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Zuna, zunka, damga, wine & wheat, tkanitsa, bozhurlak – all these colorful names denote the motley stripe that goes across the sky after rain with the seven colors of the spectrum arranged in it. In Bulgarian folklore the rainbow was perceived as a magic condition of the natural elements. In this edition of Folk Studio we bring you a few Bulgarian legends about this natural phenomenon.
As we have been told at school the rainbow appears after rain and results from the dispersion of light. Raindrops deflect and reflect some of the white-colored sunrays. As is the case with the prism, the first deflection takes place as rays enter the drop, and it breaks down light into colors. During the second deflection, as the light leaves the drop, the division increases. Red, orange, yellow, green blue, violet are the colors arranged across the sky. In Bulgarian traditional beliefs God has created the rainbow to appease humans that he will never again send them a great flood. The memory of the indescribable disaster with which God punished human beings for their sins, provoked fears any time a heavy rain fell. The gentle radiance of the rainbow was a sign that God had not withdrawn His blessing from the Earth.
In pagan beliefs the rain and the moisture housed in the clouds, would be managed by mythical dragons. They lived at the edge of the world together with other mythical creatures that managed the natural phenomena. In the Christianized folklore myth about the distribution of the world among the saints, the rain and thunderstorms went to St. Elijah. After pouring the rain from his huge casks, he sometimes dropped his waist-belt on the earth. His waist-belt was colorful stretching across the sky. This is how the rainbow shaped up, another legend contends. From this story derives the saying, “St. Elijah dropped his belt.” There is a similar saying that goes, “Granny Zunka dropped her belt”, in which Zunka is one of the names of the rainbow. Zuna or zunitsa mean a bow, of a cask or of a wheel, but they also mean a belt.
In the Bulgarian folk costumes the belt is abundant in colors with its fibers dyed in all the colors of the rainbow. Some wedding songs offer a wonderful metaphor: the bride, beautiful as the sun, wears the rainbow as her belt. Wood-nymphs too wor