Beinsa Douno (Peter Deunov) founded the (Universal) White Brotherhood combining theosophical, anthroposophical, and pre-Christian ideas and practices.

Beinsa Douno (Peter Deunov) founded the (Universal) White Brotherhood combining theosophical, anthroposophical, and pre-Christian ideas and practices.

Peer-reviewed articles From Sofia’s Salons to the Mountain Ranges of Kozhuh Social and functional dimensions of esotericism in late socialist Bulgaria

The article observes esoteric spirituality in Bulgaria in a longue dureé frame and argues the existence of a consistent tradition since the late 19th century. Based on biographical research, contemporary sources and archive materials, the article delivers insights into the social and functional dimensions of esotericism in socialist Bulgaria and answers the question of how esoteric and New Age subculture could spread in a supposedly antireligious socialist society.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2021:4, pp 56-67
Published on on January 24, 2022

article as pdf No Comments on From Sofia’s Salons to the Mountain Ranges of Kozhuh Share
  • Facebook
  • Pusha
  • TwitThis
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Maila artikeln!
  • Skriv ut artikeln!


The article observes esoteric spirituality in Bulgaria in a longue dureé frame and argues the existence of a consistent tradition since the late 19th century. Based on biographical research, contemporary sources and archive materials, the article delivers insights into the social and functional dimensions of esotericism in socialist Bulgaria and answers the question of how esoteric and New Age subculture could spread in a supposedly antireligious socialist society. It argues that esotericism was neither merely a manifestation of popular “superstitions” nor purely the intelligentsia’s domain but was also a key feature of socialist nomenklatura (e.g., Lyudmila Zhivkova) and at times even part of public policy. A broad spectrum of functions of esoteric phenomena in a socialist society is discovered: from coping with transcendence through political protest and mental escapism to the instrumentalization of esoteric ideas for the construction of a nationalistic Bulgarian history.

Keywords: Esotericism; religion and politics; socialism; Eastern Europe; nationalism.

After the collapse of socialism, many religious groups emerged on the surface of public life in Eastern Europe and sought legal recognition. This rapid pluralization led to the diagnosis of a “religious boom” in the 1990s that was supposed to fill the spiritual void of the previous four decades. Yet in Bulgaria, just like in other former socialist countries, there was neither a void nor a boom, but a process of becoming visible for all these esoteric groups and practices that emerged at the turn of the 20th century and survived in the religious underground of the socialist era to become part of the 1970s’ New Age spirituality in Bulgaria.

In the following, a history of religion approach will address the barely researched issue of esotericism and New Age spirituality in late socialist Bulgaria in its social and functional dimensions. The primary sources are 1) biographies and memoirs of prominent political, intellectual and cultural figures such as
Lyudmila and Todor Zhivkov, Vera Bojadzhieva and Alexander Fol, Georgi Lozanov, Peter Deunov; 2) sources from the Central State Archives in Sofia, particularly holding 405 (Ministry of Culture), holding 904 (State Research Institute for Suggestology) and holding 288B (personal fund of Lyudmila Zhivkova); 3) a selection of Zhivkova’s political speeches in the edited volumes According to the laws of Beauty (1981), Her Many Worlds (1983) and Think of Me as Fire (1985), as well as 4) contemporary sources such as webpages and newspaper articles.

Theoretical pre-considerations

The concepts of esotericism and New Age — both terms standing for diverse ideas and practices — are crucial for the present study. In academia, the term esotericism was long reserved for specific forms of religiosity which, referring to the philosophical system of Hermeticism, arose in a late 19th century Western European white, educated, elitist, predominantly male context. The concept of “l’ésotérisme occidental” became crucial for a whole generation of scholars who developed the research paradigm of Western Esotericism. The focus on the “West” was strongly criticized for its normativity and ignorance towards many esoteric actors and phenomena that were of crucial importance to the global history of religion. The historical inaccuracy of Western Esotericism led to the adoption of a more inclusive and comparative perspective, which concentrates on the interrelations between esoteric currents worldwide by embedding them in global religious history. This allows research on esotericism to consider the developments in Eastern Europe and the Balkans — two regions that were thought to be secularized by the atheist propaganda of socialism. Nevertheless, a closer look shows the opposite to be the case.

Another less discussed problem regarding the academic study of esotericism (unlike folkloristics or anthropology), is its blindness to the non-elitist esoteric practices outside of the Hermetic tradition, often referred to as “low magic” or “superstition”. By failing to incorporate this part of the esoteric strata, in which, among others, the female agency comes to display, we receive a distorted picture of the esoteric field as an ivory tower of highly educated male elites. Thus, in this article, the term esotericism will be used not only covering brotherhoods, secret societies, and lodges, further referred to as elitist esotericism, but in a broader sense for all forms of occult and New Age spirituality, including non-institutionalized practices such as clairvoyance, telepathy and fortune-telling, further referred to as popular esotericism.

The term New Age has also been broadly disputed among scholars of religion over the last 30 years with some of them seeing some common characteristics of this otherwise eclectic collection of ideas and phenomena, and others questioning its analytical value. This article follows a historical approach that traces the emergence of some New Age ideas back to early 20th-century esotericism, but also recognizes the constant process of reinterpretation and inflow of new content into it during the last three decades of the century. Nevertheless, a strict division between esotericism and New Age spirituality is not always possible as both phenomena often merge into one another, creating an entangled religious history.

The qualitatively different international and national historical settings of the 1960s and 1970s played a key role for the emerging of New Age spirituality on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The new world order of the Cold War hindered the transfer of material and intellectual goods between the “East” and the “West” but was far from completely stopping it. Social movements such as pacifism, student activism and the hippie movement, which were crucial for the formation of New Age spirituality in the USA and Western Europe, also reached socialist Bulgaria and created a stir among the younger generation, intellectuals, and creative circles. Moreover, the impact of the local political and religious situation should also be considered since New Age can also be defined as a counterculture to a specific religious or political mainstream. In socialist Bulgaria, the religious practices were strongly reduced; the indoctrination of State Security agents among the clergy of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) shook people’s trust in institutionalized religion. For decades, the socialist regime exploited art and humanities for the construction of legitimizing narratives of its materialist doctrine. People’s individual “spiritual wellbeing” was pushed to the background of socialist life to make room for the fulfillment of collective material values and aims such as technical progress, plan economy and the “building of Communism.” These circumstances might have also supported the emerging of New Age spirituality in the 1970s — as a reaction and counterculture to the atheistic socialist culture.

