What was the religion of the Proto-Bulgarians - shamanism, Tangrism, Zoroastrianism or something else? Is there a connection between Proto-Bulgarians and Turks? What is most characteristic of the Bulgarian burial customs and why is it important to know them? These and other curious topics are discussed in the second part of the interview with Dr. Katya Melamed.


What is important to know about the ethnicity of cremation burials in the Proto-Bulgarian pagan necropolises from our lands? It is a well-known hypothesis of Rasho Rashev that the graves with burnt-out bodies in the ritual necropolises belong to Slavs from Penkovo ​​culture who came with the Proto-Bulgarians in today's Bulgarian lands. At the same time, it is known that the burial rite of the Proto-Bulgarians in the XNUMXth - XNUMXth centuries was a corpse. Biritualism then emerges, demonstrated in the so-called. Kubano-Donetsk group, as well as in the Lower Danube necropolises. Could you bring more clarity to the problem?


The ritual necropolises in present-day northeastern Bulgaria belong to the Bulgarians. This is the thesis I defend. There are no Slavs among them - or at least enough to change the rite. Both the cremations and the inhumations in the birthing necropolises are left by the tribes we know as Bulgarians. We have already talked about this - they are diverse and have different funeral practices. And it is not entirely true that Bulgarians are not buried by burning. Some of them practice it and we have both archaeological and written data. The thesis that cremations are Slavic and inhumations - Proto-Bulgarian is outdated and incorrect. It corresponds to the time in which it was made - with all due respect for the efforts and hard work of the past.


Funeral ritualism is a very interesting and at the same time very telling point. It illustrates well the diversity of a culture, a union, a union. Without going into detail, I will mention the Chernyakhov culture, which is a much better example of comparison than the Kubano-Donetsk group. Chernyakhov culture dates from the XNUMXnd to the beginning of the XNUMXth century. It covers large territories in the Northern Black Sea and Eastern Europe. It is mainly associated with Gothic migration, but it also includes many other ethnicities. It is also characterized by birithous necropolises.


The analysis of the known data leads to the conclusion that in the Bulgarian pagan necropolises there is the same attitude towards the funeral rite, the same system of various funeral practices combined over time in a single rite established in the necropolises in northeastern Bulgaria from the end of VII and the first half of the ninth century.


The main features of the Chernyakhov funeral rite are similar to the characteristics of the Bulgarian pagan necropolises: simultaneous practice of inhumation and cremation in a pit, cremation in a urn, various burial structures, unstable orientation, presence of skulls deformed by dressing, optional vessels and sacrificial food in the grave. Researchers of Chernyakhov culture attribute the diversity of elements not to the coexistence of individual peoples, but to different national traditions combined in the common culture of a non-homogeneous society. Of course, now we do not have time to analyze the funeral rite inherent in the Chernyakhov culture to compare it with the funeral rite in Bulgarian pagan necropolises. I offer only one opportunity to compare attitudes to the same event, to the same problem.

Pro-Bulgarian necropolises from Danube Bulgaria. Source: bulgari-istoria-2010.com

necropolises of the Kubano-Donetsk group. Source / bulgari-istoria-2010.com

As a Necropolis Specialist (translating "Cities of the Dead"), I will ask you to relate to one of the most interesting topics for lovers. What were the religious ideas of the Proto-Bulgarians - shamanism, Tangrism, Zoroastrianism or something else?


A bit of everything. We cannot know the details because the ancient Bulgarians are an unwritten nation. At least most Bulgarians, some of them, are familiar with the Runic writing system. As far as shamanism is concerned, we have far more data on it in archaeological studies. But it must be made clear that shamanism is a practice, not a religion, as it is well-researched and defined by Mircea Eliade.


