hironFor more than a century Bulgarian science has been studying the traditional ritual called rusalii and kalushari. The founding fathers of ethnology D. Marinov, K. Shapkarev, I. Shishmanov and M. Arnaoudov describe the Northern and Southwestern variety of ritual and sought its historical roots. Many scientists compare it to the ancient roman holidays of the deceased Rozalii, to Dionysian cult of the Thracian Proto-Bulgarian cultural and historical heritage, even to shamanism. Today it is clear for the scientists that the ritual contains an ancient formula for treatment of psychiatric and neuropsychiatric diseases, which the ancients possessed. What disease is hidden behind the described as madness or epilepsy – “shoimanyala”, “bewildernes”, “hitting from mermaids” or simply “Mermaid” and “ghost” disease that the ritual cures? What is the magical psychotherapeutic function of the ancient healers-rusalii* (*rusalii – in plural – in Bulgarian – русалии, кalushari – in plural – in Bulgarian – калушари).

It was believed that in the year there are three most dangerous periods during which a person can get sick, crazy, lose his soul or be possessed by malicious demon creatures like mermaids, nymphs, ghosts, heathens, goblins and others. The people believed that these most dangerous periods are the three Sundays – the Theodore Sunday, the Dirty days from Christmas to Epiphany and the Mermaid Week from Ascension to Pentecost. During this time there was no boundary between heaven and earth and the souls of the deceased walked freely on the ground, and with them together walked around the most fearsome demonic creatures. In order not to get sick, people had to respect a number of strict prohibitions and perform elaborate rituals in propitiation of the evil creatures.

The Greek mythology describes the wise Chiron – the centaur halfman, half-horse, who was a teacher of Gods and heroes, of the healer Asclepius and Orpheus, a cunning lyre player, who knew the secrets of the healing herbs and the path of the stars. His never healed wound caused by Heracles, gave him the power to make prophesies and heal. And in our lands the ancient healers – the rusalii followed in his footsteps and repeated the mythological actions of the wounded healer Chiron. According to some authors “kalush” means “horse” and kalushari in North Bulgaria are often described as people fighting against the evil spirit “кalush” – mythical white horse, and against the mermaids, mistresses of the rivers and lakes. The ghosts had been described as horses with human heads and wings that can fly.

A legend says that once upon a time there lived nine brothers and one sister. The sister was married far away. One day came a word that the sister fell ill and the father asked his nine sons to go to their sister to help her. The nine brothers gathered and went to see their sister, danced some kind of a dance and the miracle happened. And from them already started the kalushari bands. Today for the old kalushari people tell how they played quick as lightning, almost untouching the land under the sounds of the magical melody “Florichika”, the ritual sticks clutched in their hands and holding the kalushari flag – the embodiment of the eternal cosmic tree, pillar of heaven and earth. The legends say that the mermaids danced their dances in the night to the sounds of this magical melody and later the kalishari took the melody from them to cure their patients. In the game the “vataf” took out from the body of the patient’s disease to make it instilled in one or more of kalushari, who collapsed in the trance dance. The vataf and its team treated the ill with secret words, with silent water filled with healing herbs, with music and steps, until everybody gathered and played together in a healthy common dance.

In Southwestern Bulgaria the healing rusalii teams healed the sick with their dances. They sliced a symbolic cross in the air around the ill with their swords and with blessed their way from village to village until Epiphany. It was believed at that time in the water the hell ghosts and demons lived, keeping secrets for golden treasure, but they could sick and kill people.

This ancient and very interesting custom in our country reveals a profound psychological treatment system, which can envy even the most modern psychotherapeutic schools. In the images of mermaids and evil ghosts are embodied the archetypal notions of disease and madness, fought off by the male healers rusalii and kalushari. With dancing, wording, music, intricate ritual objects and entire belief system the kalushari and rusalii ritual complex are practically an ancient system of psychotherapy that existed in our lands until the beginning of XX c. Even today these rituals can be observed every year on folklore fairs or in authentic folklore reconstruction in June in the villages of Zlatia, Montana region, and in Harlets, Kozloduy region. There, each participant in the healing ritual can take a piece of the broken bowl and a stem of wormwood, chamomile, dewy, basil and garlic to keep him away of diseases throughout the year.

Michaela Videnova
Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum – BAS

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