This is added here by Spain coordinator, based upon the draft Bulgarian group has prepared to use at the meeting in Turkey, in february 2011
n Modern day Bulgaria lies at the crossroads between East and West. The crossroad of the ancient civilisations of Thracians, Romans, Slavs and Bulgars, which have contributed to a heritage of literature and folklore. Though suffering through foreign invasions, the country has preserved a strong cultural identity.
n Many of the country’s artefacts are kept in monasteries and medieval churches throughout Bulgaria, while others can be traced in myths, legends, songs, dances, ancient customs and traditions.
n The ancient Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting areas in Eastern, Central and Southeastern Europe.
n Bulgarian archaeologists assume that the Thracians came from northeast about 3500 BC – i.e. at the end of the Stone-Copper Age.
n In the 1st millennium BC the Thracians were among the most multitudinous peoples in Europe. On the Balkan Peninsula the Thracians were divided in numerous tribes, as the more significant were:
n Moeci – inhabited the lands from the Timok River to the Yantra River along the Danube (the Danubian Plain – Bulgaria)
n Dacians – inhabited the present south Romania
n Odrysians – inhabited the lands along the lower course of the Maritsa, Tundzha and Arda rivers (present Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece)
n Asti – the region of the Strandzha Mountain (Bulgaria)
n Bessi – the Rhodope Mountains (Bulgaria)
n Maedi – along the middle course of the Struma River
n Serdi – in the present Sofia region, Bulgaria
n Denteleti – the present Kyustendil region
n Odomanti and Edoni – the lands along the lower course of the Struma River, and others
n The Thracians were mainly engaged in farming, gardening, cattle-breeding (esp. horse-breeding), pottery-making, weaving, metal mining, goldsmithing, etc. The various tribes were at a different socioeconomic, political and cultural level.
n The Thracians gradually became one part with the Slavs, who settled on the Balkan Peninsula in 6th century AD, and thus when the Bulgarian Empire was established by Chan Asparuh in 681 AD they laid the foundations of the Bulgarian nation.
n The culture of the Thracians. The iron was introduced and this was the starting point for the Thracian culture. At the end of the 12th century and beginning of the 11th century BC the usage of iron led to increased production opportunities for the Thracian community and to class differences. The potter’s wheel appeared and incited the development of the Thracian pottery which was used mainly for the everyday necessities and was flat and in different shapes to the 1st century BC. The metal mining, metal working, weaving, goldsmithing, and others grew fast.
n Homer mentions the Thracians in his Illiad, calling them “people who reminded him of the gods”. Herodotus, an historian who lived during the 5th century BCE (and gave the Greek word “history” it’s modern meaning) called the Thracians “the most numerous ethnic group, second only to the Hindus”. Yet, despite this trivia, due to their independent tribes and failure to achieve a unified national consciousness, the Thracians have a mysterious and hollow history.
n The Greeks themselves believed that some of their own gods had Thracian origin. Amongst them were Ares, the blood-thirsty god of war; Dionysus, the god of vegetation and fertility; Artemis (Bendis), the goddess of the animal world; and Orpheus. The Thracian pantheon, as it seems, was closely linked to the Greek one, but this does not mean that the two religious systems were identical
n Gods with Greek Names – Ares, Dionysus, Artemis, Apollo And Hermes: the Greek names hide gods from the Thracian pantheon. The reason is again the lack of a Thracian writing system. When the Greeks tried to describe the Orphic religion, they discovered some similarities between their gods and those of the Thracians. This is why Herodotus said that the Thracians worshipped Ares, Dionysus and Artemis, whom they called Bendis. Hermes was the deity of the kings who “always swear by his name and declare that they are themselves sprung from him.” However, the Greek historian failed to mention the sun god Apollo, whose cult was widely popular, or the Thracian Zeus who was undoubtedly worshipped in the 1st Century BC.
n At the end of the Hellenistic age and the enforcement of Roman rule, another deity became popular too: the Thracian horseman. Named with the collective Greek name Heros in accompanying inscriptions, it appeared on votive tablets and tombstones throughout Thrace.
