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 The Bear: legends and beliefs

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PostSubject: The Bear: legends and beliefs   Thu Dec 01, 2011 3:02 pm

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The Bear: legends and beliefs



A good or a bad boy, a handsome lad or even a young bride – the images of the bear in Bulgarian folklore vary widely. In the popular beliefs it has the power to heal, protect from illness and bring fertility. In the meantime, it is also a symbol of great physical strength. The fear of wild animal attacks has given rise to a range of ritual practices that were believed to provide protection and security.

On 30 November the Orthodox Church honours the memory of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. In the folklore calendar the day is called Andreevden, Andrew’s Feast, as well as Edryu, Edreevden etc. deriving from “large”, “big”. The bear is always present in rituals and incantations because the saint is believed to be its master. No wonder then that St. Andrew’s Feast is also known as Mechkinden, Bear Day.

The bear would go out of its winter den on Annunciation, 25 March, and the first thing it did was to go and bathe in the river. After that act the water was believed to have warmed up, meaning its temperature was already good enough for humans. Besides it was also healing, due to the interaction with the bears fur. For the same reason ritual bathing is held in a few villages in Northern Bulgaria, on the summer St. Andrew’s Feast, 4 July. In the popular belief, the bear is bound to bathe in the river on the day of celebrating its master.

A few legends recount the story of how the saint defeated the strong animal. One of the tales describes St. Andrew as a monk who lived in a cave close to a mountain monastery. There were a few beehives on the small monastery farm. A bear often came to the place, and on several occasions succeeded in stealing honey from under the monks’ noses. Finally it was Andrew who seized it, bridled it and rode it like a horse. In another legend Andrew had a small plot of land. He had two oxen, but a bear devoured one of them. The farmer was angry, so he fought bitterly with the beast, and defeated it. The ending is similar: the bear had to take the place of the dead ox and plough the field. According to folklorists the deep meaning of such tales was in the human effort to win territory from wild nature. The fact that the saint appears as a ploughman in the tales is also magical and deeply symbolic. Only a man with unearthly power would be able to defeat wild nature and use it for yielding fruit.

In the past there were bear-trainers who toured Bulgaria with bears. Locals gave money and food to the bear-trainer, and in return he went around the house of the hosts with the bear. People believed that the bears visit would bring happiness and fertility. Another bear ritual was performed for health. The sick or recently recuperated person would lie face down, and the bear was urged to step right on his back.

In another legend, St. Andrew was unique among saints for not having a feast of his own. He did not have a horse, so he once rode a bear and went to God. Our Lord, when he saw Andrew riding such a strong animal, said “Whoever does not honour your feast, will ride your horse”. So on 30 November boiled corn was served, the favourite food of bears. Apart from corn, beans, lentils, chick-peas and spelt were also prepared. In the morning the family lined up by the fire. Everyone took some grains, threw them up saying “Boiled corn to you, bear, and don’t you eat raw corn, livestock and humans”. Then everybody ate a few boiled corns, and some were added to the animal feed too. One central belief is that starting from 30 November, the day begins to grow – by a millet grain daily.

The Bulgarian communities along the Black Sea coast venerate both St. Andrew and St. Nicholas as the managers of storms and gales. In the South western Petrich region, Andrew is the father of Nicholas. A bear and a bear-trainer commonly appear in the mummer games and carnival processions in Western Bulgaria. This part of the country is also the scene of an interesting pre-wedding ritual. The bride is dressed up as a bear and plays a chain dance together with other girls in the village. Speechless, with only mimics and gestures, she re-enacts the story of a girl pursued by a Turkish search party. In a bid to save her, God dropped to her a bears skin and then transformed her into a bear.

Many other stories and legends are told on St. Andrew’s Feast. Here is one of them. Once upon a time, the mother of a young girl died, and her father married another woman who also had a girl. The stepmother made her stepdaughter do all the housework and was merciless to her, in both word and action. When the winter came she gave to the child black wool and sent her to wash it. The girl went to the river, started washing the wool but it was freezing cold and she could not bleach the wool. Suddenly a white-bearded old man appeared in front her and asked her why she was crying. “Put on the wool, go home and have no fear”, he told her. And he then disappeared. The child started knocking on the door, and when the evil stepmother opened it, she was taken aback – she saw a golden girl shining like a small sun. She decided to send to the river her own girl. The lazy girl went there, threw the wool into the water and sat down to wait for the miracle, but no one came. She was freezing, and started to cry. The old man came and asked her why she was crying. “I was waiting for you – to make me golden and let me go home”, she snapped. “Alight, put on the wool and go home”, he said. The girl ran home where her mother was waiting for her. She quickly opened the door, but the she shut it terrified, because she had see a bear facing her, not her child. In this way the mean stepmother and her lazy daughter were punished. Since then, this tale is told on St. Andrew’s Feast.

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PostSubject: Re: The Bear: legends and beliefs   Thu Dec 01, 2011 11:54 pm

g What a nice tale thanks for sharing - always a firm believer in what goes around comes around g

Oddy s

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PostSubject: Re: The Bear: legends and beliefs   Thu Dec 01, 2011 11:57 pm

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:
g What a nice tale thanks for sharing - always a firm believer in what goes around comes around g

Oddy s
That must be a motto of yours. I hope you are right Berni
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PostSubject: Re: The Bear: legends and beliefs   Fri Dec 02, 2011 12:04 am

[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:
[You must be registered and logged in to see this link.] wrote:
g What a nice tale thanks for sharing - always a firm believer in what goes around comes around g

Oddy s
That must be a motto of yours. I hope you are right Berni

Now Willow you should know better! [size=150:phgkhxbf]I am not saying I am right but I am never wrong [You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]

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