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Beliefs and superstitions about dragons

Photo: Архив
One of the most popular heroes in Bulgarian folklore is interestingly the dragon. According to folk beliefs, dragons appear and unleash their powers in the human world in the spring and summer, causing droughts, torrential rains, thunderstorms and even having the power over the fertility of the fields and the fates of people.
In today's Folkstudio, we bring you the most popular beliefs and superstitions related to dragons in Bulgarian folklore and also a bunch of folk songs about them.

The image of the dragon comes from Slavic mythology. It is widespread among Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Czechs, Serbs and Croats. In Bulgarian folk culture we find an impressive variety in the popular notions of the dragon. According to some legends, the dragon is actually the reincarnation of a carp or a grass snake that lived 40 years of age. Therefore, the dragon has a tail like a fish or a snake. His body is covered with gold flakes and he has wings.
According to another belief, all dragons and dragonesses were born after an incident. Once upon a time, when the moon walked on the earth, a woman took it and wrapped it in the dirty diapers of her child, and according to another version, the woman killed the moon with her needle while she was embroidering. The moon grew angry, soared high in the sky and cursed the woman, saying that all her children would turn into dragons and dragonesses. They lived among the people, either eating them or marrying them. And this went on until St. George killed the mother and St. Theodore – the dragons and dragonesses.
Well this is at least according to Bulgarian folk beliefs.

But that's not the end. Mythical animals continue to appear on earth in different images. According to one belief, the dragon has the head of an eagle or a chicken. According to another, he is a beautiful lad from the waist up but from the waist down actually has the body of a snake. The rainbow in the sky is also seen sometimes as a dragon who drinks water from the sea and once he has drunk enough, rain starts. And when two dragons start a fight, they cause thunderstorms and torrential rains. A dragon can also cause a solar or lunar eclipse if he swallows the celestial bodies. Shooting stars were also seen in some folk interpretations as as fiery dragons flying in the sky.

Popular belief is that dragons live in high mountain caves where they keep the winds and rains inside. And when spring arrives, they descend to lower areas, bathe in the rivers and change their skins. Then they fly over the villages and land in the branches of old trees or live in the fields. A folk tale tells the story of how a dragoness, taking the shape of a bear, went down from the mountain to a shepherd, in whom she was in love and kidnapped him in her lair. But more common is the story in which a dragon falls in love with a peasant girl and kidnaps her for his bride straight from the festive dance in the village square, usually on Easter or Saint George’s Day. It is believed that the dragon may appear in the image of fire, charcoal, a peacock feather, a gold string, or a whirlwind. If a girl finds and takes this string, charcoal or pen, the dragon falls in love with her and she can hardly escape. Sometimes the dragon in the form of a handsome bachelor joins the village dance but he can remain there only until noon as then his tail would grow again, people in the past used to believe and to narrate their beliefs in stories and songs.

The dragon, however, feared the certain herbs such as the spring gentian, the white melilot and the hellebore, popular belief says. So in the “season” of dragons girls wore wreaths and bunches of these herbs. And if the dragon came to the village to absorb local springs and rivers and a drought started, rural men arranged a mystical ritual chasing of the dragon from the fields. In other cases, however, people believed that the dragon kept the fields from the attacks of other dragons who wanted to steal its fertility. To ensure his protection, peasant women kneaded special ritual breads, spread honey on them, and left them for the dragon under a tree.
So for centuries the villagers have been living in co-existence in spring and summer with these mythical creatures that simultaneously arouse fear and magical attraction in people. 

On materials by Rumiana Panayotova
English Rossitsa Petcova
Listen to the daily news from Bulgaria presented in "Bulgaria Today" podcast, available in Spotify.

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