BESIDES the spiritual beings in whom the Russian peasant actually believes as haunting his house, or making themselves a habitation in the neighbouring woods and waters, there are a few fantastic creatures who belong for the most part only to his story-world, with whom he is rendered familiar by tradition,
but on whose present existence he does not place implicit reliance.
Of these apparently mythic personages, who play important parts in the Skazki, or popular tales, the most prominent is the Yagá Bába, or, to use the more popular form of her name, Bába Yaga 3. She is a supernatural being, who is generally represented under the form of a hideous old woman, very tall in stature, very bony of limb, with an excessively long nose, and with dishevelled hair. Her nose is sometimes described as being of iron, as also are her long pendant breasts and her strong sharp teeth. As she lies in her but she often " stretches across from one corner to the other, and her nose goes right through the ceiling." Her usual habitation is a cottage [izba, dim. izbushka] which stands "on fowls' legs," that is, on slender supports. The door looks towards the forest, but when the hut is adjured, in the right words it turns round, so that its back is towards the forest and its front towards the person addressing it. Sometimes, however, the Baba Yaga lives in a larger building, round which stands a fence made of the bones of the people she has eaten, and tipped with their skulls. The uprights of the gates are human legs, the bolts are human arms, and" instead of a lock there is a mouth with sharp teeth."
When the Baba Yaga goes abroad, she rides in an iron mortar. This she propels with the pestle, a sort
of club, and as she goes she sweeps away the traces of her passage with a broom. According to some stories the Sun, the Day, and the Night are her servants, trunkless bands wait upon her, the elements fulfil her behests. She possesses a magic cudgel, a single wave of which suffices to turn any living creature into stone, and she can always avail herself of "fire-breathing horses," of "courier, [i. e., seven-leagued] boots," of "self-playing gusli," of a "self-cutting sword," and a "self-flying carpet." With all these means and appliances she is able to secure many, victims, whom she cooks and eats, often stealing children for her table, often supplying it also with belated travellers.
The White-Russians declare that the Baba Yaga flies through the sky in a fiery mortar, which she urges on with a burning broom, and that, during the time of her flight, the winds howl, the earth groans, and the trees writhe and crack. At such times she greatly resembles the Fiery Snake, which plays a leading part in the Slavonic stories, and, indeed, the Baba-yaga and the Snake often appear to be identical personages, different versions of the same narrative employing sometimes the one name and sometimes the other for the same mythical being.
In the Ukraine the flying witch is usually called a snake; in a Slovak tale the Sons of a Baba Yaga are described as "baneful snakes." One of the tastes which characterize the snake of fable is sometimes attributed to the Baba Yaga also. She is supposed "to love to suck the white breasts of
beautiful women." Like the Snake, also, she keeps guard over and knows the use of the founts of "Living Water"--that water which cures wounds and restores the dead to life.
Sometimes three Baba Yagas are mentioned in a story. In that case they are usually three sisters who, in spite of their name, are not of an unkindly nature, and who assist the "fairy prince" or other hero of the tale, giving him good advice, and bestowing upon him magic presents. These seem to be connected with the "Prophetesses," or "Wise Women," who were looked upon with so much honour in the old days of heathenism, and who became degraded into vulgar witches under the influence of Christianity. But, as a general rule, the Baba Yaga is described as a being utterly malevolent, and always hungering after human flesh. According to some traditions she even feeds on the souls of the dead. The White-Russians, for instance, affirm that "Death gives the dead to the Baba Yaga, with whom she often goes prowling about. And that the Baba Yaga and her subordinate witches feed on the souls of people, and by that means become as light as spirits 4."
In some places, when the wind bows down the ears of corn the peasants say that the Baba Yaga is running after children, with the intention of blinding
them or pounding them in an iron churn. Cornfields are specially haunted by the Baba Yaga, in remembrance of whom, perhaps, the last sheaf in harvest-time is dressed up in woman's clothes, and called the Jitnaya Baba--"the Corn-woman,"-answering to the German Kornpuppe, the Grosse Mutter or Die Alte of the harvest-home. Russian critics are inclined to identify the Baba Yaga with Holda or Bertha--or, at least, with the unfavourable representations of those once kindly deities. The "wild," "iron" and "long-nosed" Bertha [Frau Precht mit der langen Nase] seems, indeed, to have many points in common with the Baba Yaga, especially as the latter is frequently represented as spinning. The Servian Baba Yaga, known as the "Iron Tooth," carries about live coals in a pitcher, and burns the distaffs of lazy spinners. To the mythologists the Baba Yaga appears to be an impersonification of the spirit of the storm. When she tears her way through the forest, making the trees writhe and howl as she passes, and sweeping away the traces of her progress with a broom, she is looked upon as the whirlwind. When as "a black cloud" she chases fugitive heroes, she seems to be the thunder-cloud which threatens to blot out the light of day.
Another strange being who figures in many of the stories is "Koshchei the Immortal," who is considered to be a mythical representation of Winter. His name is derived from the word Kost', a bone, whence comes Okostenget', to ossify, to make hard as a bone or a stone, a figurative expression for "to
freeze." As the earth is locked up by the Winter--say the Russian commentators--as the bright and blooming Spring cannot become visible till the wintry season is past, so are beautiful princesses kept in imprisonment by Koshchei, unable to show themselves to admiring beholders till his spell is broken and his power is overthrown.
Sometimes it is a hero's mother whom Koshchei suddenly carries off; sometimes it is his wife. In either case she is kept a prisoner until the hero finds out in what manner the immortal one can be rendered mortal--in what place his "death" can be discovered and brought home to him. The secret is always hard to detect, but sooner or later Koshchei is generally induced to make some such revelation as this,--"My death is in such and such a place. There stands an oak, and under the oak is a casket, and in the casket is a hare, and in the hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg, and in the egg is my death." And when, after many adventures, the egg has been found and broken, Koshchei dies; he being "the Giant who had no heart in his body" of the Norse Tale 5, the Deccan Punchkin 6, the Witch of the German story 7. Like the Baba Yaga, Koshchei is, in the opinion of the mythologists, one of the many forms in which is personified the Evil Spirit who wars against sunlight and fair weather, and who
is usually personified in the Russian stories under the form of a snake. In a Polish version of the "Sleeping Beauty," it is Koshchei who carries off the Princess, and throws her, as well as all the inhabitants of her father's kingdom, into a magic slumber. At last the destined rescuer comes, who conquers Koshchei and seizes his magic gusli. No sooner is their music heard than the sleepers all awake and return to busy life. Just as, say the mythologists, at the first sounds of the spring thunders, the sleeping, as it were petrified, realm of nature awakes from its winter slumbers. In a Russian story, Prince Ivan lives happily with his wife the Queen Marya Morevna (Mary, daughter of More, the sea), until one day, during her absence, he enters a forbidden chamber, and there finds Koshchei hung up and bound with twelve chains. Koshchei begs for water, saying he has hung there without drinking for ten years; and when he has obtained it, and has drunk his fill, he recovers his lost strength, bursts his chains, and flies away, carrying off the Queen as he goes. Fortunately the Prince obtains a magic steed, which eventually fells Koshchei by a kick on the forehead: so all goes well. The mythological explanation of this story is, that Marya Morevna, the fair Daughter of the Sea, is the Springtide Sun. Koshchei is the storm which is bound by the iron or icy chains of winter, and so has lost its strength. But when he has drunk his fill, he regains his vigour, bursts forth in a whirlwind, and carries off the fair Queen, i. e., after the first spring rains the thunderstorms
begin to resume their strength, the winds arise, the dark clouds gather, and the sunlight suffers for a time eclipse. Then the Prince kills Koshchei and carries off the sea's fair daughter. The thunder-god Perun overcomes the storm-cloud, and the sun shines out again.
