Dec 26, 2016

Spells as arrows

 Spells can be divided according to intensity – there are weak and strong spells. From the first the diseased person has transient symptoms such as yawning, headache, sudden passing of cold throughout the body. They usually influence the mood and appetite in children. Strong spells have a longer lasting and more pronounced activity; they can even cause death in smaller children while in adults they create “holes” in the aura, when we see a constant loss of energy, which is manifested in everyday life by sudden tiredness. In Islamic tradition a gaze of evil eyes is called strijelica (arrow), which is a suitable term. Spellbound or shot through person can be recognised by brown spots on the face, usually forehead, since evil, according to stravarke “always attacks the star”.

The only place on the human body which has immunity from spells is the backside according to folk belief. As soon as we are found in company of a person who is known to cast spells i.e. malicious, and if they laud us because of something, we should discretely touch our back side, whether by placing a hand or pinching the backside. Allegedly, it is a sure protection against spells. Similarly, in the south-western part of Bosnia (Velika Kladuša, Cazin, Bihać) certain women still today touch the child lightly, three times on the backside then on the face, while holding them, then they utter:

Whoever throws a spell onto this down here
may he throw a spell onto this up here!

Prophylactic motif of the backside, as a safe trump against spells, is used in this exorcist formula written down in Velika Kladuša:

Whoever casts a spell on you may he be inside the backside
may he stay there until barely matures,
with my basma and god’s will.

From all magical formulas in oral tradition, the healing ones from almost all peoples the formulas that are most widespread are exorcist basme against spells, which reveals to us a deep cultural fear from the destructive power of this supernatural apparition and its enormous geographical range.

One would often guess as to the state of the diseased, especially if a child fell ill. Dr. Sielski in his short work on the history of medicine called “How the folk healers cured the mentally ill and neurological patients”, notices that people would initially think it is fear based. Such a child could be recognised by “going to bed healthy and suddenly shouts – with a fixed gaze, fearfully looks to one side as if watching something, while shivering and jerking. This lasts for some time, then the child starts sweating from the excitement and droops and falls asleep. Only with soft words can it be calmed down a bit. People say that the disease is forced on the child, that the child is spellbound or scared of an apparition. Healing follows these principles.”


Allegedly the best cure against spells is an amulet of a Muslim priest but in the absence of it, a favourable substitute, is the ritual of coal extinguishing followed by an oral magic – bajanje.

Ancient belief in the magical power of words

Bajanje, a name which stems from the Turkish word bayamak – cast a spell with the intent of healing, it is based on exorcism, when with the help of poetic and often rhymed verses one wants to directly influence the spirit or spirits in order to free the body of the diseased. Bajanje is the integral part of shamanism and is usually performed by gifted persons. Namely, it is considered that some good spirits intervene in the magical education of a person or, more simply, they reveal to the chosen person ways in which it can penetrate into the world of ghosts and influence them directly. Usually during initiation they reveal which bajalice, rhymed vows they must utter in order to override the influence of evil spirits and to banish them from the human body. In combination with water, fire, herbs and special ritual gestures those persons succeed in suppressing evil and chasing it into “mračne havaje i puste haliluke” – eerie mythological place where havoc and infertility rule:

From nine spells and diseases on N eight,
from eight – seven,
from seven – six,
from six – five,
from five – four,
from four – three,
from three – two,
from two – one,
from one – none!
What stayed on the wing the fly takes away
into mračne havaje,
in puste haliluke;
where the rooster doesn’t crow,
the cat doesn’t meow,
where maša isn’t heard,
where the Jinn table is being set.
May there this namet(1) wait for judgement day (kijamet),
with my formula and god’s will! (2)

To find out if a child is spellbound, caring mothers would lick the child’s forehead or the temple or stroke it with fingers and then lick their finger and if they feel a sour, bitter or salty taste it is a certain sign that the child has been shot through or spellbound. Sometimes one would call a neighbour to perform this work and she licks the child’s skin between the eyes, and if she feels a salty taste, without a doubt the child is spellbound.

In that case one of the numerous exorcist formulas are repeated, such as this:

Bilobrk crosses the blue sea,
to dear god,
from dear god brings to N health and happiness (3) ,
and takes away začud and zazor,
veledalin amin.

