Nestinarstvo or Ritual Fire-Dancing: Background information when reading Stork Mountain

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Stork Mountain

by Miroslav Penkov

Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov X
Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2016, 448 pages

    Mar 2017, 448 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book

Nestinarstvo or Ritual Fire-Dancing

This article relates to Stork Mountain

Print Review

Nestinarstvo, or ritual fire-dancing, plays an important role throughout Stork Mountain.

The practice, which involves walking barefoot across burning coals, is specific to the Strandja Mountain region in southeast Bulgaria, an area that shares both borders and cultural ties with Greece. Indeed, it's believed that the rite originated with the ancient Thracian peoples of Greece as part of their cult of sun worship. As Christianity spread throughout the area, over the centuries the customs were gradually adapted so that they would fit into the new religious framework.

The dance is said to celebrate St. Constantine (the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who gave Christianity legal standing) and his mother, St. Helene. As patron saints of the nestinari (fire dancers) it is believed they provide healing during the ceremony and grant revelations to those they've chosen. The celebration, which is highly ritualized and involves the whole community, takes place on the evening of the feast day of these two saints, June 3.

Fire dancers in village Balgari, Bulgaria During the feast day, sacred icons from the head nestinar's house are decorated with flowers and taken to a spring in a procession, where they are consecrated with holy water. The icons are then carried to a nearby chapel dedicated to St. Constantine, where they are perfumed with incense; candles are lit and the nestinari pray before the icons for blessings from the saints. A ritual drum is played throughout, which is intended to invoke a trance in the dancers.

Meanwhile, an enormous wood fire is prepared in the central square of the village and allowed to burn all day. Toward evening the fire dies down and the embers are spread out in a circle.

As darkness descends, the nestinari walk from the chapel to the village square, accompanied by beats from the sacred drum as well as music from bagpipes. All community residents surround the circle of coals as the nestinari approach. The first to enter the ring are the most elderly dancers, who go around the circle three times before walking across it. They are followed by others who believe they have been chosen by the saint to participate. The dancers are said to enter a trancelike state in which they feel no pain and their feet don't burn, and many utter prophecies which the community holds to be true. The ceremony culminates in a dance performed by the entire village called the horo, a circle dance unique to the region.

The Christian church repeatedly tried to eliminate the nestinarstvo in spite of its association with St. Constantine. As a result, by the early 20th century, the tradition had nearly died out, with the ritual only continued in a handful of isolated villages in the Strandja. It experienced a revival in the 1990s and is more widely performed now, but primarily as a tourist attraction.

Click on the video below to see a fire dance being performed:

Picture of fire dancers in village Balgari, Bulgaria by Apokalipto

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Stork Mountain. It originally ran in April 2016 and has been updated for the March 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: After the Miracle
    After the Miracle
    by Max Wallace
    Many people have heard one particular story about Helen Keller—how the saintly teacher, Annie ...
  • Book Jacket: The Lost Wife
    The Lost Wife
    by Susanna Moore
    The Lost Wife is a hard-hitting novella based in part on a white settler named Sarah Wakefield's ...
  • Book Jacket
    Firekeeper's Daughter
    by Angeline Boulley
    Voted 2021 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    Angeline Boulley's young adult ...
  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

Win This Book
Win Girlfriend on Mars

30 Copies to Give Away!

A funny and poignant debut novel that skewers billionaire-funded space travel in a love story of interplanetary proportions.



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.