Jan 11, 2014

Reincarnation in the tradition of the Bosnian people

Bogomilsm was based on Persian dualism: the master of the spiritual world was god, and the material, which was transitory, was ruled by the evil god Satan. The same principle is evident in Christianity, Islam and Judaism where the principle of good and evil are clearly accentuated, and that god for various reasons never managed to defeat Satan and that's why both of them have their kingdoms and eternally opposed armies. The balance of power is equal with a religious promise that Satan will be eventually beaten and destroyed.
The main element of the spiritual world was the soul, for which the Bogomils believed that with migrations or metempsychosis it aims at eternal perfection or nirvana - final liberation. According to Bogomil doctrine, it was forbidden to kill animals and birds, and even to destroy their eggs, because in every animal there can be a human soul doing penance for the sin's a man has done for his lifetime. That old Bogomil beliefs left a huge mark on the Bosnian people is best witnessed by the still active belief from north-western Bosnia which claims that evil people turn into animals after death such as pigs, cows, horses,. in order to serve humans in their new life and to pay for their sins.
One important record, which dates from the Ottoman occupation of BiH, named "From Bosnia with pictures" speaks explicitly about the very widespread idea of reincarnation among the Bosnian people. Author Clement Božić commented, like numerous other contemporary observers, seeing packs of dogs moving freely around the neighbourhoods and streets of Sarajevo: "Bosniaks take care of them (dogs), by giving them complete freedom; they say that some of them may contain a human soul and if someone has a bad dream, in the morning they buy bread and feed them to the dogs."
The only animal that cannot have a human soul is the snake, probably because of the Illyrian legend according to which a snake has been created 40 years prior to any living being on this planet. This mythological belief of the Bosnian people is completely analogous to the ancient representation about the forefather of all Illyrians which was wrapped by a snake when he was a baby. In many ways a snake has been officially given a favoured status and she had a special place among the Bogomils which can be seen from numerous legends created throughout the Middle Ages where this animal plays a major role. To the Bogomils, unlike other Christian churches, the snake didn't represent the reincarnation of evil since according to their doctrine the tree of knowledge of good and evil was a woman (Eve), and Adam sinned for copulating with her, and that's why both of them were banished from heaven. Thanks to this fact the existence of the cult of snake was never brought into question throughout any period of Bosnian history, not even during the turbulent Middle Ages. The answer to the question why was only the snake exempt from the karmic circle is that she as a holly animal cannot be the bearer of a human's sinful soul, her task is to use her mystical powers to protect every house and all souls living in them.
Even though the Bogomils weren't inclined, according to their religious belief, to excessive indulgement of earthly goods, they were, like all others, exposed to constant temptations which ruled the evil material world which additionally made it harder for a soul to achieve enlightenment. According to Bogomil's conception the end of the reincarnation cycle was only possible after receiving the sacrament at death with which the soul would achieve its spiritual regeneration. It was only possible through this type of cleansing and after separation from the material world which was under the control of evil. The final goal was to ensure the unification of the soul with the good god. In a lawsuit in Torino in 1388 a claim mentioned that a soul which doesn't receive consolamentum transfers into the first body to which it comes across to, either human or animal; this continues on until it is blessed by its spiritual father on its deathbed.         
When we summarise all that has been written so far we come to some sensational data which reveals to us that in Bosnia and Herzegovina we find very clear and evident basic doctrines about karma and reincarnation which can be considered to be rare, if not the only country in this part of Europe, with such traditional concept which certainly didn't form in the Bogomil religion, but it's appearance dates from ancient times. That's why this particularity deserves special research.
Reincarnation as a term was well defined in Bhagavad Gita, authoritative writing of a Vedic teacher which dates from the 5th century BCE, defined as a cycle of birth and death in the circle of samsara, and karma as causal effect according to which by our own actions, thoughts and feelings we create our own destiny. The idea about reincarnation can be found on all continents. But, for us the most important data is that reincarnation as a thought was present among the old Celts and Persians, two peoples which more or less had a defining influence on the religious understanding of the Bosnian people, especially during ancient and middle ages.

