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Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.

~Homer

A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Slavic mythology

Slavic  demons -  supernatural beings, which in Slavic mythology occupy an intermediate position between gods and men,  the characteristics of the half-human and half- divine. As in Greek mythology,  the original concept was ambivalent, both positive and negative - demons are dangerous, but the benevolent may contribute to the gain by a man of wealth and power, but also to the loss of health and even of life). Often also act as guardians, protecting certain territory (eg wilderness forests, water reservoirs or rivers). These demons often presented in the form of half human and half animal. In addition, many demonic imagery refers to characters who are generally sympathetic to people, and hurt them when  angry.
In Slavic folklore, ethnology and most widely used classification of demons are drawn, depending on:
  • spheres of human life, which often interferes with the demon;
  • the degree of harm or favor people;
  • prevalence area, living;
  • element of which is the strongest demon bound ;
  • the origin of the demon (a constant its actual form, which is somewhat representative of a separate species / demanding to occur in the human world, or other matter being, somehow formed by the transformation) ;
  • demon  that may or may not physically capable of significantly interfere with our reality) 
In Slavic beliefs, vodyanoy, vodnik, was the ruler of rivers, lakes, ponds, often wells, and roadside ditches. Willingly lived near the  mill.

Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, The Water Spirit

 Typical projection of vodník in Czech or Slovak folklore.


Czech Vodník

Utopiec  - the evil and insidious  demon water  often identified with the anhydride. They were born from the souls of drowned and aborted fetuses. 

Writhed, Wila - South Slavic and Russian counterpart  of  water nymphs. On the western Slavic form known as degraded form as bogeymen or demons causing mental illness.  
Writhed came from the souls of the dead young girls, inhabiting forests, mountains, rivers and lakes.  They could take the form of beautiful winged girls with light and almost transparent bodies, and naked. They could also take a form of  horses, swans, hawks, wolves,  or whirlwinds.

 Wila - Slavic demon.

Rusalka - in  Slavic mythology,  demonic creatures inhabiting the forests, fields and lakes.
Usually appeared as a beautiful, naked girls with green hair rather than as old and disgusting woman. The bride who died before marriage became Rusalka.  If they saw handsome men, they would fascinate them with songs and dancing, mesmerize them, then lead them away to the river floor to their death. 
The term comes from the painted  Latin rosalia (the feast of roses).

Witold Pruszkowski Rusalki


Rusalka by Ivan Bilibin

Nightmare also known as Mara (hence the saying mara dream,)   was half demonic and it was the soul of a man living or dead, who  attacked people at night, sucking the blood out of them.
Nightmare was depicted as a woman with abnormally long legs and a transparent body. It can be seen by the light of the moon, when the rays pass through the body of nightmares. She could also take a form pf a cat, frog, a mouse:   as well as inanimate objects, such as straw or needle.

 Francisco de Goya

 The Nightmare, Johann Heinrich Füssli

 The Nightmare, Johann Heinrich Füssli

 Johann Heinrich Füssli, Portrait of a young woman (Anna Landoldt), on the back of the nightmare

Nightmare  by Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard

 Anonymous Flemish Master - The Nightmare - Detail

Anonymous Flemish Master - The Nightmare - Detail

 Eugène Thivier, The Nightmare

 Eugène Thivier, The Nightmare, detail


Gillray, James

Vampire -  folkloric vampires of the Balkans and Eastern Europe had a wide range of appearance ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses.It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in color  these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood.

Philip Burne-Jones  The Vampire

It is difficult to make a single, definitive description of the folkloric vampire, though there are several elements common to many European legends. Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in color ; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood.

