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Baking Little Babies: Ancient Russian Tradition Of Curing a Sick Child

Yes we baked little babies, please read on…

Over the centuries of existence Slavic culture developed many fascinating and odd traditions that took important place in the everyday life of people. One of them was an odd custom that involved babies, bread dough, and an oven. It was called the “perepekaniye” of a child, which literally means “re-baking”. The first questions that comes to mind is why did Slavic people of the old times re-baked their infants? This popular ritual was aimed at healing and bringing health to someone who was born wear or sick. In some places it was conducted if a baby was born too early, or if he had rahitis.

In other places this was done to all the children to make sure their immunity stays strong over the course of their life. A person in this ritual was seen as a bread that was under-baked and required more time in the heat. This is why it was believed that additional time in the oven would cure a child. In this case, the oven was seen as a metaphor of mothers womb.

The preparation for the ritual was taken very seriously. A person performing it had to make sure all the precautions were taken in order for it to work and for a child to be safe during the process. A special dough was made with rye flour and water, previously collected at the sunrise from three different wells. Then a baby was covered from head to toe with it, the only uncovered areas being the nose and the mouth. They were later laid out on a bread shovel and tied to it securely. After this was done, an infant was ready to go. But no worries, they weren’t placed in a burning oven! Well, they did go inside, but the oven itself was preheated and cooled beforehand, so it was only warm in there.

Depending on a town or a village, different people took part in re-baking. It could be a local village witch, the oldest woman of the community, the mother or a mother-in-law. The ritual was never done without the presence of at least two people and was always accompanied by specific phrases. Sometimes a woman who placed the chid in the oven would whisper the magical words, sometimes a dialogue was required as a vital part of the process. For example, mother-in-law had to open the door and ask what the mother was doing. The latter had to respond that she was baking a loaf of bread, while placing the baby inside. Then the other woman said: “Well, bake, bake, but don’t overbake” before closing the door. After this, the mother would take the child out. This was repeated three times. Such small conversation and it’s rhythmical repetition was to make sure that the baby won’t spend too much time in the oven and choke on smoke.

Often this tradition also involved the so-called selling of a child. After the baking, a local trusted witch came to the mother and offered to throw away the illness of her infant. The mother was expected to say that she can’t do that, otherwise she’d have to throw away her son or daughter with it. Then a sorceress suggested buying the baby so the family could get rid of the remaining illness. After it a child stayed the night at the buyer’s place and in the morning was returned to the family.

It is known that some of the Russia’s most famous people were re-baked as infants. An accomplished poet Gavriil Romanovich Derzhavin was one of them. It may seem that this peculiar custom has been gone for a very long time but there are actually evidence that it was still performed even in the 20th century. A local man from a small village Olkhovka told that this was done to his younger brother. The baby was born very weak and there was no instant medical help available. So they gathered a council of a sort of the wisest women, who unanimously decided that they should re-bake him.

Apparently, this tradition is way more viable than many other ancient cultural superstitions and rituals. And who knows, maybe in some forgotten suburbs of Russia some still warm up their infants in the ovens?

What do you think?

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