Ever wonder how you stack up to mythological archetypes?
Ever Dreamed of Transforming Yourself?
If you haven’t, maybe, just maybe, you should.
Characters in folkloric traditions and myths were not created in a vacuum. Rather, they often have manifestations and correlations in everyday life, (even though through the passing of time we often forget why such tall-tales and traditions get built-up and promoted in the first place).
Folk traditions and mythology carry with them instructions and lessons on life. They inform us about our own processes of growth, our personalities, and, in the end serve as reflections of ourselves.
In our new trademark series, The Mythological Woman: Archetypes from Yesterday to Today, Falchion will be exploring folkloric and historical figures in order to illuminate how mythic personas manifest in today’s modern woman. Along the way we will take you into the fascinating world of femininity and mythos. Yeah, you heard me – Femininity and mythos. That’s femininity with a capital “F” people!
No stone is to be left unturned as we will lift the veil off some of the most fascinating legends surrounding noteworthy femme fatales across the breadth of time and world mythology, folklore, and culture!
Okay, buckle up, get ready, and don’t turn that dial! In just a short while we will show you how important a role mythic archetypes play in the formation of your psyche, and how certain predilections inform on how you go about living your everyday life and build and maintain relationships (both sexual and platonic) with others, and ultimately how well you know and understand yourself. And not just that! You will learn which character you can access when you need them.
In doing so we aim to offer appealing and engaging new models for individuals to learn something of value about themselves, enable them to gain insights into the hidden layers of their personalities, and to help them explore exciting new possibilities.
This series is dedicated to awesome females and personas of all backgrounds and colors in every stage of becoming. It is a collaborative effort between some of Falchion’s best to produce some amazing, one-of-a-kind material, taking you on a journey through culture, folklore, and your own inner self to reveal WHAT MAKES YOU MYTHIC.
So let’s get started with archetype number one!
Samodiva: The Intoxicating Shape-Shifter
The Myth, the Legend…
But a hundred veela were now gliding out onto the field, and Harry’s question was answered for him. Veela were women . . . the most beautiful women Harry had ever seen. . . except that they weren’t – they couldn’t be – human. This puzzled Harry for a moment while he tried to guess what exactly they could be; what could make their skin shine moon-bright like that, or their white-gold hair fan out behind them without wind… but then the music started, and Harry stopped worrying about them not being human – in fact, he stopped worrying about anything at all.
The veela had started to dance, and Harry’s mind had gone completely blank. All that mattered in the world was that he kept watching the veela, because if they stopped dancing, terrible things would happen. And as the veela danced faster and faster, wild, half-formed thoughts started chasing through Harry’s dazed mind. He wanted to do something very impressive, right now. Jumping from the box into the stadium seemed a good idea. . . but would it be good enough?
All of us J.K. Rowling fans remember the Quidditch World Cup, where Harry encounters the Bulgarian team’s mascots—the exotic, mythical women called veela. What the author captures (and quite well, too) is the mischievous allure of the South Slavic guardians of nature, known under three different names – vila/vela, samovila, or samodiva, depending on the geographic region.
Who is the Samodiva?
The name Samodiva (from samo – alone and diva – wild) translates roughly as an independent and uninhabited female creature, or simply Wildalone, a designation created by Bulgarian American writer Krassi Zourkova in her award-winning novel of the same name (to be featured lengthy in our March 2017 issue).
Samodiva (Samodivas, pl.) is the supernatural and exquisitely beautiful custodian of animals, forests, mountains, and wild resorts. They are nocturnal creatures; during the day Wildalones hide in the deepest forests and appear only at night. One can see them mainly in the spring or summer and it is often assumed that they symbolize the coming of Spring.
The earliest written evidence of the Samodiva dates back to the 13th century in an Old Bulgarian manuscript found in a small village located on the Rila Mountain. Samodiva have also been mentioned in apocryphal prayers against illness and evil powers.
Creatures of nature, Samodivas can be considered distant cousins of the water/spring nymphs (nereids), the wood/tree nymphs (dryads), the mountain nymphs (oreads) in Greek mythology, and to the iele in Romanian folklore.
Origins: A Gothic Mystery (Who’s Ready for Halloween?)
The circumstances of their birth are shrouded in mystery. According to most folk traditions they represent the souls of young women who died tragically and prematurely, often suffering harrowing, abnormal deaths: murder, drowning, abandonment, broken heart, etc. They appear post-mortem as nature spirits. Just think of them as very cool, Gothic ancestors of the Little Mermaid (and we’re not talking Disney here, no no, but rather Anderson – as in the superbly chilling Anderson of the Hans variety, a master folk chronicler in his own right).
Bulgarian folklore provides a wealth of such horror. Take, for example, the legend of the White Bride from Tzarevetz, a tale well-known among the old folk in Veliko Tarnovo, the capital of the Third Bulgarian Kingdom. Legend speaks of a young, beautiful maiden, who was slaughtered during her marriage ceremony by Ottoman Turks. Eye witnesses claim that sometimes in spring at midnight, her figure appears at the top of the Tzarevetz castle, the town’s highest and most distinctive piece of architecture.
