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Every year on August 19th, the Seven Rila Lakes witness the sacred dance Paneurhythmy, or the Supreme Cosmic Rhythm.  The ritual combines movement, music, and words in universal harmony. It is performed by the members of the White Brotherhood (official site), established by the spiritual teacher Peter Deunov (a large collection of his teachings on this site).

The White Brotherhood is partially Esoteric Christianity, partially occultism, partially a new religion and partially a new philosophy. The teaching was founded by the Bulgarian Peter Deunov (1864 – 1944), referred to by his followers as Beinsa Douno.

Peter Deunov was born near Varna when it was still in the Ottoman Empire. After Bulgaria regained its independence, he studied theology in an American protestant school near Svishtov, and later left for the States. In 1893, Deunov graduated from the School of Theology at Boston University, and a year later obtained a medical certification from Boston University’s Graduate School of Medicine (Martin Luther King, Jr. also graduated from BU School of Theology but in 1955). In 1895, he returned to Bulgaria, where he began writing theological and philosophical books, gained followers, became a central figure in the Bulgarian clerical community, and established the White Brotherhood. Deunov’s only personal belongings are the white costume and shoes, a violin, and a Bible.

Cardinal Giuseppe Roncalli, later elected as Pope John XXIII, said:“In the present epoch the greatest philosopher living on the earth is Peter Deunov.”

Beinsa Dounos’ teachings emphasize love, wisdom, truth, justice, and virtue as attributes to Jesus Christ, who was a historic, cosmic, and mystic figure. The disciples of the teaching also follow a special diet, replace medicine with drinking hot water, meditate, and perform physical and musical exercises. The New Teaching, as the spiritual master calls it, is a complex system of rules and guidance for every aspect of life: spiritual, cultural, and scientific.

***

On August 19th, 2010, about 2000 followers from Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, England, Scotland, Spain, and Portugal took part in the ritual Paneurhythmy near Lake Babreka, part of the Seven Rila Lakes (read my previous post) in order to celebrate the New Year according to the White Bortherhoood’s calendar. In pairs, the participants form two big concentric circles with the orchestra in the middle and dance under the sunrise.

Paneurhythmy is a series of dance movements performed in the morning between March 22 and September 22, accompanied by various musical instruments. For best result it is performed in a group and out in the nature. Paneurhythmy benefits the breathing, blood circulation, and general physical health, as well as for concentration, positive thinking, and the sense of harmony with other people, with nature, and with the universe. This Supreme Cosmic Rhythm has a miraculous effect on the mental and spiritual health.

***

All the world renders homage to me, and I render homage to the Master Petar Deunov from Bulgaria,” Albert Einstein.




We left Sofia around 7:30 in the morning and in about an hour and a half reached Sapareva Banya and chalet Pionerska by car. We could’ve walked up from there, but since we were goofy-tourists and not real hikers, we took the lift***.

The wonderful 20-minute life ride above the coniferous forest revealed marvelous views towards the whole of Rila mountain, and it saved us a 4-5 hour walk. We reached chalet Sedemte Ezera (the Seven Lakes) at the altitude of 2100 meters. From there, we took the “winter route” on the right of the chalet, which immediately got us climbing up a steep and rocky hill. Our tongues were hanging in no time, but it was worth it!

First we saw Dolnoto Ezero (the Lower Lake) and Ribnoto Ezero (the Fish Lake).  The Seven Rila Lakes have a glacial origin and are part of the Rila National Park. They are connected though streams that later become Dzherman River. We saw Trilistnika (the Trefoil) below us and Bliznaka (the Twin). Bliznaka, at 2240 meters, is the largest of the seven and is composed of two parts connected by a strait, thus the name, the Twin. Another explanation for the name is that the peak Haramiata and its reflection in the lake look like twins.

At 2280m, we reached a large circular plateau covered in the greenest grass. This is the site of the annual Paneurhythmy, a ritual performed by the followers of teaching of the esoteric master Peter Deunov – Beinsa Douno, which you can read about in my next post.  In the vicinity, we found Babreka (the Kidney), which is the most famous lake due to its curious shape. The water was so clear we could see schools of trout in it. Bareback horses and their foals were grazing around the water.

In order to reach the last two lakes, we had to sweat profusely again. After another 200 meters along the steep trail, we reached Okoto (the Eye) (I chose to climb straight up along the waterfalls in search the best photo and found myself on a hill above the Eye). Okoto is definitely my favorite lake because of its magical turquoise color. It is the deepest lake, 38m deep, and part of its shore is ice-bound all year long. I wasn’t surprised to hear a kid cry out: “This is the best day in my life!”

