Modern day Bulgaria lies at the crossroads between East and West, and has ancestral roots among three quite different groups of peoples: the ancient Thracians, the Slavs and the Proto-Bulgarians. These peoples were originally separate and ethnically distinct, with widely differing cultures and religions, and it is this mix that has contributed to modern Bulgaria’s rich heritage and still vibrant folklore and traditional culture.
The ancient Thracians were an Indo-European tribal people who settled at least 5,000 years ago in that area of the Balkans whose heartland is now the modern state of Bulgaria. They were expert horse breeders, produced fine vines and wines, and were artful metalworkers, creating an exquisite treasury of adornments, ritual objects and vessels. They had a rich culture to rival that of the ancient Greeks but they had no written language of their own. So much of what we know about them comes from their rich archaeological remains, and from the Greek writers who were their contemporaries.
The Thracians revered the forces of nature, worshipped the sun and believed in the immortality of the soul. Thracian mythology encompassed the mysterious Thracian Horseman, the wine-loving Dionysus and Bendis, the great mother goddess, sometimes depicted riding a doe, bow in hand with a quiver of arrows slung across her back. Thracian myth and culture is dramatic, veering from light to dark. It is located in a wild mountainous landscape where the great goddess hunts, the horse is sacred and the mysterious Thracian Horseman dispenses both life and death. And Orpheus, the great singer, musician, healer and sorcerer, descends to the Underworld in search of his dead consort Eurydice, offering the promise of immortality and rebirth.
After the 6th century AD the Thracians were absorbed into the Slavic and Bulgarian peoples who settled in the area, but the subsequent Bulgarian kingdom inherited their legacy.
Bulgaria is rich in Thracian archaeological remains, and traces of Thracian myth and religion have survived in current Bulgarian folklore and customs, such as those given below.