The Russian word for witch, ved’ma literally means “one who knows”, from Old Slavic “to know”.
Pagan practices formed a part of Russian and Eastern Slavic culture; the Russian people were deeply superstitious. The witchcraft practiced consisted mostly of earth magic and herbology; it was not so significant which herbs were used in practices, but how these herbs were gathered. Ritual centered on harvest of the crops and the location of the sun was very important. One source, pagan author Judika Illes, tells that herbs picked on Midsummer’s Eve were believed to be most powerful, especially if gathered on Bald Mountain near Kiev during the witches’ annual revels celebration. Botanicals should be gathered, “During the seventeenth minute of the fourteenth hour, under a dark moon, in the thirteenth field, wearing a red dress, pick the twelfth flower on the right.”
Spells also served for midwifery, shape-shifting, keeping lovers faithful, and bridal customs. Spells dealing with midwifery and childbirth focused on the spiritual wellbeing of the baby. Shape-shifting spells involved invocation of the wolf as a spirit animal. To keep men faithful, lovers would cut a ribbon the length of his erect penis and soak it in his seminal emissions after sex while he was sleeping, then tie seven knots in it; keeping this talisman of knot magic ensured loyalty. Part of an ancient pagan marriage tradition involved the bride taking a ritual bath at a bathhouse before the ceremony. Her sweat would be wiped from her body using raw fish, and the fish would be cooked and fed to the groom.
Demonism, or black magic, was not prevalent. Persecution for witchcraft, mostly involved the practice of simple earth magic, founded on herbology, by solitary practitioners with a Christian influence. In one case investigators found a locked box containing something bundled in a kerchief and three paper packets, wrapped and tied, containing crushed grasses. Most rituals of witchcraft were very simple-one spell of divination consists of sitting alone outside meditating, asking the earth to show one’s fate.
While these customs were unique to Russian culture, they were not exclusive to this region. Russian pagan practices were often akin to paganism in other parts of the world. The Chinese concept of chi, a form of energy that often manipulated in witchcraft, is known as bioplasma in Russian practices. The western concept of an “evil eye” or a “hex” was translated to Russia as a “spoiler”. A spoiler was rooted in envy, jealousy and malice. Spoilers could be made by gathering bone from a cemetery, a knot of the target’s hair, burned wooden splinters and several herb Paris berries (which are very poisonous). Placing these items in sachet in the victim’s pillow completes a spoiler. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and the ancient Egyptians recognized the evil eye from as early as 3,000 BCE; in Russian practices it is seen as a sixteenth-century concept.
The Lost Bearded White Brother