In another Russian story, the description of the manner in which Koshchei's secret as to his death is obtained from him still more closely resembles that given in the Norse tale. He first declares that his death resides in a besom, and then that it lies in the fence which surrounds the house. His fair captive has first the besom tipped with gold and then the fence. At last he divulges the secret, and the Prince gets hold of the fatal egg, and shifts it from one hand to the other till it breaks, when Koshchei, who has been "rushing from one corner to the other," gives way and dies. In another variant a snake is substituted for Koshchei, and its death lies in a little stone within the yolk of the mystic egg. In different versions of the story different animals are represented as forming the chain which secures the life of Koshchei, and of which the last link is either an egg, or a stone inside an egg; but Afanasief points out that such animals are always chosen as are frequently employed as types of the clouds--the boar, the bull, the hare, the duck. In one variant, the mythological Nature of the story is even more clearly apparent, for it is expressly stated that the hero was assisted in his search for the fatal egg by the Thunder, the Wind, and the Hail.
Closely connected with Koshchei, and often identical with the Baba Yaga is the Vyed'ma, or Witch. Her name, as well as that of the Vyedun, or Wizard, springs from the root vyed, whence vyedat', "to know." In the old heathen times the Vyed'ma was the Vyeshehaya zhena, the wise or knowing woman, and was held in high reverence. As prophetess, poetess, medicine-woman, she exercised solemn functions; she was supposed to control the elements, to be able to compel the clouds to withhold or to pour forth rain, to prevent the sun from shining, or to gladden the earth with its rays. In times of drought and famine, it is true, the whole race of warlocks, conjurors, soothsayers, and the like, whether male or female, seems to have suffered cruelly at the hands of the furious populace; but the divining profession did not fall into utter disrepute until some time after the introduction of Christianity.
In the Skazkas, however, the Vyed'ma is not the old Slavonian Wise Woman, but a witch of the worst possible character, a female fiend always longing to feed upon human flesh, as rapacious, but not so formidable, as the mother of Grendel, whom Beowulf slew. In one story a witch who longs to get hold of a boy called Ivashko [dim. of Ivan], gets a blacksmith to forge her "just such a thin little voice as Ivashko's mother has," and by its aid she entices him into her power. The end of the story is nearly the same as that of the Norse tale of Buttercup [Dasent, p. 146], for Ivashko contrives to escape, after getting the witch's daughter baked instead of himself.
One of the strangest of the stories of these devouring harpies is that of a witch who consumes every thing on which she can lay her hands, so that at last "only the walls remain" of the palace in which she lives. Her brother, a young prince who had left his father's home before she was born, is the only member of her family whom she has not devoured. He had been warned that his as, yet unborn sister would eat him if she could, and he had managed to make his way to the abode of the "Sun's Sister," where he remained. On his way there he had made the acquaintance of certain weird sewing women, and of a "Leveller of Mountains" and an "Uprooter of Trees," but finding that they must all die some day, he had not stopped long with them. At last he pays a visit to his old home, where he sees no living thing except his sister, who receives him with cordiality, and prepares to eat him. But while she is "sharpening her teeth" he is warned of his impending fate by a mouse, so he takes to flight, and succeeds in escaping to the castle of his friend and protector, the Sun's Sister. The witch arrives soon afterwards, and, after some parley, proposes that he and she shall be weighed against each other, outside the castle, with the stipulation that the heavier of the two shall be at liberty to eat the lighter. This is agreed upon, and the Prince steps first into one of the scales. His sister prepares to get into the other, but, says the story, "no sooner did she put her foot into it than up shot Prince Ivan, and that with such force that he flew right up to the sky, and into the room
of the Sun's Sister. But the Witch-Snake remained there on earth, 8".
How little is known precisely about such witches is plainly shown by the variety of explanations which this story has called forth. Investigators who treat it as a solar myth recognize the Dawn as the Sun's Sister, looking upon the devouring witch as the Night, who perpetually chases her brother the Day, and is only driven away by the interposition of the Dawn. One of the Russian songs, Afanasief remarks, begins with the words,
O Dawn, my dear little Dawn!
O Dawn, Sister of the Sun!
In the Servian songs it is the Day Star who is the Sun's Sister.
