RILA MOUNTAINS, Bulgaria: Lilya Ivanova, a 29-year-old Bulgarian psychologist, shines with joy. He has just finished a ritual dance along with about 2,500 white-clad followers of the Universal White Brotherhood society next to a glacial lake, in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria.
Every year the devotees of the society, which combines a form of Christianity with Indian mysticism, celebrate its new divine year, which lasts three days from 19 August.
The society was created by the Bulgarian spiritual professor Peter Deunov in the 1920s. Deunov died in 1944, but followers continue to apply his teaching. The name of the society does not refer to ethnicity or race, but to the light and purity of the soul and the belief that all people can live in harmony, say followers.
The highlight of the celebration is the “paneurhythmia”, a ritual also known as Deunov’s spiritual name, Beinsa Douno. It aims to help devotees connect with cosmic energy.
“It’s not just the dance, it’s the celebration itself, all the connection to nature, all the blessing that springs from all of us, the feeling of being one,” says Ivanova, who is also an astrologer. “It’s so beautiful that more and more people are attending, especially to see parents dancing together with their young children. You feel harmony and love.”
For about 80 minutes, pilgrims move elegantly in concentric circles in a large meadow near Lake Kidney, at an altitude of 2,280 meters and about 90 km south of Sofia. They are accompanied by violins and choirs. Banished under communism, pilgrims are now free to perform dances, prayers, meditations and exercises that they say help to create peace and harmony in the world and to improve physical and mental health.
Many come from France, Canada, Italy, Ukraine and Russia to participate. “I just have to come here because it’s like the resumption of the eleven more months of the year,” said Pascale Husson, French manager of Air France who has attended the celebrations since 2008. There is “no phone, no internet, nothing more than a contact with nature, God and what’s here, what you can see here, ”he said.