Spring AS XLIII (2009)
Volume XIV, Issue 3 (#53)


From the Nachalnik

My apologies for the delay in getting this issue out (and especially for the tardy notice about the event in Blak Rose – see below). Between a busy schedule and a lot of poor health, it’s been a bit more than the usual challenge to get this issue out.

We have brief rumors of Pennsic activity and by the Summer issue, I will have more details about that (and also any classes of interest). Please let me know about anything you hear of so I can share it with the Group.

My usual thanks to my contributors and encouragement to those of you who have been thinking of writing something for future issues! We always welcome new contributions. Without your involvement, none of this is possible!


Pennsic Gathering

Greetings all! I put in a request for an A&S tent at Pennsic. So start planning now to bring your favorite goodies and current projects, questions, books, music, etc. Bring your banners (wall hangings, textiles, kalkans, armor, etc) to decorate the tent, too.

If you have any questions as far as the gathering, send them to me privately so I will be sure to see them.

In Service,
Magdalena (panimagdalena56@yahoo.com)


Icons of Poland

By Magdalena Gdanska

You may be surprised to hear that there are Polish icons (1). There certainly were Orthodox Poles since the unification of Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, if not before.
While the Mongols invaded parts of Poland and the Tatar held regular raiding parties into southern Poland, neither really conquered nor ruled Poland as they did in other parts of the region. This meant the Polish iconographers could continue their art but were also cut off from the church center of Byzantium.

Polish iconographers developed their own style. They weren’t organized into schools or workshops as there were in Kiev, Novgorod, or even Bulgaria. Iconography is a discipline of tradition. There were set details that made an icon of a particular saint instantly recognizable as only that saint. It is believed that this was done because icons were painted at a time when very few people could read the written word but could recognize a subject of a painting with certain characteristics. If you changed the color of the hair or the color of the clothing, it was no longer that saint.

Polish iconographers knew the characteristics of the icons but individual details changed from painter to painter. At the end of this article are two examples of the Saint Paraskeva. The one on the left was painted in the 16th C. The one on the right was done in the 17th century. As you can see, they have very different styles.

Byzantine art had a strong influence on early western religious art. Some western authorities struggled vehemently against this influence. In 1596, around the time of the Union of Brest, Archbishop Jan Dimitry Solikowski had all Orthodox art removed from the churches in his parish in Lvov. This included not only the icons but also any art produced by an Orthodox artist. The Orthodox art was replaced by Western style religious art.

Because of this persecution, some of the Orthodox churches in Poland began relaxing their rules, some even choosing to come under the authority of Rome(2).
The rules for painting icons were also relaxed(3) which shows in the different styles of late period icon painting. As the rules were relaxed, the icons became more and more "westernized" until icons and most other tenets of the Orthodox faith nearly disappeared from Poland in the 19th century.
Fortunately for us, some of these early icons were hidden and preserved and are now being made available for public viewing.


1. While Our Lady of Czestochowa is considered a symbol of Poland, it is accepted as having been painted by a Byzantine iconographer. But that is a future article.
2. These churches were known as Uniate churches. And acceptance of the authority of Rome could have been done to get back the rights the churches and members had been denied for many years.
3. Writing (painting) an icon is steeped with tradition and meaning and in Russia follows very strict rules. But that is another future article.



Period Sources for Russian Bards,
Part III: Tales of Bygone Days

By Peotr Alexeivich

If you are studying Kievan Rus (Russian before the Mongol invasion) your single most important primary source is the Russian Primary Chronicle. This is an extraordinary document, written around about 1117 AD, surviving in several latter manuscripts. The Chronicle, also called Tales of Bygone Days, is a history of the origins of the Russian state, beginning, as it were, with Noah’s children. It is a dense blend of legends, Bible stories, treaty texts and history. While it makes for somewhat slow reading, it is also very rewarding. Preparing for this essay I’ve been rereading the text and finding that it is still teaching me new things about the Russian medieval worldview. I’ve just noted, for example, that their geographic knowledge included, at least by name, diverse locations including Britain, Mauritania, Cadiz and India. Attentive reading will be rewarded with extended knowledge of customs, laws, people, city and tribal names and a number of really good stories.