Emerging of the esoteric field in Bulgaria

Although the socialist period is a blind spot in the history of esotericism, the establishment of an alternative religious milieu at the turn of the 20th century and its culmination in the interwar period have already been discussed by anthropologists, folklorists, historians and scholars of the study of religion. The national historical context was an essential factor in this process. By the time of the separation from the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a Bulgarian national state in 1878, a petty bourgeoisie had developed in the bigger cities. The children of merchants, writers and recently appointed politicians could travel and receive education in renowned European and even American universities. When they returned, they brought the zeitgeist of the late 19th century Western Europe and the esoteric worldviews belonging to it. The domestic forms of esoteric spirituality thrived on the uncertainty of the time. During a period of 40 years, Bulgarians experienced historical events such as: the liberation (1878), the reunification (1885) and the independence (1908), but also the two Balkan Wars (1912; 1913) and the devastating World War I. The wars led to loss of significant territories, and are described in the public memory of the Bulgarians as “national disasters”. Seers and visionaries offered answers to the transcendent questions that emerged from that period of uncertainty and helped rebuild the damaged national self-esteem.

The extent to which the global esoteric field was interconnected by 1900 can be shown through the rapid spread of translations of esoteric literature in Bulgaria. In 1892, Allan Kardec’s book Spiritism in its Simplest Expression became the first book on spiritism to be published in Bulgaria. Other books followed in 1897 and 1899 in the cities of Varna and Sliven, while spiritist séances were held in bookstores and in the homes of politicians in the capital, Sofia. It has been recorded that, by this time, most Bulgarian male elites participated in masonic lodges such as “Balkanska zvezda” [Balkan Star], “Bratstvo” [Brotherhood], “Zaria” [Dawn] and “Velika lozha na Bŭlgaria“ [the Great Lodge of Bulgaria]. Among them were many politicians such as member of the Macedonian revolutionary movement, Aleksandar Protogerov (1867—1928), the two-time prime minister, Konstantin Stoilov (1853—1901), scientists like the first rector of Sofia University — the linguist Professor, Aleksandar Teodorov-Balan (1859—1959) and writers such as Nikolai Rainov (1889—1954), Ivan Grozev (1872—1957), Dimo Kiorchev (1884—1928) and Emanuil Popdimitrov (1885—1943). The first translations of Annie Besant’s works by the intellectuals Sofronii Nikov and Aleksander Krŭstnikov were published in 1902 and were followed by the establishment of a Bulgarian Theosophical Society in 1904 and a theosophical lodge in 1907. The periodicals Bŭlgarski teosofski pregled (1904—1907), Teosofiia (1911?—1932), Teosofski vesti (1933), Anhira and Orpheus popularized both theosophical and masonic ideas. The theosophist and editor of Anhira (1921—1923) and Orpheus (1924—1926), Nikolai Rainov, was influenced by Nicholas and Helena Roerich’s teaching “Agni Yoga”, to which he dedicated a series of publications. The artists Boris Georgiev and Vassil Stoilov were also adherents of the Russian painter and spiritual teacher and exchanged letters with him. A Bulgarian Roerich Society was established in 1930. Anthroposophical ideas reached Bulgaria even faster — the first translation of Rudolf Steiner was published in 1916, only four years after the official establishment of the Anthroposophical Society in Dornach.

Domestic spiritual movements were also part of the alternative religious scene at the beginning of the 20th century. The son of an Orthodox priest, Peter Deunov (1864—1944), also known as Beinsa Douno, became familiar with spiritism and theosophy during his studies in the US and, back in Bulgaria (around 1900), founded his spiritual teaching called the (Universal) White Brotherhood, combining theosophical, anthroposophical, and pre-Christian ideas and practices. A group of adherents gathered around him and established a settlement called Izgrev [Sunrise] near Sofia. On March 9, 1914, Deunov announced the coming of the Age of Aquarius, which is a common theme, and started to regularly give lectures on spiritual topics. Relevant to the further exposition are the nationalistic aspects of Deunov’s teaching. In the “new age,” he expected a “new race” — carriers of a “new culture.” This role he “assigned to Slavdom, in general, and to Bulgaria, in particular” and formulated as a central task of the White Brotherhood “to enhance the world role of Bulgaria and Slavdom through the popularization of this new ‘culture of the sixth race.’” In the interwar period, the White Brotherhood gained popularity and spread throughout the entire country and abroad.

Another example was the secret esoteric society, created in 1912 by the revolutionary and writer, Stoyan Zaimov (1853—1932) in the town of Pleven. Being familiar with the Rosicrucian and freemason societies in France and Russia before 1900, Zaimov developed his esoteric worldview based on cosmic references, Bulgarian folk legends, Thracian, and Greek mythology. The network first consisted of Zaimov’s friends, colleagues and associates but promptly gained members among the intellectuals in all the major cities. However, after Zaimov died in 1932, the group dissolved.

Analyses of the alternative Orthodox association The Good Samaritan, founded in 1907 by former military officers who promoted the idea of “Bulgaria as a new Israel,” emphasize the role of seers as both religious and political actors and shed light on the issue of “unconscious historicization.” The term was introduced by anthropologist Galia Valtchinova regarding the practice of interwar seers to interpret divine messages and visions in a nationalistic way, consulting history textbooks and newspapers to defeat the general mood of failure after the “national catastrophes” and to construct a positive national identity. This was the case of the seer Bona Velinova (1885—1960) from the village of Grigorovo near Sofia, who was involved with the association The Good Samaritan. Velinova is also known for identifiying over 40 old and destroyed churches. The exact location of the holy places was supposedly revealed to her through visions.

Female religious agency is manifested in a remarkable way in the case of the Bulgarian seer Vangelia Gushterova (1911—1996), known as Vanga, from the southwestern town of Petrich. Her religious biography follows the classical pattern of being chosen, having a difficult family situation and a near-death experience resulting in physical limitations, which “unlocks” visions or the gift of “seeing” the future, the past, the dead, etc. At an early age, Vanga is said to have had an accident, that made her completely blind. However, her gift as a seer was claimed to have been revealed to her in a vision when she was 31 years of age, in the middle of World War II. After this, people started visiting her house in Petrich, but her real popularity came in the 1960s and 1970s, when she moved into a newly built, state-funded house in the village of Rupite at the foot of the Kozhuh mountains. Every year, the seer was consulted by tens of thousands of people from Bulgaria and abroad and had de facto established herself as an expert in solving everyday problems, transcendent questions and medical issues. After the collapse of socialism, Vanga’s popularity increased even more together with her reframing as a lay woman and an Orthodox saint. In 1994, she commissioned an Orthodox church to be built next to her house. Her place developed into a complex comprising also monuments, a museum, a small zoo, a park and souvenir shops, and it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Vanga’s life is repeatedly being reproduced in Bulgarian and Russian movies, TV- series and documentaries.

