Fall AS XLIX (2014)
Volume XX, Issue 4 (#74)

From the Nachalnik

I had hoped by now to have news of a Slavic University and a reminder of an upcoming one, but unfortunately, both have been cancelled. I hope that won't discourage future attempts, but it is simply a fact of life that events are hard to pull off. The first one (in Aethelmearc) suffered from a lack of interest and the latter one (in An Tir) from difficulties finding an appropriate site. Both of these challenges are formidable. At this point, I'd just like to thank the people who were involved in the planning of these aborted events for their efforts. The An Tir group is hoping to find a site soon and offer an event in the Spring (see below).

This is the beginning of the Slavic Interest Group's twentieth year. We have no plans for any special commemoration, although if someone wants to host a party, let me know and I'll do my best to be there!


An Tir Slavic University Update

By Tvorimir Danilov

The resounding answer of those at Pennsic was that Spring is far better for folks - school starting, Pennsic itself - people have more ability to look ahead and go to a Slavic U in the Spring. With that response after the July 8th discussion, we're a go for Spring and I'm open at this point to other An Tir branches near major airports and train lines.

What we need for this site:

1) Flyable and/or railable, which means a hotel shuttle able to get people or other reasonable transportation. Best would be near the US/CAN border so it's not too bad of a drive for the people flying in to either nation's domestic airport and driving to site. Maybe between, in fact, and we can talk to Barony of Madrone [Seattle].

2) Space for three-four tracks of classes, one a messy space (tarp floors) this means a SF con hotel or school or church -- but a non-hotel site means logistics getting attendees who aren't local housed or transported from hotel to site.

3) Space for a Slavic tourney. And hopefully space for Slavic archery, too!

I proposed Wyewood [Renton WA] because it's got Sea-Tac airport, Tukwila train station, two to three hours from Vancouver Airport, free archery range at which we could hold tourney and messy classes if we had a hotel that had the Wyewood range in its shuttle radius. I've had trouble with hotels - and can go look at the airport itself, couple of smaller hotels with SF con experience, and see if we can negotiate the shuttle or have someone be our shuttle and rent a fifteen passenger van.

I really need the hive mind here!


Russian Knowledge Pages Wiki

Greetings and a bow from Sofya! I was recently informed that Wikispaces is going to start charging a fee for their wikis (which is only fair), but this means that I am tweaking and consolidating my wikis to maximize value.

As an experiment, I've decided to change the “Russian Knowledge Pages” wiki to a more general Slavic Interest Group wiki - http://slavicinterestgroup.wikispaces.com/  I have opened up the editorial access so anyone can use it (unless there are problems).  I know a couple of folks have expressed interest in putting Baltic stuff there.  If there is sufficient use, I will happily pay the fees to keep it going after the deadline of November 15th .

In other news, my wiki on medieval Russian names and heraldry at  http://russianscaheraldry.wikispaces.com/ will be deleted and the articles will be moving to  http://sofyalarus.wikispaces.com/ .

My main website, www.sofyalarus.info , is unaffected by any of this.


The Rushnyk , Pt IV: The Role of Thread and Needle in Embroidery

By Vasyl Jula

[Editor's Note: Parts I and II of this series on Ukrainian textiles appeared combined in the Fall 2013 issue of Slovo , Part III appeared in the Summer issue]

For the embroidering of a rushnyk , one must carefully prepare the threads and needles. These preparations, as reported by experts during ethnographic expeditions, have a deep meaning.



We also know about the wide application of needles from different sources, not only ethnologic. Like all metallic objects, needles are known to attract and to distribute energies within a living space. The eye of a needle emits streams of bio-energy and together they create a strong bio field around the needle. A needle is a very sensitive receiver of bio-energy and is capable of conveying streams of energy, exceeding hundreds of times the amount of energy passing over a steel wire of analogical dimension and quality. These bio-energy streams direct themselves to the point of the needle that then becomes magnetized. Any object that a needle touches is left with a magnetic trace. These properties of a needle have been known to man since ancient times and are the basis for needle therapy and various magic procedures.

Now, imagine the magnetic power on an embroidered piece of fabric after a needle has touched it thousands of times. What a person thought, prayed, sang, conjured, or wished while embroidering—all that was transferred through the needle to the pattern and remained there forever. So, without considering the ornamental pattern, which can be worked on for hours simultaneously by many people, the embroidery has many characteristics, which are picked up by the majority of people on a subconscious, exoteric, and spiritual level. And this is impossible to describe in words.