Still, we can learn a lot from funeral practices. First and foremost, they believe in the afterlife, the afterlife. The world of the dead seems to be arranged in a manner similar to the world of the living. The two worlds are connected with the path that the soul must walk. (Of course, these notions are not only typical of Bulgarians - we know them well from many other cultures.) With this idea we can explain all those vessels, including liquid jars, knives and other objects that we find in the graves. It is almost certain that the road and the life after it take on the clothes - we find pieces of clothing too. Sometimes we find weapons too - wars are armed.


As far as the path is concerned, we know descriptions of shamanic practices - one of the primary duties of a shaman is to lead the souls of the dead beyond. According to one story of a shaman in charge of a large territory, sometimes 20 or more souls would gather, waiting to be taken. A very difficult task, because along the way some souls were lost and the shaman had to return to find them. Another practice known from Siberia is also linked to the road. Dogs were also buried in children's graves, also found in northeastern Bulgaria: as the dog knows the path to home unmistakably, it will also help the soul to get beyond.

Zoroastrian Temple of Fire

The orientation of the body laid in the grave also carries good information. It depends on a very important world direction or a specific place, motivated, accepted and obligatory in the culture - to remember the Eastern orientation in Christianity: from the East we expect the Messiah and our faces must be turned to the East. In Bulgarian pagan necropolises, the orientation is quite volatile, but we still have a predominant direction in individual necropolises. From ethnographic records as well as from historical chronicles we know that often the orientation at burial is consistent with the direction of migration, with the place where the tribe was originally born, with the ancestry. For example, we can explain with certainty the northern orientation of most of the graves. Or with the idea of ​​the direction the world of the dead is in.


With another notion, also known from written records, we can interpret niches with graves. They are a separate group explored in the birthing necropolises - rectangular shafts, in one of the walls at the bottom with a carved niche, sometimes enclosed by a slab. In the alcove is laid the body or grave victims. We can relate this practice to the ancient notion of the cave where the sitter or forefather was born, usually from the mythical marriage of a man with an animal. The legend is known in the cultural circle to which the Bulgarians belong - the marriage is between a man and a wolf.


In another group of graves in the necropolises we are talking about, there is a buried horse along with the dead. It should be noted that these graves are both inhumated and cremated, and are definitely given to the Bulgarians. They are logically interpreted as graves of war, often with weapons. I will afford the whole story told by Ibn Fadlan, an Arab writer from the first half of the X century. In 921 he took part in an expedition from Baghdad to Volga Bulgaria and left a magnificent travelogue with many ethnographic descriptions. Here's what Ibn Fadlan tells us:


In the event that any free of them dies, among all other practices, depending on the number of their horses, they kill 100 or 200 of them, "or just one of them and eat the meat, leaving the head, legs, skin and tail. , they put them on the poles and begin to say, "These are his horses that will take him to paradise." If they miss sacrificing a horse on the day of the funeral, an old man comes and says, “You see, my comrades overtook me, my legs broke to catch up with them, but I cannot. Then the relatives sacrifice a horse, crucify his stuffed animal on the grave, and the old man comes again to tell them: "I saw one and one say: Tell your pets and my friends that I've already caught up with them . I caught up with those who were before me, so I was relieved of fatigue. " Among other things, this text gives a good idea of ​​the thinking path between the two worlds, which requires a special attitude and is related to movement and effort. The free man passes him on horseback.

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# our roots

The goblins in the Bulgarian folk beliefs

The goblins in the Bulgarian folk beliefs

In the ideas of the Bulgarians of the XNUMXth century, a goblin is "an evil spirit that appears as a shadow at night on large buildings." The goblins walk until the roosters sing. In the ideas of the Bulgarians of the XNUMXth century, a goblin is an "evil spirit that appears as a shadow at night on large buildings" ....