The last lake, Sulzata (the Tear), at 2535m, is the smallest and as clear as a tear-drop. Mount Ezeren next to it reveals the Most Beautiful View in the World: the Seven Rila Lakes, the entire Rila mountain, and even half the country, as far as Stara Planina (the Balkan Mountain Range).  We joined the ritual and added a small flat pebble to the towers of pebbles build up by people who had been there before us.

On the way back, we took the “summer route,” which was a lot less steep and passed next to Trilistnika, Ribnoto Ezero and Dolnoto Ezero. The whole trip took us about 4 hours up and 3 hours down and culminated with kebabche, kiufte and beer in the chalet. Our faces, arms and necks were painfully sunburned, and we almost fell asleep on the lift on the way down, but it was a truly marvelous day!

***Let me just mention that the lift from chalet Pionerska to chalet Rila Lakes has a notorious fame among hard-core mountaineers, who claim that it is turning the region into a walk-in-the-park for lazy Sofia city dwellers who obviously don’t understand the power of nature and are there to pollute and harm the mountain. As if! I think that the lift is a great idea because it allows many people to rejoice at the marvels of Rila; people, who might not have the physical preparation in order to make the entire trip to the peak, and who wouldn’t otherwise be able to ever see the lakes. And trust me, everyone deserves to see the Seven Rila Lakes at least once in their lifetime!

See more beautiful pictures from Rila here.


10.  Tell her she has a cute accent

9. Teach your friends how to pronounce your girlfriend’s name correctly

8. Be able to point Bulgaria on the map and teach your friends to pronounce the capital Sofia the right way, with the stress on the first syllable

7.  Learn more about Bulgaria’s history: the ancient Thracians, the khans, the Bulgarian Empire, the Ottoman yoke, the revolutionaries, the socialist era, modern-day tourist destinations

6. Find a Russian/Greek/Turkish store that sells Bulgarian food and buy her liutenitza, sirene (cheese), or lokum/baklava. Know that real yogurt is made from Lactobacillus Bulgaricus and real red wine comes from the Melnik region

5. Call her to ask whether to use green or red peppers in the shopska salad that you are making for her

4. Listen to her Bulgarian and Balkan music playlist. Respect Lili Ivanova and Goran Bregovic

3. Be able to eat all the lukanka, kebabche, liutenitza, sirene, and banitza that her grandmother offers you and to try at least three types of rakia: from plums, grapes, and apricots.

2. Learn to dance pravo horo. And always lead it

1. Learn at least a few Bulgarian phrases. Start with Здрасти [Zdrasti] – Hello and Обичам те [Obicham te] – I love you

You might also find interesting:

“And God Created Bulgarian Women” from Vagabond magazine

An interview with the Swedish spouse of a Bulgarian woman from the blog “How to Marry a Bulgarian”


Did you know that the face of Europe would have been very different today if it hadn’t been for the Bulgarian khan Tervel who saved the Christian world from Arab invasion?

By the early 700s, the Arabs had conquered most of the Middle East, Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem, Syria, Damascus, Persia, Cyprus, Egypt, Cartagena, Spain, and Lisbon. By 716, they besieged Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, both by land and by sea. Europe had never seen such difficult times. It was about to be crushed by two Muslim fists, one from the West and one from the East.

Bulgar Khan Tervel accepts gifts of gold and silver from Byzantine Emperor Justinian

Constantinople was barely holding after three years under siege until a miracle happened. On August 15th, 718, the Bulgar Khan Tervel took the  Arabs by surprise. The Bulgar army annihilated the invaders, who didn’t return to the Balkans for at least a few centuries. Thus, the Bulgar khan became not only the savior of the Byzantine Empire, which in fact had always been its greatest enemy, but the savior of the entire European Christian civilization.

What would’ve happened if khan Tervel had not stopped the Arabs at Constantinople’s gates? Some historians think that the European society, and therefore most of the world as we know it today, would have been heavily influenced by the Islamic culture. Khan Tervel was called “Savior of Europe” and canonized as a saint by his contemporaries (although Bulgarians became Christian under King Boris a hundred years later).

Why have these historical facts, which were once known to all Europeans, been slowly disappearing from history textbooks? I don’t know, but I recently heard the theory that when Bulgaria joined the Communist bloc, Western Europe turned its back to her in many aspects, and this resulted in the omission of important historical truths.

