Monday, November 12, 2018
   
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Ancient beliefs

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The ancient Bulgarians wouldn’t kill a bear without reason; they did not have bear meat in their diet. According to 12th century written evidence, it was considered improper to use bear skins for clothing or bedcover. Only man-eaters were allowed to be killed, and even then, the hunter was required to perform a series of rituals to justify taking a bear’s life. There are many beliefs according to which a man killed by a bear was justly punished for his misdeeds.

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Folklore and fairy tales

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Human interaction with bears has long inspired popular imagination and found expression in Bulgarian folklore. The great and mighty bear, according to popular belief, was capable of giving back health to the sick and ailing. Thus, when a bear trainer with a dancing animal would come to a village, people would lie prostrate on the ground for the bear to ‘dance on them’ in what was, in fact, a health-giving massage. Bear fur, on the other hand, was believed to cure fright. A few hairs would be set alight and the smoke would drive away the memory of a scary occurrence. Even the expression ‘The bear may be scared but I am not!’ was used as an incantation to cast away fear. A host of proverbs and popular sayings reiterate man’s strong spiritual bond with the beast: ‘A hungry bear will not dance,’ ‘Eats like a bear, works like a bug,’ ‘a bear’s favor’ (doing more harm than good), ‘Those scared of bears should not go into the woods,’ or ‘If the bear is not trampling on your rye field, don’t bother it.’

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„Bear” holidays

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Many myths and popular customs link the bear to the mind-set, culture and beliefs of the Bulgarian people. There is one holiday, however, that is wholly dedicated to bears: St. Andrew's Day, November 30th.

As legend has it, St. Andrew was a reclusive hermit who lived off his little cornfield in the mountains. However, a bear ate his only ox. Furious, the saint caught the offending animal and hooked it up to the plow instead of the ox. Thus he subjugated the wild beast to his will for justice. Therefore, St. Andrew is honored as the patron saint of the bears. On his day, rituals are performed to protect humans from bears, and to bring about a good harvest in the following year. ‘On Edrey [St. Andrew’s Day], daylight starts growing by a grain of millet with each passing day.

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