Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Woolen Warriors

By Katrusha the Skomorokh
Written as a call and answer waulking song based on waulking songs of Ireland.
Written specifically for a class taught by Siobhan on wool waulking.

Music is a traditional waulking tune. Harmony is for the answer refrain.

We come here from near and far
We are the woolen warriors
Boldly forth we go to war
We are the woolen warriors
Fingers calloused from each stitch
We are the woolen warriors
All the wool that makes us itch
We are the woolen warriors
Looms that clack out like a fight
We are the woolen warriors
We shall clothe your strongest knight
We are the woolen warriors
Here's our wool, we waulk with pride
We are the woolen warriors
And we work it side by side
We are the woolen warriors
We will fight here with our pin
We are the woolen warriors
We will stay strong till we win
We are the woolen warriors
We will make your banner fly
We are the woolen warriors
Rise and watch as we pass by
We are the woolen warriors

We come here from near and far
We are the woolen warriors
Boldly forth we go to war
We are the woolen warriors
We will fight here with our pin
We are the woolen warriors
We will stay strong till we win
We are the woolen warriors

Devil Into Hell

Written by the infamous Katrusha the Skomorokh

Third Day, Tenth Story from the Decameron to the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

A simple girl named Alibech was only just fourteen

One day she fancied to learn to serve God, the force unseen

She asked around the town and learned that wisdom she could glean

Holy men would teach her when she got to Thebes

Deserts in Thebes

Holy men would teach her when she got to Thebes

She met a monk named Rustico who served God in his stead

That night as she lay sleeping a war reigned within his head

Defeated by debauchery his eyes turned towards her bed

He would teach her how to serve God and himself

Pleasure himself

He would teach her how to serve God and himself.

“Lord God above has sent you here to save my mortal soul.

This devil torments me each day, I'm sure that is his goal.

See as his head lifts up in pride, you could fulfill your role.

Help me stuff this devil right back into hell,

Back into hell

Help me stuff this devil right back into hell.”

The poor young girl soon saw the devil raise his head in pride

She felt quite blessed to not have one, but she was soon surprised

The pit of hell between her legs did lay there in disguise

She would learn to stuff the devil into hell

Right into hell

She would learn to stuff the devil into hell.

“My goodness father, yes I'l help, do everything I should

to make his head hang down in shame, so maybe if I could

Help release you from all this pain, I hope you know I would.

Teach me how to place that devil into hell

Back into hell

Teach me how to place that devil into hell.”

For days and nights and weeks and months Alibech did this deed

And there were days and nights and weeks that it felt like a need

Poor Rustico could barely stand, good things he did exceed

Many devils could not quench her fires of hell,

fires of hell

Many devils could not quench her fires of hell.

Soon Neerbale came from Caspa to make Alibech his bride

With great relief poor Rustico cast Alibech aside

“You can not take me from my service unto God,” she cried

But her husband was more pious than the monk,

Little old monk

But her husband was more pious than the monk

God rest ye merry gentles, now pay heed to what I say

Those of you in need of God's grace will do this right away

It is accepted by him and will please you night or day

Take the time to stuff the devil into hell

Back into hell

Take the time to stuff the devil into hell

Baba Yaga: Hansel and Gretel

In a certain kingdom lived a man with his two children and his new wife. Not long had they been wed when he fell ill with a fever that none knew how to cure. His wife approached her two step-children and explained that out in the woods lived an old crone who was wise to the herbs of the forest and would find what was needed to cure their father. She told them they were not to return until they could make their father well again, hoping this would cause them to never return. Timid and feeling the weight of responsibility, the two children packed a single meal, which is all they were offered, and began their trek into the woods.

It wasn't long before the children grew hungry and sat for their meal. Some time after, be it long or short, their stomaches growled once more, but they had no more to eat and home was very far away and they were lost. The children became fearful that they would never return home nor would they find this helpful old crone. Suddenly the little boy perked as a smell drifted on the breeze: a delicious smell that made him take his sister by the hand and begin tracking down where the aroma came from.

