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 Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine

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KomentarNaslov komentara: Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine   Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine Icon_minitimeThu Nov 10, 2016 4:56 pm

Author: Raif Esmerović

According to definition fear is described as intense and unpleasant negative feeling which a man experiences once he sees or expects danger, whether the danger is real or imaginary. It's an inborn, genetically programmed reaction to threatening or painful stimuli. Fear is a primary emotion, just like happiness, sorrow, surprise, anger and disgust, which means that in different cultures it is expressed the same or in a similar manner, i.e. that the expression of fear is not learned. Fear is not non-functional, just like pain whose goal is to protect the body from further harm, fear with its intense discomfort and exclusion of all other things focuses the body on defence of the thing that causes fear, it places the system in a preparatory state and spurs careful monitoring of the thing which causes the danger. (Wikipedia)

Studying ethnological build from the transition of the nineteenth into the twentieth century makes it easy to conclude that people lacking medical and scientific cognition divided diseases into two types – physical and mental. The most widespread cause of disease, which is the predominant cause of death, was according to people in Bosnia the destructive effect of evil (spellbound) eyes. Right after that came fear. Because of this reason in case a disease occurred people would perform the ritual of extinguishing coal in water, against evil eyes, or lead melting ritual, because of the doubt of fear. If neither method showed successful another solution would be sought such as medicinal herbs, balms, priests prayers and amulets, etc. Often, usually at the end, one would consult a doctor, but only if he is located close to the diseased person’s home. Necessity to seek help initially from the magical-religious domain is the product of an archaic belief according to which the disease was considered as god’s will or punishment, or a result of aggression by evil spirits who would cause terrible pain and other ailments by possessing the human body.

Fear from evil spirits, god’s punishment, evil eyes or mental shock is not only a reflection of the lack of enlightenment of a time but also of its brutality. How much rooted the fear is in the collective consciousness of this people is perhaps best envisaged by a short summary of the history of Bosnia and the Bosnian people, who were since ancient, Illyrian times constantly exposed to historical turmoil, war and occupation by larger states; according to this it is easy to conclude why it was accumulated in such an extent. In the end it created a psychological impression that there is a fear from fear, which is more intense than normal.

Namely, as modern psychology claims, humans are born with only two fears – fear of hunger and noise, while all other phobias are usually acquired during childhood and we fight with them our entire life. Fear from hunger and noise are tightly connected with the survival instinct, and during the process of growing up it is supplemented with new instinctual fears whose primary function is keeping us alive. But, besides this positive existential purpose, fear also has a negative side, when it acts in complete opposition against the human, directly endangering his life.

Circle of fear begins during childhood

It is believed among the folk that the victims of fear are more children than adults, primarily because of their physical and mental vulnerability. For centuries in a conservative society, like the Bosnian one, the children are brought up with fear, i.e. certain mental torture was performed on them in order to literally program them to act according to the hypocritical standards of the patriarchal society in which one traditionally suffocated all desire to be different or individualistic.

That’s why I always say that it is a bit ironic that out of the most beautiful period in a human’s life, which childhood is, we inherit the most trauma, complexes and frustrations, especially from parents, which we than tackle all our lives. Before, as now, the greatest issue in breaking apart this vicious cycle is the shallowness and almost no desire for change. The issue of all societies is the incomprehensible desire for constant imposition with which the human being has contact from day one; they impose religion on us, behaviour patterns, dress code, communication, way of thinking, etc. Of course there should be certain life and everyday norms of behaviour and order, so that we can live next to each other, but there must also be a freedom of choice, since if we don’t have this a human is no longer a human, but a robot. I’m of the opinion that in this imposition, fear has its starting position.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 2uy4ves

Based on everything that has been written so far we come to a rational conclusion that for a better understanding of the term of fear itself and its influence on our life, but also of each individual, we need to pay more attention to studying this phenomenon in human beings, and the best starting point for such research is found in folk medicine, which unlike the official one, is much more flexible and more open minded, and in a specific way it delves into the intimacy of each individual.
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When fear „ties itself“ to death

It was once believed that a person will fall ill if an animal jumps in front of him from a bush unexpectedly or if something else surprises him in a different manner. Repercussions of such a shock have an equally detrimental effect for both the psyche and body. Through some empirical, but also magical experiences, the Bosnian people have always believed that due to huge shock the human body literally shrinks, or better yet – contorts, which is also mentioned in other cultures where such unnatural deformities were cured with the help of massages whose main purpose was to relax the body and return it to its original form.

But, the effect of shock have a much more complex effect on the human body and mind, which is according to folk wisdom best manifested by the claim that due to sudden fear certain organs in the body can move, such as the heart or the gizzard. Both organs are prone to movement during such a sudden bodily convulsion, when a person literally loses its breath, which then further aggravates the patient’s condition. Based on such a belief in folk medicine certain magical rituals of rehabilitation were created, such as lead melting and salivanje strune, which we will discuss later on.

Due to intensive stress i.e. great fear when a person experiences a rapid loss of fluid inside the mouth, saliva, and since the old days to the frightened a glass of water was offered to them so that “they can come to their senses”. Feeling of fear is such a strong emotion which immediately saps the body’s energy –hypoglycaemia- which is why it is necessary to react quickly in order to recover it. Based on this knowledge the regular practice among Bosnian folk is that to the frightened person a glass of sugar water was offered. It is a known fact that cold water can have a beneficial effect on the person in shock if the person is sprinkled with it or washes its face with it; since the cold itself leads to a short term and effective shock, but this time a positive one.

Drawing attention is practiced in other situations, for example, with the goal of calming down a crying child, which is usually caused by fear from someone or something, which was transferred from one generation to the other from the mother onto the daughter. Namely, our grandmothers would use the tip of their finger to pass over the child’s nose when he was crying in order to get his/her attention, additionally they would produce a high pitched tone which is reminiscent of sound that a mouse makes (ccccc...), they would do this by placing their lips together and drawing air through the opening of the lips, this would produce a sound similar to the sound of the letter C, this would draw attention and stop the most intensive urge for crying – getting hysterical. This would cause the child to calm down gradually*.

According to people, fear has such a destructive influence on humans that it can even cause death. Some stravarke in Bosnia claim: “that in certain situations fear can “get tied” to the patient’s death” – i.e. a person actually dies because of it, and such people can’t be helped. During the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia, Dr. Leopold Gluck wrote about this (“Addition to the folk healing of Bosnia and Herzegovina”), where he mentions at the beginning of his study about folklore understanding of fear among the Bosnian people: “It is true that sudden mental shocks, which are usually marked by horror and fear, are the cause and the nerves get more or less disrupted by so called shock – overemphasized fear from which the nerves react aggressively in main human organs, especially the heart, when even death can occur”.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 2m4ev7t

*Although the crying of a child in the first months, but also the first years of life, is not considered to be bad since it helps with the development of lungs, longer crying periods in men was not allowed because of the fear of hernia and hydrocele.
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Using measuring against fear

Fear i.e. fright can be caused by numerous factors such as a dog’s bark, lightning strike, fire, water, bad news and other factors. Often it is the culprit for numerous life difficulties and failures since it makes a person insecure and prone to withdrawal, underestimation of oneself. If for example a child gets scared during the first months of its life can often be the main reason why a child has difficulties making its first steps or walking in general.

Fright can appear anywhere or at any time, but there are specific situations when we are directly exposed to it, as in case of some danger. If a person feels drowsy during the day and suffers from insomnia at night, is irritable, prone to depression and anxiety, then it is often believed that he is a victim of a suffered shock. There are some alarming signs that fear is excessively present in a human and those are nightmares. Stravarke reveal that if a person dreams of a horse or some other animal that attacks him, is a certain sign of a great fear which continually takes over the body and mind.

It is interesting to note that in Latin America fear is called susto, which is literally translated as “loss of spirit” and according to the local curanderosa (healers), susto is a disease caused by one or more traumatic experience. Symptoms include unrest, lethargy, depression, insomnia and irritability. Each of them agree that it is a very bad state for a human’s spirit. Especially worrying fact is if the frightened person awakes tired, has heavy legs and often feels loss of fluids in the body, especially in the mouth.

