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The words samodiva and samovila go back to some very old Indo-European roots with a meaning of "divinity", "demon", "rave", "wild", "virgin" (as in "pure" and "raw") and "rage".
Samodivas are commonly depicted as ethereal maidens with long loose hair, sometimes also with wings. They are usually dressed in free-flowing gowns, their garments decorated with feathers by means of which they can fly like birds. Samodivas are most often described as being blonde, tall and slender women with pale, glowing skin and fiery eyes.
According to folk beliefs Samodivas live inside huge old trees, in abandoned shacks or dark caves, near the rivers, ponds or wells. Mountains connected to them are Vitosha, Rudina, Belasitsa, Rila, Rodopi, the Balkan but Pirin is their favorite. They play and sing there or try their powers with the common heroes. Samodivas come on humans world and do this only during the spring and stay until autumn. During the winter they live in mythical village of Zmajkovo.
Abilities and habits
Samodivas are believed to be very beautiful women with an affinity to fire. They have the power to bring about drought, burn a farmer's crops, or make cattle die of high fever. It is said that, when angered, a Samodiva would change her appearance and turn into a monstrous bird, capable of flinging fire at her enemies. This, combined with the power of their seductive voices, makes them somewhat similar to Harpies in Greek mythology. Their vindictive nature also complements this notion.
They are usually hostile and dangerous to people. Men who gaze upon a Samodiva fall instantly in love (or at least in lust), and women go so far as to take their own lives at the sight of such beauty. Sometimes a Samodiva would seduce a man, commonly a shepherd or a trespasser in her forest, and take him as her lover. However, in doing so, she would take all of his life energy, his essence. The man would then become obsessed with the Samodiva and chase her relentlessly, unable to think about anything else (including his own nourishment). The Samodiva, fuelled by the energy stolen from her admirer, would then proceed to torture the man until he dies of exhaustion.
Another important aspect of the myths surrounding samodivas is their dance. Neverending and beginning at midnight to finish at dawn, their dance symbolized the raw, and often harmful to the unprepared, energy of both nature and the supernatural world. Accompanied and following only the rhythm of the wind and their own singing, their dance was said to have been often witnessed by lost or late travellers, some of them choosing to join it, seduced by the beauty of their song and visage, only to die of exhaustion at dawn, when the samodivas finally disappeared.
Much like the Vila in Slavic folklore, a Samodiva's power is believed to come mostly from her long (usually blond) hair. A samodiva would sometimes give a small portion of it to her lover to strengthen her control over him via its magical effects. However, if her hair is damaged in some way, she will either disappear entirely or be stripped of her powers and beauty.
In Slavic folklore, a Samodiva can blind every person who sets eyes upon her. Whether or not the act of blinding is metaphorical (falling in love with the Samodiva) or a curse that has an actual physical manifestation is not known.
In Bulgarian folklore, a Samodiva's close connection to the forest makes her knowledgeable about magical herbs and cures for all illnesses. It is said that if a person managed to eavesdrop on a gathering of Samodivas he could also gain knowledge of these remedies. In many stories this is exactly what the hero is forced to do to save a loved one, as a Samodiva would never share her secrets willingly.
Balkan mythology holds that samodivas were actually the daughters of Lamia. This, combined with their mostly nocturnal nature, leads to them being considered more or less negative, or at best neutral in their nature.
Earliest written evidence of samodivas dates back to the 13th century and it is presumed they developed from Balkan traditions and myths. Researchers have also found influences from other Slavic folklore. It is widely considered that the image of the samodiva and their behavior is actually based ancient Thracian legends, especially those connected to the Cult of Orpheus, which included songs and dances performed by fire-priestesses.
In Bulgarian and Serbian folklore, "Vila samodiva" (or "Vila samovila") is used to describe the samodiva maiden who leads the others in their dances. She is usually the active participant of the contact between the protagonist of folk tales and the mystical world, serving as a guide or giving the hero a task to test his valor and resolve.
In one folk tale, Vila found Prince Marko as an infant and brought him up as a foster mother. Because Marko was raised on samodiva milk he acquired supernatural powers.
In the 19th century, prominent Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev mentions samodivas in a poem praising the late Voivoda Hadzhi Dimitar. The samodivas provide comfort to the dying man in the last moments of his life, symbolizing bravery as something of legendary and mythological. They also appear to symbolize the union between him and the land he sacrificed himself to protect. Still the samodivas and the reaction of Hadzhi Dimitar to their presence is connected to the mischievous and seductive role they often play in mythology.
In J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, the Veela are stunningly beautiful and magically captivating women who put men into a trance when singing or dancing and can turn into hideous bird-like creatures capable of throwing balls of fire when angered. They first appear in book 4 of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which they accompany the Bulgarian Quidditch team to the Quidditch World Cup. It is unclear if any male counterparts of these veela exist, or if they are rather a kind of nymph, but they can and do interbreed with human men, from which often come daughters and granddaughters who are stunningly beautiful. In the series, three of these part-veela are introduced in person: Fleur Delacour, who is a Triwizard Tournament champion from France's elite magic school, Beauxbatons; and her younger sister, Gabrielle, both of whom inherited veela blood from their half-veela mother, Apolline Delacour.
- David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, p 187-8, ISBN 0-9708442-0-4