Some sources indicate that Samodivas may have been the daughters of Bendis, the Thracian goddess and protector of nature.
Wildalones dwell deep in the woods, in dark and uninhabited forests and mountain retreats, where the earth and the sky are thought to merge. In mythological beliefs the Samodiva’s realm is always a threshold—a border between physical and metaphysical worlds, between life and death; a supernatural dominion that surrounds and interpenetrates the human world.
Interestingly enough – and this is really telling of how deeply rooted the South Slavic folks are in their own mythology – these places do exist and are well known. In Bulgaria alone there are several place-names such as the samodiva’s well, samodiva’s meadow, samodiva’s waterfall, samodiva’s lake, samodiva’s rock, and so on. Such areas are often marked, too. If there are little white flowers spread out on the grass, they indicate a location where samodivas were feasting not long ago.
Described as the “Prodigy of Beauty” the Wildalone is the Quintessential Mythological Enchantress
When it comes to looks Samodivas have a few distinctive features exclusive to them. First, they all have long and loose hair of golden, red, or dark hue, which reaches down to their waists. A wreath of wild flowers adorns their heads, often the very special “samodiva’s flower” (more on that in a minute). Second, their eyes are of a light color—either blue, green, or a variation of the two—which is why their gaze has the power to enchant or cast the evil eye when crossed. Third, Samodivas are dressed in floating, transparent white gowns, typically with a green belt. Their dress is made out of moon beams, which enables them to fly and to possess magical powers. Earthy and uninhibited (being out in the wild is, after all, their natural habitat), they also like to appear naked, either partially or from head to toe, covering their beautiful bodies solely with their long hair.
Now, let’s take a peak at some of her most prominent characteristics and functions. Ready? Here we go!
Samodivas weave their wreaths from a very special flower called rosen (or, dictamnus albus, in Latin). This flower grows in the woods and varies in color from pale purple to white. When rubbed, it releases a potent lemon-peel like smell, which is believed to have intoxicated any mortal man unwise enough to get too close. Another striking attribute of the rosen is its ability to produce essential oils, which can catch fire in hot or dry weather, without ever injuring the plant itself.
Beware—like the flower, like the Samodiva!
Masterful Dancers and Singers
Wildalones are renowned for their captivating song and dance. After bathing in the stream, they come together on the meadow where there is moonlight and spend the evening singing and dancing their captivating horo (chain dance). Their dance is accompanied by the rhythm of the wind or the sound of the kaval (shepherd’s pipe), and sometimes they abduct shepherds to play at their celebrations.
Samodivas’ enchanting voices sound from afar, folks attest, while they whirl in circles with ethereal, skipping steps, barely touching the ground. Where their feet do touch the ground, flowers magically bloom.
Inhibitors of the mystical world, Samodivas welcome few to their nightly feast. Late travelers or accidental trespassers must stay out of sight, as witnessing their wild fete can be quite dangerous—as dangerous as the supernatural world can be for the unskilled and the unprepared. Even our little wizard-friend Harry Potter intuitively understood that those who observe a Samodiva singing and dancing must remain silent and motionless, to avoid a disparate fate.
One of the most unique abilities that Samodivas possess—one that distinguishes them profoundly from the rest of the mythological female crowd—is their ability to assume different bodies and transform into whatever they desire, be it snake, bird, horse, falcon, or something elemental, such as a whirlwind.
Being shape-shifters gives them a great advantage over others. It grants them flexibility, and allows them to move freely from space to space, not to mention providing for creative solutions for whatever comes their way.
Herb Collectors and Healers
“Born on a day of soft misty rain, when the sun formed miniature rainbows on the trees, she knew all the secrets of healing and herb craft,” tells the legend. Creatures of the forest, the Samodivas possesses a deep and abiding knowledge of nature, herb crafting, and the healing arts. She has the power to cure virtually any known disease by applying special tinctures, or though the power of her song and dance (which really makes her the South Slavic mythological shaman).
Wardens of Forests and Their Inhabitants
Knowing the secrets of nature is to love nature. This knowledge is in fact why, in the unfrequented regions of the forest and wild mountain resorts, Samodivas guard and heal all animals and plants, clean streams and meadows, and assure sufficient rainfall and an abundant harvest.
Since human beings have the power to destroy, the Wildalone place is forbidden to man in his daily routine. Those who violate their boundaries may be severely punished and suffer illness, madness, paralysis, deafness, blindness, or even death. If a young girl happens to trespass one of their protected places, she may be kidnapped and transformed into a Samodiva. A well-known song describes one such case:
You, Yana, white Yana
Could you not find water elsewhere
to wash your white face?
You came, didn’t you, to the mountain,
to the lake of the Samodiva?
We are waiting for you, Yana,
to come with us, to walk with us…
Even today, many still will not trespass upon a place marked as samodiva territory (at least not without a very good reason). While all rational thought and science tell us that these nymphs are constructs from the deep well-spring of the human imagination, few are willing to test the enculturated build-up and folk wisdom spanning centuries.
