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Illyrian legends

Mythological involvement of the snake in the cult of fertility is evident through ancient Illyrian legends, with whose analysis we can discern in greater detail the connection of the snake with other elements of this cult, especially wheat. In the book "Ancient pledged monuments on the locality of BiH" (1977), author Enver Imamović mentions an interesting piece of information about the connection of wheat and a female deity: "For example, in Herodotus we find data about a female deity among Paionians which are identified with the Greek Artemisia. Illyrian women sacrifice wheat straw to her". Artemisia is known as the goddess of hunting, nature and animals, all things that Illyrians ascribed to the goddess Tana. With this data we are closer to the conclusion that Tana is behind the Great Mother, often times depicted on reliefs and monuments alongside god Vidasus. Wheat plays a pronounced role in the cult of fertility and the act of offering of wheat to the goddess has the goal of securing her grace and successful harvest. Dominant symbol of the one that gives life, first deity in human history, for the Illyrians wheat represented the biggest sanctity but also ancient sin.

During the time of the Roman's i.e. Roman occupation there was a father with seven sons and one daughter in Illirika. At one opportunity the sons out of boredom and wanton took the bread out of the house, placed it on a larger stone and used it for target practice with spears. The father was unaware of their actions, but hearing their laughter he decided to see what was going on. At the same time, while the father was exiting the house, the spear of one of the sons hit the bread, and to everyone's surprise, blood started to flow out of it. Seeing this the father yelled at his boys, asking what they have done, because now they caused the wrath of gods, which will punish them surely. Punishment is ruthless since god's sentence sons to banishment and they have to leave the home, parting on all four sides of the globe, and the only ones left are the father and his daughter. Soon the father died out of great sorrow for his sons. The girl wept and mourned since she was the only one left in the house. The god's decided to turn her into a huge snake which will guard treasure in a deep cave and each year, during spring, she would go out onto the daylight, to have a chance to meet a hero, whose courage will be so great that he will kiss her between the eyes. If he performs this feat he will receive the treasure and the girl as his wife.

Besides being interesting, the legend reveals some historical facts such as sons leaving the home for such a long time that their father didn't live to see them return. Namely, after a long Illyrian uprising against the Romans, the occupying forces decided to send Illyrian men to the boarders of the Roman empire where they would serve the army for twenty or thirty years, after which they will be allowed to return home, if they survive. Sorrow and loneliness of the girl and her transformation into a snake, symbol of fertility, similarly speak of girls which couldn't get married and achieve motherhood because of the lack of men. But, more than that, the appearance of the snake in spring hints to awakening of fertility in nature, regeneration of the eternal cycle of new birth, and throughout the entire content of the myth, we have a few crucial elements which mutually agree and complement each other: young men, whose sexual power is represented by a spear - phallus, and bread the symbol of the Grand Mother, i.e. virgin, which is being penetrated by a spear, act of defloration. We shouldn't leave out the meaning of number 9 (seven sons, father and daughter) which is the number of the Grand Mother, with which this legend represents one of the oldest Illyrian legends which remained in the collective conscience of our people. Also, bread placed on the stone and punctured with a spear could represent a type of sacrifice to Illyrian gods before the men leave for war.

In another Illyrian legend there is talk of a time of wellbeing, when the people lived in times of plentiful food; the people developed hubris and became ungrateful. In their arrogance they made shoes out of bread which angered the gods and they punished them with a period of hunger and poverty.

In this legend also we notice historical sequences about a period of peace i.e. wellbeing and a period of war (hunger), which are always connected with god's of fertility, which is understandable if we take into consideration the fact that survivability of people depended on their fertility from the beginning of times. That's why in traditional Bosnian belief we come across numerous taboos tied to bread;

it's a large sin to trample bread crumbs;

bread shouldn't be turned upside down on the table;

you shouldn't walk down the street and eat bread.

Hearth as the centre of a household and a place where bread was baked is holly and it is forbidden to thread on it, i.e. undertake blasphemy.

Not even rain was allowed to fall on the hearth that's why the dormers was closed every night, otherwise an owl could fly inside the house, personification of death in ancient beliefs of our people. Namely, if an owl enters the house through a dormer, the entire family will die.

One even swears on bread, namely, if it so happens that a person is talking while eating and holding bread in his hand he would utter: "It was like that, I swear by this nimet (bread)!" [IMG][/IMG]

Mythology of Bosnia and Herzegovina
02/02/2016 13:13