Summer AS XL (2005)
Volume X, Issue 4 (#38)

From the Nachalnik

As far as I know, there will not be any SIG gathering at Pennsic this year. I’ve been unable to attend in several years now, so I haven’t had much opportunity to support it, and I think we may have run out of steam for the gatherings. None of which means that SIG itself has run out of energy. The listserv remains active, this issue of Slovo is actually one of the largest in years (I’m thankful to the contributors that made that possible), and the fact that there actually are a number of SIG-related offerings at Pennsic this year (certainly more than there were ten years ago), I consider to all be very good signs indeed!

Here at home, I’ve been considering various steps to improve the efficiency of the process of my quarterly updates to the SIG publications and the release of Slovo itself. Currently, the membership list is maintained in three forms (MS Access database, WordPerfect document, and HTML) and this Newsletter, originally produced in WordPerfect, is transferred to HTML for posting on the Website. The process of the various conversions is probably more time consuming than any other single part of running the group, and is largely based upon technology that was available to me in 1995 when I started the Group. If I can gather the necessary knowledge, I’m hoping to change that. I would like to start maintaining the member list in MySQL/PHP and remove the need for an HTML version of the list. This would also hopefully facilitate a friendlier presentation with the ability to search for members with particular interests. I am also looking at using Microsoft Publisher and Adobe Acrobat for the Newsletter. I presented the latter idea (no longer producing an HTML version of Slovo and releasing only an Acrobat (.pdf) version instead) on the listserv and heard a number of concerns about the idea. If you have thoughts or concerns about any of these ideas, I would warmly welcome your input.

[Errata: Last issue, we ran an article by Master Mordak called, “Russian Campsites: Part One.” However, the title implied that it was the first of several articles, which is incorrect. It was, in fact, the entire article. So, if anyone wants more on the subject from Mordak, they’ll have to convince him to break out the ol’ scroll and parchment and burn the Midnight oil!]

Pennsic XXXIV Highlights

There may not be a scheduled SIG gathering at Pennsic this year, but there are several classes on the calendar that cover areas of direct relevance to SIG members. In addition to the classes listed below, there are classes being taught by SIG members. And, of course, plenty of other classes out there covering topics of a broader focus that look good! Here is a list of classes from the current schedule:

●Hungarian Tarsoly. By Mistress Randall Vihar-Farkas. Sun 14,10:00 AM, AS8; Tue 16, 9:00 AM, AS4.

●Romany/Balkan Brass Band. By the Khafif Musicians. Mon 15,12:00 PM, Orluk Oasis.

●Introduction to Byliny: Russian Heroic Poems. By Luceta di Cosimo. Tue 16,12:00 PM, AS1.

●Baba Yaga: the Arch-Villainess of Russian Folklore. By Luceta di Cosimo. Tue 16, 5:00 PM, AS5.

●Armenian Illumination. By Lady Keran Roslin. Wed 17, 2:00 PM, Private Camp.

●Balkan Singing Class. By Lynette Garlan of Khafif. Thu 18, 2:00 PM, Orluk Oasis.

●Byzantine Icon Painting. By Dosalena Sophia della Mirandola. Thu 18,10:00 AM, Private Camp.

Baltic Women’s Clothing in the 8th-12th Centuries: Part One

By Ásfríðr Ulfviðardóttir

The Estonians and Finns are linguistically linked by their Finno-ugaric language and had moved to the Baltic region from the Eurasian steppe around 2200 B.C.E. The Balts of modern-day Latvia and Lithuania were Indo-European and by the 9th century these tribes of people had diversified into smaller groups with different cultures, including styles of dress.

These Baltic tribes were Livonians, Couronians, Semigalians, Latgalians and Selonians (Latvian: liv, kursi, zemgali, latgali and seli). The Livonians, or Livs, had become assimilated into the Baltic culture from the 13th century onwards. The Latgalian and Couronian tribes, on the western coast of the Baltic sea along with the Estonians became what is referred to as the “Baltic Vikings.” However, the Curonians who lived in Courland have left few textile remains, as it was customary to burn their dead along with their grave goods. This article will discuss Lettgallian and Livonian clothing.

