A belief from the olden times claims that to enjoy a smooth sailing in the new year, we have to throw out the Survachka, the cornel branch decorated with dried fruits, waterpopcorn and colorful strings that children use to tap on the backs of adults for good luck, into the river. Water carries away everything evil and possesses magical powers – and our traditional beliefs even make a religion out of it. The culture-wide respect and admiration of water is widely practiced in the Bulgarian folklore. Some popular idiomatic expressions are “as lucky as gliding on water”, “it flows like water”, and “it flows through one’s fingers”. In tales, the water is sometimes golden, sometimes black, sometimes displays all colours of the rainbow. Touching the water is a recipe for a miraculous fate. Not that the attitude to the might of water comes without a reverse side! Our elders tell us that phantasms and water nymphs build their houses right next to water and that these spirits from the beyond gladly inhabit the wells and the drinking fountains. When a person wants to drink from such a haunted spring, it is vital to leave in exchange a small piece of cloth, a string, a pebble. There also exists the belief that water easily takes its own victims and that is why often sacrificial rites are carried out right next to a body of water. A belief from the olden times claims that to enjoy a smooth sailing in the new year, we have to throw out the Survachka, the cornel branch decorated with dried fruits, popcorn and colorful strings that children use to tap on the backs of adults for good luck, into the river. Water carries away everything evil and possesses magical powers – and our traditional beliefs even make a religion out of it. The culture-wide respect and admiration of water is widely practiced in the Bulgarian folklore. Some popular idiomatic expressions are “as lucky as gliding on water”, “it flows like water”, and “it flows through one’s fingers”. In tales, the water is sometimes golden, sometimes black, sometimes displays all colours of the rainbow. Touching the water is a recipe for a miraculous fate. Not that the attitude to the might of water comes without a reverse side! Our elders tell us that phantasms and water nymphs build their houses right next to water and that these spirits from the beyond gladly inhabit the wells and the drinking fountains. When a person wants to drink from such a haunted spring, it is vital to leave in exchange a small piece of cloth, a string, a pebble. There also exists the belief that water easily takes its own victims and that is why often sacrificial rites are carried out right next to a body of water. To the water the Bulgarians ascribe magical, purifying, health-giving and fruit-bearing powers. This is actually tied to its real properties which explain its wide participation in the numerous ritualistic and healing folk practices. Historical texts from the 9th century narrate that before the siege of Constantinople in 813, Tsar Krum performed a purification rite by dipping his feet in the sea, washing himself and sprinkled all his troops with water. Preternatural powers are attributed to the water and so it is endowed with various magical names: water of silence, water of colors, water of the cross, untouched water, left-hand side water, holy water, live water, deadly water - and so many more. It may both cure from diseases and bring them. It may bring tranquillity to the soul but may also be an unchecked force of nature. According to our Bulgarian tradition, water has a more special significance on set occasions during the annual festive calendar and when marking stages in the human life cycle. No delivery, marriage or funeral takes place without water. Nor is there in fact a folk feast not involving water, even if kneading bread is all water is needed for. On Easter, on St. Spas’s day, during the Mermaid week – all rituals require water. Palm Sunday and St. George’s day have no meaning without it either. The maidens dip rings in a white metal pot and let bunches of flowers flow in the river, young vaydudulitsi orphan girls dance under falling water, and brides who have never delivered a child wallow in dew or pour out pails of water on themselves. At the end of the day, that is the general formula when seeking good health or pleading for a good fortune. Yet the most power water possesses exactly in the night before Vodokrashti, or Epiphany, the day of throwing the cross in water. Then the heavens open up and the winds make the sign of the cross – while the water stops for an instant and purifies itself. It is no coincidence that the days at the start of January that chase away the Dirty Days concluding the old year are called Voditsi, or water days.

Text and photo by: Anellya Ovnarska - Milusheva