Paganism and witchcraft tolerated by the Church - Feast of all Nature
- Switch day - Dipping day - Bacchantes - A day of mortification for the
dogs - All Souls - Feast of Constantine - Miraculous fish - Feast of serpents
- Old Mother March - St. George's: why lambs are sacrificed - The Panagia
- Feast of pigs - Novel sins - The Vampire - Fountain spirits - Spirit
treasure-guardians - Ghosts of the Turks - Our success as exorcists - Notions
of a future state.
AS in all Evil there is a substratum of Good, so from the fact that the Greek clergy - interested in their Bulgarian flocks merely as a means of revenue - care but little what may be their morality, and are equally indifferent to what, how much, or how little they believe, so long as their faith or its absence does not diminish the exchequer of the Orthodox Church, it results that the antiquarian in search of ancient Slavonic superstitions, habits, customs, legends, and even rites dating from Pagan times, will find in Bulgaria a rich and untouched field for his investigations.
Unfortunately a total absence of all the books necessary for reference and collation forbids us attempting to make a special study of the subject, and we are forced to content ourselves with a mere catalogue of some of the superstitions prevalent in our immediate neighbourhood; but such is the originality and genuineness of the old Slavonic traditions in these provinces, that even the meagre and imperfect details which we give may not be without interest for the lovers of that folk-lore which is so rapidly disappearing from Europe.
In those Slavonic countries which profess Roman Catholicism, the clergy, with its almost mathematical rigidity of principle, has cast down the images, abolished the feasts, uprooted the superstitions, and even banished the memories, of the ancient gods. Among the Czechs, again, the Croats, the Dalmatians, and others, civilisation and foreign or internal despotism [As in Russia, which has been under the successive despotism of Tartars, Lithuanians, and the Emperors.] have produced the same effect, so that the ancient traditions are either entirely effaced, or altered and disfigured by the varnish of a spurious poetry [It will be seen further on, the legend of the vampire has been poetized in Dalmatia out of all resemblance to its original form.], whereas in Bulgaria they still flourish and retain intact their original roughness.
A secondary cause of the non-intervention of the Greek clergy in the superstitious beliefs of the peasantry, is the very slight religious faith they themselves possess, an indifferentism which leads them to open encouragement of ignorance. Thus, when the Papas finds that his prayer for rain to St. John the Baptist is utterly ineffectual, whilst the spells of the village witch are followed by a plentiful shower which revives the drooping cabbages, he, being without any belief in the religion which he professes, and yet feeling the necessity of believing in something, comes to the conclusion that certain occult forces are really the appanage of the sorceress, and instead of opposing himself to the powers of darkness he thinks it better to make a compact of mutual aid and toleration.
Hence it is, that if the Papas's fields suffer from drought, or his wife or child are ill, he calls in the assistance of the village witch [Fact.], who performs certain incantations for the benefit of the weather or the sick people, addressed to the Spirit of Evil, and who carries out her part of the treaty by paying the Papas's exactions, and taking her own infant to be sprinkled with holy water every month.
Unchecked by the priest, and unbanished by education, the old Slavonic Pantheism reigns supreme, in fact if not in name, in Bulgaria; and, excluding many doctrines of Christianity with which it cannot assimilate, clothes itself with the garments of the outward observances of the Church, and gives birth to a practical religion of the most extraordinary kind.
Last week a peasant said to us, “The 25th March (o. s.) is the Blagostina; it is only a little Feast of the Church, but it is a great Feast day for all Nature, for then even the swallows and the bees cease from labour: all Nature reposes and makes ready for the birth of Spring; so it is a great festival, for it is that of the new-born Spring and of Serpents."
We find thus certain feasts of pagan origin, and accompanied by rites which are certainly not those of the Church; but owing to the great number of ecclesiastical festivals, heathen and Christian anniversaries often coincide in date and produce a singular mixture of observances taken from the old and the new religion.
On New Year's Day, which is called Chibouque-gunu (Switch-day), everybody procures a little switch of Kizil (cornel wood), and taps with it every one he meets, at the same time wishing him a happy new year; this practice is not of Slavonic origin.