General. The costume generally was composed of a linen under-tunic, wool or wool-blend peplos-gown/skirt, woollen jacket and shawl. Footwear consisted of puttees, and shoes made of birch-bark or leather. Circlets of fabric or metal were also worn.

Fabric and Color Choices. Fabrics used in Baltic clothing were of linen, wool or blends. Colors were natural wool-colors of black, brown and white, as well as greys, blues from woad and reds from madder. Later 14th –17th century Lithuanians also used greens. Not all fabrics were a solid color, a brown mantle, striped with yellow, red and blue has been discovered in the 1930’s in Tuukkala, Finland while a 12th century Latvian mantle has been discovered in a blue and white check.

However, “historians and ethnographers consider that many centuries ago all the Baltic peoples wore only white costumes and that this white costume was older than colored versions.” An example of this pure white costume that has survived until the present day is the traditional costume of Abrene.

Tunic. The under tunic was long-sleeved, collarless and often made of undyed linen with “as few seams as possible.” It has been compared to the peasant shirts worn in the Baltic during the 18 and 19th centuries, and resembles a standard T-tunic. It was left undecorated without embroidery or the bronze spirals often seen in the other layers. The tunic used was a unisex garment, worn by both men and women, “sewn from a square fabric without the aid of a pattern.” It is simple to merely assume that a standard T-tunic pattern would be used for this layer of clothing, however Slavic manuscript illustrations from the 12th-14th centuries show a “peasant shirt” that appear to be square-necked without a keyhole neckline, which is archaeologically similar to the female Baltic costume until the 15th century, as brooches were not worn at the neckline.

Peasant shirt from manuscripts from the 12th- 14th centuries

Peplos Gown. The peplos gown has been reconstructed, according to photographs and drawings, as being open down one side, with an overfold along the top edge, as is the case with the Bronze-age Huldenmose gown, or 11th century Eura gown. Jewelry is also similar with decorated stick-pins or oval brooches used at the shoulders to fasten the top edges of the peplos together. Along the bottom edge of the gown, there is tablet-woven (Latvian: celu aušana) decoration.

The idea of an open-sided peplos gown is not new, and was in fact worn in the Baltic region of Karelia until the 19th century. The use of two shoulder brooches, or stick pins, one on each shoulder, is not drastically dissimilar to the straps used to hold the garment in place. 10th century Swedish Viking female high-status graves, reconstructed as to have a tubular dress held up with straps, and it is freely acknowledged that the Swedes and Balts often traded, to the point of the eastern Finns and Livonians adopting the Viking-esque silver neck brooches and oval tortoise brooches respectively. Scandinavian artifacts have been discovered from the 10th century in Daugava in Latvia so it is entirely plausible that the peplos-like garment existed throughout the Baltic, only with regional variations.

Apron. The only extant Latvian apron found in the time period discussed is from the 12th century and decorated with bronze ringlets. However, the wearing of an apron with female costume is not unusual, and is extremely common in Finnish finds from the same period.

While the Finnish apron was a rectangle, held up with a separate, tablet-woven belt that was used to also keep a knife sheath around the waist, the Latvian counterpart appears to be a more modern affair, with a tablet-woven belt attached to the top of the apron, also being used as a base for spiral ornamentation to be threaded from.

It is quite possible that the ties of the apron were originally the “starting border made of a tablet-woven band, the weft-threads of which continued as the warps of the cloth.” The bottom of the apron is heavily decorated with woven bronze spirals, creating a border for the apron that would not require hemming.

Belt. The woven belt, or sash (Latvian: josta) worn around the waist is often seen as having a dual function of keeping your clothes together and as a fertility symbol. The complex and beautiful patterns of the belt can be achieved through various methods of weaving and it is unknown what methods were originally used to create the complex designs that adorn them. A 13th century Latvian grave find contained a near-3 meter long, tablet woven belt that was 3.3cm wide.

