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Mice in folklore beliefs and traditions

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Charismatic, intelligent, creative, extremely active and gregarious… According to the Chinese horoscope these are just some of the admirable qualities possessed by people born in the Year of the Rat – the first of the 12 years from the Chinese cycle.

Whether we are believers or not it is always a pleasant thing to hear that the Year of the Rat, beginning on 25 January, 2020 will bring opportunity, success, love and money.

It is an established fact that before converting to Christianity, proto-Bulgarians used a 12-year East Asian calendar cycle in which every year was named after a given animal. Studies of the so-called Nominalia of the Bulgarian khans have found that the calendar of the proto-Bulgarians coincides fully with the Chinese calendar we know today. The months are even named after the same animals – the first year is samor (mouse), the second – shegor (ox) and so on.

In the mythological way our ancestors viewed the world, mice are the embodiment of impure, chthonic forces. There is even a legend that mice can be inhabited by unclean spirits and demonic creatures. This was true of both house and of field mice who damage crops, find their way into barns and cupboards eating the food inside and nibbling at clothes and fabrics.

Not being able to find any way to fight this mischievous animal, peasants turned their attention to the spiritual sphere, writes renowned Bulgarian ethnographer Dimitar Marinov and adds that it was believed the mouse was a “tiny spirit which cannot be vanquished except by supplication and appeasement”. In honour of mice, people once organized so-called Mouse Days, lasting one, three or, more rarely, seven days. Most often the Mouse Days are around 27 October, the day of St. Nestor, or in some parts of the country the 24 November, the day of St. Catherine, who is, according to popular belief, the patron saint of rats.

For the ruptsi ethnographic group in Strandzha and the Rhodopes, as well as the migrants coming to Dobroudzha, the mouse days fall on Trifuntsi (1,2 and 3 February), in some towns and villages of the same regions – on Dog Monday (the first day of Lent and St. Todor’s day week). The rituals performed aim to neutralize and banish vermin – women, their eyes closed, would plaster the floor around the fireplace and the four corners of the room with mud, and would then stop up the mouse holes so as to “stop up the eyes of the mice”.

To “sew up” the lips of the vermin, people in Eastern Thrace would make stitches on a piece of cloth and then throw it into the fire. On Mouse Days no animal names should be said out loud, people would call them “lads”, “grouse” etc. There are other prohibitions as well – working with wool or sharp objects is not allowed, nor is opening chests of clothes, the lard keg or the flour box. “Mouse weddings” were once put on during Mouse Days or at another time of the year. Two women with the same name would catch a male and a female mouse, “dress them up” as bride and groom, tie them to one another and put them inside a basket or wooden bowl. The whole village would follow the “newlyweds” to the sound of wedding music. They would go to the forest, next to a river or up a hill and would let the mice loose. It was believed all other mice would follow and the homes and the village would be rid of them. After that the villagers would all sit down to a festive dinner.

In a house where the Mouse Days are honoured, there are no mice, it is believed. But if mice do appear, then some family member is either stealing or taking something out of the house in secret, the daughters-in-law are not obeying their mother-in-law, the sons – their fathers, there is no understanding among the siblings.

According to the folklore dream book if you dream of a mouse you shall have worries, friends will leave you… If you dream you are chasing a mouse – good things shall enter your life, and if you catch it – some kind of gain awaits you. At least in two of these beliefs the way mice are seen comes close to the likeable rat from the Chinese calendar who will dominate the next 12 months – up until 11 February, 2021.

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