Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bulgarian Folk Music for the Year of the Horse 2014

"A horse is a horse, of course of course"
Lyrics to the Mr. Ed theme song

The Chinese New Year of the Horse begins in a few days, on the 31st of January, 2014.

The Chinese Zodiac assigns one animal per year (unlike the Western zodiac which assigns one animal or symbol per month).  The Chinese New Year goes by the moon instead of the sun and it falls on a different day each year when the sun and the moon are conjunct in the sign of Aquarius.

The horse also has significance in Bulgarian folklore;  and it is also one of the symbols on the Ancient Bulgarian Calendar.  The Ancient Bulgarian Calendar uses the same symbols as the Chinese Zodiac.

Today's post features a piece titled Horses of Fire Rachenitsa. Rachenitsa is a Bulgarian folk dance in 7/8 (slower) or 7/16 rhythm; it is the national dance of Bulgaria. This rendition is performed on a violin and an accordion, and it's very fast.

How many readers remember Mr. Ed, the talking horse from American TV during the 1960's? Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog know that I'm a fan of pop culture, and the old TV programs were so much better than the garbage being broadcast nowadays.

Just for fun, I'm including the theme song for the show.  (Don't mind the lion at the beginning of the video, he's just trying to get some attention.  He was born under the sign of Leo, anyway, and he's a big show-off.) The song is in 6/8, which just happens to be pravo rhythm. By the way, if anyone out there is inspired enough to create a Mr. Ed dance, please be sure to send me the video!

Happy New Year of the Horse!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Folklore and Pop Culture (again!) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Count Dracula, Transylvania, Sesame Street and Cereal

This Brings Out the Animal in Me:  Critters in Balkan Folk Music (written during the Year of the Rabbit)

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read My Blog (some shameless self-promotion :)

By the way the Madara Horseman, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bulgaria, is a rock carving of a man on a horse.  It is one of the symbols of Bulgaria.

For more on astrology, visit one of my favorite sites: Astrodienst, and for information on Chinese astrology, click here.

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Rachenitsa na Horo

Welcome to the Different Village, where dances with different music and different steps have the same name. Today's dance is Rachenitsa Na Horo, from Bulgaria. The rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria. It is very versatile in that it can be done solo, in couples and in a group.  The dance is in 7/8 rhythm with this pattern: apple-apple-pineapple.   Today's post features the group version: "na horo."

Version One is the one popular with folk dance groups in the United States.  Check out the woman hamming it up for the camera at the very beginning of the video. Part of the dance is done holding hands, part of it is "disconnected."

Version Two is video of a costumed folk dance group performing in France.  This is an easier variation and I learned it very quickly.  The introduction is rather long, though, the dance starts at 1:05. The woman leading twirls a handkerchief:  the word "rachenitsa" means "little handkerchief."

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part One and Part Two

Variations of another national dance: this time from Romania:
The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

Some variations of a popular Serbian dance: Cacak
The "Flavors" of Serbian Cacak

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Hora pe Gheata

When you're on the ice, you have very little time, you see very little, and everything happens really quick.
Steve Yzerman

First of all, let's look at some clips of people slipping and falling on the ice, a very common occurrence in places where water gets cold enough to freeze. This post is for them and for all who endure cold northern winters and slick sidewalks. It's funny as long as it isn't you.  Otherwise, it hurts.

If you have defrosted yourself enough after watching the first video, it's time to enjoy a few variations of the dance Hora Pe Gheata from Romania.  The English translation is "dance on the ice." The people in the following videos are neither on the ice nor wearing skates, but you can always use your imagination.

I couldn't find the version that we do at the Friday night dances during my searches on the Universe of YouTube.  However, I found a couple of different variations that were just as good.  The first one is performed by Balkanitsa, from Haifa, Israel.

The next group is at Balkanalia, a dance festival held in Dresden, Germany. There is quite a crowd here which reminds me of the rink in Rockefeller Center in New York City, right before Christmas. The floor looks like a sheet of ice.

