Unlike their Western counterparts post-Christianisation, Bulgarian witches have never had a prevailing history of being hunted down and murdered.
Though, to be honest, that might be so on account of how scary and vampiric they were depicted as being. Few, if any, written records exist to tell us of the history of Bulgarian witchcraft prior to 864 AD, when the populace was baptised into Christianity. So, prepare yourselves for what might be both an amusing and infuriating read, as we explore the folklore surrounding witches in Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian veshtitsa (meaning “a witch”) derives from vesht (meaning both knowledgeable and skilled), which links to their understanding of and ability to work with herbs and plants. It parallels one of the etymological theories for the English word witch as deriving from Old English witan, meaning “wise man”, though the latter is not without linguistic dispute. The word
magyosnitsa also exists as either borrowed from or originating from the same root as the English “mage”, “magic” and is usually seen as synonymous with veshtitsa, albeit with some (possibly regional) variation. She is also called omaynitsa (similar to “enchantress”), mamnitsa (feminine for “deceiver”) and other names of a similar vein.
According to national folklore, witches were women of a demonic nature, as they have “sold their souls to the Devil”.
Whilst a witch slept, her soul transformed into a bird (usually an owl or a crow) or a black moth which drank the blood of children and sleeping animals (wait, what?). If one were to turn the witch’s sleeping body over, her soul could no longer recognise it and was left to roam eternally as a malevolent spirit – a vampire or a werewolf (okay, now that
makes sense). The witch could also spend her nights flying in the sky as a fiery glow or rolling around on the ground as a ball of wool until the break of dawn. Her favourite pastime, however, was casting spells to steal another’s grain from their field, or the milk from their livestock.
Especially popular is the belief that, with her spells and incantations, the witch could make the Sun and the Moon set, causing eclipses. It is often believed that this could only be done by a witch and her daughter, both of which must be breastfeeding at the time. On the eve of certain national holidays, they would go to a secluded area, such as water mill, an abandoned yard or at a crossroads. There, they would cast a spell that lowers the Moon unto the ground and transforms it into a cow. By milking the Moon, they would increase the milk of their own animals, and with said moon milk, they would create love and separation magic. Similarly, if a witch wished for the death of a human, she could find their star in the night sky and take that down as well.
As if they weren’t overpowering enough, Bulgarian witches were also said to have some control over the natural elements, causing strong winds and floods. They could pry into a man’s deepest, darkest secrets; they could make illnesses befall those they did not like, they could steal a maiden’s voice or strip a bachelor of his sexual abilities.
Despite all of this, however, no figure in Bulgarian folklore is entirely good or evil. Just as the veshtitsi could split a couple in love, they could also bring soulmates together; just as they could steal another’s livelihood, they could increase it. And just as they could make one terminally ill, they also could and did heal many who have sought help from them. Though clearly more than a fair share of mischievous, witches could be benevolent when approached the right way (or with the right offerings).
And if you take anything away from this somewhat grim article, let it be to ne’er knowingly draw the ire of a woman, for you cannot know what sorcery she might be hiding in her handbag.
Hi! I’m Bob the Skull, the egregore of GZS. I do shit and I know things and I entertain you.