South Slavic Witchcraft: Magic in Slovenia and Bulgaria was used to harm and to heal

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Visit to the witch from the Main Church of Rila Monastery, 1844. Photograph by Stavri Tserovski

Incantations, rituals, spells, and charms were integral to witchcraft in Southeastern Europe. Folk healing was the task of the village witch, who possessed special skills.

Folk magic in Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) was often used for protection, to ward off evil, to encourage desire or love, and to heal. Witchcraft may still exist in some form in very remote villages of Southeastern Europe, but the pagan rituals, incantations, spells, and mysticism has, for the most part, fallen out of fashion.

Witchcraft as a Profession in Southeastern European History

In Bulgaria, women were the main “conjurers” of villages, and the art of magic healing and casting spells was the responsibility of older women who would pass on their knowledge of charms and incantations to another chosen female. Villages typically maintained one “white” witch – a practitioner of healing magic – and one “black” witch – a practitioner of harmful magic.

In Slovenia, both men and women took roles as witches. Female witches derived their power from a lunar goddess; male witches sought to protect the village from evil.

Magic Aides in Southeastern European Witchcraft

Folk healing, spells, and charms were often worked with the help of magic devices:

  • Herbs
  • Boiling water
  • Iron tools
  • Animal parts (bones or teeth)
  • Bells

Special helpers were also invoked. For example:

  • Demons
  • Spirits
  • Animals
  • Virgin Mary
  • Christ
  • Saints

Herbs, like basil or garlic, were used to create potions or were burned as incense. Bells were rung to ward off dangerous hailstorms or other inclement weather. Burying iron tools in the ground might prevent crops from growing in an enemy’s field. A girl who boiled a lock of her lover’s hair could expect the owner of the lock to fall in love with her. Magical spirits or Christian helpers might speed up the healing process in someone who was injured or ill.

Charms in South Slavic Witchcraft

The charms that were whispered or chanted during the casting of a spell were full of mystical images, imaginary tales, and visuals of nature. Some charms implored the help of a saint. Other recounted stories that were metaphors for the healing act.

Charms against the Evil Eye often sought out a source and identified a means of punishment for the originator of the Evil Eye.

Practitioners of South Slavic witchcraft were given special respect in the villages of Bulgaria, Slovenia, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere in Southeastern Europe. They were paid to harm or to heal – and whether or not their charms, spells, and folk healing worked, the belief that it did was what gave them their power.

References

  1. Conrad, Joseph L. “Bulgarian Magic Charms: Ritual, Form, and Content.” The Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 31, No 4. (Winter, 1987), pp. 548-562.
  2. Kropej, Monika. “Charms in the Context of Magic Practice. The Case of Slovenia.” Folklore, Vol 24. (October, 2003). n.p.
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