Bosnian stravarke in the past used a method more often than today which annulled the effect of fear in a diseased person, the method included measuring the length of the frightened person’s body. There are a few calls such as “odsjecanje krajčice”, “urezivanje krajčice”, “mjerenje skrate” or more simply “mjerenje od straha”.

Procedure of checking if the diseased person’s body is contorted out of fear was performed in the following way in the past: the diseased person is lying on the ground or floor, face down with spread arms and legs. Stravarka takes a grain of barley and carefully breaks it into four equal parts. These miniatures pieces are placed under the palms of the diseased person and under the left and right leg. As it is evident in this example she is following an ancient magical rule to always begin and end with the right side, which is considered to be positive and divine*, i.e. the first piece is placed under the right palm, the second under the left leg, the third under the left palm and the fourth under the right leg.

When she finished the first part of the ritual the stravarka goes into measuring the length of the diseased person by measuring diagonally from the right hand using a wool thread, top of the middle finger, until the left foot, i.e. top of the thumb. During this the thread is tightened in order to get a precise length. Then the beginning of the thread which was on the top of the middle finger is placed in the left hand, also on the top of the middle finger and the one which was on the left foot is placed onto the right one – thumb. The thread is again tightened, as in the first case. If it turns out that there is even a minimal difference between the first and second measuring (measure) the stravarka brings a final conclusion – the diseased has fallen ill from great fear! But, if it is established that both measures are of the same length it is said that the diseased person suffers from another ailment.

In the third and final phase of the ritual, which is conditioned by a correct diagnosis, if the diseased is overtaken by fear and his body has contorted i.e. shrunk because of it, stravarka cuts the wool thread with scissors or a knife into nine equal parts and later she throws them at the closest intersection. After the diseased carefully raises from the ground, stravarka takes a broom and the same way she placed barley pieces she mows them towards the four sides of the world, repeating a short exorcist formula: “Run fear, a cow will sting you!”. After that she draws out four straws from the broom and also she throws one by one into the four sides of the world, following the path of the sun (clockwise), in order to influence the healing process with such a ritual gesture. While leaving the stravarka home he must strictly abide by the rules of not looking back, because of the belief that the spirit of disease can interpret the gesture as a sign of weakness and return into the body of the diseased.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 122g6r7

*All magical forms of curing in Bosnian folk medicine are based on the fight against the forces of “left side” – evil spiritual beings, caused of disease and bad luck – and through ritual gestures and actions domination of the “right side” is intensified on which according to mythological belief angels and other clean and positive forces dwell.  
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Influence of fear onto the nerves and bowels

Fear manifests itself in two ways inside the human body – through the bowels and nerves. As doctor Leopold Gluck has noted the first form appears primarily in children in form of uncontrollable jolting of the body while they're sleeping, which is declared in a milder form, also appearance of epilepsy, which is of course a more difficult form of disease. Among the adults, fear is manifested as an acute insanity or a strong headache, weakness in the limbs, especially trembling in the legs and dark circles around the eyes. Similarly frequent night mares are accompanying symptoms of fear.

When the fear is accumulated in the bowels then the diseased suffers from a chronic diarrhoea, due to which he weakens. In addition to that, it is still considered today that grown people  which get diarrhoea due to fatty food or generally suffer from what is in general medicine classified as an irritable bowls syndrome were in childhood subject to physical or mental abuse due to which they suffered a great fright.

In case that fear has caused epilepsy folk medicine suggests that a diseased child in time of an epileptic attack mustn’t be fed nor touched, as long as the cramps are present, and under his nose a rag dipped in vinegar must be placed, with an intent that the sharp smell will ease the current difficulties in which the child is in. When the cramps become less intense, the mother wipes the saliva from the child’s mouth, and places a wrap i.e. a linen rag dipped in vinegar on the forehead and bellybutton (1). Only when the cramps completely stop, after some time, the mother is allowed to nurse the child.

If the fear (disease) has caught the bowels, before sunrise, it is recommended to pick a few branches of rue/sedefil (Ruta graveolens), crush it, mix with some water, and filter it through a gauze. Filtered liquid is spiced up with a half of tea spoon of honey and sugar and in the end that mixture is left somewhere outside – “on the sun and air” – for 24 hours. This remedy is given to the child three days in a row at dawn, i.e. one hour before sunset. To adults, this remedy is given for a longer period of time, usually around nine days, or just water in which completely crushed leaves of a plant Veronica officinalis is submerged.

Leaves of this plant were in the past given as a prophylactic remedy, as an amulet, to pregnant women, but also children, to carry it on their chest in order to be protected from the influence of fear.

In Visoko, but also other neighbouring places, Veronica officinalis or stravna trava would be placed in a metal bowl with spring water, which would be kept, covered on the stove until the water boils. As soon as this happens, while holding a bowl or casserole above the diseased person’s head the stravarka would pour the boiled water from the vessel and she would upturn the vessel in the middle of the casserole, making sure that there is no physical contact with the person. If the vacuum sucks the water underneath the vessel – “absorbs water” – the diseased person will be freed from the influence of fear. An identical procedure is repeated two more times. The diseased person uses the water to wash his face, his arms and legs are wiped and the rest of the water, with the plant, is poured in an intersection.

For curing symptoms of fear Bosnian stravarke often recommend this herbal tea mixture: a fingertip of Mentha pulegium and Veronica officinalis is submerged in two decilitres of water and is left covered for half an hour. The tea should be drunk three times a day with some honey.  

Healing power of lead

Among the Bosnian people it is believed that lead that it possesses prophylactic properties which is confirmed by a custom of saying: “lead into the devil’s ears!” as soon as someone hears some bad news, especially about a disease of an accident. The most famous characteristics of lead, because of which it is usually an irreplaceable prop when curing fear, is that lead absorbs negative energy.

In folk medicine in BiH an influence of homeopathy is evident as well as a psychological belief that a shock can be cured by a new shock. Namely, when an individual, especially a child, is mightily frightened due to an unexpected and highly negative surprise, where it is literally overwhelmed by chill and tingling across his stomach and chest, the scared person loses its breath for a moment and then according to stravarke the heart can be moved – “jump out” – a few millimetres or centimetres to the left or the right.

Besides classic symptoms of tension, tiredness, paleness in the face and sudden jitters in sleep, a person whose “heart moved” often loses its breath and has feelings of something piercing their chest. The only cure in that state, according to stravarke, is the ritual of lead melting, whose efficiency in this case is clearly not based on the idea that the frightened person, over which the ritual is performed, will suffer a new shock from a loud sound which is produced by the molten lead touching cold water. During that short term shock, during the three times the lead is molten and poured in a vessel with water, the heart will slowly go back in its place. Material proof for this the stravarke find in the shape of the lead itself which must be shaped as an elongated tear, which is called – heart.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 2d9p7yo

After being subjected to a magical ritual with lead, three hot coals are also thrown inside the water whose sound needs to have a calming effect on the diseased person, since the sound itself symbolises an extinguishing i.e. calming down. The water is used by the diseased person to wash his face and drink some of the water, which concludes the healing process.

There once existed a rule that measuring of fear must be performed before the lead melting ritual, in order to completely eliminate all influence of fear. Stravarke think that fear can enter a person’s blood and bones and “then it is difficult to get it out of a person”, and one must be persistent and inventive when curing.

(1) It is important to mention, that these two places on the human body are considered to be two cardinal spots, according to Bosnian occultism, through which the human body is connected to the spiritual world.
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Examples of curing fear

Fight against fear is not simple and often requires a lot of patience. This is best evidenced by stravarke whose work experience is full of various cases. Stravarka Emina Hadžihasanović told the following story to a journalist of a Sarajevo magazine:

-I was melting lead to a man, he was imprisoned by četniks (name for Serbian paramilitary army which committed the most war crimes in BiH), he was imprisoned in a concentration camp and was tortured, also a grenade exploded in his building. He was ready to die. He couldn’t walk normally any more. He wasn’t able to go alone anywhere, so he took his child with him everywhere he went. He couldn’t even go to the toilet without the child taking him there. He was a butcher by trade, a good man. He asked doctors for help but they couldn’t help him, his medical results were good but he couldn’t walk straight. I have molten 77 lead pieces for him and he recovered. He is now working in a butcher shop on Ilidža.

