Dec 13, 2016

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.