Russia Ethnography and Folklore Part 3

By | February 18, 2022

The newborn is sometimes placed on a kind of sieve that must protect him from future misfortunes. The young mother is put a knife under the pillow, against the demonic powers; for the same purpose it is also customary to envelop the baby in smoke. In order for the baby not to be struck by infectious diseases, the naked midwife carries the naked baby around the bathroom, reciting conjurations. The pains of childbirth are attributed to demonic powers; in some regions the husband, while the woman is suffering from childbirth, attaches a ribbon to her genitals: when she is in great pain, she pulls the ribbon and then the husband also moans with her (see also: brood).

For the baptism the whole village is invited to lunch, but only a few attend; in some regions only children up to eight years of age (of the same sex as the person who was baptized). Before and after the baptism, the child is wrapped in a fur coat, a symbol of wealth. During the baptismal meal a spoon is thrown backwards: if it falls on the ground with its back up, the mother will still have a boy; in the opposite case a female. Generally the baby is breastfed until the new pregnancy. To unaccustom the baby from breast milk, the breasts are sometimes soiled with mustard or pitch.

When the little one takes his first steps, someone must pretend to cut something in the ground with a knife, so that the child is soon free from any hindrance in walking. By the seventh year, the girls must already lead the sheep and geese to pasture and the males the larger animals. From the twelfth year, the boys begin to do the work of adults.

According to Ejinhua, the ceremonies referring directly or indirectly to marriage are extremely complicated and multiple. If the girl who is getting married belongs to another village, the fiance must very often offer brandy in order to obtain a “pass” in this way; when the wedding procession reaches the house of the fiancée, it finds the door closed: then apparent negotiations take place with the bride’s mother and with young people from the village armed with sticks. The ritual washing of the new spouses is widespread everywhere. Among the Great Russians, a charmer (storo ž kletnik, etc.) intervenes in the marriage who must keep away evil influences.

The dead are washed in hot water and put on new clothes. In some regions it is believed that a long agony indicates relationships had in life with evil powers. In other regions, a lighted candle is placed in the hand of the dying person. Everywhere the eyes of the dead are closed.

The water with which the dead was washed is often poured into places where no one walks, p. ex. in the very narrow space sometimes interposed between two huts. The comb with which the dead was combed is sometimes used in the coffin. Many people already make their mortuary clothes while they are alive and wear them under certain circumstances, p. ex. during very violent storms. The maidens are dressed in the greatest possible luxury and this funeral is to some extent regarded as a tragic wedding. When the dead is led out of the house it is sometimes customary to bring the cattle out of the stables, so that they can say goodbye to the deceased master.

The ceremony of the foundation of the first stone of a house is very important: to insure against evil or otherwise evil influences, the new house must not be built where once there was a road or a bathroom. In addition, extremely complicated rites are performed to establish whether the place where the new house will be built is favorable or not. A stranger does not have to attend this ceremony; in some regions, before entering the new house, a cockerel is beheaded that is not eaten. It is also customary to plant a tree at the same time as work begins on the new house. In a large beam it is customary to insert coins or wheat seeds or small pieces of bread, as a wish for future well-being. The new house is usually entered on the night before the full moon. In the first week, in some regions only animals are allowed to stay overnight in the new house, which alternate. You enter the new house bringing the fire from the old hearth. Immediately the next morning a lavish banquet is offered to a good neighbor, so that a good person is the first to cross the threshold.

The stove replaces the old hearth in the various manifestations of the ritual.

Diseases are considered to be animated beings that nestle in the sick or that travel through the air and lakes. Diseases are transmitted in curious ways: p. eg, they sometimes breathe over sleeping babies at night; even objects can transmit disease. Sometimes an attempt is made to chase away the disease with violent blows against the wall, in the vicinity of the patient, or against the patient himself. The bathroom was regarded as a necessary hygienic measure.

The sec. XIX, with the extension of communication routes, railways, schools, military service, urbanism, has greatly contributed to extinguishing or transforming old habits, old beliefs, old styles of life and clothing.

The world war, bringing people from the most diverse Russian regions closer together, accentuated this leveling process. Finally, the recent collectivization of farms in the countryside seems to bring the coup de grace to numerous surviving “traditions”: on the one hand, the way of life has changed, in many cases the type of dwelling itself; a large population of the countryside is attracted to the city, and the countryside is in a certain way industrialized. While the state power tries to keep alive certain ethnic peculiarities (language, folk songs, dances, stage performances), it fights all those traditions that seem to it an obstacle to the realization of its plans.

Russia Ethnography and Folklore 3