From ethnologic field expeditions, in particular from the story by Tamara Prykhodchenko, we learn about the initiation ceremony—the introduction of young girls to embroidery. Such a ceremony was witnessed by the whole family, which gathered together. As a rule, the grandmother took a needle, recited a wish for the girl to become a good seamstress and lightly pricked the palm of the girl's hand. Miss Prykhodchenko remembers that she was seven years old when this ceremony took place. After her grandmother completed the wishes, her father took her to an apple orchard and told her to ask the venerable apple tree for its blessing and support. She touched the trunk with her palms and asked the venerable tree to help her become a good artisan. Obviously, this tradition had lasting effects. Throughout her life, Miss Prykhodchenko loved embroidery and today is one of the most active researchers of folk embroidery in Ukraine.

Why was it necessary to start every young girl in embroidery and other types of needlework? This question does not arise in the majority of families today, but it was vital to our ancestors who called a woman the “Guardian of the Home Fire.” She was the priestess who maintained the Fire of Life in her family. The woman bore the children and was responsible for the overall care of the family unit. Human hands are important instruments playing a big role in this important task, because through them pass important energy power and information streams and channels.

Any needlework, especially embroidery, actively cleans these channels and maintains the human body in total harmony. There are many stories of women who healed their illnesses with embroidery or were able to maintain their psycho-emotional state in harmony. They asked God to be healed through embroidery. A rushnyk embroidered by an ailing human absorbed in itself the negative emanations of that illness. Such a rushnyk could not be kept in the house and could not be given to anyone. This towel was taken to the cemetery and tied to a cross of a grave where it was left until the wind, rain, and frost destroyed the cloth. The negative energy entered the earth through the cross.

During field research expeditions in the Cherkassy region, Olexandra Telizhenko (an honored artist of Ukraine), noted that elderly women sewed up their illnesses in rushnyky and then sold them in the market at a low cost. Certainly, such a black magic approach never goes unpunished! One of the cosmic laws proclaims in folk belief —that energy is neither created nor destroyed. The good and the evil returns to the sender ten times more powerful in a boomerang effect.

Needles that were used in embroidery were highly valued and kept hidden. It was considered a bad omen if they got lost, especially if this happened while embroidering. As a rule, it was recommended to have one needle for every color of thread used in a pattern. All work, it was said, should be finished with the same needles that it was begun with. The needles should not be loaned to anyone or used for any other purpose.

There was even a popular belief that the needles should be bought on a Monday so they could contribute to the happiness held in the embroidery. This probably makes some sense, but only for women. Monday is the day of the Moon, the female goddess and nocturnal orb influencing the intuition, emotions, and the heart rhythms, which are of particular importance in creativity. For men, Thursday, the day of Perun, Jupiter, and the Supreme God, would be more appropriate. He can be called by other names by different people; however he is the Father-Creator. Thursday is also the day of the week when the human work capacity peaks.



The threads used in embroidery were also carefully selected. Prykhodchenko writes that in the villages of Southern Podillia, Odessa region, women traditionally preferred the silk treads for their embroidery. The cocoon thread from a silkworm consists of an unbroken length of two kilometers! This means that the fibers, which make up a thread, are of a solid length. Next in value are woolen threads. They, like the silk threads, are of animal origin and have a predominant white color. Next in the process come the flax and hemp threads spun from plant fibers. And the least favored threads are from raw cotton because of its downy character.

There is a modern scientific explanation: animal fibers consist of carotene and, unlike vegetables fibers, have a considerable reserve “of memory”— an accumulation of electromagnetic oscillatory impulses, or information. Just remember how a woolen sweater crackles with electricity when you are taking it off. This quality of wool was used in carpets (strong ritual objects), cloth covers, jackets, upper woolen clothing and especially waist-related articles of clothing—wrap skirts, skirts, belts and krajka (sash). At one time a woman without a woolen skirt, or a woolen zapaska (apron), could not go beyond the gates of her homestead because the zapaska covers the woman's stomach. This is not only for physical covering, but also to cover the energy field, the zhyvot (old Slavonic for life force/spirit). The folk belief was that the lower stomach was where the sole/spirit/life force resided although today the word zhyvot is translated as merely stomach.

