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SALIVANJE STRAHE Bosnian ritual with four elements and a pentagram Author: Raif Esmerović
e-mail: esmerovicr @gmail.com
Keywords: folk medicine, salivanje strahe, olovo, Bosnia, stravarka, stravaruša, Illyrians, basma, magic, healing, lead melting, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, elements, four, pentagram, ritual, fire, earth, air, water, herbs.
Stravarka Aiša from Sarajevo practices a form of ethno-medicine characteristic for Middle East and the Balkans, a method called salivanje strahe or salivanje zrna „melting the fear“ in Bosnia. This method consists of ritual behaviour and a special text known as a „basma“ (or magic poetry), used together with the aim of healing the patient.
Another part of the technique is the melting of lead (or 'melting the fear'), which consists of the ritual melting of a small piece of lead, by means of which stravarka Aiša ' sees' the cause of the illness. This piece of lead represents the condensed illness and its cause as well. The shape the melted metal assumes is interpreted by the conjurer (stravarka). At the end of the interpretation, the conjurer gives this piece of lead to the patient and he must liberate himself from it by throwing it ritually back over his shoulder without turning back his head, while pronouncing a charm.
That ritual can be performed by man or woman, but women perform it more often, as they used to, traditionally, care about their family's health. Women who does that ritual in Bosnia is called „stravarka“ or "stravaruša", and she is usually older lady who has been passed through menopause. The illness which stravarka Aiša heals and from which the term 'melting the fear' originates are defined in the folk speech as straha or strava - a terror, a fear, a spell, or evil eyes. These are different psychic crises, neurosis, states of stress and nervousness. 1|Page
Stravarka, in the process, uses a few props; metal spoon, bowl for water, 3 or 4 pieces of lead and red towel or scarf. Ritual follows the strict religious pattern and therefore Stravarka, before she starts performs abdest (muslim religious washing). Stravarka, over the lead and bowl filled with water, pronounces some individual Quranic prayers, with AlFatiha first Quranic chapter and Ihlas 112. chapter dominating.
When treating a frightened child, Aiša first put little pieces of led through the gun barrel and then puts them in a spoon and melt in the fire. However, when treating her adult patients she holds a larger or several small pieces of lead in her hand and rotates them 3 times clockwise round around the patients head saying: „Euzubilahi mineš šejtanir radžim bismillahir rahmanir rahim“. While the lead is melting in fire, Stravarka, over the bowl with water, quietly speaks prayers and basma (magic words) that seek the salvation of God and the health for a patient. Between the prayers she repeats the following words: "Dear Hazrat Fatima, my dear mother, tell your father Mohammed that the patient needs help day and night" (Draga moja hazreti Fatime, draga moja majko, reci svom ocu Muhamedu pejgamberu da bude u pomoći i u danu i u noći) When she pronounces all the words and prayers due to which she normally experiences some harmless sensations like uncontrolled yawning or tearing eyes stravarka covers patient’s head with a cloth or red scarf (patient sits on a chair). Then, while holding the bowl of water in her left hand over the patient’s head she takes a right handed spoon with melted lead and quickly pours it into the water. On this occasion stravarka says; “lead to break and all evil to bounce from (name of patient) Amen!, Amen!, Amen!” (olovo puca i sve zlo razbija sa N. Amin! Amin! Amin!)
When pronouncing the magic words she looks out into a high mountain intending, in such a way, to positively affect the recovery of a patient. Namely, in BIH high landscapes such as mountains, are considers as symbols of happiness and good health; this is originating from the old Bosnian Sun-worshiping Cult. During this ritual, several times encounter the segments of those beliefs when stravarka 3 times moves in clockwise direction; following the path of the sun, when circling lead around the patients head or during her prayers’ chanting over the bowl of water that she, after every prayer, rotates in clockwise circle. After she throws dissolved lead in cold water, on which occasion leads form various shapes, Stravarka Aiša commences analyses of the obtained shapes what leads her to the cause of problem/disorder. If lead forms in a shape of a needle or number of them Stravarka is convinced that the patient was a victim of an enormous shock of fright. Lead formed in a circle is a sign of a direct patient’s contact with the spiritual world of Jinns, on which occasion spirits harmed the patient. After Stravarka Aiša performed the analyses of the obtained forms of lead, she collects all the lead by the spoon and brings it back to fire in order to re-melt it. Then, she repeats the same ritual that has already been described above, with a difference in lead being melted in water this time over the patient’s stomach not head. When stage two is completed the last time Stravarka melts lead over the patient’s feet, what is the final/ending stage of the ritual. The sign of successful treatment is sought in the lead itself. Namely, so-called heart (srce) appears in the very lead (shape of tear), what is a sign of all the evil being neutralized in the patient. The patient washes his face 3 times with the water lead was melted in 3 times, drinks a bit of it too, washes his/her hands up to his/her elbows and washes his/her legs up to his/her knees. The rest of the water is spilled under bush of rose.
