August 1 - 12
holidays called "Makaveyan Days" last for 12 days - from August 1st to
August 12th. The Makaveyan Days are related to folk
Old people used to name those 12 days after the 12 months of the year,
the first day being September, the second October, the third November,
and so on - up to the twelfth, which is August again but in next year.
That way, observing the weather day by day, people knew what the
weather would be all the year ahead.
The first day of the Makaveyan Days – Egus, is
celebrated mostly by women, so that their fingers would “not be eaten
away” by too much spinning.
There is a
tradition in North western Bulgaria that all the sons-in-law gather in
their fathers-in-law houses. After the meal the eldest son-in-law
starts chasing the younger in the threshing-floor with a stick and
beats them. That is done for fertility of the sheep, the cows and the
Some say that on this day in some
villages the father-in-law summons his sons-in-law to a festive table.
After the meal, he taps on their back with a bag full of air. The
sons-in-law scatter into the yard and, crying out loud, they walk
around all the corners - that ritual is believed to bring health and
fertility to the cattle. If a man works that day, fire will burn his
house or a wolf will eat all his domestic animals.
Dark cloud in the
Even a single dark cloud in the sky would be enough to trigger a
torrent of Bulgarian folk beliefs. If we add some rain, hails and
thunderstorms, lightning and fog, a whole new mythological world will
emerge to our fascination.
Bulgarian folk meteorology classifies clouds as summer and
winter ones. Summer clouds herald rain and hails. Winter clouds bring
snow, freezing cold and ice. The patrons of the two kinds of clouds
are two saints from the Bulgarian Christianized pagan mythology.
Bulgarian ancient myths recount the story of the primary division of
the world between two brother saints. Saint Elijah took control of
summer clouds, thunder and lighting. That is why he flies above the
bright skies and gathers fog and clouds to lock them into the Black
Sea. Only he can decide when to unlock them to send dew or summer
rainfalls to the earth. In turn winter clouds, ice and snow were
controlled by the Winter saint Atanasius.
In folklore clouds are also divided into dark and
bright ones. When a bright, clear cloud appeared in the sky, peasants
rejoiced. They knew that such clouds would bring a penetrating rain
and fertility. In folk beliefs bright clouds were inhabited by angels
and by God. Unlike them dark clouds triggered fears, as they were
known to bring torrential rains, floods and hails. In the contours of
the dark cloud peasants saw a horrible dragon with huge wings and
sword-like thick tail. When a dragon cloud overtook the village,
villagers peered into the sky hoping to see an imperial eagle emerging
there. They believed that the mighty bird with a cross on its back,
could banish the dragon cloud away form the fields.
(female dragon) is a creature with iconography appearance of an
enormous reptile with sharp-nailed legs, dog’s head and sharp teeth.
Its mouth is so large that it can swallow a human or cattle. Its body
is covered with yellow scales. The Lamya is often pictured with three
or nine identical heads. It is often a motive in the folklore songs
and fairy tales. It lives at the sea bottom or in desert woods and
stops the water in the wells, rivers and lakes just like the
samodivas. In this way it forces people to sacrifice someone for it to
eat. Despite its frightful appearance, brave men fight it and can cut
off its heads.
The Zmeys (male dragons) are enemies of the Lamia, young
male creatures with human appearance, a tail and wings in the armpits.
The lower part of their bodies is covered with scales shining like
gold. They inhabit faraway woods and caves. Places in Bulgaria are
often named Zmeyova dupka (Zmey’s hole), Zmeyov kladenetz (Zmey’s
well). Zmeys drink mainly milk, eat a lot of white bread and some
heavy wine. Zmeys are friendly towards people.
A Lamya dragon and a Zmey dragon.
The Bulgarian Dragon
There are many stories about the zmey, or dragon, a complex being,
combining elements from Thracian, Slavic and Proto Bulgarian
mythologies. It is sometimes portrayed as a bad character, but often
it is seen as benign and has an important place in Bulgarian myth and
folklore. It has elemental power and is associated with fertility and
Each village had its own guardian zmey to protect the harvest and
battle with the malignant forces that cause drought and hail. The
ferocity of these battles gave rise to thunderstorms and lightening,
linking the zmey to the Slavic thunder god, Perun and to his Christian
successor, Saint Ilya (Elijah).
Part snake, part bird, part human, zmeys
are associated with both fire and water. They live in caves, lakes or
mountain palaces and glow as they fly. They can summon whirlwinds or
become invisible at will. They are immensely strong, and a human who
eats a dragon's heart gains some of that power.
They are shape shifters and can take on an
alluring human form but they can also change into dogs, flower
garlands, or even necklaces. Zmeys are predominantly male, but the
rare zmeyitsas (the females of the species) can shape shift into
bears. Conversely humans can become dragons, either through magical
means or by taking certain herbs.
Zmeys often fall in love with humans, who
then may grow pale and lovesick. They may pine away, for dragon love
can be deadly. The only cure is to take a potion made with herbs such
as gentian, tansy and wormwood to repulse the dragon. Zmeys are
attracted by music, and have been known to seduce maidens with the
beauty of their kaval-playing (a kaval is a kind of wooden flute).