Dr. Sielsk describes the way in which a stravarka performs a ritual of annulling evil eyes from a spellbound child. “In order to remove spells, coal is being extinguished. From fire, she takes out three coals and throws them into a wooden vessel with water. All the while uttering a prayer, she addresses the magical formula and blows three times (4) . If all three embers chirp, the spells will leave, if she doesn’t hear the sound, she repeats the extinguishing, prays further and gives water to the diseased which was used to extinguish the coals.”

(1) namet – other name for spell.

(2) Often one exorcist formula is actually a collection of two or three shorter formulas, which individual stravarke added during their work or simply which they simply inherited. Also, we can notice superficial corrections or changes; in certain exorcist texts we notice counting backwards, from nine to one, it can sometimes be located at the beginning or the end. Another detail which I noticed has to do with the surrounding the stravarka lives in. Namely, if the area from which she steams is traditionally religious then in the formula we have more sacral elements, otherwise usually the ending has the added expressions such as “with my formula and god’s will”, “by god’s decree” or the like.

(3) Health and happiness are the two basic terms when it comes to healing and victory over a disease (spell) which can be seen in this example of the lullaby from Mostar: “Đulbeharu don’t effuse my seed, don’t effuse my dear son, sleep son, may your health shine, may your health and happiness shine!".

(4) Though magic, like religion, was present from the beginning of mankind in all meridians, it still has an epicentre and that is certainly the Middle East. From ancient Babylon, Persia or Egypt, magic was raised on a pedestal from a common cult of bewitchment to an exalted science. That’s why the origin of bajanje should be sought in such a context. Namely, bajanje above water is mentioned in numerous stories from the 1001 night, where scenes of transformation are described, from an animal into a human or vice versa or throwing or removing spells, where a witch or magi or even a wise person would utter secret word above a vessel with water, would blow in it and them would use the water to sprinkle the victim. This leads us to a conclusion that knowledge of magical words shaped in prayers and bajalice and uttered above water without a doubt stem from the Middle East and through Gypsies and Ottomans it came down to our area and found a home in the folklore of all Balkan people.

Dec 13, 2016

Fatal power of spellbound eyes

In folk medicine in BiH all mental illnesses were called džanbola (from the Turkish word „can/džan“ – soul), and it would come through as a result of the detrimental activity of evil spirits – Jinn. Among the most difficult ailments were considered the ones caused by direct contact with demons („naletio na džinsko kolo – he came across a circle of Jinn“, „udario ga džinski vjetar – he got struck by demonic winds“ etc.), for example when a diseased would fall victim to specific mental states such as hysteria, paranoia, schizophrenia, epilepsy, etc.

According to Bosnian Imam/healers and stravarke a man can get seriously ill from fear, black magic, namet, nagaža, ograme, zgranila, letame (so called “džinski šamar-demonic slap” pareza facialis – Bell’s palsy) and spells. However, from all of the above, spells are considered to be the most widespread disease.
Fear from the destructive power of a spellbound gaze is deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of many cultures in the world, whether primitive or developed societies, and among the Bosnian folk it is most evidently presented in the following statement: “As soon as he looks at you, he disrupts everything, you can’t curdle cheese nor douse a fire!”.
As we have mentioned spells are common among people, far more than black magic, possessions or for example red wind. It appears always as a negative side effect when one has excessive emotions. Often, Imam/healers claim, it happens that parents cast a spell on their child, despite the great love they feel for the child, since “whatever a man does too much, it is not good nor healthy!”.

What is actually a spell and how does it work?

In his book “Power of thinking in scientific life”, William Walker states the following: “Science has confirmed the strength of spells by conditioning so called theory of magnetism. It is, actually, holding a strong inner desire with the help of the eyes, because of the ability of the eye not only to see but to feel as well, in this case, the final extreme ferocity of the gaze. As evidence to this, in a theatre or a place where people sit one behind the other, gaze into the back of someone’s head who is sitting in front of you. Persistently watching at the lower part of his nape wish inside of yourself, very hard, for him to turn around. Notice that the person will suddenly turn and look exactly at the place you were looking at him from. This exercise is shown as very successful among people which know each other, and less among people which are strangers. Similarly, it is more successful in women than in men, since women react better to such types of influence. The better you know a person the faster this will work.”

I am of the opinion that a spell, but also other paranormal appearances, have a direct connection with the astral body, our spiritual doppelganger who is also a link between the world of humans and spirits (1). What we call supernatural powers such as clairvoyance, telekinesis or spells are nothing more than the ability of our astral body which has the ability to penetrate into the higher spheres. Through the “third eye” i.e. as it is called in Bosnian occult practice – “star”, we are connected to the universe but also the spiritual world (see. “Illyrians – Europe’s greatest mystery”).  From there we draw all our knowledge and information. But, since further explanation would take too much space and would somewhat distance us from our main topic it will suffice to say the following.

