The Folklore and Traditions of Macedonia
The Ancient Macedonian culture was actually closely related to to the culture of the Hellenes and after the fall of the Macedonian empire it soon became completely assimilated, leaving only the memory of the great Macedonians. After the 6th century, a new culture came to the Balkans, – the new Macedonians, of Slavic origin who had an entirely different culture – later they were called Macedonians for living in the Geographical region of Macedonia.
What Is Folklore?
By folklore we understand the entire material and spiritual culture of people; the songs and legends that they as a community preserved for thousands of years, their traditions and customs, and even the way they dress and build their houses.
The folklore of the locals is like an entire belief system which added on to the standard form of Christianity – belief in magic and energy in nature, and even ancient rituals to which only a Christian name has been given; at the same time the local folklore is breath-taking stories of Saints fighting dragons or shepherds meeting female demons, which are called Samovillas, legends of mighty heroes like Krale Marko who protected the people and so on.
Read on to discover the fantastic world of Macedonian Folklore!
I have a passion for all pre-Christian, indigenous cultures. What made me love Balkan folklore is the fact that it is like a perfectly preserved pagan culture under an Orthodox Christian mask. For one reason or another, the Christianization here in the south of Europe was not as complete as in most other places. What I mean is that people here have been calling themselves Christians since 9th century, but in fact they kept their pagan traditions, giving them a Christian form or name.
The Macedonian folklore world is full of magic and superstition, beautiful female demons and dragons (Zmey or Lamya in Macedonian). All traditional acts and celebration were considered an act of magic, with was so important, that it was for the people the single factor which gives balance in nature and its fury. In this context, there is a custom in July which is a great example of this. It is called the Goreshtnitsi (Days of heat). Throughout the year people used to keep the fireplace in their homes burning and the only time when they put the fire off are the days of the Goreshtnitsi (Hot days) 17-19th July. It these three days working is forbidden and it was believed that if one does not follow the custom, his house or crop will burn.
Other really interesting traditions are related to the times in the end and the coming of the new year. In first place it is interesting to mention Ignatov den – in Orthodox Christianity it is just a typical celebration day of St. Ignatius on the 20th of December, but simultaneously with that, the folklore tradition keeps ancient rituals and beliefs. As I mentioned above, the folklore world of Macedonia was magical, and by this I mean that it was believed that people’s words and actions influence the world around them. On this particular it is believed that the first person to knock on your door and enter your house will pass on his either his luck or misfortune. People don’t open the door to someone who they find unlucky on that day.
Ignatov den is the first of a series of celebrations related to the Winter Solstice. In this time of the year – from the beginning of the winter solstice until the first days of the winter solstice, it is believed that the entire universe is brought back to the initial Chaos, it falls apart so that the new year can begin and evil spirits are set loose.
That is why the new year holidays end with the play of Vasilichari. The men from the village make special scary costumes, usually resembling goats with horns and really big heads and do a special ritual dance, with bells to scare the evil spirits away.
Traditional Macedonian Medicine
In the middle ages medical treatment was done by healers who were also spiritual leaders of the community. Even today the word for a traditional healer in Macedonian, means also fortune teller. This is related to the fact that these people had inherited their knowledge from the ancient Shamans. The treatments did sometimes include a dose of mysticism, but in most cases, were based on deep knowledge of herbs.
Here is another interesting tradition: on the 24th of June, Ivanden, which is also the day of the Summer Solstice, all healers used get up early to collect herbs before sunrise, because it is believed that this is the time of the year when they are most potent. Like all pagan cultures, here the days of the Summer solstice also were one of the most important days of the year. It is considered such a magical moment, that the locals say that on this day, if you stare at the sun as it rises, you will see it play around in the sky.
Even today homeopathic remedies and natural ways of treating most diseases are really popular in Macedonia. Any simple google search about cancer in Macedonia, shows us how popular are natural remedies to cancer.
Songs and Legends of Macedonia.
Folklore songs from Macedonia are known for their beauty, but there is a lot more than that in them. The lyrics of most of them date back to ancient times and sometimes they are just playful songs, but other times they tell long and sad stories; Singing was a part of all activities of the Macedonians, for both sadness and joy they were singing. These songs often tell stories of Mythical Creatures and legends of how Saints fight dragons.
An interesting example of such an ancient song is the “Samovilla building”, in which the song tells the story of people building a bridge during the day, and every night the Samovillas leave it in ruins. These beautiful female demons were feared and were associated with unholy places, so in the different versions of the song only after a sanctification of the place or human sacrifice the construction can go on.
The folklore songs of Macedonia also tell about legendary heroes. These heroes are given super human powers and usually are presented as protectors of the people. One of the most loved heroes in Macedonia, and the entire Balkans was an actual historical figure – Prince Marko, who was the ruler of the Prilep kingdom. Follow this link to find a few translated legends about him.