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12.07.2017.

Night of evil spirits and witches

Bosniak people before the Ottoman occupation and advent of Islam lived in accordance with the Bogomil (Arian) Christianity and like other Christian communities they celebrated more prominent holidays such as Christmas, St.George's Day and St.Eliyah (Aliđun). Though nothing was recorded regarding Easter, which is in correlation with the Bogomil science. Namely, Bosnian Bogomil’s didn’t believe that Jesus resurrected, since according to them he took an illusory body and not a real human one, that’s why he didn’t suffer nor die, he didn’t descend into hell nor ascend into heaven.

As all of the above mentioned holidays, just like Easter, are nothing more than pagan feasts full of magical symbology of worship of nature and its forces, so called “circle of the year” on which the ancient cult of fertility was based on, it is realistic that neither Christianity nor Islam managed to supress and change them. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised that Bosnian people in their collective consciousness held kept it even after the advent of Islam, not giving a religious (Christian) form to them but solely nurturing their pagan purpose such as performing rituals of fertility and protection. To ascertain that this represents the truth we can analyse numerous magical procedures which were performed on the eve of or only during some of these holidays.

Alija Ćatić describes an extremely interesting custom among Bosnian people in Prozor where he mentions pagan customs of protection against evil spirits and witches, for which it was believed since ancient times that they’re extremely hostile towards people during the time of the new sun, winter solstice, which Rome (architect of Christianity in Europe) kept in the concept of the new religion and ascribed it to the alleged birth of Jesus, though today it is known that the entire legend about Jesus’s birth was based on the legend of the Persian god Mithra.

As Alija Ćatić mentions Bosnian people on the eve of Christmas performed the old customs of protection from evil spirits, which in none of its segments has any similarities with the Christian tradition of that day. Namely, on the eve before Christmas it was a rule to consume garlic in order to chase the evil spirits from the house and family by its smell. Similarly, garlic would be used to cover the family members by smearing it on their bodies before bed, on doors and windows branches of hawthorn would be placed, as additional protection from forces of dark and evil.

On the eve of Christmas one of the male family members would bring the first bite of food, usually a piece of bread, near the mouth and it would be placed next to him, and after dinner it would be carried under eaves or barn and it would be stored there until May 6th.

On the eve of May 6th (Hidirlez or Mijena) that man would take a dried piece of bread from underneath the eaves, with the bread he would go to a place where wheat was threshed and the bread would be placed on top of the stack. Once he’s done this, he would patiently wait the advent of the witches which would allegedly come “riding” on wooden sticks (which were used to “hit” milk and make butter) – their “wooden horses”. According to ancient belief in BiH witches traditionally always gather in certain nights at places where wheat was threshed with the help of horses, since they’re in the form of a circle symbolising a full moon – Grand Mother, to whom wheat was dedicated since the Illyrian times. On that fertile place witches would gather and celebrate their ancient goddess and they would perform various rituals and magic.

According to the writing of Alija Ćatić when the bread is placed on top of a stack all witches will rush towards it with their wooden horses, since they know what is waiting for them. They literally compete who will take the piece of bread, they will easily kill the guardian which placed it there, since he will lose his physical strength. Witches try hard to grab the dried piece of bread and the man guards it with his pitchfork. Choice of a pitchfork as a weapon is not accidental, according to belief, witches are scared of them. If the man manages to overpower them, i.e. catch them by the hair, he holds them thus until they say their name and place of origin. Allegedly, often times it happened that the caught witches would bribe him with gifts such as new clothes so that the man doesn’t reveal their identity to the others.

Obviously often the witches could not rely on the discretion of their hunter since, as Mr. Ćatić further says, there are many women that carried the infamous name of a witch and they were not welcome in any home, since the hunter gave their name away to others. People would hate and despise them because of the great fear which they evoked among the people. They were most horrified by the witches ability to hurt livestock from which a family lived off of, since allegedly every witch can from a great distance, around 20 kilometres, act with her spells upon a cow and “milk” her at a distance – take away her milk.

When analysing more studiously the described custom, which was lost a long time ago, it is easy to see in it all of the elements of witchcraft, pagan religion and especially interesting is the symbolism of witches and one man (hunter) which is holding a pitchfork, shaped like horns. The name itself so called guvno, in the form of a circle, is full of symbology such as the full moon (Great Goddess), vagina-stomach, as well as a magical circle.

We shouldn’t disregard the ritual act when a man brings a piece of food towards his open mouth, but places it under eaves and not in his mouth, which perfectly depicts ritual call to fertility (fertilization), since we mustn’t forget that witches rush towards it in order to get the desired prop, which actually represents the man’s sexual and life power. If they take it away he withers, loses his strength and is defeated, tired, i.e. sacrificed. All of these are segments of a pagan myth about the goddess and god, which is at the same time her husband and son, and with whom she renews the eternal circle of fertility by his death and resurrection.