Dragons, Wine, and Love

Did you know that people once believed (and may still believe) that comets streaking across the sky were dragons? It could be a dragon hurrying to visit his beloved. He flies down through the fireplace chimney before he changes into human form to meet her. Since February is the month for love, if you see a comet in the sky, maybe it’s a dragon heading to visit his loved one.

You may wonder what connects dragons, wine, and love. The answer lies within the traits of the dragon zmey. Belief in the zmey was, and perhaps still is in some areas, the most widespread across Eastern Europe.

Zmey's Bride in Cave illustration

In appearance, the zmey can be your typical dragon, or a beastly combination of man and snake. But, he’s also a shape-shifter and so he may appear in a variety of forms: animal, human, and natural phenomenon, among the most common. He may also become an eagle, especially when he’s battling storm-bringing dragons (like the hala or the lamia). One form he takes I found rather amusing was that he could become a “shiny white chicken” strutting around the yard. He can also change into different types of vegetation and inanimate objects. That’s to say, he could be just about anywhere!

Most often, however, you’ll see the zmey as a handsome youth. His hypnotizing eyes, a body that may glow, and small wings beneath his arms distinguish him from other men. He’s also highly intelligent, has super strength, and many other abilities. He’s like the Superman of mythical creatures.

Although we portray him as a unique character in our Dragon Village stories (more of those coming soon), in most countries, the zmey is a species of dragon: male, mostly benevolent (depending on the location), and the wielder of multiple roles: he controls the weather, protects his chosen village, but most importantly, he’s a passionate lover.

The zmey has a discerning palate. His drink preference is wine, but it must be squeezed from the largest, ripest, sweetest, and blackest grapes. He likes it formally presented to him wrapped in a towel. To go along with that, you must serve him the best white bread, made from only the purest grains, which have been sifted with the smallest sieve.

Not only is he a connoisseur of wine and bread, he’s particular about his choice of females. Even though the zmey can select a bride from among female dragons of his species, he finds it difficult to suppress his cravings for human girls. The zmey’s chosen bride is often the most beautiful girl, the first to begin dancing the horo (circle dance) at village gatherings. She’s not only beautiful, she’s also personable, outgoing, and hardworking.

Zmey stealing girl illustration

Don’t go and hide your daughters! You’re safe at the moment, because it’s only during the warmest months that he steals girls from their families, especially on Eniovden, the summer solstice (June 24), and during the harvest on Georgiovden, St. George’s Day (May 6), when girls have gathered in the field. He likes it when they’re all together. It makes it easier for him to decide which one he likes the best. He may not always kidnap her. He may first woe her with promises of wealth.

When the dragon has found the girl of his dreams, he may not win her over right away. He’ll often visit her at her home to persuade her to go away with him. I’ve often wondered if he brings her roses in his nightly visits. Perhaps not, since he himself can turn into flowers.

Once he has his intended bride, be prepared for a spectacular wedding, with as much pomp and circumstance as a royal wedding. Unfortunately, only the bride-to-be can see the arriving procession. Whirlwinds. Fire. Thunder. White horses. Golden chariots. The groom tells the girl to be ready for the wedding party. Washed, clothed in ornamented wedding attire, hair braided according to customs, she waits in the yard for him to come in the night to whisk her away. With tears in her eyes, she turns and says a final “goodbye” to her mother, for she may never see her again.

Zmey wedding illustration

The zmey and his love have a darker side. Once he loves a girl, she has little choice in avoiding his attention. People believe she can’t escape her fate. The zmey is an obsessive, controlling, jealous lover. He possesses the girl’s consciousness until he’s all she can think about.

There’s a Bulgarian saying that describes this: It’s as if dragons love her. She hides, withers, loses weight, and fades.

Held captive by his love, the girl pines away, avoiding social gatherings, especially the dances she once loved so much. She’s quiet, sad, and depressed; she often cries or mumbles; and she suffers from hallucinations. Her skin becomes dry, pale or colorless, and withered. She has sunken cheeks and watery eyes. Once loved by a zmey, the girl will never find satisfaction with a human lover—if the zmey even allows her to find one.

A Study of Dragons thumbnailAs you see, the zmey is an interesting, multi-layered creature. You can learn so much more about him and other dragons in our book A Study of Dragons of Eastern Europe: https://books2read.com/dragons-aveela.

 

Dragon Tales thumbnailYou can also discover some dragon fairy tales in our book Dragon Tales from Eastern Europe:  https://books2read.com/dragon-tales. Both are available wherever you buy ebooks and print books.

Thunder and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening

When I was younger, I loved to sit on the porch during a summer thunderstorm, hearing the rain pound on the roof and watch the lightning spit across the sky. This was especially enjoyable right after a steamy day, as the rain brought with it a cool breeze.

Long ago in Bulgaria, thunder and lightning once were thought to represent dragons fighting in the sky. Zmey (the good male dragon) would fight against Hala or Lamia (both bad female dragons). Lamia would stop the water from flowing and bring drought, while Hala would bring hail that destroyed the crops. She was also known to steal the fertility of the land. She’d carry it from one place to another in her huge ears. Wherever she dropped her stolen goods, the land would prosper.

