RILA MOUNTAINS, Bulgaria (Reuters) - Lilya Ivanova, a 29-year-old Bulgarian psychologist, glows with joy. She has just finished a ritual dance along with some 2,500 white-clad followers of the Universal White Brotherhood society next to a glacial lake, high in Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains.
Every year devotees of the society, which combines a form of Christianity with Indian mysticism celebrate, their divine new year, which lasts three days from August 19.
The society was set up by Bulgarian spiritual teacher Peter Deunov in the 1920s. Deunov died in 1944 but followers continue to apply his teaching.
The society’s name does not refer to ethnicity or race but to light and purity of the soul and the belief that all people can live in harmony, followers say.
The highlight of the celebration is “paneurhythmy,” a ritual also known by Deunov’s spiritual name, Beinsa Douno. It aims to help devotees link with cosmic energy.
“It is not just the dance, it is the celebration itself, the whole connection with nature, the whole blessing that streams from all of us, the feeling of being one,” says Ivanova, who is also an astrologer.
“It is so beautiful that more and more people attend, especially to see parents dancing together with their small children. You feel harmony and love.”
For about 80 minutes pilgrims move gracefully in concentric circles on a large meadow near Kidney lake 2,280 metres (7,480 feet) above sea level and some 90 km (56 miles) south from Sofia. They are accompanied by violins and choirs.
Banished under Communism, the pilgrims are now free to perform dances, prayers, meditations and exercises which they say help create peace and harmony in the world and enhance physical and mental health.
Many come from as far away as France, Canada, Italy, Ukraine and Russia to take part.
“I just need to come here because it’s like the reset of the eleven other months of the year,” said Pascale Husson, a retired Air France manager from France who has attended the celebrations since 2008.
There is “no telephone, no internet, nothing but a contact with nature, God and what is here, what you can see here,” she said.
Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg