Every culture has its own traditions. Some are still alive and well today and others have died out with the dawning of Christianity. Well, it was not that easy for Slavic traditions to fall of the map. They were so crucial to the Slavic people that the Church, in the time of spreading the word of Jesus, decided to implement some aspects of it as its own. Those slight changes caused the Slavic people to see Christianity not as an enemy, but as a new form of religious worship. One intertwined with their own beliefs of the past.
There are several practices that are in use even today. They are the revenants of the time when the Gods were living amongst the people. When rivers and mountains were guarded by spirits and demons. To a time even before Christianity existed.
Koliada or Kolede
Kolede is a ancient Slavic ceremonial ritual and a winter festival. The very word “Kolede” has survived throughout history in all Slavic countries with slight deviations in writing, but maintaining its structure – “ko led” which can be translated into “as ice”.
The ritual begins on the evening of New Year’s Day and consists of children, walking from house to house greeting people, singing carols and using sticks to knock on people’s doors to ward off demons and evil spirits. In return, the people should gift the youngsters with some candy and a small amount of money.
The elders, in some regions, organize a gathering before the evening of Kolede – Badnjik or “Veseljak” in Serbian which means “Joyous-one”. They Light a bonfire out of a young oak tree, drinking “Blaga Rakija” (“sweet Rakija” – Rakija mixed with sugar) and have a ceremonial blessed bread (Artos) that is torn apart by hand and is shared with everyone for good health and good fortune.
Dziady or Zadushnica
Dziady (Belarusian – “grandfathers”) or Zadushnica/Zaduszki (south Slavic – “For the Soul”) is an ancient Slavic feast that honored the souls of the ancestors. It is believed that the souls of the dead are allowed to return to the world of the living as spirits, to preform favors for their relatives. In order to welcome a spirit, one must receive their guest properly. Lighting fires on cemeteries, preparing a feast and placing “grumadki” (pieces of wood) on the road to guide the spirits back to the afterlife.
This holiday is celebrated at the last Saturday before St. Dimitry’s day and once more on Trinity day. Some regions of Slavic populated areas have discarded this practice as, non-Christian or pagan and have stopped celebrating it. But it still has a strong influence in the in most south Slavic countries.
The Djamalari is a Slavic dance ritual in the south Balkan. According to folk beliefs, the days between the 6th and 19th of January, which are unchristen days, are considered as a critical period. In this time, demonic creatures such as Talasons, Karakondjuls, vampires and others can roam freely. Possessing even holy water itself as the cross is powerless in this period. So, Slav men, young and old, mask themselves as bears, horses and gypsies and in more recent times, as doctors, policemen, and priests.
The ritual begins with the lighting of a big bonfire, drinking and telling of explicit jokes and singing songs of pornographic content. At midnight, the Djamalars walk the streets banging on drums and bells, summoning ancient spirits to aid them through the 12 days and to frighten evil spirits away.
Govedar Kamen (Shepherd Stone)
Govedar Kamen is a Stone which was considered as a sacrificial altar for ancient Slavs and is incorporated in Christianity today. Located 40 kilometers south-east from Skopje, it acts as a medium between the living and the spirit world, where sacrifices are demanded in order for a cure. Most of the cases involve sterility of women.
Every year, on the feast of Saint George’s Day, 5th and 6th of May, people come to the rock and preform a ritual that involves tying two strings of wool, (red which represents the man and white which represents the woman) around the stone and ask for a blessing, promising a sacrifice if a child can be consummated. Then the woman, braids the two strings and ties it around her stomach.
Those who were healed, gather at the rock the next year and slaughter lambs, chickens and goats. The health, gender and color of the animal sacrificed has to be the same as the child that was born. Then the animal Is placed on top of the stone and slaughtered, bathing the stone in its blood. The father then dips his fingers into the blood and spreads it on the newborn’s face, marking a triangle with dots. This is a form of christening through blood and it declares that the debt has been settled, guaranteeing a healthy, long and prosperous life for the child.