Those who consider the story to be a moral allegory, it has been suggested, may look on the Prince as the type of the soul of man, pursued by the Death-Witch, who tries to seize it and carry it off to the depths of her gloomy realm. Then comes a form of judgment. The soul is weighed in the balance, and if it is heavy with crime it goes down into the world of darkness, but if it be light it flies aloft into the realm of bliss, there to shine in heaven as a star. This seems to be going rather too far, but there appears to be good reason for supposing that the Witch is Death, and the object of her chase is the soul. In what seems to be a variant of the same story, current in Little-Russia, a man sets out to seek "the
island where there is no death." A wolf invites him to stop, but, when he hears that the wolf is to die as soon as she has uprooted an oak with her tail, he goes on. In the same way he refuses the hospitable offers of some women whom he finds sewing in a hut, and who are to die when they have used up their needles, which fill several huge boxes. At last he visits the Moon, who says, "This is how I am. When the moon in heaven is old, I am old; and when it is young, I am young also." So the man stops with the Moon a hundred years and more. At last Death, after consulting the Wolf and the Sewers, comes to the Moon, and asks for "her soul." "It isn't yours," says the Moon; but Death perseveres in her claim. At last the Moon takes the man by the head, while Death seizes him by the feet, on which he shoots up into the air, and becomes "a star which may be seen in the sky near the Moon 9."
Somewhat of the same kind also is the Bulgarian story in which the Sun falls in love with the fair maiden Grozdanka. So on St. George's day he lets down from heaven a golden swing, which remains suspended close by her house. Small and great swing away in it, till at last Grozdanka steps into it. But no sooner has she done so than the golden swing flies up to heaven, and bears the maiden [as the eagle bore Ganymede] to her radiant lover 1.
In. the story of "Truth's Triumph," in Miss Frere's Old Deccan Days" [p. 50], much evil is wrought
by an evil spirit, a Rakshasa, who has taken the form of "an ugly old woman," closely resembling the Vyed'ma or the Baba Yaga. She has long claws instead of hands, "her hair hangs around her in a thick black tangle," and she possesses a magic wand with which she can work wonders. The hero of the tale steals it, and when she chases him he waves it, and causes, first, a great river to flow, then a high mountain to rise, between him and her--obstacles which are frequently produced in similar emergencies by the heroes of Russian tales, who generally have recourse for the purpose to the agency of a magic comb, brush, or towel.
The three embodiments of the Spirit of Evil, generally known as the Baba Yaga, Koshchei, and the Witch, seem to be mere varieties, of the general form it assumes in the stories--that of the Snake. Their names appear to be interchangeable at will with that of the great antagonist of the heroes of the Skazkas, the terrible Fiery Serpent. In one variant of a story, it is a Baba Yaga who pursues a band of fugitives; in another, it is the wife of a slain snake. Here Koshchei is seen hanging in chains in the room which the Prince is forbidden to enter, there a fettered serpent meets the eye. The mythical being who chases her brother up to the home of the Sun's Sister is spoken of as a human witch until the end of the story, but then she is called the "Witch-Snake 2."
The Serpent [Zmyei] is described in the stories as "winged," "fiery," "many-headed." Sometimes he assumes a human form, becoming a youth of marvellous beauty in the presence of his beloved, or, when going to meet a foe, a warrior mounted on a noble charger, with a raven perched on his shoulder and a hound following at his heels. Sometimes he bears the patronymic of Goruinuich, i. e. Son of the Mountain [Gora = a mountain], in which case he may be the lightning, looked upon as the offspring of the aerial mountain, the cloud. In others he seems to be intended for the cloud itself, as in a story which mentions his blotting out the light of day. It seems to be in the latter capacity that he is spoken of as guarding treasures of bright metals and gleaming gems, and as carrying off and imprisoning fair maidens. In one story a snake is said to have stolen the luminaries of the Right. A hero cuts off its head, and out from the slain monster issue "the Bright Moon and the Morning Stars;" and in another the Bear and the "Ocean Monster" carry off the Beautiful Princesses Luna and Zvyezda [Star] 3. But it is generally a mortal maiden with whom he elopes, and whom he retains much against her will. From such unions spring heroes of magic powers, such as Tugarin Zmyeevich, and Volkh Yseslav'evich, of whom more will be said hereafter, and also
fiendish shapes like the Kikimori, or Incubi, which harass sleepers.
In the stories and songs the fair prisoner is generally rescued by a hero who penetrates into the castle of the Snake, and there fights and conquers him, getting possession at the same time of the "living water" [the rain?] on which depends the snake's [or the cloud's] power. This hero is supposed to be the Thunder-god, who disperses the Cloud and frees the life-bestowing Rain and the fair Sunlight. In some of the stories he bears a surname which points to his connexion with the Deity of the Hearth, being called Zapechny, or, Zatrubnik, or Popyalof--from pech [the stove], or truba [the stove pipe or chimney], or pepel [ashes]. Sometimes the demon eats the maidens whom he carries off, the stories frequently speaking of a beautiful princess who is exposed like Andromeda, and whom a Slavonic Perseus saves from a "seven-headed snake" which is hastening to devour her.
In a few of the stories the Thunder-god himself appears under the form of a snake. The princely bridegroom has been changed by the magic spells of a foe into "a terrible serpent." But the loving bride breaks the spell by a kiss, and the serpent turns into a handsome prince, who marries his rescuer; that is, says Afanasief, the hot breath of the Goddess of Spring recalls Perun to life, and brings about a union fraught with happy consequences to the earth 4.
Sometimes a captive princess, enchanted by Koshchei or some other mythic being, is turned into a snake. In one story, the hero who rescues her has first to remain for seven years shut up in a castle of metal on a steep hill. At the end of that time the princess recovers her former shape and beauty, i. e. at the end of the seven winter months, passed in darkness and seclusion, the Goddess of the Spring regains her power, or her former charms are restored to the Earth. The idea of a serpent as a terrible enemy is now preserved in Russia only in the popular literature. By the common people of the present day snakes are there looked upon with much respect and even affection. "Our peasants," says Afanasief, "consider it a happy omen if a snake takes up its quarters in a cottage, and they gladly set out milk for it. To kill such a snake would be a very great sin." And he goes on to say that healing powers are still attributed to the heads and skins of snakes. These ideas may have been handed down from a time when serpent-worship prevailed among the Slavonians in general. The Old Prussians are said to have worshipped a fiery serpent over which priests kept careful watch. In Poland and Lithuania, according to Kromer, snakes were domesticated in the houses of the people, who honoured them as Penates, and made offerings to them of milk, eggs, cheese, and fowls. The Lusatian Wends believe that snakes sometimes do men good service, aiding them in growing rapidly rich, and requiring nothing in return but simple offerings.
Among the most striking of the Russian Snake
stories--stories which seem to be clearly nature-myths--may be mentioned the tale of Ivan Popyalof, in which it is expressly stated that "in that kingdom in which Ivan lived there was no day, but always night: that was a snake's doing." So when the snake, a twelve-headed one, had been killed by Ivan and his brothers, they cut off and destroyed its heads, "and immediately there was bright light throughout the whole kingdom." As a general rule, however, it is not openly stated that the Snake-Cloud has blotted out the light of day, or that Winter has imprisoned the Spring, but the idea is conveyed in a mythical form, common to all Indo-European folklore, the story relating that a fair Princess has been carried off by the Snake. She is of course always rescued by the hero of the tale, who finds out where she is confined--sometimes after having traversed the kingdoms of copper, of silver, and of gold--and kills her serpent-gaoler.
In one of the stories a Seven-headed Snake carries off a girl as she is taking food to her two brothers in the forest. The elder of the two goes in search of her, and arrives at the Snake's dwelling. He is at first cordially received, but as he can neither eat iron bread and iron beans, nor accomplish the tasks which are set him--to cut up a huge log without a hatchet, and to burn it without fire--he is killed by the irritated Snake, who takes out his eyes and puts them into a pot, and then hangs his dead body to a beam. After a time the younger brother undergoes the same fate.
As their mother is weeping one day, and complaining to God, she sees a pea come rolling along. Saying to herself, "This is a gift from God," she eats it, and the result is that she bears a son, who receives the name of Pokatigoroshek [from katit', to roll, and gorokh, peas], and who eventually goes to look for his two brothers. Arriving at the Snake's dwelling, he devours the iron food which is offered to him; with a finger's touch be turns the huge log into dust and ashes, and then he tries his strength against the Snake. When he and the Snake grasp each other's hands, his hand "only turns blue," but the snake's is broken off. A mortal combat ensues, in which he kills the Snake, and afterwards he obtains the water of life, and resuscitates his dead brothers 5.
