Winter AS LI (2017)
Volume XXII, Issue 2 (#83)

From the Nachalnik

My thanks this month for some last-minute contributions which helped to flesh out the issue to a respectable length in the midst of the mid-Winter doldrums.

I also wanted to call out the articles of Vasyl Jula (a loyal and regular contributor for the past couple of years). His explanations of the mysticism and meaning behind Ukrainian embroidery are sometimes complex, but I've enjoyed printing them as I think it gives a taste of a Slavic spiritual mindset. Westerners are largely unfamiliar with this confluence of East and West, Orthodox and Catholic (with ample pagan influences!). And having the opportunity to hear a fluent speaker of that tradition can be valuable for getting into your persona.


A Rus' Coronation Ceremony

By Nikolena Sergeeva doch' Zvezdina (aka Nicolaa de Bracton)

When Siegfried and Xristina became Prince and Princess of Ealdormere, I was presented with an opportunity to put together a Rus' coronation ceremony. I have been writing ceremonies for about twenty years now, starting with my own Laurel elevation ceremony. The majority have been Peerage ceremonies, which present certain challenges, particularly a very limited (both in time period and in culture) pool of period examples to adapt. Peerage ceremonies often become a process of extrapolation based on other sources, such as guild statutes, written documents detailing rights or procedures for groups of people or individuals, literary descriptions, or descriptions of ceremonies meant for groups of people (such as church liturgy or civic processionals), in combination with SCA traditions.

The situation is different for coronations. We actually have information on quite a number of extant period coronation liturgies for a number of cultures thanks to R.W. Wooley's Coronation Rites, published in 1915 as part of the Cambridge Handbooks of Liturgical Study. This series was concerned with the study of Christian liturgy, and this brings forward the first issue for anyone seeking to use and understand historical coronation ceremonies for SCA use: These were profoundly Christian rites. Indeed, kingship was widely considered an eighth Holy Order in the western Church, and many of the rituals and meaning in these ceremonies are intimately connected to the Christian foundations of medieval society. This presents two dilemmas for the SCA ceremonialist: First, how to alter the religious portions of the ceremony to keep some of the meaning but without explicit reference to Christianity; but almost as important, how to explain to those witnessing the underlying concepts which would have been implicitly understood in medieval society.

In the case at hand, Siegfried and Xristina were specifically looking for an appanage Rus' ceremony. Wooley's work contains descriptions of Byzantine imperial ceremonies and later Russian ceremonies; there is a clear line of descent from the former to the latter. However, this would be the coronation not of a Tsar or an Emperor, but of a Prince. We settled on basing the approach on the institutions of Novgorod in the 13th century. Novgorod was generally recognized as the second most important city in Kievan Rus' and was often ruled by the eldest son of the Prince of Kiev. At the same time, day-to-day government was provided by the veche (public assembly), who elected a posadnik (mayor), tysyatsky (head of the militia) and even archbishops from the ranks of the boyars. By the twelfth century, the power of the princes was starting to decline and the veche began to take a more pronounced rule in inviting a Prince to rule the city and tightly dictating what he could and could not do through a document called a ra'd . The Prince's role remained important, however, as a military commander and the ultimate judicial and legal authority.

There were some parallels between Novgorod and Ealdormere that worked well from the standpoint of setting up the ceremony. It was not a stretch to think of the posadnik as the seneschal and the tysyatsky as the Earl Marshal, who both traditionally attest to the eligibility of the heir to ascend the throne. Ealdormere also has a long tradition of holding a moot or assembly of the populace during each reign to discuss important issues; it was not difficult to think of this moot as the veche . The boyars could be understood as the landed baronage and Great Officers of the kingdom, and the various peerage orders as representatives of the konets (ends)--groupings within the veche by nationality or craft, somewhat akin to guilds. This would set up the Coronation ceremony itself, as well as eventually provide a framework for the eventual swearing of fealty. The ra'd would become a document read and signed by Siegfried and Xristina, akin to a coronation oath to the populace (a common feature of many past ceremonies). There are apparently extant examples of ra'd s, but I was unable to access one in time for the ceremony; instead, I based the oath on descriptions on what was generally contained in one.