Heart or tears of lead is kept for a month time under the patient’s pillow and then thrown down the river stream.
Lead melting is an old ritual of neutralising negative energy known from Bosnia and Herzegovina all the way to Palestine. But, while in Turkey and throughout the Middle East the ritual was exclusively practiced to nullify spellbound eyes, or, in Romanian and Bulgaria for removing effects of fear, in Bosnia this ritual cures the consequences of spellbound eyes, fear, black magic, influence of demons, certain skin diseases and different blockages such as the inability for someone to get married or a pupil to achieve success in school. Also, only in Bosnia and Herzegovina stravarke and stravari know how to use this ritual to help people which are far away from them, without physical contact, even on another continent. That's why it is known that Bosnian stravari are the best ones in this area. In support of all the above the claim that the lead melting ritual originated in Bosnia is very popular, namely the Ottomans spread it across the lands they conquered in their campaigns i.e. from the Balkans to Palestine and Syria. In support of the originality of the ritual the data that lead melting was familiar in Bosnia since the old days and that there is no data in any ethnographic chapter which would disprove these claims. According to individual anthropologists lead melting is an ancient ritual of the Iillyrians which knew how to use metals and how to shape them but also to use them for purposes of magic. As I have written before on the ritual practice this time I will pay more attention to the theory and detailed explanation of the magical background of this ritual. To begin with we should stress that the ritual of lead melting itself is actually a combination of four elements, since a human is also made out of them. Namely, the human body is divided in the following way; from the foot to the waist rules the element of earth, from the waist to the chest is the element water, around the lungs, rules the element of air, while the head belongs to the element of fire. In what way are the 4 elements present in the ritual? In the bowl with water, in which you melt lead, you place a hollow rock which is considered to be hardened earth. It's function is that all negative energy passes through it and goes into the ground. The water in the bowl is the second element which is combined with the element of air i.e. the stravarka blows into the water while chanting various formulas. The lead is melted with fire, with which we come to the last of the four elements. Namely, lead melting is an ancient ritual which is used to bring all four elements inside a human into balance and harmony and in such a way it enables a normal flow of energy and healing. Another symbol, which is very important in the ritual of lead melting is what I would call "unification of the elements" and that is the pentagram or star with five points, which represents the human. Each point represents a part of the body: head, arms and legs. According to the procedure after the ritual the diseased washes his face with water which was used for lead melting and chanting of prayers and in such a way as to follow the 4|Page
pentagram; first wash the face, then the right arm and left leg and then the left arm and right leg. In such a manner one symbolically forms a star since according to ancient Bosnian tradition, successors of Illyrian cults, each man has his own star in the sky with which he is connected over his forehead, i.e. the place between the eyebrows. For that reason the stravar or stravarka every time after the last lead pouring dips his/her fingers into the bowl with the water and passes the fingers over the forehead of the diseased. With that ritual she "cleans" the star of that man or better yet neutralises all blockages which disrupted the connection of the man and his star. It is interesting to mention that there are a few versions of this ritual only in Bosnia, which are absolutely unknown in other countries where the practice of lead melting is present. Namely, besides the use of lead the ritual is performed with certain herbs such as stravna herb (glechoma hederecea) or kukurijeka (Helleborus niger L.var.macranthus Freyn). From the root of kukurijeka one would boil a tea and in it lead would be poured. After that the diseased would drink the tea. The second way is even more interesting. The ritual is performed with the help of hot water which is poured from the vessel into a saucer, then the vessel is turned upside down and placed in the middle of the saucer with the water and one would utter prayers over it. When, because of the heat, the vacuum sucks the air from the upturned vessel, the water would also be sucked into the vessel. After that has occurred the vessel is raised and the diseased washes his face with the water and drinks some of it.