Slavs and Eastern Europeans are rarely subjects of mainstream media and when we are, we are reduced to thugs, mafia members, prostitutes and other negative roles. It wasn't until I started communicating with people from all over the world when I found out that these stereotypes that we would laugh about ourselves, were believed to be how we actually behave. And while I do not deny that such people indeed exist among us, most of us are normal working people, who try to live our lives with dignity. But it is a fact that these people are ignored, our culture and folklore remain unknown and unexplored by people.
When I first started writing "Daystar" back in the early 2010s, it was your generic fantasy series, that you've already seen. But, growing up with our traditional fairy tales I would find myself borrowing from them more and more. This, alongside the stated above, made me shift the narrative, names and lore to Slavic inspired. And while I understand I will never be able to capture all of the cultures of each and every Slavic country, I will try to do my best at presenting you with essence of it.
In the prologue, Albena and Vulchan voice their concern over the possible vampirism of their parents and Kalina. Fear of the dead is a big part of Slavic tales and beliefs. While vampires, as we know them today, are largely a product of Western cinema and literature, the basis for it comes from Eastern European believes. Upirs were evil spirits, the first evil in the world according to some accounts. As time went by, he lost this role and became just an immortal evil spirit that would suck the blood of the living. To become such being, one must have been either not properly mourned after their death, died an unjust death or have been a bad member of society while still alive. People who would do magic while still living were also believed to become upirs after their death. To make sure one would not return as a vampire the head would be cut off and placed between the legs; their feet and hands would be cut so they won't be able to walk and evil with them. It was normal for them to spend the whole night with the deceased, cover the mirrors with some kind of fabric so that the deads soul upon looking in its own reflection would decide to come back, all doors and windows would be opened so the soul could surely leave, and the place where the body is kept should not be left dark. Cats, dogs and rosters would be kept as far as possible so they would not jump over the body, as if they do it - the person would become a vampire. Some upirs when rising from their graves would return to their normal life and family, thus resulting in the legends for dhampirs. And when you think of Eastern Europe and vampires, the first that comes to mind is Romanian Vlad Tepes, also known as Count Dracula thanks to the media. And that's because of Bram Stoker's novel. For Romanian people, he is a national hero thanks to his efforts in fighting the Ottoman empire, and I could go on to describe his life and led him to do the horrible torture of his enemies in more detail, but here it is not the place. A real interesting case of an Eastern European vampire, in my opinion, is that of Sava Savonovic - Serbian miller, who died in the 18th century. After his death he would inhabit the watermill he worked in and kill his fellow villagers, drinking their blood. His mill in the Zarozje village in West Serbia is a tourist attraction, while the movie Leptirica is inspired by his case.
Rusalki are considered the equivalent of mermaids in Slavic mythology. They live in rivers and lakes and can cause flows when ripping their hair. Mermaids are the souls of deceased girls that drown themselves or were murdered by drowning or were kidnapped by the water spirit Vodnik. They seduce young men and drown them. Some sources say they can change their appearance to match the preferences of the men they trick, others describe their looks are eerie, with see-through skin and white hair, third say they are more greenish and blueish. They are a bigger part of the West and East Slavs mythology. Gogol's "May Night, or the Drowned Maiden"(a personal favourite) uses rusalki as one of the main parts of its plot. Samodivi are another female spirit, they are forever beautiful and young women dressed in white, long hair and enchanting look. Instead of a belt, they wear snakes or rainbows on their small waists. When a man steals their veil they are forced to obey and marry him, but they try to get it back at any given chance and when they do they leave their husband and children. One of their most notable appearances is in the poem "Hadzhi Dimitar" by Hristo Botev. In my opinion, the difference in their popularity is based on the geography of the regions.
In my world, witches and magicians are descendants of magical beings such as samodivas, villas, rusalki, etc. Some people, born on a Saturday can use magic too, but their powers are limited. Witches are separated into three types and are more powerful than magicians. The three categories are - blood witch, mirror witch and witches of sense.
The blood witches are the first, fourth, seventh and so on, the mirror ones are second, fifth, eight and so on, while the sense - third, sixth, ninth and so on. Blood witches are the most powerful, mirror witches are the most gifted, while sense ones are the most dangerous. A witch of sense has the ability to free people of curses, to read and control one's mind, control earth and wind, to see people's past, take away their pain, etc. A mirror witch is gifted with seeing curses put on people, healing, potion-making, controlling earth and water. They can bless people with fortune and good luck, make one fall in love with them, but also create powerful poisons. A blood witch main task is to protect the family - she can sense when a person from the bloodline is in danger. They can curse people, read one's blood, control fire and earth. They can also freely communicate with the spirits of dead relatives.
Magicians, for the most part, are based on Bayan Magesnic(a Bulgarian mythical figure) and Koschei the Deathless. Koschei is one of the most prominent figures in Russian fairy tales, with his role always being antagonistic. The typical feature of tales concerning Koschei is his protection against being killed – to do so he has hidden his soul inside an egg, and further nested the egg inside various animals, and then in protective containers and places. He will also try to court a young girl into marrying him, but when she refuses he'd transform her into some kind of animal. Bayan Magesnic, on the other hand, is entirely a positive character in tales. Based on an actual historical figure - Veneamin was one of the younger sons of Simeon the First of Bulgaria, who took the name Bayan/ Boyan and started practising the old religion and rituals, as well as magic. He would travel across the land, helping and healing people. Currently, according to legends, he is sleeping along with his daughter Boyana and an army, only to wake up when his people are in their greatest time of need.
Hala, zmey and lamya are the three different types of dragons in Slavic mythology. Hala is the most spirit like of the three, bringing storms and thunder. They aim to feast on the Sun or Moon. A mortal enemy with zmeys. A popular trope is them having a fight, where he loses his life and is avenged by a hero he fathered with a mortal woman.
The zmey is the most dragon-like, as it is often depicted as a lizard-like creature with more than one head. A zmey could transform into a young and handsome man, that would go on to marry a mortal girl and from this union, a hero would be born. They could also stop river bodies from reaching human villages and the only way to stop this would be to give him a maiden to eat. Some zmeys could be friends to humans and protect the villages/ towns.
Lamya is the natural enemy/rival of the zmey and is a female, while the zmey is a male and the hala could be both or doesn't have a gender. She is also purely and only evil spirit, with scales covering her body, big nails and a large mouth. She has three or more heads and is usually defeated by a hero.