(a Bulgarian tale)
Once upon a time in the small town of Dobrinishte, near the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria, there lived a shepherd named Ivaylo. All his life Ivaylo had heard tales of the Samodivi, the creatures only some people had seen. But Ivaylo had heard them singing, and he longed to see whoever made such captivating music.
People said the Samodivi were beautiful beyond imagining. They always dressed in long white gowns with belts of rainbow colors, and they were said to ride upon the backs of deer, using twisted snakes as reins. Whenever a hunter accidentally killed a Samodiva’s deer, she cast a spell upon him; soon after, he died.
The Samodivi lived in the deepest part of the forest, always near water, but in the wintertime they were said to move to Zmeykovo at the edge of the world to live among other mythical creatures.
But one autumn night Ivaylo heard the Samodivi, and he decided he must find them. People said they washed their clothes in the river at dusk. If any man stole a Samodiva’s clothes, she had to become his wife.
So Ivaylo followed the sound of their voices, and before long he came upon them dancing. He hid behind trees to watch, and he fell in love. They were more graceful than any woman he had ever seen.
But he was careful. People said sometimes the Samodivi invited a young man to dance with them; as soon as the sun rose, they disappeared, and the man died from exhaustion. They also said the Samodivi loved the shepherd’s pipe, the kaval. Ivaylo was one of the finest players of the pipes.
He watched as the women held hands and danced in a circle around an ancient walnut tree. Blue light glowed from the roots of the tree, and wreaths of beautiful yellow flowers crowned the golden hair of each Samodiva. Their gowns fluttered, shining in the moonlight.
He could hear the sound of a flute’s eerie notes that seemed to draw the women in, and as the tempo grew faster, the women kept pace, dancing through the grass, twisting and twirling. This seemed to go on for hours. Suddenly a shrill note sang into the night, and the women let go of one another’s hands and raised them to the sky. Their belts loosened, their gowns slipped off, and Ivaylo feared they might hear his gasp as the women ran toward the river.
Ivaylo quickly ran forward and grabbed one of the gowns, and when the Samodiva returned, there was one left alone, one without the power to vanish. Her eyes looked panicked, and Ivaylo’s heart went out to her.
“I’m here,” he said. “I love you. I wish to marry you.”
That is how Ivaylo and Marika, the Samodiva, came to marry. When they returned to Ivaylo’s house, he hid the gown away, and from that day on, he and his wife lived happily. Ivaylo forgot all about his caution and fears, and three years passed.
One autumn day, three years after that day in the forest, Marika gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. The couple chose St. John to be the child’s godfather, and they held a grand feast to celebrate the birth.
At the feast, St. John asked Marika to dance.
Ivaylo was overjoyed at the idea of seeing his wife dance again, and so he began to play upon his flute. Marika began to dance, but St. John shook his head.
“You are not dancing like the beautiful Samodiva,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
Marika frowned. “I cannot dance without my gown,” she explained.
St. John looked at Ivaylo. “Give her the gown,” he said, “so that she may dance with joy!”
Certain that Marika would never leave him and their child, Ivaylo pulled the gown from its hiding place and gave it to his wife.
The moment she put it on, she twirled in a pirouette such as no one had ever seen.
With that, she turned to Ivaylo and said, “I told you: A house does not suit a Samodiva. Goodbye.”
She disappeared forever, returning to the world of her sisters, the Samodivi.