Obviously the issue of great fear in a man requires great effort, which is evidenced by another case from the practice of this stravarka:

-There was once a woman. And an ox wanted to kill her, but he didn’t. And due to such a shock she fell into a coma. From that day she always slept a little and fell into a coma a little. It happened that no matter where she was, she would feel a bit weak, she would then fall to the floor. She would fall unconscious. Here, there are 79 leads that I molten for her until now and now the condition has gotten better, she only feels like this maybe once a week. While I melt a couple more she will recover completely. There is only cure in melting lead. Doctors are oblivious. They’re looking – all is good, all is nice and a person cannot function normally. Fear resurrects in the body and all is negative. It strikes the legs and arms and the head, everywhere. You melt three lead pieces – and it feels as if you took it with your hand and threw it away, everything disappears. From the old days the lead melting ritual was practiced, it is a part of our Bosnian tradition for ages.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 2i9jlh5

Illyrian inheritance

For the lead melting ritual, which is familiar in numerous Balkan countries, but also Middle East such as Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iranian anthropologists believe that it stems from the Illyrian warriors, which spread it across the Roman empire while serving its armies, to all corners that the powerful, ancient Empire covered. That is why the Turks, Arabs, Persians and the Jews took it over, which confirms that we are dealing with an effective and efficient ritual for annulling fear, spellbound eyes but also magic.

Curiosity which is among the folk usually connected with the gift of divination and lead melting is that both techniques are often a gift of supernatural forces to an individual. Namely, knowledge about lead melting, according to a stravarka, it often comes “in a dream”, i.e. the stravarka to be dreams it. One of such examples was the already mentioned Emina Hadžihasanović:

-I dreamt that I will die. And my house in the dream is placed on a high hill. I was looking for someone to say the prayer Yasin for me, and I couldn’t find anyone. I then placed a blanket next to this bed and I lay down to die. I started uttering Yasin and three mubina (chapters) of Yasin I finish, and I die. When I woke up in the morning, I remembered the dream and what had happened, I then went to an Imam on Vratnik to tell him what had transpired.

He said: It is good for you that you dreamt it if you are going to melt lead. I never did, I said, but I can start. From there I came here, there was a woman there – she went from one doctor to the other. She was struck by it, she couldn’t move. She said: I dreamt last night that you will melt lead for me. I smiled and said: I have never molten lead for anyone. She said that I shall to her, now. I said when this is the case then I shall. She entered the house through the stairs on her knees. She couldn’t bend her leg. There I took a spoon and I started melting lead. When I have finished melting lead for her for the third time, she suddenly rose up and started walking. She lived for another three-four years and died. And from that day on I melt lead.

Doctors cannot cure fear

Stravarka Hadžinca from Potur in Travnik is another one of the rare people which haven’t received much attention from internet portals and media in general. During an interview with a journalist, Hadžinica revealed some of the secrets of this ancient technique.

-This is no divination, it is useful, but there are people which think otherwise, and I wouldn’t like if you would reveal my identity. I wouldn’t like it because of my family either, you know how it is, she explained. She says that people come from all over the place, from central Bosnia, Zenica and even Sarajevo. Everyone comes with his own story and his own troubles. From workers, up to doctors, politicians and singers. It is a tradition to charge for lead melting. Someone gives some money, someone a present, but for everything to be complete, a reward must be given. That’s why lead cannot be molten by closer relatives which live in the same house. Although it is popular belief that this ancient exorcist skill is solely practiced by women, lead can be molten by men, but they say that it is not appropriate for a man to melt lead for a woman, because of the conservative society.

The ritual with lead without a doubt stems from shamanism which is based on animism. Probably because of its somewhat mysterious power of transformation, to change from solid into the liquid state and reverse, the lead spurred ancient Illyrian shamans to try and change the state of the diseased with the help of lead, through a magical ritual. Besides, stravarke, but also some Imam’s, which practice this method, agree that lead has a lethal power towards humans but also demons. Namely, as a rifle bullet can kill a man so too can lead in a shamanistic ritual kill i.e. more precisely trap energy of a spirit and so remove it from the diseased person.

In three consecutive lead melting rituals, the figure of lead does actually come out in a form similar to the thing that caused the fear.

-Women come to me and they don’t know that they’re afraid of their husband. I reveal this immediately and I tell her – you are afraid of your husband! Of course, sometimes I find a figurine which shows that the husband is afraid of his wife. To remove the fear it is important to find the cause.

She helps only to those that need such a help

When talking to other stravarke with which I had the opportunity and pleasure to talk to, I came across an identical opinion. Each of the categorically claim that everything that is shown in the lead can no longer hurt the diseased person.

-Lead melting will always help to the one who is a case for it, i.e. who is full of fear or some other negative energy, and if his problem cannot be solved by the ritual then he will have no use from it, said Mevlida O. from Velika Kladuša, one of the stravarka which inherited her knowledge from her mother in law.

-No one knows how old this custom is. I feel sad because it is dying out, there are no young women which would like to learn it, and there are few of them that could – says Hadžinica and she explains the stern predispositions: the one which is experienced in lead melting, gives to the student izun, i.e. permission. The woman needs to be pious, with a covered body and it would be good if she is educated, especially in an Islamic spirit. She doesn’t have to go to Hajj, but as Hadžinica says, it won’t hurt.

Continuing the discussion stravarka Hadžinica said that they brought her a singer which sang in a nearby restaurant.

-He says, I don’t know what is wrong with me, I just want to quarrel?! I thought tha someone must have frightened him. I melt lead for him, and each time a figure of a man shows. I ask – who scared you? He then told me everything, that he accepted a friend in his house so he can spend the night there, but in actuality the man was a crook and he wanted to rob him. The singer kept quiet about this event and kept the fear to himself, but when the problem escalated he came to seek help.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine E6rehf
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Punishing the spirit which causes fear

Besides lead melting and „odsjecanje skrate“ stravarke also know other methods of curing fear, such as "uvarivanje strahe“ or knife cutting. This last method is very rare and it is difficult to find a stravarka which practices it. Now deceased Fatima Dizdarević, was known for this method during the end of the previous century, she had learned it from her mother in law.

Stravarka takes a knife with a black handle (sheath) and as she touches the frightened, which is lying on the floor or the bed facing the ceiling, she follows the text of the esoteric basma. As in all other variations of curing with the help of magical formulas in this one too, the stravarka starts by nami body parts, starting from the head:

I’m not cutting you N nor your body,
but I’m cutting the head of the black fear,
I’m cutting its throat,
shoulders left and right hand,
fingers from the smallest to the largest,
I’m opening its chest,
cutting the heart and taking out the intestines,
cutting its stomach and breaking its spine,
cutting both legs,
feet and all ten fingers.
Be gone you dirty heathen,
you will not eat nor sleep here,
be gone black fear,
far away from N;
where the dog doesn’t bark,
where the cat doesn’t meow,
the rooster doesn’t crow,
with my formula and god’s will, huuu!

After blowing into the knife, stravarka repeats the movements with the knife from head to toe citing the text of the formula and repeats it nine times in total. After the last time she repeats it the stravarka throws the knife behind her back.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine Vgq16h

It is evident from the text that fear is seen as a supernatural parasitical being without sexual characteristics i.e. a “black spirit” which has possessed the diseased. At the end of the formula the stravarka calls it contemptuously “dirty heathen” – dirty mater – alluding that she has uncovered him and beaten him. With imitative movements and words, the stravarka touches the diseased gently with the blade of the knife, and she ritually punishes the spirit because he dared to enter the human body and he dared to torture it (1).

Personification of fear through the form of a dark spirit is no coincidence, it is based on the belief of all stravarke about the existence of a dark spirit (terror) which enters a human’s head and it is difficult to get it out. Similarly, there is “daily fear” and “nightly fear” – if someone gets scared during the day will be cured of the fear much more easily than the one frightened during the night “since it is the dark terror and it enters the human’s head!(2)”.

