An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions

by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

>>>> The Balkans <<<<



Tree of Life with Birds
Traditional Bulgarian Design
(Handwoven Rug from Omda: see directly below)

This "omda" site is on "Ethnography and Folklore."  Despite its deceptively simple appearance, it's actually a rich resource.  Near the top, if you click on "More," you'll be taken to an excellent essay on Bulgarian folklore by Professor Todor Iv. Zhivkov, Doctor of Philology, editor-in-chief of Bulgarski folklor.  If you click on his hypertext, you'll go to yet more fine essays on the Cyrillic alphabet, medieval saints, warriors of the steppes, and religious art.

If you return to the opening page, there's a link to "Woodland Fairies" with another fine essay (it will be double-listed in my European Earth-Based Ways page).  Here is the opening passage, full of lovely imagery:

In folk beliefs the SAMODIVI or SAMOVILI are fascinatingly ethereal maidens with long loose hair, sometimes also with wings. They are dressed in a shirt and a gown, and have a green belt and a sleeveless jacket on. Their garments are decorated with feathers by means of which they can fly like birds.

These mysterious creatures are mistresses of the waters and can bring about drought.  Supported by the imperial eagles, they are able to command the elements of winds and, therefore, their appearance is often accompanied by a whirlwind. Some of them (perhaps by no chance) look  like the ancient Amazons - armed with bows and arrows, they ride gracefully gray deer using reins of intertwisted snakes.

Yet another link takes you to a fascinating mystery about the authenticity of the Veda Slovena.  There is also data here on the history of Bulgarian carpet weaving, folk ceramics, and proverbs & sayings.  Finally, there's a wonderful little page on Bulgarian wine (Bulgaria claims Dionysus as a native son) and food (with authentic recipes).  [Note: if you click on "Shop" in the menu at the bottom of each "omda" page, you'll find that they sell rugs as well as ceramics; I found the ornate, medieval-looking ceramic plates especially beautiful -- see near the bottom of my page for one of these.]

If you follow all the hypertext on these pages, you could easily spend more than a few enthralling hours learning about a very little known corner of the world. [Broken link 9/25/00]
This is an historical site about a 1861 collection of Bulgarian/Macedonian folk songs.  It looks at the compilers' influence on the world of folklore:
The Miladinov brothers' "Bulgarski Narodni Pesni" is without a doubt the most widely read, the most beloved as well as one of the earliest collections of Bulgarian folk songs.  This book was widely read not only by our people, but by other Slavs as well. Thanks to it, the world received a taste of the richness of Bulgarian folklore....

....[T]he two Miladinov brothers spent years of hard work and many sleepless nights to collect and prepare their monumental volume of Bulgarian folk songs 120 years ago. For this, they paid with their lives. They died in a Turkish dungeon in Istanbul.

A link at the bottom of the page will take you to a lengthy and quite interesting page with further biographical data on these two brothers.
This is one in a series of Professor John Bell's excellent, annotated "A Reader's Guide to Bulgaria" -- his focus on this page is on books relating to Bulgarian culture: specifically, folklore, literature, fine arts, music, and cuisine.  [Note: at the bottom you can access his other pages on books about other aspects of Bulgaria.]
This is a related site -- Professor John Bell's lively look at how Bulgarians have been portrayed in world literature.  As he points out:
Bulgaria and Bulgarians have made rare and usually fleeting appearances in world literature. Van Helsing & Co. passed through Varna in pursuit of Dracula , but paid little attention to the surrounding country....
He then goes on to explore a wide range of other Bulgarian appearances in world literature.

Traditional "Heaven-blue" Troyan lidded casserole dish
Bulgar USA (see directly below)
[Added 7 May 2007]:  Bulgar USA, introduced in 2001, was shortly thereafter awarded the prestigious Forbes Enterprise Award. Prior to that, one of their co-founders, Donna Hadjipopov, found inspiration in my Myth*ing Links' webpages on Bulgaria.  Partly based on what she found there, she and her husband George wrote for their website:
Bulgaria is a precious jewel that has been hidden away for decades. Not by choice but by the politics of our time. Bulgarians draw their roots deep from the ancient gods.  From the lineage of Dionysus, God of merriment, they inherited an appreciation for a life filled with revelry.  Everywhere you turn, there is music, dancing, food and wine!

