Bulgarian folklore is packed with mythical heroes, monsters and poor casualties. Repulsive, valiant, silly, mischievous – there are all sorts of characters, some of which are notably feared not only by children, but also by their more mature adult counterparts. Without further ado, here are the most popular dreadful beings among the scariest creatures that ever existed in Bulgarian mythology.
Most often associated with a dragon-like creature, the Lamya is a female monster, which is depicted as a gigantic reptile with several heads. According to some fairytales, she has three canine heads stemming out of snake-like necks. Other, more vicious representations of the Lamya, portray her with as many as nine heads. Regardless of the total count, the animal takes up residence in forests, near the sea or in secluded mountainous areas. Her malignancy is expressed by cutting off the water supply to urban areas. If she would be to restore order to the water supply, she’d demand a human sacrifice from the villagers, usually a young maiden. Numerous legends, songs and tales have been written and told about the Lamya in which a fierce hero cuts off her head and breaks the villagers and the maiden free from peril. It is thought, however, that the biggest adversary a Lamya has is not the brave hero, but the zmey – a male dragon.
Popular in all Slavic countries, Baba Yaga is a scary creature that inhabits countless myths. Some of them are even horror stories that adults tell other adults, such as invocations and chanting spells that summon Baba Yaga. More commonly, she’s the antagonist in child tales, which claim that she is an old hag with grotesque appearances residing in a wooden forest hut. Legend has it, she will kidnap children and take them to said hut where she will cook and eat them as punishment for not behaving according to their parents’ rules. Elders are afraid of her because they think she can cast devious spells and curses on them.
Nobody actually knows what Torbalan looks like, apart from the fact that he’s wearing a huge “torba” (sack) on his back. He’s usually the subject of parents’ tales who are trying to teach their offspring to behave through the power of sinister threats. The myth claims that if a child misbehaves, Torbalan will come to kidnap him or her from the safety of his/ her house and will carry the poor child somewhere far away inside his sack. The same myth is applied to those children who stray too far away from their homes and wander near territories, which have been deemed as off-limits by their parents. Due to the fact that there isn’t a particular appearance given to this mythological figure, a child’s imagination can paint horrendous portrayals and thus increase the fear of Torbalan even further.
A widespread myth tells of talasam or dracus spirits – the restless spirit of a person who has died in a house, bridge or other stone-made construction. The stories recount that the person has either been stoned alive inside the building or has somehow passed away prematurely. The spirit takes the form of a shadow or an animal, sings, moans, whines and produces other haunting noises and refuses to leave the premises, similarly to poltergeists. Luring these tenacious beings away with false promises for wedding feasts or burning incense inside one’s home are believed to be the only two methods that could cast them away.
Samovilas are popular in a plethora of folklore legends and even included in Harry Potter’s tales of Bulgarian Veelas. Although they are typically portrayed as young maidens with long hair, exquisite voices and bewitching glares, the negative equivalent of these nymph-like forest inhabitants are called Juda-Samovilas or Samojudas. The Juda spirits are malicious sorceresses believed to be residing in deep forests where they brew potions and poisons. If a male traveler crosses their territory, they charm him into marrying one of them. According to the fairytales, if a man marries a Juda-Samovilla, she’ll take his soul to the land of the dead and will leave his soulless body to perish on Earth. In the past superstitious men used to wear amulets on their clothing made out of wormwood, basil, white melilot and tansy as a form of protection against these spirits.