n The cult of the Thracian horseman was widely spread during the Roman Age, which indicates a renaissance of the Thracian religion at that time – something unknown for the other peoples under Roman domination. Its figure is well known thanks to the numerous historical records from the Roman Age, 1st-4th century AD – young horseman with a spear and shield or with killed game in his hands, followed by a servant, dog and a lion. As an all-knowing and all-hearing god he was portrayed with two or three faces. Due to the mixture of various religions the Thracian horseman was often depicted as a Greek god – Apollo, Asclepius, Zeus, Dionysus, etc., and as the Old Iranian god Mithra, as well as with some of their attributes – lyre (Apollo), single snake staff (Asclepius), impressive beard (Zeus), Phrygian cap (conical cap with its top pulled forward – Mithra), etc. The image of the Thracian horseman served as a base for Christian Saint George.
n The Dionysian cult was also very widespread, primarily in the mountainous regions of the Haemus, Rhodope and Pirin mountains. In his original, popular conception Dionysus was the god of infinite creativity, of omnifarious Nature, of each tree and flower.
n The Myth of Dionysus– Dionysus is commonly thought to have been the son of Zeus, the most powerful of all Greek gods and goddesses, and Semele, a mortal woman. Zeus’ wife Hera was extremely jealous and planned a trick on Semele that would have her killed. She convinced Semele to ask Zeus to reveal himself in his true form. When Zeus revealed himself, Semele was burned to death after looking upon his glory. Luckily, Zeus managed to save the unborn Dionysus by stitching him into his own thigh. Because Zeus carried him until his birth, Dionysus became immortal. When he was older, Dionysus is said to have discovered the grapevine. He taught mankind how to cultivate the vine and make wine from the grapes. Dionysus became the god of wine. He was also associated with the madness and revelry that goes with it.
n According to the Orphics, when the young Dionysos was torn apart by the ferocious Titans, his blood splattered on the ground, and from that spot rose the vine, thick with clusters of red grapes, resembling the drops of blood that had been shed. The grapes, then, contain a part of Dionysos within them, and whenever we crush the grapes, and drink their juice, we are drinking the God. It was Dionysos who taught man the art of fermenting the juice of the vine, and how to pour libations during festivals
n Bendis – was a Thracian goddess of the hunt whom the Greeks identified with Artemis, and hence with the other two aspects of the former Minoan Triple Goddess, Hecate and Persephone. She was a huntress, like Artemis, but was accompanied by dancing satyrs and maenads on a 5th Century red-figure stemless cup (at Verona).
Gebeleizis- was a god worshiped, probably related to the Thracian god of storm and lightning, Zibelthiurdos. He was represented as a handsome man, sometimes wearing a beard. The lightning and thunder were his manifestations.
n The Thracians fell early under the cultural influence of the ancient Greeks, preserving until a much later time, however, their language and culture. It also appears from mythological accounts that the Thracians influenced Greek culture from a very early period, with some Thracians, such as Orpheus even appearing as culture-bearers in some myths. But as non-Greek speakers, they were viewed by the Greeks as barbarians.The first Greek colonies. Thrace were founded in the 6th century BC.
n Famous Thracians – In Greek legend, Orpheus was the chief representative of the arts of song and the lyre, and of great importance in the religious history of Greece. The mythical figure of Orpheus was borrowed by the Greeks from their Thracian neighbours; the Thracian “Orphic Mysteries”, rituals of unknown content, were named after him.
n From the 6th century BC onwards he was looked upon as one of the chief poets and musicians of antiquity, the inventor or perfecter of the lyre, who by his music and singing was able not only to charm the wild beasts, but even to draw the trees and rocks from their places, and to arrest the rivers in their course. As one of the pioneers of civilization, he was supposed to have taught mankind the arts of medicine, writing and agriculture. As closely connected with religious life, he was an augur and seer; practised magical arts, especially astrology; founded or rendered accessible many important cults, such as those of Apollo and Thracian god Dionysus instituted mystic rites, both public and private; prescribed initiatory and purificatory ritual.
n According to the best-known tradition, Orpheus was the son of Oeagrus, king of Thrace, and the muse Calliope. Sometimes, Calliope and Apollo were his parents.
n Despite his Thracian origin he joined the expedition of the Argonauts whose leader Jason had been informed by Chiron that only by the aid of Orpheus would they be able to pass by the Sirens unscathed. The Sirens lived on three small, rocky islands called Sirenum scopuli and sang beautiful songs that enticed sailors to come to them. They then ate the sailors. When Orpheus heard their voices, he withdrew his lyre and played his music more beautifully than they, drowning out their music.
