When I was doing the 7 lake hike in Rila National Park I saw a few things that I found… curious.
The first one was a book, discoloured by the sun and languishing under the counter of a souvenir shop or roadside café near the chair lift that provides access to the lakes. Its title was Esoteric Guide To The Sacred Rila Lakes, and I must confess that seeing it gave the already impressive mountains an added air of mystery. You can find the book in Amazon, by the way.
The second were a group of people standing in circles by Babreka lake and performing some kind of meditation or dance. From the next lake, higher in the mountain, a series of big concentric circles could be seen on the grass where they were, making it clear that what they were doing was not a one-time thing.
The third was the people hiking in the area. Not all of them, obviously, most were tourists like me, visiting the lakes, but if you paid attention there was an unusually high number of people who were not dressed as you would expect to tackle a hike up the mountains – most of the wore loose robes, a lot of them white, the kind of clothes one would take to a meditation session.
Finally, on the way back to the chair lift, hundreds of tents could be seen scattered around a mountain hut by lake Ribnoto Ezera, and a lot of people kept coming up from the lift in the direction of the improvised camp even though it was already getting late.
So, what was that all about? Well, it turns out that we missed quite a big event by just two days. The Paneurhythmy is a ritual dance that takes place every year on August the 19th in which followers of the Universal White Brotherhood meet to celebrate their new year.
Fear not, the Universal White Brotherhood is not a racist movement, rather the opposite. Its followers define it as “a harmonious creative Manifestation of the Divine Origination within the whole cosmos” and believe that cosmic energy is at its strongest in Rila lakes on that particular date. They meet and form “the living circle of Paneurhythmy” to “to enter a world of poetry, freedom and creativity”, their belief based on seven principles:
The Law of Supreme Intelligence
The Principle of Correspondence
The Principle of Vibration or Movement
The Principle of Polarity
The Law of Rhythm
The Principle of Cause and Effect
The Law of Unity or Relatedness
You can find a detailed explanation of each principle on their website. The movement was founded in 1897 by a Bulgarian theologian called Peter Deunov, known to followers of the brotherhood as Master Beinsa Duono, who began taking people to Rila lakes to perform the dance in the 30s. Today people of all nationalities converge in the same spot.
Dancers dressed in white and barefoot form concentric circles, with a choir and an orchestra in the centre. The circles are marked with white stones, and the participants dance to music composed by Deunov, with lyrics in a language he invented.
Followers of the Universal White Brotherhood are known as Deunovists, and the movement is registered as a religion, although it was not always the case. At the beginning of communist rule in Bulgaria, the movement was relatively undisturbed thanks to its founder’s friendship with Georgi Dimitrov, the country’s first communist leader, but after his death in 1949 they had to become clandestine to escape the party’s purges. It was not until 1989 that they were legally registered as a religion.
Today the movement also has followers outside Bulgaria – in France, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Mexico and even the Democratic Republic of Congo.