Worship Of The Dead Especially Ancestors

AT first the pagan Slavs burned their dead, but later they practised burial as well as cremation.1 With singing and wailing the corpse was carried to the funeral-place, where a pyre had been erected; and this, with the dead body laid upon it, was set on fire by the relatives. The pyre and the body having been consumed by the flames, the ashes, together with the charred remnants of bones, weapons, and jewels, and with all sorts of gifts, were collected in an urn and placed in a cairn. If the chieftain of a tribe had died, one of his wives was burned along with him, as is amply attested by the traditions of the Elbe Slavs, the Poles, the Southern Slavs, and the Russians; and in similar fashion animals that had been especial favourites of his were killed and cremated. At the grave there were obsequies of a martial character (tryzna), followed by a noisy banquet (strava).

A vivid description of a Russian chieftain's funeral was given by the Arabian traveller Ahmad ibn Fadlan (922).2 When a nobleman died, for ten days his body was laid provisionally in a grave, where he was left until his shroud was prepared for him. His property was divided into three parts; one third was given to the family, another served to defray the funeral expenses, and the remainder was spent on the intoxicating drinks which were served at the funeral banquet. On the day appointed for the final obsequies a boat was taken out of the water, and round it were placed pieces of wood shaped to the form of human beings. Then the corpse was removed from its provisional grave and, being clad with a costly garment, was seated in the boat on a richly ornamented armchair, around which were arranged the weapons of the deceased, together with intoxicating beverages; while not only bread and fruit, but also flesh of killed animals, such as dogs, horses, cows, cocks, and hens, were put into the boat. That one of his wives who had voluntarily agreed to be burned together with her dead husband was led to the boat by an old woman called "the Angel of Death," and was stabbed at the side of the corpse, whereupon the wood piled up under and around the boat was set on fire. After the boat with the dead bodies and all the other articles placed upon it had been consumed, the ashes were collected and scattered over the cairn; and a banquet, lasting for days and nights without interruption, closed the ceremony.

We know from the evidence of the Arabian writer Mas'udi3 that this cremation of the dead existed among most of the Slavs and that they worshipped the departed. Mules, weapons, and precious articles were burned, and when the husband died, his wife was cremated with him, a man who died a bachelor being married after his decease.4 Wives are said to have chosen death in the flames because they wished to enter paradise together with their husbands; and there are also reports that slaves, or even many of a prince's retinue, were killed and put into the grave with their masters.

In Bohemia a certain sort of games (scenae) were performed according to pagan rites at places where roads met or crossed each other; and "profane jokes" (ioci profani) were practised at the grave by masked men; while the Polish chronicler Vin-centius Kadlubek (thirteenth century) tells5 how virgins tore out their hair, matrons lacerated their faces, and old women rent their garments.

The idolatry of the ancient Prussians, Lithuanians, and Russians in 1551 is described by Jan Menecius, who tells 6 of the funeral ceremonies, the banquet in the house of the deceased, the lamentations at the grave, and the gifts devoted to the departed. Those on horseback galloped beside the hearse, and brandishing their swords, drove the evil spirits away, while bread and ale were placed in the grave to protect the souls against hunger and thirst.

The memory of deceased members of the family was held in pious honour everywhere. During the first year after the death of one of the household funeral ceremonies were held, and are still held, in numerous places. These usually take place on the third, seventh, twentieth, and fortieth day after the funeral, and also half a year and a year later, the final fĂȘte being the most touching of all. The members of the family and the nearest relations assemble at the grave of the departed with many sorts of food and drink, a part of the viands being put aside for the deceased at the banquet which follows. On the other hand, the White Russians for the most part celebrated their funeral feasts at home, a portion of the food being sent to the grave afterward.

Besides these family feasts most Slavs celebrate general festivals in commemoration of the dead, these recurring on fixed days thrice or even four times a year. The festivals held in White Russia stand forth most prominently by reason of their ancient character, and they are called dziady, or sometimes also chautury, the latter name derived from Latin chartularium ("charter, record"). Dziadys are deceased ancestors, male and female, and their memory is usually commemorated four times annually.

The autumnal dziadys are held on St. Demetrius's Eve (October 26, according to the Russian calendar),7 when work in the fields has been finished, and a rich harvest fills the barns. On the Friday preceding the dziady, the courtyard is swept clean, the agricultural implements are stowed away, and everything is put in order. Some cattle, set aside for that purpose in the spring by the master of the house, are killed; and the women prepare food (from nine to fifteen dishes) and scrub tables and benches, devoting special care to the corner behind the oven, the most important place in the room. Abundance of good food and a neat and tidy house are supposed to attract the souls and to fill them with pleasure. In the evening the members of the household bathe, and having put a pail of fresh water, with a wisp of straw in it, for the Dziadys to wash in, the family, together with the relations who have been invited, assemble in the room arrayed in their Sunday best. The head of the house lights a candle in a corner of the room, and having said a prayer, extinguishes it; after which, with all the people sitting round a table covered with dishes and drinks of various kinds, he solemnly invites the "holy Dziadys" to partake of their meal. He then pours water into a cup so as to make a few drops flow over the brim and stain the table-cloth, and empties it, whereupon all the others drink, likewise allowing a small portion to fall. Before beginning to eat, the householder sets aside a portion of every dish on a separate plate, which he then puts in the window; and whenever a dish is finished, the spoons are laid upon the table for the forefathers to help themselves. While eating, silence is observed, except for abrupt whispers, in which the ancestors and their deeds are the chief theme; and any slight motion of the air, any rustling of dry leaves, or even the appearance of an emperor-moth is taken to be the coming of the forefathers. The ample supper finished, the Dziadys are bidden adieu and requested to fly back to heaven, while the food appointed for them is left on the table and distributed among the poor on the following day.

