FROM the gaiety of the epithalamium we now abruptly pass to the melancholy of the dirge. Marriage and death were often brought into strange fellowship by at least some of the Old Slavonians. Strongly impressed with the idea that those whom the nuptial bond had united in this world were destined to live together also in the world to come, they so sincerely pitied the lot of the unmarried dead, that, before committing their bodies to the grave, they were in the habit of finding them partners for eternity. The fact that, among some Slavonian peoples, if a man died a bachelor a wife was allotted to him after his death, rests on the authority of several witnesses, and in a modified form the practice has been retained in some places up to the present day. In Little-Russia, for instance, a dead maiden is, dressed in nuptial attire, and friends come to her funeral as to a wedding, and a similar custom is observed on the death of a lad. In Podolia, also, a young girl's funeral is conducted after the fashion of a wedding, a youth being chosen as the bridegroom who attends her to the grave, with the nuptial
kerchief twined around his arm. From that time her family consider him their relative, and the rest of the community look upon him as a widower. In some parts of Servia when a lad dies, a girl dressed as a bride follows him to the tomb, carrying two crowns; one of these is thrown to the corpse, and the other she keeps at least for a time 1. And so the ideas of the Old Slavonians about the grave were not always of a sombre nature, nor are those of the Russians of the present day. A proof of this is afforded by the strange combination of grief and rejoicing which characterizes the festival of the Rádunitsa. This is held soon after Easter, the tenth day after Easter Sunday being generally devoted to it in North-east Russia. At that time of year the dead "Fathers" are supposed to feel some relief from the cold of the long winter, and from the idea of their "rejoicing" most etymologists derive the name of Rádunitsa [radost' = joy, rádovat'sya = to rejoice].
This seems doubtful 2, but thus much is certain, that the festival has always been one of a partly mirthful nature. In olden days it seems to have commenced with heathen rites, after which the relatives of the dead wept and wailed for their loss. Then a feast
was celebrated over the graves, on which were scattered and poured some portions of the viands and the drinks, and revels commenced which lasted long. All these features are to be distinctly traced in the festival celebrated by the modern Russians, only Christian have been substituted for heathen rites at its commencement. On the second Tuesday after Easter, crowds flock early in the morning to the cemeteries, carrying with them small bundles, and there celebrate the commemoration of their dead. He who does not have a Panikhída, or requiem, sung in honour of his departed "Fathers," is held to commit a grievous sin, for the omission is the cause of great pain and distress to their sad ghosts, who would have attended the service, and have received from it much solace. Moreover, it is generally believed that if the end of the world shall at any time happen to coincide with the performance of one of these requiems, the souls to whom the service refers will go straight to Paradise, along with those of the persons at whose request it is being performed.
After the service the mourners visit their ancestral graves, and wail there, uttering loud invocations to the dead. Then they eat and drink to their repose, moistening the earth with beer, meal, or spirits, and strewing crumbs of their viands over it. Among
other things thus offered to the dead are coloured Easter Eggs, and on that account some of the peasants call the act of commemoration their Khristósovanie with their departed relatives: for when people meet at Easter they kiss each other joyfully three times, one of each couple saying, "Christ is risen!" and the other replying, "He is risen indeed!" and to perform this rite, which is often attended with the presentation of Easter eggs, is called Khristósat'sya 3. Newly-married couples frequently take such eggs with them at this time, and visit the tombs of their respective parents, in order to ask for the parental blessing upon their union.
After this, in Little-Russia,--where, as well as in White-Russia, says Tereshchenko, the joyous nature of the festival is most clearly seen,--singers of a semi-ecclesiastical nature, seminarists and the like, are invited to chant "spiritual songs" to funereal strains. Thereupon the mourners take to weeping, and wailing piteously. Then the senior of the party calls on the secular minstrels who are in attendance to perform. They begin with funeral songs, on hearing which the grief of the mourners bursts forth anew. All of a sudden the musicians strike up a lively tune. In a moment all sorrow is forgotten, merriment takes its place, and the rest of the day is devoted to songs, dances, and strong drinks. "Beer was drunk at the Carnival," says a proverb, but it was after the Rádunitsa that heads ached." The memorial cakes,
it should be remarked, must be supplied in odd numbers, in threes, fives, and so forth, and must be eaten without sauce. If any one is too poor to provide them for himself, his richer neighbours are expected to furnish him with what is necessary 4.
Before speaking about the relies of old poetry relating to the dead which have been preserved in the memories of the Russian peasantry, it may not be amiss to say a few words with respect to the heathen rites celebrated at funerals by the Old Slavonians, and to point out such traces of the influence of those rites as are to be found in the customs still kept up at funerals among the modern Slavonians, especially among the Russians. This subject has been so exhaustively treated by Kotlyarevsky in the erudite work to which we have already referred, that little more is required than to give a summary of his conclusions. We will begin with the customs which are still observed on the occasion of a death in a Slavonic village. They vary, of course, to a certain extent, according to the nationality and the religion of the villagers, but still a marked similarity is to be found in the descriptions which have been written of them, whether the describer had in view the inhabitants of Great, Little, or White-Russia, the various Slavonic subjects of Austria or of Turkey, or such scattered fragments of the stock as the Kashoubes of the Baltic and the Wends of Lusatia. It need hardly be observed that, under the influence of modern ideas,
old customs are fast dying out in all much-frequented neighbourhoods, and that, when it is said in the following sketch that such and such practices occur, it is not always meant that they are of notorious and constant occurrence.
