#Fairytale Friday: Serbia

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Title: Serbian Fairy Tales (Σερβικά παραμύθια)

Writer: edited and translated into Greek by Momčilo Radić

Publishing House: Απόπειρα

Date of Publication: 2004

Rating: 5 stars

Today we aren’t going to talk about a specific tale. Instead, we’re going on a trip to Serbia, guided by the most characteristic features of the Serbian fairy tale. 

The fairy tales of Serbia are quite interesting in the sense that they are firmly connected to History, Tradition, and Folklore. Every time I spend some time with my boyfriend’s mother (acquiring my interrogator’s tone because tales, people, obviously!) I learn a multitude of fables and legends that can be traced back to religion and the battles of the old times. These are a few of the perks of having a History pro in your family! Now, this lovely volume contains tales derived from Srpske narodne pripovetke by Vul Stefanović Karadžić, the father of Serbian letters, and the ethnographic collection of the Serbian Royal Academy, all beautifully translated into Greek by Momčilo Radić.

In Serbian tradition, it is usually the youngest child that gives the solution to the problem and averts disaster. Fate isn’t an undefeated enemy but a power that can be overcome and altered through intelligence and courage. Many of the tales do not have a traditional ‘’happy’’ closure, which is common in Slavic tradition. However, justice is always restored. Wronged children that fell victims to their parents’ cruelty and lust for wealth become angels and the saints punish the parents-monsters.

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για serbian fairies

Women are very prominent in Serbian tales and the change of the roles they usually acquire is very interesting. They may start as damsels in distress but this is an initial facade. Soon, they become the ones who provide the hero with the aid of carrying out an impossible task or they are the actual heroines who defeat Evil, save their beloved and live happily ever after. Fairies are also important and every city and town and village in Serbia retain their fairy myths to our days. The vily (fairies) are given names according to their dwellings. For example, we have the gajerke (the fairies of the forests), the vodarke (the ones who dwell in rivers), the jezerkinke (fairies who live in the lakes), the zagorkinje (fairies who live on the mountains),  the pećinke (fairies who live in caves), and many more. The immortality of the fairies lies in their hair. If someone takes a strand of hair from a vila, she will die. In addition, if their wings are clipped, they become mortal women.

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για zagorkinje

Foxes, eagles, and wolves are recurring presences in the folk tales. Foxes are cunning helpers that advise the hero during his journey, eagles are symbols of power and wisdom. After all, the eagle is the most important national symbol of Serbia and the national teams are called orlovi (eagles). Wolves are a bit more controversial, though. They are symbols of freedom but they acquired a more sinister role when Christianity took over. Dragons are also present but they don’t share many common characteristics with their British kins…dragons. They can be bad and good and they are certainly not clever with the exception of the zmajevi, the dragons of the Heavens that are considered part of the Army of God along with the eagles and the hawks. Which is enormously cool, by the way.

Read more on the folklore of the Serbian dragon here: The Serbian Dragon: Fact or Fable?

The battle between Good and Evil is always a prosperous field for tales. The angels walk at the right side of the hero and we all know who stands at the left, don’t we? The saints protect the heroes and heroines and during the slava, the celebration day of the patron saint of each family, demons, and monsters are more easily defeated. Old men break intricate spells woven by the Baba Yagas residing in the forests. Naturally, we cannot overlook the mora, the Night Hag who tries to smother her victims in their sleep, a terrifying experience to those of us who are familiar with sleep paralysis, and the vukodlak (derived from the words vuk = wolf and dlaka = hair), the original vampire, a vital aspect of Balkan tradition.

I feel that the last word belongs to Miloš Obilić, one of the greatest and most tragic heroes of Serbia, a legendary warrior born from the generation of dragons and killed in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 when the region was violently snatched away from Serbia, remaining an open wound and a reminder of a frightful injustice aided by the so-called Western powers.