Punishing fear is not a rare occurrence in the folk medicine of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In anthological works of Antun Hangi about the life and customs of Bosnian people, the author describes the method of lead melting and mentions that at the end of the ritual the stravarka uses scissors to “cut” the surface of the water in all directions, alluding with such movements that she is cutting the fear. Another data clearly points to the folk representation of fear as a spirit, namely, all stravarke have some rules which they or the diseased perform as a precaution that the fear doesn’t come back, whether it is putting on new clothes, hanging the scissors and knife above the entrance door, not looking back, etc.

Power of saliva

It is noticeable in shorter or longer exorcist formulas that fear is always chased away from the bones (among the folk it is said when one person scares another “he struck fear into his bones!”), like this one from Sandžak where the Bosnian stravarka says:

Be gone, fear,
from the bones under the skin,
from the skin onto the hair,
from the hair into the black sea!

Among the Bosnian folk there are some prophylactic processes which serve for annulling the influence of fear. Most frequently it is spitting lightly into one’s own chest. When we’re talking about negative particulars, especially about disease, or if a person is scared of something, there was a custom of lightly loosening the collar of the shirt, in order to separate it from the body, this would enable the saliva to reach the chest, close to the heart.

Traditional custom of spitting to the side or in front of oneself, when one wants to chase away evil, is a segment of an identical practice. Namely, in such a case if one notices thrown lead pieces and coal pieces on an intersection, remnants of a lead melting ritual intended for a random passerby to walk over, one should spit towards these objects and say: "On whom you have dwelt, on him you should stay, fear!", with the goal of saving oneself from such a supernatural transmission.

Fear like magic, according to folk belief, can be directed from one person onto another but only during that most recent moment, while it hasn’t overtaken completely the mind of the person. As soon as the first shock has passed, the frightened person, and if he sees another person at a fair distance can repeat three times the following formula, focusing on his target:

On a worm a worm,
on an ant an ant,
on a horse a horse,
on a cow a cow,
and on you my fear, huuu,
from God help and from me magical words!

Then he spits on his finger (index finger) and wipes it off of a tree or earth, in order to chase the fear and cleanse the body with such a ritual procedure.

(1) In folk medicine in BiH the practice of using metal, as a useful means of scaring spirits of disease, is traditional and its origin should be sought in the earliest human history. This skill is based on the belief that anything that can hurt or kill a man, such as lead (bullet) or iron (knife), can also have an identically destructive effect on the demon’s of disease. Ultimately such a notion is understandable if we take into consideration that spirits which attack and possess humans, exist in a similar manner as human’s themselves and are thereby vulnerable.

(2) In Bosnian tradition there is a day of fear – Tuesday, namely, it is believed that the Judgement day will occur on a Tuesday night, and that’s why, allegedly, even when the Imam utters the last daily prayer he hurries the last words out of fear that he won’t be able to complete them on time. In this mythological belief, perhaps lies hidden the answer, of why the best results for eliminating fear through lead melting rituals are achieved on a Tuesday. Similarly, in some beliefs it is suggested that Tuesday is dedicated to the deceased, “since on that day the deceased are shaving and cutting their hair in the next world” or if clothes are washed on Tuesday “the dirty water is poured into the eyes of the deceased” and similar things, which correlates with the previous belief about Tuesday – day when the humankind will be destroyed. All of the above, without a doubt, has its beginnings in ancient shamanism, the oldest form of spirituality among people, in whose beginnings rests the belief that supernatural entities and the souls of the dead rule over the world.

Shamanism was along with animalism the basis of religion of our Illyrian forefathers from which was born the ritual of lead melting. Ancient shamans developed their own unique methods for detecting spiritual presence from which the most famous was trance, with whose help they blocked the physical body in order to enable the astral body to consciously exits and communicates with the spirits of diseases. Observing individual stravarke while they perform lead melting rituals, it is more than evident that they are true successors of those things which could be combined under one phrase – ancient Bosnian (Illyrian) shamanism. Namely, besides the usage of lead in the rituals of detection and overpowering of the spirits of diseases, stravarke used rhythmical repetition of certain formulas and movements of the upper body left and right, consciously or unconsciously, bringing themselves into a light half-trance. In that state it was easier for them to harmonize the frequency of their body with the frequency of the spirit which is located in the diseased person, and in such a manner through repetition of clearly determined exorcist formulas, they can act towards the banishment or removal of the spirit.
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When fear attacks the stomach

In folk medicine in BiH women often heal issues with the stomach, they're called želudarice, and as with fear, like stravarke, they claim that one can „die due to dislocated stomach!“.

Most of them resonate that the stomach should be positioned inside the body in line with the bellybutton. Due to some unfavourable occurrences, such as lifting a heavy load, falling from heights, undertaking long dietary trends, sleeping on one’s hands or holding the hands above the head, in women after birth or similar things, there can be some negative implications on the work and position of the stomach. Sometimes the cause can be a stronger cold, when due to aggressive coughing, the stomach “jumps out” of its place. Symptoms are heartburn, vomiting and loss of body mass.

Influence of shock, stress and generally fear is also a frequent cause for stomach dislocation. When one confirms, through observation, that “fear has attacked the stomach”, one should have a mellow and soft approach towards the diseased. It contains three or more stages which could be divided in the following categories:

Prophylactic approach
Natural healing
Exercising magic

Prophylactic approach

It is believed among the folk that the psyche influences the stomach, i.e. tendency towards nervousness, worrying especially panic. Actually, as we could have concluded by now, any form of mental tension or fear has a direct influence on the human health. For a person which loses its appetite suddenly, eats less or is “yellow in the face” it is believed that it has issues with fear. It is known, also, that irascible and frightened people –“someone who gets scares (strunjiva) easily” – they have the most issues with the stomach. It is discretely suggested to such persons to search for a stone “ustavljak” and to place the stone in a glass which they use for drinking water.

Namely, as Antun Hangi writes, Bosnian mothers are prone to calming down hysterical children, which cry a lot and refuse to go to sleep, by using the stone ustavljak. They would obtain it easily: they would throw small stones onto a tree outside until one of them, or more, would get stuck on a branch. Such a stone would be taken and placed under the child’s pillow. Stone ustavljak in folk medicine in BiH has calming and relaxing properties, thereby curing (1). For issues with fear, which affect the stomach, hawthorn tree would be chosen.

Natural healing

All stomach diseases created by constant exposure to stress and shock, were treated by folk healers (stravarke/želudarice) during the first phase with traditional medicine such as the one when nine nacre leaves are crushed and mixed with one kilogram of honey; the medicine is taken for 40 days (2). Tea out of quince branches was shown to be effective, it has a very pleasant taste and nice read colour, which according to homeopathic beliefs “stimulates the psyche” just like chamomile tea, whose yellow colour ideally affects those which are “yellow in the face due to stomach aches”.

Exercising magic

In collective consciousness of Bosnian folk fear is inseparable from heart and stomach issues, which is presented through an identical way of healing. Namely, ritual under the name “uvarivanje strahe” based on the use of boiled water and upturning the empty pot, so that the vacuum sucks in the hot water inside the pot, was used to cure both the stomach and fear. The only difference in rituals is that in case of curing a dislocated stomach the water in the end is spilt and doesn’t come into contact with the diseased, while during neutralisation of fear the diseased uses it to wash his face and wash his hands and legs.


Light massage with oiled up hands, starting from the left hand going towards the shoulders and descending down the back, between lower ribs and the pelvis, from the back side, a massage of the entire body is performed with the goal of putting the stomach back in its place. We should note that the massage is performed with worst cases, when neither of the previous techniques had any effect. Some folk healers use stronger pressure to massage only the lower part of the hand up to the elbow, and then they tie it with a rag and leave it for half an hour.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 9icz0m

(1) Magical role of stones in various segments of magical activity is known to us from the Neolithic period and is based on the cult of the Grand Mother, the oldest deity in human history. From that period date the first stone statues and sculptures of all forms of the Grand Mother “one which gives life and protects it”. Even most of the rituals and solemnity which were performed in her honour were held in caves, in order to have a closer contact with this ancient deity, without whom the beginning of human civilization would be unimaginable, in the womb of the earth.

