Fire dancing

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Neistinarstvo is a Bulgarian ritual involving people walking and dancing barefoot on burning coals.  The roots of this ritual are hard to be clarified. However the history points out that it may come from the Thracians. Some researchers assert that the word “нестинарство” (nestinarstvo) itself comes from the greek “Αναστενάρια” (anastenaria) which means breath, sight – because of the typical behavior of the dancers while moving on the embers. Others relate it to the word „хестия“ (hestiya) – fire or “анастено“ (anasteno) – resurrection. 

While dancing on the burning coals, the Thracians fell into trances and praised the God of the Sun. They prayed for wealth and a fertile year.

After Christianisation this ritual had been anathematized, as heritage from pagan religions..

They say that the ritual came back during the Ottoman slavery – a very hard period for the Bulgarian nation. When the Otthomans attacked the village Bulgari, they set the homes of the people on fire. The church also was burning. An old lady saw the burning temple and was drawn into tears. She went running barefoot into the church, but from the strong fire she was able to save only one icon – to St. St. Konstantin and Elena. She looked as if she was in trance- stepping over the burning coals.  The saints Konstantin and Elena became the patrons of this sacred ritual. People dress up the icons with red fabric, sheathed with old coins. Followed by each citizen of the village, they go to the Ayazmo – the fountain next to the temple in memoriam of the Saints Konstantin and Elena.   

The same day before noon the embers is being prepared – they spread it out in a circle so that when the ritual starts later, everyone is standing around it. At dusk the fire-dancers come to the Chapel of the saints and pray in front of their icons and burn incense.  

In the evening everyone comes around the chapel and there is a bag piper and a drummer, who play 3 specific melodies. The ritual starts at the Chapel towards the glow, where the culmination comes. Falling into a trance, the fire-dancers go in the burning circle shouting. The first one crosses it  and the others follow. The dance starts and the spirit of the traditions becomes alive.

After that they start the typical bulgarian folk dance horo. 

Fire-dancers believe that the fire purifies the soul. It drives away the evil spirits, heals illnesses, and absolves from  sins. 

Question – Why are the embers spread out in a circle?

  1. So that It could be hotter.
  2. So that everyone could stand around it.
  3. So that it could be bigger.

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