Video #3 is the same music as video #1 but a little bit slower. The picture is very appropriate for the season: four scary costumed people in a wintry landscape. There's no dancing here, though, this is a still photo.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dreaming of Spring in the Middle of Winter: Flowers in Bulgarian Folklore

Crossing the River: Part Two The Bulgarian Martenitsa and the Romanian Mărţişor

If you like pictures of snow and ice, you can check out my Pinterest board: I Hate Winter.

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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Holy Rivers and Holy Rituals: St. Jordan's Day in Bulgaria

If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Philip Larkin, excerpt from his poem, Water

New Year Greetings to all. I hope 2014 will be a great year.  The Alien Diaries is now going into its 4th year and this is the 200th post!

Many years ago, I read an article in the local newspaper about parishioners of a Greek Orthodox Church in New York City.  Every year, on the 6th of January, their priest threw a cross into New York Harbor, and a group of young men dove into the icy water to retrieve it.  It was good luck and good health for the person who found the cross, and a blessing on the waters as well.

I was fascinated by the ritual, and when I began to study Bulgarian folklore, I found out that was done in Bulgaria, too, since the majority of people there are Orthodox Christians.

Water and religion seem to go together.  And it's not just Christianity.  For example, in India, the Ganges is the Hindu holy river.  People go there to bathe, and go there to die, so they can be cremated and have their ashes strewn upon the waters.  It assures them of a good situation in the next lifetime.

According to a number of religious beliefs, even Pagan, water is used for purification rituals. Despite what you've been told, holy water is not clean and if you've read what I have about the Ganges, it is terribly polluted.

Moving water, also known as living water, is supposed to be especially powerful, magical, and holy. It is mentioned often in Christianity and Judaism. This web page has 47 Bible quotes from the Old and the New Testament that pertain to water.

Despite the irony of holy water being dirty, the faithful sprinkle, wash and immerse themselves in it.  Ironic?  Maybe.  But religious ideas have no logic.  They are taken on faith. I gave up religion many years ago, but I find the cultural aspect of it fascinating, especially when it pertains to folk beliefs.

Today's post is water-related and about the celebration of St. Jordan's Day in Bulgaria. This day is also known as Epiphany and observed on the 6th of January.  It commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. In this instance it's the Jordan by proxy.

This video is from the Bulgarian National Radio affiliate in Vidin. It begins in a church, with the priests chanting a blessing. At 1:45, two older women bottle water from the font in the church, and one of them sprinkles some on a girl. Then the group forms a procession, complete with brass band music, and walks towards the Danube, River of Many Names. The young men, who are probably on the verge of hypothermia, jump in the water (at 3:36) to retrieve the cross while the crowd watches and cheers.  The river has been made holy for another year.

Another instance of ritual purification took place on December 6 of last year, this time on a border police boat.  An icon of St. Nicholas was immersed in the Danube. 

By the way, St. Nicholas has many different personalities depending on where you live. Here in the States, he's known as Santa Claus, a totally different personage than was depicted on that icon.  In Bulgaria, St. Nicholas is the patron saint of bankers, traders, sailors, and fishermen. In this case, the icon was placed in the water in memory of fisherman and boaters who had drowned.

Finally, let's have a look at a very boisterous Epiphany celebration, this time in Kalofer, Bulgaria.  It involves another river, the Tundzha.   In this video, the priest throws the cross, one of the men catches it, then they start to dance, sing and play musical instruments, up to their thighs in icy water. The cold doesn't seem to bother them, and they're having a great time! This dance is called the Ice Horo. Notice the's there in case of emergency.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bulgarian Fascination With Water: Evidence From Folklore, Music, and Proverbs

Some Interesting New Year Rituals and More Cross-Cultural Celebrations

Sometimes Lost In Translation: Bulgarian Proverbs

By the way, there is a program on the Bulgarian National Radio titled Жива вода (Living Water). In Bulgaria, living water is connected with folklore, not religion as it is here in the States.  You can listen to it from Monday-Friday at 18:30 (Eastern European Time, GMT +2).  Adjust for your time zone. Even if you don't understand the language, you'll enjoy it if you love Bulgarian folk music.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.