n But the most famous story in which he figures is that of his wife Eurydice. Eurydice is sometimes known as Agriope. While fleeing from Aristaeus, she was bitten by a serpent which brought her to her death. Distraught, Orpheus played such sad songs and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and gods wept and gave him advice. Orpheus went down to the lower world and by his music softened the heart of Hades and Persephone (the only person to ever do so), who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth. But the condition was attached that he should walk in front of her and not look back until he had reached the upper world. In his anxiety he broke his promise, and Eurydice vanished again from his sight. The story in this form belongs to the time of Virgil, who first introduces the name of Aristaeus. Other ancient writers, however, speak of Orpheus’ visit to the underworld; according to Plato, the infernal gods only “presented an apparition” of Eurydice to him.Ovid says that Eurydice’s death was not caused by fleeing from Aristaeus but dancing with Naiads on her wedding day.
n The famous story of Eurydice may actually be a late addition to the Orpheus myths. In particular, the name Eurudike (“she whose justice extends widely”) recalls cult-titles attached to Persephone. The myth may have been mistakenly derived from another Orpheus legend in which he travels to Tartarus and charms the goddess Hecate.
After the death of Eurydice, Orpheus swore off the love of women and took only young men as his lovers. He is reputed to be the one who introduced male love to the Thracians, teaching them to love the young in the flower of their youth.
Orpheus at the end of his life disdained the worship of all gods save the sun, whom he called Apollo. One early morning he ascended Mount Pangaion (where Dionysus had an oracle) to salute his god at dawn, but was torn to death by Thracian Maenads for not honoring his previous patron, Dionysus. It is significant that his death is analogous with the death of Dionysus, to whom therefore he functioned as a priest and avatar.
n His head and lyre—still singing mournful songs—floated down the swift Hebrus to the Mediterranean shore. There, the winds and waves carried them on to the Lesbian shore, where the inhabitants buried his head and a shrine was built in his honour near Antissa. The lyre was carried to heaven by the Muses, and was placed amongst the stars. The Muses also gathered up the fragments of his body and buried them at Leibethra below Mount Olympus, where the nightingales sang over his grave. His soul returned to the underworld, where he was re-united at last with his beloved Eurydice.
n Thracians were considered by most to be the most ferocious fighters, especially in regions similar to their own rocky hills.
n The principal Thracian weapons in the fifth and fourth centuries were the spear and the knife. Much earlier Thracian infantry had been armed with axes, while their leaders rode chariots. Thracian light infantry could be armed with javelins, slings, or bows, with the first predominating. Thracian warriors, particularly the hillmen, were especially famous for an unusual weapon which combined elements of sword, sickle and polearm, which was called the Rhomphaia, and was carried increasingly by Thracian infantry in the centuries following Alexander the Great’s death until it became a trademark of the mercenary Thracian peltast. Even the Romans dreaded this fearsome weapon.
n Cavalry armament for all Thracians except the Getae consisted of 2 cornel wood javelins that could be thrust with or thrown, plus the usual Kopis. The Getae often used bows instead of javelins, and the akinakes instead of the kopis. Thracian tribes also used more exotic weapons such as spiked axles, or carts rolled down steep hills. Thracians were known for their hit and run tactics consisting of random melee attacks followed by quick retreats. The backbone of the Thracian military were the Thracian Peltast, a type of light infantry that was equally at home fighting hand-to-hand and at a distance (throwing javelins). Peltast were unarmoured except for their curved shields. They carried some form of short sword or melee weapon and an assortment of javelins. The wealthy nobility wore helmets with pointed tops in order to accommodate their top-knot hairstyles
n Thracian society was patriarchal. Polygamy was standard and men considered women placed on earth to please them. Thracians considered death an honor and accepted it as a natural part of life. The Thracians were extremely proud people. If a man’s father was murdered, it was considered practical to slaughter the murderer, his family (extended), and his livestock. Also, upon the death of a husband, the wives would fight over who was loved more by the deceased. Usually determined by the winner of a match to the death. The wives would tie their left legs together and fight with strips of cowhide and a staff. The winner of this deathmatch would then commit suicide and be given the honor of being buried at the right hand of her husband.
n The Thracian belief that death was only the transition to a future immortality made them send messengers to the gods, even if this meant killing them first.
