The term Thracian orphism is a modern scientific term coined by Professor Alexander Fol. It is a rigorous system of rules and prohibitions related to religious practices, human relationships, food and clothing among the ancient Mediterranean peoples.

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Alexander Fall

Let's clarify that there are two types of orphism - Greek and Thracian. But there are hardly boundaries between the two, and no clear distinction can be drawn between Thracians and Hellenes in ancient times. There are hypotheses for local, common origin of Thracians and Hellenes.

Today, ritual actions associated with Thracian orphism can be traced back to Kuker traditions. Similar to Kuker carnival masks and similar style of celebration are currently found in the area of ​​the Balkans (Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Croatia, Slovenia), but also elsewhere in southern Europe (Sardinia, Italy and Cantabria, Spain), which on the other hand, it suggests pagan cultural affinity based on orphism.

According to Alexander Fall, folk rituals close to the Thracian orphism are well traced even today in Strandzha, during the ritual dance of the Kuker without a mask.

White Mooker: Heritages.info

White mummer in Strandzha / photo: heritages.info

The White Kuker (symbol of the god Dionysus Zagreus) is dressed in seven layers of sheepskin, wears a high horn with horns on his head and has an open face. In his hand he holds a wooden stick, which is a phallic symbol. During the ritual he was accompanied by a mummer's grandmother (the Great Mother Goddess), a barber, a king, a mummer's maiden. At one point in the ritual, the mummer's grandmother climbs a tree, where she gives birth to a dog - a symbol of the appearance of the King-priest, who later "dies" in the ritual of running, to appear resurrected at the end. The earth is ritually plowed and sown by the White Mummer and his party, with which the old year is buried and the new one is born. Finally, a ten-meter-long pole rises with a lighted wooden basket on top, around which a horo winds. This is the Pali-kosh custom, which is practiced after sunset.

The basket is burning

Pali - basket in Malko Tarnovo / photo: zonaburgas.bg

In Strandzha we see that running dogs makes more sense than protecting dogs from rabies. The ideology of the Priest King, who is present as the beginning, medium, and end of action, reflects the circularity of the world and its concentricity in a unified personification, contrary to the Hellenic beginning, which is accompanied by Chaos and diversity.

I will try to explain where these actually came from mockery ritesinsofar as their connection with the Thracian orphism is traceable. First, let us clarify that the activities of the Kukeri are part of the nationwide Orphic festivities, while there is also an aristocratic Orphic cult, which is unknown today.

What is the relationship between the so-called. The White Kuker with the ancient Orphic ritual, according to historian Alexander Fall? When the White Kuker performs sowing-like movements, their symbolic meaning is the fertilization of the Mother Goddess by her son. This incest (incest) should not bother us, for it matters in a broader, mystical way, to which I will later turn my attention.

The mother goddess, this is the land that is fertilized by her son god Dionysus (but not the Greek god Dionysus, but the Thracian god Dionysus Zagreus), which begins the new natural cycle. These popular beliefs and practices have been preserved since Thracian times, when they were called Dionysius. After Christianity (according to Fall), Dionysius became organically associated with Shirny Zagovezny and Easter. The dance of the Kuker (god Dionysus Zagrei) and the ritual actions he performs symbolize the change of the old with the new year, as well as the continuity of the life cycle in nature. The Thracian god Dionysus Zagreus is a symbol of the solar (solar) beginning of the world. He is a thunder god, a dragon god, a king king and a shaman. It is the beginning, middle and end of the world, which differentiates it radically from Hellenic notions of divinity.

A good knowledge of orphism can give us a lot of useful knowledge, especially in connection with the practices of the oldest known religion in the Bulgarian lands. It is also important that a separation between Thracian and Hellenic tribes on the basis of religion will help us understand the differences in the mentality and views of these tribes. Which is too important for us to know our own Thracian roots. This can be done by subjecting all available information about the orphism to a serious scientific analysis. Such has already been done by the philologist Professor Bogdan Bogdanov. I will propose some of his important conclusions.

Bogdan Bogdanov: www.bogdanbogdanow.net

Prof. Bogdan Bogdanov / Photo: bogdanbogdanov.net

In passing, I will mention other opinions about the nature and character of both orphism as a whole and important parts of its doctrine. According to Rode, the meaning of orphism is reduced to the doctrine of the rebirth and immortality of the soul. Cairn gives a more serious explanatory scheme according to which the orphism was introduced from the East by the doctrine of the salvation of the soul after passing it beyond.

Kern's conclusion contributes to the elucidation of Thracian ethnogenesis. If we assume that the Thracian beliefs come from the east and differ from the Greek, we should look in this direction and the origin of the Thracians. We need to be aware that in the formation of the Thracian ethnic group it is very likely that the genes of the people who came to the Balkans on horseback and destroyed the eneolithic (civilization) culture on the Bulgarian lands would be present. These people with a new worldview somehow remodel and complement the local religion, enriching it with new elements. All this, thus presented, can be traced in the layering of Thracian motifs on ancient Greek mythology.

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A few words are needed for the lives of newcomers from the East. After their invasion, the creators of the treasures of Hotnitsa and Varna cease their cultural development, completely going into decline in the aesthetic dimension of the forms in the Balkans. This is probably due to the lack of drowsiness, the Montenegrin lifestyle and the conquest of the newly emerged population. Modern research on the problem of high dose of security establishes continuity in the way of life in many places in the Balkan area, so we should not think of the Thracians as a single wave, which came from the east, flooded the present-day Bulgarian lands and changed everything fundamentally. Rather, it is a matter of mixing, but in any case the influence of the eastern component is very strong and is traced indisputably in orphism.