The lightning was the Zmey’s fiery arrows, and the thunder was him crashing against his enemies. Often, his weapons fell to the ground, embedding deep into the soil and turning to stone. Anyone who found one of these magical arrows would grind it into power and add water to it to cure wounds.

Example of a stone-age arrowhead, which was believed to be a dragon’s weapon.
$1LENCE D00600D at English Wikipedia

Among other Slavic nations, thunder and lightning were thought to be caused by the god Perun. Under Christianity, Perun became St. Iliya (St. Elijah), the thunder-wielder, whose saint day is celebrated August 2. Thunder was caused by his chariot wheels rolling across the sky as he battled demons and dragons. St. Iliya was even known to elicit the help of good Zmeys to fight against destructive dragons.

The old people say that thunder is a sign that there will be a bountiful harvest in the Fall. Since there are no thunderstorms in winter, St. Elijah makes sinners build cities out of snow.

Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire

People believed the saint ruled over the summer clouds. As he flew over the sky, he collected them and locked them in the Black Sea. When the soil needed nourishment, he unlocked the clouds, sending dew and gentle rains across the land. At times, however, the saint became ill and was unable to perform his duties. The land suffered drought until he was well enough to once again bring the life-saving rain.

Thunderstorms, however, brought devastating rains. A couple of ways people tried to stop a thunderstorm from happening would be to light an Easter candle and kneel before it, or stick an axe handle in the middle of the yard and pour a handful of salt over it.

More information about dragons and dragon slayers will be available in our book about dragons, available around November 2020.

Dragon Village (Zmeykovo) – Dragons in Bulgarian Folklore and Mythology

December 7, 2017

The day fire and ice erupted from the sky everything changed – forever.

Vote for the New book Dragon Village on Amazon Kindle Scout. If the book gets chosen, you get a free copy!

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village Cover

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village Cover

To review and vote for the book you can use this link.  If Amazon selects to publish the book through Kindle Press, anyone who nominated the book will receive a free, advance copy. This is your chance to read and review it and tell the world what you think.

The Unborn Hero of Dragon Village is the first book in a series that will expound upon Bulgarian mythology and customs. When twelve-year-old Theo’s sister is captured by a dragon on Midsummer’s Day, he’s determined to rescue her. His journey takes him to the mystical land of Dragon Village, a place he thought existed only in legends. As he searches for the way to defeat the three-headed dragon Lamia, he encounters inhabitants of the land—some friendly and others treacherous.

Fascinating legends about Lamia and Zmey, dragons from Bulgarian folklore, inspired this middle-grade series. The books will include many other Bulgarian mythological creatures, in particular Samodivi (woodland nymphs or fairies) and Baba Yaga (a witch).

Bulgarian folklore is filled with tales about dragons (zmey, male, and lamia, female) who lived in forest and mountains in caves, holes, or cracks in rocks. Serpents or carp would turn into dragons if they were not seen by humans for forty years. Therefore, dragons often had characteristics of various other creatures: snakes, fish, birds, and even humans. Flashes of lightning, shooting stars, large clouds, and rainbows were ways dragons manifested themselves.

Dragon Village

Map of Dragon Village

The lamia is what we typically consider a dragon to be: dangerous and malicious. She does not appear as a human like the zmey. Some tales describe her as a “huge lizard with a dog’s head. Her mouth is so big that it can swallow a whole man and her body is covered with yellow scales. The lamia also has wings, four legs, sharp claws, and a long tail.”  Some had three, seven, or nine heads.

The zmey, however, who often was depicted as a man with wings under his arms, was more kind. He often fought against the lamia when she appeared as a storm or hail to destroy crops. The zmey didn’t abduct a maiden to harm her. Instead, it is because of his great love for her. He often tries to entice her to marry him, telling her of the riches she will have. If persuasion fails, the zmey restorts to abducting the maiden while she performs the horo dance in the village. However, the dragon’s marriage to a human always meets with misfortune. The bride suffers depression and is ostracized from the community.

Zmey and Bride

Zmey and Bride

One tale tells of a girl who married a dragon she met at his well. After a few years, she wanted to visit her family. Unfortunately, she had grown a dragon’s tail. Wanting to appear normal to them, she kept trying to bite it off. When she heard the songs of friends she had once known, she became frantic and died when her heart burst with the effort of removing the tail. The girls buried her by the well. Every year thereafter they performed a buenetz dance, not the traditional circle horo dance. In the buenetz, they dance in a snakelike fashion in honor of the dragon maiden.

While researching for the book, I’ve discovered many creatures of Thracian, Slavic and proto-Bulgarian mythology. The hardest question has been which ones to include in the first book. On this page, I’ll post information about them to try to open the door to the magical world of Dragon Village (Zmeykovo).

Samodiva

Diva the Wild Samodiva

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