Many believe than the Madara Rider was carved into the rock in honor of khan Tervel (read my previous post).


Less than an hour from the capital Sofia, near the village of Skravena at the foot of Stara Planina, or the Balkan Mountain Range, I discoverd the marvelous “Zdravetz” horse riding-school. The owner and horse trainer, Zdravko, believes that nothing relieves the stress and charges us better than a “journey in time on the back of a horse”.

There are no laptops or cell phones in Zdravko’s home. There’s only the mountain, the horses, the tents, and the good friends.

Zdravko’s front yard is in fact an open-air horse school. His guests can put up tents near the horse rink. There is also bar with a grill and a pool table for the tired cowboys. I didn’t take a dip in the swimming pool because it’s for the kids from “Zdravetz” children’s summer camps, but I did take an arching lesson with Zdravko’s son. We used an old Bulgarian recurve bow with rabbit fur decorations on the sides. Such a bow is very suitable for horseback rider hunting in the forest and was used by the Proto-Bulgarian Bulgar nomadic tribes (see pictures of the Bulgar warriors).

Zdarvko’s twelve horses roam free in the field and the wood behind his house. In the distance, there is an old church and just under it, the remnants of another, ancient church where archaeological excavations are soon to begin. We climbed a little bit further up and saw the breathtaking view of the valley’s fifteen villages. On the sides of every mountain passages, there were ruins from old Thracian and Roman watchtowers that used to guard the road passing through the valley.

This time when I went there, Zdravko showed me how to balance on the horse, amble, and trot. He promised me that in only a few more lessons, he and his friends will take me on a ride up the mountain trails. On a horse in Stara Planina, he said, you will  remember your true Bulgar past.


For the next three days, the village of Zheravna will be a one-of-a-kind time machine.  The Festival of The National Costume Zheravna 2010 will take place from August 20th to 22nd for the third year in a row. It will gather thousands of people from all regions of Bulgaria to celebrate with dance and music as their ancestors did 100-150 years ago.

The only condition for attending the festival is to wear a traditional costume. It could be authentic, theatrical, or custom-made. It could represent any region, social status, profession, or craftsman guild. See pictures and read more about Bulgarian folk costumes on the official website from the link above.

Participants will enjoy traditional cuisine: meze, cheeses, dried and grilled meats, banitza, breads, wine, and rakia. They will observe and take part in old-style wrestling, kukeri parades, nestinari dances, and the work of various craftsmen. The celebrations will be accompanied by traditional bagpipes, kettle drums, and cymbals as well as by dance performances by professional folklore ensembles and troupes from all Bulgarian ethnographic regions and other Balkan countries.

The use of modern devices and technology, even of chairs, forks, and watches is very restricted in order to ensure the authenticity of the experience. The festival is organized by Foundation “Bulgare”. Zheravna 2010 is a truly magnificent reincarnation of Bulgarian culture and heritage.


The Madara Rider is an emblematic rock relief found in Bulgaria’s Shoumen region. The relief dates back to the beginning of the 8th century and marks the beginning of the First Bulgarian Kingdom. It depicts a rider piercing his spear through a lion and accompanied by a dog and an eagle. The relief was carved into the vertical rock at a height of 23 meters (75 ft). It symbolizes victory over the enemy and is thought to represent the might of the Ancient Bulgarian khans from the days when we were a nomadic tribe of warriors. Some historians think that the image represents Khan Tervel who saved Europe from Arabic Invasion during the Siege of Constantinople in 718 AD (read about it in my blog).

Also known as the Madara Horseman, it was declared a Monument of World Heritage by UNESCO. It will become Bulgaria’s symbol on our first Euro coin.


This article in the Wall Street Journal accurately portrays the shortcomings of Bulgarian tourism: the bad condition of the roads, the need for more experienced, multilingual service workers, the high concentration of hotels at some sea resorts and the lack of hotels and facilities in wonderful places that should be getting a lot of tourist but currently aren’t. Indeed, Bulgaria is still considered mainly a budget travel destination for European college students and adventurers. Still, it has some very luxurious resorts and hotels for the lovers of spa centers, golf courses, yachts and high-end shopping.

What WSJ omits to mention is that Bulgaria has incredible perspectives. The small country has incredible mineral water and spa resorts, ski and snowboard resorts, hiking trails, wide sandy beaches with good conditions for various water sports, rivers for exciting kayaking, horseback riding in lush valleys and more. The Bulgarian territory was home to some of the oldest European civilizations, the Ottomans, the Byzantines, the Romans, and the Thracians, so it offers a multitude of architectural and archeological landmarks and historical sites. The cultural and folklore festivals, the cuisine, and the wineries can make many foreign tourist attractions fade away.