When the course of a Slavonic peasant is evidently all but run, those who are in attendance on the sufferer do their best to mitigate his dying agony. For this purpose they often take the patient from his bed, on which they think he would "die hard," and stretch him on the floor, sometimes on the bare earth, some times on a couch of straw. This practice is common to nearly all the Slavonic peoples, among several of whom there prevails also the custom of clearing the way for the departing spirit. Thus in some parts of Ruthenia they make a hole in the roof over the sufferer's head, and in Bulgaria they sweep off the dust and cobwebs, and all else that is attached to or hanging from the ceiling. Some of the Slovaks also fumigate the dying person with burning grass, under the impression that his soul will flyaway together with the smoke, as with something of a kindred nature.
When all is over, the window is immediately opened, and sometimes a cup of water is set on the sill for the use of the departing soul. Some Slavonians place bread there also, and others set apart a chair as a resting-place for the spirit. As a general rule a lighted candle is placed by the side of the corpse, or in its hand.
Within the house in which the dead man lies all labour ceases, so that his rest may not be disturbed.
Some of the family prepare the body "for its long journey;" others go round with the tidings of death, or engage themselves in completing any thing that the defunct may have left unfinished. The Western Lusatians still keep up an old custom which used to be general among the Baltic Wends, of announcing a death by passing a black wand from hand to hand through the village. Among the Polish Mazovians, as soon as a peasant is dead, it is customary for his heir to make the round of his homestead, and announce the change of ownership to its buildings, its trees, and its live-stock, saying, "Your former master is dead. I am your new one now." The Lusatian Wends make a similar announcement to their bees also.
The body is generally washed after death, but in some parts of Ruthenia and Carniola this must be done while the dying person is still alive. In some places a burial garment, a Sávan, or shroud, is put on at once, but in others, among the South Slavonians for instance, this dressing is deferred till a later period. Great care is taken to provide the dead man with what he requires on his long journey, especially with a handkerchief or towel, which is tied round the neck or waist, and with a coin, which is placed in the hand of the corpse, or wrapped in the handkerchief. The Russian peasants say that the dead man will require the handkerchief to wipe his face with after his long journey, and the coin for the purpose of buying a place in the other world; but the money, if
not the handkerchief, was undoubtedly intended for the ghostly ferryman, the Charon of the Slavonic spirit world. The custom of providing money for the corpse has always been universal among the Slavonians, but practice varied with regard to the disposal of the coins, which were sometimes used for the purpose of closing the eyes of the dead, sometimes thrown into the grave at the burial. The practice of furnishing the corpse with the parings of human and other nails, to be used by the climbing spirit, has already been mentioned. [See p. 110.]
In all Slavonic Countries great stress has from time immemorial been laid on loud expressions of grief for the dead. These was formerly attended by laceration of the faces of the mourners, a custom still preserved among some of the inhabitants of Dalmatia and Montenegro. The keening begins immediately after a death, continues until the body has been laid in the grave, and afterwards breaks out afresh at certain intervals.
As a general rule! a wife laments for her husband, a daughter for a parent, a mother for a son, and a sister for a brother. If there is no relative to perform the duty, it devolves upon a stranger. But in some places the lamenting is done by deputy, a professional mourner being called in for the purpose. This may be in accordance with the idea, prevalent among so many different nations, that a man's relatives must not mourn for him, that their tears would cause him discomfort or even pain. At the present day, however, the Russian Plakal'shchitsa, or Public
Wailer, is generally employed at a funeral merely because she is better acquainted with the conventional expressions of grief than the relatives of the. dead person can be expected to be. All Slavonic peoples are rich in stores of the wailings used on such occasions, but it is among the Little-Russians and the Servians that they flourish most luxuriantly. After the dead man has been properly dressed, his body is set in some appointed place, and all who are present kiss him and say farewell to him, and drink to his prosperous journey. Liquor is provided for this purpose, and with it is brought bread, for bread (or corn) plays a considerable part in the funeral rites. The Pinsk peasantry, for instance, when they take the corpse from the bench on which it is usually laid, strew corn on the place it has occupied, and set bread on the spot which its shoulders have pressed.
Among most Slavonian peoples at the present day the corpse is put into a coffin, but the practice is not universal. Neither the Bulgarians nor the Montenegrines use regular coffins, but they employ planks in their graves. The Russian word for coffin, grob, [Lithuanian grabas, Gothic graban] did not originally bear that meaning, but signified something dug out.
The old heathen Slavonians commonly placed their dead in hollowed-out trunks of trees. Such a trunk is called koláda, and by that name a coffin is known in many of the provincial dialects of Russia. The Slovenes used these trunk-coffins up to the beginning
of the present century, and to this day the Raskolniks of the Chernigof Government still inter their dead in them.
The corpse was often carried out of the house through a window, or through a hole made for the purpose, and the custom is still kept up in many parts. Among some of the Hungarian Slavonians it was customary to tap three times with the coffin at the corner of the izba, or at the threshold of the doors, and the Czekhs used to shake the bier above the threshold, or sign a cross with it. For under the threshold live the domestic deities, the guardians of the family, the souls of ancestors. In some places the old custom is still observed of placing on the threshold an axe, or some other implement, the axe corresponding to the hammer to which, in Scandinavian mythology, a consecrating influence was so often attributed. When the corpse of a rustic proprietor is being carried out, it is customary in some parts of Poland to let loose all his cattle, that they may take leave of their old master.
In some places, after a man's body has left the house, his widow takes a new pitcher, and breaks it to pieces on the earth, and afterwards strews oats over the ground traversed by the funeral procession.
