Spring/Summer AS LII (2017)
Volume XXII, Issue 3 (#84)

From the Nachalnik

This issue contains our annual Pennsic class round-up. My apologies if anyone's class(es) were missed. Also, I haven't heard about a Pennsic gathering, but am always eager to publicize an activity if there is one. Feel free to also post anything of interest to our Facebook page.

This issue also features our ongoing series on the symbolism of Ukrainian embroidery and, in particular, a discussion of svarha begun in the prior issue. The spiral shape will be more familiar to Western audiences as a swastika and raises the sorts of questions that have been with reenactors (and the SCA in particular) for some time – how to address issues that were acceptable in historical context but which have acquired unacceptable overtones in contemporary society? In the previous installment, Vasyl acknowledged the difficulty in passing (“ The symbols themselves bear no guilt and they do not personify any evil. So, it is best to study their semantics without prejudice”), which is a position that I understand, but I don't think we can quite get away with.

Part of the issue for me is that the symbol, while traditional, is not only offensive today but has also seen a contemporary resurgence amongst Eastern and Central European reenactors. For those who follow the SIG Facebook page, you will have noticed that we have a pretty steady influx of new members with profile art that prominently displays such motifs. They would probably argue that the symbols are traditional and harmless in their context, but it still seems peculiar to me that, out of all the symbols which could be chosen, these are the ones that are so popular.

For suburban American reenactors, this is a very foreign territory, and so I watch it warily. Studying and learning about the historic cultural meanings of symbols is valuable, but displaying them in reenactment is problematic. The SCA's solution is to ban the usage and display outright, As SIG is a club closely tied to the SCA, I tend towards respecting and honoring that approach. Non-SCA folks who join our group play by different rules and so I do not dictate what they do, but their aesthetic decisions can't help but put me on guard. Similarly, I do not feel it is necessary to censor an exploration of the role that such symbols played in historic times, but I also do not think I can approach the usage without prejudice. The symbols themselves are blameless, but it is their dual purpose that I cannot stomach.


Pennsic Classes

By Paul Wickenden of Thanet

As is my annual tradition, I'm providing an informal survey of the offerings at Pennsic University which I believe may be of interest to SIG members because of subject matter. My apologies if I have overlooked any appropriate classes.

Tuesday, August 1

11am – Period Slavic Seed Beads: Gerdan . We will create a period ethnic necklace that was used as an amulet a long time ago in East Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Lady Helga Pilkvist


Wednesday, August 2

1pm – Kiev and Post-Kiev Russ and Mongols: 13-15 C . More than 200 years of troubled relations between Eastern Europe and Mongols, full of bloody wars and uneasy and unexpected alliances. New look. Igor of Northshield

3pm – Romani : An Introduction to Gypsy Persona . Don't know how/where to start with this persona? Learn about the Rom , their history, common pitfalls, and the fun of this fascinating persona. THL Pesha the Gypsy


Thursday, August 3

2pm – Kiev Russ Before Mongols: New Look. Survey of the pre-Mongolian period of Kiev Russ history without popular myths, through some sources, newer academic studies and material culture. Igor of Northshield


Friday, August 4

9am – Russian 101. An introduction to reading and writing in Modern Cyrillic, as well as some differences between Modern Cyrillic and Old Church Slavonic. Lady Margaret Lad


Saturday, August 5

9am – Period Slavic Seed Beads: Gerdan . See above.

12noon – Beginning Pysanky. Students will learn the history of the pysanka and have the opportunity to create one of their own. Lady Muirgheall O'Riein


Sunday, August 6

2pm – Romani : An Introduction to Gypsy Persona . See above.


Monday, August 7

10am – Baba Yaga, the Arch-Villainess of Russian Folklore. Baba Yaga is a common character in Russian fairy tales. We will discuss the diverse roles she plays, and look into the origins of the character. Lady Luceta Di Cosimo

12noon – Beginning Pysanky. See above.


Tuesday, August 8

10am – Introduction to Pysanky . Learn about the rich history of Ukrainian embellished eggs, and try your hand at this "Queen of Folk Arts." Lecture, discussion, and make ‘n' take. Nicola Kendall

4pm – Conversational Russian. Covers the Russian alphabet and basic modern-day Russian conversational phrases, plus words and phrases more related to the SCA. Lady Lada Monguligin


Wednesday, August 9

1pm – Introduction to Pysanky. See above.

1pm – Romani : An Introduction to Gypsy Persona . See above.

3pm – The Song of Igor's Campaign. This 12th-century Russian epic poem combines history with Slavic gods, demon birds, and misadventures in the wild, wild east. Oh my! THL Sofya Chyudskaya Smolyanina

4pm – Beginner Russian Calligraphy . The basics of medieval Russian calligraphy. Learn the basics of writing the Old Church Slavonic alphabet. Lady Lada Monguligin


Thursday, August 10

9am -- Psanky Eggs . Learn to make these beautiful Ukrainian crafts. All artists under 10 need to have their own individual teen or adult present to help out. Classes Provided at YFP.


Svarha , Spirals, and Triangles in Rushnyki

By Vasyl Jula

In terms of spiritual energy, the svarha is considered a very strong sign. There are quite a few variants of svarha found in embroidery.

The hrabelky is one where each ray has two power exits and they are sometimes called “swastikas of double force” for this reason. This concept of force derives from the way that their depicted range of motion is larger and nearly twice the amplitude of a plain swastika.


