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The Bulgarian Festival Calendar


Makavei’s Days

Makaveyan Days

August 1 - 12

 

     The traditional holidays called "Makaveyan Days" last for 12 days - from August 1st to August 12th. The Makaveyan Days are related to folk meteorology. 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 mares.

  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 sky
   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.

     The Lamia (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 sexuality.
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 pre-Slavic population.

     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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