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4.0 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars
Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars
Format: Paperback|Change
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on 17 April 2004
This is a lovely collection of traditional tales; very valuable for anyone with an interest in story traditions, in the history and traditions of the Slavic peoples, or in the effects of Russian paganism (even after the introduction of Christianity).
Although Christianity was introduced to Russia, originally by Byzantine missionaries, it proved difficult to eradicate pagan traditions for two reasons: firstly, there was no Reformation in Russia, as there was in much of the rest of Europe, and secondly, much of Russia was (and is) so remote that it was difficult for priests to ensure Christianity truly took hold among the peasants.
For this reason, many pagan traditions survived, or re-emerged in the folk traditions of the peasants. For example, the festival Ivana-Kupala is particularly interesting. The celebration dedicated to the Slavic god Kupala in early June was one of rejoicing in the summer, and of fertility and love. Traditionally, young men and women bathed in the rivers (hence the link between Kupala and the verb kupat’, to bathe) and built bonfires over which they jumped together to tell fortunes. The Christian priests attempted to suppress it and failed, so renamed it with the name of the nearest saint-day—that of Saint John, or Ivan, on the 21st June—thus creating the festival of Ivana-Kupala!
Similarly, it is easy to see in these stories the effects of old pagan traditions; for example, the rewards for hard work reflect the old belief in house spirits, or domovoi, who lived under the stove or under the threshold of the front door, and warned and protected the family, particularly hard workers. There are a number of nature spirits found in traditional Russian tales, which are quite clearly connected to the mischievous leshy (forest spirits) who would lead travellers astray before releasing them, or the sinister rusalki, the souls of drowned girls, who lurked in rivers and dragged the unsuspecting to their deaths.
The most important figure in the pre-Christian Slavic pantheon was indubitably Mati-Syra-Zemlya — literally Moist Mother Earth — also known as Matka and Matushka Zemlya, and may also have been synonymous with Mokosh. Unlike other deities, she was never personified, but worshipped in her natural state. She was the ultimate mother goddess, the archetype of the eternal feminine, and without a doubt the most important deity in Russian paganism. This is stunningly obvious in the respect held even by modern Russians for the land and the earth (see recent outrage over a new bill permitting the sale and purchase of land in Russia), and even more so in the use made of the earth in many of these traditional tales, and the importance of showing respect for the land.
In short, this is a fascinating collection, providing insights into the pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavic peoples — and, what is more, some wonderful stories!
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