Esoteric and New Age spirituality in socialist Bulgaria

After a repressive first phase lasting from the socialist takeover in 1944 until the mid-1950s, although political cleansing and violent religious persecution took place, the Bulgarian public sphere cautiously yet continuously became liberalized in the 1960s—1970s and early 1980s. Despite the ongoing anti-religious propaganda, many actors from the pre-socialist esoteric scene could operate underground and kept translating and popularizing esoteric literature. According to the religious biography of one of the first Bulgarian anthroposophists, Dimo Daskalov (1908—1989), 80 out of the 360 volumes of Rudolf Steiner’s works were translated during the socialist period. Despite the emic self-victimizing narrative adopted by the White Brotherhood in the post-socialist era, recent research shows that from the mid-1960s onwards, it received unofficial yet solid support from high levels of the BCP when there were conflicts about land ownership and legal recognition. The reason for these protections was the personal connection between Deunov and two of the most prominent Bulgarian socialists, Georgi Dimitrov and Todor Zhivkov, who hid in the Izgrev settlement back in the early 1940s.

Esotericism thrived not only in the underground but also in the official scientific institutions of socialist Bulgaria. In 1966 the State Research Institute of Suggestology at the Ministry of National Education was founded in Sofia by the trained psychiatrist and neurologist, Georgi Lozanov (1926—2012). It is said that Lozanov had an interest in practices such as telepathy and hypnosis, which he tried out on his schoolmates. Primary sources report that during his study of medicine, he started practicing yoga, visited the Izgrev settlement and met some of the first adherents of the White Brotherhood, Boyan Boev and Ivan Antonov, who influenced his worldview. With the assistance of high-ranking party members, including the daughter of the General Secretary of the BCP, Lyudmila Zhivkova (1942—1981), he received spatial, material and personal resources to conduct empirical research on psychic phenomena related to telepathy, clairvoyance, hypnosis and the psychology of suggestion. Based on Suggestology, Lozanov’s neologism for “the science of suggestion,” a new methodology for accelerated learning, called Suggestopedia, was developed. Based on the premise that people use only 10% of their brain capacity, Lozanov wanted to activate “the unused capacities” of the human brain by implementing the yoga relaxation practice of Shavasana in learning courses. His methodology was very similar to the ideas of the second-generation theosophist, Annie Besant (1847—1933), about the hidden capacities of the human mind. Parallels can also be drawn with the premises of the Human Potential Movement, which developed at the same time as part of Western New Age culture, and with the Progressive Education Movement. In the late 1970s, Suggestopedia was experimentally implemented in many schools. It was the principal methodology in the brand-new school for talented children, the “National Study Complex for Culture,” founded in 1976 by Lyudmila Zhivkova, who at that time had become an active and influential politician, head of the enormous cultural institution Komplex Kultura, accommodating the spheres of culture, science, education, sports, mass media, architecture, and cultural relations with foreign countries.

The American authors Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, who traveled in the Soviet Union, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia for six months in the late 1960s and visited many parapsychological institutions, delivered relevant insights into the activities taking place in Lozanov’s institute. The research on psychic phenomena there included “skin-seeing” (blind people’s supposed ability to see colors via touching), the performance of medical surgeries with “hypno-anesthesia” (hypnotizing patients into a condition in which they should not feel pain), and experiments with the seer Vanga, who was “on the payroll” of the institute. We learn that Bulgarian parapsychologists willingly and proudly showed their Western guests the latest developments in the research on psychic phenomena. From a historical perspective, the spirit of competition between the “West” and the “East” during the Cold War, combined with a genuine curiosity towards the new, made parapsychology a logical extension of the armament and space-research programs between the two blocs. Thus, the scientific openness to esotericism led to the normalization and legitimation of some esoteric currents, which were impossible for other religious denominations in socialist Bulgaria.

Another valuable contemporary source of information on the matter is the documentary Fenomen from 1976, produced by Bulgarian National Television. It shows recordings of Vanga making prophecies in the presence of scientists, led by psychiatrist, Nikola Shipkovenski (1906—1976). The scientists were trying to understand how (not whether) she was “seeing.” The recording sheds light on Vanga’s methodology of asking guiding questions, using common Bulgarian names, and guessing their connection with the case. It is also a good demonstration of the scale of the socialist seer’s popularity — it shows hundreds of people queueing and even sleeping in front of her house, some of them for weeks, just waiting to see her. The state appropriation of the seer went further: there were regular opening hours at her private house and a state employee sold tickets and kept things in order. A system of pre-registration with appointments “from September [this year] for the next year” was also available. All collections went to the local municipality’s treasury, whereas Vanga lived from material donations and gifts from her visitors. The seer was consulted by people of all ages, genders occupations and social backgrounds. Most of them were ordinary working-class people, but Sofia’s creative intelligentsia and even high-ranking politicians such as Lyudmila Zhivkova and Svetlin Rusev (1933—2018) also paid her visits. What all visitors had in common were transcendent questions about the future or about sick, missing or dead relatives and friends.

A key aspect of Vanga as both an esoteric actor and an object of parapsychological research is her medical/scientific framing. As an esoteric actor, she diagnosed and sent people to hospitals, advising them to take prescribed medicines or undertake surgery, thus claiming medical competencies herself. At the same time, by scientifically researching her alleged psychic abilities, their presence and effects were being de facto recognized. This scientification of Vanga’s esoteric practices is part of the transition of esotericism from a religious into a scientific context, which took part in the socialist State Research Institute of Suggestology. This is one way of normalizing esotericism in a socialist country and can also be observed in the research on psychotronics in Czechoslovakia. However, of course, all of this did not happen without resistance from more conservative political and academic factions.

Following the authentic recordings of Vanga’s predictions in Fenomen, part of a discussion between leading psychiatrists and uninvited participants, moderated by Shipkovenski, is shown. The prevailing opinion towards Vanga and parapsychology is critical, with most of the experts emphasizing the political disadvantages of showing the film to an audience without adding a Marxist atheist preface to it. Some of the commentators wanted to have an official statement on the political correctness of the film before giving their opinion, which suggests that they realized the ideological tension between Marxist doctrine and the research on esoteric phenomena. Because of the critical reactions and the unclear ideological frame, the movie did not air on television until the 1990s.

The fragile status of parapsychology as a scientific discipline and of its research objects comes to display in the interview between film director Nevena Tosheva and Georgi Lozanov from 1975, which appears at the very end of the film. The founder of the State Research Institute of Suggestology expresses his bitterness of the “public opinion” not letting him continue his research on Vanga, part of whose predictions were allegedly still scientifically unexplainable and needed further research. He refers to the most central aspect of the issue:

The question is provided Vanga really sees […], is it because of telepathy? Moreover, if it is because of telepathy — is this contradicting our basic scientific Marxist views? If it does, we should rethink our premises, but what would be the norm for this? Who could tell us if it contradicts it or not?

