Colorful and Cheerful

All the glitter of Christmas is over. The tree and decorations have been taken down. I miss the lights, the holiday colors and greenery of a fresh Christmas tree. Even the trees outside are bare. Nature feels empty. From time to time, I catch a glimpse of a red dot on the treetops, and know it’s my favorite cardinals that are preparing for spring.

This weekend I was cleaning my closet and opened a box to discover a small colorful rug, a gift from my mother, hidden with other memories from Bulgaria. The flowers on it are woven together like a multi-colored rainbow and touched my soul with happiness and warmth.

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Throughout the ages, our mothers and grandmothers have woven the beauty and wisdom of nature into carpets, shirts, and other traditional clothing. Each stitch tells a story or is a code for well-being and health.

Colors play an important role in our lives. Some evoke joy, others nostalgia. Everyone has favorite colors. Every culture has its own meaning about colors, so much so that it would take a whole book to describe them.

Today I’ll tell you about the meaning of some colors in Bulgarian folklore and how you can use them to bring yourself luck. Who doesn’t want luck and good news? We all need them.

White

A white thread symbolizes woman. This is the color of purity and innocence, joy. For the Bulgarian, it’s the color of beauty. In many songs it’s about a white bird, white maiden, white flower, white horse, or white cloud. Festive clothes for christenings and weddings are white.

Newlyweds walk to the new home on a path made from white cloth. The white color of the wedding flag is a symbol of the sun and the purity of the bride. Angels dress in white robes, and priests do also, as a symbol of purity and knowledge. In the past, the color of mourning was white; through this color, mourners joined the world of the afterlife and the souls of their loved ones.

Red

Red, one of my favorite colors, is a sign of warmth, vitality, flame, and the fire of love. It’s the light of the rising and setting sun, fire and blood. The apple in the Garden of Eden is red, Mary is painted wearing a red praying mantle, and a man’s belt is also red as a symbol of masculinity and strength. Women of child-bearing age wear red color in their clothing. Children and grandmothers don’t wear red. The traditional wedding veil is red.

A red thread symbolizes man. Red threads are also used for the new year’s survacha, a ritual object made of a wooden stick. We have more about the ritual in our Light Love Rituals book and how you can make one. It is a fun activity for both old and young.

The red thread has magical power and is used in many Bulgarian traditions and amulets. It’s used to make martenitsi, a gift of friendship that’s worn until the arrival of spring. I love this red and white amulet, and it’s one of the most beloved by all Bulgarians. You can also learn about them in our book Light Love Rituals, as well as how to make one in our children’s short story The Miracle Stork.

Red thread is used to embroider a baby’s clothes. It’s also put in the bride’s bouquet and worn by pregnant women.

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Gold

This color is associated with the sun and the afterlife. In rites, it symbolizes the transition from this world to the other world and vice versa.

Green

Green signifies fertility, health, revival. In the Bulgarian Peperuda (butterfly) ritual, in which they pray for rain, a young girl is dressed in green and paraded around the village. People from each household pour water over the greenery-covered girl and pray for rain.

Blue

This color is the symbol of water and the sky. It’s the color of a glass talisman that protects against evil forces, the “evil eye.”

Black

Black is a heavy color, as well as brown. I don’t like to use them in my paintings. Black is used in black magic and attracts bad forces and unhappiness. When saying goodbye to loved ones, a black ball of yarn is rolled in front of the ceremony to protect the dead person from evil forces.

Amulet for Luck and Happiness

It’s believed that white, red, and blue threads twisted to the left make a strong talisman for good luck, against demons and bad turns of fate. Two people should twist the threads and say twelve times out loud: “God give us luck.” People then wear the twisted thread on the arm as a bracelet until the threads become dirty. At that point, the person throws the threads into a river or burns them and makes a new amulet.

I don’t follow any strict instructions. I like to make up my own ritual. Try it out with a friend or a family member and share with us if it brings you luck.

