vessel is covered and left to stand there for half an hour until it cools. The tea should be drunk three times a day, sweetened with honey.
Holly herbs of Bosnian paganism
Visibaba (Galanthus) since ancient times among the Bosnian folk this herb is named Baba or Grandma which alluded to dedication of this spring herb to the old deity Baba or old lady, ancient mother goddess. In the preserved writings of Bosnian ritual witchcraft this herb was used to remove sleepiness and spring fatigue from men, especially children. A stem of snowdrop (visibaba) would be circled three times around a person's head, clockwise, uttering " Snowdrop is sleeping and you're not, snowdrop is sad and you're happy!".
Baba or Grandma (Galanthus)
Heavenly husband and Baba's retainer is Did or old man, ancient sun god, to whom a plant has been dedicated in the south-western part of Bosnia by the name of Did or Silymarin. The plant was tabooed and holly which proves the folk belief that it shouldn't be trampled. The one who does so, will befall an accident.    
Did (Silymarin)

Jun 16, 2013

Mujo Hrnjica

                                              Dear God, who was that hero?
                                             It was Mujo Hrnjica of Kladuša.

Even though Mujo Hrnjica is not a mythological character but a real, historical figure, his life is interwoven from beginning to the end with a lot of mystical content which makes him an interesting figure about which one can write a lot.
What Hercules was for the ancient world Mujo Hrnjica is for the Bosnian world. Symbol of courage, a hero of great strength and a dangerous enemy to those that dislike his people. Because of all of those characteristics many Bosnian women named their son's Mujo which was a symbol of great strength and might and it contained prophylactic power against evil and disease.  
Historical tradition about Mujo begun in the fall of 1637 when Mujo's uncle Hurem-aga Kozlica brought his two young nephews, who lost their father in the war, from Udbina to Velika Kladuša. The older boy was called Mustafa, but he was called Mujo and the younger one Halil. Besides being younger, Halil was thinner and less bulky during childhood, since his mother couldn't breast feed him because of the great grief she felt for her killed husband, and Halil didn't accept milk from any other woman. That's why they fed him with cow's and goat's milk which brought him the name Stalled Halil or Ugojeni Halil.
According to legend, in Velika Kladuša Mujo and Halil were met by a mountain faery (Gorska vila), calling them with a song in early dawn. She brought them to the river Kladušnica, washed them with dew and fed them with faery milk. Halil didn't want to drink milk, he drank the dew instead while Mujo liked the faery milk very much and drank a lot of it. Because Halil took the dew from the faery he grew into a very handsome young man, all the girls in Velika Kladuša yearned for him, calling him and falling into hysteria once they saw him, Unlike him, Mujo gained enormous physical strength which was given to him by the faery milk. He had a stern and piercing gaze, the one possessed by warriors.

In that sense the mountain faery became the second mother to the future heroes who protected Kladuša fort from the enemy. It is interesting to note that the faeries were mentioned as messengers in songs which transferred news from one warrior to the other and helped defeat the enemies or to explain their tricks and ambushes. How popular the faery cult was is best witnessed by the medieval city Vrnograč, 16 km away from Velika Kladuša, which was according to legend built by faeries. That's why it is called faery town.

Vrnograč -  fairy town
The tradition about Mujo and the faeries is nothing more than an old Illyrian legend since Mujo's physical appearance is that of a warrior; he's tall, has thick dark hair, a moustache and a beard and strong arms. It's no coincidence that faeries are traditionally tied to Mujo since sine in the Illyrian times the cult of warrior was cherished which was closely associated with the cult of deities, especially the main one Vidasus among whom water nymphs were depicted i.e. faeries. In epic poems numerous encounters of Mujo and the faeries is mentioned, where they communicate and where the faeries heal Mujo's wounds gained in battle. How familiar he is with the faery world, their capabilities and character is best depicted in a poem in which Mujo like a skilled wizard manages to outwit the faeries transformed into goats.
According to legend, Mujo Hrnjica always carried an amulet with him on the right side of his suit. The amulet wasn't Islamic in content like the famous amulet-shirt of captain Husien Gradaščević, but ancient which stems from the cult of mother earth. It's a small red bag which contained 9 wheat kernels.