In former times the corpse is said to have been conveyed on sani, a sledge; whence comes an old Russian phrase, "to sit in a sledge," meaning "to be at the point of death." But by the term sani was probably meant, not the modern sledge, which is used only in winter, but a light sort of vehicle
employed at all seasons of the year. A mare was seldom used for the conveyance of the corpse, for fear she might prove barren for the future.
The funeral rites have always been performed before sunset. The sun had to show the disembodied spirit the way to its future abode. After dark the ghost would have been obliged to wander about, painfully seeking its way. Among some of the Croatians it is customary to open the coffin before it descends into the tomb, in order that the sunbeams may warm it.
As regards the ceremonies performed at the grave itself, we will pass over them for the moment, to recur to them when we are dealing with the old burial customs of heathen times, and will now proceed to those which follow the actual interment, and in the first place to the rites of purification. Of these no written evidence exists; their nature can be gathered only from the customs of the people, among which are the following:--The bed on which the dying person lay is carried out of the house, the straw of which use has been made is burnt, and the cottage itself, or its principal room, is strewed with corn. Among the South Slavonians the mourners, on their return from the funeral, are met by an old woman, who carries a vessel containing live coals. On these they pour water, or else, having washed their hands, they take a live coal from the hearth, and fling it over their heads. In Ruthenia they look steadfastly at the stove, or place their hands on it. In olden times the Bohemians, when returning from a funeral, avoided
looking back, and were accustomed to throw sticks and stones behind them. The Lusatian Wends still make a point of placing water between themselves and the dead as they return from a burial, even breaking ice for the purpose if necessary.
Among the Servians neither the spades which dug the grave, nor the cart and horses which conveyed the coffin, are brought into the farm-yard, but the horses are turned loose into the pastures, and the other accessories of the burial are left for the space of three days outside the gates; otherwise they might introduce death into the homestead.
After the purification comes the funeral banquet, the partakers of which eat and drink to the memory of the dead. This is the descendant of the ancient Strava, which will presently be described; but that meal was held either on the grave or near it, whereas its modern representative generally takes place in the house in which the death occurred. The Bulgarians, however, still celebrate it near the grave, and in the Pinsk Government some of the funeral party are in the habit of rising from table in order to finish the meal above the tomb.
With this feast the funeral rite may be said to close. But the departed one is not soon forgotten. In olden days a memorial banquet was held in his honour on the third, sixth, ninth, and fortieth day after his death, and on its anniversary, and he was remembered also in the feasts celebrated at springtide in memory of the Fathers, the collective family dead. To these feasts it was customary to invite the dead,
standing before the open door. Silently the living sat down to table, they ate without using knives, and they threw portions of the food under the table for their spirit-guests. What fell by accident was the share of orphan souls who had no friends to nourish them. After a time the unseen banqueters were escorted out, and their hosts turned their attention to drink and merriment.
The customs of the present day are of an equally heathenish nature; some of them, indeed, seem to be even older than those just described. In the Government of Pinsk the peasants at their memorials cover a table with a white cloth, and in the middle of it place a vessel in which vodka, or whiskey, is set on fire. They also throw salt on burning coals, and listen to its crackling. When the memorial cakes are ready the oldest of the party walks round the house, gazes at the family graves, and invites the ancestors to the feast. On his return the rest of the party stand silent for a time, as if listening to spiritual accents, and then begin to eat, taking care to pour out for the dead the first three spoonfuls of each dish.
But even stranger than this custom is one kept up in some parts of the Government of Olonets, in which the inhabitants of a village sometimes celebrate a joint festival in honour of their collective dead. Having chosen a house for the purpose, they spread three tables, one outside the front door, one in the passage, and one in the izba itself. Then they go out of doors as if to meet their unseen guests, and
return escorting them into the house with the words, "Ye are tired, our own ones; take something to eat." After sitting down to the first table they pass on to the second, and then enter the izba. There the master of the house says to the ghostly visitors, "Doubtless ye have grown cold in the moist earth, and on the road, perhaps, it was not warm. Warm yourselves, our own ones, at the stove." Thereupon the living guests take their seats at table. Just before the end of the repast, when the kisel (a sort of pudding) is served, the host "opens the window, and lets down into the street the linen in which the dead had been lowered into the grave," and then the whole party begins to escort the unseen visitors from the stove into the outer air, saying, "Now it is time for you to go home, and your feet must be tired: the way is not a little one to travel. Here it is softer for you [i. e. along the linen]. Now, in God's name, farewell!" And the dead are supposed to descend by means of the linen, just as, on the day of their burial, they had been let down into the grave 5.
From these interesting specimens of survival, we will now turn to the rites of which they are fragments, those with which the Old Slavonians, while yet heathens, celebrated the burial of their dead.