We wish you a happy and blessed new year. We have so much planned out for the coming year, and we’ll be launching new projects on Kickstarter, so be sure to follow us there. First up will be a book on Magical Healing Trees to complement our book on Herbs. As part of this project, we are working with other authors to create a unique oracle deck. Visit the website we’ve set up for it to find more details: https://storytellersoracledeck.wordpress.com/

Oracle Deck Template passion reveal

Later in the year, we’ll be launching the completed Dragon Village series—plus plenty of goodies to go along with the books—and all new covers! We’re also setting up our website to be able to more easily sell books direct, where we can offer special discounts unavailable on retailers.

Article source: Bulgarian spells and fortune telling (in Bulgarian) by Lilia Stavreva

Mysterious Rusalki

In Whimsea Wishes Upon a Star, the little mermaid learns that she is a Rusalka, commonly known as a Slavic mermaid. In 2020, we were asked if we would discuss Rusalki, as this Slavic water spirit was going to be a contestant on the Blurry Photos Annual Miss Cryptid Contest. The following is a shortened version of the transcript for that discussion. You can listen to the full podcast here: http://www.blurryphotos.org/miss-cryptid-2020-week-3/. The part about Rusalki starts around minute 27.

Make sure you follow our campaign, so you’ll be notified the moment it goes live. Simply go to our page and select the “Notify me on launch” button and create a Kickstarter account if you haven’t already done so: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ronesa-aveela/seababies-adventures

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Mankind’s fascination with the sea has sparked imagination since the first person beheld its mighty waters. Curiosity led people to invent the means to travel across the great oceans and eventually explore beneath them, trying to discover their secrets. Throughout the centuries, millennia in fact, people have created myths and legends about creatures living within the sea’s depths. One of the most alluring and formidable beings to inspire writers, artists, children, and adults is the mermaid, who has been forever immortalized in stories such as Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. But there’s more to this sea maiden than that story tells. In Slavic folklore, she’s called a Rusalka and lives mostly in fresh-water bodies or swamps, rather than the sea.

In case you’ve never heard of a Rusalka, she’s a Slavic mermaid. The plural of the word is Rusalki. She is most popular in eastern and southern Europe: Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine, in particular.

She’s not your “Ariel” type of mermaid, because she has no tail. In fact, she was once a living, breathing human girl, but she died before she married—often the cause of her death was drowning. I know this sounds odd in today’s world, but the people who believed in them lived in a rural, farming society. Fertility of both the land and people was critical to them for survival. They believed if girls died before they married and had children, then that fertility was lost, and the girls became part of the “unclean dead,” that is, they were cursed. People did have many rituals, though, to entice the Rusalki to return that fertility to them.

Mermaid and Hag with copyright

Not everyone can see Rusalki, but those who can will tell you they look like normal girls, except they are extremely pale, and they have long, green hair. They can also shape-shift into geese, swans, snakes, silver fish, or frogs. Or they can appear as birds, like the Sirens, and entice men with their songs.

They don’t really eat anything, because they are … well, dead, or undead, after all. But some stories said they like wheat bread with salt, cheese, butter, and eggs. What they are more interested in is getting clothes. They were buried in wedding garments, even though they never married. That’s all part of the whole fertility mindset. So, eventually, those clothes wear out and the Rusalki are left wearing rags, or nothing at all. They beg girls to leave them even a small rag to cover themselves with. Rather sad to think about, really.

Rusalki weren’t always thought of as dead girls, though. They were once considered goddesses or nature spirits. Talk about your kick-ass heroines; they weren’t wimpy, sidekick-to-men-only goddesses, but powerful ones, who ruled the land. But then, the Orthodox Church intervened. They didn’t totally wipe the Rusalki out, but the Church authority repressed the role of these goddesses as much as it repressed the role women played in society. And Rusalki lost their goddess status. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Rusalka Cover

You can understand they probably didn’t care to much about this demotion. From goddesses to dead girls, and unclean, cursed dead girls at that. All because some supposedly holy men thought they weren’t worthy of the goddess status. So, they revolted and started their campaign of torturing men… especially any man who jilted them when they were alive, because it was men who decided Rusalki weren’t worthy of exalted status.

Being dead really wasn’t so bad. If they had lived and married, the girls would have lost what the Russians called their “volia,” their freedom. As Rusalki, they could be wild and FREE of male dominance.

