Development of religions in Macedonia


Religion in Prehistory

Within the territory of the Republic of Macedonia, at least for now, no traces of any organized Metal Age organized religion have been found (shrines, temples, monumental depictions of deities), although there are such findings in the neighbouring countries. Prevailing among the findings are objects of more intimate or rather, of family or domestic character. Miniature (primarily female) ceramic cult figures, typical for the Neolith, continue to appear both in the Eneolith and in the Bronze Age, yet with a tendency of even further simplification of the shape. Science quite incorrectly interpret that occurrence as a decline of the artistic, even of the cultural level. Yet, one should remember that those figures were not intended to excite aesthetic feelings of the observers, but primarily to evoke the sense of the presence of the deity in their mind, an allusion of its appearance and functions. Due to the lack of tradition, in the early prehistoric phases that effect might have been achieved by more or less realistic depiction. In this phase, however, the millennium long worshipping of a deity, both consciously and subconsciously, produced a finished inner mental image ready to be presented to the worshipers through a general, typified image of that deity. Therefore, these artifacts should be treated as symbols of the presence of the given deity in certain area or rite.

Given that the above mentioned findings express earlier Neolithic traditions, then the next one is a true representative of new components that the newcomers introduced in the Balkans in the Eneolithic Age. A stone object, found in the surroundings of Bitola (Suplevec site near the village of Gorno Oreovo) on the one hand explains the issue of the origin of the Metal Age, and raises new, insoluble questions on the other. Similar objects, discovered in the Northeast parts of the Balkans, i.e., along the northern Black Sea coastline and all the way to the east to the Central Asian steppes, define the track of the immigrants that settled within our part of the Balkans during the Eneolith. Even though some refer to it as a part of a scepter, undoubtedly it also included certain religious components, related to the depicted animal (presumably a horse, maybe even a moose), understood as a symbol or totemic order of the tribe or the clan. There is also a possibility that this object was related to the shaman tradition, taking into account the significant role that those animals played in the shamans' mystic performances.

Throughout this Age, symbolistic painting was particularly reflected in the jewelry. The answer to the question why they depicted deities and symbols on their jewels should be looked for in the human belief that, by wearing such jewelry, a constant contact with factors represented on it (cosmic elements, deities, mystic powers) was maintained. And that, in turn, would have enabled them to protect themselves from evil and to invite to themselves positive factors represented by such images and symbols (power, fertility, health, success...). In addition, certain types of jewelry evolved into symbols that indicated the age, gender, social ranking, and tribal lineage of their holder.

According to the current knowledge, on the Macedonian territory such jewelry emerged during the Iron Age. It is so impressive and interesting in shape that science acknowledges it as one of the key elements of the ethno-cultural differentiation between the inhabitants of these regions and their neighbours. Efforts aimed at linking this jewelry with certain findings that at the same time or slightly later were mentioned in the earliest classical written sources, reflect also in the names given to this group of objects, which are known as "Macedonian bronzes" or "Paionian bronzes".

This group which, judging by all factors, in addition to jewelry also included ritual items, is particularly characterized by its massive bronze objects which some researchers see as miniature goblets, and others as poppy calyxes. On the upper part they have an adjoining pivot and a pair of birds' heads which, maybe, in the mind of their users formed an image of a female figure (a deity?) whose uterus was identified with the inside of the pot, the pivot with her neck and head, and the birds' claws with her hands. Whatever they represent, it is doubtless that in certain instances some kind of substance was poured into these objects (water or another, perhaps opiating liquid), obviously sacral and magical in character, that played its role during the rites. Another class of objects, whose function is still puzzling, have a shape of a split pivot (probably a stylized wood), with a male figure sitting on the top of it. The erected phallus detected in some samples and the pose that alludes the one of the fetus, imply its main function: a god that impregnates a goddess of fertility, thus conceiving himself within her. We presume that through this image the new epoch explained the position of the masculine factor in the nature's life cycles.