BULGAR USA is honored to offer the distinctively different hand-painted pottery, hand-carved wooden accessories and hand-loomed weavings from this culturally rich though little-known country.  Our collection of treasures are the result of the close collaboration we have developed with artisans throughout Bulgaria and are offered to you with love....

Donna e-mailed me back when she and her husband were first getting started, but I get so many e-mails that I forgot all about her desire to import fine Bulgarian ceramics to the USA. Then, out of the blue, she contacted me again early this spring to thank me and to offer me a gift from Bulgaria. One day a huge box arrived -- within it was a smaller, carefully packed box containing a hand-painted, stunning, three-quart lidded ceramic casserole dish in the "Heaven-blue troyan style." I was overwhelmed. Nothing in my small kitchen with its thriftstore enamel pots and pans could compare with it! About this Heaven-blue troyan style, Donna writes:
This decorative style is known internationally as the 'true Bulgarian pottery.'  Its magical imagery has been compared to peacocks and butterflies.  Traditionally each woman had her own recognizable and unique style....
In the weeks since then, I have turned my kitchen into a much richer setting to showcase this remarkable dish -- I added art to my pale apricot cupboard doors in colors to compliment the casserole dish; I covered the boring white formica countertops with rustic tablemats of mahogany-tinted bamboo; and I added dark brown cork tiles behind the stove as well as on the wallspace flanking it. I love the results! I'm not someone who actually cooks much -- I hardboil free-range eggs, eight at a time. I boil potatoes, yams, and parsnips in a pot, adding a can of organic soup after they're done, and that's about it. But now, with my kitchen glowing with new life, and that lovely casserole dish to inspire me, I plan to experient with baking some of the Bulgarian recipes Donna sent with the dish and experience a whole new aspect of life.  ;-)

By the way, in addition to ceramic dishes for baking as well as vessels, dishes, goblets, and pitchers for the table, Bulgar USA also offers lovely woven and wooden goods. About the latter, they write:

BULGAR USA is in the process of re-inventing a wooden toy factory, Detski Svyat/Child's World, that has been manufacturing wooden toys for export to Europe for decades.   In collaboration with the local wood carvers,we have begun a project that employs these talented artisans.
This is a site where you can see traditional Bulgarian craftsmanship at its finest -- and, best of all, where you can be inspired, as I am, to explore the joy of "slow food." These ancient traditional arts may actually turn out to be, surprisingly, the wave of our future.
Bulgarian woodcarvings and hand-tufted textile
[see directly below for source] [Updated link 9/25/00]
This is a fine site on Bulgarian folk arts by Kalina Ginkulova.  She has sections on costumes, textiles, embroideries, metal-working, and woodcarving.  Follow the hypertext for more details on each category.  The photos are good too (see directly above for examples).
This is another fine site on folk arts: embroideries, textiles, rugs, pottery, woodworking, and copper and gold metalworking.  Excellent details, both folkloric and technical.  The site also offers good, clickable photos.
National Bulgarian costumes are briefly surveyed on this page.  It's meant to be a simple overview -- 5 short paragraphs and no illustrations.  [Note: much more detailed sites on wedding, etc costumes are directly below, linked at the end of a great Bulgarian wedding site....]
This is a detailed, colorful essay on Bulgarian wedding customs from the International Folk Culture Center on the campus of Our Lady of the Lake University in Texas.  In addition to wonderful descriptions of the pre-engagement ritual, wedding banner, braiding the bride's hair, shaving the groom, and the richly symbolic ceremony itself (which includes a "hostage" rooster), the page has an excellent list of related links to costumes, musical instruments, the "horo" and other dances, etc. Unfortunately, none of the photos will load, but everything else is first rate.