(2) According to stravarke the dirty water in which lead was molten and then used for washing, should be thrown into a stream or river and “as soon as it crosses nine rocks the evil and disease should break!”. A verse of an exorcist curse is known to us “on nine rocks it should fall and break”. Nine is also, along the number 40, symbol of the Grand Mother (nine months of pregnancy/40 weeks), and its influence is literally omnipresent in Bosnian, but also all other magical practice in the world.
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Jinn cause fear and blockades

Utilization of amulets and talismans in curing traumatic conditions is perhaps one of the most fascinating segments in folk medicine in BiH. Since the old days, the amulets were brought to the level of almost universal panacea in curing all forms of mental but also certain physical ailments. Beneficial power of one or more prayers mixed into the content of the amulet or talisman, which replaced pagan bajalice (spell) and oaths, is based on the same principle of directing wishes or pleas for freeing the body from the negative influence of some entity, which found a home in the host due to a transgression of a certain taboo.

Namely, according to Islamic mythology when Allah created Adam and Eve, he had to place an invisible curtain between them and the Jinn (demons), so that the monstrous appearance of the Jinn wouldn’t frighten them and awaken shudders every day. Similarly, he made it so that people will be more or less protected from evil spirits, and he ordained them to sleep and rest during the night, so that the Jinn may have the freedom to move. That myth created a lot of taboo with which literally all contact with Jinn was avoided, because of their detrimental influence on the human body and psyche.

From the most familiar taboos among the Bosnian folk the ones tied to sunset are mentioned, when demons exit from their hideouts and gain power, which will last until sunrise i.e. dawn. That’s why people avoided to go outside in the evening, to pass by walnut trees, places where wood is being chopped, where dirty water is being thrown, etc.

If it happens that an individual accidentally or on purpose disregards some of the numerous taboos, he can become a target of the demons and risk possession i.e. entrance of the Jinn in the human body. The most obvious symptom of presence of an evil spirit inside a man is the appearance of inexplicable fear. Namely, suddenly the person starts feeling a more intensive restlessness and fright from night, closed space, certain animals, food, etc.

Talisman’s used against fear

With the development and spread of writing, the cognition that vows and curses, if written down on paper, take on their material form and exist longer, and with that last longer as well, unlike uttered formulas whose effect is immediate but disperses quickly. Although it has been recorded that our Bogomil forefathers used certain holly texts when creating amulets used for curing and protection, only with the beginning of the Ottoman occupation and advent of Islam did this practice see an expansion in BiH.

As far as we can comprehend from pretty modest literature and data, the Ottomans were under direct influence of Persian-Arabic magical beliefs, combined with certain Islamic teachings. But, what is especially interesting is that the Ottomans are as a Mongolian people known for shamanistic practices and retention of numerous animalistic beliefs. This is why Turkish magic abounds in various syncretic elements and this peculiarity is especially visible in the form of the talismans. While Arabic-Persian talismans follow a standard form of construction, according to which the amulet possesses a holly text and magical square (vefk), with Turkish talismans the form is based on what I would call “shamanistic diagrams” i.e. they abound with graphical representations of spiritual beings through one or more lines.

According to magical principles the Jinn, main culprits of all mental diseases, can succumb to the will of an individual with the help of ancient seals and invocations. Controlling those negative spiritual strengths the wizard can consciously inflict great evil on an individual or even a group of people. When he wants to block a person i.e. make him unsuccessful in certain or all segments of life, the magi ritually directs one or more Jinn towards him, they will possess him and with their destructive influence they will awaken inside of him various phobias from which he will be completely blocked: unsure of himself, scared, prone to jitters, lack confidence and hysterical.

Allegedly, with very decisive magical gestures fear can be “awoken” in any human. Individual Bosnian stravarke, such as deceased Fatima Dizdarević, explain how one can cause phobia from graves and the dead, namely, it is enough to discretely throw some dirt from a grave onto someone, without them noticing it. But, similarly if someone is scared of the above mentioned then it is recommended for them to look at their own reflection in the water which was used to bathe the deceased person.

All spiritual authorities in BiH are of the opinion that fear can be placed on someone with the help of various forms of divinations, among which the most famous techniques are those of directing an evil spirit through spells. Specifically, we’re talking about numerous phobias and the most frequent of all is the sudden fear of the dark – achluophobia – and this issue is usually solved by writing the following talisman (1) which the diseased carries with him at all times, until the uneasy feeling subsides.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 24qk207

With the help of magical rituals one can, allegedly, influence a person in such a way that he/she will start to feel an inexplicable fear towards a certain individual or it can happen that a man is scared of a woman or vice versa – sexophobia. In that case a Bosnian Imam creates the following talisman, which the diseased will, like in the first example, carry with him at all times.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine W1zajt

It is evident that the craze for amulets from Imam’s did not stop in the 21st century and every so often we can read in the printed media or internet portals that some famous persons, especially from the show business, visited one of numerous Imam’s, seeking help for their issues. Besides the mentioned famous persons, regular people also visit these spiritual healers, trying to get a positive resolution to an unpleasant situation in which they find themselves in. When we’re talking about curing fear then the inscriptions for passing exams are most sought after, when one wants to neutralise jitters and blockages.

(1) (Babilonsko oko, H.M.Čajlaković)
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Fatal power of spellbound eyes

In folk medicine in BiH all mental illnesses were called džanbola (from the Turkish word „can/džan“ – soul), and it would come through as a result of the detrimental activity of evil spirits – Jinn. Among the most difficult ailments were considered the ones caused by direct contact with demons („naletio na džinsko kolo – he came across a circle of Jinn“, „udario ga džinski vjetar – he got struck by demonic winds“ etc.), for example when a diseased would fall victim to specific mental states such as hysteria, paranoia, schizophrenia, epilepsy, etc.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine Vpkfgp

According to Bosnian Imam/healers and stravarke a man can get seriously ill from fear, black magic, namet, nagaža, ograme, zgranila, letame (so called “džinski šamar-demonic slap” pareza facialis – Bell’s palsy) and spells. However, from all of the above, spells are considered to be the most widespread disease.
Fear from the destructive power of a spellbound gaze is deeply embedded in the collective consciousness of many cultures in the world, whether primitive or developed societies, and among the Bosnian folk it is most evidently presented in the following statement: “As soon as he looks at you, he disrupts everything, you can’t curdle cheese nor douse a fire!”.
As we have mentioned spells are common among people, far more than black magic, possessions or for example red wind. It appears always as a negative side effect when one has excessive emotions. Often, Imam/healers claim, it happens that parents cast a spell on their child, despite the great love they feel for the child, since “whatever a man does too much, it is not good nor healthy!”.

What is actually a spell and how does it work?

In his book “Power of thinking in scientific life”, William Walker states the following: “Science has confirmed the strength of spells by conditioning so called theory of magnetism. It is, actually, holding a strong inner desire with the help of the eyes, because of the ability of the eye not only to see but to feel as well, in this case, the final extreme ferocity of the gaze. As evidence to this, in a theatre or a place where people sit one behind the other, gaze into the back of someone’s head who is sitting in front of you. Persistently watching at the lower part of his nape wish inside of yourself, very hard, for him to turn around. Notice that the person will suddenly turn and look exactly at the place you were looking at him from. This exercise is shown as very successful among people which know each other, and less among people which are strangers. Similarly, it is more successful in women than in men, since women react better to such types of influence. The better you know a person the faster this will work.”

I am of the opinion that a spell, but also other paranormal appearances, have a direct connection with the astral body, our spiritual doppelganger who is also a link between the world of humans and spirits (1). What we call supernatural powers such as clairvoyance, telekinesis or spells are nothing more than the ability of our astral body which has the ability to penetrate into the higher spheres. Through the “third eye” i.e. as it is called in Bosnian occult practice – “star”, we are connected to the universe but also the spiritual world (see. “Illyrians – Europe’s greatest mystery”).  From there we draw all our knowledge and information. But, since further explanation would take too much space and would somewhat distance us from our main topic it will suffice to say the following.

According to some technical definitions the human body is nothing else than a collection of condensed energy, which has its own clearly determined way of acting. Every time when it comes to disruption of the normal flow of energy, primarily because of some overemphasized emotion, usually negative, our body accumulates that negative energy on some part of the body, where a disease then appears, or simply it “throws out” that excess energy in order to reset i.e. normalise. Which is somewhat identical to our physiological needs. If that expulsion of excess energy happens –visually through the eyes or orally through the mouth – at the moment when we are praising someone or when we envy someone, the energy will be automatically directed at “the target” and it will become spellbound. It is, also, an answer to the question – why do we get spellbound every time when someone lauds us or when someone openly or secretly envies us?