Citing the ideologue of Bulgarian Marxist philosopher, Todor Pavlov, Lozanov argues for the legitimacy of parapsychological research and asks rhetorically: “Will we be afraid of innovations in science? What kind of scientists will we be then?” According to him, trying to explain phenomena like Vanga was more appropriate than claiming them as forms of ideological adversity. For the first time, the universality of the socialist norm is questioned by science. In previous decades, it was science that was in the service of ideology and had the duty of legitimizing Marxism. Once again, the socialist quest for progress and innovation comes in handy for the justification of parapsychology.

To reconstruct the esoteric field in socialist Bulgaria, we need to look at another new formation — the Institute of Thracology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, founded in 1972 by historian, Alexander Fol (1933—2006). As a son of the journalist, feminist and intellectual Vera Bojadjieva-Fol (1893—1989), who was well known in Sofia’s early 20th century salons and had connections with progressive educationalists and members of the masonic lodges, Alexander Fol grew up in a somewhat “bourgeoise” setting involving classical music lessons and intellectual talks instead of Marxist ideology. He was working on his doctoral thesis in the History Department of Sofia University at the time that Lyudmila Zhivkova was studying there (1960—1966). With Zhivkova’s support, his approach to and theories on Thracology became the core of the research at the institute and laid the ground for a new reading of early Bulgarian history.

Since the term “Thracology” was understood as the “science about Ancient Thrace,” the main objective of the institution was “research on Ancient Thrace and the Thracians in the context of Paleo-Balcan (sic!) studies which, in turn, researches the pre-Greek and non-Greek components of the ancient Balkan and Western Asian-Minor cultural-historical space”. Fol argued that Thracian civilization up to this time had only been observed by Greek and Roman authors, who saw it through the lens of their own culture (interpretatio graeca) and postulated a new approach (interpretatio thracica), which had to take Thracian culture and spirituality from the shadow of the Greek perspective. This attempt to elevate Bulgaria’s cultural and spiritual role as a direct successor of the Thracian civilization fitted well in Lyudmila Zhivkova’s cultural agenda of the 1970s. The latter was based on the image of an existing continuity between Bulgaria’s past, present, and future — a constant evolution in which socialism was the culmination. Fol’s Thracology was thus fruitful for constructing the “new socialist man” as a successor of the culture of “a great people and a great civilization,” which “has come down to us over the threshold of the centuries.”

The construction of this continuity would not be possible without the concept of Thracian Orphism — the supposed religion of the ancient Thracians, which Fol had been working on since 1976. He developed a cosmology in which Orpheus is the highest solar deity, despite the limited explanatory power of archaeological material. According to the historian, there was also a figure of a “king” who “enters into a symbolic marriage with the Goddess Mother”, who is then “self-fertilized, gives birth to her son, waits until he becomes a man and couples with him to give the beginning of a new cycle.” The son is then “capable of setting the second phase of the […] cycle in motion through his self-perfection.” Thus, Fol sees “the spiral-shaped evolution of the entire macro- and micro-world” parallel to this cyclic development. Furthermore, he points out that “[t]he mystery of Thracian Orphic religion […] consists in the mysterious faith in immortality” and in the idea “that the body is the grave of the soul, which can enter and leave it freely.” Under the presumption of a constant self-perfection enabled by the immortality of the soul, Fol believed that the Thracians could transfer all their ancient knowledge to the next generations. A direct connection between the contemporary Bulgarians and the 2nd millennium B.C. Thracians was thus manufactured to offer a source of national identity and pride. By embedding the socialist ideology as a culmination of this continuity, Zhivkova was actively promoting this logic in her public appearances:

It is just in this way that our socialist generation (sic!) look on the historical-cultural heritage. Making use of the rich historical cultural traditions, the experience and the beauty inherited from the past to form the new socialist consciousness and attitude to life, they look ahead and dream of the communist society when the harmonious and all-round well-developed man will live according to the laws of beauty.

It can be concluded that Alexander Fol’s concept of Thracian Orphism, which combined classical esoteric symbols such as the “spiral” and the “mother goddess,” with Greek mythology, Bulgarian “mystical” geographical sites (the Kazanlak Tomb; Strandja mountains) and pre-Christian folk traditions (“nestinari”; “kukeri” etc.), were implemented not only scientifically but also politically for the local construction of a Bulgarian national identity far off the Soviet internationalism. Hand in hand with promoting this supposed unique Thracian descent of the Bulgarians is the relativization of another theory, which had been creating a common ground with the Soviets — that of the Slavic origin of the Bulgarians. It was in the early 1980s that the first volume of the ambitious project “Istoriia na Bŭlgariia“[The History of Bulgaria], dealing with ancient Bulgarian history and written by Alexander Fol et al. was published. A new approach to the question of the origins of the first Bulgarians was offered: they were neither only Slavs, nor only Thracians, but an amalgamation of Slavs, Thracians, and Proto-Bulgarians. This narrative, which is predominant in Bulgarian historiography until the present day, contradicted Todor Zhivkov’s earlier aspirations for Bulgaria to abandon its national sovereignty by joining the Soviet Union as a 16th republic. This can either be read as a sign that this idea was off the table in the early 1980s or as an indication of a nationalistic shift in Bulgarian identity policy under Lyudmila Zhivkova, despite the ambitions of her father.

The obsession with Thrace and its instrumentalization is evident in the large-scale state project for the commemoration of the 1300th anniversary in 1981 of the founding of the Bulgarian state. The preparations, coordinated by a committee headed by Lyudmila Zhivkova, started in the mid-1970s, and adopted the idea of the “unity of past, present and future” with six “thematic directions,” each comprising different initiatives that had been formulated in 1978. The first initiative was called “Bulgaria: A Country of Ancient Culture, a Crossroads of Civilisations” with “The Descendants of Orpheus” as a significant initiative that had “to reveal the Bulgarian lands as one of the sources of the emergence and development of human civilization […]”. A general focus was put on the achievements of the past — ancient (the Thracian descent), medieval (the “Golden Age” under Tsar Simeon I (893—927)), and modern (the revolutionary national liberation movement in the 19th century). This appreciation of and pride in own history contradicted state policy during the first decades of socialism, when even “neutral” research on medieval Bulgarian history was regarded as nationalist or bourgeoise.

Promotional material about the event was distributed in all countries with which Bulgaria had diplomatic connections. In some of them, separate events were organized. The book Bulgaria is 1300 Years Old, published in the Netherlands in 1982, demonstrates the historical/nationalist turn in Bulgarian cultural policy. It refers to the glorious Bulgarian past, using images of archaeological excavations, historical figures, and events such as the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet by Cyril and Methodius, the Christianization of Bulgaria under Tsar Boris in 864, the territorial expansion under Tsar Simeon I, iconographies and frescos, Thracian gold treasures, the national movements for an independent church and liberation from Ottoman rule, etc. Religious events and references seem not to have caused dissonance in the allegedly atheistic socialist state, in the same way that nationalistic praise of one’s own glorious pre-socialist history seems not to have interfered with the Soviet quest for internationalism. In a speech about the 1300-year celebration, Lyudmila Zhivkova calls the gnostic group of the Bogomils a “democratic revolutionary tradition”, next to the partisans and the fighters for social justice. She postulates a direct connection and continuity between the monk Paisii of Hilendar, author of the first written history of Bulgaria and a pivot of Bulgarian national self-consciousness, the heroes of the Bulgarian national pantheon — the revolutionaries Hristo Botev and Vassil Levski, and the chief ideologue of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Georgi Dimitrov.

This leads us to one central piece of the Bulgarian esoteric puzzle, which is Lyudmila Zhivkova. Connected to the entire creative intelligentsia of the 1960s and 1970s, as a young woman, she organized salon meetings in her home, where topics like clairvoyance and spiritism were no rarity. Among her closest friends were scientists Alexander Fol and Georgi Lozanov, artist Svetlin Roussev and writer Bogomil Rainov (son of one of the first Bulgarian theosophists, Nikolai Rainov) — all of them having a pronounced interest in esoteric matters. Having almost unlimited material and political sources at her command, Zhivkova managed to put them in critical positions in the socialist cultural, scientific, and political landscape. An adherent of Agni Yoga, theosophy and the White Brotherhood, and a regular visitor to the seer Vanga, the high-ranking politician had a leading role in all esoteric developments in socialist Bulgaria and functioned as a binding element between the different actors and phenomena.

Not only in the celebration of 1300 years of Bulgaria but also in her other ambitious and expensive projects, we find esoteric references and symbols. For example, the International Children’s Assembly Banner of Peace, which took place in 1979 and gathered participants from 79 countries in Sofia, was named after Nicholas Roerich’s Pact and used a logo created by him. It showed three red dots in a red circle and possibly symbolized the unity of past, present and future. Central to Agni Yoga, symbols of the sun, fire, spirals and a figure of the “Mother Goddess” were implemented in the building of the National Palace of Culture, where they can be found to this day.

In 1979, Zhivkova started a state program to popularize “all-round talented and harmoniously developed personalities,” the first one-year cycle of which was dedicated to Nicholas Roerich. His art and spiritual ideas about “the laws of beauty” were thus popularized through exhibitions, readings, and conferences. On public occasions, Zhivkova talked about “the gigantic struggle between the old and the new consciousness,” the latter of which belonged to Roerich, who “strove to enter the laws of eternal continuity, the spiral development and expansion of evolutionary waves, to catch the rhythm of the epoch in which he lived and worked.” This is an example of Zhivkova referring solely to esoteric topoi such as the “old and the new consciousness,” the “eternal continuity,” and code words like “waves,” “rhythm,” and “spiral”, instead of using common topics and phrases of the formalized socialist language such as “the battle against capitalism”, “the victory of socialism”, “heroes of labor”, “fulfillment of the five-year plan,” etc. This kind of semantics, highly loaded with esoteric imagery and symbols, can be found in the majority of her public speeches and became the reason why she was often misunderstood by other Politburo members and by the broader public. It also affected Lyudmila Zhivkova’s legacy as a politician.

Conclusion: Matching the pieces

Against the dominant public image of atheism and religious decline, alternative religiosity in socialist Bulgaria did not disappear but became more and more visible and increasingly challenged the spheres of historiography, medicine, and culture. The popularity of the seer Vanga crossed geographical and political borders and became viral in the Soviet Union and beyond. Experiments with telepathy, suggestion and clairvoyance were en vogue, and the whole nationalist historiography was reinvented based on a supposed Thracian Orphic religion, remarkably similar to the theosophical teachings that were popular at the time. State programs praised some esoteric thinkers and implemented their ideas in school curricula and the socialist material culture.

Many different actors were involved in these esoteric developments, following their aims and interests. Drawing a clear line between the forms and agents of popular and elitist esotericism in socialist Bulgaria is a complicated task since they often intersect and interact with one another. Moreover, providers and consumers, subjects and objects change places according to the viewpoint and the concrete historical moment. Nevertheless, some systematical conclusions can be made along the social and functional dimensions of the phenomenon. Thus, we should answer the “Who?” and “Why?” questions about esotericism in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

Forms of popular esotericism like clairvoyance, healing and fortunetelling offered an opportunity for developing female religious agency and alternative life solutions. They were thus often practiced by physically or socially disadvantaged persons from remote mountain areas, who served as mediators between the immanent and the transcendent world. Since the Bulgarian Orthodox Church was first strictly observed and later controlled from the inside by the state, alternative ways towards enabling one of the essential functions of religion — providing answers to the great transcendent questions of death, birth, lethal diseases and the afterlife — were needed. Seers like Vanga were privately consulted by people because they offered answers not only to the great but also to the intermediate transcendencies such as career path, relationships, etc. The “spiritual product” of the seers also included a universal moral compass, instructions for solving everyday problems, and, not least, an impressive performative experience.

Academically, the seers were of interest to psychiatrists and physicians, but also the Dŭrzhavna sigurnost [State Security], not only for the sake of science but also because of their potential usage in intelligence in the context of the Cold War. Thus, within an ongoing competition between the “East” and the “West” and among the countries of the former socialist bloc, all resources were mobilized, even if they contradicted the official materialist state doctrine. Consequently, by trying to appropriate the possible political potential of popular esotericism, the latter was transferred from the domain of “religion” to the domain of “science,” thus being de facto legitimized. Still, neither the political appropriation nor the scientification of esotericism are exceptionally Bulgarian ideas. Similar examples originating from the Soviet Union were the scientific interest in psychotronics in Czechoslovakia and the Georgian “folk healer,” Dzhuna Davitashvili, who gained international popularity.