Bulgaria might have a bad image because of its communist past, but it has a bright future as a major tourist destination for visitors from all over the world.


Take a look at this beautiful promotional video made by the Bulgarian tourism authorities.

I hope it inspires you to visit our wonderful Black Sea and mountain resorts and tourist centers. Culture, history, archeology, architecture, cuisine, sports, entertainment, recreation, luxury, you can find it all in Bulgaria!


I had a very unpleasant experience with what was supposed to be a very merry celebration. My family and I went to the baptism of our cousins’ baby twins. Everything was a complete fiasco.

In the Rozhen monastery

Мy four-member family, the mother with the twins, their uncle, and their grandparents, traveled by cars for at least half an hour up a steep and curvy mountain road in 40˚C heat, during which both babies puked. Eventually, we reached a very beautiful monastery with a very pedantic priest. First he scolded my parents, the godfather and godmother for not having had a religious wedding (religious marriages were forbidden during socialism, most Bulgarians in their age group weren’t married in a church).  Then he scolded the mother for not being able to remember whether she was ever baptized or not (again, she was a child during socialism). As a whole, instead of inspiring us to be better Christians, this priest was reprimanding us.

As soon as the ceremony began, the babies started crying as if someone was beating them. They were choking on their tears, they peed themselves out of fear, they kicked and fought back. Everyone laughed at first, but after thirty minutes passed, we all wanted this to end. The mother got furious (or desperate) and rushed out of the church. The evil priest remained unshaken. He didn’t bother to shorten the ceremony, which lasted more than an hour. He had to completely undress the babies, dip them three times in the baptismal font, make them kiss the bible, draw crosses with ointment on each of their limbs, cut a few hairs in the shape of a cross from their heads, and on, and on. Everyone was nervous and distressed.

I usually treat religion with reservation, but this particular occasion deserves a little bit more.

The mother says that she is openly atheist. She didn’t know what the ceremony really was, so she was shocked when the babies started crying like that, when they had to be undressed, and when the priest started washing them with holy water with his hands.  She said the ceremony was torture for her kids who had never cried like that before. She said that she will “try” eastern religions instead.

Why then did she want to baptize the kids at all? Just in case? Or just because she thought it would be very romantic in that marvelous mountain monastery? Why do something that you don’t really believe in? And why bind your children to something that you don’t believe in? At least she could have waited until they are old enough to make their own choice.

In general, few Bulgarians are true believers. Our skepticism for religion is a leftover from the socialist regime (1944-89), which forbade religion, the “opium of the people.”  Today, Bulgarians go to church, but only on major holidays. We observe the Christian Orthodox traditions, but we accept them as family holidays rather than anything spiritual. Or am I wrong?


The young mother is leaning on the bed over two sleeping angels. The baby twins look like cherubs with their golden hair and rosy cheeks. The old women, who have come to pay praise to the mother and her children, admire the sight for a few minutes… and then spit on the babies: “Пу, пу!  Да те насерат кокошките!”

Don’t worry, it’s not what it seems!

First of all, it is not real spitting and second, it is meant to be against the evil eye.

According to the Bulgarian superstition, the jealous Devil hears all praises and steals or harms the object of admiration. That’s why when a baby is born, or when a child is exceptionally beautiful, we pretend to be spitting on it and say “may the chickens poop on you” out loud, so that we deceive the Devil. The whole thing in Bulgarian sounds like: “Pu, pu! Da te naserat kokoshkite!”

This constant fear that something wonderful might happen to us, but someone might see it, become jealous, and take it away from us is deeply engrained in the Bulgarian mindset. Since childhood, we are taught not to boast too much and not to trumpet abroad our happiness because someone might jinx us.  Being too beautiful, too healthy, too successful, always comes at a price.

Maybe this strange mindset originates from the 500-year period when Bulgarians were under Ottoman yoke. For 25 generations, Bulgarians had to hide their religion and any fortune from the oppressors. The law was such that if a Christian wore beautiful clothes or rode a horse in front of Muslims, those would be taken away from the Christian.