Kaftanjacke. Another warm outer covering of clothing is the Kaftanjacke, found in grave 191 in Laukskola that was discovered over the tunic and peplos, but underneath the mantle. It is theorized, that it may have been an everyday garment, unlike the elaborately decorated mantle, and therefore would not be buried with someone wearing only their best clothing. This garment has been found both in male and female graves, however is most often found with men. The garments’ circumference was 140cm wide, and reached 10cm below the knee of the woman. The neckline ran from the neck to the waist, and its’ edges were decorated with bronze spirals, and a tassel at the bottom of the V-neck.

Mantle or Shawl. The costume reconstructed by Anna Zarina, had two mantles. The bottom was a blue and white checked mantle with tablet weaving, while the upper was dyed blue and decorated with bronze spirals. These unusual bronze-decorated wraps are referred to in Latvian as the melene, taking its name from the mele or woad dye used to color it. A modern parallel to this is the regional costume of Kuldiga, where the lower shawl has is decorated with bronze spirals and pendents along its hem, covered by a white mantle (Latvian: villaine) that is worn as not to cover up the bronze decoration. The rectangular mantle, was draped over both shoulders and it had a definite front and back to it, as bronze pendants could be attached to one long border to form the back.

The uppermost mantle, decorated with bronze rings, is frequently found in Lithuanian and Latvian graves, and also some Estonian burials. The bronze decorations can be subtle and in “bands parallel to the short edges of the cloak, but sometimes all over” and consistently appear to be made of blue wool.

Footwear. Before the shoes were put on, from the ankle to the lower-leg, leg-wrappings (Latvian: kaju auti) were worn, like puttees. Footwear was comprised of woven shoes (Latvian: vizes; Russian: lapti) or slip-ons made of limebast. Limebast is “the bark of the small-leafed lime tree,” used from the bronze age in the manufacture of shoes. These shoes were comprised of 2cm-wide strips of bark, woven together to form the shoe and “tied with linen cord which crisscrossed the calf almost to the knees.”

These bast shoes were not long-lasting, only being able to be worn only up to a week before a new one was created. This in turn required that three to four young lime trees were killed per pair. They could be double-soled for extra durability, however in Russia at least, leather shoes constructed in the same manner were also worn. It should be noted that these shoes are still worn today in boggy regions of Scandinavia, where wearing shoes that would let muddy water drain from them is a must.

The weaving technique of these bast shoes depended on the region. Some were woven diagonally and some horizontally. The one Latvian example I have discovered appears to be diagonally woven, with a sandal-like strap at the back .

In later periods, leather footwear, made from one piece of fabric, laced together to enclose the foot were used. These shoes, called pastala, are common in many European cultures as simple footwear, and further east in present-day Russia during this period it was considered to be a sign of higher status to wear leather pastala over bark vizes

Russian Pearl and Gold Embroidery

By Liudmila Vladimirova doch’

Very little survives of Russian pre-XVIIIth century secular pearl embroidery, though examples of ecclesiastical pearl embroidery are more numerous. Various documents, such as wills and property registers, recount items such as letnik (a loose dress with large triangular sleeves) cuffs, hats and headdresses, collars, and other garments that were adorned with pearls and gold. For example, in 1328 the Grand Duke of Moscow, Ivan Kalita, listed in his will several pearled kozhuhi (outer garments with fur on the inside) as well as “large belt with pearls and gemstones,” while the father of the Grand Duke Dmitriy Donsky (late XIIIth century) left his sons “opashen’ red, pearled.” Later, in 1486, Prince Mikhail Vereiskii left upon his death several collars embroidered with pearls and adorned with gems, matching cuffs for some of them, pearled shirts, and a pearled ubrus (long rectangular head covering for married women). Later yet, in 1503, the will of Princess Iuliana Volotskaia lists collars, shirts, shuby (cloth-covered fur coats), and a hat all adorned with pearl embroidery and pearl netting.