Sometimes they will trick a vain or arrogant maiden and carry her off.
Marriage to a zmey can be a metaphor for death as union
with the dark lord of the underworld. But sometimes humans marry a
zmey and give birth to offspring who look human in every way except
for tiny wings growing under their arms. Twelve maidens are then
called in under oath of silence and secrecy to weave a shirt for the
child to hide its wings. The dragon child can then safely enter the
human world, and no-one will ever see his/her true nature except for
the pure in heart.
(Zmeys should not be confused with their evil
relatives, the Lamia and the Hala. These reptilian beasties often have
three heads and have a different origin to the Zmey. In particular,
lamias and halas are always female whereas zmeys are predominantly
male. Also they are associated with drought and hail respectively,
thus threatening the fertility of the land. As such, they are enemies
of the zmey.)
An ala or hala
(plural: ale or hali) is a mythological creature recorded in the
folklore of Bulgarians, Macedonians, and Serbs. Ale are considered
demons of bad weather whose main purpose is to lead hail-producing
thunderclouds in the direction of fields, vineyards, or orchards to
destroy the crops, or loot and take them away. Extremely voracious,
ale particularly like to eat children, though their gluttony is not
limited to Earth. It is believed they can try to devour the Sun or the
Moon causing eclipses; her success would mean the end of the world.
When people encounter an ala, their mental or physical health, or even
life, are in peril; however, her favour can be gained by approaching
her with respect and trust. Being in a good relationship with an ala
is very beneficial: she makes her favourites rich and saves their
lives in times of trouble.
The appearance of ale is quite diversely and often vaguely described
in folkloric sources. A given ala may look like a black wind, a
gigantic creature of indistinct form, a huge-mouthed, humanlike, or
snakelike monster, a female dragon, a raven, etc.
By certain descriptions, ale can in fact assume various
human or animal shapes, and can even possess a person’s body. This
diversity is probably due to the fact that the ala is a synthesis of a
Slavic demon of bad weather and a similar demon of the central Balkans
In folk tales
with a humanlike ala, her personality is strikingly similar to that of
the Russian Baba Yaga. Ale are said to live in the clouds, or in a
lake, spring, hidden remote place, forest, inhospitable mountain,
cave, or gigantic tree. While ale are frequently an enemy to humans,
they have powerful enemies who can defeat them, principally dragons
(Zmeys). In Christianized tales, Saint Elijah takes the dragons’ role;
however, there are beliefs in which the saint and the dragons fight
ale together. Eagles are also regarded as defenders against ale,
chasing them away from fields and thus preventing them from bringing
hail clouds overhead. An Ala.
Folk songs are the scene of mythical battles with the
dark clouds bringing the nature’s elements. The most down-to-earth
version of this tale involves a dragon cloud and a village youth. The
guy is brave indeed, but his valour has been fuelled by a handsome
quantity of red wine. No one dares challenge him. However, a dark
cloud heard about the hero and descended above the village bringing a
thunderstorm and saying: “Come out good hero, for a battle.” The duel
went on for three weeks. Finally, the dark cloud prevailed and dragged
the young hero away. Then the youth cried for mercy and promised to
pay a hefty ransom. The hero counted on support from his mother who
reined over three cities. The son asked her to pledge her three cities
to ransom his life. But the mother refused to give her three cities
away to the dragon.
In a similar song the mother pledged her three cities to ransom her
son’s life. In this version of the tale however, the son is a young
dragon. This is probably a more ancient tale preceding the one centred
on the human hero. More ancient layers of Bulgarian mythology exhibit
the idea that winged dragons are guardians of the fields and the
harvest. So, dragons would come out to fight evil dark clouds
threatening to ruin the crops. Later these archetypal images of the
nature’s elements were Christianized. At that point the tale
transformed. The duel now involved the Christian Saint Elijah and the
mythical dragon. The battle ended up with the dragon’s victory. While
Elijah was in his captivity, a severe draught seized the earth. It
went on for three years. Then all saints gathered and read in their
books how to free the saint patron of fecund rain. So they summoned
the stonemasons. The masons broke the stone in which Saint Elijah was
being held captive. When they released him, the fine, penetrating rain
began to fall, bringing rich crops of grain, pears and walnuts. The
harvest would then feed new human heroes of tremendous strength – just
like the hero who dared confront the dark cloud.
Natural elements have also penetrated some folk songs
based on triviality. In one such song ground frost fell in early
autumn and destroyed two wheat fields. The landlord was in despair,
but the fields did not trouble his daughter. She felt miserable
because her sweetheart had been engaged to someone else. In another
song fog blanketed the peak of Karluk in the southern Bulgarian
mountain Rhodope. A blond girl and a young dark-eyed shepherd were the
only ones caught in the fog. They were unhappy because they were not
allowed to marry. In this way the man-nature relationship finds
diverse poetic expressions in Bulgarian folklore.
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