In contrast, the social bearers of what I call elitist esotericism were rather representatives of the socialist intelligentsia: writers, artists, politicians, and academicians in the larger cities who knew foreign languages. They often came from families with an established esoteric tradition, had access to esoteric and samizdat literature through personal contacts established at university, or had heard of esotericism in one of the bohemian cafés or at an exclusive salon meeting in Sofia. In the first half of the century, esotericism had laid a foundation that was too solid to be broken by atheist propaganda. It had become a trend and a label for artistry among the creative intelligentsia. Amidst the reasons for an engagement with the esoteric current were political protest, quests for scientific freedom and curiosity towards the new and the unknown. Mental escapism from the highly materialistic socialist reality can also be supposed in some cases.

Representatives of the nomenklatura and specifically of the second socialist generation had a crucial role in the thriving of esotericism in the 1960s and 1970s in Bulgaria. The high-ranking cultural politician, Lyudmila Zhivkova, who had central public spheres such as science, education, and mass media under her command, lobbied for the foundation of the State Research Institute of Suggestology in 1966, the Institute of Thracology in 1972, and personally conceptualized the implementation of their research results in large-scale political projects. While we could hardly assess the personal motives of Zhivkova, the political function of parapsychology, suggestopedia and Thracian orphism can be evaluated as nothing less than a base for the construction of a narrative on the “great Bulgarian history,” seen as a continuity from Thracian to socialist times. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, different esoteric elements come to service in this endeavor. The scientific attempts to understand and explain Vanga’s talent of “seeing” only “proved” Peter Deunov’s vision of the Bulgarians as a “new race” with new (psychic) abilities to be true. In turn, the postulated ability of the Thracians to transfer knowledge and experiences through their “immortal soul” corresponded (even semantically) with Roerich’s idea of the “spiral evolution” of “self-perfecting human beings.”

This is the prism through which we should see the cultural politics of late socialist Bulgaria. Although it was the esoteric and not the socialist logic leading, no direct dissonance was caused since it served the nationalistic political agenda and supplied international prestige. After Lyudmila Zhivkova died in 1981, most of her legacy was abandoned. Long-term programs were canceled, funds were cut and personnel changes made. Her utopian project for the creation of “all-round harmoniously developed people” failed but the nationalistic narrative of the descent of the Bulgarians survived and has become a fixed component of the contemporary nationalist discourse. One example of this is the nationalist party, VMRO, which reproduces an image of the Bulgarians as ancestors of “Slavs, Thracians and Proto-Bulgarians,” of the great medieval tsars, under which Bulgaria was “on three seas”, and of national heroes like Vassil Levski, “the Apostle of freedom”. However, the question of how esoteric and New Age spirituality seeped into present day nationalism requires further research.

Note: This article is part of Baltic Worlds 2021:4 Special section: New Age and alternative beliefs in socialist Eastern Europe.

