In Russia, this holyday coincided with time of arrival of the rooks. Because of this, the people called it “St Gerasim the Rook-Keeper Day”. The people said:
- If you see a rook, spring is on its way.
- I saw a rook, so, spring has come.
In folklore, the behaviour of the rooks on this day predicted how spring would go:
If the rooks return to their old nests, it’ll be a good spring. The ice will melt all at once.
However, if the rooks arrived earlier than 17 March, it was a bad omen. It predicted a lean and hungry year. In order to speed up the arrival of balmy days, peasants baked little rooks made of rye flour… “грачей” (grachei: rooks).
Another legend about this day was:
St Gerasim the Rook-Keeper brought the rooks back to Rus; with this, Holy Rus throws out the witches.
On St Gerasim Day, people baked grachei as talismans against Kikimora (a pagan Old Russian mythological figure). In popular belief, she was a dwarf with a thimble; her body was thin as straw. She was ugly, with slovenly and disordered clothing. Her eyes were of different colours. With one, she gave the evil eye; with the other, she gave leprosy. A less-common belief was that Kikimora was a naked girl or one who wore nothing but a tunic, wielding a scythe.
Folklore said that if you saw Kikimora, it predicted trouble in your house. Peasants believed that Kikimora was the harbinger of death in a family. People feared Kikimora and did everything that they could, no matter how difficult, to keep her away. On St Gerasim Day, people believed, Kikimora was quiet and placid; they could kick her out of the house. On other days, they protected themselves against Kikimora with prayers and talismans. The best talisman against Kikimora was a куриный бог (kuriny bokh: chicken god), a stone with a natural hole in it (that is, a hole not bored by a person). Besides this, people hung broken jugs over the flap covering the chicken coop to protect the birds against Kikimora.
Kikimora was just one of the household spirits from Old Russian paganism. She feared juniper branches, so people hung them around the house, even wrapping juniper twigs around the salt-cellar to protect it so that she wouldn’t spoil the salt, as it was very expensive in olden days. If Kikimora rattled the dishes and made noise, then, people had to wash the dishes in water and sprinkle the juniper branches to make her go away. Then, people searched for any foreign object that Kikimora may have placed in the house. They had to remove it carefully from the house and throw it away… it was even better to burn it. Superstition had it that if someone wanted to harm another, they’d leave a cursed object in the house. To remove the curse, you had to remove the object. Folklore had it that if you swept the floor with a wormwood broom, unholy things couldn’t bother you, including Kikimora. This was one of the most powerful talismans. People thought that the pungent smell of this herb repelled evil force and evil people.
17 March 2017