The Dragons of Bulgaria

Many Bulgarian folklore tales feature the classic clash of good vs evil, with brave heroes battling against monsters. These heroes go on exciting adventures, saving villages and rescuing princesses along the way. On their adventures filled with danger and romance, they often encounter fearsome dragons, though these dragons might not resemble ones most people are used to.

The dragons of Bulgarian fairy tales and folklore come in three forms. There are two variants of female dragons called Khala and Lamya who largely represent evil. They are paralleled by the male dragons called Zmei who represent good. Legends says that if a fish or serpent is not seen by human eyes for forty years, it will become one of these fierce dragons.

Khala and Lamya are both female water dragons whose powers include the ability to summon great storms destructive to villages and crops. Lamya mostly features in stories from Eastern and Southwestern Bulgaria, whereas Khala appears in the West, but in all stories it is always the female dragons who are the villains that the male dragons must battle with to save lives and villages.

Though these two female dragons have many similarities, there are also distinct differences between them. Khala are described as female water dragons with large wings, no legs, the body of a snake, and three snake heads. Because of this, they are also known as The Fierce Three-Headed Snake, or Khala-Snake. When battling with Zmei, a Khala will often appear as a large, black cloud over lakes, lowering her tail and draining all the water to use as a weapon against the male dragon, who’s power is rooted in fire.

Lamya, in contrast, are known as the Dog-Lamya as they are often depicted as having the head (or sometimes three heads) of a dog and four scaly legs. Like Khala, Lamya also have large wings and the body of a snake, but they have a horn or stinger attached to the end of their tails.

Though their appearances and descriptions vary slightly, the Lamya and Khala’s behaviors seem to largely be the same. Both are depicted as evil creatures that terrorize villages, stealing beautiful maidens, or drying up wells to force the people to serve the dragons by controlling their water supply.

Both female dragons are said to cause storms and natural disasters to further cripple towns and villages. Lamya are often associated with fog and hail, while a Khala uses water as her weapon, twith devastating effects. The origin of their hatred towards man is never too clear, and it seems that they are evil simply because that is their nature.

Despite their desire to wreak havoc upon the dwellings of man, the dragons make their own homes in remote locations that are difficult for those without wings to reach, such as treetops and mountain caves. This could almost seem to suggest that the dragons would prefer to live a life of solitude, yet it is always them who seek out the people whom they kill or threaten. Dragons are often only able to be killed by humans when all of their heads are cut off.

Zmei are the male counterpart to the Khala and Lamya, yet unlike them he is seen as a force of good in the world, a positive being who defends the villages against the evil dragons. Zmei are protectors of families, communities, and crops.

Like the female dragons, Zmei are depicted with multiple heads, between 3 and 9, and resembles a giant snake. He has large wings and is described as being part bird, part snake, and part human. The resemblance between the dragons could be a familial one, as the female and male dragons are sometimes said to be siblings. But unlike his sisters who’s powers lie in water, the Zmei fights with fire and lightening, casting fiery arrows across the sky. It’s no wonder that when the female and male dragons clash in battle it results in deafening thunderstorms that light up the sky.

As well as the tales of fighting the female dragons and defending villages, there are several stories about the Zmei that involve them shape-shifting into a human and seducing beautiful women. Bulgarian folk songs often tell of dragons coming down from the skies in human form to steal away their wives and daughters. Children born out of the love of a human and dragon are said to look like humans, but wings under their arms will give away what they really are.

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