This left the Coronation ceremony itself. I chose to adapt the ceremony from both the Byzantine ceremony (also attested in the De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae, of which I also have a copy) and the later Russian ceremony found in Wooley. A look at both ceremonies shows their common origin, particularly in the choice of certain hymns and texts. Omitting music was one of the first compromises that had to be made for SCA purposes--we lacked a choir with the appropriate repertory. I also made adaptations to remove the majority of the religious references. The two prayers associated with the actual coronation were retained as closely as possible but became words said while the King/Queen's hands were placed on the Crown. Unction historically was conferred in a separate location after coronation and investiture, after the rulers had taken communion, which really plays up its role of a variant of the sacrament of Holy Orders. Again, obviously, we could not do that, so we moved directly into unction after coronation. I also compressed the ceremony down to its core content, and omitted most of the processional aspects, as we were limited to a single location.

Finally, there was the matter of the officiants. Clearly, we did not have an archbishop/metropolitan or deacons available, nor did we want to playact religious roles. Here, there was precedence in Ealdormere for use of either heralds or our Lawspeaker to assist with coronations in roles normally performed by religious officials. The Lawspeaker had, in fact, just performed anointing for the preceding royal couple. I wrote the ceremony with a Master of Ceremonies who took on the heraldic role, calling people up, narrating what was going on for the benefit of the audience, and leading the acclamation of the new rulers at the end. Between the Lawspeaker and the Master of Ceremonies, the role of the archibishop or metropolitan as well as some roles of a deacon were covered.

To the modern eye, the focus of a coronation is usually the actual crowning. In the Middle Ages, in the East as well as in the West, the key moment was anointing, and a growing number of period-inspired SCA coronation liturgies are including it. Anointing has explicit religious overtones, but compromises have been found in terms of the materials used. Water from the bay in the West Kingdom where the SCA was first born, or from the Thames or Seine (for English or French personae, respectively), or from other sources with personal meaning have been used. Siegfried and Xristina opted for "waters of their ancestral homelands" (in this case, real world rather than persona-based). We thus also avoided the issues involved with oils and clothing.

Another consideration was how to treat the coronation of the consort. Since in SCA practice the Sovereign and the Consort are treated more or less as equals (although the Sovereign is normally crowned first and usually crowns the Consort) I chose to more or less repeat the various prayers and investiture of regalia rather than follow the practice of the consort receiving an abbreviated ceremony. Both the King and Queen received coats; the Sword of State took the place of the scepter for the King and the mace performed that role for the Queen. Both have been used this way in past Coronations.

As I mentioned, perhaps the biggest challenge for presenting a historically-based coronation is that the audience lacks the cultural knowledge and understanding of the traditions that might have been common knowledge in the Middle Ages. It helps if explanations can be worked into the ceremony as part of the ritual wording. At Master Brand's suggestion, I added in a great deal of "narration" to the ceremony so that those watching would understand. It was particularly successful for the unction section. Audience participation is also another key to success. The part of this ceremony which, in my mind, was the most successful was the acclamation part (the “Many Years” lines, which I changed to "Many Days"). This was embraced enthusiastically. I had a number of heralds who had been provided the ceremony ahead of time planted in the audience to get things going; I also let the audience know the night before to expect something of this type. They were absolutely amazing! As the person leading these acclamations, this portion made chills run up my spine, and I was told later by Her Majesty that she felt them, too.

There were a few parts that didn't run perfectly, most of which had to do with blocking. We did a read-through before the ceremony and I was able to do a bit of blocking with some of the key players the morning of, but there were a few places where someone was in the wrong spot. One of the best moves I made was to give both the main officiants “lackeys” (we termed them Ninka ninjas, after Her Majesty's nickname) to handle and fetch regalia and props where needed, and to hold copies of the ceremonies. I would have liked to find a more booming bell to toll (such as a large handbell), but the string of smaller bells I was loaned did the job. Previous experience has taught me to give all of the hardest lines to the herald(s) and to not expect extensive memorization of lines (this is liturgy, not theatre, and liturgy was written down, especially rarely-used ceremonies such as a Coronation).

