Spring witch burning in Slavic tradition

We continue with the spring being a time of the witches’ activity according to the Slavic tradition. In Herzegovina, trying to protect their homes, people would put thorns of blackthorn or hawthorn on the gate with eggshells hooked on them. In Bosnia, in the evening, an old opanok (bast shoe) was placed in the fireplace, as people believed that its smell would ward off witches (veshtitsa). They also stuck a knife in the door, hung garlic and burned eggshells so that “veshtitsa would not come”. It was forbidden to leave whole eggshells out of fear that veshtitsas would ride in them, like in boats, quickly reaching the places where they want to do evil.

During Maslenitsa, people were trying to identify veshtitsa by burning a special thread, which was used for an “egg biting” ritual (“lamkan” – a ritual similar to the Ukrainian “biting kalita”). For example, in Bulgaria in the Rhodope Mountains, when the thread was burned, the names of women suspected of witchcraft were pronounced: the woman on whose name the thread flashed brightest was considered a witch.

In Polish Pomerania, during Maslenitsa period, fishermen were protecting the fishnet by fumigating it with smoke and shooting at it, otherwise the witches could spoil the catch. The most radical ritual was the symbolic “burning of veshtitsas” in Serbia and Macedonia, similar to the West Slavic and Polessie region rites of ” witch burning” in Kupala bonfires or in bonfires on Walpurgis night. For example, a large branch of a sweet cherry tied with straw, which was lit and carried around orchards, was called “kara veshtitsa” (black witch).

Source: Agapkina T. A. “Mythopoetic foundations of the Slavic folk calendar. Spring-summer cycle. “, 2002

witch burning

Spring and demons in Slavic tradition

For the ancient Slavs, spring was not only the time of the nature awakening, but also the time of the increased activity of various mythological creatures. Thus, the beginning of the river ice drift was associated with the awakening of the Vodyanoi (water spirit). Every spring the Russians sacrificed a horse and other gifts to him, drowning them in the river. Among the Kashubians, when the ice began to crack, the parents told their children: “Strёx są ju zbudził” (Vodyanoi awoke).

The beginning of March and Maslenitsa week (end of winter celebration) among the southern Slavs were considered a veshtitsa spree period. Serbs believed that veshtitsa (witch) eats babies and human hearts, and Montenegrins hid needles on March 1, believing that witches could use them to take out a human heart.

In Serbia, it was believed that on veshtitsa steal or strangle children or suck their blood. To deceive them, mothers took their children to their bed, and instead of babies they put a pralnik (wooden tool for laundry), a doll or a whisk in the cradle.

As a talisman, Slavs generally used garlic, because veshtitsa cannot stand its smell. They rubbed their feet, forehead and chest for protection. Interestingly, swaying on a swing was a popular way of protecting against veshtitsa in Serbia: «да га не поjеду» (so that the person would not be eaten).

To be continued…

Picture: “The Magic Circle” by John Waterhouse.

magic circle

Bread and salt – part 3

Have you ever tried to change the weather? Our Slavic ancestors had many rituals for this, including the use of bread and salt. Among the eastern and southern Slavs, for protection from hail or thunderstorms, bread and salt were offered to a thundercloud in order to appease it. Slavs could set a table outdoor or offer bread and salt on a shovel or in a “dezha” (special wooden tub for sourdough bread making). And during a drought, they threw bread and salt into a well, or went out with them into the field and prayed for rain.

Bread and salt were thrown into the river so that the water would carry away all the diseases, or as protection from flooding. The Belarusians put them in a fishing net so that Vodyanoi would help with a successful fishing; the Bulgarians threw them to Khala along with the money so that Khala would not eat the cattle bathing in the lake.

They were also used for divination. To determine the fate of a relative, Slavs placed salt, bread, oven clay and charcoal on the corners of the table. Then they would hold a bread on a string to see if it deviates in the direction of bread and salt (then the relative is alive), or to clay and charcoal (than the relative is dead).

To be continued…

bread and salt

Gromoboi – part 2

Gromoboi was also used as protection from thunder and lightning in the Zhitomir region, where a house was fumigated with its wooden chips. In Slovenia our Slavic ancestors during a thunderstorm used to put Gromoboi splinters inside a fireplace or on a top of burning coals to ward off trouble.

Across the territory of modern Ukraine and Belarus, Gromoboi was widely used for healing purposes. People chewed its chips to keep their teeth strong “like thunder” and rinsed their mouth with a decoction of water boiled Gromoboi bark. They also scraped the burned part of the Gromoboi and prepared “black drink” against the “black disease” – epilepsy, as well as boiled the Gromoboi chips to be used against back pains. In the Zhitomir region, people believed that inside the Gromoboi trunk (which they called “Thunder Tree”) there is always a “fiery candle” that heals any disease.

In Belarus people used Gromoboi to make a special wooden tub for sourdough bread preparation (it was called “dezha”) – so that “the witch would not steal the top part of the dough”. In Poland, it was believed that bread would grow quickly in such a wooden tub, if the tub was made by cooper in one day and from a pine tree broken by lightning.

Source: “Slavic Antiquities” – encyclopedic dictionary in 5 volumes by Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.


Gromoboi – part 1

The Slavs believed that the god Perun, during a thunderstorm, strikes with lightning those places where an evil spirit is hiding (or devil in a later interpretation). A stone, a person, water and of course a tree could become a shelter for an evil spirit. According to Slavic beliefs, if a tree was struck by thunderbolt, it acquired magical properties. Such trees were called “Gromoboi” in Russia (derived from “grom” – thunder, and “boi” – hit).

Gromoboi was not used in construction as a dangerous tree that attracts thunderbolt. The presence of Gromoboi in the wall of a house, according to the beliefs of the Poleshchuks, led to death, illness and discord in the family, a fire from lightning, and other troubles. The Serbs either did not extinguish the tree, lit by the lightning, or did not use it at all for construction or as a firewood. In Northern Bosnia, it was believed that if you use Gromoboi as a firewood to boil your clothing for washing, it would fall to shreds.

To be continued…Gromoboi