Pysanky with swastika motif


The full svarha is frequently found in Ukrainian embroidery (especially in the Pravoberezha region). It is formed by imposing a left-facing swastika over a right-facing one. There are two variations. In the first case, a straight cross forms the base, and in the second, a diamond. In both cases, twin arms extend outwards from the center (either from the ends of the cross or from the corners of the diamond) turning in opposite directions. These double spirals are colloquially referred to as “ram's (curved) horns” (krutorizhky). The result of this motion and countervailing motion is a neutral motif. While it is a strong symbol (as we noted above) the depicted energy streams balance each other. So, in sum, a full svarha is a symbol of harmony.

The half svarha (piv-svarha) or similar “S”-motifs are also known by a variety of regional names: in Naddniprianshchyna, “keys” (kliuchi); in Podillia, hesyk ; or as “snakes” (vuzhi). This sign symbolizes defense, material prosperity, or abundance. It represents earthly waters and the maternal moisture of earth. In addition to these so-called “heavy waters” there are also “celestial waters.” Without both of them, life would be impossible. The harvest, on which depends the survival and prosperity of all people, would be impossible. Often we find the piv-svarha on women's blouses, aprons and woven belts. It is believed that this sign wields a powerful aura for humans and does not allow energy to disperse and escape.

Piv-svarhas , when arranged in a row, can form an endless chain, which is referred to as a bezkonechnyk or meandr (from the Greek and also the name of the river Meandr, which is small and crooked). The Greeks called the river Meandr “the River of Life.” This ornamental pattern is very popular not only in embroidery but also in the decoration of ceramics, Easter eggs, weaving, carpets, and a variety of other art forms. The bezkonechnyk is almost compulsory in towel embroidery. It is believed to perform a defensive function and also distributes energy and information. More than one bezkonechnyk of different widths could be embroidered on the same towel. Each different width is believed to have a unique amplitude and acts like a tuning fork to structure space, seemingly tuning it into harmony. A different wavelength is needed in order to tune the different spiritual centers of human beings. If a human experiences the destruction of his aura, then the towels with embroidered bezkonechnyky help that person to re-align.

Spirals are a symbol of the structure of the universe. All galaxies have the spiral construction. We also find spirals in various living organisms, in the phenomena of nature; basically, in vital cycles. The construction of all organisms—DNA—consists of spirals. The cosmic signs of good always include spirals. In geometrical ornamental patterns and in vegetable patterns we also find various spirals. The spider, as one of symbols of the Creator, weaves a spider's web (the universe) on a spiral. The bezkonechnyk in profile is a spiral. And if we look at a spiral from the top, it twirls to the center, converging on a point. Even though we know that this point is imaginary, the spiral extends endlessly (bezkonechnyk).

Whichever way a spiral spins towards the center defines its meaning and energy: if it spins inwards to its center in a clockwise direction, it is positive; counterclockwise, then negative. The Tree of Life on towels and vegetarian bezkonechnyky often has spirals (especially when depicted with grape vines). In geometrical ornamental patterns, spirals are shown in eight parts. The popular double spiral that comes out from one point is an astrological sign of Aries and is commonly called “the ram's horns.” Spirals are also a sign of fire, which is why the symbols are often present in the ornamental patterns of our fire-worshipping ancestors.

The more common sign of fire is a triangle, evoking a tongue of flame. However, the semantics of this geometrical figure are considerably more complex. Fire transfixes all plans of the Being. The triangle reflects the three-fold nature of the world and is a representation of the Trinity. We distinguish between a triangle pointed up (a sign of the Spirit) and a triangle pointed down (a symbol of Matter). Together, these two triangles create additional meanings.

One example is when the two triangles touch at their tips together like an hour-glass and is often found on woven and embroidered towels of Central Naddniprianshchyna and the Slobozhanshchyna regions, alongside depictions of plants and various ornamental patterns. These triangles together symbolize the world and the anti-world. At the point where the triangles touch, transition occurs between these two worlds. Sometimes between the triangles there is a line that is called “the Ring of the Big Light.” This Ring is a mirror which reflects the other.

The second permutation is the six-pointed star that is generated by penetrating one triangle into another. This star is itself a variation on a star-octahedron (an octagonal star formed by the penetration of two trilateral pyramids into each other). Symbolically this six-pointed star displays the permeation of Spirit into Matter, the embodiment of God's plan on earth, and harmony between the spiritual and the material.

A third configuration of two triangles is a diamond, one of the symbols of Matter and a symbol of the Sacred Tetrad. A diamond is generated by the contact of the triangles at their base.

The fourth variant is a modification of the third. A separation of the triangles at their bases creates an interval, a belt. Such a symbol is popularly known as a “well” (kolodiaz) in southern Podillia. This well symbolizes the tie between worlds earthly, physical, visible—celestial, thin and invisible. This well often appears on Podillian towels with the Tree of Life.

Finally, we come to chevrons. Chevrons are related to triangles, but lack their bases. Just as with triangles, there are two types of chevrons — pointing upwards and pointing downwards. The chevrons pointing up represent a masculine beginning (nachalo) — the spiritual aspect. The chevrons pointing down represent a feminine nachalo — the material aspect. This feminine chevron is also a representation of woman's womb, where a new beginning comes to life.

Standard Disclaimer Stuff: Most of us are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc (SCA) but our Interest Group and its newsletter are not officially affiliated with the SCA. Naturally, then, Slovo does not bear any intentional resemblance to anything that the SCA officially endorses.

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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).