In a Croatian variant of this story the Snake is replaced by the Devil, Vrag,--a word compared by Grimm with the Old High-German warg, a wolf--and Pokatigoroshek becomes the being known in Russian as Malchik-s-Palchik, our Tom Thumb [Malchik, a boy, palchik dim. of palets, a finger].
The part assigned in most of the stories to the Snake, is, in some of them, given to a monster called Chudo-Yudo [Yudo = Judas: Chudo now means a marvel or prodigy; in olden times it was synonymous with Velikan, a Giant], and it often corresponds in some points with that filled by the Slavonic Neptune, the Tsar Morskoi, or Sea King, who has already been alluded to, but who is worthy of a more detailed
notice, as also are his daughters, the Swan Maidens, whose fair sisters are known in all lands.
In one of the Builinas, or metrical romances, the following story is told of a Novgorod trader, named Sadko:--Once in a fit of dreariness, due to his being so poor that he had no possessions beyond the gusli on which he performed at festivals, he went down to the shore of Lake Ilmen, and there began to play. Presently "the waters of the lake were troubled, and the Tsar Morskoi appeared," who thanked him for his music, and promised him a rich reward. Thereupon Sadko flung a net into the lake, and drew a great treasure to land. Another of the poems tells how the same Sadko, after he had become a wealthy merchant, was sailing over the blue sea. Presently his ship stopped, and nothing would make it move on. Lots were cast to find out whose guilt was the cause of this delay, and they fixed the blame upon Sadko. Then he confessed that he had now been sailing to and fro for twelve years, but had not remembered to pay fitting tribute to the King of the Waters, "to offer bread and salt to the blue Caspian." Thereupon the sailors flung him overboard, and immediately the ship once more proceeded on its way.
Sadko sank to the bottom of the sea, and there found a dwelling entirely made of wood. Inside lay the Tsar Morskoi, who said he had been expecting Sadko for twelve years, and told him to begin playing. Sadko obeyed, and charmed the Tsar, who began to dance. "Then the blue sea was troubled, and the swift rivers overflowed, and many ships with
their freights were submerged." The Ocean King was so pleased with the music, that he offered the hand of any one of his thirty daughters to the musician. So Sadko married the nymph Volkhof, that being the name of the river which runs past Novgorod:
And at midnight, during his slumber,
He touched his young wife with his left foot--
From his sleep arose Sadko.
He found himself under [the walls of] Novgorod,
And his left foot was in the river Volkhof 6.
In one of the prose stories a king, whom the chase has rendered athirst, lies down flat on the ground and drinks of the cool waters of a lake. "He drinks and suspects no danger, but the Tsar Morskoi seizes him by the beard," and holds him fast until he promises to give in ransom his infant son. When the young Prince has grown up he is taken by his father to the edge of the fatal lake, and there deserted. Acting upon the advice of a friendly sorceress, he hides among the bushes on the shore, and waits till twelve pigeons arrive, which strike the ground, and "turn into beautiful maidens, every one of them of indescribable loveliness." They fling off their clothes, run into the water, and there "play, laugh, splash about, and sing songs." After a time arrives a thirteenth pigeon, which also becomes a maiden, fairer than all the rest. Her dress [sorochka, a shift] Prince Ivan steals. So when her sisters have resumed
their feathered garb, and flown away, she has to remain behind, vainly searching for her missing garment, until at last she cries,--
"Whoever you are who have my shift, come here. If you are old, you shall be my father. If middle-aged, you shall be my brother. If of my own age, you shall be my loved one."
Ivan appears, and she gives him a golden ring, tells him she is Vassilissa the Wise, the daughter of the Tsar Morskoi, and shows him the way to her subaqueous abode. Then she assumes her pigeon-shape, and flies away. Ivan enters the world beneath the waters. "There the light is just the same as with us. There the dear sun shines warmly, and there stretch ploughed lands, and meadows, and verdant groves." The Water-King receives him angrily, and sets him various difficult tasks, one of which is "to build a church of pure wax;" but he performs them all, thanks to the aid of Vassilissa and the ants, the bees, and others of her "trusty servants," and eventually he becomes her husband 7.