Though the subject is one of great interest I do not purpose to enter at all deeply into it, for the evidence which its Russian investigators have
brought together with regard to it is almost entirely derived from foreign and well-known sources, and my main object in the present work is to render intelligible to the general public the speech of exclusively Slavonic witnesses. It will be sufficient, therefore, merely to allude to what has been said about Slavonic funerals by Greek, Arabian, Teutonic, and other writers--to mention how the Emperor Maurice [† A.D. 602] in his Strategica explained why the wives of Slavonian warriors refused to survive their husbands; that Theophylactus, early in the seventh century, relates how the Roman General Priscus penetrated into the Slavonic territory, and captured "the king of the Barbarians," one Mousokios, who had been celebrating a brother's funeral with too many wine cups--a piece of evidence which is valuable, and would have been still more so had it been clearly stated that Mousokios was really a Slavonian; that the statement of Theophylactus was copied by Theophanes and by Anastasius the Librarian [about A.D. 886]; that Saint Boniface [A.D. 755] testified, that among the Slavonic Winedi, or Wends, the marriage tie was so strong that wives killed themselves when their husbands died, a passage which has given rise to much discussion; that during the first half of the tenth century the Arabian travellers, Ibn Dosta, Masudi, and Ibn Fozlan, gave full accounts of Slavonic burials, including some sensational descriptions of the sacrifices which attended them, some of which accounts were afterwards incorporated into his own work by Leo the Deacon; that
Dithmar, Bishop of Merseburg [A.D. 1018], wrote on the subject, and made one remark in particular to which reference will presently be made; that Otto, Bishop of Bamberg [A.D. 1125], has left behind him some valuable pieces of evidence in his letters forbidding burials in woods and fields, and other heathenish customs; that from the writings of Cosmas of Prague, who died in 1125, copious information is to be gained; and that the Latin poem by Klonowicz, called Roxolania, published at Cracow in 1584, contains a graphic sketch of a funeral among its pictures of Ruthenian life in the sixteenth century. The testimony borne by Menetius, or Meletius, in 1551, in his letter De sacrificiis et ydolatria veterum Borussorum, and repeated by Lasicius in his work, "De Diis Samogitarum," is too well known to require more than a passing reference 6.
Having thus alluded to some of the chief authorities on the subject, we will pass to the consideration of a few of the most important facts which their evidence appears to substantiate, such as the following:--that the old Slavonians sometimes buried and sometimes burnt their dead; that, in some cases at least, human sacrifices were offered on the occasion of a burial, and that it was not an uncommon occurrence for a man's widow to kill herself, or allow herself to be killed, at his funeral; and that the burial was followed always by a feast, and sometimes by martial games, in honour of the dead.
The question as to whether the Old Slavonians disposed of their dead by interment or by cremation has given rise to much discussion, and a great amount of writing has been bestowed upon the adverse theories of Dobner and Anton; the first of whom asserted that the Slavonians buried, whereas the Teutons burnt, while the second maintained an exactly opposite opinion. Some writers, moreover, have explained that the Slavonians, while Nomads, used to burn their dead, but took to burying them when they accepted a settled form of life. Others have divided the heathen Slavonians into two religious sects, each of which had its own ideas about burial. Others, again, have held that the Slavonians used to burn their dead so long as they were heathens, but gave up the practice on becoming Christians; and a fourth set of scholars have suggested that rich Slavonians used to be burnt, while poor ones could only get buried. After duly weighing all these arguments, Kotlyarevsky arrives at the conclusion that there never was any general rule, but that some Slavonians buried without burning, while others first burnt their dead, and then buried their ashes, acting in accordance with old family traditions. In excavating, it is not uncommon to find traces of both customs in the same tomb: near the remains of a corpse interred without cremation lie the ashes of one which has been calcined or at least partially burnt.
As regards the spots in which they deposited either the bodies or the ashes of their departed relatives,
various customs seem to have prevailed. Sometimes hills, and especially eaves in hills, were chosen as burial-places. In very remote times it is possible that they may have buried the remains of their dead within their dwellings, under the threshold, the spot still selected by many of their descendants for the burial of unchristened babes. The Baltic Slavonians and the Czekhs are known to have chosen fields and forests for this purpose. General cemeteries do not seem to have been known (except for strangers) among the heathen Slavonians, for no ancient word for such places occurs in any Slavonic dialect 7; and the excavations which have been made in Slavonic lands bear out this idea, the tombs having almost always been found to stand either singly or in family groups.
Whether the Slavonians ever sent their dead afloat on an actual sea it is impossible to say, but the geographical position of most of them renders such an idea improbable, so far as the European period of their history is concerned. The term nav' for a dead person is supposed by some writers to imply ideas connected with navigation, and there seems to be reason for supposing that boats, or at least boat-shaped cases, were used for the reception of corpses at funerals, but these boats may merely have been intended to allude to the (atmospheric) sea which the soul had to cross after death.
From the accounts of the foreigners who have written on the subject it may be gathered that it
was customary among the old Slavonians to place the boat, or other wooden case containing the corpse, on a pyre, which, after the family had taken a last farewell of the dead, was lighted by one of their number. It has been supposed, but it is not certain, that a particular kind of wood was always used on such occasions--that, namely, of the thorn, one of the trees connected with the lightning.
Together with the corpse various objects were burnt, or buried. The dead took with them to the other world, according to the popular belief, their favourite horses and other animals, their dress, their arms, and their ornaments, and many other things which were likely to conduce towards their comfort and happiness in the grave. Of certain material aids to the aspiring soul, such as leather thongs, ladders, and nail-parings, mention has already been made. But by far the most important among the companions of the dead were the human beings who either killed themselves, or were put to death, upon the occasion of a funeral.
The fact that, in Slavonic lands, a thousand years ago, widows used to destroy themselves in order to accompany their dead husbands to the world of spirits, seems to rest on incontestable evidence; and at an earlier period there can be no doubt that "a rite of suttee, like that of modern India," prevailed among the heathen Slavonians, the descendant, perhaps, as Mr. Tylor remarks of "widow-sacrifice" among many of the European nations, "of an ancient Aryan rite belonging originally to a period even
earlier than the Veda 8." According to Ibn Dosta, in some places it was customary for the dead man's favourite wife to hang herself, in order that her body might be burnt with that of her lord; in others she was expected to allow herself to be buried alive with his corpse. To this practice there are many allusions in the songs and the customs of the people. Among the latter may be reckoned the so-called "marriages" between the living and the dead, which have already been mentioned, and among the former those Moravian songs in which the dead are described as rising from their graves, and carrying off their wives or their betrothed, the Builina, in which the dead Potok is buried together with his living wife, and some other poems of a similar nature.
