Caroling (kolyada) is an old Slavic ritual

Caroling (kolyada, koleda) is an old Slavic ritual timed to the period after winter solstice and before the new year. A group of participants visits neighboring houses, performs songs and chants good wishes addressed to the owners of each house – for which they receive various gifts.

In the Eastern Slavic calendar rituals, such as Kolyada and Maslennitsa, there is always a character dressed like a goat or with a goat mask. The attributes of the masked goat are usually a fur coat turned inside out, a wooden head with horns, a straw (or vine) beard and sometimes a moving lower jaw.

The goat in Slavic tradition is a symbol and stimulator of fertility. At the same time, it is considered an animal of demonic nature; acts as a representation of evil spirits and at the same time as a guardian from them.

The core of the eastern Slavic new year ritual of “walking a goat” is a song with a chorus “Oh-ho, goat”, where a story of the future harvest is told in “exaggerated manner” (“where the goat walks, it will give birth there”, “where the goat has a horn, there is a harvest “,” where a goat has a tail, there is bread “and the like). The song is accompanied by a dance, the central moment of which is the “dying” and “resurrection” of the Goat, which symbolizes the cycle of time and the rebirth of nature.

Source: “Slavic mythology. Encyclopedic Dictionary “, 2019 // Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Drawing by L. S. Lenchevsky and T. N. Safonovsky to the ethnographic description of the “Goat” ritual in 1926 (the village of Kuncha, Ukraine). The caption under the picture lists the characters: 1) Straw grandfather, 2) Goat, 3) Judge, 4) Turk, 5) Cossack, 6) Doctor, 7) Gypsy, 8) Woman with a child

Karachun in Slavic tradition

KARACHUN (корочун, керечун, kračún, kračun, kraczun) in Slavic tradition. Karachun for Ukrainians, Poles, Slovaks, Moravians, Bulgarians, and Serbs – represents the winter solstice and the time period just before the new year, as well as a special bread and a tree, timed to this period of the year.

In the Russian and Belarusian languages, the word «karachun» also meant a sudden death, death at a young age, deathbed seizures, as well as an evil spirit or a demon that shortens life.

A common element of all these meanings is ‘a turn, a significant change in state’, represented in the names of the days of the winter and summer solstice, which are the border of winter and summer; in the description of death and the borderline state between life and death; in the names of evil spirits that cause death, especially premature death.

Also, krachun – is a special bread, known in the Carpathian region (among the Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Poles, Slovaks and Moravians). Krachun is considered a symbol of family wealth and has a special ceremonial and magical value. In Ukraine, wives and mothers used to bake it while dressed in an inside-out fur coat and in mittens. According to tradition, people usually put grains of various cereals, garlic, herbs in the middle of the bread, stuck a stalk of oats or a fir twig, they also tied krachun with a string of flax or hemp – all with a special purpose and a wish for wealth and good harvest.

In Slovakia, the krachun was divided between family members, given to house animals for good health and fertility, and the remainder was laid in front of the barn door for protection against witches. A piece of krachun and everything “baked” in it (people would put things inside on purpose) was used as medicine, amulets and powerful magical objects. Slavs also used krachun in divination by rolling it on the floor: if it rolled over onto the top crust, it meant misfortune in cattle breeding or the death of one of the family members. In Ukraine, people also used krachun for foretelling by looking at the shape it would take in the oven.

Have you come across these Slavic rites?

Source: Bogatyrev P.G. “Questions of the theory of folk art” 1971
Artist: Victor Korolkov “Karachun”

Polevik can be kind

In Slavic beliefs, Polevik is a hostile creature but sometimes he helps humans. Novgorod people believed that Polevik could warn field workers about danger – for example, drive them out of the field before an approaching thunderstorm.

That is why people always tried to please Polevik. In Novgorod, when pasturing cows in the meadowland, people bowed to Polevik and said: “Field father, field mother with little children, take my cattle, give it water and feed it”. And when cattle got lost, people would take bread and three coins, stand on the road and say: “Master of the field, I will give you bread and a gold treasure, and you bring my hog home.”

In the Oryol region of Russia, on certain holidays at night, a couple of eggs and an old rooster stolen from neighbors were sacrificed to Polevik in the field. It was believed that, without a sacrifice, Polevik would get angry and destroy all the bread in the field. And in the Yaroslavl region, at the end of the harvest people left several uncut bread spikes as an offering to Polevik.

Why do you think they sacrificed not their own, but the neighbor’s rooster? 😉

More interesting facts can be found in: “Slavic Antiquities” – encyclopedic dictionary in 5 volumes by Institute for Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Polevik can be evil and grumpy

Polevik in the beliefs of the Slavs is an evil, grumpy and unpredictable spirit. He scares people with his sudden appearance, wild echo, clapping his hands or whistling, and also takes the form of a monstrous shadow that chases people. Russians and Ukrainians believed that Polevik makes people to go astray (especially children who go to the fields for flowers), “leads” them through the fields and lures them into a swamp, or makes fun of drunken plowmen. He can drive an entire wedding procession into a river. Polevik could pester to a traveler with questions: “How are you? Where are you going? Why?”, which would knock people off their way.

Belarusians in Vitebsk region believed that, if Polevik got angry – he tormented the animals grazing in the field by sending flies and horseflies on them. Or he could trample down the crops, or twist the plants, or send damaging insects and harmful winds on them. He could also deflect the rain from and bring the cattle to the crop fields. In Ukrainian beliefs, Polevik himself sows weeds in the fields. Russians of Smolensk region had a saying about the cause of the cattle illness: “Polevik flew into the ear”. Russians also believed that even Polevik’s children (‘Mezhevichki’) run along the field borders, catching birds and strangling people who dare to lie there.

What a family! I wonder what his wife is capable of? 😉

To be continued…
Artist: Ivan Tsygankov