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Fear of Fate, Bulgarian Superstitions

Superstitions are an inherent part of the Bulgarians psyche. They are passed down from generation to generation and even in modern day Bulgaria young people perform all manner of simple rituals dictated by such pagan beliefs so much so that many expat children and adults have adopted superstitious rituals as their own, whilst in the UK these superstitions are becoming obsolete with the nations young. Yet such traditions are a rich part of the cultural life of a country and something, which gives it character and colour.

 

Black Cats and Dead Animals

I was walking in our village and a black cat ran across my path; ‘at last some good luck,’ ‘what!’ my son exclaimed, ‘in Bulgaria black cats mean bad luck’ and he forced me to spin round eight times to undo the adverse effects. With plenty of crazy drivers here, there is a fair amount of road kill, but if you happen to notice it you have to clasp a strand of hair until you see a bird – living of course. If you are a city dweller and there are few birds around, an open window will also negate the dark effects of the dead animal.

The Bringers of Bad Luck

I told my friend that I had not slept well because I had had a bad dream. She told me that it was OK because it was Monday and dreams only come true on Wednesdays! I got up got dressed but couldn’t find one of my socks. My son quickly located it explaining that I would be left orphaned if I didn’t wear two socks. Finally I was ready for the school run, it was raining outside, so I grabbed an umbrella and was about to open it before I stepped out into the drizzle until I was told that it would bring yet more bad luck. I put my bag in the car and realised that I had left my coat in the house. With the weather on the chilly side I turned to go and get it, but was stopped in my tracks, by my kids again who told me that it was bad luck to return to the house once you had left it. When I saw a ladder propped up against the school wall, I thought I would get one on them and told them that in the UK it was bad luck to walk under it, ‘we know’ they chorused, ‘It’s the same here.’

Dining Rituals

I am constantly shouting about the kids leaving their school bags on the kitchen chairs, it’s like having two uninvited dinner guests; however, leaving your bag on the floor is a recipe for disaster bringing even more bad luck. Even the teachers at my sons’ school encourage all children to hang their bags on the back of their chairs. This strange custom has had me looking for extra chairs in restaurants just to seat my handbag, but strangely enough, no-one else views it as odd! But that’s not the only weird tradition about dining in Bulgaria; if you sing or hum at the table, you will marry an alcoholic or a gypsy.

Say it with Flowers

You have to be very careful when choosing flowers in Bulgaria and this tradition is very strictly adhered to. If you have been invited round to a friend’s house for a meal then you need to take an odd number of flowers. But avoid putting yellow roses into your bouquet, this will tell your friend that you don’t really like them. The only time to collect an even number of flowers is when you attend a funeral.

Breaking Glass

I was sitting at a café in Rousse once and my sons were fooling around and accidentally knocked a glass off the table. I launched into a tirade of parental remonstrations only to be stopped by the waiter who informed me that it was good luck to break glass in Bulgaria. Not the same however if you break a mirror. If you drop a knife it means that a man will call at your house. Another dining ritual is to ensure that any bread on the table is always placed the right side up; bread left upside down will bring nothing but poverty.

Knock on Wood

There are yet more superstitious beliefs, which can make wishes come true or bring money; wishing on a shooting star is a good thing and your wish will come true, seeing a chimney sweep will also bring bucket loads of good luck, putting an upside down horse shoe outside your door will also bering good luch, but make sure it is upside down or the effects will be reversed. An itchy left hand means that money is coming your way, whereas an itchy right palm means that you will be paying money out. Rather than touch wood, in Bulgaria you knock on wood three times, but its best to do this under the table so that the devil can’t hear. If you feel that demons are affecting your everyday life, then you should scare them away with a smattering of salt on the windowsill. We all know that playing with fire is not a good thing largely because you will get burnt; however in Bulgaria it means you will wet the bed! You should also never sleep with your feet facing the door because this is the way the dead are laid out.

Controlling the Kids

Every society needs its control mechanisms for naughty children; my parents used to threaten a visit from the bogeyman, but in Bulgaria it is 'babayaga' or the witch who will take badly behaved kids away. Beware of entertaining young Bulgarian children with the nursery rhyme where you pretend to pull their nose off and hold your thumb between your middle and ring finger – this is an obscene gesture in Bulgaria!

Superstitions are harmless, yet colourful ways of passing a little of our culture and history down through generations and whilst they are scoffed at back home in Bulgaria they are a rich part of everyone’s everyday life.