Edvard Munch, The Vampire

Ernst Stöhr, Vampire

Identifying vampires

Many elaborate rituals were used to identify a vampire. One method of finding a vampire's grave involved leading a virgin boy through a graveyard or church grounds on a virgin stallion—the horse would supposedly baulk at the grave in question. Generally a black horse was required, though in Albania it should be white. Holes appearing in the earth over a grave were taken as a sign of vampirism.
Corpses thought to be vampires were generally described as having a healthier appearance than expected, plump and showing little or no signs of decomposition. In some cases, when suspected graves were opened, villagers even described the corpse as having fresh blood from a victim all over its face. Evidence that a vampire was active in a given locality included death of cattle, sheep, relatives or neighbors  Folkloric vampires could also make their presence felt by engaging in minor poltergeist -like activity, such as hurling stones on roofs or moving household objects, and  pressing on people in their sleep.

Methods of destroying suspected vampires varied, with  staking the most commonly cited method, particularly in southern Slavic cultures. Ash was the preferred wood in Russia and the Baltic states, or hawthorn in Serbia, with a record of oak in Silesia.. Potential vampires were most often staked through the heart, though the mouth was targeted in Russia and northern Germany and the stomach in north-eastern Serbia.


Ancient beliefs

 Tales of supernatural beings consuming the blood or flesh of the living have been found in nearly every culture around the world for many centuries. Today, we would associate these entities with vampires, but in ancient times, the term vampire did not exist; blood drinking and similar activities were attributed to  demons or spirits who would eat flesh and drink blood; even the  Devil was considered synonymous with the vampire. 

 Almost every nation has associated blood drinking with some kind of revenant or demon, or in some cases a deity. In India, for example, tales of  vetalas, ghoul-like beings that inhabit corpses, have been compiled in the Baital Pacisi; a prominent story in the Kathasaritsagara tells of King Vikramaditya and his nightly quests to capture an elusive one. Pisaca,  the returned spirits of evil-doers or those who died insane, also bear vampiric attributes.The Persians were one of the first civilizations to have tales of blood-drinking demons: creatures attempting to drink blood from men were depicted on excavated pottery shards. Ancient  Babylonia and Assyria had tales of the mythical Lilitu, synonymous with and giving rise to Lilith and her daughters the Lilu from Hebrew demonology. Lilitu was considered a demon and was often depicted as subsisting on the blood of babies. And  Estries, female shape changing, blood drinking demons, were said to roam the night among the population, seeking victims. According to Sefer Hasisim, Estries were creatures created in the twilight hours before God rested. And injured Estrie could be healed by eating bread and salt given her by her attacker.

Ancient Greek and  Roman mythology described the  Empusae the Lamia and the striges. Over time the first two terms became general words to describe witches and demons respectively. Empusa was the daughter of the goddess Hecate and was described as a demonic,  bronze-footed creature. She feasted on blood by transforming into a young woman and seduced men as they slept before drinking their blood. The Lamia preyed on young children in their beds at night, sucking their blood, as did the gelloudes or  Gello.  Like the Lamia, the strigesfeasted on children, but also preyed on young men. They were described as having the bodies of crows or birds in general, and were later incorporated into Roman mythology as strix, a kind of nocturnal bird that fed on human flesh and blood.

 John Collier, Lilith

  Incubus

Treasurer - spirit of living underground (especially mine ), guarding the earth's natural resources and treasures buried in it. He was also a master of the underground realm, which took the souls of the miners who died while working in the mine.


Poland, Wieliczka - Treasurer (Mine Ghost) in a salt mine.

 Poludnica - according to the Slavic beliefs  malicious and murderous demon hunting in the summer for those who carelessly at noon were in the field.
 Poroniec - malicious and hostile demon- soul derived from aborted baby or fetus.

Whistle or pochwist - pre-Christian, air demon - whirlwinds.  

Licho - a character in  beliefs  of ancient Slavs, the evil demon- personification of misfortune, bad luck and illness.
 When appeared, it took on the form of terribly emaciated woman with one eye.

 Lasha, demon of the forest, its lord and ruler.

 Lesha

Kikimore  - harmful home spirit.

Ivan Yakovlevich BilibinKikimora

Goblins  were  ugly, hunchbacked woman, with long matted hair and long breasts.

