The Concept of the World in Macedonian Folk Legends

/, Essays, Blesok no. 150/The Concept of the World in Macedonian Folk Legends

The Concept of the World in Macedonian Folk Legends

In general, the concept of the world in the Macedonian folk legends incorporates everything that the pre-Christian and Christian religious and philosophical mind understood to be included in the notion of the world. Such a concept was namely under the direct influence of the old and great religious systems like the Iranian and Haldeic philosophies and cosmogonies, especially the Maniheism, which later through the Armenian Paulicaism reaffirmed its thought flows and in the dualistic philosophy of the Bogomil, the traces of which are still visible in modern Christianity (Dragojlovikj D., Antikj V., 1990). In this respect, the most mystical and the most esoteric Macedonian legends – which according to their structure are not far from the myths – are cosmogonic legends of the creation of the world and life, where the concept world includes mainly dualisticly structured phenomena like god and devil, light and dark, earth and sky, sun and moon, plants and animals, man and woman and so on. (Sazdov, T.,1987, 128-142).
The thing that is most important about these types of legends is the fact that they reveal a philosophical-religious interpretation of the organization and the mutual relation between man and the world. They reveal, at least approximately, the answer to the question about the ontological or gnoseological status of the world in relation to man. Of course, as in the great cosmogonic religious systems, so too in the Macedonian cosmogonic legends one of the possible solutions leads to the answer that man and the world are in an inseparable unity, namely in a constant dialogue. The dialogue may be taken as the basic category of communication between man and the world. Hence, they communicate by means of their own language based on symbolically interpreted questions and answers (Toporov, 1971, 9-62). And while the world poses various questions to man, he answers them with a symbolic interpretation of different mythological concepts like: the notions of god and the devil, light and dark, the saints, the priests, the sacred places (churches), the sacred marriages, the sacred tree and so on. By means of these symbolical interpretations man in fact introduces order into the previous chaos.
This type of dialogue, containing both a symbolic and a communicative language, is probably most obvious in the Slav languages, and therefore in the Macedonian language too. On the subject of the influence of the language on the orthodox religious conceptualization, B. A. Uspenski gives several examples of the mutual influence of the Russian language and the religious notions and concepts like krest (cross) – Hristos (Christ) – krestitisya (baptize), prepodobnм (holy) -nepodobnм (unholy), bog (god) – bogatмi (rich) etc. (Uspenski,B., 1967, 159-168).
Uspenski is in this way looking for the linguistic basis and roots of some religious notions. Although in his study he does not deal with the word world and its connotations within the religious sphere, like the words svyatie and svyateno, in the Slav language, and hence the South Slav languages, mythology, religion and folklore, the word world (Slovenian svйt, Croat svijet, Serb svкt, Bulgarian svet’, Macedonian svet) is found in the root of many words which are manifestations of religious notions reflected in folk legends. In the Macedonian cosmogonic legends such words are svet (world), svetlost (light), svetec (saint), sveshtenik (priest), sveto drvo (sacred tree), svet brak (sacred marriage – hierogamy) and so on. Through these derivatives of the root world as well as through the specific verbal tales which directly or indirectly include this notion, it is possible to create a concept of the world which would characteristic or separated from the rational or modern context of life. Linguistically speaking, all the key words or phrases found in the cosmogonic legends of the creation of the world, like world (its creation, dualistic or monotheistic, namely the world outside of humanity) light, saint, sacred place, priest, sacred tree, sacred marriage within their root contain the word world, which may imply a certain analytical approach to the problem.


In a large number of the pre-Christian and Christian legends of the creation of the world, the process of creation is undoubtedly connected with the process of the creation of light. This is found for example in the gnosticism of the Iranian mythology, in some Hindu cosmogonic legends of the creation of the world, in the Chinese and in the biblical myths. This shows that the concept of the light and dark duality is among the basic mythological concepts of the creation of the world. Even the development of the feeling for time and space stems from the mythical views of the opposition of day and night, light and dark.
As stated at the beginning, in the South Slave religious concepts the two cosmogonic categories of world and light undoubtedly linguistically complement each other. Under the influence of the Iranian gnosticism and later Christianity, in the Macedonian cosmogonic legends the creation of the world coincides with the creation of light from darkness, often shown by their substitutes: day and night or the sun and the moon. One Macedonian legend says: “God had two reels, one of them white and one of them black; the white was tied to the black. When he unrolled the white, it would be day and when he unrolled the black, it would be night. So long was the thread, that by the time he gathered up the white reel, the black would start unrolling and it would be night. As the ends of the threads were tied, when he rolled the white in winter time, God also rolled from the black thread onto the white reel, thus making the day shorter and the night longer. So too in summer the day would grow longer and the night shorter.” (Cepenkov, M.,1972, VII,7)
The world was created, as in the great cosmogonic myths, the moment when light conquered darkness. The light is totally identical to the world. The moment when God created light was the moment when the world started to function. In another Macedonian legend collected by Cepenkov, it is said that before anything else was created on the earth, Christ created the sun from a lump of mud which he threw into the sky and which God blessed with light (Cepenkov,M., 1972,VII,9). From that moment on the world came to exist. The light and the world are two different and yet similar expressions of the phenomenon of existence.