Wheat as one of the largest gifts of nature is a symbol of the cult of mother goddess, to whom faeries belong. All of this data confirms that among the Bosnian folk, through long continuity, the ancient tradition and beliefs were preserved. As the legend tells, the enemies found out what was protecting Mujo from death, through venal servants the enemies got a hold of Mujo's amulet. Apparently, the amulet was stolen a day before he was killed.
Mujo Hrnjica is the most famous hero along with Alija Đerzelez of Bosnian epic poems. The epic Mujo Hrnjica was presented to the wider literary and cultural audience in a striking manner by Kosta Hormann in his first and second journal. There the epic character is best presented in his ethical and psychological wholeness. Poems from these journals were recorded throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and as such present the best proof of how famous and meaningful this grand hero was. Besides Mujo, his brother Halil is often mentioned, while stories about their third brother Omer are few.
On this rock which is called Ploča, which is a folk name for a horse shoe, according to legend the imprint of Mujo's horse Đogat can be seen which was made when they were passing through. The rock is located in Mala Kladuša above the main road between Velika Kladuša and Bihać.

 The city in which Mujo Hrnjica lived with his family - old town in Velika Kladuša. According to the reports of Krsto Frankopan Tržački to the archduke in Graz from 20.11.1641. "Mujo lives in Velika Kladuša with his brothers".
Mujo died between 1633-1676, he was betrayed and murdered by his fake friend Meho Katarica, who had just been converted to Islam.
Halil Hrnjica died in Banja Luka during a coupe, during which the famous Tale Ličanin died as well.
Omer was ambushed and killed by a chieftain (a leader of outlaws and bandits).     

Jun 3, 2013

Evil Eye

In Bosnia the effect of spellbound eyes is called urok, this name stems from the Illyrians and represents "captivation" or "fascination". The negative effect of the human gaze, according to belief, is mostly demonstrated in small children, especially in the first months of their life. That's why, in order to protect the small child a red, black or green string is tied around its wrist, in order to divert the first and most harmful gaze and in such a way to neuter the power of spellbound eyes.


The use of red string and tying knots on it while repeating specific chants is a traditional form of white magic which can be seen all around Bosnia. Usually older women practice this form of magic since they are the ones that believe in the effect of spellbound eyes the most. One of them is Fatima Dautović from Velika Kladuša, for quite some time she used to tie 99 knots on a black thread 40cm long. Before every bind she utters the verse Ayetul Kursi, blows into the string and strengthens the knot. This technique first of all requires calmness, concentration and time. When she finished tying all of the knots, the string is then wrapped around a small piece of yew (Taxus) tree in order to enhance its apotropaic power. An amulet constructed using this technique will protect the wearer from black magic, spellbound eyes, bad luck during travel. According to Fatima, if this amulet is worn by married women, they will be more dominant in marriage.

Ziba Kovačević from Zenica also practices an identical method of amulet construction against spellbound eyes, the only difference is that she uses red thread and ties 41 knots. The thread with the knots is wrapped around a small piece of yew tree. An amulet constructed in such a way is often wrapped around a child's hand.

-Yew is a tree that protects against evil and it is advisable that everyone carries a piece of it with them, in their pocket or wallet, Ziba explains.

It is also believed that the thread used to stitch the cloth used to wrap a dead person, gains prophylactic powers. A thread of 10 cm is used and once it has been threaded through the cloth, it is then divided into two equal parts. The first part of the thread is thrown in a whirlpool of a river and the other half is used to tie a knot and is carried alongside the user. Allegedly such a knot protects against all forms of evil, spellbound eyes and black magic.

There are various forms of spellbound eyes that are known among the Bosnian folk:

zazor is a name for jealousy which is manifested through spellbound eyes,

začud is a name for admiration for one's beauty, assets or health and that was the reason for the effect of spellbound eyes,

presjek is a name for spellbound eyes that cause loss of appetite in children and it loses weight suddenly, etc.

In order to find out if her child was a victim of spellbound eyes a mother uses her tongue to lick specific places on the child's face, temple and the area between the eyebrows, in order to justify her suspicion. If she feels a salty or sour taste then the child has been affected.

Negation of the effect of spellbound eyes should commence as soon as it is discovered, since, according to folk belief, in the course of three days the power of spellbound eyes dominates the entire body of the child and can cause serious illness.

In Bosnian tradition there exists a popular belief that every mother can best protect her child from spellbound eyes which is illustrated by the first words of this magical formula:

Mother gave birth, mother cured!

Scatter spellbound eyes like the leaves in the forest,

like the foam on water,

like gold among gentleman.

While repeating this formula the mother uses her tongue again, this time she licks the child up its nose continuing to the forehead and ending where the hair starts. She repeats this procedure three times.