Attitudes to witches

Roger Burton West roger at firedrake.org
Wed Feb 25 08:10:15 EST 2004


On Wed, Feb 25, 2004 at 12:33:53PM +0000, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>Some other things about her
>are that there seem to be two of her, or else Baba Yaga is a title not a
>name,

Yes; it means "Grandmother Hag".

>That actually suggests to me that in Russia "witch" had a different set of
>baggage with it: someone unlike other people, but not necessarily evil,
>just powerful and a bit arbitrary.

Yes. Most powerful things in Russian folklore are to be avoided rather
than worshipped; this goes right back to Byelobog and Chyornovog
(literally, the White God and the Black God), where the tenor of the
tales tends to be that while Byelobog is "good" and Chyornovog is "evil"
you really don't want to come to the attention of _either_ of them!

The koldun, usually translated as sorcerer, is a figure of ill-repute
but usually not actual evil; you go to him to get your new-born child's
horoscope cast, but otherwise try to avoid him. The volkhv is more of a 
tribal shaman/healer and almost always a sympathetic figure (well, as 
sympathetic as they get - this _is_ Russia, after all).

I don't know how sex-linked either of these things were; I've met female
kolduniy but not volkhviy in the limited reading I've done.

Roger
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