Fire dance

Nestinarstvo is one of the ancient Bulgarian customs, originating thousands of years ago. Its appearance is associated with the Thracians and their cult of the sun. This custom is typical for Bulgarian villages from Eastern Thrace – Southeastern Bulgaria from the beginning of the 20th century.

The Nestinary games are unique, and the rites associated with them are magical. Specific folk songs and instrumental performances alternate with the sounds of bagpipes and drums, and the Nestinari are characterized by being strongly religious. It is believed that anyone, even if he is not from Strandzha region, could become a nestinar, if he strongly believes in the divine essence of the rite. However, the most important thing is the love to the ritual. Dancing on the embers, detached from reality, they welcome the coming summer, praise the name of the Sun god, who brings with him the fire, and ask him to grant them health, success and fertility during the year. After the acceptance of Bulgarians the Christianity as an official and only religion, the ritual was banned by the church as a heresy and people walking on fire sank into oblivion. In the 14th century (AD), the Bulgarian village of Balgari in Strandzha Mountain, which was believed to be the capital and the most important place for the Nestinari, was set on fire. An old woman saw that the chapel was burning along with the houses. With all her strength, she entered barefoot and torn, took the only surviving and untouched by fire icon of “St. Constantine and St. Elena,” and carried her out across the fire coal. There was no sign of burning on her. Since then, the Nestinarstvo has been revived. The Nestinari carry sick people in their arms through the embers for healing, and children and young people for longevity. Nestinarstvo itself finds the chosen and worthy person. The Nestinari say: “To be able to dance on the embers, you have to want it, to play and not get burned, you have to be chosen and protected one from St. Constantine and St. Helen. When you feel the music take over you, the drum beats your heart rate, you feel that you are flying and your body shrinks, and everything around you disappears, you will not even know when you began to dance enchanted on the sparkling coals.”

The ritual begins at nightfall after the fire turns into embers. It has a diameter of about two meters and a thickness of five to six centimeters. The oldest Nestinari step into it first. They go around the embers three times, and then cross it. After that the real dance begins. The Nestinari enter the circle of fire with a shrill cry. They cross the embers by pressing their feet into the coals and keep shouting. The Nestinari dance while holding the flower decorated icon of Saints Constantine and Helena. Gradually the dance becomes slower with calm movements and finally the dance finishes. Nowadays, this ritual is not perceived so much as a ritual dance, as it is mainly performed as an attraction in Bulgarian restaurants. In 2009 the ritual is included in the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage and in the National Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage “Living Human Treasures – Bulgaria”.