Likewise, foreign visitors to Russia noticed the Russians’ love for pearls and a tendency to embroider with pearls all kinds of garments. The Englishman Sir Giles Fletcher, who visited Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, described head coverings, hats, collars, dresses, and even boots with pearl embroidery. Similarly, the French officer Jacques Margeret, who lived in Moscow from 1590 to 1606, recounts that he saw “up to fifty royal garments embroidered instead of trim with precious ornamentation, saw clothes sewn with pearls from top to bottom or for a foot, half a foot, and about four fingers all around, about half a dozen throws covered with pearls, and other such things.” He also mentions that even everyday headwear, men’s and women’s, was richly embroidered with pearls.

An example of such headwear, an ubrus that belonged to Tsaritsa Anastasiia Romanovna, wife of Ivan the Terrible (XVIth century), was made of scarlet taffeta 2 meters long. In the front middle part it is adorned with blue silk damask rectangle, 40 cm long and 16 cm wide. This rectangle ochel’ie is richly embroidered in pearls and gold with enameled inserts. The embroidery runs along the main body of the ubrus towards its ends. The ends themselves are trimmed with the endings made of 36.5 cm of the same blue fabric with slightly different embroidery. Unfortunately, my source does not allow establishing the width of the ubrus.

Embroidery Technique

In XVIth-XVIIth centuries in Russia, embroidery was an exclusively feminine pursuit, and one of the most complex things a woman could work at. Most surviving embroideries came from either monastery or private workshops, though some were produced to order by independent workers. First, depending on the complexity of the pattern, either the embroiderer herself or a special artist known as a znamenshchik (usually male) would draw it onto the chosen fabric with chalk, coal, or ink. Since I am not certain of my drawing, I begin by making a pattern on paper and transferring it to iron-on interfacing, which I use to stabilize the fabric. In period, according to Iakunina, flour paste was used for the same purpose. Experienced embroiderers prepared the paste using secret recipes, now lost (the paste they made was not prone to be eaten by bugs), though it was basically just flour mixed with water or kvas and simmered until ready. The paste was spread on the back of the embroideries by hand while still stretched tight on the frame, to prevent it from puckering after removal. Since my embroidery is not subjected to such treatment, it does pucker a little.

The next step is transferring of the pattern to the front of the work. This is done by sewing through it with white thread in running stitch. That thread becomes completely covered by later work. Maslova mentions that 16th-17th century embroideries on velvet or brocade used a very similar method for pattern transfer.

Before laying out the pearls, period embroiderers usually laid out a foundation of white cord or thick threads, in single or double line. A shroud “Cross at the Golgotha” from Zagorsk Museum collection, dated to 1550, clearly shows the lines of couched white cord where the pearls had been removed. Such linen or cotton cord or threads, known as bel’ was used since at least early XVth century as foundation for pearl embroidery, as evidenced from documents. For example, Iakunina quotes a 1509 will that listed pearl embroidery on various items made na beli (over the foundation). I usually use white 100% cotton yarn, doubled. After the pattern is prepared, the yarn is couched down with strong white thread everywhere there was to be pearl embroidery.

In period, pearls meant for embroidering were sorted according to size and quality and gathered on a long thread using a needle. The thread was then wound around a special wand [viteika] which was used to store the pearls and to keep the thread taut during embroidering. Most readily available were freshwater pearls from Russian rivers, but the most valued were imported Persian pearls. Most surviving embroideries were done with relatively small, oval or potato-shaped pearls drilled horizontally.

