The Nestinarstvo- fire-dancing ritual
The Nestinarstvo fire-dancing rite is the climax of the annual Panagyr ritual on the festival days of Saints Constantine and Helena (3 and 4 June) in the village of Bulgari, in the Mount Strandzha region of south-east Bulgaria. The ritual is held to ensure the well-being and fertility of the village. In the morning, consecrated and ceremonial rituals are solemnized and a procession with the sacred icons representing the two Saints travels outside the village to a spring with holy water, accompanied by drum and bagpipes. At the spring, holy water and candles are handed out to everyone present for good health. The festival finishes in a fire-dance in the evening as the highest form of honour of the Saints. People silently arrangement a circle around the burning embers led by the sacred drum, and the Nestinari, who are spiritual and physical leaders through whom the saints express their will, begin entering the circle and dancing on the embers.
Dancing on the embers called fire-dancing ‘Nestinarstvo’’is a bridge between past and future and shows a small fragment of the Bulgaria’s cultural heritage. Although it existed in the heart of Europe for centuries, it is something not so well-known, but the same time unique. Fire dancing is one of the most ancient rituals in the Balkans. It is still mystery with so many unanswered questions. In a state like trance, locals in the small Strandja village of Bulgari still dance barefoot on burning embers as they did their ancestors a thousand years ago. They say “One can not learn to dance over embers unless born to be nestinar. You have to trust that the God will keep you safe, you should be very good and anyone not want bad. Then You will not feel the heat. “.
Performance begins at sunset, when the main fire-dancer, a man wearing a white shirt and a red sash around the waist, spread the coals in a circle in the square of the village of Bulgari. Dancers dancing around with icons and then suddenly walk through the fire. Sometimes their feet barely touch the ground, sometimes pushing the embers with circular movements until they put out. Their faces are pale, their eyes half closed. Dancers say they fall into a spiritual trance during the dance and is believed to foretell the future.