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Magic hedgehogs & other Bulgarian rituals

Rebecca Carter
Written by Rebecca Carter

3 min read.
Hi! Eleanor is still taking things a bit easy as she recovers and catches up after getting COVID, but she'll be back for good on Wednesday with another story about lactating egglayers. In the meantime, I'm Rebecca from the Ubergroup here to share some of the research I've done into herbs, especially ones that are important in Slavic traditions and folklore.

Quick Facts

  • Marsilea quadrifolia, also known water clover, is called “Sushni shak” in Bengali. “Shusni” means “don’t sleep,” possibly warning people of the plant’s sleep-inducing effect.
  • In a Bulgarian ritual called the peperuda (butterfly), a young girl is covered with elderberry leaves and paraded around the village, where people pour water over her while they pray for rain.
  • The sticky sweet marshmallow treat was originally made with the roots of a plant by that name: marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis).
  • Legendary Greek Hero Achilles used common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) to heal not only his own non-fatal wounds, but the injuries of others during the Trojan War.
  • You can make a hair tonic from nettle that will keep your hair from falling out and make it soft and glossy.

A Giant Wreath

On June 24, Bulgarians and other Slavic people, celebrate Eniovden, or Midsummer’s Day, by making a giant wreath made out of 77 1/2 herbs. The night before the holiday, women gather the herbs. This is a special time, in which the herbs are more powerful and magical. Each herb has different abilities. Some are used primarily for healing and fertility, while others have magical properties—in particular to keep young girls safe from being abducted by dragons, who have amorous feelings toward them.

The Magical Raskovnik

Eniovden is a time when people look for the raskovnik (water clover), the most magical of all herbs, which is a key to unlock anything and discover hidden treasures. Since the hedgehog (as well as Stolas birds) knows how to find the herb, people trick the animal into looking for it. They build a stone wall around a baby hedgehog and guard it until the mother returns. Wanting to rescue her baby, the mother goes back to search for the herb. When she returns, with the help of the herb, she knocks down the stone wall to free her baby. The waiting people take the herb (magic key) from the hedgehog so they can open any doors or locks that they want.

Curing a Dragon’s Love

Dragons (zmeys) easily become enamored of girls of marriageable age and steal them away for brides. But, wise parents know the herbs that will “separate” the dragon from his love for their daughter. The primary herbs are tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), komuniga or yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), and cross gentian (Gentiana cruciate). The three best ways to use the herbs are to 1) have the girl wear them as a wreath on her head or a small bouquet on her clothing, 2) burn the herbs and spread the smoke like incense in the vicinity of the dragon, or 3) soak the herbs in water, then sprinkle the girl or the place where the dragon resides. The results will be immediate, and the dragon will depart, never more to bother the girl.

Herbal Healers

The Bogomils thrived during the tenth century, although the period of the sect’s history is shrouded in darkness by both the Church and the Communists. Bogomil (singular) is a word that means “dear to God,” from the Slavic Bog (God) and mil (dear). The Bogomili were great healers and lived in harmony with nature and used herbs and natural remedies to cure diseases. They believed that diseases had a bad origin, from Satan and other dark, supernatural forces like vampires, Rusalki (water spirits, often called mermaids), and Samodivi. These beliefs are preserved today in various Bulgarian rituals.

📗 If you found this interesting, check out this kickstarter for 77 1/2 Magical Healing Herbs by Ronesa Aveela (ends May 26, 2022). The book is available in print and digital formats. By supporting the project, you can also get free books, participate in challenges, and learn more about herbs and Slavic beliefs. If you don't already have a Kickstarter account, you'll need to create one in order to pledge. Thank you.

🗯️ Do you have a favorite story about herbs or Slavic folklore? Please reach out — I'd love to hear about it, either via email or in a comment where other readers can see.

Note: There are a couple of affiliate links & codes scattered around, but these always come from links I was already recommending and usually I share them because they benefit you too (i.e. getting you extra time on trials).

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