21 May – Bulgarian Fire Dancing
This is a custom that can be seen only in some villages between Strandzha and the Black Sea, around Bourgas. It is observed on the holiday of St.Konstantin and Elena , and sometimes on some of the local village fairs and the church/patron saint’s days. A basic element of the custom is the dance in fire (glowing embers). The whole village takes part in the celebration but it is only the fire-dancers that participate in the ritual dance. They are chosen by the saint who is patron of the holiday. The dancers are able to “see” his face, to “hear” his voice and his spirit is transferred in them and on his behalf they can interpret omens, give advices and scorn people.
Fire-dancing is inherited. Only the head fire-dancer is the one to pass the strength and inspiration to the other fire-dancers. Head fire-dancer could become only the son or the daughter of the present one and only if he is either too old or after he has passed away. The head fire-dancer house is s sacred one because there is the so called “stolnina” or “konak”/”rasting place”, which is a very small chapel where the icons of st.Konstantin and Elena are kept as well as those of the Virgin Mary, St. George, St. Pantaleimon, and some wood-cuts from the Holy Sepulcher and red pieces of cloth decorated with images of the sun. There is also the sacred drum which sets the beat of the dance. It is believed that the drum has magical powers and it can cure the one who carries it if he happens to be ill. This drum is not to be used in any other case.
On the very day of the holiday after the service in the church, the people make their way to the “konak” led by the head fire-dancer and the priest. When they reach the “konak”, the head fire-dancer censes the icons and the other fire-dancers, and passes to them the spiritual strength and inspiration of St. Konstantin. They start beating the drum and play a special fire-dancing song on a pipe. Some of the fire-dancers get “caught” (a state of religious trance) and start dancing with the Saint’s icon in their hands. After the ritual dances are over, the people set up a big feast eating homemade boiled mutton. After sunset they all return to the central square where they build up a big fire around which they play horo at the accompaniment of a pipe and drum. When the fire goes out and turns into glowing embers, the fire-dancers start dancing on them. The fire-dancer dances bare-footed on the embers and while he is dancing he may see and foretell the future.