Ancient Rituals

Although Kokino is best known for its megalithic observatory, the role of this mountain in prehistoric times was twofold. While some of the markers that were carved into the rocks served a practical purpose, such as tracking the passage of time and the seasons, other markers, together with the stone thrones, were used for ritual purposes. Kokino served as a holy mountain and was considered a regional religious centre, with people traveling up to two days on foot to perform rituals.

The sun behind the summer solstice cut-mark

The Bronze Age inhabitants of the area around Kokino believed as many other peoples of that period that the natural elements were alive, had their own characters and moods. Archaeologists assume that most of the rituals performed on Kokino were in worship of two deities that in one form or another were worshiped by many cultures before and during the Bronze Age – the Great Mother Goddess and the Sun.

The Great Mother Goddess was the personification of growth, fertility, the land, and the animals and people who lived off it. The rocks at the top of Kokino are of a volcanic origin which is why they have numerous vertical and horizontal cracks. The locals thought of these cracks as openings that lead towards the womb of the Great Mother Goddess. They brought offerings from their homes to the top of the mountain where they would place them in the naturally formed cracks – things like ceramic vessels full of fruits and vegetables, liquid offerings (wine, olive oil, etc.), figurines, grain mills, pyramidal weights and moulds for making items out of bronze. After placing the offerings in the cracks, they would bury them with earth and rocks. These gifts were meant to appease the Great Mother Goddess who would in turn provide them with a fertile season. The same ritual was performed on the northern slope of Kokino where people dug holes into the ground until they hit rock, buried their offerings with earth and small stones.

Ceramic vessels uncovered during a dig

One of the rituals that are believed to have been performed on Kokino were to do with the Sun. The Sun was thought to be the son of the Great Mother Goddess and personified light, warmth, strength and power. Archaeologists think that the stone thrones were built in order to transfer the symbolic power of the Sun to the leaders of the tribe, thereby granting them the right to rule. Those who sat on them faced the east, towards the rising sun. On 14 or 15 May and 31 July, the first ray of the sun passed through the ritual marker and illuminated the one of the stone thrones.

Platform A - stone thrones

The tribal leaders would sit on the thrones as the first rays would illuminate one and then the rest of them, thereby legitimizing their rule and giving the chief or priest the strength necessary to rule their people.

Through these rituals, the Bronze Age inhabitants of the region showed their respect of nature and their desire to get closer to their deities. If you visit Kokino during one of the ritual days, at the height of the power of the elements, perhaps you too will be transported to the mythical past of Kokino, when gods walked the earth and lived among us.

The Toughest

Kokino and the surrounding area have been inhabited since the start of the Bronze Age. Throughout the centuries, a variety of peoples and civilizations called Kokino their home. For some of them, like the builders of the observatory and the sacred sites, we can only make educated guesses as to how they lived due to the lack of a written language and the limited number of artefacts from those periods. For other, however, historical texts have been uncovered, allowing us to get a better insight into their lives.

It is commonly accepted by historians that one of the tribes living within today’s borders of Macedonia during the Iron Age were the Paeonians – a people mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. Known as skilled horse hiders, the Paeonians fought on the side of the Trojans during the Trojan War. Because of their riding abilities, they were later recruited into the heavy cavalry units of Greek and Roman armies.

Hypaspist - Shield bearer

Few people who visit Kokino know that the land visible from the site in the time of Alexander the Great was the home of one of the toughest people in the region – the Agrianians. The Agrianians were a Paeonian tribe known for their skill in throwing javelins, as well as their discipline in battle. In order to be as mobile as possible, they carried a stack of javelins and wore minimal armour. They were also skilled in fighting on difficult terrain where the traditional phalanx formation was impractical and mobility was the key to victory.

The region they inhabited is roughly estimated to be between the towns of Kumanovo in Macedonia, Vranje in Serbia and Pernik in Bulgaria. Alexander the Great was famous for attacking with his “hammer and anvil” tactic, flanking with cavalry from behind as the hammer and squeezing the enemy between them and the infantry at the front – the anvil. This was a high risk, high reward strategy.

Agrianian soldier

If the cavalry failed to flank the enemy or break their formation, Alexander and his commanders were exposed to a counterattack. The highly mobile Agrianians, armed with swords and short spears, therefore had the role of elite infantry or bodyguards. It is said that they saved Alexander’s life in battle many times over. The best known example is from the Battle of Gaugamela, where Alexander’s army faced off against the Persian forces of king Darius III in a decisive engagement. Legend has it that at one point in the battle Alexander was knocked off his horse and was surrounded by the enemy. It was only because of the quick reaction of the Agrianians and the rest of his guard, who rallied around him in his defence, that he survived the battle.

Perhaps it was from Kokino that some of them saw their homeland, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other, before departing with Alexander on a campaign of conquest that would lay the foundation for one of the biggest empires in history.

The Cursed Hill

Even before Kokino was discovered as a megalithic observatory and holy mountain in 2001, the locals in the vicinity believed that it has mysterious powers. Even today, some of the villagers believe that Kokino is cursed and that those who overstay their welcome or dare to disturb the site will be punished. If you meet one of them, you might just convince them to tell you about the event that started it all, some 50 or 60 years ago, and which begot the modern belief in Kokino’s powers.

A view of the mountain of Kokino

They say that during that period, during several days and only in specific times of those days, rocks the size of a human fist would fall on the roofs of the houses that were the closest to the hill. The rocks damaged the roofing and the windows of the owners of the houses, so they, probably thinking that one of the local jokers was pulling a prank on them, called in the Yugoslavian police to clear up the case. The police force, known then for its strictness and thoroughness, organized a tracking and observation taskforce near the site, hoping that the felon would be caught and appropriately punished. For a few days, the little hamlet looked like a scene straight out of a crime novel. Despite all the efforts of the police and the locals, the culprit was never caught, and the stones continued to fall on the roofs of the houses. The owners of these two or three houses couldn’t cope with the constant expense of repairing the roofs and the psychological stress of being under siege by stones that were most likely not being thrown by human hands. They moved out of their houses and never came back.

If you start the climb towards Kokino, you will see those abandoned houses to your right, still here to remind visitors that they are entering a place which demands respect, where you can still hear the echo of rituals that took place millennia ago. Other, more skeptical observers, however, will tell you that the Macedonian national folklore has always had a tendency to embellish and promote the mystical aspects in all of its stories. How much of this local legend is real? Did the mountain really punish those who dared to cross its’ threshold, or did the villagers’ rich imagination fabricate its own reality? Visit Kokino and decide for yourself.

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