Hence, the power of spells is a native occurrence among all humans, it has nothing to do with specific character traits, sex, physical appearance or national affiliation. In folk belief there are sort of cultural animosities towards individual groups for which is then claimed that they have an evil gaze like the Roma people, but also elderly women, men without beards (ćosavi), bearded women, etc. (2). Actually, the symbol of evil amongst people were always those people which for some reason did not fit into the societal order or yet persons with lighter or more difficult physical deformities, whose appearance caused fear and prejudice, especially in rural areas.

Writing about spells, Leopold Gluck states that the belief in them is present among the entire Bosnian people, but, especially among the Bosniaks and Čifutima (name for Bosnian Jews), which claim that one can cast a spell “without looking” with only a word, and what is worse is that you can put a spell on yourself. When you laud someone because of his characteristics, physical or mental, when you are in awe of someone because of their animate or inanimate property, whether he heard it or not, you can put a spell on him. Even when you think of yourself as hard working, rich, you can put a spell on yourself. The above mentioned belief completely explains why dozens of prophylactic gestures appeared among these people whose sole purpose, during conversations whether important or unimportant, was to block or annul eventual spells by knocking on wood with the index finger or spitting to one side.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 30aap3k

(1) Best informed about the definition of the body and the soul were our forefathers the Bogomils whose doctrine about the soul, representative of heavenly energy and physical body the personification of demonic force, clearly talks of the dualistic strength which creates life. Mission of every human is to achieve a balance of good and evil inside of himself, not allowing any of the forces to prevail. When that happens, and usually when weevil prevails, various evils occur among which are the influences of the evil eye.

(2) Traditional understanding which type of eyes can cast spells, i.e. their colour, is based on a very simple template. Namely, researching the available literature for acquisition of information which would help me in writing this modest work about folk medicine in BiH, I discovered that it primarily depends on geographic position and genetic structure of a people. A generally accepted thesis is that the evil eyes or spellbound eyes are determined on the colour of the iris which is least represented or is not present at all. Since there is a very small percentage of people with black irises among the Bosniaks, dark eyes especially combined with dark hair are considered to be evil. That’s why it is still today believed that one should beware dark eyes “since they can easily shoot through a person, to their heart and lead to death!” On the contrary, in Turkey, as well as in the entire Middle East, spellbound eyes are blue eyes and blonde hair.
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Spells cause death

Among the Bosnian people, but also the entire Balkans, the belief in spellbound eyes is an inheritance of our Illyrian forefathers. Namely, the name urok (spell) itself is Illyrian and meant – „to fascinate“, „bewitch“. According to the Roman historian Pliny, the Illyrian tribes were extremely prone to believing in the evil power of spellbound eyes and they fought against them, by (among other things) carrying red colour (thread) wrapped around the arm. It is not necessary to emphasize how much the Romans were scared of the Illyrians, not just because of their fighting spirit, but also because of their mystical powers which these ascribed to them. Namely, they thought that most Illyrians have spellbound eyes with which they could kill a man.

Though everyone is exposed to the destructive influence of evil eyes, animals and inanimate objects, the most vulnerable group are the children and young girls prior to marriage. Their naivety, youth and beauty are the main stimulants for activation of envy and jealousy among other people. It is especially easy to cast a spell on a small child, and if it happens that the spell is strong, according to folk tales, it can then have a catastrophic effect and lead to sudden death.

According to some old women which lost their children at a young age, they always cite the same example: the child was healthy and advanced until they came into contact or were visited by one or more persons to their home. Usually, during that evening when the guests leave the child would get a sudden fever and through hysterical weeping the child would droop and – die. A child which dies from spells, according to belief, turns blue and doesn’t get the typical deceased’ stiffness – rigor mortis – which usually occurs 12 hours after death, it is a sign that it is “dragging” a new death in the family in the near future.

Fatal power of a spell was described in certain folk songs. In the first one it is mentioned that Tuzla Derviš-beg with his small son went to Bihać, during the trip he decided to spend the night in Tešanj with Ali-kapetan, where one of the inhabitants cast a spell on his child and the child died. In another song called “Sinanbegovica gave birth to a son” the song describes a sudden death of a beautiful girl, which occurs due to direct contact with spells:

Sinanbegovica gave birth to a son,
from delight she created joy,
three kolo played for her in the court.
One kolo on the high tower,
another one on the marble courtyard,
third one in a green yard.
Which kolo on the high tower,
that kolo, young bride;
 which kolo on a marble courtyard,
that kolo, young bride;
which kolo in the green yard,
that kolo, young girl.
Kolo is being led by Sinanbeg’s sister.
O look at her, may she be marry!
All kola decorated her head,
and with her beauty she enchanted the kola.
No one can get enough of her!
She is being watched by both the young and the old,
and the young and the old say:
“Medet (help), medet (help), what a beautiful girl!
Her mother must be happy,
just like the hero to whom she is destined!”
Spells cut her down in her youth:
at the moment that she fell ill,
at that moment she had died,
and she died, bless her mother!

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 8xvcie

Oral magic

Because of the fact that a spell can cause death in humans, the traditional fear of it as a mysterious and secretive apparition does not surprise. This is why the belief in spells hides in it some elements of fatalism, those desires to stop  a possible inflow or evil or negative energy which can cause diseases, with preventive statements – “one accident always summons another one!. But, what is especially interesting to me are these short magical statements whose basic purpose is to stop or block any type of activation of a spell – negative energy stemming from jealousy or great admiration. I’m of the opinion that the conscious cognition that a spell can cause harm to a human degrades its strength even before one starts the prophylactic process i.e. uttering of a formula. On the territory of Velika Kladuša one can still hear among the oldest population in everyday communication one of the following “anti-spells” statements:

-Mašallah (literally: “As Allah wills!”, often in the following linguistic forms: “mašala”, “mašalna”, “mašalna išalna”, etc.).
- Ne poduročilo se! (May it be safe from spells!)
- Da ne bude uroka! (May there be no spells!)
- Bože, ne podreci! (God, shelter from spells!)
- Ne došlo mu šta od zlih očiju! (May he be unharmed by evil eyes!)
- Zle te oči ne vidjele! (May you be invisible to evil eyes!)
- Gluho bilo, ne bilo uroka! (May the spells be deaf!)

Antun Hangi writes that if a spell is cast on a child one should immediately bajati (incantation) since in three days it will activate a spell in the child and it could tear apart the child. Of course, under this we mean that it tears apart the child’s dream which is why it wakes wincing and crying. Out of precaution the mothers would repeat often, every night before bedtime, or over a sleeping child an exorcist formula, in order to overtake the spell and ensure a peaceful night to their child.

One characteristic of Bosnian folklore tradition is the unusual combination of a lullaby and basma against spells, which is only seen among Bosnian people in the Balkans. While putting the child to sleep in the crib the mother would softly sing this or a similar lullaby against spells:

Sleep, my son, in a stylish crib!
In a stylish crib!
Sleep, my son, in a stylish crib!
Your dream in the crib, and a spell outside of it!
May spells walk across a mountain,
may they eat grass, drink water from a lead,
they cannot hurt my child!

Mother gave birth, mother cured

As one can conclude the traditional role of a guardian of health of the family, since the age of the matriarchy belonged to women, the mother was in charge of the child’s health, and with that of spells, which is clearly emphasized at the beginning of the most famous Bosnian basma against spells: “Mother gave birth, mother cured…” According to this we can conclude that since the old days women were more qualified for simpler issues which were caused by supernatural factors, while men, i.e. Imam-healers and dervishes performed more demanding and dangerous undertakings such as exorcism, spiritualism (“sazivanje daire”)  or construction of amulets and talismans.