The Water-King's daughters, who in this story take the shape of pigeons, often appear under the forms of ducks, geese, or swans. The pigeon was in ancient times consecrated to the thunder-god, and, as has already been observed, in some places Slavonic
children still sing to the rain, when they want it to stop, "Do not come, O rain! Three pigeons will come flying, will take thee on their wings, and will carry thee into foreign parts." After the Russians had become Christians, they reclaimed their reverence for the bird, but considered it sacred to the Third Person of the Trinity, instead of to Perun; and so to this day they look upon the slaying of a pigeon as a great sin, one which will bring a murrain upon the herds of its perpetrator. Pigeons are supposed to bring good luck with them, and to assure the house they haunt against fire. If a building does catch fire, a white pigeon will extinguish the flames if it is thrown among them; on the other hand the flying of a pigeon into a house through the window forebodes a conflagration.
In some parts of Russia the swan, also, is looked upon as a bird which ought not to be shot at, and tradition affirms that "if a swan which has been killed is shown to children, they will all die." In one of the metrical romances a hero sees a wondrous swan--its plumage all golden, its head formed of "red gold," set with pearls--and is going to let fly an arrow at it, when it cries aloud, "Do not shoot at me!" comes flying up to him, and turns into a fair maiden, who afterwards becomes his wife. In a Bulgarian song a youth meets with one of the weird beings called Vilas--the South-Slavonian Rusalkas, who, in return for a draught of water from the fountains they guard, demand "the dark eyes " of those who drink. But he does not allow the Vila "to
drink out his dark eyes." He seizes her by her ruddy locks, throws her across his swift steed, and takes her to his home. There he tears off her right wing, shuts it up in a coffer, and makes her his wife. Three years pass by, and she bears a son. At the christening she is entreated to dance, but she replies that she cannot do so properly unless she is given back her missing wing. So it is restored to her, whereupon she flies away and does not return. Her husband's mother calls to her to come back, asking who is to feed her child and rock its cradle. To which she replies that if it cries for food she will "suckle it with copious dew;" if it wishes to be lulled to sleep, she will "rock its cradle with a gentle breeze 8."
Somewhat akin to the story of how the Tsar Morskoi demanded from the king his son, is that which tells how another king had to give up both his son and his daughter to Tsar Medvyed, or King Bear. In vain does their father hide them away in an underground retreat. The Bear finds them out and carries them off. During his absence a hawk takes them on its wings, and tries to fly away with them. But the Bear returns, catches sight of them, strikes his head against the ground, and sends forth a flame, which burns the hawk's wings, and compels it to drop the fugitives. An eagle next attempts to rescue them, but meets with the same fate as the hawk. At last,
however, a bull-calf succeeds in carrying them off safely. Acting on its directions the royal children consume it with fire, and from its ashes spring a horse, a dog, and an apple-tree, all of which play important parts in the second half of the story 9.
The bear [Medvyed] is a well-known symbol of the thunder, said to be chosen partly on account of its fondness for honey [Med, which, in mythological language means rain]. The hawk, the eagle, and the bull, are all equally familiar symbols of the cloud.
In another version of the story there issues from the ashes of the bull one of those supernatural dwarfs who play so leading a part in the traditions of all nations. The Slavonic Tom Thumb, Däumling, or Petit Poucet, is generally known as the Malchik-s-Palchik, the boy [Mal'chik, from maly, small] who is only as long as a finger [palets, dim. pal'chik], or as Mizinchik [dim. of Mizinets, the little finger], just as the Old-Prussian name for a dwarf was Parstuck, from the Lithuanian pirsztas, a finger 1. Sometimes, however, as in the story alluded to, he is called Mujichok-s-Kulachok, the little Mujik as big as a fist [our Pygmy, Kulak = πυγμή], or Mujichok-s-Nogotok, Boroda-s-Lokotok, the little Mujik as big as a finger-nail, with a beard as long as a fore-arm. In any case he is taken to be an impersonification of the lightning, his long beard being the storm-cloud.
