In Bulgarian folk mythology night is perceived as a magical time. Nighttime is the patron of diviners and healers. Conception and the birth of new life are in its power. It is inhabited by supernatural creatures, appearing only after sunset. Bulgarian folklore has different ritual practices performed during the night and accompanied by special dances.
Bulgarian people call the time before sunrise the time of the Holy Dawn. The blessed moment when light is born is reminiscent of the moment of the Holy Creation, of the divine nature of the earthly world. Day is a time for work, noise and movement, time to celebrate. It is the realm of life. Night is a symbol of peace, but also of evil, of a time for mischief and magic. People call this slice of the day “an evil deaf time”. Then the roads and fields are full of the evil forces and fairies lurk around the mills and haunt houses. And the bewitching fairies dance their bewitching dances.
Just as the day is divided into morning, noon and evening, in the very same way the night has several different stages – before midnight, after midnight and before dawn. After midnight the natural "clock" that counts the different stages is the crow of the roosters. Bulgarian people have phrases saying that the first, second and third cock crow marks different phases of daybreak. Like the church bells inviting worshipers to the evening, midnight and morning mass, the singing of the roosters notes the time for the ritual activity.
The different moments of the night are related to different stages of the nocturnal rituals that were once used by people to welcome the important dates of the natural cycle. Similarly, the dances that accompanied them come from the most ancient strata of human culture and civilization. They are loaded with the belief that movement and energy it creates will be able to purify the night and to transform darkness into light. That is why it is especially important not to interrupt the dances so that they might continue for hours, sometimes all night. Wakefulness and the waking state of the participants in the ritual is a condition for its successful implementation.
One of the most popular nocturnal dances is performed at the meeting of the new moon, or the so-called "young month". The chain dance began at midnight, with the rise of the “young moon". In many areas of the country, it was played only by young girls each of which had to have bread or money in her hand. And the lads jumped high in the air three times, chanting, "Hey moon! You are high up, but I am even higher!" A practice existed to make a dance circuit around a bowl of water, which showed the reflection of the nighttime moon. This rite is connected with the cult of the moon, the impact of its phases on the different stages of agricultural labor, and of course with its dominance over female nature.
Just after sunset starts the dancing on burning coals of the fire dancers on the night of the feast of the Christian Saints Constantine and Helen (in early June by the old calendar). The bonfires on the night of Forgiveness Sunday are also lit after sunset. In some villages in the week preceding Forgiveness Sunday, girls came out at night to an open meadow. Facing east, they began singing special songs on symbolic premarital themes and urged young men to court them. They waited for them to come and together joined a round dance called "Forest". Via this ritual, they welcomed the spring and the awakening of the forest.
During the night before Midsummer Day (on June 24) another special dance was and still is traditionally performed in some parts of the country. Before this, "silent water" was brought – i.e. it was carried in complete silence. The girls played the evening dance around with coppers with the "silent water" in which they dipped their rings and bunches of flowers to predict in the morning their marital future. Predictions could affect the entire community as well, referring to the fertility in the fields and vineyards.
One of the most exciting night-time dances is the chain dance called "Beware of the leaven". It has been described in several villages in northern Bulgaria. It is connected with the production of "new leaven". The ritual is performed at night and is part of the winter holidays and ritual cycle. Young girls and brides and women who have a fair knowledge of herbs, magic and healing gather, the girls kneading the dough turned back to the bowl, while older women were adding mysterious herbs, ground bark of trees, dust from coal. During the night, one of the women had to keep the leaven while the rest were playing around her a chain dance. The ritual was repeated on 12 consecutive nights in 12 different houses. But the mysterious dance was played only three times – on the eve of Ignazhden, the eve of Christmas and the eve of Saint Basil’s Day.
Nighttime is also the time when customs for obtaining a new fire were done also accompanied by dance. The secretive dances for chasing away dragons and evil spirits and breaking the spells were also done in the dark and the dances of the mermaids.
English version Rossitsa Petcova