n Herodotus told: “They think they do not really die, but that when they depart this life they go to Zalmoxis, who is also called Gebeleizis by some among them. To this god every five years they send a messenger, who is chosen by lot out of the whole nation, and charged to bear him their several requests. Their mode of sending him is this. A number of them stand in line, each holding in his hand three darts; others take the man who is to be sent to Zalmoxis, and swinging him by his hands and feet, toss him into the air so that he falls upon the points of the weapons. If he is pierced and dies, they think that the god is propitious to them but if not, they lay the fault on the messenger, who (they then say) is a wicked man: and so they choose another to send. The messages are given while the man is still alive.”
n Fortunately, the part of the Thracian beliefs which has survived in Bulgarian folk culture despite the Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian invasions and the adoption of Christianity in the 9th Century, is not so cruel. The kukeri, who dance in winter to bring about good health and fertility, and Trifon’s Day, the holiday to celebrate wine and vine-growing, are leftovers from the cult of Dionysus. The belief in the Thracian horseman has transformed into the worship of another horseman and a most popular saint, St. George. In more isolated areas in the country the tradition of leaving a small part of the crop without reaping it, as a sacrifice for the guardian spirit, has been active until only recently.
n The fire-dancers who step on live embers in restaurants along the southern Black Sea coast and in the villages of Brodilovo and Kosti in the Strandzha Mountain also recreate an ancient Thracian ritual for establishing contact with the gods.
n Cut in the rock, Perperikon had functioned as a shrine since the Chalcolithic Age in the 5th millennium BC, and is now regarded as one of the most probable sites of the Temple of Dionysus, which was famous in antiquity.
n The rock complex with a hall, an altar, a water reservoir and a hundred-metre-long stairway hewn in stone was certainly an important political, economic and religious centre. It retained its significance in the Roman age too, when it was transformed into a city with fortified walls, palaces and outbuildings. Supposedly, it was the royal capital of the Thracian tribe of the Bessi. Perperikon was destroyed and burnt down by the Goths during their invasion in 378 AD and, though its walls were rebuilt by Emperor Justinian, in the 8th-9th Centuries, the city, which was already the centre of a diocese, was gradually moved to the foot of the hill.
n Most Thracian treasures were found by chance and at a relatively low depth, a sign that they were hidden during a war or another calamity or buried for ritual purposes, as a sacrifice or to be used by the dead in their afterlife.
n The Thracians were too weak to resist their conquerors: the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians. They gradually settled in the Thracian lands in the 5th-7th Century to establish their own state and in turn begin incessant wars over the Thracian territories with the successor to the Roman Empire, Byzantium.
The sacred stone city of Perperikon stands high on the summit of a hill with magnificent views of the surrounding landscape. It is indeed a very special place and evokes a strong sense of the past. Standing on these ancient heights, it is easy to imagine Perperikon’s beginnings when people deified the bare rocky hill and worshipped the sun-god from it. During the Bronze and early Iron Age, a monumental religious complex was carved out from the hilltop. Perperikon became a major sanctuary, probably closely associated with Orphic cult and the ritual practices linked to its two main divinities, Orpheus and Dionysus
In one place, you will find a passageway with high steps leading to a huge oval hall at whose centre is a magnificent round altar, with a stone platform nearby. Archaeologists speculate that this is the famous oracular temple of Dionysus referred to in ancient Greek and Roman sources.
In many places there are hollowed-out stone troughs and basins which may have been used for wine-making, an integral part of the worship of Zagreus (Dionysus), the god of wine himself. The process of shredding and pressing of the grapes symbolised the dismemberment of the great “twice-born” god by the Titans.
During the Roman conquest, new fortifications were added to Perperikon, and after Christianity was introduced in the 4th century AD, pagan shrines were converted to Christian use and new churches established. When the Proto-Bulgarians arrived, they also began to worship upon the holy mountain. For more information : http://www.perperikon.bg/
They enter into a spiritual trance to dance barefoot on burning embers during the festival of St Konstantin and Elena in midsummer, in a relic of an ancient Thracian solar ritual.
The Slavs migrated to the Balkan peninsula from Central Europe in the early part of the 7th century AD. They were a freedom-loving agricultural people, living democratically in clan communes with no rigid organisational structures or hierarchies.