The Russian Primary Chronicle was translated into English by Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor, published by the Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, MA in 1953. This book can be hard to find, but is available in most academic libraries. Important sections are available in several anthologies, but the complete text is superior. The Chronicle begins wonderfully, “These are the narratives of bygone years regarding the origins of the land of the Rus, the first Princes of Kiev, and from what sources the land of Rus has its beginnings.” The first several pages carry us from the sons of Noah, through the Tower of Babel story and into the Dark Ages. In the following sections are some accurate geography of Russian trade routes, names of Slavic peoples and stories of the migrations of fierce Asiatic tribes: Scythians, Avars and Huns.

Amid this portion is found a brief and delightful story. The Chronicle contends that St. Andrew visited Russian in ancient times passing the future sites of Kiev and Novgorod. In Kiev he blessed the hills and prayed to God. When he arrived in Rome he reported what he saw at Novgorod.

“Wondrous to relate, I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with an acid liquid, they take young branches and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and are thus revived. They think nothing of doing this every day, and though tormented by none, they actually inflict this voluntary torture on themselves.”

Another short story early in the Chronicles relates to the Khazars. Their empire occupied the land north of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea in the 700s and 800s. The Khazars were Turkic people who converted (at least in part) to Judaism. In this early period the Khazars levied tribute on the Rus and this story relates to that. A Russian tribe paid as tribute one sword per hearth to the Khazars. When this bounty was brought to their prince and elders, they protested, “Evil is this tribute, We have won it with a one-edged weapon called a saber, but the weapon of these men is sharp on both edges and is called a sword. These men shall impose tribute on us and upon other lands.” And as the Chronicles later reveal, this came to pass.

Starting with the year 852 A.D. The Primary Chronicles becomes a yearly chronology. In the year 862 we find the famous invitation to the Varangians (Vikings) to come and rule the Russians, “Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us.” The Viking Rurik became the first ruler of Kievan Rus.

It is when we reach the second ruler, Oleg, that we find another particular good story to tell. Oleg was warned by his soothsayers that his favorite horse would be the cause of his death. Being a wise man he commanded that the horse be fed and cared for but never brought into his sight. Oleg went on to have many adventures. He led a fleet of two thousand ships and attacked Constantinople (904-7 AD). When the harbor is barred by fortifications, he beached his ships, attached wheels and sailed upon the city by land. The Byzantines (so reports the Chronicles) sued for peace, made a treaty and paid handsome tribute. Oleg returned to Kiev and ruled at peace with all nations. After some five years he enquired what had come of his favorite horse and learned it had died. He berated his soothsayers as liars.

“Oleg laughed and mocked the magician, exclaiming, ‘Soothsayers tell untruths, and their words are naught but falsehood. This horse is dead, but I am still alive.’ Then he commanded that a horse be saddled. ‘Let me see his bones’ said he. He rode to the place where the bare bones and skull lay. Dismounting his horse, he laughed and remarked, ‘So I was supposed to receive my death from this skull?’ And he stamped on the skull with his foot. But a serpent crawled forth from it and bit him on the foot, so that in consequence he sickened and died. All the people mourned him in great grief.” -- 912 AD

The adventures of these early Rus echo strongly of Viking roots and their story telling style. My next essay will continue explorations of the Tales of Bygone Days with an especially lurid tale of vengeance.


Book Reviews

· Elizabeth Warner. Russian Myth, The Legendary Past (University of Texas, 2002).

This book is by the same author as previous book reviewed (see Slovo #52); it features a more concise and adult treatment of the same material. In an eighty page paperback Ms. Warner effectively covers Russian’s mythic beliefs. The material is beautifully organized with chapters like “Demons and Spirits of Place” and “The Dead and Other World.” This book spends more time discussing the intersection of Christian and pagan beliefs in “dual faith.” Short versions of folktales are included in each chapter as examples of the ideas. The author is an authority on Russian folklore and continues to travel annually to North Russia for fieldwork. This book has black and white illustrations and photographs. Inexpensive and well documented, this volume may be the best bargain as a single source for the topic.