Spell and fear are considered to be the main culprits for loss of appetite among children or even thinness. Old grandmothers still today wave their head in protest when they see a child having a bad appetite or when the child is losing weight rapidly without having an evident health problem. Almost all such states are summed up with the statement “someone “cut” the child” – split his appetite with a spell.
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Spells as arrows

Spells can be divided according to intensity – there are weak and strong spells. From the first the diseased person has transient symptoms such as yawning, headache, sudden passing of cold throughout the body. They usually influence the mood and appetite in children. Strong spells have a longer lasting and more pronounced activity; they can even cause death in smaller children while in adults they create “holes” in the aura, when we see a constant loss of energy, which is manifested in everyday life by sudden tiredness. In Islamic tradition a gaze of evil eyes is called strijelica (arrow), which is a suitable term. Spellbound or shot through person can be recognised by brown spots on the face, usually forehead, since evil, according to stravarke “always attacks the star”.

The only place on the human body which has immunity from spells is the backside according to folk belief. As soon as we are found in company of a person who is known to cast spells i.e. malicious, and if they laud us because of something, we should discretely touch our back side, whether by placing a hand or pinching the backside. Allegedly, it is a sure protection against spells. Similarly, in the south-western part of Bosnia (Velika Kladuša, Cazin, Bihać) certain women still today touch the child lightly, three times on the backside then on the face, while holding them, then they utter:

Whoever throws a spell onto this down here
may he throw a spell onto this up here!

Prophylactic motif of the backside, as a safe trump against spells, is used in this exorcist formula written down in Velika Kladuša:

Whoever casts a spell on you may he be inside the backside
may he stay there until barely matures,
with my basma and god’s will.

From all magical formulas in oral tradition, the healing ones from almost all peoples the formulas that are most widespread are exorcist basme against spells, which reveals to us a deep cultural fear from the destructive power of this supernatural apparition and its enormous geographical range.

One would often guess as to the state of the diseased, especially if a child fell ill. Dr. Stanko Sielski in his short work on the history of medicine called “How the folk healers cured the mentally ill and neurological patients”, notices that people would initially think it is fear based. Such a child could be recognised by “going to bed healthy and suddenly shouts – with a fixed gaze, fearfully looks to one side as if watching something, while shivering and jerking. This lasts for some time, then the child starts sweating from the excitement and droops and falls asleep. Only with soft words can it be calmed down a bit. People say that the disease is forced on the child, that the child is spellbound or scared of an apparition. Healing follows these principles.”

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 2yywm81

Allegedly the best cure against spells is an amulet of a Muslim priest but in the absence of it, a favourable substitute, is the ritual of coal extinguishing followed by an oral magic – bajanje.

Ancient belief in the magical power of words

Bajanje, a name which stems from the Turkish word bayamak – cast a spell with the intent of healing, it is based on exorcism, when with the help of poetic and often rhymed verses one wants to directly influence the spirit or spirits in order to free the body of the diseased. Bajanje is the integral part of shamanism and is usually performed by gifted persons. Namely, it is considered that some good spirits intervene in the magical education of a person or, more simply, they reveal to the chosen person ways in which it can penetrate into the world of ghosts and influence them directly. Usually during initiation they reveal which bajalice, rhymed vows they must utter in order to override the influence of evil spirits and to banish them from the human body. In combination with water, fire, herbs and special ritual gestures those persons succeed in suppressing evil and chasing it into “mračne havaje i puste haliluke” – eerie mythological place where havoc and infertility rule:

From nine spells and diseases on N eight,
from eight – seven,
from seven – six,
from six – five,
from five – four,
from four – three,
from three – two,
from two – one,
from one – none!
What stayed on the wing the fly takes away
into mračne havaje,
in puste haliluke;
where the rooster doesn’t crow,
the cat doesn’t meow,
where maša isn’t heard,
where the Jinn table is being set.
May there this namet(1) wait for judgement day (kijamet),
with my formula and god’s will! (2)

To find out if a child is spellbound, caring mothers would lick the child’s forehead or the temple or stroke it with fingers and then lick their finger and if they feel a sour, bitter or salty taste it is a certain sign that the child has been shot through or spellbound. Sometimes one would call a neighbour to perform this work and she licks the child’s skin between the eyes, and if she feels a salty taste, without a doubt the child is spellbound.

In that case one of the numerous exorcist formulas are repeated, such as this:

Bilobrk crosses the blue sea,
to dear god,
from dear god brings to N health and happiness (3) ,
and takes away začud and zazor,
veledalin amin.

Dr. Sielsk describes the way in which a stravarka performs a ritual of annulling evil eyes from a spellbound child. “In order to remove spells, coal is being extinguished. From fire, she takes out three coals and throws them into a wooden vessel with water. All the while uttering a prayer, she addresses the magical formula and blows three times (4) . If all three embers chirp, the spells will leave, if she doesn’t hear the sound, she repeats the extinguishing, prays further and gives water to the diseased which was used to extinguish the coals.”

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 30hn1qd

(1) namet – other name for spell.

(2) Often one exorcist formula is actually a collection of two or three shorter formulas, which individual stravarke added during their work or simply which they simply inherited. Also, we can notice superficial corrections or changes; in certain exorcist texts we notice counting backwards, from nine to one, it can sometimes be located at the beginning or the end. Another detail which I noticed has to do with the surrounding the stravarka lives in. Namely, if the area from which she steams is traditionally religious then in the formula we have more sacral elements, otherwise usually the ending has the added expressions such as “with my formula and god’s will”, “by god’s decree” or the like.

(3) Health and happiness are the two basic terms when it comes to healing and victory over a disease (spell) which can be seen in this example of the lullaby from Mostar: “Đulbeharu don’t effuse my seed, don’t effuse my dear son, sleep son, may your health shine, may your health and happiness shine!".

(4) Though magic, like religion, was present from the beginning of mankind in all meridians, it still has an epicentre and that is certainly the Middle East. From ancient Babylon, Persia or Egypt, magic was raised on a pedestal from a common cult of bewitchment to an exalted science. That’s why the origin of bajanje should be sought in such a context. Namely, bajanje above water is mentioned in numerous stories from the 1001 night, where scenes of transformation are described, from an animal into a human or vice versa or throwing or removing spells, where a witch or magi or even a wise person would utter secret word above a vessel with water, would blow in it and them would use the water to sprinkle the victim. This leads us to a conclusion that knowledge of magical words shaped in prayers and bajalice and uttered above water without a doubt stem from the Middle East and through Gypsies and Ottomans it came down to our area and found a home in the folklore of all Balkan people.
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Zazor, začud and prostril

Arabs, Persians and other Muslims believe that there are two types or two directions from which spells come – the first one is from humans and the other from Jinn. In folk tradition there is a belief about three types of spells: zazor, začud or učud and prostril. Zazor is a spell created out of jealousy and envy, začud comes out of great wonderment and admiration towards someone or something and prostril is the most dangerous type of spell since a child can easily die from it, if one doesn't react on time. In Cazin and Velika Kladuša when people say that someone is ill due to „svitskog sepa“ or „svitske djece“ they actually want to say that he is a victim of evil eyes.

Among Bosnian people there is a belief that more people have gone underground (died) due to consequences of spells than due to all diseases combined. Similarly, a common belief is that spells are often child diseases. Because of this understanding it is customary among Bosnian people to place the money, given to child when you see it for the first time, on the forehead, on its “star” for “good luck”. The money is given with a purpose i.e. the parents will order and pay for an amulet with an Imam, so that the power of the amulet will protect the new member of society from evil and spells. The acquired sum should not be reduced nor increased not to disrupt the mystical power of the amulet.

Until the ordered protection arrives, the mother as well as other inhabitants noticeably strive, especially during the first 40 days but also first couple of years, to be cautious and to react to the smallest signs, despite the amulet. Special caution is cultivated towards the first child since it is believed that it is most susceptible to an attack of this evil.

Various taboos are being uphold among which the most important rule is that a tired or drowsy child should not be caressed “since it won’t have the strength to resist the spell!”. Another rule without which it was claimed the child couldn’t be nurtured is the necessary usage of one or more apotropaic props so called džidža. Their only purpose was to divert the real, newest and strongest, gaze which would pave the way with its destructive influence for other negative influences.