Child Pipers
[See below]
This is a very brief look at the history of Bulgarian music, mostly focusing on opera singers.  I'm including it because of its mention of Orpheus -- and also because it tells when various music and dance festivals are held in Bulgaria.
This is a brief but useful historical survey of the history of Bulgarian music (starting with Orpheus, although this aspect isn't explored). (There is a place to click if you wish to listen to selections but I couldn't get the music to play.) [Updated link 9/25/00]
This is an attractive folksong overview -- the site looks at ritual, customs (e.g., weddings & work), historical, and heroic songs.
This is a pleasant, well-written little site, mostly on folksongs, but it also touches on instruments.  As the author reminds us, Bulgarian folkmusic was so important that a popular song from the Rhodope Mountains (birthplace of the musician Orpheus) --
...was recorded on a gold record and was sent as a message to outer space on the American station Voyager in 1977.
The site lets you listen to this strange, haunting song.
Technical and yet intriguing, this little essay on "Bulgarian Folk Instruments" by Hector Bezanis is the best I've found.
This is a wonderful site on Bulgarian Christmas carols -- and the profound implications of ancient pre-Christian beliefs hidden within these carols.  This is truly music as sacrament, an outward sign of an inward grace:
These carols were sung in a specific period -- from midnight to the sunrise of the Christmas day. The carol singers had their magic power to chase away the evil spirits, vampires and ghosts only during that time of the night. With the sun-rise, the Christmas ritual was over and the carol-singers lost their magic power. It is believed that a house that didn't accept carol-singers was doomed to misfortune.

Bulgarian Dancers
[Photo by Andreas Heise]
This site on musical instruments and dance styles (taken from the Bulgarian wedding site -- see above) is fairly technical but portions are still quite interesting to a non-specialist -- for example, on the continued influence of the ancient Thracian culture:
In the end of 7th century many Thracians move to Northeast Bulgaria. They mingled with the native population at Dobrudja. To break away from everyday life they gather at the public square and give their heart and soul to the greatest pleasure of showing mastery in the games. This is the reason why people from Thrace and from Dobrudja are in many ways alike.
Unless you're a dancer or musician interested in folk traditions, please skip this site as it won't make much sense.  It has a link to musical rhythms; another to wedding customs (not a very good site); and eight links that outline the actual steps of various dances.  (Warning: unless you absolutely know what you're doing and have your browser set up for newsgroups, do not click on the link to: soc.culture.bulgaria.  It crashed my computer twice.)

Valley of the Roses (see directly below)
[From][Link & annotation updated 12/16/99; 9/25.00: can't get through -- I hope it's temporary.]

Rose-growing began in Thracian settlements in what is now known as the Valley of the Roses, located in the southern foothills of the Balkan Mountains.  This site is for a Canadian importer for the rose attar and honey of that region.  Here you'll find pages filled with the wonderful history and lore of roses -- as well as the science.  For example:
Studies and results of psycho-odorological investigations of healthy and mentally ill persons indicate that rose perfume stimulates CNS activity- the dreams become more frequent, more vivid, and lasting. The rose perfume enhances the ability for concentration, accelerates the work rhythm, and increases the working capacity. These rather interesting data make an allusion to the great, but still unutilized, potentials of rose perfume in the field of biostimulation. There is experimental evidence pointing to the fact that attar of roses may also play a certain role as an antistress factor....
If you click on "Honey," you'll go to a page on the history, lore, and science of honey.  Brief descriptions of various kinds of honey are offered (e.g., lavender, linden, manna).  I wish the site offered photos of the Valley of Roses (the two I'm using are from another source), but this omission notwithstanding, it is a deliciously romantic site.

