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An Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria: At the Crossroads of the Mysteries

In Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the Oldest Living City in Europe
August 22-27, 2019

Plenaries

Ancient Thrace:
Cradle, Crossroads, Cauldron
Leonard George, Ph.D.
Well-known cradles of civilization include Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, China, Mesoamerica, and the Andes. But oldest of all is the region of Thrace and Anatolia. Millennia before Giza’s pyramids and Ur’s ziggurats, people dwelled at Plovdiv, perhaps the world’s earliest living city. Almost 7000 years ago, an advanced society glittered with the first gold ornaments – the Varna Treasure. Thrace was a crossroad of cultures, including Greek, Persian, Scythian and Celtic, forming a society known for hunting, fighting, and feasting. But Thrace was also a cauldron of wisdom, melding and spreading esoteric influences. Plato (in Charmides 156E) shared a Thracian teaching: the healing of the body cannot take place without healing the soul.

Orphic Mysteries and Archaeology in Ancient Thrace
Diana Gergova, Ph.D.
Herodotus tells us that the Thracians were the most numerous people after the Indians. He also explains that Orpheus the Thracian was the first to introduce the mysteries, which is why they were called threskeia. The legendary figures of Orpheus in the South of Thrace, and Zalmoxis in the North, emerge from the mists of the turbulent times of the great migrations in the second half of the second millennium BC. Recent archaeological discoveries in Bulgaria reveal unique monuments from the apogee of the Thracian civilization. These tombs, sanctuaries and towns illustrate not only the extremely high level of their culture, but also allow us to understand how strongly this civilization was influenced by the belief in immortality, and the mysteries and rituals connected with it.

The Image of Orpheus
Joscelyn Godwin, Ph.D.
From the Renaissance onward, the story of Orpheus has inspired poets, musicians and visual artists. We will look at some paintings, prints and sculptures from that period, through Romanticism and the Symbolists, up to modern times. How did the artist choose what element of the Orpheus myth to represent, and how does this choice affect the viewer? The object is to appreciate how myth, timeless by nature, adapts to historical fashions and philosophies, in each case revealing a different facet of its inherent wisdom. It also suggests reflections on the historical trajectory of Western civilization.

The Survival of Hermetic and Gnostic Wisdom in the Medieval Byzantine-Balkan World
Yuri Stoyanov, Ph.D.
Following the institution of the orthodoxies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,trends, schools and individuals professing esoteric, Gnostic and Hermetic teachings were suppressed, driven underground or marginalized. Based on the latest manuscript discoveries and the speaker’s field work in the Middle East, Asia Minor and the Balkans, this talk will chart the main underground channels of survival and transmission of such esoteric, Gnostic and Hermetic doctrines and ritual procedures in traditions which were considered  “heretical” and “forbidden” before their re-emergence in the Hermetic revival of the Renaissance that transformed European spirituality and culture.

The Underworld Journey as Quest and Transformation
Marjorie Roth, Ph.D., D.M.A.
The theme of katabasis belongs to the myth and religion of human cultures worldwide.  A hero visits an Underworld landscape in pursuit of some object, loved one, or knowledge that is of particular value to himself or his community.  Such a quest invites risk, daring, love, loss, weakness, courage, and, ultimately, transformation. Taking the demigod Orpheus as our guide, we will explore various operatic manifestations of his Underworld experience. By focusing on the moment of his confrontation with the Chthonic deities, we will see how Orpheus’s own special power—the power of music—can both reflect and critique the values of his or her time and place.

Amulets and Talismans in the Bulgarian Written Tradition
Boriana Hristova, Ph.D.
Amulets and talismans were disseminated in the Bulgarian lands from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Whether through the magical use of language and prayers as protective amulets, or as talisman seals and protective sashes wrapped around one's waist, such practices were used for protection from evil forces - from meetings with fairies and hags and unexpected death - and also for success in all affairs, including easy childbirth, help in the case of illness, guidance for travelers, and many more eventualities of everyday life. We’ll have an opportunity to use copies of written amulets and talismans from the 14th and 15th centuries as objects of meditation and visualization.

The Sufi Tradition and Dervish Brotherhoods in the Bulgarian Lands
Rossitsa Gradeva, Ph.D.
Sufism and the Dervish Brotherhoods spread throughout the Balkans, from the period of the Ottoman conquest to the emergence of the Bulgarian state in the late 19th century, against a backdrop of political and social changes in the empire and the region. A number of major brotherhoods formed and found followers among the Balkanites, both the "official" brotherhoods of the Mevlevi (who had a center in Plovdiv), as well as the Nakshibendi, Halveti, the Bektashi and the Shiite Kizilbash. What were their networks, beliefs and rituals? What was their relationship with the Ottoman authorities?  And what was their fate in the post-Ottoman period?

The Secret Code of the Bulgarian Icon Painters
Mariyana Shabarkova-Petrova
Bulgarian icon painters are known for their originality and rich symbolism. The Wheel of Life, symbolizing the vanity of human existence, is a frequent image in frescoes, in addition to the depiction of such classic themes as the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ. We will explore the diverse interpretations of this Wheel and consider its analogues in Himalayan models of the Wheel of Life and in Ethiopian images inspired by the medieval novel Barlaam and Joasaph, allowing the secret code of the icon painters to emerge.

The Bulgarian Pythia and Her Sisters: Balkan Female Seers
Galia Valtchinova
A remarkable tradition of Balkan female seers exists, and we will explore several of these religious visionaries of the 20th century. Most notable is the famous Vanga (1913-1996), who was known as “the Bulgarian Pythia”. We will examine examples of their extraordinary performances, and the common characteristics of their visionary practices, which include speaking to and speaking for supernatural entities, mostly identified with Orthodox saints, and communicating with the dead. These seeresses partook in a peculiar religious culture where visions and dreams were taken as avenues either to Divine Will or to extra-lucid knowledge.

From the Depths of Bulgarian Spirituality:
The Master Peter Deunov and the Teachings of the White Brotherhood
Svetoslava Toncheva, Ph.D.
Peter Deunov, the founder of the White Brotherhood spiritual community, is considered by his followers to be a universal teacher of humanity. His life and teachings are devoted to the transformation of the human being to a higher state of consciousness, and preparation for the new era that the Earth, it is believed, will undergo in the future - the era of “Love” or the epoch of the sixth human race. The practices he created, such as Paneurhythmy and living in harmony with nature, are today signature cultural phenomena for many Bulgarians.

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