Džidže or miniature metallic ornaments in BiH possessed in the past great manipulative power towards the destructive power of spells. All children, whether Muslim or Christian, had in their vicinity, on the crib or a hat, an item made out of silver in the form of a rabbit, rooster, frog, small rifle, arrow, sabre, mace, a hand with five fingers or lead “heart” formed during the ritual of lead melting.

Amulet against spells

Apotropaic content which was used by the Bosnian people in defence against evil eyes is varied and imaginative: red velvet tied around a wolf’s, fox’s or rabbit’s tail, dried on a spindle and then encircled with silver and gold a rooster’s coccyx, golden money, small shells, a few grains of rye or a silver plate which was forged by a naked blacksmith in the middle of the night which has the child’s name etched, and the like. But, it would be wrong to conclude that only children wore such items, namely, it was once established to see on women, especially elderly women, an upside down a zipper or safety pin, for which they claimed averted evil eyes.

“On fez of Bosnian children – especially boys – you will often see a three-cornered, made out of red cloth or silk, amulet with a few sentences (verses) or an entire prayer (surat) from the Qur’an, which was written down by a skilled Imam. They often write down a few sentences from the third chapter i.e. surat Ali ‘Imran (Imran’s family), which is well known as “small hatma”, or even the entire surat. It is recommended that an Imam prepares an ink made out of rose water mixed with saffron and incense. Such an amulet, it is said, not only protects children from spells but also pregnant women which carry it around their necks".

In the continuation of his text “About spells”, Leopold Gluck describes, somewhat clumsily, the content of an amulet against spells, he came into possession of the amulet through a Bosnian friend. Like any amulet this too begins with the words “Bismilahir rahmanir rahim” – “In the name of the merciful Lord!”. Right after that follows a prayer dedicated to four angels, each of which rule with one part of the world, to the four holly men enumerating four holly books. The prayer ends with the names of the seven sleepers from Ephes and their dog Kitmir.

Transcription of the amulet text: “Allahumme ya Rabbi Džebraile ve Mikaile ve Israfile ve Azraile ve Ibrahime ve Ismaile ve Ishaka ve Jakube ve munzilel berakati vet Tevrati vez-Zeburi vel Indžili vel Furkan. Ve la havle ve la kuvvete illa billahil aliyyil azim. Jemliha, Mekseline, Mislina, Mernuš, Debernuš, Šazenuš, Kefetatayuš, Kitmir.„  

Translated to English the text of the prayer would go as follows: “My God and Jibrail and Mikaile and Israfile and Azraile and Ibrahime and Ismaile and Jakube and you from which all good stems, who gave the Torah, Gospel and Psalms and the Honourable Qur’an, I cannot help you only mighty Allah can. Yemliha, Mekseline, Mislina, Mernush, Debernush, Shazenush, Kefetatayush, Kitmir.

Underneath this prayer a magic square stood or a vefk with numbers whose numerological value represented one of the 99 God’s Beautiful names.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 1fxx52

Instead of an amulet among the Bosnian people one would wear “blue or a turquoise, egg shaped rock so called “uročnjak” which was attached to a fez. An upturned (seam on the outside) left sleeve of a shirt, stung the eyes less, but as they say gave no less protection against spells".

Traditional practice among the entire Bosnian population, regardless of faith, was that one would wear an item of clothing upside down in order to shield from spells – “for the spell to go back”. Among Ćifuti (Jews) a bag sown in three corners using golden thread or red cloth or silk was given to children, in it was a small piece of rue, a piece of garlic and some salt, blessed on the second day of Passover in the Synagogue.

Help was sought amongst herbs and roots of certain plants such as valerian, willow or elecampane, for which it is said in a folk song:

If it weren’t for willow and elecampane
I wouldn’t nurse my son Osman.

From the herbal pharmacy, traditionally certain plants were favoured more than others primarily because of their healing properties but also apotropaic properties. We are talking about garlic and rue.

-“Most of those regulations recommend garlic, since evil spirits run from it. – “It is good”, old people say, “to rub the diseased with garlic and give him a clove to eat.” “It is good”, they said, “to crush rue, drain the juice and give a few spoons of it for drinking, one can also give crushed rue mixed with honey for consumption in the duration of 40 days.”

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Evil power of the sun

Spells are supernatural and mysterious phenomena which attacks all living and dead things. It is claimed among the folk that people, animals, plants, items and even some celestial bodies such as the moon can fall under the influence of the evil eye. Old Bosnian women have a custom of saying, when they first see the new moon: “Mašanla, look at the new moon!” because of the comparison of the new moon, just “born”, to a small child, innocent and helpless, especially when faced with something as powerful and destructive as a spell. In opposition to the gentle and unprotected new moon is the sun, which although known as a classic symbol of light and life, in Bosnian tradition it was always considered evil “until the winter passes”.

Namely, according to folk (agrarian) calendar in BiH, the year was once divided in only two parts, summer and winter, each lasting 6 months, which is residue of druidic beliefs since the time when Celts mixed with the Illyrians in the Balkans. Old Bosnian women used to hide fresh milk from the sun, covering the vessel with a cloth or lid “since if the sun sees it, it will no longer be!”.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine I26q6w

In the north-western part of BiH, from which I draw most of my beliefs about fear and spells, in the past it was said about cows “that it feeds half of the home”, from there stems the folk name for cattle – treasure, therefore there was a great fear that an evil neighbour might hurt the treasure in the stall with black magic and spells. For defence and protection various prophylactic rituals for preservation of cattle were performed by farmers. Most endangered were milk cows with big udders, also cows after giving birth, they would have a red cloth tied to their tail, in order to neutralise any attempt of evil eye. In certain places a wooden spoon was placed around the cows neck or her horn was spun around and a small amulet with a piece of yew tree was placed around it.

Besides cattle spells can affect wild animals. Among the Arabs it is believed that a wolf, tiger and lion can be stopped in the middle of an attack on a human if the human possess evil eye. Allegedly, only donkeys are immune to evil eye as well as a peacock whose tail with its unique mark served the Turks to come up with their nations most famous amulet nazar boncuk or as it is called in Bosnia – blue eye.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 536xpe

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine 287nsjm

Axe on the roof of a house

Traditional fear from spells gave birth to a nice custom of magical ornamentation i.e. decorating doors of farmsteads such as barn, stables, kruzane (houses for storage of corn), corral for sheep and houses. Namely, with a short text in Arabic, holly letter of the Qur’an, people etched tested prophylactic terms such as “Mašallah” or one of Allah’s names.

Fear and evil eyes in Bosnian folk medicine Ifoaz7

“On the front side of one, bigger, older house in Sarajevo it is written “Ya Hafiz” (God protector), for protection. This sentence can be found in numerous homes among Bosniaks, especially in beautifully decorated rooms (šikli odaja) of rich people with golden letters on a black basis (background), written and framed.”

Our forefathers the Bogomils placed a wooden axe on the roof of a house for prophylactic reasons, it served as a weapon whose blade will cut all evil which threatens the home.

However, an even more interesting segment of this belief hides in it the fact that the Illyrian Bosnian people dedicated the axe to the Grand Mother, the one which creates life and protects it, whose shape of a half moon or pregnant woman’s stomach perfectly matches the profile of the ancient goddess (1). That’s why it was said until the middle of the twentieth century that one should bring an axe with him wherever he goes, “since you can defend yourself with it but also cut fire wood, cut what you need, etc.” (2)

Another Illyrian belief, the one about stars, has a direct correlation with the evil eye. It is known, namely that the Illyrians believed fatalistically that every human has his own star in the sky which is the symbol of his life. The moment the star “falls” the life of its owner “shuts down”. This is why the Illyrians avoided looking at the starry sky out of fear of seeing their own star, or worse, to cast a spell on it with their gaze and so summon doom in their life.


(1) The position of the axe itself on the roof alludes to its celestial connection to the lunar cycle.

(2) Motif of an axe as the symbol the Grand Mother can be identified in the following legend, whose origin dates from the time of matriarchy in our region. In Velika Kladuša, there is a legend that during the night of Uštap (Full Moon) on the moon’s surface one can see a gigantic figure of a man with a raised axe. As the legend further reveals that man is a son of one mother which he out of anger tried to kill by raising an axe on her, for punishment God killed him and teleported him on the surface of the moon as a warning to all that one should not raise their hand against their mothers.
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