A woman in festival garb in the Valley of the Roses
This is a sweet little site on Bulgarian festivals and celebrations -- from Christmas through the rest of the seasons.  Information is brief, but lively:
Full of beauty, gaiety and a healthy love of life, the Bulgarian festivals and customs date back to ancient times....
The site includes mention of the annual festival in the Valley of the Roses starting at the end of May and running until nearly mid-June.  This is when roses are picked in the very early dawn hours when their fragrance is at its strongest [now I know why I've been so obsessed with learning more about that valley and locating photos of it -- the rose-picking and festivities have been unfolding at exactly the same time as I've been writing about all this! <smile>].  The site also has small, but good photos (including the one of the young woman with the roses -- see above).
This is another site on traditional festivals and celebrations -- again, it's brief but excellent, and has wonderful, clickable photos.  It concludes with information on the Rose Festival, including this:
....Artists, actors, circus performers, writers and singers flock to Kazanluk at the start of June.  The rose festival is also celebrated in the nearby population centres of Shipka, Pavel Banya, Turnichane and Rozovo.
In the Thracian provinces of the Roman Empire, the Thracians grew 12 varieties of roses, one of them known as "Thracian Rose", Pliny the Elder writes in his Natural History in the 1st century BC....The blossoms are picked in May and June, when high humidity is very important. So is the cinnamon-forest soil in the area and, last but not least, the remarkable skills of Bulgarian
rose-oil producers.
Still on festivals and celebrations: this is an odd, absolutely wonderful site.  It's supposedly on Bulgarian cuisine, but it's actually about nearly a dozen festivals starting with St. Barbara's Day on December 4th (she protects children and animals from diseases) and running through St. Dimitri's Day (the patron saint of winter, frost and snow) on October 26th, which is the start of the winter season in Bulgaria.  Richly symbolic details, both pagan and Christian, are given for each feastday.  Traditional recipes associated with each feast are also offered, but these tend to fall more into the category of sacramental foods, not "cuisine."  Here, for example, is a passage on the ritual bread required for these feasts:
There is no festival in the Bulgarian folk culture which can be celebrated without making ritual bread.  The ritual bread is distinguished from ordinary bread or round loaf in its form, way of preparation and decorative elements. To make it, the largest and purest wheat grains were taken. The flour was sieved three times and the dough was made with "silent" water - one brought by a maiden in absolute silence. Flowers and herbs were soaked in this water....
I suspect that the element of "silent water" may well date back many centuries.  It's haunting and evocative, reminding me of the otherworldly maidens who tended sacred wells, surrounded by flowers, herbs, and windblown trees, in the myths of medieval Europe.  Echoes of these maidens made their way into Grail legends -- and perhaps into these virginal Bulgarian water-carriers as well.  Probably it's the romantic in me, but I like to think that the practice may even have originated in what Marija Gimbutas calls "Old Europe."  Don't miss this site!

Traditional woolen red and white tassels
celebrating Baba Marta, "Grandma March" [Broken link 9/25/00]
This is a very brief paragraph on Grandmother March -- see below for richer details...
This site on Baba Marta, "Grandma March," is warm and engaging.  The festival falls on March first and is a time to welcome spring by wearing double tassels of red and white wool (the site explains the significance).  These are worn until you see the first warm weather harbinger, the stork ("and not the one in the Zoo," the author gently cautions); then they're thrown into a tree.
This is another site on Baba Marta -- a marvelous little essay by Emil Gavrailov, full of rich personal details; he includes a touching explanation of the historical basis for this custom (not mentioned in the preceding sites):
People in the very beginning of our country were fighting a lot. Usually the wars started at the very beginning of March, and most of the warriors had to leave their families home. They had to leave home and the women were very unhappy about it, especially when they were concerned about the lives of their husbands. That is why they decided to give to their husbands red and white tokens, which were either red and white cloth strips for the hand, or small woolen figures of a white girl and a red boy. The colors represent the blood of the warriors, which their wives didn't want spilled, and the white color represents the pale color on the faces of their women as they wait for the warriors to come back home....
This is an intriguing site on folk-traditions concerning specially decorated Easter breads and red-dyed Easter eggs.  There are many rich details.  For example, families painted their eggs red on Holy Thursday and one of these eggs would be taken to services in the local church; immediately afterwards, this egg would be buried in the family's vineyard to protect against hailstorms and to ensure a good crop [Note: since Holy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, when wine was changed into blood, perhaps it's not really far-fetched that the consecrated "wine"-red egg should protect vineyards].

Later, 10-15 of these red eggs would be sent to the family's Turkish friends along with a loaf of Easter bread -- these Moslem friends would be hurt if their Christian friends neglected to do this [Note: one can't help but be struck by the implications of friendship in earlier years between Christian and Moslem here].

Customs not involving eggs are also touched upon: e.g., in one region, pumpkins were planted on the Feast of the Annunciation because it was believed that these would be especially sweet [as was the "fruit" of the Virgin's womb].

