Superstitions, beliefs, Pagan traditions and customs among Bosnian Muslims
Bosnian Muslims have many beliefs and traditions with pre-Islamic roots. These traditions were noticed long time ago, an anonymous author from 16th century says that “Bosnian people have accepted Islam nominally and that they still continue to practice their old traditions and customs.” At the end of 19th century, the studies about Bosnian Muslims and Islam in Bosnia intensified. Antun Hangi, a Hungarian teacher who came to Bosnia wrote a book about traditions of Bosnian Muslims, Local magazine Behar had problems with his work saying that he was not a Muslim so he called some traditions Islamic even if they don’t have roots in Islam. The same magazine stared collecting Bosnian “valja - ne valja” beliefs (what is good and what isn’t good to do). They collected hundreds of phrases with origins in different mythologies: Slavic, Illyrian, Gothic and Celtic. Another author in Behar magazine gave a positive review to Hangi’s work but he added: “It would be a difficult but a good work to explore and look at the roots of our beliefs.” During 70’s Muhamed Hadžihajić wrote two works on this topic “Predislamski elementi u islamu u Bosni i Hercegovini” and “Sinkretistički elementi u islamu u Bosni i Hercegovini.”
Belief in astral twin
Bosnian Muslims believe that every human being has a star. When a baby is born, a star on the sky appears and shines all their life. Falling stars mean that the one who had that star has died or will die. It is believed that number of stars and people is equal. It isn’t good to count stars because if you “hit” your star while doing it, you are going to die. This belief shouldn’t be mixed with those that came from the East (astrology etc)
Something all Bosnian children remember growing up is the constant talk about doorsteps. Very soon, a child learns that a doorstep is a very special place in house. It is said that standing on a doorstep is a sacrilege and that it brings bad luck. Sitting on a doorstep brings poverty. Standing on a doorstep isn’t good at all, but standing during thunderstorm is even worse. The link between doorstep and thunder indicates the dedication of a doorstep to god Perun, Slavic god of thunderstorms. In a Gornjevrbaska region, the doorstep was considered holy. Standing on it was considered equal to standing on Holy Qur'an. Some Slavic mythology experts claim that doorsteps have a link with ancestors cult. Spasoje Vasilijev says: “Slavs were burying their beloved ones in fields, under doorstep or hearthstone..”
The doorstep symbolizes the border between two worlds humans live in: world of warmth and comfort which is inside, and world of phsyical work and hardship which is outside. Ancestors live on this “border” and they protect people from the bad influences of the other world.
Belief in fairies and nymphs
Long time ago, Procopius noticed that Slavs adore rivers, fairies and nymphs. In Bosnian tradition, fairies and nymphs are shown as beautiful, young women, dressed in blue or white. Their long hairs go down their bossom and chest. They live in clouds, forests, mountains, near rivers and some of them even in sea. They are very playful and they like to help heroes who love them and respect them. The popular Bosniak epic about Mustafa Mujo Hrnjica mentions fairies. He was hurt in a battle and they came to treat his wounds: “And then the fairy told: Go my sisters. You go to mountains. Bring me flowers! And you go to sea and bring me cold water. So we wash his wounds and make a herbal balm.”
Fairies are often mentioned in Bosniak epics, poetry and folk songs. Well known are “gorske vile”, or fairies from the mountains which dance on very green meadows. It is also a common belief that fairies come and braid hairs of good horses.
Belief in Mora/Morana
In Slavic mythology Mora is an evil spirit who appears during the night, sits on chest of those who sleep, sucking out their blood. It is believed when newborn babies have lumps under their nipples that Mora has come and that she is sucking their blood out. It is said she is very evil and she promised she wouldn’t eat humans but would only disturb and torture them during the night. People from Planinica believe that if a person feels Mora on their chest and catches her between fingers and turns on the light, they can see her.
Mora can show up in different forms. She can take form of hair or a moth and can go inside through keyhole. Today this word means “nightmare” in Bosnian and verb “moriti” means “to torture”.
