Bulgaria’s three main ancestral cultures - Thracian, Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian - left behind only fragmentary evidence of their individual mythologies. These mythologies combined with each other, developed and transformed to produce the body of folk customs, beliefs, artistic forms and traditional narratives that have existed right up until the modern era and which are now collectively known as Bulgarian folklore.
Of course it has incorporated other elements on the way. Bulgaria officially converted to Christianity in the ninth century but it did not completely abandon its ancestral pagan beliefs and customs. Instead many were absorbed into the new religion and survive in modified form through to the present day, interwoven with Christianity. The Thracian Horseman was reincarnated in the Christian figure of St George, seen as the bringer of summer and fertility. The Slavic thunder god, Perun, was reincarnated as the Christian St Ilya, and pagan folk festivals and rituals continued with a thin veneer of the new religion.
The Ottoman Turks conquered Bulgaria in the 14th century and ruled it for 500 years as part of the Ottoman Empire. This also left its mark on Bulgarian myth and folklore. For example, tales about Nastraddin Hodja, the Turkish imam and wise fool, were assimilated and adapted into the Bulgarian oral tradition, one positive product of this dark and bloody period of Bulgarian history.
In essence Bulgarian folklore is the combination of its ancestral mythologies in living practice, or in practice within recent historic memory. It still exists, albeit on a reduced scale, as strong living tradition and a vibrant part of Bulgarian culture. Its many layers hold the key to certain intriguing aspects of Bulgarian traditional narratives.
Bulgarian folk customs fall into two broad categories: those associated with the individual’s passage through life (birth, marriage, death); calendar customs associated with the annual cycle of nature and agriculture.
The most important of the life cycle customs are those associated with the Bulgarian wedding, and we’ll look briefly at some wedding customs as a way of understanding various aspects of Bulgarian traditional tales.
Fred, thanks for posting this.
From your link:
“Kukeri are masked male dancers and mummers, who wear fantastic, often animal like masks (like the one pictured above) and huge bronze cowbells round their waists (like those pictured below). They carry sticks, which symbolise the phallus, in a spring fertility rite possibly derived from the ancient Dionysian new year festival.”
A Bulgarian co-worker once told me of a ritual in his homeland where people dressed up like animals for a festival, and it was something I’d never heard of before, then I recognized what he’d told me in the passage above.
I love Bulgarian singing.