Demonology

Demonology in Ukraine. With the institution of Christianity in Ukraine (see Christianization of Ukraine) and the official proscription of paganism at the end of the 10th century, elements of the unified pagan religion disappeared rapidly, and the names of the ‘higher’ gods (Perun, Dazhboh, Veles, Stryboh, Khors, and others) were preserved only in literature. The ‘lower’ mythology proved much more stable, however, and survived until recent times. This ‘lower’ mythology, involving ancestral-clan images and an animistic world view that populates nature with spirits, was older in origin than the pagan belief in ‘higher’ gods. It required neither special locations for the practice of the cult nor shamans (volkhvy). Religious functions of the ancestral cult were carried out by the family's head and its members. The institution of Christianity did not completely destroy the belief in the ‘lower’ mythology. Instead, mythological elements were combined with elements of Christianity, creating a ‘dual faith.’ Thus, the ancient rituals of the folk calendar, having been disassociated from their seasonal origins, were combined with the Christian feasts—Christmas and Epiphany with the rituals and texts of the carols (koliadky) and Easter with the spring rituals. The god Perun was replaced by Saint Elijah, and Veles by Saint Vlas (Vlasii). The old verbal formulas often became intertwined with the texts of church prayers, especially in adjurations. These phenomena became widespread.

Folk oral literature retained until recently a number of demonological figures: the domovyk (house demon); the khovanets (‘hider’), who guards the home and helps the householders but can also do damage; the dolia (fate), the soul of an ancestor that must be specially honored during certain ceremonies; the pasichnyk (bee-keeper), who protects bees; the polovyk (field demon), who lives in fields and takes on human or animal form; perelesnyk, who seduces women by assuming the appearance of a deceased spouse or lover; the lisovyk (forest demon), an evil spirit and grazer of the forest creatures, who can take on human form; and the blud (the wandering one) and the mara (specter), which are similar to the forest demons and cause one to lose one's way. There is also the Hutsul chuhaistyr, a forest giant who poses a danger to the mavka or niavka (wood nymph). The vodianyk (water dweller) lives in rivers, lakes, and wells and marries the potopelnytsia (drowned maiden). (The vodianyk is in some regions identified with the potopelnyk [drowned man].) A close cousin is the bolotianyk (swamp demon), who lures people into swamps. The rusalka (water nymph), who lives in rivers, forests, and fields, is an unbaptized child, girl, or woman who died a violent death; the older name of the mavka (wood nymph), the bisytsia (she-devil), was usually applied to the potercha, a dead, unbaptized child who sometimes takes on the form of a bird. The bohynia (goddess), nichnytsia (night demoness), lisnytsia (wood demoness), and mamuna (demoness) share the characteristics of the rusalka and mavka.

There was also a widespread belief in evil spirits or devils who had no special characteristics. These included the nechysta syla (the unclean spirit); shcheznyk (the vanisher); didko, antypko, and antsybolot (various names for the devil); the Hutsul aridnyk (etymology uncertain—a type of devil); and the molfar (shaman). The image of the devil was a result of the influence of Christian imagery (the devil, Satan) and gave rise to a multitude of tales in oral folklore. Similarly, there are many tales about the vampire (upyr) and the witch (vidma), that is, a woman who is associated with the evil spirit and who brings about drought and hail, steals milk from cows, and flies to Bald Mountain (Lysa Hora). This last belief originated in Germany (cf the German Kahlenberg). There was also the belief in the werewolf (vovkulaka), that is, a person who, of his own volition, temporarily became a wolf or was turned into a wolf by a spell cast on him by someone else. As early as the 5th century BC, Herodotus wrote that the Neuri (Ukrainian: Nevry), who lived in Ukraine, were regarded by their neighbors as werewolves. Popular folk fantasy closely linked the witch with the sorceress (charivnytsia), sorcerer (charivnyk, znakhar), and the female fortuneteller (vorozhka), who were considered to possess supernatural powers and the ability to influence nature and people (eg, to separate lovers, afflict people with disease [prystrit] by the effect of the so-called evil eye, turn away hailstorms). In isolated villages far from major centers belief in the supernatural powers of sorcerers and witches persisted until the end of the 19th century. In earlier times Ukrainian common law sometimes punished people who were suspected of using magic for evil purposes, although Ukraine has never known cruel trials or the burning of witches.

In contrast to that of the West, Ukrainian demonology contains almost no gnomes, dwarfs, trolls, etc (except among the Lemkos, whose house demons take on the form of little people such as the hurbozh and hmytsiuk).

Folk demonology is reflected in Ukrainian literature, as in the 18th-century passion drama Slovo o zburenniu pekla (Tale of the Destruction of Hell), in the works of Taras Shevchenko (‘Prychynna’ [Bewitched Maiden], ‘Rusalka’ [Water Nymph]) and Oleksa Storozhenko, in Lesia Ukrainka's Lisova pisnia (Forest Song), Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky's Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors), and Nikolai Gogol's stories on Ukrainian themes.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Golovatskii, Ia. Ocherk staroslavianskogo basnosloviia ili mifologii (Lviv 1860)
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Mirtschuk, I. Das Düamonische bei den Russen und den Ukrainern (Augsburg 1950)
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Ivan Korovytsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]




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