The 19th January (N. s.), the Feast of the Three Kings, is called the Eslama-gunu, or Dipping-day, and every man in the village is carried off to the fountain and thoroughly soused with water unless he ransoms himself by the payment of a certain amount of wine, the forfeits thus collected being drunk by the assembled villagers in the evening. This custom is not Slavonic, but common to all peoples who profess the Greek religion. The day following is observed (though only in those villages which are of pure Slavonic race, and not by the Gagaous) as the Babou-dien, Old Woman's Day, when all the married women celebrate a sort of Saturnalia, and wind up by getting very drunk in the evening. This year we arrived at the village of Dervishkivi in Roumelia, on the Babou-dien. and hardly were we seen approaching when a troop of Bacchantes surrounded us, and nearly pulled us off our horses, only consenting to let us pass on the receipt of black mail. In the evening a similar troop, very tipsy, invaded the house where we were staying, and danced about in the most frantic manner, headed by an old lady astride upon a cane, and looking a very impersonation of a witch upon the traditional broomstick. Perhaps it might be possible to trace the origin of the Sabbat of the Brocken to the hills of the Balkans.
On the first day of Lent, all the village dogs are caught, and soundly beaten, to prevent them going mad during the year: this is a very unpleasant day for strangers, as the cries of the men and the howls of the poor brutes are almost deafening, and in a large village the ceremony lasts till nearly evening.
Next comes the Dusz Nitza (Jour des Morts, the All Souls' Day of Western Europe), which with the Bulgarians is on the first day of the second week in Lent; in the evening the women go from house to house with lighted candles, in order that the souls of the dead may have good appetites, and be well fed in the place where they are."
The Blagostina (which we have already said is on the 25th March) is, according to the Papas, the Feast of Constantine the Great, who is singularly mixed up and confounded with Constantine Palaeologus; [The Bulgarians say "St. Constantine" was the hero of this legend, but as the only saint of that name is Constantine the Great, who is not generally supposed to have been at the taking of Constantinople by the Turks there must be a mistake somewhere on their part, or that of the priests who taught them this story.] on this day, although it occurs during Lent when even fish and oil are forbidden by the Greek Church, the Bulgarians are allowed to eat fish, a dispensation which has its origin in the following strange legend. According to this story, Constantine Palaeologus, on the last day of the siege of Constantinople, was busy frying fish in his palace, by the side of a pond, when terrified messengers came running in to announce that the Turks were mounting the breach for the final assault. "Pooh! nonsense!" replied the Emperor, "the Turks will no more take the town than these fried fish will jump into the pond!" As he said this, the fish gave a spring into the water, and, ready cooked as they were, began swimming about merrily. A Bulgarian, lately returned from Constantinople, assures us that he has seen these identical fish in the identical fish-pond, but that of the three who were there formerly one has disappeared (probably having died of old age), and there are now only two remaining; this information may perhaps be useful for the next edition of Mr. Murray's 'Handbook for Constantinople.' In this tradition, originated by the Greek clergy, may be traced their hatred to the last of the Byzantine Emperors, whom they cannot forgive for having embraced Catholicism, and whom they calumniate by representing one of the bravest defenders of Constantinople as frying fish whilst the assault was raging on the ramparts; perhaps the same authority may describe the traitor Notaras as defending the breach. Still, it seems difficult to understand why all this should permit the Bulgarians to eat fish on the Blagostina.
On that day the peasants do nothing - not even going out shooting - and dare not take off their charreks or sandals, for it is the Feast of Serpents, who then come out of their holes, and any one who thus profaned their Sabbath would be sure to be bitten by them in the course of the year. In the evening large bonfires are lit, and the young people dance round one of them to the sound of the gaida, whilst the married women spin around a second, and the married men get drunk around a third. Taking into consideration these ceremonies and the belief that the Blagostina is the Feast of reviving Nature consecrated by the repose of all animated beings, and remembering that the great Slavonic Festivals of Paganism corresponded in date with the solstices and equinoxes, we see that it is neither Constantine the Great nor the fried fish of Constantine Palaeologus that the Bulgarians commemorate. but a tradition of Slavonic Pantheism.
The month of March, which falls in the Spring equinox, is called by the Bulgarians Baba Mart, Old Mother March, and is the only female month of the year, the others being considered as masculine. March in Bulgaria is like April in England, inconstant and capricious, alternating between storms and sunshine; and it is here specially dedicated to the fair sex, who during its continuance enjoy complete idleness, doing no work, and asserting a sort of temporary superiority over their husbands which sometimes even goes to the length of administering a thrashing without fear of reprisal.
In order not to displease Baba Mart, the women do not even smear the floors of their houses with clay (a work which is usually performed every week), wash, weave, or spin; for if they were to do so she would give no rain during the year, and lightning would infallibly strike the house in which she had been thus insulted.
