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Even 100 years ago, the peasants divided all living beings into "clean" and "unclean", they could explain why the leaves of the aspen tremble and how to learn to understand the language of herbs with the help of a snake. "Kramola" tells about the Slavic beliefs associated with flora and fauna.
The world tree is one of the central images in mythology. According to the ideas of the Slavs and many other peoples, the crown of the world tree goes into the heavenly, upper world, the roots symbolize the lower, underworld, and the trunk is the axis of the earthly space where man lives. Real trees were also perceived as a rod connecting people, underground spirits and heavenly gods.
Oak was the main tree of the Slavs. He was associated with the god of thunder Perun and was considered the embodiment of the world tree. A cross was cut out of an oak for the grave and the log itself, which served as a coffin. Hence the expression "give an oak", that is, to die.
In Slavic folklore, the oak was a man's tree, giving strength, health and fertility. In Belarusian villages, water after bathing a newborn boy was thrown under an oak tree so that the baby would grow as strong as a tree. Sick children were treated by "dragging through the oak": parents had to pass the child to each other three times through a gap left on the tree by lightning or under protruding roots. In the Voronezh province, until the 19th century, the tradition of going around the old oak three times after the wedding was preserved as a sign of respect for this tree.
A pair of oak was a female birch tree. Some believed that the souls of deceased relatives came to Trinity through the birch, others believed that the souls of dead girls would forever enter the tree. In Central Russia, they said about a dying man: "He is going to birch trees." Birch was honored on Semik and Trinity - the days of commemoration of ancestors. This rite was called "curling a birch tree": the girls decorated the tree for songs and round dances, and then went around the courtyards, carrying it as an honored guest.
In the northern provinces, birch branches were stuck into the walls of the bathhouse, where the bride was supposed to wash. They soared the girl with a birch broom, and they certainly heated them with birch firewood: it was believed that this drives away evil spirits from the bride. Birch branches consecrated in the church on Trinity were carefully preserved. Placed in the attic, they protected from lightning, hail and even rodents. And whipping with such a broom was considered the best remedy for rheumatism.
This cereal in Russia was a symbol of life, abundance and happiness. The most appreciated varieties of soft spring wheat with red grain - the most delicious bread was baked from it. The image of the yary was associated with fire: on Christmas Eve, the peasants of the Kursk province lit fires in the courtyards, inviting the souls of their deceased relatives to warm up. It was believed that from this fire, fervent wheat was born. The Christmas table was covered with ears of wheat, the top was covered with a tablecloth and the dishes were set - this was how they called wealth into the family.
Wheat was also poured into the foundation of a house under construction to appease the brownie. This cereal was used to cook ritual dishes - kolivo and kutya. Today kutia is known as rice porridge, but in ancient Russia, rice was not known. Wheat porridge was brought to the souls of ancestors for funerals, Christmas and other memorial days. She also met a newborn, according to the ideas of the ancestors - just "arrived" from the other world. Kutya was cooked for the baptismal dinner by a midwife, for which the dish was nicknamed "grandma's porridge."
The willow was considered a symbol of spring, rebirth and flowering. The feast of the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, or Palm Sunday, was associated with it. The day before, on Lazarev Saturday, the youth went home with songs and symbolically beat the owners with willow branches. The twigs consecrated at the festive service were kept all year round. They whipped households and cattle for health, threw them on the beds as a talisman against hail and thunderstorms.The blossoming buds of the pussy willow were credited with a special healing power. They were baked into rolls and biscuits, ate themselves and fed to livestock. With the help of the willow, they were "treated" for cowardice. A person suffering from excessive shyness had to defend the service on Palm Sunday and bring from the church a consecrated willow peg, which should then be driven into the wall of his house.
In the mind of the Russians, aspen was an unclean tree. People believed that its leaves trembled with fear because of the curse of the Mother of God. And they cursed her because Judas hanged himself on her, betraying Christ. According to another version, a cross was made from aspen, on which the Savior was tortured.
This tree served to communicate with evil spirits. Climbing in the forest on an aspen, you could ask for something from the goblin. Standing under the aspen, they caused damage. A hammered aspen stake, considered in Western demonology as a remedy for vampires, in Russia, on the contrary, was a faithful companion of sorcerers. In the Russian North, shepherds made drums from aspen. For this, the tree was cut down at night in a special place, by the light of a fire from aspen branches. With the help of such a magic drum, the shepherd sealed the contract with the wood goblin so that the forest animals would not drag the cattle and the cows would not get lost in the forest.
Animals have properties that are inaccessible to humans: they can fly, breathe under water, live underground and in trees. In the view of ancient people, this connected birds, animals, fish, reptiles and insects with the inhabitants of other worlds. They could get where the way is closed for a living person: to heaven to God, underground to the souls of the dead, or to the land of eternal summer Iriy - to a pagan paradise.