Once a viteika with the pearled thread was prepared, the end of the thread was taken with a needle to the back of the fabric at the beginning of the foundation, and secured there with a knot. Then, it was laid along the pattern and couched with a different white thread, silk or linen, with stitches after every single pearl going into the foundation. The pearled thread and the couching thread were pulled very tight, so that when pearls on some embroideries were lost or removed later, one could count how many there were by indentations. I use this technique as well, though without utilizing a viteika. Instead, I gather as many pearls on a separate thread with a beading needle as I need for a continuous design element. I use nylon beading thread to ensure that the embroidery could stand up to SCA wear.


Finally, pearl embroidery was outlined with gold cord, usually twisted. Embroideries in such as 1592 phelonion from Manushina’s book on which such cord is clearly visible evidence this, showing how gold cord both hid the foundation and enhanced the overall effect. That cord was not secured by couching over it, but sewn to the foundation with the stitches going through the middle of the gold cord and into the edge of the foundation. Since pearl embroideries were highly valuable, this technique allowed saving the complete embroidery if the background fabric wore out by cutting it out whole and appliquéing it to another fabric. Since real gold cord is beyond my means, I use a synthetic cord which resembles the way period cords were made. Phelonion dated between 1641 and 1674 and a 1635 sticharion in the Zagorsk Museum collection illustrate how this was done for small details.


Embroidery Design

As seen on the photographs from the Zagorsk Museum collection and as analyzed by Manushina, a Russian expert on period embroidery, ornamental motifs on embroideries of the XVIth century were mostly floral or floral-geometric. Foliage, flowering stylized trees, S-shaped lines, diamonds, circles, and crosses abound on the surviving ecclesiastical pieces. These design elements are very similar to those found on contemporary illuminations.


Summary of the Pearl Embroidery Technique

1. Draw a pattern.

2. Using a light table (or a window), transfer the pattern with a permanent marker to fusible woven interfacing.

3. Fuse interfacing to the back of velvet, using something cushiony under the velvet to preserve the nap.

4. Using running stitches in white single thread, transfer the pattern to the velvet. The stitches will get completely covered later. This transfer technique was used in 16th-17th century for work done on velvet or brocade.

5. Couch white cotton yarn in a single or double thickness (depends on size of your pearls) along the stitched pattern. Cotton yarn, or bel', is exactly what was used in period for the purpose.

6. Insert a beading needle with thread from the back at a starting point of your embroidery, through yarn. String pearls on the thread.

7. Couch with a separate white thread between each pearl, tightly, going through the yarn and the underlying fabric.

8. When finished laying the pearls, couch gold cord around the embroidery, making sure to sew through the white yarn and then fabric, not outside of yarn.

9. All done! This way, you go through each line in a pattern five times: pattern, bel', pearls, and two lines of gold.


Giliarovskaia, N. V. Russkii istoricheskii kostium dlia stseny [Russian Historic Costume for the Stage]. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1945.

Iakunina, L. I. Russkoie shit’ie zhemchugom [Russian Pearl Embroidery]. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1955.

Manushina, T. Early Russian Embroidery in the Zagorsk Museum Collection. Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1983.

Maslova, G. S. Ornament russkoi narodnoi vyshivki [Ornament of Russian Folk Embroidery]. Moscow: Nauka, 1978.

Medieval Russian Ornament in Full Color from Illuminated Manuscripts. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.

Travels in Moscovy: The Sporting Life

By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo

In this heathen capital of the North I am still shaken by the sight of the Kremlin Square, what the natives of this land commonly call the krasnii gorod, or red fort. True, the walls are thick with countless layers of brick the red of rusty iron and high, very high but the truth is that it is a practice square, though huge and long. Along one end is lined the cannon of the Prince, rusting and haphazardly arranged by some order I can’t discern by casual glance. Since that day I have seen many sights in that square, on those few occasions that I obtained permission to leave the ambassador’s compound where my countrymen reside. I have wondered about on market day, always closely guarded by the troops of the Grand Prince. Other days I have watched the troops of this Worthy practicing on horseback and foot in the nomadic fashion, shooting arrows at targets over the horses heads on charges and over the rump on retreats as the next wave charged through. Only a handful of times have I seen individual soldiers wounded, and none were killed!