Before long they found a small clearing in the woods that was surrounded by a crooked and pointy fence decorated in bones. Beyond the fence sat a crooked hut. Within that hut came the most delightful smell that they could hardly imagine its origin in the dusty old hut. They carefully approached the hut and knocked on the door.

Out stepped a crooked old woman with long spindly legs and a nose that sat like a beak upon her face. When she smiled to them, they saw rows of crooked sharp teeth that made them want to run away, but they remembered that there was crone in the forest, and it was possible this was she.

“Old crone, our father was struck ill with a fever and our step-mother sent us here in hopes you could help us find a medicine to return home with,” said the girl.

“And we would love some of whatever that delicious smell is!” the brother added.

The crone sat back on her heels for a moment and glanced over towards the stove where her meal sat bubbling. “I will go out and get you this herb, but you must keep the mice away from my supper or I will have to eat you for dinner instead.” The children came inside as the old crone left the hut in search of what the children needed.

Being left alone in the house, the children stared at the delightful stew bubbling away on the stove. The mice, having heard the crone leave, leapt out of their holes to run towards the stove.

“One taste will not ruin the pot.”

Both children dipped in their spoons and tasted the crone's supper. It's taste was so fulfilling, that when they saw all the mice, they couldn't keep such a delicious meal just to themselves.

“One taste for each them will not ruin the pot.”

Once again the children dipped in their spoons and offered each of the mice a taste of stew. When the mice had their taste, the children looked back at the pot and knew they needed more. It wasn't long, between children and mice, that the stew pot became empty.

“We have ruined the stew! The crone will eat us for sure! And we are so lost we can't even run home!”

A mouse looked at the children and said, “We thank you for feeding us. There is a loaf of bread in the oven. Crumble it up and sprinkle it on the wind. We will help you find your way home. But we are unable to help you with the crone. You must do that on your own.”

The loaf of bread was freed from the oven and sprinkled on the wind and then the children sat and thought of what they could do when the crone returned home.

When the crone opened the door and saw her stew pot empty, she pulled out a large roasting pan.

“I see you were unable to keep my supper safe, and so now I must cook you both.” She instructed the children to lay in the pan so she may close the lid and shove them into the oven.

The children, being both scared but smart as well, laid within the roasting pan with one leg up so it touched the ceiling and they put the other on the floor.

“Not that way, not that way!”

“How, then? You must show us!”

The old crone lay down in the roasting pan and together the children slammed down the lid and shoved her within the stove. Grabbing the herbs they needed, the two ran outside and immediately saw the breadcrumb trail the mice had left for them and ran to follow it. They turned around only once to make certain the crone was not following and saw an astonishing sight: the hut raised up on two chicken legs and began to follow them. The hut, though, was too large to navigate through the forest and quickly fell behind.

When the children arrived home, the step-mother seemed surprised, having been certain she had gotten rid of them for good. The children gave the herbs to their father who was so angry at the step mother that he tossed her in a river and they all began to live happily together.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Cock and Hen

A Russian fairy tale put to the tune of Maltese Bransle.

Written by Katrusha the Skomorokh

A hen and cock were walking through a barnyard oh so green

When suddenly the cock began choke upon a bean

The hen ran to the river's edge, her heart it sank with grief

“I need some water, please oh river.” “Then you'll bring me a leaf.”

The hen ran to the tree and sang “I have but one request”

“I'll give you leaves if you'll bring thread to weave within my nest.”

And as she walked away from there, she whispered in her head

“He can not breathe, he can not sneeze, he's laying like one dead.”

“Oh milkmaid give your thread to me. I'll bring it to the tree.”

“I will not give my thread to you till you bring milk to me.”

And as she walked away from there, she whimpered in her head.

“He can not breathe, he can not sneeze, he's laying like one dead.”