I was told by one witness that he enjoyed checking off all of the references to period sources as the ceremony progressed. I hope you enjoy reading through it.


[To view the script for the ceremony (as well as the text of this article, go to: ]


Notes on The Song of Igor's Campaign

By Sofya Chyudskaya Smolyanina

Russia's most famous and enduring medieval epic poem from the 12 th century, The Song of Igor's Campaign , is based on a series of real historical events that took place in 1185-87. Russian culture was centered further east of the area we think of as Russia today (more in Ukraine).

Igor, the prince of Novgorod-Seversk, and his people had been battling the Cumans, a nomadic Turko-Mongolian people who lived around the Don River in the grassy steppes north of the Black Sea. In Turkic languages, “cuman” is related to words for light yellow or blond. This race has also been named Polovstian, derived from the Slavic root polv' , which can mean light yellow, blond, or straw.


Figure 1 : Kievan Rus on the map. Prince Igor ruled Novgorod-Seversk. The yellow circle gives a rough indication of the area where the Cumans lived.


In 1183, Igor's father, Svyatoslav, had defeated the Cumans and pushed them back east. In 1185, Igor and his brother, Vsevolod, along with their nephew (also named Svyatoslav) and Igor's son Vladimir, marched east to Cuman territory to pick a fight with them.

Igor's campaign was not as fortunate as his father's. His brother Vsevolod and nephew Svyatoslav died in battle. Igor and his son Vladimir were taken hostage. With the Rus state weakened, the Cumans were free to push further west into Rus territory and take over several cities. Igor escaped two years later. Vladimir managed to escape a few months after his father, and married the Cuman chieftain's daughter in the process.

The historical accounts of these events can be found in two different sources: the Ipatiev Chronicle , which covers four centuries of Kievan history up through the end of the 13 th century, and the Lavrentian Chronicle , a briefer account with some differences in dates and details. Most scholars consider the Ipatiev Chronicle to be the more dependable source (and closest to The Song of Igor's Campaign ), although The Song has its own differences in details.


Origin of The Song of Igor's Campaign

The Song of Igor's Campaign , is known in Russian as Slovo o polku Igoreve . This has been translated alternately as The Lay of Igor's Campaign, The Tale of Igor's Campaign, and so on. Slovo literally translates as “word.”

The original poem only survived in a single manuscript that was discovered in 1795 in Spaso-Yaroslavsky Monastery in Yaroslavl. Alexei Musin-Pushkin (not to be confused with Pushkin the poet) bought the manuscript and transcribed it for Catherine the Great, and then published it in 1800. This original (along with Musin-Pushkin's entire library of antiquities) is believed to have been destroyed during the great Moscow fire of 1812 (Wikipedia), when Russians decided they'd rather destroy everything than give it to Napoleon.

The lack of an existing manuscript has led to questions regarding the poem's authenticity (Mann); however, most scholars agree that it was indeed written in the twelfth century for several reasons, largely to do with its language corresponding linguistically with other writing from that time period.

Further disagreement regards whether the poem was originally meant to be performed orally or read as a written work. While the language fits into its time period, some have speculated that it was written using a formula based on motifs that point to an oral tradition similar to other early epics (Nabokov), especially considering this poem's pace and emphasis on nature and the supernatural – the latter of which feels almost anachronistic within the context of medieval Christianity. It is possible that the Christian elements were tacked on when the poem was composed in written form based on an older, oral tale.


The Poet Behind The Song of Igor's Campaign

We do not know exactly who wrote The Song of Igor's Campaign . It is believed that he was someone hired to write a poem commemorating the campaign shortly after it happened (Nabokov). There are significant differences between the events in the poem and the history recorded in The Chronicle (Wikipedia), which would indicate that the poem and the historical record were written by two different people at different times, possibly with access to different pieces of information. The styles of writing are also very different from one another. The Song takes artistic license (and possibly plays loosely with known facts) to create a more interesting, creative work. The poetry itself displays a masterful grasp of rhyme and meter (Nabokov) that has helped it endure over the centuries as the best known work of literature from medieval Russia.