There are certain clever old women who, knowing where Baba Mart resides, pay her a visit, and from her information assign to each of the married women a day of the month on which the weather will be according to the character of the lady whose day it is; thus, if Mrs. Dimitri gets the 1st of March, it will be fine with perhaps a warm and gentle shower or two, for she is an amiable and soft-hearted woman, a little given to shedding unnecessary tears upon any pretext. Mrs. Tanaz is a loud-voiced shrew, so her day will be made up of wind, black clouds, snow, and heavy rain. “Don't go out shooting to-morrow, Chelibi, for it is the day of Kodja Keraz's [Kodja Keraz means literally "Old Cherry Tree," a name which reminds one of those fanciful appellations assumed by the North American Indians.] wife, and she has such an awful temper that the weather is sure to be horrible."
When a woman is assigned a day for the first time, her character is judged by the state of the weather; fortunately this system is not extended to young ladies on their promotion, or many a match might be broken off by an inopportune storm in the month of March.
On St. George's day (23rd April, N. S.), the Bulgarians make a sacrifice
of lambs; the legend which gives rise to it is this: - One day the Creator
entered into the house of a very poor man, and asked for something to eat;
the man (whose name the Bulgarians say is forgotten) had neither lamb nor
kid to offer, so he took his little son, cut his throat, and "pitched"
him into the oven. Presently the Creator was hungry, and asked if the food
"Directly," answered the man.
"Open the door, and see if it is ready."
The father opened the oven, and saw with astonishment his son, instead of being roasted, sitting down and writing on his knee, Turkish fashion.
The Almighty then told him that in future a lamb was to he sacrificed on every anniversary of that day.
This legend, which we have given exactly as we heard it, seems to be a mixture of the history of Abraham's sacrifice and the story of Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego; but the peasants relate it as an old tradition amongst themselves, and not as a piece of Biblical history.
About the time of the summer solstice there is another nocturnal feast with bonfires, doubtless that of the Slavonic deity Kupalo (the bathing god); but we have been unable to obtain from the Bulgarians any other reason for its observance than "taki adet," "such is the custom."
On the Feast of the Panagia (the Blessed Virgin) sacrifices of lambs, kids, honey, wine, &c., are offered in order that the children of the house may enjoy good health throughout the year: in order to determine the saint to whom these sacrifices are to be dedicated, the peasants have recourse to a ceremony of divination which savours strongly of pagan origin. Three candles are lit, and behind each is placed a picture of a saint, a little child is brought, and whichever candle he touches first shows that the offering is to be made to the corresponding saint, whose picture probably replaces the images of the heathen divinities; when the saint has been thus chosen the bystanders each drink a cup of wine, saying "Saint So-and-so, to thee is the offering," and cut the throat of the lamb, or smother the bees. In the evening the whole village assembles to eat the various sacrifices, the men of course finishing with the invariable end of all Bulgarian solemnities, drunkenness.
On the Feast of St. Demetrius lighted candles are placed in the stables and the place where fire-wood is chopped, to prevent evil spirits entering into the domestic animals.
In the winter solstice occurs the long feast of the Kolenda, so well known amongst Slavonic nations, which the Bulgarians call Kulada; it is the great time for all kinds of divinatory rites and incantations, especially amongst young girls who are anxious to know who are to be their husbands.
During its whole duration, which includes Christmas (or as the Bulgarians call it Domouz Kirma, the Feast of Pigs, because on that day every family kills one of these animals), all songs which are sung must terminate each verse with the refrain, "Kulada, hy Kulada:" and as it is at this period that the elementary spirits are most powerful and active, the peasants are obliged to take every precaution against them; no carts must be left without at least one log of wood in them, and no water-vessels entirely empty for fear that some demon should take possession of them, and by his presence render them too heavy to be moved or lifted.
It is easy to see, even from the few instances we have given, that the feasts of the Bulgarians are a strange medley of old Slavonic Paganism and the ill-defined and superstitious Christianity [In the following chapter, upon the customs, &c,., of the Bulgarians, this connection will be still more clearly made evident.] which exists in the East. The saints of the Greek calendar have taken the place of the heathen idols. but not altogether nor always, for the peasants still offer sacrifices to nature, to the elements, and even to animals; although the oblations of the latter class, as for instance that to the serpent, is really mere Pantheism, the ancient Lithuanians (who probably borrowed the custom from their Slavonic neighbours), having worshipped Spring under the symbols of a serpent, of thunder, and of rain, all of which attributes are connected in Bulgaria with Baba Mart, the mother of vegetation, of summer, of the whole year.