Predictions based on animals, plants and nature
Raven is a sign of bad luck; if he flies over someone’s house, someone in that house will die. Sparrows bring good luck, house on which they make a nest is a lucky house. People believe it is a big sin to kill sparrows. Frogs croaking mean rain, when a gadfly can’t keep away from cattle, it predicts rain. When a spider makes net early in the morning, that means the day will be sunny and warm.
It isn’t good to eat from knife, person who does that will get a heart attack. When you spill something unintentionally, that means you will get something. If you hiccup, that means someone is mentioning you.
Bosnian Muslims believe that being in nature, on mountains or inside caves brings one closer to God and for that reason the most of “holy” places for Bosnian Muslims are located thee.
“It is good - It isn’t good”
Older Bosnian Muslims have a habit of telling those to younger generations. It is just enough to say “something isn’t good” and all debate ends. People never check veracity of those; people blindly believe in them:
- It isn’t good to kill fire salamander, you will become mute.
- It isn’t good to go on a trip on Tuesday, bad luck.
- It isn’t good to cut nails at night, demons will come.
- It isn’t good to stand under cherry or walnut tree during rain. You will be hit by a lighting.
- It isn’t good to rock empty cradle, child will die.
- It isn’t good to walk over someone, they won’t grow anymore.
- It isn’t good to cut nails on Tuesday, you will get sick.
Sacrifice during house construction
Procopius mentions: “Slavs offer sacrifice to their supreme God. They kill cattle and other animals. During the war or hardship, they promise they will make sacrifice to their God if he helps them, and really when it gets better they do it.”
Before, in some regions in Bosnia, horse was used to “predict” the result of sacrifice. If horse goes out of stable, stepping with his left leg first, it won’t be good, if it is right leg, it will be good.
Beside traditional Eid Ul Adha and Aqiqah sacrifice, Bosnian Muslims make offering during house construction. A ram should be slaughtered on the right side of the house so the blood falls down on base. After that, people pray to God to accept the offering, then they eat the meat and talk. Bosnian Muslim magazine Preporod mentions: “When a wall in house is completed, it is good to slaughter an animal for good health and future. One should slaughter a lamb on foundation or near wall so blood of the animal can be seen on those.” Once house is completed and house owner completes the roof, Bosnian Muslims make so called “sljeme”. Traditionally, people bring gifts to workers. They would hang the gifts on top of the house and bless the one who brought them with following words:
“Mašallah, Mašallah, fina dara . Donio nam taj i taj . Hvala mu, živio. Sina oženio, ‘ćer udo . Žito mu rodilo Kolo mu hodilo ...”
It is also believed that one should keep animal’s bones until thunderstorm and on that day should throw them out or burn them and thunderstorm will stop.
St. George’s Day and St. Elias Day
St. George’s Day (Jurjevo) was one of the most important days for Bosnian Muslims. They celebrated it on 6th of May. Before explaining the practices on this day, it is important to mention why Muslims in Bosnia celebrate this day. Sping celebrations and rituals were part of many cultures, among Slavs those spring celebrations were made for Jaril and the holiday does appear to have pan-Slavic roots. Bosnian Muslims believe there are things that should be done before and after Jurjevo. On this day "jurjevske dove" (George’s duas) begin and they last until the St. Elias Day. The most important event for Bosnian Muslims, Ajvatovica, is 7 weeks after Jurjevo. Poor Muslims celebrated this day as the beginning of spring. Young people used it as an excuse to make celebrations which lasted the whole night.
In Sarajevo and Visoko,on a night before St. George’s Day, people carry Qur'an around house reciting surat and praying for “green George” to bring good spring. In Visoko and Kakanj, women burn fire to protect animals and fruits from snakes.
Young girls used to dress as “Dodola”; usually in white, with hair in braids. They would meet and predict their future, happiness and marriage chances. In some regions of Bosnia, those traditions were a little different. Magazine Bosanska Vila mentions: “On a night before St. George’s Day, a girl goes out just before sunset. She stands facing west. Once she sees sun going down she tells magic words which should make the boy turn after her: "Oh fairy, oh my sister, don’t reach for me, don’t catch my dress or sleeves, don’t reach for Earth or sky, nor mountain nor water, but reach for Mehmed’s mind and sanity." The next day, girl wakes up before Sun, and waits for the sunrise. As soon as she comes out she faces east and says: "Oh George’s Day, my beautiful day, please help me, please help me turn my wonderful Mehmed towards me. Sun comes out on the sky, and goes above many mountains, please make my house shine, and shine over my beloved Mehmed and shine on us in our bed.” As soon as she says this, she goes back in house and hopes her words will come true.
Aiša Softić Aličić mentions in her text “Ženidbeni običaji muslimana Sarajeva” that girls used to put willow branches around their waists singing: “This year with willow, next year with stomach” showing their wish for marriage and children.
Young girls also wanted to know how many people would be in their household. On a night before St. George’s Day, they used to dig out a tiny hole and put sugar in it. They came to check in the morning and the number of ants meant the number of family members, if there were no ants, it meant she would live alone with her husband. Girls used to check if they would get married that year by going to the fence and touching every plank on it saying “Ta” and then “Tu” on the next one. If she got to say “Ta” on the last one, that meant she would get married that year.
St. George’s Day was also a chance for taking care of beauty and health. Night before Jurjevo women used to bring “Omaha”; water from millstone. It was believed this water makes the face more beautiful and hair shine. This water shouldn’t be around metals because metals take away its powers. Next morning, girls wash their faces with Omaha. In some places, people used to touch other people and children with nettle in order to keep good health.
St. Elias Day was another important event for Bosnian Muslims. Hadžijahić mentions: “In Muslim celebration of this holiday, we see traces of ancient pagan traditions related to cult of sun and rain.” In Bosnia it is known as Aliđun or Ilijevdan. Muslims from Sarajevo had tradition of going to Trebević where there used to be big celebrations. It is believed that nuts won’t give fruit if there is thunder on this day.
Bosnian Muslims consider linden tree to be very important and holy. They plant it near graveyards, mosques and it is believed it brings good luck in afterlife. Lighting wouldn’t hit this tree because the Blessed Mother is said to hiding in the tree.
Perunika (iris) keeps house safe from thunderstorm.
Walnut tree is considered to be bad. A lot of times parents in Bosnia tell their children that they should not sit under this tree because witches and demons dance under them. It is not good to fall asleep under it. People avoid touching it ant when they want to take the walnut, they bring long poles and hit the tree until the walnuts fall down.
Elder tree is considered to be good and it is believed that fairies live and sleep under this one. Ederberry juice is very popular in Bosnia.
Mother Earth is a common belief among Bosnian Muslims. In Bugojno, when a person dies, people put their body on ground so they could give the energy back to Mother Earth. There is a story in which girl asked a star to bring her beloved back, but it didn’t work, then she put her hands on the ground and said the following words: “Oh dark land, oh my mother, I don’t want this magic to reach you, gardens, fruits or sheep, I want it to reach Mujo (nickname for Mustafa) and his heart. his liver, his seventy seven lives, his eighty eight joints, his ninety nine bones, his mind and his brain, and his heart. And the cord on which his heart hangs. Everywhere he walks, let him think of me.”
“Home snake” is a snake which usually used to live around houses. It is bad to kill it because she takes care of household. In some places in Bosnia, it is a bad thing to kill this snake even if person sees it in baby’s cradle. Killing it means baby will die.
In some regions in Bosnia, grandmothers or mothers tell their grandaughters and daughters that they should “cover” their heads while they’re sleeping in order to stop this demon/spirit from falling in love with them. This belief has Germanic origin and is believed that it was brought to Bosnia by Teutons or Goths.
Drekavac is a demon and spirit who appears at night and makes loud nosie. People who claim to see him say that he looks like a bear while others claim he looks like bird. Bosnian Muslims believe he appears in spring. Plakavac is a similar demon, it is believed he was strangled by his mother.
Baba Roga (Baba Yaga)
Baba Roga is a creature usually described as a very ugly and deformed looking woman. People in Bosnia usually describe someone very ugly like this. In Bosnia she is used to scare children when they don’t listen to their parents.
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