Among these interesting objects there are also numerous pendants, they too dominated by an animal - pot relation. Some have images of birds carrying a jug on their backs, or birds themselves serve as a pot, and some have a pot with either a human or an animal figure above it, or the pot itself is positioned on the above mentioned pivot. Prevailing impression is that all these figures served for either carrying or endowing whatever was contained in the pots. We suspect that only the fundamental vital liquid - the water - might have such significance. There is another separate group of objects dominated by the leading symbol of this period - a wheel with carved cross that symbolized the heavenly cycles in general or, in particular, the Sun. The factors of "dynamics" and "powers" of these objects are perceived through animal depictions (a bird, a horse, a moose...), whose purpose is to evoke the sense of them transferring, i.e., rotating the "solar wheel".

Changes at the level of the religious depictions and beliefs of this epoch can be best seen in the funeral traditions. The two earliest phases of this era, unfortunately, in the territory of the Republic of Macedonia are known by a very few investigated graveyard compounds, thus not allowing for general conclusions. It was found out that the sporadically excavated graves dating from the early Bronze Era in the site of Varosh near Prilep were constructed in a form of coffins made up of stone slabs. The fact that the deceased were inhumed in them, in a contracted position, shows that in that era the primeval Neolithic traditions still existed, and with them presumably also the concepts of the afterlife destiny of the dead. The presence of the cremation of the dead in the early phases - a specific custom of the new era - has not as yet been widely confirmed within our territories (individual specimen were excavated in Varosh near Prilep, and in Medzitlia and Kravari sites near Bitola). An exemption, to a certain extent, is the newly discovered necropolis in the vicinity of Skopje ("Klucka - Hipodrom"), that dates back from the next phase of the Iron Age when, apparently, the tradition of inhuming the dead in graves - cysts made up of stone slabs will prevail. Depending on the period and area, such graves will be dug in flat surface (usually near the roads from that period) or grouped in circular structures and then covered with soil to form a graveyard that raises above the ground level. In Macedonia numerous necropoles of that type were excavated: "Saraj" near Brod; "Visoi" near Beranci; "Popadin dol" and "Kaldrma" in the region of Bitola; "Krivi dol" near Radanje in the region of Prilep; "Orlovi cuki" near Karaorman in the region of Stip; "Kunovi cuki" near Orizari and "Dabici" near Sopot in the region of Kocani; "Glos" near Grcishte and "Meleznik" near the village of Dedeli in the region of Valandovo; "Suva Reka" in Gevgelija; "Tri celjusti" near Gorenci in the region of Ohrid; "Dubice" near Volkovo and near the village of Brazda in the region of Skopje.



Bogomil as a religious creed that emerged in Macedonia

In Macedonia, alongside the Christianity as the major and the Islam as the second religion according to the number of the members, other religions have been spreading in the course of time. Today there are various sects, both Christian and Muslim. Because of the fact that it emerged right here, in our region, it would be worth mentioning also the existence of the Bogomil in the Macedonian history.

Initially the Bogomil faith emerged on the territory of the former province of Berzitia in the Southeast Macedonia during the reign of the Bulgarian Tzar Petar (927 - 969). The main preacher and leader of the Macedonian Bogomils was Priest Bogomil. He mainly preached in the regions of Veles and Prilep. This is also supported by the recorded folk stories from these Macedonian regions. That is where the Bogomil movement was initiated and centered. It is also confirmed by the preserved toponyms that emerged under the influence of Priest Bogomil's name (meaning "dear to God") and his doctrine. Such names are: the village of Bogomila near Veles, Bogomilsko Pole (Bogomil's Plane) which spreads around the village of Bogomila, as well as the names of Mount and the river Babuna, since the Bogomils were also known as "babuni", "kudegeri", "torbesi". The name "bogomili" itself evolved from two sources: one was the name of Priest Bogomil - the father of the Bogomil creed, and the other the credo of his followers according to which they are the ones who are the closest and "dearest to God".

From the Southwest Macedonia the Bogomil creed had spreaded fast to other regions of Macedonia, and became a widespread movement.
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