The Saint

In the Macedonian cosmogonic legends we come across another motif, the symbol which enables the connection between man and the mystical inconceivable world, namely between man and god, and that is the saint. In the pre-Christian religions the saint was a deity. Later he was christianized. Hence, the role of the pre-Christian deities in the Macedonian legends too was overtaken by the Christian saints (Cepenkov, M.,1972, IV, 40). This is particularly obvious in the cosmogonic legends where the saints often directly or indirectly play the role of creators of the world or of their aiders, which does not coincide with the Christian ideology. Such saints are St. Peter, St. Ilija, St. Archangel and others. In one Macedonian version of the legend of the dualistic creation of the world, by extracting sand from the sea, St. Peter plays a vital role in introducing order into the chaos which rules the world (AIF,nr., 2079). In another legend, St. Archangel fights with god over who is to rule the world.(AIF, nr., 3517) Linguistically speaking the word saint contains the root world. In a religiously cognitive sense, the saint is as mystical as the world. The saint is the carrier and the interpreter of the hidden messages of the world. The saint is the missing link in the communication chain between man and the world.

The Sacred Place (Church)

The building of the church, rather the ritual of the building of the church, according to numerous interpretations represents the ritual of the building of the world. And not only that. The church as a sacred place hides within itself the secret of the creation of the world. The sacred place too contains the word world. The sacred place, namely the church, is the way to the unraveling of the secrets of the world. The church is the way to the opening of the world. It is the weapon in the fight against the rule of the evil world. One Macedonian version of the creation of the world from the fight between god and the devil says: When the king’s son, Solomon, died, the devil took him to his kingdom – the sea. Solomon took a twig and began to measure something at the bottom. The devil asked what he was doing, and he said that he was measuring a place to build a church. The devil got frightened of the idea of someone building a church in his kingdom, and returned Solomon on the earth. (AIF, nr. 2079)

The Sacred Tree

If the light is the same as the world, the worldly (the sacred) or the cosmogonic tree represents an interpretation of the world (Toporov, 1971). This is more than obvious both in the medieval Macedonian legends and in the modern ones. In the cosmogony of the Razumnik (the wise or lucid one) for example, we find an understanding according to which the earth rests on an iron oak (Antikj, V. 1984), whilst in Cepenkov’s collection it is said that the earth is being supported by two planks on two oxen (Cepenkov, M., 1972, VII, 26). In the cosmogonic legends of this type it is apparent that one is dealing with pre-Christian religious views of the world and the influence on them by the phenomenon of the “sacred tree”. Not going into the origins of this type of concept, we will only mention that it is a mythological explanation and a pre logical belief – in the Lйvi-Bryhl sense – which explains the conception of the world. These are so called pure cosmological concepts which do not have a christianized characteristic. Such an example can be found in the story of “The Girl and the Twelve Months “(Cepenkov, M., 1972, III, 144) from Cepenkov’s collection. In this story we find the mythical vision of the cosmic time and the world in general represented through the characters of eleven men and a woman sited in a circle around a tree, which actually represent the twelve months and the cosmic tree in the middle. This picture represents a symbol and at the same time a vision of the cosmic cycle of time. It is a type of spiritual materialization of the creation of the whole cosmos, and the year which is constantly turning in a cycle, which in some way represents a Heraclitic dynamic cosmology and a picture of the natural renewal of the world, of which Eliade spoke so much. The renewal or the creation is envisioned as a tree which each year, following the cosmic rhythms, is renewed.

The Sacred Marriage

The sacred marriage is a marriage between two deities – two equal worlds, or a deity and man – two different worlds. If the sacred tree represents a vision of the world and an interpretation of the world, the sacred marriage is an explanation of that vision. According to this explanation, the world was created in the same way as man, namely through the erotic linking of two equal or different worlds, which implies a certain degree of antropomorphization. The essence of these marriages – depending on which category they fall into – is to bring fertility to the land, life, or in a word – to the whole of humanity. This is directly connected to the views of the ancient civilizations, which represented the creation of the world and life according to the example of their own creative capabilities, namely in creating offspring. These cosmogonic couplings or amorous relationships have a sacred goal and origin: joining the opposites and elevating love to a higher degree of generality, with analogies to the microcosmos and the macrocosmos. In the Macedonian folklore we find a large number of legends which speak of the wedding between the earth and the snow (AIF, nr. 1497), the sky and the earth (Cepenkov,VII, 5), the sun and the earth, or the sun and the moon (AIF, nr.1771), as universal cosmogonic elements which have left visible traces in the Balkan verbal narrative prose. In this context, the appearance of these cosmic elements in some Balkan tales is regarded as an occurrence of the pre-Christian deities (Uranian Epiphany) personified in the characters of the folk legends.


AIF – Archive of Institute of Folklore, Skopje, Macedonia
Dragojlović D. Antić, V.S. 1990, “Mitologumena”, Makedonska kniga, Skopje
Antić Vera Stojčevska, 1984, “Razumnikot”, vo srednovekovnata knizhevnost, Prilozi, Manu, Skopje IX,2
Sazdov Tome, 1987, “Macedonian folk literature”, Skopje
B .N. Toporov, 1971, “O strukture nekotorмh arhaicheskih tekstov, sootnosimм s koncepciei “mirovog dereva” Trudм po znakovмm sistemam 5, Tartu
B.A.Uspenskii: 1967, “Vliyanie Yaz’ika na religioznoe soznanie”, Trudм po znakovмm sistemam,Tartu, 159-168
Cepenkov, M., 1972, “Makedonski narodni umotvorbi”, (I-X) Makedonska kniga, Skopje”

AuthorErmis Lafazanovski
2023-06-08T11:42:36+00:00 June 6th, 2023|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 150|Comments Off on The Concept of the World in Macedonian Folk Legends