They usually didn’t bother women or girls, unless they were jealous of their happy life. And they left children alone, unless they had an overwhelming desire to nurture a child, since they couldn’t have one of their own… they were DEAD after all, but still retained the feelings of the average rural girl. So men were their main targets.

They would either drown them (typical mermaid fashion) or tickle them to death with their breasts… which, I forgot to mention earlier, were huge, even if they had been small during their lifetime. This was just another sign of their unused fertility.

All right, stop laughing. Have you ever been tickled? If so, you know it can be quite painful, especially if prolonged. And a Rusalka most often was accompanied by other Rusalki, so you’re talking about several of these mermaids tickling you…

When you consider that some stories say the Rusalki had iron-tipped breasts, well, just ouch. You wouldn’t want someone to tickle you that way. Okay, laugh if you want to, but I’m glad I’m not male, so I wouldn’t have to endure that torture.

They also loved to dance, and would flatter … or force … a shepherd to play his kaval, a flutelike instrument, for them all night long. He was fortunate if he survived and only had holes in his shoes and blisters on his fingers.

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Geeze, you might ask, is there any hope to escape their attention? How could men protect themselves from these assaults? Well, the Russians would tell you to wear your baptismal cross, especially if you go into the forest or near water. You could also wear ferns in your hair when you go swimming; this prevents them from pulling you under. Magical chants are also useful to keep them away from you. Other methods are to prick the Rusalki with a pin or throw wormwood in their eyes. Be sure you DON’T carry anything that ATTRACTS Rusalki, like parsley, roses, birch, and especially not their favorite plant rosen (which is burning bush). You’re just asking for trouble if you do. They’ll think you WANT to be tickled.

Rusalki also love telling riddles. If you have the correct answer, they’ll leave you alone. But if you get it wrong… well, be prepared to be tickled to death.

As to whether or not they do any of this torture maliciously is up for debate. Some people say they are bent on destroying men. Other people claim they’re innocent maidens who are only trying to find the love they never had while alive…

Are they good? Or are they bad? I guess you’ll only ever truly know when you meet one for yourself.

Magical World Dream Builder – Alexander Petkov

Years ago, when we started writing about Bulgarian and Slavic traditions and folklore, Nelly created all of the illustrations, but we wanted to do more to promote these traditions from Eastern Europe. We found a way by commissioning rising stars and well-known artists and illustrators for our books. 

We are excited to share that we have a new star working on the illustrations for our next book in the Spirits & Creatures series: “Baba Yaga.”

Baba Yaga mock up thumbnail

Alexander Petkov’s work is inspiring and unique. We first saw examples of his talent through illustrations and a cover he’d created for another Bulgarian author: Silviya Rankova, who writes children’s stories.

Fay The Maple Fairy and The Tree Doctor by Silviya Rankova

The Very Stubborn Camel by Silviya Rankova

Not only are these covers exemplary because of their fascination use of shadows and light, but the characters are fabulously expressive.

From Fay the Maple Fairy by Silviya Rankova 2

From Fay the Maple Fairy by Silviya Rankova

From The Very Stubborn Camel by Silviya Rankova

We wanted to write a review about his inspiring style, but we’ll let this talented artist with Bulgarian roots speak for himself, and let his illustrations take you on a magical journey.

Alexander PetkovAlexander Petkov

I call my work as an artist “the once upon a time syndrome.” It is influenced by the richly told and illustrated tales in books I read as a child and the stories my grandparents shared with me. It is soaked with the visuals of my childhood experiences – the magic of sunlight  bursting through the cool, mysterious shadows of the woods, the never ending up-and-down intriguing line of a mountain silhouette over the horizon… About a 1000 years later, all those experiences still play with my imagination, giving me the joy to find a wink and a giggle even in the darkest grays.

I am a freelance artist-illustrator based in the Chicago, IL area. For the last several years creating mostly digitally. I’ve worked on numerous illustration projects directly with individual writers, Parnas Press, Fantasy Flight Games.

