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The Slavonic races have an extensive demonology, and in some measure their religious pantheon appears to have been in a stage between animism and polytheism, that is between god, and spirit-worship. Among them all witchcraft, fairy and folk-lore rest mainly in a belief in certain spirits of nature, which in some measure recall the pneumatology of Paracelsus and the Comte de Gabalis.
"In the vile," says Dr. Krauss," also known as Samovile, Samodivi, and Vilivrjaci, we have near relations to the forest and field spirits or the wood and moss-folk of Middle Germany, France and Bavaria the "wild people of Hesse, Eifel, Salzburg and the Tyrol, the wood-women and woodmen of Bohemia, the Tyrolese Fanggen, Fanken, Norkel and Happy Ladies, the Roumanish Orken, Euguane, and
Dialen, the Danish Ellekoner, the Swedish Skogsuufvaz, and the Russian Ljesje, while in certain respects they have affinity with the Teutonic Valkyries." They are, however, more like divine beings, constantly watching over and controlling the destinies of men. They are prayed to or exorcised on all occasions. In short their origin is certainly Shamanistic. Says Leland: "We can still find the vila as set forth in old ballads, the incarnation of beauty and power, the benevolent friend of sufferers, the geniuses of heroes, the dwellers by rock and river and greenwood tree. But they are implacable in their wrath to all who deceive them, or who break a promise. Nay, they inflict terrible punishment even on those who disturb their rings, or the dances which they make by midsummer moonlight. Hence the proverb applied to any man who suddenly fell ill, 'he stepped on a fairy ring.'"
There are three varieties of witches or spirits among the southern Slavs, the Zracne vile, or aerial spirits, evilly disposed to human beings, and inflicting serious injuries upon them, Will-'o-the-wisps, who lead people astray by nights; the Pozemne vile, companionable spirits, who give sage counsel to mankind, and dwell in the earth; and the Podovne vile, or water sprites, kindly to man on shore, but treacherous to a degree on their own element. Another water-spirit is the Likho, the Slavonic Polyphemus, a dread and terrible monster, the Leshy is a wood-demon, Norka is the frightful Lord of the Lower World, and Koschei is a description of ogre whose province is the abduction of princesses.
Witchcraft.—The witch is very frequently mentioned in Slavonic folk-tales, especially among the southern Slavs. She is called vjestica, (masculine viestae) meaning originally "the knowing" or "well-informed one," Viedma (Russian). In Dalmatia and elsewhere among the Southern Slavs the witch is called Krstaca, "the crossed" in allusion to the idea that she is of the horned race of Hell. It enrages the witches so much to be called by this word that when they hear that any one has used it they come to his house by night and tear him in four pieces, which they cast to the four winds of heaven, and drive away all his cattle and stock. Therefore the shrewd farmers of the country call the witch hmana zena, or "Common woman." There are many forms of Slavonic witch, however, and the vjestica differs from the macionica and the latter from the Zlokobnica, or "evil-meeter," one whom it is unlucky to encounter in the morning, or possesses the evil eye. A Serbian authority says: "I have often heard from old Hodzas and Kadijas that every female Wallach as soon as she is forty years old, abandons the "God be with us," and becomes a witch (vjestica) or at least a zlokobnica or macionica. A real witch has the mark of a cross under her nose, a zlokobnica has some hairs of a beard, and a macionica may be known by a forehead full of dark folds with blood-spots' in her face."
In South Slavonian countries the peasants on St. George's Day adorn the horns of the cattle with garlands to protect them from witches. They attach great importance to a seventh or a twelfth child, who, they believe, are the great protectors of the world against witchcraft. But these are in great danger on St. John's Eve, for then the witches, having the most power, attack them with stakes or the stumps of saplings, for which reason the peasantry carefully remove everything of the kind from the ground in the autumn season. The Krstnik, or wizards, notoriously attract the vila ladies, who in most instances are desirous of becoming their mistresses, just as the women-kind of the salamanders desire to mate with men. (See the Curiosa of Heinrich Kornmann, 1666.) The man who gains the love of a vila is supposed to be extremely lucky. The Slavs believe that on St. George's Day the witches climb into the steeples of churches with the object of getting the grease from the axle of the bell, which, for some reason, they prize exceedingly. Transformation stories are fairly common, too, in Slavonic folklore, which proves that this was a form of magic employed by the witches of these countries. The belief in vampires is an outstanding superstition in Slavonic countries, and its connections are
fully discussed in this article.
Spiritualism was first introduced into Russia by persons who had become interested in the subject whilst abroad through witnessing manifestations of psychic phenomena and acquaintance with the works of Allan Kardec, the French exponent of Spiritualism, from the first the new doctrine found its followers chiefly among members of the professions and the aristocracy, finally including the reigning monarch of that time, Alexander II with many of his family and entourage as devoted adherents. Because of the immense influence of such converts the progress of Spiritualism in Russia was made smoother than it otherwise would have been in a country where the laws of Church and State are nothing if not despotic and disposed to look upon anything new in matters religious,
intellectual or merely of general interest as partaking of a revolutionary character. Even so, much of the spiritualistic propaganda, manifestations and publications were prosecuted under various ruses and subterfuges such as the circulation of a paper entitled "The Rebus," professedly devoted to innocent rebuses and charades and only incidentally mentioning Spiritualism the real object of its being. Chief amongst the distinguished devotees of the subject was Prince Wittgenstein, aide-de-camp and trusted friend of Alexander II., who not only avowed his beliefs openly but arranged for various mediums to give seances before the Emperor, one of these being the well-known D. D. Home. So impressed was the Czar that, it is said, from that time onwards he consulted mediums and their prophetic powers as to the advisability or otherwise of any contemplated change or step in his life, doubtless helped or driven to such dependence on mediums by the uncertain conditions under which occupants of the Russian throne seem to exist.
"Another Russian of high position socially and officially, M. Aksakof, interested himself in the matter in ways many and various, arranging seances to which he invited the scientific men of the University, editing a paper Psychische Studien, of necessity published abroad; translating Swedenborg's works into Russian beside various French, American and English works on the same subject and thus becoming a leader in the movement. Later, with his friends, M. M. Boutlerof and Wagner, professors respectively of chemistry and zoology at the University of St. Petersburg, he specially
commenced a series of seances for the investigation of the phenomena in an experimental manner and a scientific committee was formed under the leadership of Professor Mendleyef who afterwards issued an adverse report on the matter, accusing the mediums of trickery and their followers of easy credulity and the usual warfare proceeded between the scientific investigators and spiritual enthusiasts."
M. Aksakof's commission was reported upon unfavourably by M. Mendeleyef, but the former protested against the report.
At the other extreme of the Social scale among the peasantry and uneducated classes generally, the grossest superstition exists, an ineradicable belief in supernatural agencies and cases are often reported in the columns of Russian Papers of wonder-working, obsession and various miraculous happenings, all ascribed, according to their character, to demoniac or angelic influence, or in the districts where the inhabitants are still pagan to local deities and witchcraft.