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A dark mist descending

Photo: archive
According to science books, mist or fog is condensed water vapor, made up of minute droplets in the lowest strata of the atmosphere. When temperatures drop below zero, the mist is made up of ice crystals. In other words, it is a cloud that starts from the Earth’s surface up and diminishes visibility. Fog is most frequent in the autumn, when the air cools more quickly than the ground or the water. But how is the appearance of fog explained in folklore and what proverbs, riddles and songs are there about this natural phenomenon? In this edition of Folk Studio, Albena Bezovska provides the answers to these questions.

“Wind and fog” or in other words a whole lot of rot. To this day we use many expressions that include the word fog, to denote silly or illogical things or a job badly done. “Trudging along like fog without wind,” in fact means absolute standstill. Whereas the expression: “His head’s full of fog,” hardly needs any explanation. There are even people with the nickname – Fog.
According to folklore beliefs, when God was giving out the Earth and the sky, he gave St. Iliya or Elijah - the thunder, the clouds and the fog. “To fly above the clear sky, to fly with the dark clouds, to bring clouds and fog, to lock the Black sea,” – a folk song goes.
When mists descend, they bring danger to all – to people, to animals, to plants. That is shy the most widespread belief is that fog is “the work of the Devil.”

In fairytales and folk beliefs Fog is always a woman. In some she is Granny Fog. In others she is a sorceress, who enchants people and then takes the fruit of their labour in the fields. Another widespread belief is that she is a young girl, sister to the clouds – young men. Once upon a time she committed a great sin and God shut her up in a cave and gave the keys to St. Iliya. From this dark dungeon she was allowed to come out only if God or the doorkeeper-saint allowed her to. And when they let her out, she creeps along close to the ground, because she is ashamed of her sins and does not dare rise up to join her brothers. There is fog on any mountain and when God wills so, the cave opens up, she comes out and falls to the ground or enshrouds the mountain. In some tales, the fog is guarded by monsters. In others – she herself is a dragon that devours the wheat and the grapes.
This belief is true of dense clouds, which cover fields, valleys and gorges for days and sometimes weeks at a time. They stop the crops from growing and frequently ruin them and blot out the sun for a long time. “It wasn’t a dense fog, but a fierce dragon – devouring white wheat and white grapes,” goes one folk song.

“As many mists as you can count on the Danube (or the sea), no less are my heart-aches for you, my love,” – we find lyrics such as these in songs from all folklore regions. At times this mystical phenomenon is charged with positive emotions. Sometimes the mist is compared to a big herd, as carol singers sing: “A dark mist descends over mountains and valleys. Descends and then lifts. Behold, it is not a mist, but shepherd Noicho with his grey flock.” In St. Lazarus day ritual songs, the young girls who dance and sing for health and fertility are also compared to a dark fog.

In folklore terminology, the fog may differ – it is either clear or dark and dense. It is clear when it is white, though it hides everything from view. Fog forebodes bad weather – rain or snow. In olden times, the peasants, whose work was entirely dependent on atmospheric conditions, created a whole system of rules by which they would predict the weather. Most of them were local. “In almost every village, there would be a “weather station”, writes Dimitar Marinov. “Let us call them “fog stations”, because there were others – “wind stations” as well,” he writes. “They were specific spots – peaks or hills. And if fog were to appear at any of these “stations” it was clear the weather would become colder. If it was summer, there would be rain, if it was winter –snow.”
The prominent Bulgarian ethnographer adduces numerous examples which he himself recorded in different parts of the country. Fog would appear as a tiny cloud, coming out of a cave near the village, and people would know that it would get colder. The colour of the fog told them whether it would be accompanied by wind, fluffy snow or a blizzard.

The most dangerous of all was the co-called “black fog” because it allowed wolves to attack the herds unhindered. It was often likened to a black she-buffalo. Here is one such riddle: “A black she-buffalo in the sky, trailed by wolves.” If a cat did not purr while it was sleeping, but was stretching with a twitching ear, that means fog will descend, another belief goes. While according to a popular saying: “A smart dog never barks in the fog,” meanings don’t go looking for trouble. 

English version: Milena Daynova
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