You can see most of my recent works and join me on my visual adventures at:

https://society6.com/alexpart

https://www.artstation.com/alexpart

https://www.instagram.com/alexpdreams/

https://www.facebook.com/alexander.petkov1

Contact: alexpartcomm@gmail.com

All Images are copyright by Alex Petkov.

 

The Arc de Triomphe – Unique Art Project

I love to travel and explore the world, and Europe is my favorite place since I was born and raised there. One of the places I wanted to visit was France and I was fortunate to visit Paris in October. In addition to visiting all the main art actions, I was able to visit an usual art project, the wrapped Arc de Triomphe. This project was a long-life dream of Christo.

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He was a Bulgarian refugee who had escaped Soviet occupation like me, but he made his way to Paris in 1958. He went to Paris because he was an artist and that was where he believed the capital of art was located. In 1961, three years after he met his wife in Paris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude began creating works of art in public spaces. One of their projects was to wrap a public building. When he arrived in Paris, Christo rented a small room near the Arc de Triomphe and had been attracted by the monument ever since.

During his career he and his wife did a lot of different projects to transform public spaces. One of his dreams was to wrap the Arc de Triomphe. Even in his early work, he was thinking big, wondering what it would look like to wrap something important and public—like, for instance, the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. Unfortunately, he passed way before he could achieve this dream. But, per Christo’s wishes, the wrapped L’Arc de Triomphe was completed by his team after his death.

From my hotel window in Paris, I was able to see the giant silver Arch among the golden trees. We decided to go there immediately after we unpacked out luggage and we had a cup of aromatic, double espresso to rejuvenate ourselves.

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After going through the checks of our green certificates, we headed to the tunnel that led to the Arch. The pictures on the walls told the structure’s story. Footsteps filled the tunnel, and it was difficult to read everything under each picture in the dim amber light. My mask made my breathing difficult, and I quickened my pace at the sight of the stream of light at the end of the tunnel. Fresh raindrops fell on my flushed face as I exited, and I removed my mask to take a deep breath of the cold autumn air.

I didn’t have time to think, because my attention was drawn to the arch. It was a splash of silver and gray. Hundreds of people moved around its bold giant columns like an anthill. Camera flashes reflected off of the metallic gray-blue fabric.

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We were in the open air, but it felt like a big gallery that gathered the whole world under its roof.

Squeezing my umbrella that could fly out of my hands at any moment, I slipped between the smiling faces of the people. I smiled in return and walked toward the arch, trying not to interfere with selfie and group photos.

Languages ​​merged into one: German, French, English, Russian, Scandinavian, Arabic, and Slavic, and others creating a sound a music of delight and wonder.

After a few minutes, I crept to the arch and, without waiting for an invitation, went closer to touch it. I shivered at the coldness and roughness of the gray-blue fabric. When I touched it, the threads of the fabric felt like muscle fibers wrapped around the body of the arch. The red threads ran like veins through it, tying it tightly to the body of the arch.

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The arch looked like a great Egyptian mummy to me, wrapped up, veiled, and ready for its next journey. Beneath the heavy material lay the graceful forms of baroque bas-reliefs depicting battles, victories, and triumphs. But in those days, this story was closed, the forms were transformed, and the arch had wrapped its history under a silver veil.

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When I stood in the center below it and looked up, I felt small, lost in space. The light from the spotlights accentuated the folds, the shadows; the glare formed a web of beauty. I felt the power of the silver dome above my head.

It was me and the wind, even the clatter of footsteps on the plates could not disturb this moment.

The wind passed beneath the arch, crashing into the crowd and continuing its way through the veins of Paris.

It was a cold autumn day, but I felt a lot of energy around me, people from all over the world watching, observing and reflecting.

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The art project received positive and negative feedback, but from my perspective, it was an art project that united people during the time of a pandemic, when we are all scared of human interaction and have gone virtual. The sound of cheers, the smiles on people’s faces, the noise of the crowd was like a gift to me, a spark of life. This gave me hope that everything would be fine and people would find the right path again. Cheers, hugs, something we didn’t see often after the start of the pandemic. Art is a temple of the human soul, and it comes in all shapes, colors, media and ideas.

Images copyright Nelly Tonchev and Vesselina Toncheva

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