The poet makes several references to another bard named Boyan. Although we do not have any historical reference to Boyan outside this poem (Nabokov), the Song poet refers to him as a famed “song-maker of the times of old” (831-832), a poet/seer with a magical power for inspiring those who listened to him. The poem uses the word veshchiy – a word that connotes not just the power of inspiration, but also a magical ability. It is possible that Boyan was a real artist known to the Song poet, but whose own work was never recorded (or has been lost).



•  Boikova, Elena Vladimirovna; Rybakov, R. B. (2006).  Kinship in the Altaic World . Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.  Cited in .

•  Dragosani-Brantingham, Justin. (19 October 2011) [1999]. "An Illustrated Introduction to the Kipchak Turks" (PDF). Cited in .

•  Mann, Robert. “The Forgotten Text of Nikolai Golovin: New Light on the Igor Tale.” Oral Tradition 26/1 (2011): 145-158. .

•  Map of Kievan Rus. Wikimedia Commons, 2010.

•  Nabokov, Vladimir. The Song of Igor's Campaign: An Epic of the 12 th Century. New York: Ardis Publishers, 1960. Online version: .

•  “The Tale of Igor's Campaign.” Wikipedia, 2016. The_Tale_of_Igor%27s_Campaign .


More Symbols in Rushnyki

By Vasyl Jula



No matter how simple the image, we can easily identify the silhouette of the peahen. In the East, the peahen traditionally symbolizes spiritual knowledge. In the ancient-Slavic tradition, a peahen also stood for the Virgin Mary. Mary was depicted as a big beautiful bird with a golden womanly face. Fairy tales about yajtse-rajtse include an image of Our Lady as a peahen. She lays an egg from which the world begins. Elsewhere, the peahen is found in the firebird zhar-ptytsia, a personification of the Sun. The image of the peahen was often embroidered on wedding towels and wedding blouses. As a tribute, peahen feathers were entwined in the wedding wreath.

Roosters are another popular symbol embroidered on towels. They are treated as a predictor of light (through their heralding of the new day). With his crowing, the darkness dissipates and evil disappears. The rooster is also one of the symbols of the fire elements in relation to the Sun.

From ancient times, doves have symbolized perfect love and matrimony, and by this merit have gained widespread use on towels. Thus, wedding towels bear an image of a tree with doves or a branch blooming with doves. Sometimes, a nest was embroidered with two little birds and eggs as a symbol of a future happy marriage.

On Ukrainian towels, the birds are embroidered in pairs, facing the tree and each other to signify love, mutual attraction, and closeness. Seldom do we see the birds turned away from the trunk of the tree (and each other). Where this does occur, it depicts the protection of the family or defense from external enemies.

At the National Museum of History of Ukraine there is an old towel with a seven-branched tree and five birds embroidered with woolen multicolored threads. They are pictured turned to one side. When the towel is hung on a peg, the birds from one end appear to look to the birds from the other end. Adding to the uniqueness of this towel is the depiction of a flower at the center that has on one side a straight cross, and on the other side a slanted one.


Cosmic Motifs

Besides traditional compositions centered around the Tree, there are towels in Central Naddnipriashchyna which were embroidered with unique motifs that we could call “cosmic.” They contain various different elements that seem almost like something from outer space! In the collection of the Ivan Honchar Ukrainian Center of Popular Culture, there is an example of this dating to the end of XVII and beginning of the XVIII centuries. From the Poltava region, it is embroidered in red and blue threads, using towel stitches. It depicts the joining of two elements (possibly the docking of two spaceships?) with one joint chamber. In this later chamber are two figures. The whole thing is shown sailing through outer space, with three suns and three constellations (consisting of three, ten, and twenty-three stars). The entire work is embroidered on both sides, with different colors on each side. The whole thing is bordered with a bezkonechnyk (an infinite zigzag pattern), which on one side is completely red, and on the other, alternating red and blue. Also worthy of note is how one side features different fancy towel stitches while on the other side the stitches are more mechanical (we could say “computerized”).