In addition to being accompanied by his widow, the heathen Slavonian, if a man of means and distinction, was solaced by the sacrifice of some of his slaves. The fullest description of what occurred on such an occasion is that given by Ibn Fozlan, who declares that he was an eyewitness of what took place. According to him, when one of the "Russian" merchants, with whom he became acquainted in Bulgaria, died "they asked his girls which of them would die with him. One answered that she would," whereupon she was handed over to the care of the two daughters of an old woman who had the appearance of a "yellow, wrinkled witch," and who bore the
name of "The Angel of Death." They kept watch over her till the final moment in which "the woman called Death's angel fixed about her neck a twisted rope, which she gave two men to pull," and at the same time drove a knife in between her ribs, so that she died. Her dead body was then placed beside that of her lord, in a ship which had been taken from the river for the purpose, and which was propped up by four trees and surrounded by "wooden images of men and giants." With the human corpses were placed those of a dog, two horses, and a pair of fowls, and finally the ship was set on fire. Just before the girl was killed, says Ibn Fozlan, she cried out three times, saying, "Look! there do I see my father and my mother!" and again, "Look! I see all my relations sitting together there!" and finally, "Look! There is my lord! He sits in Paradise. Paradise is so green, so beautiful! By his side are all his men and boys. He calls me: bring me to him!" And after all was over the "Russians" scoffed at their Arabian friend as belonging to a race who buried their dead, and so gave them as a prey to worms and corruption; whereas they themselves burnt their dead at once, and so obtained admittance for them without delay into Paradise. The whole of the narrative is remarkably interesting, but unfortunately it is not quite clear who these "Russians" were. Ibn Fozlan describes them as the filthiest people he had ever seen, and Rasmussen repudiates them as Scandinavians on account of the want of modesty attributed to their
king; but some Russian critics think they must have been Varangian traders 9.
Above the spot on which the funeral rites were celebrated, a mound was heaped. Ibn Dosta says that the ashes of the dead were collected the day after the cremation, and placed in a memorial urn, which was set up on the mound. Ibn Fozlan, on the other hand, states that the mound was piled above the funeral pyre. In some of the tombs which have been explored, vases have been found containing bones which showed traces of fire; in others, the remains have been discovered of bodies which seem to have been interred, and then to have had mounds piled above them. In olden days every one who was present at a funeral deemed it a religious duty to assist in the erection of the mound, just as now every bystander throws a handful of earth into the grave.
Upon the mound, it is supposed, a memorial was set up in the shape of a tent, or small wooden house, in which not only the soul might find rest and shelter when visiting the body in which it used to abide, but also the relatives of the dead when they came to mourn over his remains. Traces of this custom are still to be found in Russia. In the
Government of Chernigof, for instance, the White-Russians still, in spite of ecclesiastical prohibitions, erect over graves a kind of log-hut. Such a construction is known in some other districts as a Golubets, a term sometimes applied to the roofed cross commonly set up over a grave.
Among most of the Slavonic tribes, directly after the funeral rites were over came the Strava, the memorial feast, held above the grave, or close beside it. According to Jacob Grimm 1, the name Strava is one of Gothic origin, and means a funeral pyre [from straujan = sternere]. But Kotlyarevsky claims it as a Slavonic word.
Among some of the Slavonians was celebrated the solemn rite of parting with the dead, called the Trizna. Its name and its nature are both involved in some uncertainty, but the former is supposed to be akin to terzanie, laceration; and, as regards the latter, we know that it took the form of a meal of some kind, followed by games and contests, horse-races and personal combats. It was a form of honouring the dead which could only have prevailed among a warlike people--such as in a like manner honoured a dead Patroclus or Beowulf--and therefore it does not seem to have been known to all the Slavonians. Those of the south were partially
acquainted with it, and it is known with certainty to have existed among the Russians. With the course of time it passed into the form of the Strava, and now lives in the memorial meal which follows a Russian funeral.
After the tomb had closed over the body or the ashes of the dead, it did not always remain intact. From time to time it was opened for the reception of new tenants, for the heathen Slavonians often buried in one such receptacle the remains of many generations, their respect for it increasing with the number of protecting "Fathers" whose abiding place it became. This custom has been kept up in some Slavonic countries till the present day; and sometimes a corpse which has not lain long in the ground has to make way for a new comer. Csaplovies states that he was himself an eyewitness of the following occurrence:--A Slovene, whose mother had died, dug up the corpse of his father, collected his bones, washed them with red wine, tied them up in a clean white towel, placed the bundle on his mother's coffin, and then buried the remains of his two parents together 2. A similar practice prevails in Bulgaria, where, it is said, if no relative dies within the space of three years, the family tomb is opened, and any stranger who happens to expire is buried in it--a custom due to the lingering influence of the old idea, that the grave required a victim.