Goblin - Jan Styfi 

Domovye are masculine, typically small, bearded, and sometimes covered in hair all over. According to some traditions, domovye take on the appearance of current or former owners of the house and have a grey beard, sometimes with tails or little horns.

 Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, An illustration  Domovoi, a spirit of the house.

Challah - demonic spirits of the air. They imagined themselves as winged snakes destroying crops, living in the dark storm clouds. They could also take the form of birds, animals and humans, and the only man with six fingers could get to know them. When we were fighting each other for territory, threw the ice, because then appeared  storm with hail. Bloody color of the Sun or the Moon, was caused by the bite of challah and wings caused  ellipses. Their dance caused storms. 

Baba Yaga - character in Slavic beliefs sometimes combined with AZI with Iranian mythology. Azi - in Iranian mythology the dragon comes from the seed of  Ahriman. 
Baba Yaga, an old hag  who lives in a hut on chicken feet deep in the forest. Baba Yaga often accompanied by a black cat, crow, owl, or snake. 

She flies around on a giant  mortar, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs. In most Slavic tales, she is portrayed as an  antagonist; however, some characters in other  mythological  stories have been known to seek her out for her  wisdom, and she has been known on rare occasions to offer guidance to lost souls.  

 Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov, Baba Yaga

Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, Baba Yaga - 

 Gamayun is a  prophetic bird of Russian folklore. It is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge and lives on an island in the east, close to  paradise. Like the  Sirin  and the  Alkonost, the Gamayun is normally depicted as a large bird with a female head.
Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov 

Gamayun, one of three prophetic birds of Russian folklore, alongside Alkonost and Sirin.
The Alkonost is, according to Russian  myth, a creature with the body of a bird but the head of a beautiful woman. It makes sounds that are amazingly beautiful, and those who hear these sounds forget everything they know and want nothing more ever again. She lives in the underworld with her counterpart the sirin. The alkonost lays her eggs on a beach and then rolls them into the sea. When the alkonost's eggs hatch, a thunderstorm sets in and the sea becomes so rough that it is untravelable. The name of the alkonost came from a  Greek demigoddess whose name was Alcyone. In Greek mythology, Alcyone was transformed by the gods into a kingfisher.

Ivan Yakovlevich BilibinAlkonost

 Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov, Sirin (left) and Alkonost (right) – Birds of Joy and Sorrow.

 Koschei  is an archetypal male antagonist, described mainly as abducting the hero's wife. None of the existing tales actually describes his appearance, though in book illustrations, cartoons and cinema he has been most frequently represented as a very old and ugly-looking man. 

Sergey Malyutin, Koschei

Victor Vasnetov, Kashchey the Immortal. 

Firebird is a magical glowing bird from a faraway land, which is both a blessing and a bringer of doom to its captor.

In his early works, notably The Firebird and  The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky sought to evoke the imagery and rhythms of pagan Slavic ritual.


 Viktor Vasnetsov. The Flying Carpet Prince Ivan returning on a magic carpet with the caged firebird.

 In  Slavic mythology, the word “zmey”  are used to describe a dragon. These words are masculine forms of the Slavic word for "snake", which are normally feminine (like Russian zmeya). In  Romania, there is a similar figure, derived from the Slavic dragon and named zmeu. Exclusively in Polish and Belarusian folklore, as well as in the other Slavic folklores, a dragon is also called smok . In South Slavic folklores, the same thing is also called lamya.  Although quite similar to other Europen dragons, Slavic dragons have their peculiarities.

 Victor Vasnetsov, Zmey Gorynych 

The Wawel Dragon , also known as the Dragon of Wawel Hill, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. He lived in a cave at the foot of  Wawel Hill  on the bank of the  Vistula River.

 Wawel Dragon
Other, presumably pre-Christian folk tales relate stories of dragons defeated similarly as the Polish  Wawel Dragon by feeding them with sulphur stuffed sheep.

 Viktor Mikhaylovich VasnetsovIvan Tsarevich,  Battle with the Serpent
 
 Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov, Fight Dobrynya Nikitich with seven-headed Serpent Drago

 Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin