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

Spring in Slavic tradition

Ancient Slavs considered spring as the awakening time of the earth from sleep. Nature wakes up and sets everything in motion. This annual cycle of the world re-creation is reflected in many Slavic myths and traditions.

A special power was attributed to the spring sun – many rituals were based on the exposure to the spring sunlight. Eastern Slavs, for example, put dezha (special wooden tub for sourdough bread making) on the sun to absorb its power: it was washed, dressed up in a beautiful towel, girded with a belt and placed on a fence pole from the sunny side before the sunrise – so that it could “see the sun”.

Our Slavic ancestors also “warmed the spring”, hoping that the warm weather will come sooner. They lit ritual bonfires in the fields, in the gardens, and even floated them down the rivers. By the way, the beginning of the spring ice drift was associated with the awakening of the Vodyanoi (Wodnik, Vodenjak).

Slovenes, Croats and other southern Slavs believed that the awakening and “warming” of the earth was associated with the falling of a “heavenly fire particle” on it. These beliefs contain echoes of the myths about the heavenly fertilization of the earth (the “marriage” between heaven and earth).

To be continued…

The painting by Viktor Korolkov “Bogatyrsky son” (“The legendary hero dream”) was used as an illustration.


Bread and salt – part 4

Have you ever tried to milk a cow or build a house? Our Slavic ancestors used the “bread and salt” pair in many rituals, connected to birth, funerals, cattle-breeding, agriculture and construction. Both Eastern and Western Slavs, when laying the house foundation, as well as at all stages of its construction, put pieces of bread and salt in the corresponding parts of the building in order to ensure its durability and home’s prosperity.

For protection and ritual cleansing, bread and salt were placed inside a cradle or a bathtub of an infant, as well as sewn into swaddling blanket. Bulgarian women carried bread and salt with them before and after childbirth to “preserve milk”. In Belarus, to ease childbirth, a woman in labor kissed a bread loaf with salt and walked around the table three times.

Bread and salt were believed to have protective and fertility properties for livestock. Russians and Poleshchuks put them in a barn (tied to horns, to a milking gear, etc.) so that the cattle were fertile, produced more meat and milk, as well as to protect animals from an evil eye and diseases.

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.

bread and salt

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