In Slavic mythology, the world was represented by a sacred tree, usually an oak, whose branches and trunk represented the living world of heavens and mortals, while its roots represented the underworld, i.e. the realm of dead. Perun was a ruler of the living world, sky and earth, and was often symbolised by an eagle sitting on the top of the tallest branch of the tree, from which he kept watch over the entire world. Perun was a punisher of evil-doers. Deep down in the roots of the tree was the place of his enemy, symbolised by a serpent or a dragon: this was Zaltys, a great serpent curled at the base of the world tree (which people later associated with Veles, watery god of the underworld). Zaltys /Veles continually provoked Perun by stealing his cattle, children or wife. Perun pursued Zaltys /Veles around the earth, attacking him with his lightning bolts from the sky. Zaltys /Veles fled from him by transforming himself into various animals, or hiding behind trees, houses or people; wherever a lightning bolt struck, it was believed, this was because Zaltys /Veles hid from Perun under or behind that particular place. In the end, Perun managed to kill Zaltys /Veles, or to chase him back down into his watery underworld. The supreme god thus reestablished the order in the world which had been disrupted by his chaotic enemy.
Some elements of Slavic myth and custom that have survived in current Bulgarian myth and folklore:
Ladouvane, or the Singing to Rings, is a Bulgarian fertility ritual. Traditionally, young girls drop their rings, together with oats and barley (symbols of fertility), into a cauldron of spring water. The rings are tied with a red thread to a bunch of ivy, crane’s bill, basil, or some other perennial plant, and the cauldron is left out overnight. Ritual dances are performed around the cauldron and the girls’ fortunes are told.
In western Bulgaria, the Central Balkan Range, and along the Danube River, Ladouvane is observed on New Year’s Eve. In the rest of the country, it is observed on Midsummer Day.
OLD BULGARIAN RELIGION
Prior to Christianity Bulgarians had a different religion.
Our ancestors believed not only in the celestial bodies but also in a supreme God-Creator. The Bulgarians used the strange and unknown word EDFU. So far scholars had only one real fact to rely on the name TANGRA in an early Bulgarian inscription of the 9th c. It turns out that, like the Persians, who called God with three parallel names, the Bulgarians called him Tangra, but also Edfu. An interesting question arises: what are the regions in which the Creator was called with the two names of Tangra and Edfu? Something similar, existed in one single region of the East Pamir and Hindukush , where, according to historical sources, the Bulgarians lived before they migrated to Europe. The notion of TANDRA/ lightening/ is very popular there and is connected with the supreme God of thunder. Parallel to it a second name of God is also commonly used Hudo-ETH. The use of these notions in the region of Pamir is not accidental there was in these parts an enormous temple of the Sun, classified among the seven largest temples in the world. And the Sun itself, was called with names like Adhu and Edh, cognate with the Sanskrit notion Aditya (Sun), and especially the epithet EDDH burning, blazing. Such data indicate that the roots of the religion of the Bulgarians can be found in the region of Pamir and Hidukush where they lived before moving to Europe. Two relics of this forgotten religion were discovered: – a bronze rosette from Pliska, dedicated to the seven celestial bodies and marked by the typical Bulgar symbol IYI, and two stone slabs with the same symbol and – drawings of the Sun and the Moon, found not far from the Bulgarska Morava river. To the same religion we can attribute also three newly deciphered runic inscriptions from Murfatlar, two of which are dedicated to the Sun and Jupiter. The third one consists of the single word EFE, which could be a term of address to the god Edfu of the type EDFE or some parallel name of the same god. The history of the religious cult of the seven celestial bodies is very interesting. It appears for the first time in the Shumer-Accadian civilization where the names of the Sun, the Moon and the five planets, known to the Ancient world, are always accompanied by the word DINGIR god, akin to the Elam word TANRU. The Sun is called Dingir-UTU (Sun God) by the Shumerians, the Moon is called Dingir-sin (Moon God), etc. From this very part of the world the cult of the celestial bodies spread to the East and the West among the ancient peoples Assyrians, Indo-Iranians, Hittites, Celts, Romans, etc. There are also words like DINGIR and TANRU or the like: the Assyrian word TANRA heavenly body, the Indian TARA star, the Hittite TARA heavenly light, the Celtic TARAN god of thunder, the Anglo-Saxon THUNDER, the Pamir word TANDRA lightening, and the Turkic word TENGRI (god of the bright blue sky). Old Bulgarian religion, with its devotion to the seven celestial bodies and the Supreme God, called Tangra and Edfu, is part of this religious system. For more information: http://www.veda.harekrsna.cz/connections/Vedic-Bulgaria.php