If we now take into consideration those breaches of certain superstitious observances which are considered by the Papas as sins (gunahler), the mixture of extraneous matter with the Greek rite becomes still more easily visible. The confession of a Bulgarian peasant is no easy matter, for in addition to the commandments of Scripture, he has to make a mental review of those ordained by his clergy, of which one of the latest is, that it is a great sin to give alms to a gipsy or an "infidel." Fortunately for him the moral elasticity tolerated in the Oriental Church dispenses him from troubling himself very much about the prohibitions of Scripture, so long as he observes strictly those of the Church and especially those of the priests; - of these latter, which to the peasant are sins of the deepest dye, although he can give no further reason for the innate depravity of these actions than the dictum of a Papas, we give an imperfect and abbreviated list, which, however, includes most of those affecting everyday life [See Appendix B].
It is a sin -
1. To give a child a spoon to play with.
2. To give away or sell a loaf of bread without breaking a piece from it.
3. Not to fumigate with incense the flour when it is brought from the mill (particularly if the mill be kept by a Turk), in order to prevent the Devil entering into it.
4. To wash a child before he has come to the (canonical) age of reason, that is to say, seven years.
5. To sell flour before making a loaf from it.
6. To clean a stable, sell milk, or fetch water from the fountain after dusk.
7. To allow a dog to sleep on the roof of the house, as this gravely imperils the soul of any defunct member of the family.
8. Not to throw some water out of every bucket brought from the fountain, as some elementary spirit might otherwise be floating on the surface of the water, and, not being thrown out, take up his abode in the house, or enter into the body of any one who drank from the vessel.
Finally, it is a sin to fail in the observance of any of the hundred superstitious practices approved or tolerated by the Papas.
An English Roman Catholic priest of the oratory would be perhaps a little astonished if one of his lady-penitents confessed with tears that she had washed her baby, or that Fido had climbed out on to the roof through the window of the footman's bedroom, and spent the night there; but the Greek Papas treats such backslidings as serious transgressions of morality, flourishes his whip, and imposes probably, for the infant washed, a heavier penance than for the oxen stolen.
By far the most curious superstition in Bulgaria is that of the vampire, [The pure Bulgarians call this being by the genuine Slavonic name of Upior, the Gagaous (or Bulgarians of mixed race) by that of Obour, which is Turkish; in Dalmatia it is known as Wukodlak, which appears to be merely a corruption of the Romaic Vrukolas.] a tradition which is common to all countries of Slavonic origin, but is now to be found in its original loathsomeness only in these provinces. In Dalmatia and Albania, whence the knowledge of this superstition was first imported into Europe, and which were consequently, though wrongly, considered as its mother countries, the vampire has been disfigured by poetical embellishments and has become a mere theatrical being - tricked out in all the tinsel of modern fancy. The Dalmatian youth who, after confessing himself and receiving the Holy Communion as if in preparation for death, plunges a consecrated poniard into the heart of the vampire slumbering in his tomb; and the supernaturally beautiful vampire himself, who sucks the life-blood of sleeping maidens, has never been imagined by the people, but fabricated, or at least dressed up, by romancers of the sensational school.
When that factitious poetry born from the ashes of a people whose nationality is extinct, and from which civilisation has reaped its harvest, replaces the harsh, severe, even terrible poetry which is the offspring of the uncultivated courage or fear of a young and vigorous humanity, legendary lore becomes weak, doubtful, and theatrical. Thus, as in a ballad said to be antique we recognise a forgery by the smoothness of its rhythm and the nicety of its rhyme; so, when the superstitions of a people naturally uneducated and savage are distinguished by traits of religion or of sentiment, we trace the defacing hand of the Church or the poet.
In Dalmatia the vampire is now no more than a shadow in which no one believes, or at best in which people pretend to believe, just as a London Scottish volunteer will assure you of his firm faith in the Kelpie and Brounie of Sir Walter Scott, or will endeavour to convince you that he wears a kilt from choice and not for effect. Between the conventional vampire and the true horror of Slavonic superstition there is as much difference as between the highland chief who kicked away the ball of snow from under his son's head, reproaching him with southron effeminacy in needing the luxury of a pillow, and the kilted cockney sportsman who shoots down tame deer in an enclosure.
In Poland the Roman Catholic clergy have laid hold upon this superstition as a means of making war upon the great enemy of the Church, and there the vampire is merely a corpse possessed by the Evil Spirit, and no longer the true vampire of the ancient Slavonians. In Bulgaria we find the brute in its original and disgusting form; it is no longer a dead body possessed by a demon, but a soul in revolt against the inevitable principle of corporeal death; the Dalmatian poniard, blessed upon the altar, is powerless here, and its substitute is an Ilatch (literally, medicine) administered by the witch or some other wise woman, who detects a vampire by the hole in his tombstone or the earth which covers him, and stuffs it up with human excrement (his favourite food) mixed with poisonous herbs.