The winter dziadys are celebrated in a similar way on the Saturday preceding Quinquagesima Sunday.

The spring dziadys, or radunica (derived from Greek pohvvia, "meadow of roses"), fall on Tuesday in Easter-Week. The housewife prepares two sorts of dishes, one for the members of the household, the other for the forefathers; and after a short prayer before the icons, the members of the family betake themselves with food and drink to the churchyard, where the



The zadusnica, celebrated in Bulgaria in honour of deceased ancestors, corresponds closely to the Russian dziadys (pp. 235-37) and also finds an analogue in the commemoration of the dead among the ancient Letts and Lithuanians in October. After a picture by Professor Alorvicka.

Ancient Lithuanians

women chant dirges of a peculiar sort, while the men roll eggs blessed-by the priest. A cloth is then spread over the family grave, and the provisions and a bottle of vodka are placed upon it, after which the family sit in a circle round it and invite the forefathers to join their banquet. All present eat and drink, talking about the dead; and what is left of the food is distributed among the beggars, a great number of whom assemble at the cemetery, or else it is left on the graves. Eggshells and even whole eggs are buried in the grave, and lamentations and funeral dirges conclude the ceremony.

The summer dziadys are kept in a similar way on the Saturday preceding Whitsunday, when the graves are swept clean with sprigs of birch, this being called "giving the Dziadys a steam-bath."

All who desire to avoid the anger of the forefathers and thus guard their family against misfortune should keep the dziadys, the only persons exempt being those families that have removed to a new dwelling erected in another place. As soon, however, as a member of the household dies in the new home, the dziadys ought to be celebrated; and if the family has moved into a house where the dziadys were previously observed, it is necessary for them to inquire as to the way in which this was done, since any deviation from the usual ceremony, as in the serving of the dishes, may rouse the anger of the forefathers and bring misfortune.

Other designations of the funeral ceremonies (pominki) are found in Russia: the autumnal rites are termed roditelskiye suboty ("parental Saturdays"), the vernal are navskiy velik-den or naviy den ("great death-day," or "death-day"), and the summer semik ("Whitsunday").

In Bulgaria the common obsequies (zadusnica) are celebrated five or four times annually, but mostly thrice, i. e. on the Saturday before St. Demetrius, before the Great Fast (Lent), and before Whitsunday, the commemorations being similar to the spring dziadys in Russia. Besides these, there are rites in some parts of Bulgaria which remind us of the autumnal dziadys in White Russia, and these are called stopanova gozba ("the householder's festival"). In the opinion of the common people a Stopan (Stopanin) is a deceased ancestor who guards the house of the family, and the feast in his honour is celebrated in the following way. The whole house, especially the common living-room, is carefully scrubbed and cleaned, after which the members of the family put on their Sunday clothes and adorn themselves with flowers, while candles are lit on either side of the hearth (where a fire is kept burning) and near the door. The oldest woman brings a black hen, kills it, and lets the blood flow into the hollow on the hearth, which is then smeared over with clay; and next she roasts the flesh of the hen, while two others bake cakes of flour prepared especially for this purpose. When everything has thus been made ready, the head of the family, taking a cup of wine, pours half of it into the fire; and then, putting a cake upon his head, he cuts it into four parts, springing about the room all the time. Butter and honey being spread upon one quarter, the left leg of the hen and three small cups of wine are added, whereupon all these presents for the Stopan are placed in three corners of the loft. Then all sit down to table, but before beginning to eat, the old woman, with all others present, pours some wine into the fire. The next rite is prayer to the Stopan to bestow health and long life upon the family, to protect and guard the flocks, and to take care of the meadows, the vineyards, etc.; after dinner songs are sung, and the benefit that the Stopan bestows upon the household is extolled. Two weeks later the crone looks after the dishes destined for the Stopan, and great is the joy of the family if any of the viands on them have been eaten.

Among the other Slavs only traces of these ancient ceremonies have been preserved, for the Roman Catholic Church made every endeavour to suppress them, whereas they were permitted by the Orthodox Church.

That the worship of ancestors was widely spread among the Slavs may be considered an established fact: the Slavs looked upon their forefathers as guardian penates who were deeply concerned about the happiness both of the family and of their dwelling; and the origin of many mythological beings, especially the penates, may be traced back to this kind of ancestor-cult.

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