A similar towel in the same collection is from the region of Chernihiv and embroidered in a red color. The composition is strichkovyj (striped), but the lower part of the towel has a motif with three figures and the letter V. There is a very original configuration of trees with three double branches and riders on horses (a celestial army?). The numerical symbolism of this towel is divisible by three and six. Tentatively, this towel could be called, “The Descent of the Spirit into Matter.”

A separate group is composed of towels with the so-called unidentified flying objects, popularly called letuchi .


Geometric Shapes

Within the embroidered stripes on towels, geometrical ornamental patterns are often employed. Researchers have identified 120 different styles of these patterns. Each pattern is a complicated system composed of various elements, signs, and symbols. Each of these signs has its own energy signature. As they interact, they synthetize a whole energy picture. Each ornamental pattern reflects some aspect of the Being and some part of life. If humans are created in the image of the Creator and they are a microcosm, then whatever occurs in that fragment reflects on the macrocosm. The process is bi-directional and, as humans, we experience these processes occurring around us, in the surrounding world, in the Universe, in Space. This dialectic is what is meant by the ancient dictum, “changing yourself, you change the World.”

These ornamental patterns are meant to represent the movement of the Spirit. The peculiarity of this is that the motion of the Spirit is understood to be a straight line, which is manifested as a disciplined network of straight broken lines. The motion passes directly through those points but, within the material realm, these lines will be crooked. In the natural world, we can see this in the physical growth of organisms, in the motion of objects, and in the change of the seasons of the year. Ornamental patterns with geometrical symbols reflect a principle of masculine energies at the same time the vegetable patterns with free flowing lines reflect feminine energies. Taking this idea into account in an analysis of the embroidery of towels and clothes, we can pick out the parts where one or another type of energy prevails.

One of the most widely used signs in the world is the cross. Besides the use of the cross shape to organize the layout of embroidery, the use of crosses in embroidery is widespread, especially in the older samples that we find. We distinguish several different types of crosses: straight, slanted, and the double cross formed as a result of combining the straight and slanted varieties. The straight cross symbolizes harmony and the interaction of the Spirit (vertical line) and Matter (horizontal line). The cross, as a symbol of nature, represents the harmonious work of the four elements that develop all forms of life. The straight cross (a symbol of the Sun, Lohos, and the Creator) is considered masculine, while the slanted cross (a symbol of the Moon) is feminine. The overlapping of these two crosses creates a double cross or eight-pointed radial star, which portrays the union of the two. Finally, the cross is also a stitch -- straight, slanted, and double (or “Bulgarian”) cross stitches.

The swastika (svarha) symbolizes that double cross in motion. The svarha got its name from the Sanskrit word svastia (which also gives us the word shchastia [happiness]) and means “an entrance into the Skies.” It is interesting that an ancient Chinese character for “happiness” is written in the form of a svarha . The swastika symbolically reflects a motion of the Sun on the edge. There are two forms of svarha (turned right and turned left), which depict the motion of the summer and the winter Sun, or a motion of the daytime and nighttime Sun. The bent ends of the svarha mark the direction of the motion of rays of energy (bearing in mind that the laws of symbolism do not always correlate to physical laws). The two types of swastika also denote the two directions of the motion of the Spirit—Evolution and Involution, or progress and regress. The svarha was widely used in geometrical ornamental embroidery patterns of our ancestors – the Aryans -- but was compromised in the twentieth century by the Nazis, just as the five-pointed star was purloined by the Bolsheviks. The symbols themselves bear no guilt and they do not personify any evil. So, it is best to study their semantics without prejudice.


Resources and Notes

•  Rebecca Le Get found a link to the court records of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at which she suggested might be of interest to scribes and heralds.

•  Liudmila Vladimirova doch' is looking for help with rebuilding her archive: “So, I've not been paying attention back in the spring, which led to the total loss of SCA-Russian dot com where I had all my documentation and other files. Wanting to rebuild it, I discovered that a lot of stuff became lost in proof computer disasters. So, if perhaps you ever saved any of docs or papers by Liudmila Vladimirova doch' off the site or by email, I would really appreciate you sending them to me! Especially looking for cooking and how-to stuff. I have the costume files on disk.”


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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 (