Silk embroidery threads and fabrics were highly valued because they were imported. These were used exclusively for making the most expensive articles of clothing. The woolen threads for embroidery were used the most in Pravoberezhna Ukraine, i.e., Podillia, Bessarabia and the Carpathian region. This is the area of the Carpatho-Balkan culture that assimilated the finest traits of agrarian culture, including the Trypillian civilization. The tradition of embroidering woolen towels and shirts was kept up to the middle of XX century. However, the more easily acquired commercial cotton threads replaced woolen threads in embroidery and weaving.

Embroidery with flax and hemp threads was widespread throughout Ukraine. They attempted to spin the thread as straight as possible, then came the time to whiten them. Whitening of threads and linens had not only a decorative purpose but also a sacred meaning. There are also embroideries done with natural colored threads. The well-bleached threads—"the whites"— were used throughout Ukraine. This is an old Aryan tradition originating from the worship of Light, Fire, and Sun. In addition, "the whites" were dyed in dyes made from vegetables, herbs, roots, seeds, grain, bark, and other plants. The most popular threads were dyed in oak bark. However, it was the decorative effect that contributed to the spread of dyeing threads and not the mystical attributes. It was based on the old knowledge of our ancestors and other pre-Christian cults like the Celtics and Druids who also worshiped plants. The spirit of the plant penetrates the embroidery thread during the dyeing process and transmits through embroidery certain characteristics for the well-being of the body and the soul: stoutness, endurance, resistance to illnesses. It is no wonder our ancestors gathered to communicate with God in sacred oak groves and hung embroidered towels on the oldest oaks. Other plants also had their own unique qualities that were used for dyeing or embroidering towels, or for certain specific clothing.

The dyeing of "whites" in oil is very interesting. The threads were soaked in oil and then baked in rye dough. Under the influence of temperature and other factors (a process of polymerization), the oil combined well with the plant fibers and the color of the threads did not fade. Threads tinted in this way had a pleasant golden-yellow color and were called zapolochia . This term is often heard and written in literature when discussing embroidery. As a homemade product, this commonly spun thread was dyed in hamper oil (providing a golden color like the Sun that was highly prized), zapolochia gave a common name to all embroidery threads, including machine made threads, made of cotton and dyed various colors.

Dyes made of animal origin, which are few, stand separately in the dyeing of threads. Cochineal—made from insects—was gathered, dried, and ground to a dark-red powder that was very expensive. Using that powder, the threads were dyed in a saturated red color. Historical accounts attest to its value by citing “a spoon of cochineal” in a list of taxes paid to the royal court.


Book Review

•  Sergei Shokarev. Putevoditel' po srednevekovoi Moskve [A Guide to Medieval Moscow]. Moscow: Tsentrpoligraf, 2014.

There is no shortage of archeological work on Moscow, nor any lack of decent medieval history books covering the Time of Troubles, but for the casual amateur historian, there has been a lack of decent books combining the two in an easily accessible fashion. Shokarev, who has written a fair share of technical works, tackles this deficit with energy and love. The fact that the book is only available in Russian will be a barrier to many, but for those who can read the language, this is an exciting and breezy narrative of what the city of Moscow and its surrounding environs really looked like during the time of Ivan the Terrible.

Apollinarii Vasnetsov, “City Square 17th Century”

Shokarev begins with a broad overview of the character of the city and its founding, noting the building materials used (wood, of course!), their size, and the general layout of the streets (I was surprised to learn how wide they were in the day). He then becomes more methodical, starting at the center with the Kremlin and then gradually working his way out through the central districts (Kitai Gorod, Belyi Gorod, Zemlianoi) and into the outskirts, and finally to the surrounding countryside. In each neighbor-hood he highlights the important buildings that stood in the day (noting which ones still stand) and recounts important historical events tied to each one.

There isn't much on material history and everyday life, but what he achieves is something just as interesting: a holistic view of a seventeenth-century metropolis that eloquently describes the terrain on which history occurred. While this won't tell us much about how the common people lived, he does painstakingly point out where one might go for bread or furniture, where soldiers were barracked and where they got their armor and weapons, or where the markets operated. He even notes where foreigners were housed (in the day, apparently Catholic and Lutheran churches were both allowed to operate in special “foreign” districts).For this book, Shokarev relies heavily on the Chronicles, census records, and foreign travelers' accounts. His particular love is toponyms and he enjoys long digressions on the meanings of the various colorful place names for Moscow's neighborhoods and districts. An outstanding historical account for the everyday reader (and the non-technical language is suitable for intermediate readers of Russian).



Some items picked up on SIG-L (our Yahoo!Group), off of the Facebook SIG group, and from other correspondence:


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