The bear was considered the master of the forest, a sacred animal, the “forest archimandrite”. Legends said that sorcerers and werewolves could turn into a bear, and if you remove the skin from a bear, it will look like a man. The forest owner symbolized fertility, hence the custom of disguising one of the guests at the wedding as a bear. Bear's jaws, claws and fur were considered powerful amulets.
People experienced such awe in front of this beast that they did not call it by name, but only allegorically. The word "bear", that is, "eater of honey", was the same descriptive nickname as "clubfoot", "toptygin", "master". Today it is not known for certain what this animal was called in the Proto-Slavic language.
Linguist Lev Uspensky suggested that the word "bear" originated from the very original name. It is related to the Bulgarian "mechka" and the Lithuanian "sack", which, in turn, was formed from "mishkas", which means "forest".
They tried not to mention the name of the wolf, just like the bear's name: "We are talking about the wolf, but he will meet him." This predator was considered an inhabitant of both the human world and the kingdom of the dead. People believed that, like evil spirits, wolves are afraid of the bell ringing. Bells attached to the harness scared these animals off the road.
The wolf was perceived as a stranger in this world. In the wedding ceremony, the groom who arrived from afar, or his matchmakers, could be called a wolf. In the North Russian tradition, the bride called the groom's brothers "gray wolves", while the groom's family called the bride herself a she-wolf, emphasizing that she is still a stranger.
The gray wolf from Russian fairy tales, helping Tsarevich Ivan, possessed magical powers, was an intermediary between the living and the spirits. But in the ancient "hunting" texts, the wolf seemed naive and stupid. According to the researchers, it was emphasized how much more cunning a man is than a beast - it was important to show the most terrible forest predators in a comic form. Later tales of animals were born when people had already ceased to deify the world around them: the wolf and bear turned out to be just convenient figures behind which human vices were hiding.
Birds were directly associated with the heavenly world.In the South of Russia, there was a tradition to feed the birds on the 40th day after the death of a relative: in this form, the soul of the deceased was supposed to visit the house. At the same time, as the ancestors believed, not all birds were "Gods", "pure" creatures. Birds of prey, as well as ravens, symbolized death, they were called "devilish". Sparrows were called thieves and pests because they ate barley in the fields. The cuckoo seemed to the Slavs the embodiment of loneliness, an unhappy lot. Hence the figurative meaning of the word "kukovat" - "to be in poverty, to live alone."
The main "righteous man" among the birds was the dove. He began to be considered God's helper under the influence of Christianity, where the dove is one of the incarnations of the Holy Spirit. The swan and the stork symbolized love and a happy marriage. In different regions, they played a similar role: in the south, storks were revered, in the north - swans. The swallow and the lark, the messengers of spring, “unlocking the summer with a golden key” were also considered God's birds.
The snake is one of the most mysterious animals in world folklore. She is a direct "relative" of the mythological snake that drags people into the underworld. The snake was perceived as "unclean" but wise. Her element was water and fire at the same time. The Slavs believed that the snake came from the devil and God forgives 40 sins for killing it. But in many houses they revered the guardian snake, the patroness of the economy. This role was assigned to a domestic snake living in a stable, field or vineyard.
Our ancestors believed that a snake guards treasures and can indicate to a person where wealth is hidden. It was also said that whoever tastes her meat will become all-seeing, or, according to another version, will begin to understand the language of animals and plants.
June 12, St. Isaac's Day, the Russians revered as a "snake wedding" and tried not to go to the forest. The eve of Ivan Kupala was also dangerous, when the snakes gathered together under the leadership of the snake king. On Exaltation, September 27, "creeping reptiles" went into their holes. It was believed that they, like birds, spend the winter in the mythical Iria - a warm land, which was considered the afterlife in pre-Christian beliefs.
Weasel and cat
In the old days, the weasel was a favorite pet - the patron saint of home and family. This animal combined the mythological qualities of all mustelids and, in general, fur-bearing animals: it was wise as an otter, kind as a beaver, cunning as a fox. Later, some of these qualities were attributed to the cat.
The cat, like the weasel, was considered the guardian of sleep, and was friends with the brownie. During the day, both animals were catching mice - this was their main "job". However, the cat was attributed to an "unclean" origin, he was associated with sorcerers and restless souls who for their sins did not go to heaven. Weasel was a "pure" animal, albeit endowed with dangerous qualities. For example, her bite was considered poisonous, like a snake, she tangled the manes of horses and strangled a person like a brownie. In many villages, it was believed that the weasel is the brownie. In order for the cattle to take root, it had to be selected in the same color as the weasel living on the farm. Otherwise, the small animal would start running on the backs of cows and horses, scratching and tickling them.