We will now give the unadulterated Bulgarian superstition, merely prefacing that we ought to be well acquainted with it, inasmuch as a servant of ours is the son of a noted vampire, and is doing penance during this present Lent by neither smoking, nor drinking wine or spirits, in order to expiate the sins of his father and to prevent himself inheriting the propensity. [Poor Theodore is head over ears in love with Miss Tuturitza, the young lady next door, who fully reciprocates his affection, but her parents refuse to sanction the marriage on account of the vampire father.]
When a man who has vampire blood in his veins - for this condition is not only epidemic and endemic but hereditary or who is otherwise predisposed to become a vampire, [As when a man is strangled by one of these beings.] dies, nine days after his burial he returns to upper earth in an aeriform shape. The presence of the vampire in this his first condition may be easily discerned in the dark by a succession of sparks like those from a flint and steel, in the light, by a shadow projected upon a wall and varying in density accordingly to the age of the vampire in his career. In this stage he is comparatively harmless and is only able to play the practical jokes of the German Kohold and Gnoine, of the Irish Phooka, or the English Puck, [He only resembles these spirits in their misdeeds; unlike them, he never does a good turn to anybody.] he roars in a terrible voice, or amuses himself by calling out the inhabitants of a cottage by the most endearing terms and then beating them black and blue.
The father of our servant Theodore was a vampire of this class. One night he seized by the waist (for vampires are capable of exercising considerable physical force) Kodja Keraz, the Pehlivan or champion wrestler of Derekuoi, crying out, “Now then, old Cherry Tree, see if you can throw me.” The village champion put forth all his strength, but the vampire was so heavy that Kodja Keraz broke his own jaw in throwing the invisible being who was crushing him to death. [Of course, sceptical persons may be found who would explain this story by the hypothesis of too much wine and a fall over a heap of stones; fortunately our village does not contain any such freethinkers, and Old Cherry Tree will be happy to relate his tale, as we have given it, to my inquirer after truth: to prove its accuracy, he can call many witnesses who will swear to the fact of his jaw having been broken.]
At the time of this occurrence, five years ago, our village was so infested by vampires that the inhabitants were forced to assemble together in two or three houses, to burn candles all night, and to watch by turns in order to avoid the assaults of the Obours who lit up the streets with their sparkles, and of whom the most enterprising threw their shadows on the walls of the room where the peasants were dying of fear; whilst others howled, shrieked, and swore outside the door, entered the abandoned houses, spat blood into the flour, turned everything topsy-turvy, and smeared the whole place, even the pictures of the saints, with cow-dung. Happily for Derekuoi, Vola's mother, an old lady suspected of a turn for witchcraft, discovered the Ilatch we have already mentioned, laid the troublesome and troubled spirits, and since then the village has been free from these unpleasant supernatural visitations.
When the Bulgarian vampire has finished a forty days' apprenticeship to the realm of shadows, [Since commencing this chapter, we have learned that the village of Dervishkuoi, six hours from here, is just now haunted by a vampire; he appears with a companion who was suppressed by means of the usual remedy, but this one seems to be proof against poison, and as he will shortly have completed his fortieth day as a shadow, the villagers are in terrible alarm lest he should appear as flesh and blood.] he rises from his tomb in bodily form and is able to pass himself off as a human being. Living honestly and naturally. Thirty years since a stranger arrived in this village, established himself, and married a wife with whom he lived on very good terms, she making but one complaint, that her husband absented himself from the conjugal roof every night and all night. It was soon remarked that (although scavengers were and are, utterly unknown in Bulgaria) a great deal of scavengers' work was done at night by some unseen being, and that when one branch of this industry was exhausted the dead horses and buffaloes which lay about the streets were devoured by invisible teeth, much to the prejudice of the village dogs; then the mysterious mouth drained the blood of all cattle that happened to be in any way sickly. These occurrences and the testimony of the wife caused the stranger to be suspected of Vampirism, he was examined, found to have only one nostril, [A thoroughly Slavonic idea: in Poland the vampire is also supposed to have a sharp point at the end of his tongue, like the sting of a bee.] and upon this irrefutable evidence was condemned to death. In executing this sentence, our villagers did not think it necessary to send for the priest, to confess themselves, or to take consecrated halters or daggers; they just tied their man hand and foot, led him to a hill a outside Derekuoi, lit a big fire of wait-a-bit thorns, and burned him alive.
