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Fire Dancers of Bulgaria

fire dancersThe fire dancers ritual is normally performed in the evening on the 3rd and 4th June on the feast day of St Constantine and Helena It is an ancient Greek and Bulgarian rite which people, usually women, dance barefoot on hot coals . It is performed every year in the village of Bulgari, which is South of Bourgas, the coastal resort on the Black Sea Nestinarstvo ( the Bulgarian word for fire dancer) is also performed in villages of the Greek region of Macedonia which are populated by descendants of Thracian refugees Although historians believe the ritual is dated back to pagan times the first document on the ritual only goes back to the late 19th century and was written by the Bulgarian poet Petro Slaveikov. The Nestinari carry a religious icon of St Constantine and Helena, but the Church in times gone by has persecuted the fire dancers and said they had been demonised as if possessed by the devil. Many dancers gave up the ritual after the 1912 Balkan Wars. By the end of the 1940’s only a few villages retained the tradition of the ritual Traditionally, the right to perform the ritual would be hereditary and the head Nestinar may be succeeded only by his or her son or daughter, and only when he or she is too old or ill to continue performing it.

Fire Dancers fire dancer

On the morning of the Saints day a procession led by the Fire Dancers,( Nestinari) carry icons to a nearby spring where they are consecrated.. Music is played with the Gaida pipes and drum and everyone  dances the horo,( a traditional Bulgarian dance), through the village. Afterwards, the Fire Dancers or Nestinari enter a room called a Konak where they spend the rest of the day listening to the rhythm of the music and with steady beat of the drum takes them into a trance. The fire is prepared throughout the day, a hot bed of coals about two inches deep. When dusk falls the Nestinari fire dancers in a state of trance and carrying their icons, move into the circle surrounded by onlookers who have travelled many miles and from as many places, to witness this spectacular age old ritual. After the first fire dancers have walked the coals in the pattern of a cross, other Nestinari dancers enter the fiery circle. The movements that the fire dancers make on the burning coals are well versed and definite, but not rushed, nevertheless their bare feet are not burned. The music becomes louder, the frenzy is captivating, moans screams and cries can be heard from the Fire dancers as well as the crowds, who must be imagining every step that the Nestinari take over the burning fire. Often during the traditional dance, the fire dancers are said to be able to connect to the saint and through this connection they can interpret omens, give advice, foretell the future, or communicate with the dead When the ritual dance concludes, all of those present once again perform the Horo, as a kind of prayer for good health. At present, the tradition of the fire dancers is observed most faithfully in the village of Bulgari in the Strandzha mountains. So if you are in the vicinity, this is a great spectacular festival and tradition not to be missed. Apart from celebrating the two saints and the fire dancing, the holiday symbolises the transition from spring to summer

This unique Nestinarstvo fire dancing ritual has recently been entered onto the UNESCO Tangible Cultural Heritage List, as an important part of the living heritage of the world.

Watch the UNESCO Video

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