That of the rites celebrated every spring by the
Old Slavonians in memory of their dead, many traces are still to be found in the customs of their descendants, has been shown in the account given of the Rádunitsa, and of such entertainments as the Olonets villagers offer to their family ghosts. To these descriptions may be added one more, that of the old Russian practice of burying, at the commencement of every spring, the bodies of the unknown and uncared-for dead which had accumulated during the winter in the Ubogie domui--"poor-houses" set apart for the reception of the bodies of friendless strangers, or of persons who had been murdered or who had died suddenly, and, in fact, for the remains of all the waifs and strays of humanity. During the winter these corpses lay in pits dug within the "poor-houses;" in the spring charitable people met together, took the dead bodies from their temporary resting-place, and buried them decently in consecrated ground. There was a cemetery near Moscow called the "Potter's Field"--in allusion to that which was bought with the thirty pieces of silver "to bury strangers in"--to which the charitable citizens were wont to resort on the seventh Thursday after Easter, there to dig graves for the bodies, and to have divine service performed for the souls, of the friendless dead. They did not know the names of those for whom they prayed, says Karamzin, but they trusted that God would know, and would let their prayers be of good effect.
And now let us turn to the poetry itself--to the complaints, funeral wailings, or keens, uttered at
the death or the burial of a relative, or, at a later period, over his grave--pláchki, zapláchki, etc. [plakat', = to cry], or Prichitan'ya [prichitát' = to read beside, to complain]. The songs with which a bride bewails the loss of her girlish freedom are called Prichitan'ya, and so were those in which mothers used to lament the departure of their sons to the army. At times, as has already been shown, these zapláchki are improvised on the spot, but most of them have been handed down by tradition from a very remote age. Such, for instance, are those in which the lightning is represented as rending graves open, and the spirits of the dead as manifesting themselves to mortal eyes in the form of birds. The following will serve as a specimen of this class:--
From the side of the East
Have risen the wild winds,
With the roaring thunders,
And the fiery lightnings.
All on my father's grave
A star has fallen, has fallen from heaven . . . .
Split open, O dart of the thunder,
The moist mother Earth!
Do thou fall to pieces, O mother Earth,
On all four sides!
Split open, O coffin planks,
Unfold, O white shroud,
Fall away, O white hands,
From over the bold heart,
And do ye become parted, O sweet lips!
Turn thyself, O my own father,
Into a bright, a swift-winged falcon;
Fly away to the blue sea,
To the blue sea, to the Caspian.
Wash off, my own father,
From thy white face the mould.
Come flying, O my father,
To thy own home, to the lofty terem;
Listen, O my father,
To our songs of sadness! 3
It was generally a friendly ghost that thus revisited the earth beneath the pale glimpses of the moon, being usually the spirit of a parent who sympathized with a child, and longed to do it good service. But there were cases, also, to which the Skazki, or stories, bear frequent witness, in which the dead assumed a baleful shape, and, as vampires, or werewolves, ran riot through the world, thirsting for human blood. It was generally a wizard, or witch, or some other disreputable character who behaved in this manner after death, but even the spirits of persons who had led blameless lives might be induced, if proper respect was not paid to them, to revenge themselves on their forgetful survivors. The spirit invoked in the zapláchki is usually that of a parent, who is entreated to be present at the wedding of an orphan bride, or at least at the time when the bride and bridegroom are betrothed by the joining of hands, and the parental blessing is bestowed on her: such is the case, for instance in the following lament:--
There are who will give me to eat and to drink,
But to bless me, the young one, there is none;
Neither the father dear who nourished me,
Nor the mother dear who bare me.
See, O my sunlight, my own brother,
If from the Nikolsk oak-wood
Comes not the father dear who nourished me.
For my father dear promised,
At the moment of swift death,
In his very last hour,
To be at the striking fast of hands,
At the last farewell,
At the life-long blessing 4.
The same complaint, the same longing for the parental blessing, is heard in the wailings of a girl who, in rude and untutored language, laments a mother's death:--
There stands a green oak on the bill,
There is no wind, and yet it shakes,
There is no rain, but it is wet.
Many, many on the green oak,
Many a branch and spray is there,
Many a green branch;
Only the green oak
Has no golden top,
No gilded vane,
Such as now it ought to have
At this very time,
Or in the summer fair,
Or in the ample spring.
Much has the fair maiden,
Much wealth of kin,
Many and many a relative,
Many a close friend,
Many a near neighbour.
Only the fair maiden
Has no mother dear,
Such as she now needs,
At this very time,
For the great marriage-blessing.
There are who will give her to eat and drink,
But to bless her there is none 5.
The next zapláchka--also a very unpolished one--gives utterance to the grief of a mother who bewails the death of a young child.
I will sadly go
To my own, my loved one,
My own heart's love....
Now on this day
The sun burns not as in summertide,
Warms not as in the spring.
With what a fall have I let fall,
With what a loss have I lost!
I will go this day,
In sorrow and tears,
To my loved beloved.
"Tell me, my loved,
"Why hast thou deserted
"Thy mother forlorn?
"Not a word can I gain,
"Not a single secret word,
"To my careworn heart!
"Oh listen, my loved one,
"My own, my darling child!"
Now am I indeed a mother ill-fated!
A cuckoo ill-starred in a green pine-wood,
Such am I, ill-fated, unhappy 6.
But the most remarkable among the group of "complaints" from which we have been quoting, that collected by Ruibnikof in the neighbourhood of Lake Onega, are the two which are intended to be sung at the funeral of the father of a family. One of
them, at least, seems--worthy of being translated in full, although it runs to some length. The language in which it is written proves, say Russian critics, that it is of great antiquity. I have rendered it word for word, without attempting to trim it.
After the body has been washed and dressed, it is placed upon a table, and the relatives gather around it. Then, turning to the widow, they address her in song. In the case of poor people the following form is used:--
Wert thou sitting by the painful bedside,
Wert thou present at the parting of the spirit,
When the, soul was divided from the white body?
And how did swift Death come to thee?
Came she as a beggar-woman, a wandering cripple,
Or as a brave youth, brisk and burly?