Read all articles in the issue here>> 


  1. The term was first coined by Antoine Faivre, Accès de l’ésotérisme occidental (Paris: Gallimard, 1986), 2nd ed.
  2. For example, Wouter Hanegraaff, Marco Pasi, Olav Hammer, Egil Asprem, Henrik Bogdan, etc.
  3. See Michael Bergunder, “Umkämpfte Historisierung: Die Zwillingsgeburt von “Religion” und “Esoterik” in der Zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts und das Programm einer globalen Religionsgeschichte,” in Wissen um Religion: Erkenntnis — Interesse: Epistemologie und Episteme in Religionswissenschaft und Interkultureller Theologie, ed. Klaus Hock (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2020) and Julian Strube, “Towards the Study of Esotericism Without the “Western”: Esotericism from the Perspective of a Global Religious History,” in New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, eds. Egil Asprem and Julian Strube (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2021).
  4. Cf. Ronald Hutton, The Triumph of the Moon. A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), Chapter 5 “Finding a Low Magic”.
  5. Cf. Euan Cameron, Enchanted Europe: Superstition, Reason, and Religion 1250—1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  6. The dichotomy between elitist/popular is solely based on the regimes of accessibility of the phenomena and does not imply any form of positive or negative assessment of the author towards them.
  7. Cf. George D. Chryssides, “Defining the New Age,” in Handbook of New Age, eds. Daren Kemp and James R. Lewis (Leiden:Bril 2007), 5—24.
  8. For example, Olav Hammer, Paul Heelas and Wauter Hanegraaff.
  9. For example, Christoph Bochinger and Matthew Wood.
  10. Cf. Steven Sutcliffe, “The Origins of the ‘New Age’: Religion Between the Two World Wars,” in Handbook of New Age, ed. Daren Kemp and James R. Lewis (Leiden: Bril, 2007), 51—76.
  11. Cf. Olav Hammer, “Theosophical Elements in New Age Religion,” in Handbook of the Theosophical Current, eds. Olaf Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (Leiden: Bril, 2013), 237—260.
  12. Chryssides, “Defining the New Age,” 22.
  13. Ivajlo Znepolski, Communism, Science and the University: Towards a Theory of Detotalitarianisation (London, New York: Routledge, Taylor et Francis Group, 2020).
  14. Cf. Galia Valtchinova, Balkanski iasnovidki i prorochitsi of XX Vek. [Bulgarian Female Clairvoyants and Prophets of the 20th Century] (Sofia: Bulgarski bestseller. University Publishing House “St. Kliment Ohridski”, 2006).
  15. Cf. Svetoslava Toncheva, Out of the New Spirituality of the Twentieth Century: The Dawn of Anthroposophy, the White Brotherhood and the Unified Teaching (Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015).
  16. Cf. Georgeta Nazarska, “The “Sacred Mountain” in the Sacred Geography of Sofia: Practices of Esoteric Societies in the First Half of the 20th Century,” The Balkans 9, no. 1 (2020).
  17. For example, the social circle around Vera Bojadzhieva-Fol. See Georgeta Nazarska, “The Intellectual Vera Bojadjieva-Fol (1893—1989),” Thracia XXIV: 46—54.
  18. This was the case of Bolan Bonev (1883—1963) who first imported anthroposophical literature to Bulgaria after his studies in Germany, and of Peter Deunov, discussed later in this paper. Cf. Toncheva, Out of the New Spirituality, 42—47; 164.
  19. For a historical reconstruction of the events, see Richard J. Crampton, Concise History of Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 75—85; 93—99; 126—144.
  20. See (in Bulgarian) Galia Valtchinova, “Visionaries and the National Idea in Interwar Bulgaria: The Circle of the Orthodox Association ‘the Good Samaritan’,” Acta Ethnographica Hungarica vol. 54, no. 2 (2009); Galia Valtchinova, “‘Unconscious Historicization’? History and Politics in Interwar Bulgaria Through the Eyes of Local Visionaries,” Historical Future, 1—2 (2004).
  21. Nazarska, “The “Sacred Mountain” in the Sacred Geography of Sofia,” 75.
  22. Velichko Georgiev, Masonstvoto v Bŭlgaria [The Freemasonry in Bulgaria]: Pronikvane, organizatsiia, razvitie Ii rolia do sredata na tridesette godini na XX vek [Penetration, Organization, Development and Impact Until the Mid-1930s] (Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo, 1986), 15—42.
  23. Stoilov became a member of the German “Apollo” Lodge in Leipzig in 1876 and stayed in contact with it until his death. He also had connections with Bulgarian lodges. See Georgiev, Masonstvoto v Bŭlgaria, 16—17.
  24. Balan was chairman of the “Zaria” Lodge. See Ibid., 36—37.
  25. Tsvetana Georgieva, “Ivan Grozev: “Novata kulturna rasa” v estetiko-religiozniia proekt na bŭlgarskiia modernizŭm,” Slavia Meridonialis 20 (2020): 5, DOI: 10.11649/sm.2135.
  26. Georgieva, “Ivan Grozev: “Novata kulturna rasa,” 2—4.
  27. See “Roerich i Bŭlgaria“ [“Roerich and Bulgaria”],, last accessed 04.03.2021.
  28. Georgieva, “Ivan Grozev: “Novata kulturna rasa,” 3.
  29. He studied at the Methodist Seminary Drew in Madison (1885—1892) and at Boston University (1892—1894). Cf. Toncheva, Out of the New Spirituality, 44—47 and Ivo Milev, Zhivotŭt i smŭrtta na Lyudmila Zhivkova [Life and Death of Lyudmila Zhivkova] (Sofia: SENS, 2018), 237.
  30. Toncheva, Out of the New Spirituality, 49.
  31. Veneta Ivanova, Occult Communism: Culture, Science and Spirituality in Late Socialist Bulgaria (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2017), 175.
  32. Ivanova, Occult Communism, 171—172.
  33. Cf. Georgeta Nazarska, “Esoteric Practices of Bulgarian Intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930: A Case Study,” Etudes balkaniques, no. 1 (2019): 146.
  34. On the cosmology see Nazarska, “Esoteric Practices,” 147—148.
  35. Cf. Valtchinova, “Visionaries and the National Idea”; Valtchinova, “‘Unconscious Historicization’?”
  36. Valtchinova, “Visionaries and the National Idea,” 265.
  37. See ibid., 268—269.
  38. Cf. Valtchinova, “‘Unconscious Historicization’?,” 159.
  39. Also addressed as “lelia Vanga” (“aunt Vanga”) by her contemporaries and “baba Vanga” (“grandma Vanga”) by her followers.
  40. Cf. Valtchinova, Balkanski iasnovidki i prorochitsi [Bulgarian Female Clairvoyants and Prophets], 328.
  41. Ibid., 37—38.
  42. Ibid., 40.
  43. Except for a short-lived hardening of the regime’s line towards the intellectuals right after the Prague Spring.
  44. Cf. Ivailo Znepolski, “How Should We Write the History of Communist Bulgaria?,” Divinatio 35 (2012): 159—66.; Momchil Metodiev, “Turning Point or Continuity: Dynamics in the Church-State Relations in the Communist Bulgaria.“ Balkanistic Forum 1 (2018): 19—20; Nataliya Hristova, “Dynamics of the Aesthetical Norms and of the Intellectual Horizons (1944—1989),” in Izsledvania po istoria na sozialisma v Balgaria 1944—1989 [Studies on the History of Socialism in Bulgaria 1944—1989], ed. Evgenii Kandilarov (Sofia: Grafimax OOD, 2010), 469—508.
  45. “Dimo Radev Daskalov,” Bulgarian Anthroposophical Society,, last accessed 10.03.2021.
  46. Ivanova, Occult Communism, 186; 189; 191—193.
  47. Cf. Todor Zhivkov, Memoari [Memoars] (Sofia: IK “Trud i pravo”), 480.
  48. Ibid., 188—193.
  49. Milev, Zhivotŭt i smŭrtta, 125.
  50. “Istoria I sudba na prof. dr. Georgi Lozanov — suzdatelqt na sugestopediata [History and Fate of Prof. Dr. Georgi Lozanov — the Founder of Suggestopedia],” Suggestopedic Center Allegro Vivace,, last accessed 07.09.2021.
  51. Ibid., 127.
  52. Central State Archives, holding 904, inventory 2, archival unit 421, 34.
  53. On a session of Komplex Kultura concerning the work of the experimental school on 26 May 1978, the school principal D. Ivancheva complains about the obligation to use the method of Suggestopedia “in a very pure form without making any deviations.” Cf. Central State Archives, holding 405, inventory 9, archival unit 205, page 45.
