Voices from Russia

Saturday, 18 March 2017

17 March… St Gerasim of the Jordan and the Arrival of the Rooks in Slavic Folklore… With an Excursus on the Evil Spirit Kikimora

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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

Russia-Российская Федерация

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Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Today is the Feastday of St Dmitri Donskoi

00 Igor Sushenok. Do Not Yield Russian Land. St Sergei Radonezhsky Blessing St Dmitri Donskoi. 2001

Do Not Yield Russian Land: St Sergei Radonezhsky Blessing St Dmitri Donskoi

Igor Sushenok

2001

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Today, 1 June, the church honours the memory of Grand Prince St Dmitri Donskoi. He was born in 1350, brought up under the guidance of Metropolitan St Aleksei Byakont of Moscow. Prince Dmitri combined Christian piety with outstanding talents as a statesman. He dedicated himself to uniting the Russian lands and liberating them from the Tatar-Mongolian yoke. Gathering strength for a decisive battle with the Horde, St Dmitri asked the blessing of Righteous St Sergei Radonezhsky. The starets encouraged the prince, sending him the warrior-monks Aleksandr Peresvet and Andrei Oslyabya. After his victory at the Battle of the Kulikovo Polye, on the feastday of the Nativity of the Birthgiver of God, he received the honorific title “Donskoi” (“of the Don”). Prince Dmitri founded the Assumption Monastery on the Dubenke River and built the Church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Birthgiver of God near the graves of his fallen warriors. St Dmitri died on 19 May 1389, with burial at the Cathedral of Archangel St Michael in the Moscow Kremlin.

1 June 2016

Donskoi Monastery

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Saturday, 7 May 2016

7 May 2016. Old Russian Wisdom… Our Ancestors Weren’t Angels

00 Marina Ruslanova. Our Ancestors Weren't Angels. 2016

Our Ancestors Weren’t Angels

Marina Ruslanova

2010s

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“Our ancestors weren’t angels and our kids won’t be devils” is a free (idiomatic) translation of the above aphorism. In other words, “Our ancestors were all-too-human… so were we… so, why does it surprise you that our kids are the same?” It’s a gentle cynicism of the better sort… that is, “Why do you expect them to be any better than we were and our parents were? The Circle of Life goes on”. What amuses me is to see the young ‘uns led astray by this-or-that Pied Piper. Didn’t we do the same in our day, too? Didn’t we get carried away by our enthusiasms and try to “save the world?” Well… the world went on its merry way and we grew up. So will the kids. Of course, they’re a royal Pain-in-the-Arse in the meantime… but so were we! The Church has survived earnest young priests in the past… it’ll continue to do so. We’ll just have to be there to catch them when they (inevitably) fall flat on their ass…

BMD

Saturday, 30 April 2016

30 April 2016. Old Russian Wisdom… An Egg is Priceless on a Holy Day

00 Marina Ruslanova. An Egg fis Priceless on a Holy Day. Marina Ruslanova. 2010s

An Egg is Priceless on a Holy Day

Marina Ruslanova

2010s

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This is in the style of “folk” popular luboks (crude prints for mass distribution). It’s an Old Russian proverb… Дорого яичко к святому дню literally is “An egg is priceless on a holy day”, which carries the meaning of “Anything done at the right time is appreciated”.

BMD

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