According to some technical definitions the human body is nothing else than a collection of condensed energy, which has its own clearly determined way of acting. Every time when it comes to disruption of the normal flow of energy, primarily because of some overemphasized emotion, usually negative, our body accumulates that negative energy on some part of the body, where a disease then appears, or simply it “throws out” that excess energy in order to reset i.e. normalise. Which is somewhat identical to our physiological needs. If that expulsion of excess energy happens –visually through the eyes or orally through the mouth – at the moment when we are praising someone or when we envy someone, the energy will be automatically directed at “the target” and it will become spellbound. It is, also, an answer to the question – why do we get spellbound every time when someone lauds us or when someone openly or secretly envies us?

Hence, the power of spells is a native occurrence among all humans, it has nothing to do with specific character traits, sex, physical appearance or national affiliation. In folk belief there are sort of cultural animosities towards individual groups for which is then claimed that they have an evil gaze like the Roma people, but also elderly women, men without beards (ćosavi), bearded women, etc. (2). Actually, the symbol of evil amongst people were always those people which for some reason did not fit into the societal order or yet persons with lighter or more difficult physical deformities, whose appearance caused fear and prejudice, especially in rural areas.

Writing about spells, Leopold Gluck states that the belief in them is present among the entire Bosnian people, but, especially among the Bosniaks and Čifutima (name for Bosnian Jews), which claim that one can cast a spell “without looking” with only a word, and what is worse is that you can put a spell on yourself. When you laud someone because of his characteristics, physical or mental, when you are in awe of someone because of their animate or inanimate property, whether he heard it or not, you can put a spell on him. Even when you think of yourself as hard working, rich, you can put a spell on yourself. The above mentioned belief completely explains why dozens of prophylactic gestures appeared among these people whose sole purpose, during conversations whether important or unimportant, was to block or annul eventual spells by knocking on wood with the index finger or spitting to one side.

(1) Best informed about the definition of the body and the soul were our forefathers the Bogomils whose doctrine about the soul, representative of heavenly energy and physical body the personification of demonic force, clearly talks of the dualistic strength which creates life. Mission of every human is to achieve a balance of good and evil inside of himself, not allowing any of the forces to prevail. When that happens, and usually when weevil prevails, various evils occur among which are the influences of the evil eye.

(2) Traditional understanding which type of eyes can cast spells, i.e. their colour, is based on a very simple template. Namely, researching the available literature for acquisition of information which would help me in writing this modest work about folk medicine in BiH, I discovered that it primarily depends on geographic position and genetic structure of a people. A generally accepted thesis is that the evil eyes or spellbound eyes are determined on the colour of the iris which is least represented or is not present at all. Since there is a very small percentage of people with black irises among the Bosniaks, dark eyes especially combined with dark hair are considered to be evil. That’s why it is still today believed that one should beware dark eyes “since they can easily shoot through a person, to their heart and lead to death!” On the contrary, in Turkey, as well as in the entire Middle East, spellbound eyes are blue eyes and blonde hair.

Spells cause death

Among the Bosnian people, but also the entire Balkans, the belief in spellbound eyes is an inheritance of our Illyrian forefathers. Namely, the name urok (spell) itself is Illyrian and meant – „to fascinate“, „bewitch“. According to the Roman historian Pliny, the Illyrian tribes were extremely prone to believing in the evil power of spellbound eyes and they fought against them, by (among other things) carrying red colour (thread) wrapped around the arm. It is not necessary to emphasize how much the Romans were scared of the Illyrians, not just because of their fighting spirit, but also because of their mystical powers which these ascribed to them. Namely, they thought that most Illyrians have spellbound eyes with which they could kill a man.

Though everyone is exposed to the destructive influence of evil eyes, animals and inanimate objects, the most vulnerable group are the children and young girls prior to marriage. Their naivety, youth and beauty are the main stimulants for activation of envy and jealousy among other people. It is especially easy to cast a spell on a small child, and if it happens that the spell is strong, according to folk tales, it can then have a catastrophic effect and lead to sudden death.

