The world of Slavic paganism, rituals, magic, and occult practices has always been an intriguing ground for historians and folklorists.
The religious traditions of the Slavs were challenged with the introduction and imposition of Christianization, however, most of the medieval Slavic people did not embrace Christianity on a higher level and gave rise to the so-called “double faith” (in Russian “dvoverie”) that preserved the deities, customs and the rituals that were often associated with magic and sorcery.
The Slavic practice of magic and witchcraft exists even today in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine but also in the Balkans and the Baltic states.
Just like in the past, today there are people who seek help and solutions for their daily problems in spells and curses for good fortune or life changes.
Magic in Slavic Folklore
According to folklorists’ research and findings, Slavic folklore contains a great number of spells, charms., incantations, practical rituals for love, relationships, work, fertility, protection, healing, divination, communicating with old spirits and ancestors, averting the evil eye and many others.
According to Natasha Helvin, an expert and writer of the book “Slavic Witchcraft and Russian Black Magic“, the Slavic tradition has only a thin veneer over its pagan origins and the Slavic pagan gods and goddesses acquired new lives as the saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The magical energy for these spells and rituals was drawn from the forces of nature, revealing specific places of power in the natural world and the profound power of graveyards and churches for casting spells. Helvin explored the creation and meaning of talismans, amulets, and other Slavic paganism symbols as well as the significance of icons and why it was important to properly recite magical language during spells.
In her book, not only did she examined a two- thousand- year- old occult practices but also included folk advice which was adapted for the modern- era explorers and people experimenting with magic practices. In addition, she revealed what it means to become a Slavic witch or sorcerer/ sorceress and how the vocation itself would pervade all aspects of life in order to explore the power of the mind and its so-called “influence of one’s own destiny”.
What Makes Slavic Magic Special?
Since the dawn of time, people have been practicing manipulation of energy all around the world. So, the history of magic is present literally everywhere in the world. However, the wide region of the Slavic countries is a place where magic ran and, at places still runs deep. This magic is not characterized as black or white and was never defeated by Christianity. So how does the philosophy of Slavic magic and witchcraft differ from other magic and witchcraft?
Helvin explains that ancient magic, i.e. witchcraft is the same everywhere and basically contains the same principles. However, the long tradition of centennials living in rural areas, who live with less digital technology, makes the theory and practice of this realm vivid even today. The main difference is that many of these people see magic as a way of life and interpret their events through their knowledge about it.
Understandably, there are many myths and legends that mention magic and witchcraft and some of them even portray the origin of witches and sorcerers.
The Legend of the First Slavic Witch
Long ago, when the world was still fairly new, a young woman ventured into the woods to pick mushrooms. In no time at all, the skies opened up upon her, and narrowly escaping the rain, she ran beneath a tree, removed all of her clothing, and bundled them up in her bag so they would not get wet.
After some time, the rain stopped and the woman resumed her mushroom picking. Veles, Horned God of the forest happened upon her and asked her what great magic she knew in order to have kept dry during the storm. “If you show me the secret to your magic, I will show you how I kept dry,” she said.
Being somewhat easily tempted by a pretty face, Veles proceeded to teach her all of his magical secrets. After he was done, she told him how she had removed her clothing and hid under a tree. Knowing that he had been tricked, but had no one but himself to blame, Veles ran off in a rage, and thus, the first Witch came into being.
The Slavic Pagan Calendar and Ritual Festivities
The myths of the Slavs were cyclical, meaning that they would repeat every year over a series of festivities according to changes of seasons and nature.
In order to understand their mythology, one ought to observe and understand the concept of their calendar. According to folklorists, some elements of the pre- Christian calendar, especially the major festivals, can be reconstructed on the basis of the folklore and archeological remains.
In the Slavic calendar, the year was lunar and it began on the first day of March which was similar to other Indo- European cultures whose old calendar systems are more familiar to today’s civilization.
In general, what is today known as Easter or Halloween festivities, back in the day during pagan times was celebrated through worshiping of Slavic deities, like for example, the god Veles who was the deity of the last day of the year and was considered as the god of the Underworld.
Ancient Slavic Herbal Magic
When examining Slavic magic and its features, it can be concluded that there was a great interest in the natural world and, therefore, extensive use of its sources and potency.
Many of the spells and rituals involved herbs that were associated with certain medicinal properties or were considered helpful in solving problems and issues of everyday life.
For example, seeds of the herb Angelica (in Latin Archangelica angelica) were turned into a tea, known as “angelic water” and this was used as an antispasmodic.
Angelica was also used to treat insomnia, hysteria, and epilepsy and it was regarded as a pacifying agent.