The hen ran to the cow to ask “What will you have me pay?”

“For milk of mine you'll have to bring a bale of new cut hay.”

And as she walked away from there, she shook her little head.

“He can not breathe, he can not sneeze, he's laying like one dead.”

“I will get hay to help my friend, I'm not ready to yield.”

“We mowers want a sharp new scythe to cut hay in this field.”

And as she walked away from there a few tears she did shed

“He can not breathe, he can not sneeze, he's laying like one dead.”

“The mowers want a sharp new scythe,” the hen began to say.

“Then get me coal to heat my forge for I ran out today.”

And as she walked away from there, she cried, her eyes were red.

“He can not breathe, he can not sneeze, he's laying like one dead.”

The Laians heard the hen's sad cry, their hearts they filled with woe.

“Of course some coal we'll give to you, sure as that cock will crow.”

And as she walked away from there, she pushed far from her head

“He can not sneeze, he can not breathe, he's laying like one dead.”

She got the coal, she got the scythe, and then she got the hay.

She got the milk, the thread, the leaf, the water right away.

But when she got back to the cock, her voice it filled with dread.

“You could not breathe, you could not sneeze, and lo, now you are dead.”

Baba Yaga and the Young Girl

This is the first ever Baba Yaga tale that I have told and written based off of a collection of other tales I have read. It isn't my favorite and I haven't told it in a long time.


Once, long ago and far away, there lived a man, his wife, and their daughter. Now, as usually happens in these stories, the wife died and the husband grieved. Well, as also happens in these stories, the husband remarried and the step-mother did not like his daughter.

One day, the step-mother called to the daughter and told her to go to her grandmother and complete as many tasks for her as she desired. This idea did not sit well with the girl as she knew that any person with even a sliver of evil within them must be related to a Baba Yaga and, as we all know, these witches like to eat children.

The girl was a clever girl, so she decided to visit her other grandmother and tell her the tale of what was to happen. The grandmother, though, could do nothing for the girl other than prepare her for the trip with bread, cheese, milk, and ham and give her some words of advice. She told the girl to always be kind to anyone less fortunate than herself, no matter how wretched they appeared, for she would never know when she would be the one in need of help. With food in her pack and words in her head, she began her journey.

It doesn't matter how long or how hard the journey was, she arrived at the hut of Baba Yaga. The hut, she saw, stood on two chicken legs and ran about the clearing. This concerned her, but only for a moment as she recalled what to say. “Izboushka, Izboushka. Turn your back to the forest and face me!” The hut settled to the ground and the little girl entered.

“Fou, fou. I smell a Russian child,” said Baba Yaga. The girl told the witch why she was there. “Ah, if it is tasks you are here to complete, I will give you one each day. If you complete them to my satisfaction, I will not eat you. Your first task is to fill my bath.” Before the girl could reply, the Baba Yaga had gotten into her mortar, beat it with her pestle and flew out of sight.

Alone now, the girl searched for something to fill the bath with, but could only find a sieve. Try as she might, the sieve would hold no water. Defeated, she sat on the ground and began to cry when she noticed a flock of birds. They were the most wretched birds she had ever seen. They looked like they hadn't eaten in days. She threw them her bread and it was devoured in seconds. They told her to fill the sieve with mud. She filled the sieve with mud and, lo and behold, it held water. The bath was soon filled and she was, once again, alone.

That was when she noticed some mice. They were the most wretched mice she had ever seen. They looked like they hadn't eaten in days. So she threw them her cheese and it was devoured in seconds. They told her the only way she could escape the Baba Yaga was to find the cat. She began to look for the cat. In her searching, she found a dog. It was the most wretched dog she had ever seen. It looked like it hadn't eaten in days. So she threw it her ham and it was devoured in seconds.