There is yet another method of abolishing a vampire, that of bottling him; there are certain persons who make a profession of this, and their mode of procedure is as follows; the sorcerer, armed with a picture of some saint, lies in ambush until he sees the vampire pass, when he pursues him with his Eikon; the poor Obour takes refuge in a tree or on the roof of a house, but his persecutor follows him up with the talisman, driving him away from all shelter, in the direction of a bottle specially prepared, in which is placed some of the vampire's favourite food: having no other resource, he enters this prison, and is immediately fastened down with a cork, on the interior of which is a fragment of the Eikon. The bottle is then thrown into the fire, and the vampire disappears for ever. This method is curious as showing the grossly material view of the soul taken by the Bulgarians, who imagine that it is a sort of chemical compound destructible (like sulphuretted hydrogen) by heat, in the same manner that they suppose the souls of the dead to have appetites and to feed after the manner of living beings, 'in the place where they are.'
To finish the story of the Bulgarian vampire we have merely to state that here he does not seem to have that peculiar appetite for human blood which is generally supposed to form his distinguishing and most terrible characteristic, only requiring it when his resources of coarser food are exhausted.
Whatever may be the origin of Fountain Spirits, [The fountains (cheshme) are nearly always the work of Turks, who regard it as a sacred duty to utilize any spring of water they may find for the benefit of thirsty travellers. They are not usually so graceful in form as the classic drinking fountains of modern London, nor do they display the names of the generous donor in letters of gold; if there is any inscription on them, it is sure to be a verse of the Koran.] whether Slavonic or no, they exist in Bulgaria in great numbers, appearing under various forms - of a fair lady, a goose, a cat, &c. The brother of Marynka, our washerwoman, was bitten by one of the Cheshme cats, and died either from the wound or from fright. Our friend Nicolaki one evening saw a white goose on the top of a fountain, which all at once changed itself into a cat and commenced rubbing itself against his legs in a most friendly way; Nicolaki suspected that there was something uncanny in the transformation of a goose into a cat, and jumped over a little stream of water which trickled front the fountain, thus placing an insurmountable obstacle between himself and the object of his fear, for it seems that Bulgarian spirits, even those which belong to fountains, have this in common with the witches and warlocks of Scotlandy
'A running stream they daurna cross.'
When the Spirits appear as beautiful women they are (perhaps naturally) still more dangerous, the mere sight of them being sometimes sufficient to cause death. Dimitri of Derekuoi was harassed by the persecution of one of these ladies, whom he could never go out of his house without seeing, and after in vain trying to exorcise his tormentor by the aid of the Church, lie applied to a Turkish Hodja who prescribed a remedy which we have been unable to learn, but which was perfectly efficacious. For some weeks Dimitri did not see the Lady of the Fountain, but rendered careless by fancied security, he neglected to comply with the Hodja's injunctions, and one evening was seized upon by his supernatural inamorata, who imprinted a fervent kiss upon his lips; a week afterwards Dimitri was dead.
The Bulgarians, from their sordid and avaricious nature, are especially fond of money, and the peasant who would not go to the fountain after nightfall, even to save the lives of his father and mother, for fear of seeing the Spirits which haunt it, will confront all kinds of supernatural dangers on the chalice of discovering a treasure; although he will not do two hours' work in order to earn a shilling, or to improve his fields, he will dig for three or four consecutive nights with his hair standing on end and the cold sweat of terror on his brow, in the hope of finding some treasure supposed to have been buried by Delhi Marco or Alexander the Great.
We have been lately invited (probably because it is thought that two Englishmen must be more than a match for all the Spirits of Darkness in Bulgaria) to assist in digging up a famous treasure which is buried somewhere near the river Kamchyk and guarded sometimes by a sudden and violent storm of thunder, wind, and rain, sometimes by a gigantic and frightful negro, whose head reaches to the clouds and whose lower lip hangs down to earth. The man who requested our presence and assistance had tried six weeks before to unearth this treasure, but at the first blow of the pick the storm made its appearance, and as on the second night the negro showed himself, everybody was frightened and judged it better to give up the undertaking for the present, in consideration of the supernatural obstacles encountered.
Besides the well-known method of discovering treasures on the eve of St. John, a curious rite is practised here to propitiate the guardian spirits. When the precise locality has been found, some of the ashes thrown out into the Harman during the Kulada are spread at night over the place. The footmark which is seen imprinted next morning is that of the animal which the genius requires as a propitiatory offering.
