Zmiya skorpiya in the Russian North Handwritten Charms Tradition

Publication type Article
Status Published
Occupation: Leading Researcher
Affiliation: Institute of Slavic studies RAS
Address: Moscow, Russia
Journal nameSlavianovedenie
EditionIssue 6

The article is devoted to the study of a folklore cliche zmiya skorpiya ‘a serpent and a scorpion’ in the Russian North handwritten charms tradition. It was discovered that the source of the cliche is the Gospel of Luke’s quote (Luke 10:19), which was included in the oral charms of the Southern Russian, Eastern Belarusian and Eastern Ukrainian regions, as well as in the Russian North handwritten herdsman charms, most likely through liturgical texts. In herdsman charms this cliche fits organically the list of wild animals from which a charm was supposed to protect the livestock while grazing it in the forest. This allowed the cliche to stay in these charms for a long time – from the 18th and up to the beginning of the 20th century. Unlike the tradition of the south of Russia and the adjacent Ukrainian and Belarusian territories, zmiya skorpiya cliche was practically not varied in the Russian North, since it turned out to be in demand by the handwritten tradition. These herdsman charms were read during the ritual, more often the herd was bypassed with them. The charms also were stored, inherited, bought, sold and copied, and they were almost not subjected to natural variation during oral existence, which led to their conservation and gradual distortion as they were repeatedly copied and as the tradition was destroyed. The cliche was also recorded in love, healing and military charms, but it did not develop in them due to the absence of motives associated with snakes in these charms. In addition, it was included in a number of handwritten prayers, which were widely distributed primarily in the Russian North (such as the Archangel Michael’s Prayer against the Snake, the St. Tryphon’s Incantation, etc.).

Keywordscharms, manuscripts, Russian North, herdsman charms, the Gospel of Luke, quotation, variation
AcknowledgmentThis work was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (grant number 20-012-00117)
Publication date28.12.2022
Number of characters34699
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