Protectors of Heroes
While intolerant of humanity’s shortcomings or foibles and openly defying the ordinary or mundane, the Wildalone nonetheless values greatly bravery and courage in men. As a result of this respect for bravery, Samodivas act as foster sisters and guardians to heroes, happy to stand by them in battle, protect them from harm, and shield them with lethal arrows.
If a hero is mortally wounded, the Samodiva will try to cure him with her magical herbs or, at least, to improve his final hours. Enter prominent Bulgarian poet Hristo Botev and his classic masterpiece “Hadzhi Dimitar,” a lament of the notable Bulgarian voivode by the same name. Mortally wounded in battle, the brave revolutionary lies in the forest while nature mourns him. In the evening he is visited by several Samodivas, who have arrived to comfort the passing hero (translation from Bulgarian provided by the author):
He is alive! Alive! There on the Balkan Mountain
Drowned in blood he lays there and groans,
A hero with an open chest wound
A hero in his youth and prime. […]
The evening comes – the moon’s ascending
Stars fall from an arched sky;
Rustling in the wood, a blowing wind –
The Balkan sings a heroic song!
And samodivas in white raiment
Lovely, beautiful, begin their song –
Quietly crossing the grass of green
They come to the hero and are seated.
One binds his wound with herbs
Another splashes him with cool water
A third quickly kisses his mouth
while he gazes at her – lovely, smiling.
“Tell me, sister, where is the Karadzha?
And where are my devoted cohorts?
Tell me – then take my soul –
I want to die here, sister!”
Creatures immensely passionate at heart, the Wildalone has a soft spot not only for heroes, but young and handsome men in general. Not one to wait around to be wooed, once a Samodiva chooses the object of her desire she effortlessly manages to seduce him and gain complete command over him with her physical charms and feminine whims.
Once satisfied, the Wildalone parts with her lover. Stories circulate in small villages in Southeastern Europe about the mysterious vanishings of men in the forest. Their disappearance is often attributed to Samodivas, as folks claim to have spotted flashes of white gowns among the trees. Those fortunate enough to return after going missing inevitably suffer amnesia, and have little recollection of what happened during their time with the spell-binding creatures of myth. They will, however, suffer severely from the so called “samodiva illness” (i.e. madly, yet hopelessly in love) that only a rare herb, known to a few medicine women, can cure.
Capturing a Wildalone – Mission Possible
But what if a man makes it his mission to win over this wild creature? Can a Wildalone ever be captured and retained? Yes, assures the legend. The magical power of these wild beings, as explained earlier, is hidden in their garments. Samodivas love to bathe in lakes or secluded forest rivers. They remove their robes and leave them on the bank, and thus remain vulnerable for the duration of their bath. Having abandoned her gown, she loses at once her ability to fly or cast spells, and in that moment she becomes ordinary. For that reason, bathing is the most convenient time for a man to capture her… by being so bold as to steal her attire. If he succeeds he can then take her home to wed. She will remain his wife as long as he keeps her chemise hidden.
But Ultimately She Remains Wild and Undomesticated
Long, long before Gary Marshal had the surprisingly bad idea of reuniting Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in yet another cinematic cliché, there was the famous tale of the original runaway bride, known to Bulgarian folks for centuries. It goes something like this: After Stoyan (a handsome, skillful, and strong-willed shepherd) manages to steal the magical gown of his beloved Mariyka (a beautiful, skillful, and strong-willed Samodiva), she finds she has little choice but to follow him home and become his wife. Well aware of her wild and uninhibited nature, she cautions him that Samodivas make for lousy wives and mothers. He ignores her concerns, convinced as only a man can be that once they settle and have children the human in her will prevail over the supernatural, and afterward they will live happily ever after.
Three years go by and Mariyka gives birth to a baby boy. During the child’s baptismal feast she appears somewhat sad and alienated from the happy crowd of relatives and well-wishers. Mariyka explains to her husband that not having her dress prevents her from engaging fully in her most favorite activity, dancing. “I am your wife now, I love you, and I could never leave our baby son,” she persuades. Stoyan eventually relents and gives his unnatural bride her gown. Upon the donning of her dress she begins to dance enchantingly… until suddenly (and this is why being a shape-shifter comes in handy), the samodiva turns into a whirlwind and flies out of the chimney. Stoyan beseeches her not to leave him and their newborn boy, to which the Wildalone replies: “But you knew, didn’t you, that a samodiva can be no housewife, a samodiva can raise no children?” She then bids him farewell and disappears forever, returning to what she values and needs most – her natural habitat.
Heart-breaking? Perhaps. Avoidable? Certainly, if only Stoyan would have payed closer attention to Mariyka’s warnings. (But, then again, men are visual beings, and listening is not really their forte, is it?)
There are folk songs that indeed testify to the passionate love between Samodivas and shepherds, but few have happy endings. The unlikely union is inevitably sabotaged, either by the shepherd’s mother or by the Samodiva’s genuine inability to take on the role of traditional housewife. The Wildalone woman will always harbor in her heart something of her primitive and uninhibited spirit, unwilling to settle and refusing to obey the will of another. However much in love, the Samodivas is incapable of remaining domesticated for long. Happily married, even with children, it matters little; this creature of nature will always lament her loss of freedom, and seek to regain it.