Our lands have an ancient history. Here are the customs of ancient times, which today still attract the curiosity of the viewer. The most famous characters in our folk ritual games are the Kukers, the Nestinarians and the carols. The participants in these games are secret men's societies or fraternities, united by a common magical dance performed for health and fertility. We all know how Kukers, Nestiners and Christmas carols look, and we've seen their interesting costumes and dances live or on television.


Now in Bulgarian magazine we will turn our attention to some more unpopular characters from the Bulgarian folk mythology. These are Russians and Kalushars: players playing the role of priest-spellcasters, shamans and healers.


Russians and Kalushari in the Bulgarian lands are considered to be a heritage of an ancient tradition, which over time changes its name according to the linguistic environment in which it was practiced. Russians are known among Bulgarians in Macedonia and Northern Bulgaria, and Kalushari play the Vlachs in Northwestern Bulgaria and the Arumans in Macedonia. The name of our custom comes from the Rose Festival in the Roman Empire (Rosalia or Rosaria). This holiday dates back to the 81st century AD. During the reign of Emperor Domitian (96-XNUMX) it was placed next to the New Year and the Feast of the Emperor. After adopting Christianity, she also entered the Christian calendar: "The covered market is lined with roses." The day of the holiday changes according to the flowering of the roses - it starts in mid-May in some parts of Italy, elsewhere in June and July.


According to experts, the Rose Festival (Rosalia) also penetrated the Balkans as early as the XNUMXnd century as part of Roman culture, which blends with the established traditions of the local Thracian population. The combination of Roman Rosalia and Greek Dionysias in the Romanized Thracians (ancestors of the Vlachs) resulted in Kalushari. The same applies to Bulgarians in Macedonia and Northern Bulgaria, for whom Rusalian games are part of the ancient (Thracian-Roman) heritage.


During the Christianization of the Balkans (XNUMXth century AD), the Rose Festival coincides with the Pentecostal Church, the Day of the Holy Trinity. At the same time, the Russians and their Rusali plays are perceived in church terms as something profane to the Christian faith, sinful and evil. Russian texts from the XI century mention the Rusalian demonic and pagan games. On our lands for Rusalian national gatherings, organized after Easter, writes Theodore Balsamon in the XII century. Dimitri Khomatian (XIII c.) Calls the Rusalian games "shameful performances" performed in the week after Pentecost. Archbishop Dimitri Homathian of Ohrid witnesses young people from his parish go out to the villages, collect presents, dance and jump, making a pantomime.


The celebrations and games of Russians and Kalushari in Bulgaria and Macedonia survive to this day. The Russians and the Kalushari are men's groups consisting of hard-boiled heroes, transformed into festive clothes. Each group has their own commanders who give orders what to do and where to go. Russians and Kalushari go from village to village on certain days of the year, dancing, blessing and healing the sick there.


Russians in northern Bulgaria were witnessed in the first half of the 1884th century. They were practiced in the villages of Strupen, Enitsa and Brenitsa, Beloslatinsko, as well as in Svishtov. In 20 Kuzman Shapkarev described very well the Russians in Macedonia practiced in the Bulgarian villages between Enice Vardar and Kukush, northeast of Thessaloniki. The Rusalian troupe numbers between 60 and 2 guys, split in pairs. They are led by a talker (an ax-bearer) and a janitor, assisted by a yusbashi. The company is guarded by two chauses, it has 4 - XNUMX servants and two calluses, whose role is to announce the arrival of the Russians in a village. They are all dressed in their new Easter clothes, walking with their swords lifted, raised up. Russians from one couple move to each other, but without talking to each other.

Russians do not get baptized when they eat and go to bed, do not greet anyone on a date and never step through the water. After arriving in the village, the chatterbox and the casket command the couples in which house to stay. Each pair of Russians sleeps in a separate home. The villagers welcome Russians with the highest honors. It is compulsory for Russians to be strangers to the local people, so each group is formed by guys who never go to play in their own village. Baltaji is the leader of the troupe, while the casket is in charge of managing the choir.


Early in the morning, even before sunrise, the village thugs start beating to wake the Russians. After breakfast, they gather at the square where they prepare for their festive choir. The whole village gathers to watch the magical Rusali choir. It is believed that if sick people split the choir and enter its midst, they will soon be healed. Russians do not hold their own in the dance floor, but are stacked side by side. In their right hand they carry a sword, which is raised and lowered up and down, and their left hand is placed next to the body. For the duration of the choir, the Chaushas circumnavigate the village and cross with their swords all the "for good" health. If he has a bed sick in the village - they make him watch the Rusali choir to heal. The Chaushas go around with open hats to collect money from the villagers for a church.


The Rusalian group has been touring the villages for 12 days. Then he returns to his native place, where he donates the money raised to the church. It is obligatory that after the end of the games the candlestick read a prayer to the participants in the Rusalian games, otherwise it is believed that they will go crazy.

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At the same time, local Vlachs (also called arumans) have similar traditions and games in Macedonia. As with the Bulgarians, Vlachs are organized into groups whose purpose is to help raise money for a church or school. The boys dress in party clothes, one wearing a sword fur, and then going to play their Kalushir dance. They call themselves Kalushari. Such Kalushari are practiced in the villages of Vidin, Lomsko, Oryahovsko and Nikopolsko, where a considerable number of Vlachs live. Ethnographers note that around the Liberation in all Bulgarian villages in Lomsko there are 7-8 people of Kalush, who are of Wallachian descent. Unlike the Russians in Macedonia, who are armed with swords, the Kalushars carry sticks and dance with them. Kalushars cure the peasants from 'ogram' (a disease caused by evil spirits) and from 'madness'.

 Calusari, photo by Costică Acsinte, circa 1930-1940

Here is how the treatment works: “Putting the earth on a pot of water and wormwood; the patient sits by the pot. The hairs, led by a "bayraktar", play around the patient and with iron tacks that have legs, they produce a rather pleasant jingle, and in a high voice say, "Op zune zo" ("Get up, young man, for God's sake"), or " yak-un, yak-do ”(“ here’s one, here’s two ”). The game continues until one of the participants drops from fatigue and sits on the ground. Then another of the players swings and breaks the pot with water. It is believed that in this way the player "destroys" and chases away the mermaids and self-styled mosquitoes that have pressed the patient. Thus the evil spirits are banished and the sick is healed.

Such dances of Kalushari are attested after the Liberation in Gorni Tsibar, Zlatiya, Linevo and Stanevo. Vatafin stands at the head of the Kalushari. He chooses his wife, considering the participants to be odd. As with Russians, Kalushari dances are of two kinds. One is for fertility and the other is for healing the sick.


Kalushari and Russali games are traditions that have been preserved for many centuries in our lands. They survive despite the vicissitudes of the times and the negative attitude of the Church, because the people too value the healing abilities of these heroes in folk mythology.           

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