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The mysticism of the Jolomari ritual

This Vasilitsa, the mysticism of the Jolomari ritual reigned once more in the Tikvesh region. The Jolomari from Begnishte, Resava, Sopot, and other places around North Macedonia, banished evil spirits and made room for health, happiness and good luck.

Skopje, 20 January 2020 (MIA) – This Vasilitsa, the mysticism of the Jolomari ritual reigned once more in the Tikvesh region. The Jolomari from Begnishte, Resava, Sopot, and other places around North Macedonia, banished evil spirits and made room for health, happiness and good luck.

The Begnishte Jolomari, a protected cultural heritage

Ordancho Lazarov, president of the Begnishte Jolomari group, says that this ritual is performed in the early hours of the morning on Vasilitsa or Old New Year. He says that the Jolomari are an old Pagan tradition passed down from generation to generation, stressing that only the men of a village participate in the organization and performing of the masked ritual. The ritual begins in a chaotic atmosphere, symbolized through the Jolomari’ bells and cowbells.

“During the night of Vasilitsa, the entire village sits by the fires lit in every neighborhood, during which they consume alcohol and wait for the Jolomari ritual to begin in the morning.

The Jolomari wear woolen garments specially designed for this day, they blacken their faces with soot from the furnaces and they don woolen mustaches and beards. They attach bells and cowbells to their belts, carrying long Jolomari sticks in their hands.

They have a leader who gathers them in the middle of the village, and he is first to start the ritual with the Jolomari dance, where the chaotic noise of the bells dominates, accompanied by occasional Jolomari exclaims.

The ritual, apart from the Jolomari, must have two men dressed as brides, and one dressed as an old woman wearing black and carrying a spindle, Lazarov says, openly displaying his satisfaction that the Begnishte Jolomari had a wish that came true the previous year.

“The government proclaimed the Begnishte Jolomari an Intangible Cultural Heritage. We’ve been waiting for this decision for quite some time. This means that the Ministry of Culture should provide financial assistance for future projects. Eli Milosheska of the Institute for Old Slavic Culture in Prilep wrote the elaboration which started this entire process,” Lazarov tells MIA.

The prevalence of eroticism

Vasilitsa, or the celebration of Old New Year, is one of the oldest holidays traditionally celebrated in the village of Resava, historian Petre Kamchevski writes in the book “Resava throughout History”.

The Jolomari ritual is one of the most widespread traditions linked to Vasilitsa. It’s one of the oldest Pagan masked rituals in this area.

The Jolomari players are a masked group consisted exclusively of men, who, following tradition, go to the middle of the village where it’s a man’s world.

The masked group wreaks havoc, and eroticism is prevalent. Whoever tries to enter their realm, or steal their “bride”, will be hit with a stick or kicked with a leg.

The village of Resava has been nurturing this tradition for centuries and has continued to do so until this day.

The dissolution of everyday moral norms

Tome Krstevski, an ethnologist and curator at the Gallery Museum in Kavadarci, says that paganism is an ancient religion dating back 20,000 years. Its name comes from paganus – villager, or pagus – village, from the standpoint that paganism survived the longest in villages.

He adds that this is a religion of respecting nature, celebrating Mother Earth, the seasons and nature itself. Many traditions have survived to this day, almost unchanged, such as rituals for births, weddings and funerals. Paganism is a philosophy, spirituality, and a religion found in any ancient people.

“Going off our own traditions, we can see many dramatic elements that have existed as an integral part of a certain ritual. There is a special place between them for ritual games that feature masks and change of garments. In a very striking way, they manifest almost every type of expression in a scenic and theatrical way,” Krstevski says, adding that the winter ritual games linked to Vasilitsa feature the Jolomari ritual of Resava and Begnishte.

“Jolomari participants can be grouped in smaller or larger groups. They’re consisted of men and Macedonians have many names for them, such as vasilichari, babari, surovari etc.

Their rituals, accompanied by dramatic and comical elements filled with magic, aim to do away with the bad, and to bless the village and bring it good luck for the following year.

The lighting of the fires is a special characteristic for this ritual, which manifests the life-giving, generative power of the Sun, heavily linked to sexual potency and maturity.

There is special attention given to the preparation of masks, costumes, props and roles. This preparation begins a month before the rituals, Krstevski says.

Depending on his participation in the ritual, each participant adapts his mask and costume according to the role he plays.

“When the ritual begins, the night between January 13 and 14, the village community begins a new life. The moral norms of the everyday are dissolved and replaced with the non-conventional.

The Jolomari from this region follow the strict laws of masquerading, where there are no improvisation. Nothing changes from its original form dating back centuries.

Only if you witness this ritual firsthand can you find out its true power and realize why it’s stuck around for as long as it has, with the same intensity as before,” Krstevski concludes.

Svetlana Darudova

Translator: Dragana Knežević

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