Or as a stout burlák from Petersburg 7?
The widow replies:--
Had I been living in a rich and ample state,
Then I should have been sitting by the painful bedside,
And I should have seen swift Death.
Had she come as a wandering cripple
I would have spread the hospitable table,
I would have fed the wandering cripple,
And she would have left me my wedded spouse.
And if she had come as a brave youth, brisk and burly,
I would have clothed her in coloured vestments,
And would have shod her with goatskin boots,
And would have given her a silken girdle.
If she had come as a stout Petersburg burlák,
I would have given her uncounted wealth of gold,
And she would have left me my wedded spouse.
But as I live in an accursed and unhappy condition,
With little children dear, the cause of many cares,
In our house there is no hospitable table,
In our house are no sweet dainties,
Neither are there clothes for youth,
Nor goatskin boots for the feet,
Nor uncounted wealth of gold.
So I did not see my lawful spouse,
When the soul was divided from the white body.
Too great for the peasant-woman's strength is her toil,
Too great for her mind are her accursed cares.
Well nigh all the thoughts in my head are in confusion,
The untimely light fades from my eyes.
How shall I bring up my dear little ones
Without my wedded spouse?
Shall I lose myself in the dark forest,
Or fling myself into some round lake,
Or drown in a swift brook,
So as to get rid of my great misery?
If I become a wandering beggar,
And rid myself of my great misery in the open field,
Then from my great misery
Would spring up thick forests:
No room would there be there for my misery:
The neighbours living around would forbid it,
For their fertile corn-fields would be covered over.
If I were to get rid of my great misery
In a glorious wide lake,
There would be never-moving rocks under the waters of the lake,
And on the meadows stones that never gave way:
So there would be no room for my misery;
It would become an obstacle to the fishermen.
Were I to get rid of it in the whirling river Svir,
Roaring cataracts would become fixed there
There too would be no room for my misery,
For stagnant would become the spring waters in the rivers.
I will take my dear children [and see],
Whether moist Mother Earth will not split open.
If moist Mother Earth splits open,
Straightway will I and my children bury ourselves in it,
So hateful is it to me, the miserable one,
To remain in this home life.
Do thou forgive me, O my wedded spouse!
Thou and I have taken counsel together,
But never didst thou speak to me about this swift death.
I would not have given thee up, O my wedded spouse,
I would have given up my dear children,
And so have preserved my wedded spouse.
Split open, moist Mother Earth,
And be thou open, O new coffin-planks,
And come flying from heaven, Angels and Archangels,
And set the soul in the white breast,
And speech in the wise head,
And white light in the clear eyes!
And do thou arise, my wedded spouse;
I have won-thee-by-asking from the Lord God.
Make the sign of the cross, according to what is written,
Bow low, according to the fashion of the wise,
Pay me greeting!
Not alone have I invited thee,
But with me I bring thy dear children
And let us return to our home life,
For now has this life become weariness.
It is plain that my wedded spouse remains angry
With me, on whose head are many miseries.
I have remained in my husband's house,
Bread and salt have I not set eyes on,
And my misery have I not diminished but increased.
Clearly this thing cannot be,
That one dead shall return from the grave
An orphan must I be without my husband 8.
The companion song is of a similar nature, but is intended to be employed in well-to-do households. It is one which I would fain translate at equal length with its predecessor, but I fear to trespass on the patience of my readers, to whom I can convey but little idea of the merit of the original, depending as that does to a great extent upon the charm of its simple, unaffected, but archaic language, in which so much expression is conveyed by daring diminutives which would be utterly void of meaning to our minds were an attempt made to translate them, and upon the measured verse in which it moves, moulded in a form which holds together and sustains without cramping, and strengthens without impeding.
The preservation of poems so lengthy as are these widows' wailings is, for the most part, due to the jealous care of the professional mourners. In some parts of Russia their profession is unknown, and there the songs are dying out most quickly, but in the remote districts in which Ruibnikof made his collections, in the neighbourhood of Lake Onega, the Plakal'shchitsa, or Voplénitsa [vopit' = to sob or wail], the professional "Crieress"--is a personage of no small importance. She it is, says Ruibnikof, who "watches over the genuineness of social rites;
it is she who guides the course of marriages, funerals, and memorial feasts." On the day of betrothal, the Plakal'shchitsa attends the bride, and sings zapláchki expressive of the sorrow a young girl feels at leaving her family and going into "a strange and far-off land;" and during the whole course of the ceremonies preceding that which takes place in church, she settles every detail, and intones almost every song. At a funeral, also, she renders invaluable aid, by seeing that all the traditional ceremonies are observed, and by supplying the sad songs in which the relations of the dead are expected to express the grief they feel at their loss. It was from the lips of an excellent specimen of her class, a Plakal'shchitsa, who was so celebrated for her zapláchki, that she was frequently invited into outlying districts--and even into one, the natives of which were famous for their knowledge of such lore, and their faculty of improvisation--that Ruibnikof gathered some of the best of his nuptial and funereal laments.
It is chiefly at the time of the Pomniki, or commemorations of the dead, in the arrangement of which also the Plakal'shchitsa in some districts takes a leading part, that the Prichitaniya, or lamentations for the dead, of which we have already spoken, are to be heard. On those occasions it is customary for women to go out to the graves of their relatives, and there to wail or keen, or, as the Russians express it, golosít [golos = voice]. Throwing themselves on the grave, says Tereshchenko, they first shake their heads over it for a few minutes, and begin whimpering, then
they take to wailing a little, and at last, throwing both arms about the mound, they press their bosoms to it, raising their voices all the time, louder and louder still, until they may be heard over the whole of the cemetery. Here is a specimen of a Prichitanie, intended to be recited over a grave on the twentieth of April, early in the morning. These lamentations, it should be observed, though of a decidedly poetical nature, do not assume a metrical form.