“The cat's in the kitchen,” said the dog. She went into the kitchen where she, sure enough, found the cat. It was the most wretched cat she had ever seen. It looked like it hadn't eaten in days. So she threw it her milk and it was devoured in seconds. The cat told her that the only way she could hope to escape the Baba Yaga was to steal the witch's comb and towel and run. When the witch would draw close behind her in chase, she was to throw the towel behind her. When the witch would catch up again, for surely she would, she was to throw the comb and run home.

Some time later, neither long nor short, the Baba Yaga returned home. Delighted to see her bath was filled, she set out her comb and towel and retired to the bath. No sooner did the witch disappear that the girl grabbed up the comb and towel and took to her heels running. When the witch finally finished her bath and came out to see the child was missing, she was furious. Once more she jumped into her mortar, beat it with her pestle and gave chase to the girl.

When the Baba Yaga could be heard behind her, she remembered the cat's words and tossed the towel over her shoulder, continuing to run. The towel grew into an immense river, so deep and so wide that even the Baba Yaga could not cross it. The witch rushed home and called to her cows, bringing them to the river and telling them to drink until it was dry. Once the river was dry, she once again followed after the girl.

When the Baba Yaga could be heard behind her again, as the cat promised, she remembered the cat's words and tossed the comb over her shoulder and continued to run. The comb grew into a forest so thick and so tall that even Baba Yaga could not cross it. Defeated, the witch returned home and, in victory, so did the girl. She ran to her father and told him everything that had happened. Angry with his new wife, he threw her into a lake and he and his daughter lived happily ever after without her.

The Anti-Sing-A-Long Song

A filk I had written that seems to have gotten a lot of strange word fame and addictions from people. 

A special thanks to Hobbe for reminding me who the original was by: Molly & the Tinker.

I will not sing along! Keep your stupid song!
We're the audience, it's you we're here to see!
You're not supposed to train us!
You're supposed to entertain us!
So get to work and leave me be!

When you go out to a play, do the actors turn and say
“Come on, everyone, together say my lines”?
But the bards they get away with this practice every day
'Cause they think you people have no spines.
Well, it's time to stand and fight and defend your basic right
To be silent, any time you choose
When they rise up to begin, it's no crime and it's no sin
To stand up and holler “I refuse!”

Just tell them... (Chorus)

Can a stick jock turn and say “Let's all swing my sword that way”?
Can a dancer holler “Turn and shake my butt”?
But the bards they all expect you to drop your self respect
And then howl like some demented nut
See it's this big old bardic thing to say “Everybody sing!”
It's supposed to show our camaraderie
But the odds are pretty strong that I'm here to sing this song
Why should you do my job for me?

Just tell me... (Chorus)

One more time! (Chorus)

We Will Not Forget

Back Story: After being asked to sing Kyrie at Winter Night's 2008 by Mistress Anna, she had mentioned that the only thing holding me back from singing the piece is the fact that it isn't in English. She suggested I filk it. I gawked at the idea not knowing how to filk something of this nature.

Later in the evening, Queen Alethea raised a glass and mentioned that as long as she was in reign, she would toast all those who are no longer with us or able to be with us. It touched me.

So I now bring you a piece I wrote to the tune of Kyrie. And before you begin reading, I would like you all to think of those who are unable to be here.

Raise a glass so far above

To those we've lost, to those we love

They stay within our memories

We will not forget

Raise a glass to those well met

Those we know and don't know yet

In our hearts and in our minds

We love them all

We will not forget

All the lives touched

Every heart brushed

They are here with us

With our tales – we wont forget

With our songs – we wont forget

Memories we hold dear

Raise a glass so far above

To those we've lost, to those we love

They stay within our memories

We will not forget

Raise a glass to those well met

Those we know and don't know yet

In our hearts and in our minds

We love them all

We will not forget

We miss you this day

Baba Yaga: Not For the Faint of Heart Class Notes

Iagaia, Iga, Egabova, Egi-boba, Aga Gnishna, Baushka, Iagabakha, Izhuzhbaba, Jedibaba, Baba Jaga, Баба-Ягіня, Баба Яга, Ježibaba, Баба Јага: No matter what you call her, wherever in the world you may be, the Baba Yaga is seen all over Eastern Europe.

