If you are not familiar with the culture of the Balkans, chances are that you have never heard of Promaja. It is also fair to say that even people born and raised in Serbia, for example, have a hard time explaining this concept.
To begin with, Promaja best translates to draft (draught in British English) and relates to having open outer doors and windows in your home or other building.
You almost certainly know the sensation. If the weather outside is somewhat windy, and there is an open window in some of the other rooms, by opening the front door you would notice an air pressure that pulls the door back. In terms of physics, Promaja is the chilly draft that surpasses the space you are in through air circulation between open doors and windows.
The complexity of the Promaja is due to the beliefs attached to the term throughout history. In the Balkan cultures, this wind is believed to contain evil spirits, which bring pain in the back, neck, arms, legs… Any part of your body can be a subject of Promaja.
From an anthropological standpoint, this kind of belief is common, and some recidives like this one are known to almost every contemporary living culture.
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Following the etymology of the word, we are going to find out that it is bipartite.
Maja is an archaism and it may also symbolize a good spirit. For example, someone who got a lot of money recently would give a small amount to a beloved one in order for him “to be caught by the Maja”.
The word Pro is a prefix that means different things depending on a different context but generally is associated with going through or passing very close or attached to something. This kind of belief has its roots in the so-called animistic thinking, common for kids at an early stage.
So, why is this term still in use? Most of the Balkans including Serbs, Croats, and others, especially the youth in these countries, don’t consider Promaja to exist. It is more of a joke or an urban legend, related to aging, getting old, and generally older people.
Secondly, although lacking a scientific reason, on a basic intuitive level it somehow makes sense. A cold draft hitting your sweety back feels quite uncomfortable, and since people explain unpleasant outcomes with unpleasant events, Proamja comes in handy.
Even the hardcore believers, don’t see it as a great threat. To be self-diagnosed with Promaja is not the end of the world. On the contrary, it means that although nasty, it is a situation that will resolve by itself in a couple of days without additional treatment.