Many times have I seen our own troops practice these same maneuvers but never in the heat wearing the quilted caftans of this land. Horses from the Krim Ta’tar, swords from the Turks and saddles from us.....or so we are told. The reality seems to be a different colored cat, as the craftsmen and artisans of this land are quite clever. Enough so to produce items from all lands that are indistinguishable from any bazaar in any other land. Nor have I seen such fair skinned women, even among the Circassians where light colored eyes and blond hair are common. But unlike these other lands, in this city, nay even this land, the women are brazen, their faces uncovered and whitened with powder, lips rouged, eyes colored under raven colored brows. It’s enough to madden the blood intolerably and many times only my faith is my bulwark against temptation, or madness!

Tis’ truly a land of temptation. And on market day, tis’ worse. One can be shorn of hair and virtue within twenty steps of each, if boldness is not a limitation. But the custom here is that these ladies can not offer prices so they hold rings in their mouths; the number, size and metal telling all their price in a wordless glance. And rarely are they at a loss for company and many stand about, lolling with a hand on generous hip, eyes smoldering in real or feigned lust at passers by! Paradise and hell both only a few steps away, to the sirens call of the clink of coins and the muffled sighs of pillowing. A thin partition and a few steps away, hundreds pass by, their thoughts on a thousand subjects, some of which are surely speculation or memories of what transpires just out of view.

Truly a shameless and heathen people...but they certainly enjoy life! Whether they are shouting or laughing or crying, they seem to hold nothing back, indulging their moods fully, especially when drinking, which seems to be the true love of the Rus. The one banquet I have attended was hosted by a minor noble for those of greater rank and lasted most of the day and into the night. Throughout were toasts to the Grand Prince, or curses, as the mood struck them. An army could have feed well on the endless courses of food and an entire fleet could have floated upon the different kinds of drink offered to guests, whose antics became more extreme, and graphic, as the night wore on and the river of drink took its toll among my fellow dinner guests.

During all the many servitors moved among the benches, avoiding dogs and guests alike, along with the odd flying bone and ever present bellowed laughter and thundering curse. Sparkling, besotted eyes over huge beards and the great bellies they esteem as signs of prosperity and wealth. I can still see them lurching around, their caftans that had started off so beautiful now fouled and stained by food and drink, now wrinkled and wretched with sweat, and in most cases casually discarded onto the floor in a heap beside their benches in favor of the silken ones worn beneath, now also begrimed and stained. Dogs fighting under the tables for the food casually spilled or dropped by the guests, some of whom were wagering on the outcome or eyeing the serving women, none of whom qualified as either young, toothsome or attractive, at least before several flagons of mead. Singers and performers ignored or applauded in turn, more dependent upon the availability of other distractions for the guests than their abilities. Tis’ some of the antics of the Moscovy night.

And the nights in Moscovy are their own adventure, my friend! The neighborhoods of the city radiate from the Kremlin like the rings of a tree, which are fenced at regular lengths like the spokes of a wheel and whose gates are well guarded by the city militia. At night the only travelers of these streets are the drunks, well guarded individuals and the street bandits or prostitutes, which are often one in the same. The well-heeled have fenced and guarded compounds, while the common folk settle for bolted windows and doors, which only open at night in the case of fire, but never for calls for help, as this is a common street bandit trick.

The wandering patrols of city militia are nearly as bad as bandits, besides being significantly bolder and better armed. Fines are often paid one the spot for any real or imagined infraction, but arrests are accompanied by the usual amount of brutal force as is common in any other civilized city with the rule of law. These men receive a reduction in their tax to the Grand Prince for their services, including a portion of the fines collected while on duty. My guide assured me that by day these men are the subservient, invisible stable boys, bath house wood stokers, any one of the myriad of low level servants one sees about their tasks.