Who is Baba Yaga?

(She) has a clay face, sharpened gilded teeth, and lives in the forest with her daughter Marinushka, in a marsh, in a hut on chicken legs, or a hu on chicken feet, or in a little house on a spindle heel. She lies on a high bed with her nose in the ceiling, and she doesn't see the Russian scent and she doesn't hear people. She rides on a stick or in a mortar, driving it with a pestle, and she sweeps the road ahead with a broom; or she rides in a mortar, leaning on a pestle, beating with a broom. She is ugly and huge, her face is completely furry, sometimes mangy, her eyes are as big as eggs and her disshevelled, matted hair always hangs loose, like a scarecrow. Her clothes are white or made of a torn white striped material or her clothing is 'like the bark of a spruce tree.' She has a black cloth wound over her head, or wears a pointed povoinik. She spins on a beam. Human fingers float in her food. She gives children porridge with dried-up snot.”

-Information gathered in little bits all over the eastern part of the Vladmir province by G. K. Zavoiko.

Earliest interpretations describe Baba Yaga as a Slavic pagan goddess or at least as a mythical being closely related to the Slavic deities.

-Identified as the embodiment of a storm cloud, associated with death and winter. Mortar and mobile hut are metaphors of the cloud. Staff/crutch is like the club of Perun, a slavic thunder god, metaphor for lightening. The legs of her hut represent lightening, the legs making her “cloud” turn and run fast. Some equate her iron teeth with lightening.

-Baba Yaga is equated with Holda (a Germanic figure), having many of the same characteristics. Holda causes snow and rain, keeps the souls of unborn children and receives the souls of the dead unbaptized children, associated with cloth and spinning, rewards good spinners and punishes bad ones.

-Mice, the messengers of death. In Slavic and German belief, children give their teeth to a mouse and ask for an iron one in return.

-Crow, frightens children and burns the fingers of bad spinners.

-Baba Yaga is the death of human beings and nature, holder of the keys to heaven, sends souls to earth and takes them back, oversees women's domestic work (spinning and weaving), guardian of mortality in this life.

-Associated with fertility of the earth, marriage, and birth. Giver of life and death. “Yaga became winter and devouring death, casting her summer image (friendly and fertilizing) from herself and gave it to her daughters”

-Moon goddess: like the crescent moon, Yaga stretches to fill her whole hut which is constantly turning.

Many try to describe Baba Yaga as a witch, but descriptions of witches, although similar, have many factors that plainly disapprove the theory. For example, witches are described to steal milk from their neighbors' cows. There is not a single recorded story of Baba Yaga preforming such an action. Baba Yaga has been associated with many other figures in folk belief as well, such as the forest spirit (living in the forest, protecting lakes from children who might steal the fish), Noon woman (female spirit who appeared at noon in wheat fields to guard the harvest and does not like children), or even an Iron Woman (woman with iron breasts who would eat children that stole vegetables in her iron mortar). In the Pskov region of Russia, it was not strange to hear Baba Yaga in beliefs that surround the harvest. These female beings are seen as mistresses of the fields and are driven into unharvested parts of the field or into the forest during harvest. At the end of the harvest, songs and chants were used to”chase away the old woman” or urge her to “marry our old man” in obscene songs.

What types of Baba Yaga stories are there?

Often portrayed as an antagonist, she sometimes is also sought out for her wisdom or, on rare occasions, offers guidance to lost souls

Baba Yaga as a donor. She gives the hero, usually reluctantly, something they need to continue their quest. In these stories, the hero is usually sent on a journey that usually results in marriage and they either seek out or accidentally come across a Baba Yaga who will help them along their way with a magic horse or some other helpful item. Since the forest was symbolically the land of the dead, returning from the forest was a form of rebirth or possibly even seen as a trial into adulthood. Usually all these donor tales are centered around male heroes and end with the hero getting married.