  54. Cf. Central State Archives, holding 405, inventory 9, archival unit 205, page 11.
  55. Zhivkova was involved in politics from an early age, often accompanying her father, Todor Zhivkov, on state visits. Originally a historian, she started on a political career. In 1972 she was already a deputy chair of the Committee for Arts and Culture, in 1973 — first chair among three, and 1975 — sole head of the institution, which was renamed Komplex Kultura with extended powers.
  56. Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, PSI: Die wissenschaftliche Erforschung und praktische Nutzung übersinnlicher Kräfte des Geistes und der Seele, 7. Edition (Berlin, München, Wien: Scherz, 1973), 246—247.
  57. Ibid., 242—252.
  58. Nevena Tosheva, Fenomen [Phenomenon] (1976), 108 min.,, last accessed 10.03.2021.
  59. Tosheva, Fenomen, 57:20 min.
  60. Bulgarian artist, art collector, academician and member of the CC of the BCP between 1976 and 1988.
  61. Cf. also Galia Valtchinova, “From Postsocialist Religious Revival to a Socialist Seer and Vice Versa: The Remaking of Religion in Postsocialist Bulgaria,” in Working Paper No. 98 (Halle/Saale: Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, 2007), 16—17.
  62. Transcript of the film and the discussion in Nevena Tosheva, Vanga Avtentichno [Vanga Authentically] (Sofia: New Media Group, 2011).
  63. See Tosheva, Vanga avtentichno, 181;183.
  64. Lozanov is probably referring to the ban on his experiments with Vanga in 1971, which lasted no more than two years as, in 1973, the State Research Institute for Suggestopedia was conducting research on the seer again.
  65. Tosheva, Vanga avtentichno, 191—93.
  66. Ibid., 193 and Tosheva, Fenomen, 1:41:05—1:41:41 min.
  67. Tosheva, Vanga avtentichno, 194.
  68. Nazarska, “The Intellectual Vera Bojadjieva-Fol,” 48—51.
  69. Ibid., 58.
  70. Milev, Zhivotŭt i smŭrtta, 202.
  71. “Institute of Thracology — Bulgarian Academy of Sciences“,, accessed 11.03.2021.
  72. See Alexander Fol, “Plovdiv ‘86: From Object to Subject-Matter in Thracology,” Oxford Journal of Archaeology 7, no. 1 (1988): 120.
  73. Lyudmila Zhivkova, “An Inalienable Part of Our National Self-Confidence: Speech Delivered at the Opening of the Exhibition of Thracian Art and Culture, Sofia, 5 April 1976,” in the “Ludmila Zhivkova” International Foundation, Lyudmila Zhivkova, 11.
  74. The Thracian belief in immortality was Fol’s working theory in 1976, whose refined form — the concept of Thracian Orphism was first published in a paper in 1981 and later, in his monography in 1986. Cf. Irina Shopova, “Aleksandŭr Fol — sŭzdatelqt. Edna epoha v trakologiqta [Alexander Fol — the Creator. An Era in Thracology],” Thracia 24 (2019): 122.
  75. Thracian civilization did not have a scripture and Greek sources on the Thracians are limited.
  76. Alexander Fol, Trakiiskiiat Orfiizŭm [The Thracian Orphism] (Sofia: University Publishing House “St. Kliment Ohridski, 1986), 236.
  77. Ibid., 238.
  78. Ibid., 239.
  79. Zhivkova, “An Inalienable Part,” 11.
  80. Both central in theosophy and Roerich’s Agni Yoga.
  81. Ivan Elenkov, “The Second Golden Age’: Historicisation of Official Culture in the Context of Bulgaria’s 1300th Anniversary Celebrations (1976—1981),” Critique and Humanism Journal 23, no. 1 (2007).
  82. “Predlozheniia za krupni kompleksni meropriiatiia za oznamenuvane na 1300 godishnina ot osnovavaneto na bŭlgarskata dŭryhava, Central State Archives of the Republic of Bulgaria, holding 405, inventory 9, archival unit 269, sheet 49, cited after Elenkov, “‘The Second Golden Age,” 48.
  83. Ivailo Znepolski, Kak se promeniat neshtata: Ot intsidenti do goliamoto sŭbitie [How Things Change: From the Incident to the Big Event]: Istorii s filosofi i istorici [Stories with Philosophers and Historians] (Sofia: Ciela/IIBM, 2016), 54—57; 64—74.
  84. Bulgarian Embassy in the Hague, Bulgaria is 1300 Years Old (Breda: Louis Vermijs Drukkerijen b. v., 1982). Authors not specified.
  85. Ibid., 6.
  86. Ibid., 14.
  87. Ibid., 18—21.
  88. Ibid., 8—9.
  89. Ibid., 15.
  90. Lyudmila Zhivkova, “A Remarkable Jubilee: Speech Delivered at the Joint Session of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the State Council, the Council of Ministers and Other Institutions,” in the “Ludmila Zhivkova” International Foundation, Lyudmila Zhivkova, 48.
  91. On the sacralization of Levski, see Maria Todorova, Bones of Contention: The Living Archive of Vasil Levski and the Making of Bulgaria’s National Hero (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2009).
  92. Zhivkova, “A Remarkable Jubilee,” 48.
  93. On the pact, see the “Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments (Roerich Pact). Washington, 15 April 1935“,, 13.01.21.
  94. On the interpretation of the symbol, see Anita Stasulane, “The Theosophy of the Roerichs: Agni Yoga or Living Ethics,” in Handbook of the Theosophical Current, ed. Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2013), 208.
  95. Milev, Zhivotŭt i smŭrtta, 486—487.
  96. Lyudmila Zhivkova, “A Great Creator — a Fighter for Peace,” in According to the Laws of Beauty (Amsterdam: B. R. Gruner Publishing Co., 1981), 12.
  97. Zhivkova, “A Great Creator” in According to the laws of Beauty, 14.
  98. Ibid., 12.
  99. This means pursuing alternative professions, family concepts or ways of framing physical disabilities in the socialist society.
  100. See Metodiev, “Turning Point or Continuity,“ 19—22; Galia Valtchinova, “From Socialist Religious Revival to a Socialist Seer and Vice Versa: The Remaking of Religion in Postsocialist Bulgaria.“ In Working Paper 98, ed. by the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (Halle/Saale, 2007). Metodiev points out that in the 1980s, the majority of high-ranking clerics in the BOC were agents of Dŭrzhavna sigurnost (State Security).
  101. I use the differentiation between great, intermediate and little transcendencies of Alfred Schütz and Thomas Luckmann, Strukturen der Lebenswelt, 2nd ed. (Konstanz, München: UTB, 2017).
  102. On the culture of literary/art cafés in Sofia from 1900 onwards, see Mariana Pŭrvanova, Bohemskite kafeneta na sotsa [The Bohemian Cafes of Socialism] (Sofia: IK Gutenberg, 2017).
  103. See “Praznichno shestvie za 123 godini VMRO oglasi sofiiskite ulitsi [A Festive Procession for 123 Years of IMRO Filled the Streets of Sofia],” IMRO-BNM,, last accessed 15.03.2021.
  104. See e.g., “Poklon! 148 godini ot gibelta na apostola na bŭlgarskata svoboda! [Tribute! 148 Years Since the Death of the Apostle of Bulgarian Freedom!]: Neka si pripomnim dumite mu i neka pomnim zaveta mu za chista i sviata republika [Let Us Remember His Words and His Covenant for a Pure and Sacret Republic],” Bŭlgaria, no. 51 (2021),, last accessed 15.03.2021 and “Poklon pred pametta i deloto na Vassil Levski [A Tribute to the Memory and Work of Vassil Levski]: 142 godini ot obesvaneto na apostola na svobodata Vasil Ivanov Kunchev [142 Years Since the Hanging of the Apostle of Freedom, Vassil Ivanov Kunchev],” Bŭlgaria, no. 25 (2015),, last accessed 15.03.2021.
  • by Victoria Vitanova-Kerber

    PhD-candidate at the Institute for the Study of Religion, Universität Leipzig. Currently investigating the mechanisms of negotiating the relationship between religion and politics in late Socialist Bulgaria.

  • all contributors
  • Peer-reviewed articles are scientific articles.

    Peer-reviewed articles have all been through a peer-review process. We practice double-blind peer-review. All material is reviewed by two independent specialists at least at post-doc level. A prerequisite for publishing scientific articles in Baltic Worlds is that the article has not already been published in English elsewhere. If an article is simultaneously being considered by another publication, this should be indicated when submitting.

    Would you like to contribute to Baltic Worlds? Click here!