"O ye, our own fathers and mothers! in what have we angered you, our own, that you have no welcome for us, no joy, no parental charm? O thou sun, bright sun! Rise, rise at midnight, make bright with joyous light all the graves, so that our departed ones may not sit in darkness, nor languish in woe, nor endure endless longing.
"O thou moon, bright moon! Rise, rise at eventide, make bright with joyous light all the graves, so that the departed may not in darkness consume their bold hearts, nor in the darkness go sorrowing about the white world, nor in the darkness pour forth burning tears to their dear children.
"And, O wind, wild wind! do thou arise, arise at midnight, bring to our dear departed the welcome tidings, that for them all their kinsmen are painfully longing, that on account of them all their kinswomen are steeped in sorrow 9."
And here, by way of conclusion, is a specimen of an orphan's wailings above her mother's grave:--
"O mother dear that bare me, O with sadness longed-for one! To whom hast thou left us, on whom are we orphans to rest our hopes? From no quarter do warm breezes breathe on us, we hear no words of kindness. Good folks turn away from us,
our kinsfolk renounce us; rust eats into our orphaned hearts. The red sun burns in the midst of the hot summer, but us it beats not: scarcely does it warm us, O green mother-grave! Have a care for us, mother, dear, give us a word of kindness! No, thou hast hardened thy heart harder than stone, and hast folded thy uncaressing hands over thy heart.
"O my white cygnet! for what journey hast thou prepared and equipped thyself, from which side may we expect thee?
"Arise, O ye wild winds, from all sides! Be ye borne, O winds, into the Church of God! Sweep open the moist earth! Strike, O wild winds, on the great bell! Will not its sounds and mine awaken words of kindness 1?"
310:1 Kotlyarevsky, 58, 231.
310:2 Kotlyarevsky, in his excellent work "On the Funeral Rites of the heathen Slavonians," compares the name of Rádunitsa with a supposed Sanskrit word radanh = sacrifice, offering, from the root râdh, to complete, sacrifice, etc. But on this M. Lerch remarks that no such word as radanh exists in Sanskrit. (Perhaps râdhana may have been intended.) The author, he says (as quoted by Afanasief, P. V. S. III. 796), probably meant the Zend word râdanh p. 311 to which a Sanskrit râdh-as might correspond. But the guttural n before h in Zend has nothing in common with the sound n in the syllable ni of Rádunitsa. He thinks, however, that both rádunitsa and rádovat'sya may spring from the same root as râdanh and râdh-as. [Doctrinally, though not etymologically, the Rádunitsa may possibly have been linked with the Indian Srâddha.]
312:3 See "Russia n 1870," by W. Barry, p. 171; a book containing a great deal of useful information about the Russian peasantry.
313:4 Tereshchenko, V. 27-30.
322:5 Tereshchenko, III. 123. Taken from Dashkof's "Description of the Olonets Government."
324:6 Kotlyarevsky, pp. 42-153.
326:7 Kotlyarevsky, p. 227.
328:8 E. B. Tylor's "Primitive Culture," I. 421; where the subject is discussed at length.
330:9 Ibn Fozlan's narrative was published in 1823 by the Russian Academy of Sciences, with a German translation by C. M. Frähn. Rasmussen had previously translated it into Danish, and an English rendering of his version appeared in the 4th vol. of "Blackwood's Magazine." Ibn Dosta's work was published for the first time in 1869, at St. Petersburg, with notes and a Russian translation by the editor, Prof. Chwolson.
331:1 Kleinere Schriften, II. 239. The words in which Jornandes describes a part of the ceremonies performed at the burial of Attila are well known. "Postquam talibus lamentis est deflectus, stravam super tumulum ejus, quam appellant ipsi, ingenti commessatione concelebrant."--De Getarum Origine, cap. 49.
332:2 Slavonien, I. 184, as quoted by Kotlyarevsky, p. 252.
335:3 Quoted by Orest Miller, Chrest. I. ii, from a Perm collection.
336:4 Ruibnikof, III. 423.
337:5 Ruibnikof, III. 423.
337:6 Ruibnikof, III. 117, 418.
338:7 The burlák is here a man who goes up to the city to work for wages.
341:8 Ruibnikof, III. 410-413.
343:9 Quoted by Orest Miller from Sakharof, II. vii. 23.
344:1 Quoted from Dashkof by Tereshchenko, III. 102, 103. An interesting description of a Russian cemetery on one of the "Parents' Days" is given by Madame Romanoff in her "Rites and Ceremonies of the Greco-Russian Church," p. 247.
There is a striking resemblance between the Russian zaplachki and those myrologia of the modern Greeks, of which Fauriel gives so interesting an account in the introduction to his Chants populaires de la Grèce Moderne. The myrologion, he says, "is, in the full sense of the term, a poetic improvisation inspired by grief." Almost all Greek women possess the faculty of improvisation to some degree, but excellence is of course rare, and a good "myrologist" holds in her own village a distinguished position. In Asiatic Greece and in the Islands there are professional myrologists whose functions are very similar to those of the Russian "wailers." The Myrologia are now sung by women only, but in olden times men also sang them. Several specimens are given in Passow's Carmina popularia Græciæ recentioris. See also Tozer's "Researches in the Highlands of Turkey," II. 241.