Jolomari – The ghosts that are chasing away evil spirits from village Begnishte in Macedonia

The night when the dead are in motion to fight against evil


The small territory of Macedonia holds a large number of customs, traditions and habits. Macedonian tradition has a whole range of ways of celebrating the holidays, and the ones which are the most characteristic are often associated with pagan beliefs. Once, you’ve had the chance to read an article about the custom in Vevchani, Macedonia in which people wear scary masks and dance pagan dances.

This happens in the period of Vasilitsa (Василица), a holiday being celebrated during the so-called “Unbaptized days,” a period that lasts from Christmas to Epiphany, when according to a legend, Jesus wasn’t baptized and the Devil was struggling to deceive Jesus and make Him to refuse to be baptized; this way, the will of God wouldn’t be fulfilled.

Jolomari Fire Dance

People believe that in the Unbaptized days, the dead are in motion and various vampires including the night demons (In Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia known as “karakondzhuli”), witches, fairies and other evil spirits are active and they’re working hard with the intention to do harm. To protect them from evil things and situations, people perform various magical protective rituals.

Another pagan ritual that occurs in the period of Vasilitsa is the ritual of Jolomari (Macedonian: џоломари). This rite takes place in the village Begnishte near the city of Kavadarci. Jolomari’s history began centuries ago when the same people were running away from the Ottoman Turks.

Jolomari Men Dancing/© T
Jolomari Men Dancing/© Toshe Ognjanov

They left the village Ozot and came on the territory of Begnishte (the name of the village comes from the word bega/бега which means “to escape” or “escapes”). The ritual begins at night when the Jolomari men go out in the village and start their dance with the idea to chase away the evil spirits.

From the very beginning, the group makes noise and chaos, and their appearance causes a combination of fascination and chills.

Jolomari Men from Begnishte/Source: © Toshe Ognjanov
Jolomari Men from Begnishte/Source: © Toshe Ognjanov

The Jolomari is a group of ~15 men and three of them are dressed as women; one bride and one old woman who serve as a symbol for a new and fruitful year. The other men wear beards and mustaches made of wool and hoods made of goat cloth.

What is most frightening in their appearance are the men’s black faces covered with charcoal; with goggled eyes and wide open moth, the Jolomari will give you the creepiest moment in your life.

Their ritual and their movements are accompanied by strong noises of the metal bells which are attached to the Jolomari’s waists. The equipment of one Jolomar weighs about twenty kilograms.

Jolomari Final (Dawn) Dance/Photo © Toshe Ognjanov

The Jolomari have sticks and/or canes with which they touch and hit the villagers’ butt; they tease the people, claiming that this will bring a healthy and successful year to everyone. This ritual lasts until early morning when the Jolomari walk around with a donkey and collect meat and rakija from the village houses.

Before they begin to collect meat and rakija, the Jolomari finish their rite with a dance that is accompanied only by “music” produced by the heavy bells.

The Jolomari line up in a circle; the oldest gives a starting beat and the others dance to the given rhythm. The bride, the groom and the grandmother stand in the dancing circle’s center. Then, the groom starts simulating an intercourse with both of the “women,” an act which is a symbol for a fruitful year.

Would you dance the dance of ghosts?

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