For the Tsar Morskoi, also, as well as for his
daughters, the Swan Maidens, as plausible mythological explanations have been offered as have been supplied in the cases of the Baba Yaga, Koshchei, the Witch, and the Fiery Snake. But on some of them it seems not a little hazardous to rely with any great confidence. That many of the stories of the Russian peasantry may not unwarrantably be resolved into nature-myths will, I think, become apparent to any one who carefully examines them: To such an examination I hope, in another volume, to devote fitting space. At present I must be contented with merely mentioning, without unhesitatingly adopting, the theories propounded on the subject by the Russian mythologists. This is not the place for a discussion of the sources from which are derived the stories and metrical romances current in Russia, nor for an investigation of their age; but it may be stated here that while some critics look on them as decidedly ancient, and regard them as the medium through which the west of Europe has obtained much of its popular fiction, there are others who hold that those divisions of Russian folk-lore are comparatively modern. What is certain is that they have been more or less subjected to manifold influences, Scandinavian, Byzantine, Arabian, Persian, Turkish, and the like. And therefore the task of tracing a Russian story through its wanderings from its far off eastern home is by no means an easy one. But before investigating its mythical meaning, it is as well at least to attempt such a tracing, with a view to reducing it as far as possible to its original
form by relieving it of the foreign matter which has adhered to it on its travels. When it has undergone that operation it is fit to be subjected to the scrutiny of the comparative mythologist.
The case of the songs of the Russian people, however, is different in this respect from that of the stories and romances. Some of them--especially such fragments as have been preserved by the peasantry of the ancient ritual and mythical hymns of their ancestors--are evidently of very great antiquity, and have probably been, comparatively speaking, but little exposed to any foreign influence. From these songs, therefore, it is allowable to expect some evidence as to old times, and, in particular, as to the religious ideas and the mythical teaching of those Slavonians who, at some early period to which we can assign no definite date, spread themselves over the great plains in the north-east of Europe. Of the songs which seem to be most closely connected with those subjects I will now endeavour to give some brief account. Unfortunately, the number of such undoubted relies of Russian heathenism is by no means great, rich as is the store of "folk-song" possessed by the Russian people.
161:3 Baba stands for "woman;" the meaning of the word Yaga (the accent falls on the second syllable) is uncertain.
163:4 Afanasief, Skazki, I. 120. It has already been observed that the Slavonians always represented Death as a female being, the word representing death in each of the Slavonic languages--in Russian Smert'--being of the feminine gender.
165:5 Dasent's "Tales from the Norse," p. 76.
165:6 Miss Frere's "Old Deccan Days," p. 13.
165:7 Haltrich's Deutsche Volksmärchen aus dem Sachsenlande in Siebenbürgen, p. 188.
170:8 Afanasief, Skazki, VI. 57, p. 283.
171:9 Afanasief, P. V. S. III. 274.
171:1 Afanasief, Skazki, VIII. 380.
172:2 "In process of time" (says Mr. Talboys Wheeler, speaking of the "Scythic Nágas," in his History of India, I. 147)" these p. 173 Nágas became identified with serpents, and the result has been a strange confusion in the ancient myths between serpents and human beings."
173:3 Afanasief, P. V. S. II. 535.
174:4 See Grimm Deutsche Sagen, I. 13.
177:5 Afanasief, Skazki, III. 2, pp. 6-15.
179:6 Kirsha Danilof, 343.
180:7 Afanasief, Skazki, VI. 48, pp. 205-21.3. The story is a Slavonic counterpart of the tales De beiden Künigeskinner, Kinderund Hausmärchen, 13) and "The Mastermaid," (Dasent's Norse Tales, p. 81), but the Tsar Morskoi has more individuality than the German king or the Norse giant.
182:8 For a detailed account of "Swan-Maidens," see Baring-Gould's "Curious Myths," etc., Second Series, p. 296.
183:9 As in that of "Katie Wooden-cloak," in Dasent's Norse Tales, p. 420.
183:1 Deutsche Mythologie, 419.