What is new and unique about orphism in the Balkan context? The answer to this question will give us an idea and what is the cultural code of the Thracians, and therefore of ourselves, their heirs today.

Orphism has a religious belief that is not typical of classical Hellenic religion. On the one hand, orphism is a religious literature, on the other it is a religion. According to Dodds, it has a clearly visible influence from Eastern shamanism.

The literature related to Orpheus and Orphism existed already in the 5th century BC. BC, but was considered marginal and external to Greek tradition. Plato contrasts Orpheus' literature with the poetry of Homer and Hesiod (typically Hellenic). The verses of Homer were transmitted orally and recited on holidays, while the Orphic texts were solemnly read and distributed by wandering preachers. Alien to the Hellenic polis tradition is the Orphic sacred word, which proclaims the provision of the beyond blessedness of the one who is consecrated in it, of his immortal soul. In Omirovo - the Hesiod (Hellenic) tradition there is no sacred word.

The historical springs of the orphism are not Hellenic (Hesiod or Homir), but their own. It exists in parallel with Hellenic religion. The Thracian orphism is layered on the local Pelasgian to Greek culture.

Orphic religious beliefs about the creation of the world suggest an origin, a common single origin, after an incest between a solar male deity (the White Kuker) and his mother (the Great Mother Goddess; the Kuker grandmother). According to the Hellenic idea of ​​creation, Chaos stands in the beginning along with two other beginnings - Gaia and Tartar. Ie The Greek tradition in this respect dampens the structuring of multiplicity, democracy, and the Thracian Orphic one, in unison, of kingdom. The Greek ideological tradition is originally liberal, and the Thracian is originally monarchical. When combining orphism (in the sense of innate aristocracy) with Hellenism (in the sense of innate democracy) and alongside the important orphic notion of the beyond happiness of the soul, we see how close it all is to the Christian worldview of Paradise for the righteous.

The Thracian king is the main Orphic figure in the performance of religious rituals. He is the leader, the demiurge, the cultural hero and the shaman - the mediator between people and the world beyond. The personification of the Thracian king is the King of the White Kuker Company. But the King is simply the human reflection of the god Dionysus Zagrey (the White Kuker), and in fact, in mythological terms, they are one and the same thing.

Sevt III, king of Thracian from the 4th century BC. Chr.

The observant practices of the White Kuker and his wife to this day are only a small part of the Orphic rituals of the Thracian times. If we want to learn more about orphism, we have to refer to the sources.

According to Plato and Theophrastus, Orpheus' teaching is spread by preachers wandering through the homes, pre-ordained in his ritual sacraments. It is noteworthy that preachers have books and scrolls with ritual spelling words, which is uncharacteristic of the Greek environment and is considered mocking or disdainful of the Hellenes. Orphics preach purification and deliverance of the soul through pleasant festive actions. It might be supposed to be something very similar to the Kuker processions, only that it takes place in sacred homes or wooden buildings. While Hellenic religious practice was carried out in impressive temple buildings, such as the Parthenon.

Orphism lacks the blood sacrifice characteristic of the Hellenes. The presence of the Orphic is considered to be the presence during the ritual of a basket of secret things. Such a basket may have served as a prototype of that of the Pali-basket rite. Mysterious objects are usually toys to be used for the play and entertainment of the little King-God (the unity of the White Kuker - god Dionysus Zagrey, the King - the dog born of the Kuker grandmother) when he was born of the Great Mother Goddess. When complete, Dionysus toys are a short wave, a small ball, a mirror, a dice, a golden apple, a cone, a pump and a wheel.

In closing the description of the Orphic practices, I will mention some of the prohibitions imposed on the eating of the followers of the doctrine. Avoiding a blood sacrifice orphism results in a refusal to eat meat. From the sources it is clear that the orphans are strict vegetarians: they do not eat meat and eggs. They are also prohibited from wearing wool clothes. All this is so that the divine soul in man can be kept more pure and holy.

I will mention some of the confusions that have arisen over the centuries and the mythology of the Greeks that has been expanding over the centuries. I have already mentioned the Hellenistic tendency to plurality in descriptions, which sometimes leads to a reshaping of the meaning and perceptions of some mythical characters. For example, Orpheus, who gives his name to a Thracian religious teaching. In ancient Greek mythology, over time, he loses his original self, with which he is known and acclaimed by the Thracians in order to be reduced to an ordinary hero, not even a god. In fact, the Thracian image of Orpheus, known by mysteries and Kukeri rites, is his authentic image, which is enriched in the Greek environment to the degree of marginalization. Orpheus is the humanized image of the god Dionysus Zagreus, the emanation of the Thracian King, the White Kuker in the Kuker ritual. God Dionysus Zagreus also marginalized himself in Hellenic mythology in order to reach a degree of divinity of fun and wine that does not fit into his Thracian role as an ever-generating, solar god. The image of Dionysus Zagreus is much closer to the Greek Apollo than to Dionysus.

The Thracian orphism theme itself is extremely interesting. Insight into it is a great difficulty because of the rich but rather fragmented information. We should be glad that we can also have a direct contact with the traditions of orphism, through Kuker rituals. This must make us proud of the rich and ancient heritage we have, and hold us accountable for its preservation and transmission to the generations after us.

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