Oaked Fires in Serbia | Dissident Voice

They set out early in the morning, men with axes, boys in tow and, for some, the odd girl champing at the bit.  The woods are some way from Bujanovac, but these columns of individuals resembled statues who have moved off their plinths, heading to the woods that call them with mesmerising force.  The groves seem to speak in this part of Europe, where the Serbs still commune with a spirit of past.  Industrialisation has yet to kill off this element, yet to estrange the citizens from the south from their magical ends.

The woods have, historically, served as links between the finitely mortal and timeless supernatural, a manifestation with roots in the earth, deeply grown and burrowed, and leaves in the canopy, a link pointing to the heavens.  The Norse peoples worshiped Yggdrasil, a great, worldly ash tree cosmically sustaining the mortal and immortal, whatever the form.

For the Slavs, the tree remains all central and bearing, the fecund creature that holds the seeds of all, the progenitor for the verdant world.  To down such a tree, or, in the tradition of the badnjak, to remove a sampling of oak covered in brown gold leafing, would require ceremonial preliminaries.  And so this cautionary note has survived, more in the context of communal gathering and pursuit, as it does on this day, the determined axemen of the village, fortified by wine and local brandy, making their way as if in a deep trance, towards the woods that call them with mesmerising calls. …

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