In the case of one treasure of which we have been told, the footprint seen the next day was that of a man, showing that a human victim was required before the money could be dug up; for the present this spot has been abandoned, and it is to be hoped that no Bulgarian will be tempted to make his fortune by a preliminary murder.
An hour's journey from Alaja Monastir (a Greek monastery), in the neighbourhood of Baltchik, is a rocky valley called Kourou Dere, in which is a cavern with an iron door, always ajar, through which may be seen an inner cave filled with gold and silver. A Bulgarian Choban entered one day, filled his belt and his pockets with coin, and turned to go out; to his dismay he found the door closed and a hideous negro, armed with pistols and sword, guarding the exit.
The Choban threw away all his gold, but the door remained shut, and the negro drew his sword; then he noticed that a piece of money had stuck in his charrek (sandal), and on flinging this away he was allowed to escape, very glad to have come off so well.
Another time a Turkish Hodja resolved to possess himself of the treasures enclosed in the same enchanted cavern, and set out for Kourou Dere armed with an ancient book of necromancy, and accompanied by seven Bulgarians to carry the spoil and three Turks to guard it. He entered the antechamber and, having strictly forbidden his followers to utter a word whatever they might see or hear, commenced reading aloud from his magic volume; as he read, a side door opened in the rock, disclosing a motionless lady of marvellous beauty. The Hodja continued reading, and the damsel took off her head-dress and laid it upon the ground; the Hodja, without ceasing his reading, removed his turban and laid it on the top of the head-dress: presently the lady took off her jacket and the Hodja his, observing the same ceremony of superimposition, and so it went on till lady and schoolmaster (the latter still reading) appeared in the costume of Adam. and Eve before the fall. Then a young Turk forgot the injunction given, and called out, “I say Hodja, what are you doing?” At these words a sudden blast of wind transported the treasure-seeker and his companions to a spot just outside the walls of Alaja Monastir. What became of the Hodja's garments our informant was unable to tell us.
At Pietrych Kaleh, near Gebidjie, the villagers of Evren found a great treasure, but four men (they were Bulgarians) died of terror in digging it up.
Between our village and Varna there is an old choked-up well which the country people say is Genoese. [In Bulgaria, almost all antiquities are attributed (both by Turks and Rayahs), to the Genoese; at Karamanja, in Roumelia, there are some very perfect remains of a Roman wall (probably that built by Hadrian, from the Danube to the Black Sea), in which may still be traced the gate and flanking towers; these are termed Genoese by the people of the neighbourhood, as are also some ruins in the same vicinity, which, judging from the fragments of pottery and sculptured stone which we saw, appear to belong to the old Macedonian empire.] Nicolaki went there with others to search for treasure, and after a whole day's hard work they found a dead squirrel, which they threw out on the ground. Nicolaki said, “Why I think it's a squirrel!" and the little animal jumped up and climbed up on a tree. When they had duo. to a depth of twenty feet they saw a big snake, also dead, and pitched him out too. Next day they resumed their labour and, to their horror, saw the same snake alive in the same hole. This was too much for their nerves, fear conquered cupidity, and they left the place; but in the course of their excavations they sounded a hole beneath them of about sixty feet, so that they would have had three days' good work to arrive at the bottom of the well, even supposing that they were not impeded by any further supernatural manifestations.
The same Nicolaki was also engaged at night in looking for another supposed treasure not far from this well. The workers heard mysterious voices from the depths of the lake enjoining them to desist; but though they were in a terrible fright they kept on until all at once day broke, and they saw a squadron of Turkish cavalry charging at them through the cover; then the Bulgarians took to their heels and never ceased running till they got to their own village, where, to their astonishment, they found it still was night and that the earliest cock had not yet crowed!
Ghosts, as we understand the term in England, are very rare if not entirely unknown in Bulgaria. There is certainly the white woman of Gebidjie, who haunts a hilly piece of road in the neighbourhood of that village, and without invitation takes a ride in any cart which happens to pass her domain, making the vehicle so heavy that the oxen are often unable to draw it; her costume, as far as we can make out from those who have seen her, is that of an ancient Roman lady, and she is most probably the guardian of a treasure, for the combustible souls of the Bulgarians seem not to reappear under any form but that of a vampire, and bear no resemblance to those spectres whose traditions Europe inherits from the middle ages.