The site also offers links to more "orthodox" Easter traditions.

With this interesting blend of pagan, folkloric traditions and Christianity, let's now move to Bulgarian Christianity.....


Christ appearing to the Magdelene on Easter Morning
Detail from a 15th century mural at Kremikovtsi Monastery
[Author's note: the bold reds against the whites are especially striking here.]
The top of this page offers a fine link to Cyril and Methodius, the "apostles" to the Slavs, credited not only with converting them in the ninth century but also with "civilizing" them; there is also a very interesting link to Cyril's work on the alphabet and translations of scriptures from the Greek.

The rest of the page looks at the traditional "Seven Saints" as a whole: Saint Cyril (who created the Bulgarian alphabet), his brother Saint Methodius, and five of their saintly followers, Clement of Ohrid (in Macedonia), Naoum, Angelarius, Gorazd and Sava. [9/25/00: temporarily out of service -- see below]
From the Byzantine Seminary Press of Pittsburgh, PA comes this more detailed story of 9th century Saints Cyril and Methodius.  [9/25/00: this link is broken but I peeled it back to the home page, which will eventually be restored but is currently out of order; hopefully, the above link to Saints Cyril and Methodius will one day be found again in their menu:]
These two sites are both on medieval monasteries from ""  The first link seems to be to an older version -- yet sometimes its information is superior and it also offers more photos of centuries old murals (not all will load properly, however).  The second link seems newer, more trimmed down, and yet sometimes it's more detailed and useful than the first link.  I can't choose between them and prefer to keep both, cross-checking between them.
This is a beautiful site on Bulgaria's monasteries.  The introduction, although brief, lucidly explains puzzles left unexplored elsewhere.  For example:
It is quite natural that monasteries where both the script and literature of the Bulgarian people were created, centered the nation's innermost hopes and aspirations. Therefore, it would not be exaggerated to say that history of Bulgarian monasteries is in its essence political history.
The site lets you click on 15 different monasteries -- each comes with a well written little history and at least 5 clickable photos.  (This is the site where I found the strikingly bold red-against-white motif in the image of Christ and the Magdalene -- see above.)

Virgin Eleusa
14th century Bulgarian icon
This is a too-brief site on Bulgarian sacred icons.  It includes 3 small images, including the lovely 14th century Virgin (see directly above).  If you check all the links to monasteries (above), you will find many others.  These icons are also available in books: e.g., [Updated link 9/25/00]
This is another site surveying the history of icons in Bulgaria, the first Slavic country to master the art.  There's somewhat more information than on the preceding site, but it's still too brief.  There are only two small images of icons (non-clickable).
This site looks at Bulgarian churches from the 9th century to the Renaissance.  You can click on a great number of churches and get good, basic details on each.  You can also usually get a photo of each church's exterior.  But when the text is saying:
 the interior is surprising with exuberant spaces and art of painting....
-- and there are no photos of such wonders, one can't be blamed for feeling frustrated!  Still, it's a good site and offers a great deal of information.


Ceramics by Bulgarian master-artist, Hristo Ivanov.
(From omda)

This site from "" (prior to May 1999 they were the Mining Company) offers many Bulgarian links covering such categories as culture (many of these links are already on my own page so may look familiar), hotels,  dining, and travel safety (some of the data is disturbing).
This is a useful collection of links to daily Bulgarian news updates.  (Some are bilingual so keep your eyes open for this -- often you'll need to click on a British flag in order to get the English version.)
(Geography & History)

Up to The Balkans Opening Page
[From there you can return to Eastern Europe]

Down to Western Europe


If you have comments or suggestions,
my home page has my current e-mail address near the bottom of the page.

This page created with Netscape Gold 3.01
Technical assistance: William Weeks
Text and Design:
Copyright 1999-2007 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.

Page created 27 May 1999 with 7 links;
added another 14 on 28 May1999.
29 May 1999; 31 May 1999; 2 June 1999; 4 October 1999; 16 December 1999;
25 September 2000 (checked all links);
7 May 2007: added Bulgar USA link and annotation; 25 August 2007: finally tweeked May's essay & announced the update on my home page.