According to some old women which lost their children at a young age, they always cite the same example: the child was healthy and advanced until they came into contact or were visited by one or more persons to their home. Usually, during that evening when the guests leave the child would get a sudden fever and through hysterical weeping the child would droop and – die. A child which dies from spells, according to belief, turns blue and doesn’t get the typical deceased’ stiffness – rigor mortis – which usually occurs 12 hours after death, it is a sign that it is “dragging” a new death in the family in the near future.

Fatal power of a spell was described in certain folk songs. In the first one it is mentioned that Tuzla Derviš-beg with his small son went to Bihać, during the trip he decided to spend the night in Tešanj with Ali-kapetan, where one of the inhabitants cast a spell on his child and the child died. In another song called “Sinanbegovica gave birth to a son” the song describes a sudden death of a beautiful girl, which occurs due to direct contact with spells:

Sinanbegovica gave birth to a son,
from delight she created joy,
three kolo played for her in the court.
One kolo on the high tower,
another one on the marble courtyard,
third one in a green yard.
Which kolo on the high tower,
that kolo, young bride;
 which kolo on a marble courtyard,
that kolo, young bride;
which kolo in the green yard,
that kolo, young girl.
Kolo is being led by Sinanbeg’s sister.
O look at her, may she be marry!
All kola decorated her head,
and with her beauty she enchanted the kola.
No one can get enough of her!
She is being watched by both the young and the old,
and the young and the old say:
“Medet (help), medet (help), what a beautiful girl!
Her mother must be happy,
just like the hero to whom she is destined!”
Spells cut her down in her youth:
at the moment that she fell ill,
at that moment she had died,
and she died, bless her mother!

Oral magic

Because of the fact that a spell can cause death in humans, the traditional fear of it as a mysterious and secretive apparition does not surprise. This is why the belief in spells hides in it some elements of fatalism, those desires to stop  a possible inflow or evil or negative energy which can cause diseases, with preventive statements – “one accident always summons another one!. But, what is especially interesting to me are these short magical statements whose basic purpose is to stop or block any type of activation of a spell – negative energy stemming from jealousy or great admiration. I’m of the opinion that the conscious cognition that a spell can cause harm to a human degrades its strength even before one starts the prophylactic process i.e. uttering of a formula. On the territory of Velika Kladuša one can still hear among the oldest population in everyday communication one of the following “anti-spells” statements:

-Mašallah (literally: “As Allah wills!”, often in the following linguistic forms: “mašala”, “mašalna”, “mašalna išalna”, etc.).
- Ne poduročilo se! (May it be safe from spells!)
- Da ne bude uroka! (May there be no spells!)
- Bože, ne podreci! (God, shelter from spells!)
- Ne došlo mu šta od zlih očiju! (May he be unharmed by evil eyes!)
- Zle te oči ne vidjele! (May you be invisible to evil eyes!)
- Gluho bilo, ne bilo uroka! (May the spells be deaf!)

Antun Hangi writes that if a spell is cast on a child one should immediately bajati (incantation) since in three days it will activate a spell in the child and it could tear apart the child. Of course, under this we mean that it tears apart the child’s dream which is why it wakes wincing and crying. Out of precaution the mothers would repeat often, every night before bedtime, or over a sleeping child an exorcist formula, in order to overtake the spell and ensure a peaceful night to their child.

One characteristic of Bosnian folklore tradition is the unusual combination of a lullaby and basma against spells, which is only seen among Bosnian people in the Balkans. While putting the child to sleep in the crib the mother would softly sing this or a similar lullaby against spells:

Sleep, my son, in a stylish crib!
In a stylish crib!
Sleep, my son, in a stylish crib!
Your dream in the crib, and a spell outside of it!
May spells walk across a mountain,
may they eat grass, drink water from a lead,
they cannot hurt my child!

Mother gave birth, mother cured

As one can conclude the traditional role of a guardian of health of the family, since the age of the matriarchy belonged to women, the mother was in charge of the child’s health, and with that of spells, which is clearly emphasized at the beginning of the most famous Bosnian basma against spells: “Mother gave birth, mother cured…” According to this we can conclude that since the old days women were more qualified for simpler issues which were caused by supernatural factors, while men, i.e. Imam-healers and dervishes performed more demanding and dangerous undertakings such as exorcism, spiritualism (“sazivanje daire”)  or construction of amulets and talismans.

Spell and fear are considered to be the main culprits for loss of appetite among children or even thinness. Old grandmothers still today wave their head in protest when they see a child having a bad appetite or when the child is losing weight rapidly without having an evident health problem. Almost all such states are summed up with the statement “someone “cut” the child” – split his appetite with a spell.