According to a Bulgarian superstition, those Turks who have never eaten of the animal sacred to the Rayahs, the pig, become wild boars after their death. The father of a peasant we know had one day shot a very fine boar in the forest, and invited a lot of friends to partake of it; but when the Kebas were placed on the spit they suddenly and with one accord jumped off it into the fire - a proceeding which a good deal frightened the assembled guests. However, an old man, who had rather a reputation for sorcery, asked the host to bring the head of the boar to look at. In the ears was found a piece of cotton, which the wise man said was a fragment of the turban worn by the Turk who had assumed the porcine shape, so all the meat was thrown away. The Rayahs also pretend that when a Mussulman who has never eaten pork dies, the Turkish women anoint the corpse with pig's lard to prevent his soul entering into the body of the unclean animal.
The action of the priesthood in Bulgaria, we must repeat, has not succeeded (if indeed it has even endeavoured to do so) in eradicating the materialism which characterises the mind of the true Slay, or in producing a thorough belief in one of the great tenets of Christianity, the immortality of the soul. Although the peasantry will tell you that there is a world of spirits beyond this life, they practically deny the fact, for their superstitions, which are more deeply rooted than the doctrines of the Church in their minds, represent the soul, although it way outlast the body, as destructible and subject to the wants of animal life.
The spirits of a more ethereal nature do not seem to be animated by souls of defunct Bulgarians; the guardians of treasures are borrowed from the Turks, who received the idea from the Arabs; the fountain spirits, allowing them to be of Slavonic origin, are mere demons of the elements and not even diabolical; the will o’ the wisp is certainly said to be a soul escaped for a night or two from Limbo, but the peasantry have no great faith in him, because he is described as being so only on the authority of the Papas.
In short the Bulgarian mind seems to be capable of conceiving the disembodied soul only as something possessing still grosser appetites than its fleshly covering.
There are other spirits in whom the peasantry believe, but to whom they give no name, describing them “as a kind of invisible beast;” such is the nightmare, which is not the offspring of too much pork and consequent indigestion, but a maleficent being to be exorcised by spells; and a class of spirits (probably connected with the Polish Chochlik and the Cossack Oczeretny-Czort or reed-devil) who inhabit marshy places or forests, amusing themselves by pouncing upon the unwary passer-by, seizing him by the arm or leg and paralysing the limb by their touch, or knocking him down and beating him. Like most of the supernatural beings in this country they are coarse-feeders, and occasionally leave their sylvan home to banquet upon the plentiful supply of delicacies provided for them in the Rayah villages.
During a recent visit to Dervislikuoi, a young man seeing us reading from a Turkish book, begged that we would do something to cure his knee which had been struck and lamed by one of these nameless spirits whom he had accidentally disturbed in its occupation of feeding upon a heap of manure; at the same time the lady of the house requested that we would 'read' in order to banish a troublesome being who every night seized and nearly choked her in spite of the presence of various members of the family. Our proceedings in both cases were simple and, as it turned out, efficacious; for each patient we recited some guttural gibberish in an imposing tone, and on the knee of the young man we traced in ink the figure of the fifth proposition of the First Book of Euclid, as the most effectual cheek to the further progress of any Bulgarian spirit. On our again passing through the village a few days later, we were delighted to hear that the old woman's sleep was no longer disturbed by invisible garotters, and that the young man was already able to walk a little, and going on most favourably. We were here cautioned not to pass a certain stream after nightfall, as it is haunted by a spirit in the form of a white horse, like the Scotch Kelpie or The O'Donoghue's steed of the lakes of Killarney.
Enough has been said upon this subject to show that a comparison between the superstitions of the Bulgarians, and those of any other people (not of Slavonic race), will be much to the disadvantage of the former, who though tracing their origin to the snows of the North, preserve no vestige of that stern beauty found in the traditions of other Northern races; and whose long residence in the East has not enabled them to graft upon their own sordid imaginings any of that fervid and glowing poetry with which Oriental legends describe the Halls of Eblis or the delights of Paradise.
What a difference between the Bulgarian lamed by some foul spirit whom he had knocked up against as it was feeding on the midden, and the Turkish boy who attributes his paralysis to a touch of the pinion of an evil Genie flying too close to the earth!
The Scandinavian Valhalla, with its carousing and feasting under the
auspices of All-Father Odin, is material enough, but at least the banquet
is the reward of heroes; the Bulgarian does not oven distinguish in his
own mind between Heaven, Hell, and the Purgatory of the Greek Church, considering
the world beyond the grave as a species of chophouse in which the souls
of the dead are perhaps but ill fed, and whither he can send contributions
of baked meats by the simple process of leaving them upon the tombs of
his defunct friends. [This idea, almost blasphemous as it
appears in its enunciation, is but too truly that of the Bulgarians; ask
a peasant his idea of Heaven, he will tell you that “it is a place where
you are very comfortable, and feed on sugared cakes!”]
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