According to Syrenius (1540- 1611): “In the event of some kind of troublesome misfortune, gather the root with care during the descent of the lion’s cub and hang it around your neck. It will drive away cares and cause a merry heart.”
The Arnica (in Latin Arnica Montana) was mostly used in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Karpatskie Mountains.
Arnica was used for rituals during childbirth but it was also quite effective for poor digestion, epilepsy, and influenza.
The herb Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is mentioned in an early 16th-century Russian manuscript where it is described as an agent that cures female infertility.
Supposedly, the Princess Xenia of Pskov used this extract to conceive. Barberry was also an effective remedy for liver and gallbladder ailments.
The sweet type of Basil (in Latin Ocimum Basilicum) was given to people with a runny nose but also to those who had trouble sleeping, to bring them peaceful dreams.
The leaves of Beet were used in health rituals for colds and sore throats but also in the so-called magical rituals.
The leaves were wrapped around eggs and boiled to extract red color that symbolized prosperity, beauty, and the power of the god of the Sun.
The properties of the plant Belladonna (in Latin Atropa belladona), which is found in the Carpathian region of Poland, has always been associated with black magic and witches.
Belladonna is a hallucinogenic plant that is toxic and deadly.
Bellflower is another popular plant used in witchcraft, mainly used in bath preparations for children. In Poland, the children who suffered from consumption would be bathed in the herb, and if their skin darkened in the water, that signified longevity.
The White Birch (in Latin Betula alba)was considered a feminine tree in the Slavic folklore and it was often associated with the Rusalki- the rusalka is a female entity that in Slavic paganism is presented as malicious toward mankind and frequently associated with water.
It was believed that the spirits of the dead ancestors often took residence within the birch. Slavs also believed that the great world tree is the white birch.
The White Bryony (in Latin Bryonia alba) was a herb associated with misfortune. It was believed that anyone who would dig up this plant would destroy their own happiness.
Therefore, many people fenced in the bryony plants they would find in their yard. It was believed that witches could grow this plant even without solid and they would often keep it hidden, waiting for their prey.
People used Carraway seeds in boiling water and they would place a bowl of the seeds beneath the crib of a baby that was considered possessed by demons.
According to an old Russian folklore tale of Slavic magic, Kudryash was the strongest and bravest knight in the village, but one day he woke with an awful terror of his own death. He was so afraid, he could no longer fight. When a band of thieves began to threaten the village and the people looked toward him for help, Kudryash felt embarrassed.
He wandered down to the river with the intent of drowning himself when a beautiful water maiden appeared and gave him a garland of meadowsweet flowers. She told him to wear it in battle and he would not be harmed. He later wore the garland fearlessly into battle against the thieves and easily defeated them. Kudryash was proclaimed the hero of the village and his courage was celebrated throughout the land.
Slavic folklore contains a number of Slavic spells, ranging from spells that promote domestic prosperity and magical knowledge to special love charms for protection and wellbeing.
If one wanted to attract a Domovoi which was considered to be a household god of given kin, t was said that they should go outside their home wearing their festive clothing and say aloud “Dedushka Dobrokhot, Please come into my house and tend the flocks.”
In case someone had too many Domovois and wanted to get rid of a rival Domovoi, they needed to bang on the walls of their home with a broom shouting “Grandfather Domovoi, help me chase away this intruder!”
According to Russian folklore, if one wanted to gain magical knowledge, they needed to address the Forest Lord, Leshi. The person should cut down an Aspen tree and have its top fall down to face the East.
Then the person should have said: “Leshi, Forest Lord, Come to me now; not as a grey wolf, not as a black raven, not as a flaming fir tree, but as a man.”
In order to attract love and good romantic vibrations to capture the beloved, the following addressing to the ocean was chanted:
O winds, bring on (lover’s name) sorrow and dreariness so that without me s/he may not be able to spend a day nor pass an hour!
It was believed that this spell will be transmitted in the form of a message by the three brothers who ruled the winds over the ocean: the Northern, the Eastern, and the Western Wafts.
If one wanted to attract happiness, there was a ritual of reciting over a flame:
“Dear Father, tsar fire, Be gentle and kind to me. Burn away all my aches & pains, tears & worries.”
Interestingly, there was also a spell for retrieving lost animals and it included three letters, one letter fastened to a tree in a forest, the second one was buried in the earth and the third was thrown with a stone into water.
Each of the letters was actually a scripture on birchbark and in it, the addressee would write to the Forest Tsar and the Forest Tsaritsa as well as to the Earth and Water Tsar and Tsaritsa and then pray to the great god Veles and Tsaritsa Alexandra.
To call for rain, Slavs would usually have a virgin girl who was still too young to conceive, dress her in flowers, and make her sing magic chants to the god of rain and thunder, Perun while other women would stand in a circle and throw water at her.