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Belarusian Charms Against “Naryadka”: Plot, Figurative and Areal Characteristics, North Russian Parallels

Folkloristika 4/1 (2019): 63‒96
Аuthor: Tat'jana V. Volodina​
Теxt: PDF


Belarusian-Russian borderland – the so-called naryadka, which refers to both the form of sending a curse on a person and the disease resulting from malicious intent and a number of malicious actions. The actions of curing this disease are practically not presented, the main role in healing is performed by verbal charms. This functional group is distinguished from the main body of Belarusian healing charms by a complex semantic structure, when the main task of healing a person is accompanied by endowing him with a special strength and invulnerability, and also includes rather aggressive attacks in the direction of ill-wishers. In the context of internal connections, charms against naryadka are included in a block of texts that can be conditionally combined under the name against sorcery and reveals a number of plot intersections with charms against a snake. Charms against naryadka are represented as expanded multi-layered texts, in the absolute majority of which two main plot types are organically connected: appeal to a mythological center and getting rid of the disease. The description of the mythological center is saturated with Christian symbolism. The subject of the spell overcomes the path to this center, encounters a sacral character, who is exaggeratedly active and whose actions are described in detail. Charms include the formulas of the impossible, area protection motifs, keys motifs, etc., popular in the Northern Russian tradition. This group is characterized by a special artistry. In general, when you get acquainted with the charms against naryadka, you get the impression of falling into the world of fabulous images and stories. Among the features of the charms of this group is the deliberately active use of religious symbols, since in the fight against sorcery, it is this symbolism and church attributes that are considered the most effective. However, the texts demonstrate a subtle combination of Christian and more archaic details, images and techniques. A unique feature of charms against naryadka is an appeal to demonological characters, so called dobrohozhy. The characters of the biblical history, along with the masterspirits and the dobrohozhy spirits are included in the process of parity relationship between human and the cosmos with all its inhabitants. Ideas about naryadka are known on the territory of the Belarusian region surrounding river Sozh, while charms motifs and images reveal a number of coincidences with the Northern Russian tradition, which raises questions about common sources and / or possible migration routes and cultural borrowings. The article is based on material of field records of recent years, a significant part of which was introduced into scientific use for the first time.
Key words: verbal charms, traditional medicine, Belarusian folklore, borderlands, plots and images, migrations