But that is a tale too dark to be told here…

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για milos obilic

(Uroš Predić’s Kosovo Maiden comforting the dying hero Miloš Obilić)

7 Comments Add yours

  1. So I WAS wrong? 😀 I thought you’d do Prague, since you were there at the time. 😀 I love how you’ve written this, it shows your love and interest in the topic. 🙂 How is your Serbian going? Once you can read a bit more complex books, I have 4 on the topic of Serbian folklore you’d definitely love. 🙂

    P.S. An interesting tidbit – you mentioned Mora, which I love reading about, and it’s funny that the Serbian word for “nightmare” is “nocna mora”, meaning night Mora. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😁I bought 65663888 books of tales, myths and legends of the Czech Republic so a Czech-themed post is definitely on its way. My Serbian is slowly but surely getting better although I lack the confidence to even use the simplest words besides my interaction with my boyfriend’s family. He isn’t much help, I’m afraid. 😁He prefers to speak Greek (why are men being so difficult with everything??😑😑) but my reading skills are moderate. I am thinking of starting a proper Serbian course this winter if working hours allow. I can’t wait to finally read a proper book in Serbian.

      Oh, Mora is such a frightening figure. I’ve suffered from the effects of sleep paralysis for two years and it still sends shivers down my spine. I always go to sleep with my cross next to my pillow and I understand that it is quite a terrifying figure in the Serbian tradition.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahahaha I can’t wait! 😀 Oooh awesome! Well the talking part is always the hardest, I actually began reading in Portuguese before actually properly speaking to someone in it. 😀 Your boyfriend is Serbian? Make him then! If you’re interested, I can get you some ebooks in Serbian, I got a CD with hundreds of books when I bought my kindle. 🙂

        I know! My mom suffers from sleep paralysis since forever, and she’s all casual about it, but when she describes her experiences to me I’m legitimately freaked out. 😐

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Same thing here. I can describe my experience in a matter-of-fact way but people are always creeped out. And rightfully so, I think. What is so interesting when it comes to night terrors is that everyone’s experiences are similar and it is quite astonishing that science hasn’t come up with an explanation about these similarities.

        He is Serbian and speaks 7 languages (the show-off 😂😂) and he prefers to write in Cyrillic which I have struggled to learn to no avail…I have found a few interesting courses in Athens but the working hours make it almost impossible for now. Also, those who say that falling in love is the best way to learn a foreign language? Well, I beg to differ…🤐

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Wow, it;s horrifying. :S Yup, it’s so weird there’s no scientific explanation, or even some kind of medicine for it in this day and age!

        Wow!!! Haha well he has a right to show off. 😀 Don’t worry, when you learn Serbian, you’ll learn Cyrillic easily enough. 🙂 I don’t know how and where are you learning at the moment, but it just occurred to me the best way to learn is probably to learn the latin letters first (how they sound), because Serbian is read letter by letter. Hope that can help. 🙂 Once you learn the letters, then you can learn the Cyrillic side-by-side. 🙂 Hmm I don’t really trust those classes, but since there’s no Serbian on Duolingo and such, maybe that’s your best option for when you have time. :/ Hahaha nope! But speaking the language to someone – yes! Just stop talking to your bf in any language and just speak Serbian. xD

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Once work allows (which I don’t see happening anytime soon), I will visit the Serbian Embassy to get some info on authorized organizations and certified teachers. It’s easier to learn a language through self-studying when you are a foreign language teacher but one needs the discipline and interaction that comes with organized classes.

        Now, imagine the scenery. We are both extreme introverts. He doesn’t like talking all that much. You should see us sitting in the living room, reading our respective choices. I mean, silent as a cemetery (Halloween pun opportunity, yeah!).

        Plus, Duolingo needs to get its sh*&* together and start a Serbian course. Enough with the Valyrian/Klingon and whatnot idiocies…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ooops! I missed this comment! :S Hopefully you’ll find a good place to continue learning. 🙂 Ahaha that sounds awesome! My bf is an extrovert, so I can only read while he’s sleeping or gone haha, otherwise I get 1001 questions, related or not to the book. 😀 Agree about Duolingo! They’re adding a bunch of nonexistent languages while forgetting the real ones! :S

        Liked by 1 person

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