-- Peotr Alexeivich


· Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, as told by Marianna Maer and Illustrated by K.Y. Craft (New York: Murrow Junior Books, 1994)

There are dozens of ways to mess up the telling of a folk tale—you can make it too cute, introduce anachronisms or violate the core of the characters. This volume makes none of those mistakes— instead, it brings this scary tale to life. Baba Yaga is an archetype in Russian mythology, the forest witch crone, with powers of life and death, a very ancient character. As is typical of this story cycle a youth enters the forest and must undergo trials through the encounter with the witch. In this case the heroine is Vasilisa, who survives her labors with the help of a magic doll. The color illustrations are particularly lush, referencing both medieval manuscripts and lacquer boxes. Although the book was designed for grades 3 to 5, the imagery has been kept nice and frightening—there are drawings of the fence of skulls around Baba Yaga’s house and a terrific one of the warty witch herself smoking her pipe. The language is crisp, with a fast telling that keeps a sense of magic. This version would be valuable for a bard to study. The book itself would make a wonderful gift.

-- Peotr Alexeivich


· Michael Chabon. Gentlemen of the Road.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to find the SCA in our teen years often had our imaginations fired by the sword-swinging adventure tales. The [slightly] guilty pleasures of Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague DeCamp seemed to be far in my past, when I came upon Gentlemen of the Road. Here is a rip roaring swashbuckler set in Khazar Empire around 950 A.D. It is even imaginatively illustrated with 15 drawings by Gary Gianni, who also draws the comic strip Prince Valiant.

The first surprise of Gentlemen is that it is beautifully written. The opening of the novel gives you the flavor, “For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in ten languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve…”

The second surprise is that Mr. Chabon has fully imagined a world that we know from only a few sentences of historic texts in Arab, Russian and Spanish chronicles. The setting is the Khazar Kingdom, a group of Turkic peoples who settled between the Black and Caspian Seas in the early Middle Ages. They are unique in that they converted Judaism around 900 A.D. The author’s reconstruction is lush, certainly fanciful, but also believable and fun. The Rus are major characters in the novel, in more ways than one. The story line is a little thin and episodic, with many captures, escapes and turnabouts; but the main actors, Zelikman, Amram and Hanukkah (!) are richly drawn. I recommend this entertaining romp, which the author originally wanted to title, “Jews with Swords.”

-- Peotr Alexeivich


Forthcoming Events

· Wiosna: Spring in Poland (Saturday, April 18, 2009)

Join us in the Shire Marche of Blak Rose, East Kingdom, SCA in beautiful central Pennsylvania. The event opens at 10:00am and will close at 6:00 pm. Our cook is planning a scrumptious dayboard: a Polish first course of meats, cheese, pickled vegetables, cold roast chicken, a mustard or two, Polish Pesto, Polish Tea, breads, honey spice cookies, perogies, cabbage rolls; all homemade of course. Toward the end of the event soup will be set out to keep you on the trip home: mushroom, barley, and kielbasa with chicken soup and bread. There will be a quest at the event to test your knowledge of Poland with help from some interesting characters. There will be pewter and possibly bronze casting demos as well as lucet braiding. Did I mention live music featuring period Polish tunes? There will be fighting too! It looks to be a full and fun day at a beautiful park.

The event site is conveniently located near Interstates 78 and 81 and just a short drive from the PA turnpike. Visit the Kingdom event site (http://eastkingdom.org/event-detail.html?eid=1741) for more information.

The event fee is $10 for SCA members pre-registered before April 1. After April 1 the fee is $15. Children under 16 are admitted free. And the non-member surcharge of $3 applies.

There are hotels in the area if you are traveling and would want to stay overnight. Contact me, Magdalena Gdanska for more information. I can be reached by email: panimagdalena56@yahoo.com or by phone 717-564-5522. No calls after 9 PM please.


· Ages of War (August 27-30, 2009)

See below for a decorative invitation to Ages of War and check out our event website:

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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: goldschp@tds.net. 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 (http://slavic.freeservers.com).