Often, Ottomans stole the beautiful Bulgarian girls they liked and made them wives in their harem.  Once in a few years, Bulgarians had to pay a “blood tax”: the Ottomans collected the strongest and healthiest young Bulgarian boys, took them to the hearth of the empire, converted them to Islam, made them forget their home and parents, and trained them as the most ferocious among the sultan’s soldiers.  Thus, our people came to believe that everything good and beautiful should be kept hidden. This was their survival tactic.

Today, it is cute superstition.




The 21st birthday is one of the most anticipated days for most Americans. It’s the time when they can buy and drink alcohol, go to clubs to drink alcohol, go to Las Vegas to drink alcohol and go to clubs…

Most Europeans look forward to their 18th birthday with the same excitement. It’s the day when they can get a driver’s license, buy alcohol and tobacco, buy and star in porn, gamble, go to jail…

In Bulgaria… Well, we can drink as soon as we are tall enough to reach the bar, girls go clubbing and star in porn as soon as they look hot enough, and we never learn to drive cars, especially in the capital.

What is the next threshold after the 21st?

Waiting to be old enough to run for Congress or President so that you can fix a few policies, meet powerful buddies and beautiful interns, and get your photo in a few newspapers. Waiting to build a steady career before you have kids or waiting for your kids to grow up so that you can get back to work. Waiting to retire so that you can indulge in farming, smoking cigars, and drinking scotch.

Why are we so keen on waiting, and why are we so dependent on time?

On my birthday, I would like to promise myself that I’m not going to wait for things to happen but will always make them happen.

***********

And just to clarify, I find the “culture of the 21st birthday” in America deplorable. Pouring beer in your throat with a hose, drinking from dirty glasses while playing beer pong, eating alcohol jello shots: it seems completely idiotic and downgraded to me. But if the law has been restricting adolescents’ impulses and desires for twenty-one years, of course that they are going to go all overboard when they finally become legal. In Europe, where these laws (and parents) are not so strict, the transition teenagers-alcohol-adults is smoother and, in my opinion, better for everyone.  Click to watch a slideshow on Why are 21st birthday parties such a huge deal to college students.



From Charles Kingsley's Water Babies, illustrations by Anne Graham Johnstone

According to the superstition, the chimney sweeper brings good luck.

Sofia still has a few chimney sweepers. They clean, vent, and repair chimneys and fireplaces.

I have been very lucky to see one of them on several occasions. In the summertime, this chimney sweeper often visits the Kristal public garden. He wears a battered black coat with tails, a black top-hat, a rod curled around his arm, and the emblematic brush. His clothes are sooty, and his face is wrinkled.

Although he is old, he always reminds me of Anne Grahame Johnstone’s children’s illustrations of Water Babies.

People ask if they could touch him and give him a few coins for good luck.

The Kristal garden is the only place I’ve ever seen a chimney sweeper. It feels me with affection to see that there are lucky chimney sweepers walking around Sofia.

We must be living in a fortunate city.


Rise your hand if lately, you’ve picked ripe tomatoes from the vine, peppers and eggplants from the garden, melons and watermelons from the field, and figs from the tree. No? I’m not surprised.

This weekend, I went back to Kapatovo, the picturesque village in the Melnik region where my father was born. I indulged in the sun, the clean air, and the fresh fruit and vegetables.

I’m glad that the Bulgarian countryside is full of such villages where life hasn’t changed for the past fifty years. Villages like Kapatovo are inhabited by elderly people who came back to their places of birth after their retirement or by old people who never left and who only sent their children to the big cities.

Life in the villages of the Melnik region is calm. The houses are in the traditional architectural style: with white walls that have grey river-stones in the base, with wooden struts that support the balconies, with red-brick roofs, and large gardens that have wooden huts for the animals or hay.  More and more people renovate the old houses to make them into comfortable summer or retirement villas.

The Melnik region is famous for its red wines, so many of the houses have cellars. The vast vineyards growing on the outskirts of Kapatovo, Levynovo, Kromidovo, and Melnik and the famous wineries are a popular destination for wine and village tourism. The warm weather in the valley and the coolness of the Pirin mountain make the region a true Eden.

Food is clean. People grow their fruit and vegetables and look after domestic animals. And let me tell you, there is no greater pleasure than picking a tomato from the plant and sinking your teeth in it while its sweet juice runs down your arm. When you have such a wonderful place to go to, with kind grandparents and neighbors who love to farm, you stop thinking about Organic and Bio foods and growth hormones and corn starch because the food you are eating is real.

DOWN WITH

Organic,

Sugar-free,

Skim,

Bio,

Cage-free,

Eco…

Just give me real food from Kapatovo!

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