Would you comment on Turkicization among the Proto-Bulgarians, is it a myth or a reality? In this respect, the results of anthropology relating to the burials in the Proto-Bulgarian necropolises should not be spared. I would quote you: “European types with slightly pronounced Mongoloid features (Bdintzi) are recognized; european and contact types between european and Mongolian races, Bulgarians of Alana or Turkic root (Kyulevcha); Bulgarians mixed with alano-Sarmatians (Devnya lowland); Bulgarians with Mongoloid traits, Turkic-Mongolian racial group (Balchik). "


This question requires special knowledge beyond archeology or history. In any case, I do not think turquoise is a myth. The language preserved in some of the stone inscriptions, as well as much of the titles, although written in Greek, are Turkic. I also believe in anthropological analyzes, that's why I quoted them.


The composition of the Bulgarians, led by Asparuh and who founded the Danube Bulgaria, has been mentioned several times: it is a non-homogeneous society. The springs report the names of different tribes, there are certainly more whose names we do not know. This is the problem of ethnic and ethnonymic reality formulated by Professor Alexander Fall:

1. A myriad of unidentified or unnamed bookless tribes.
2. The presence of a strong and / or warring tribe or tribal union.
3. Descriptions of the situation by foreign, most often hostile, observers.


Please pay attention to the element of booklessness! Such a point of view will save us a lot of unnecessary thoughts or discussions. It would seem superfluous to guess what exactly is behind the name Bulgarians. We should imagine a variety of tribes, tribes, and tribes. A variety of places where the sire or forefather was born, a variety of directions, habits and habits. This is what we will find later in their necropolises, but without being surprised or embarrassed.


Sometimes there is condescension to the role of the funeral rite in the elucidation of historical events. You are involved in theoretical archeology and have defined funeral practices as Modus vivendi. Funeral practices are a system that regulates the relationship between the living and the dead in a society. What else do history buffs need to know about the importance of funeral rites in ethno-cultural terms?


We must imagine that in those days the two worlds existed simultaneously in the minds of people and were arranged in approximately the same way. I will use a classic idea of ​​the structure of the universe, inherent in the Slavs - a tree: at its roots is the world of the dead, there are fish and snakes; around his trunk live we, the living, along with all terrestrial animals; in the crown are the heavens, together with the birds, the sun and the moon, with the embers of the bird. There is an opportunity to travel between the worlds - it can be done by shamans as well as by an eagle. Let's recall the tale of "The Three Brothers and the Golden Apple."

A burial site from the XNUMXth century in Italy, near Campokiro-Vicenza. It is believed to belong to Alzek, the fifth son of Khan Kubrat. Source / www.vk.com

This trip is dangerous - dangerous for the living. If the established burial customs are not respected, the dead person may return reincarnated for revenge and harm. According to folklore texts, this often happens. This is why a funeral is a treaty between the inhabitants of both worlds. Funeral practices are a reflection of this agreement. Society - not just the family of the deceased - is anxious to comply with this contract. Therefore, in many cultures, there are special colleges that are tasked with following the rules and helping needy families when needed. Everything we've said so far actually portrays the world of the living, not the world of the dead.


One of the practices in the Bulgarian pagan necropolises is immobilization and damage to the skeletons - when buried, the head, chest (understand the heart) or legs, the legs from the knees down, the soles of the feet or the bones of the bones are cut directly by the bones. later. They do it because they believe in the spirits of the dead, the possibility of something going wrong and the dead returning for the harm of the living. In doing so, we can assume with great certainty that these measures are triggered by the social status or behavior of the dead life.


There are endless stories that can be told about the relationship between the living and the dead. Time will not come. Of course, archeology is not enough to restore this relationship alone - the efforts and achievements of many other sciences such as ethnology, mythology, and folklore are needed.

# interview

Will you reveal your future creative plans? What do you dream of and what you have to do?


I never forget that life is what happens while we make plans. If time permits, I have more to post about my archaeological site. I would like to summarize my travels in the Rhodope Mountains - an amazing place! Increasingly, I turn my eyes to ethnology - it contains many of the answers to the questions we ask ourselves as we dig. I am very tempted by ethno-archeology. I'm reading. I also work on a Bulgarian - English archaeological dictionary. As I grow older, I will start writing memoirs!

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