But under the cover of night and clad in the official caftan of the city militia, and armed accordingly, an amazing transformation occurs. Truly miraculous one could say. Suddenly they are men of power, and consider themselves an elite unto themselves. They are still subservient to their betters, the deti boiarskii service nobles and the various rank of dvorianne court nobles, who often comprise the commanders of the watch or the magistrates and have access to extensive social and family connections. But in a group in the dark, lit only in the flickering light of the torches they carry and answerable to few, they are a force to be reckoned with. A force susceptible to influence and bribes, an arbitrary and immediate form of justice in the night.

And speaking of night time activities, I encountered a strange tradition through the guidance of a business associate. It seems that with the right connections and a well stocked purse, one has access to some very exclusive and expensive entertainment. Often times the city militia will be in the employ of these brothels where they provide security and escorts for clientele or employees with very discreet appointments in various sections of the city. Often one can see them escorting cloaked people, usually women, in the wealthier sections of the city such as the White City or Kataigorod. My associate pointed out several of these escorts during our wanderings, citing the lack of a well-heeled male as the primary indicator of the status and occupation of the escorted person or carriage.

Notes on a Slavic Bestiary: Part Two

By Paul Wickenden of Thanet

Last issue I focused on beasts that, for better or for worse, were based on actual creatures that roam the earth. In this article, I want to focus on the role of the beast as a metaphor to represent a characteristic, and on the more exotic monsters of medieval Russia.

Metaphorical Beasts

Some creatures (like the snake) are largely metaphorical; their appearance in literature largely telegraphing a meaning in itself, rather than any particular importance given to the creature’s real-life habits. Often, these metaphors are negative ones, with beasts standing in for traits that humans seek to avoid.

Viper (ekhidna)

The snake is a common element in Slavic culture, but the viper is truly a more fantastical representation. Originally drawn as a feminine figure, the example illustrated here is a more androgynous version. The beast is found often as a representation of the Pharisees or of Jews in general in medieval religious texts and is widely used as an anti-Semitic representation.

Crocodile (korkodil [sic])

Far removed from the playful “Krokodil Krokodilovich” of modern Russians children’s literature, the crocodile in period was an evil creature used to symbolize the devil or hypocrites.

Owl (sova)

Perhaps because of Winnie-the-Pooh, Westerners tend to associate owls with wisdom and intelligence, but in period Slavic literature, the owl was seen as ignorant: “The owl flies in the night, and in the day sees nothing. Like a person who knows nothing, who does not see the light of God, but instead hates it.” Other texts note that the owl hates other birds. This illustration (while suggesting a fairly friendly looking animal) certainly depicts the animal as a predator.

Fantastic Monsters

Slavic culture shared many of the fantastic beasts and monsters of Western Europe, which should be no surprise given that they shared many of the same Grecian roots for their myths and stories. But geographical separation did lead to subtle differences.

Unicorn (edinorog)

As in the West, unicorns were often associated with virtue and virginity, sometimes representing Jesus directly, other times being associated merely with people who overcame temptation to live virtuous lives. While it was common (as in the West) to envision a unicorn as a horse-like beast, the illustration here shows a much smaller creature, more like a fox with a horn.

Chimera (khimera)

Described as a cross between a lion and a snake, it is more traditional in Western culture for the chimera to be depicted as some sort of dragon. But in the illustration here, the lion-like qualities are given more stress.

Phoenix (finiks)

Depictions of the phoenix are usually of a much plainer looking bird, but the example here is wonderfully more fanciful, appearing to be in fact headless. As in the West, the phoenix is as a symbol of Christ, since the monster is believed to be resurrected from the ashes of its death. But a less direct usage of the creature is more found in period texts as a symbol of spiritual rebirth and of martyrdom.

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The original authors retain the rights to their works. Please contact them directly for permission to reprint. Uncredited material is the property of the publisher.

The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 5625 Highland Way, Middleton WI 53562, 608-827-6891, e-mail: There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly newsletter are available free of charge from the editor. Slovo is also available on-line at the Interest Group web site (