Celtic dragon and goddess of moon

In order to get a more detailed understanding of the beginnings of the religious idea of reincarnation in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is necessary to follow the snake (dragon) trail on the unique symbol of ancient past of this country - tombstone. Even though the representation of a dragon on a Bosnian tombstone such as the one in Boljuni or on the famous tombstone from Donje Zgošće accidentally or on purpose didn't stimulate interest for serious observations, but was interpreted in a simpler way, as heraldic motifs without any deeper background meaning, it can be a road sign to any serious researcher when it comes to discovering religious and cultural heritage of the Bosnian people. Luckily today we know that depictions of dragons are not accidental nor in the form of an ornament without meaning, but they represent, among others, proof of deep symbiosis of Celts and Illyrians, through cultural and religious practice. Namely, on some tombstones there are depictions of two-headed dragons which is the same as the Celtic symbol of the two-headed dragon. The similarity of the Celtic and Bosnian (Illyrian) tradition doesn't end there, but it gets its full meaning through depictions of the Celtic moon goddess Arianhrod on one of the tombstones which brings us to recent evidence about the dominant influence of the cult of the Grand Mother and dragon as symbol of fertility - new life.
Arianhod is known under several names: "High Fruitful Mother", "Silver Wheel", "Silver Circle", "Sky Goddess", etc. In etymology it is considered that her name comes from the Welsh word "silver" or "ariawyn" - "silver woman". The origin of the name is also brought into connection with Ariadne or Aradia, Greek lunar goddess, which is connected to the cult of the growing moon. Ariana, whose meaning is "one very holly", is a familiar Illyrian name and is very present today on the territory of Albania, Kosovo and BiH. Other variations of this name are also in use such as Ilirijana or Ilirija.

Celtic goddess of moon Arianrhod. Celtic goddess of moon Arianrhos on a Bosnian tombstone.   
Celtic religious influence on Illyrian tribes left a relatively deep mark especially on the cult of the Grand Mother. Namely, according to Celtic legend, Arianhrod takes care of warriors and their souls which perfectly fits into the legend about Mujo Hrnjica and the Mountain faery. In the same manner, Arianhrod is the goddess of reincarnation, new life, with which she represents unrivalled mother of life. Notion of reincarnation i.e. resurrection and new life was not foreign to the Illyrians, on the contrary, all that symbology was represented by the snake, their totem, which personified the unbroken circle of life by shedding its skin.
In accordance with everything said so far, we can conclude that reincarnation notion was inseparable part of the cult of fertility and the Grand Mother and that as such it was part of the tradition of our people throughout all centuries, in a smaller or larger extent. That's why we can find it in the Bogomil tradition but also during middle Ages in folk religion.   

From Illyrian's and Bogomil's to the Bosnian holocaust

The Bogomil movement is without a doubt one of the phenomena of Middle Age Bosnia and Herzegovina since it testifies about the strength and unity that characterised the Bosnian people of that time. Aware of their uniqueness, especially Illyrian descent, the Bosnian's of that time had the hardest time during the violent transition from paganism to Christianity since the new religion was foreign and completely absurd to them. This is the reason why Bosnian people never gave up their old cults, especially the cult of the snake, which were perfectly in line with coexistence with nature, its gods, especially the Grand Mother and astral deities. In line with that there had to be a resistance, the same one that almost militarily ruined the Roman Empire, which found the Bosnian people in Bogomilism. We can assume that the Bosnian people recognised some similarities between Bogomilism and Illyrian cults, but more important is the fact that through Bogomilism they achieved certain autonomy from the Christian church, in order to continue their ancient practices of worshiping their old cults, with such convenience. Assemblies on high localities where the Illyrians glorified the heavenly deities was one of the practices of the Bogomils.
The wish for preserving tradition and cultural identity resulted in the fact that the Bogomil faith completely affirmed itself in Bosnia and Herzegovina becoming the main religious but also political movement based on the revolutionary idea of resistance towards dictatorship and hegemony which came from two directions - Vatican and Byzantium. Mass conversions in the next period of Bogomils to Islam, without force or threats, are the best proof  of the claims that support that Bogomil's saw in the new faith the best protection and solution to their existence.
From all of the above we can find the root of animosity that the Bosnian people were subject to from Serbs and to some extent Croats. Even though Bosnian people were third in number when it comes to people in the former Yugoslav republic, cultural genocide was practiced over them not just in that Republic but decades earlier, which all culminated in the period from 1992 to 1995 when it assumes an ever harsher shape expressed through ethnical cleansing. At that time of the Bosnian holocaust the most ruthless crimes were undertaken since WWII, when Bosniaks, faced with the possibility of complete annihilation, were killed in numerous Serbian concentration camps, which resulted in mass graves whose number up until today has only been partially discovered.
This all was preceded by a well thought out strategy of destroying the identity of Bosniaks, appropriation of everything that made a people a nation, where Serbian ethnologists and anthropologists played a major role. Namely, all folk beliefs of the Bosniaks were appropriated as being Serbian along with the thesis without valid evidence that Bosniaks themselves were actually Serbs?! But, this is not only the case with Bosnia, but also other neighbouring countries, and through their ethnological literature we can find entire chapters of folk tradition of Croatia, Montenegro, Bulgaria or Romania under the joint name "Serbian beliefs". A special part is made up of traditional beliefs of Turkey, their customs, cuisine, numerous words, even music, which Serbs today regard as authentic works of their cultural history?!