Baba Yaga as a tester. Giving tests to the hero, usually a child, so that when they return having completed these difficult tasks and tell their father what happened, he usually ends up upset at his new wife that caused this to happen and tosses her in the river or beats her or leaves her.

Baba Yaga as an ambiguous figure. Sometimes she appears as both a donor and a villain in the same tale. Sometimes she is sister with herself where one is a donor and the other is a villain.

Baba Yaga as the evil witch. In these tales, Baba Yaga is a villain and all the typical donor conversations are reversed. Baba Yaga tries to offer the hero various things, but knowing it is just a trick, the hero constantly refuses them and the Yaga tries to kill the hero.

Baba Yaga and children:

Here we see a few different types of story. There are those of a boy and her oven where she tries to cook a child. Usually in this setting the child is warned of the Baba Yaga and is left alone and then the witch abducts the child in order to cook him in the oven. This always happens in threes where the first to attempts fail but the third succeeds. These stories coincide with the slavic tradition of baking away a child's illness. The hearth, being thought of as the womb and seen as the womanly duty to keep constantly lit and warm. If a child was ill after being born, they considered it was because the child didn't have enough time in the womb so they would place the child in the cooling evening oven to 'bake away the illness'.

Another story subtype is Baba Yaga and the kind and unkind girls. In these stories, usually a wicked stepmother will send her kind step-daughter to Baba Yaga in hopes that she will be eaten. When she returns, well rewarded for her kindness, she sends her own unkind daughter to the Baba Yaga thinking her daughter 3 times better than her stepdaughter will return with three times the wealth. Instead the girl is eaten and returned as a bag of bones.

What typical things will you find in different Baba Yaga stories?

She rode up to the gate, stopped, and sniffing the air around her, cried: “Fie fie! I smell a Russian smell! Who is here?”

-from Vasilisa the Brave

-Baba Yaga always 'smells' a Russian hero. Some scholars think that this is proof she is blind, symbolizing death. Think of blindman's bluff where the blind would hunt out and capture the other children. The term heard in many stories is “Fi fi, I smell a Russian child.' This smell of the living can oft times be offensive or even frightening to the dead. Just as the living can not see the dead, there is the possibility that the dead can not see the living.

-Words spoken to make Izbushka turn around: Since the forest was symbolically the land of the dead, returning from the forest was a form of rebirth or possibly even seen as a trial into adulthood. Baba Yaga is seen as the guardian of the gate, her home facing death and away from life. Hence the hero, not being able to just walk from the land of the living to the land of the dead, had to make the hut turn with a magic phrase that was usually: “Izbushka, Isbushka. Turn your back to the forest and your face to me so I may enter.”

-If a hero refuses to say where he is going or what he is doing until Baba Yaga feeds him, she complies. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, it is said that the deceased would have their mouth opened and food placed within to allow passage to the other world. Seen here, with Baba Yaga feeding the hero, the hero needs to prepare before stepping foot on the other side.

-The description of Baba Yaga within her home. She is always described to fill the little hut completely, almost like a dead person inside a coffin.

-Guardian/mistress of the animals/forest. Not only does she call the animals and trees to her aid, but she will also request the animals to follow the hero and help them on their quest.

-Threats of eating children. In many stories, Baba Yaga threatens to eat children that do not follow her tasks or are unkind. There are two very different stories in this manner. One where the child uses their kindness to a dog, tree, cat, or other creature under Baba Yaga's watch to escape the old woman. Another where two daughters, one good and one bad, visit Baba Yaga at different times and the good one is rewarded and the bad one is eaten.

How old are Baba Yaga stories?

Before throwing light upon the question of the tale's origin, one must first answer the question as to what the tale itself represents.

-V. Propp in Morphology of the Folktale

This is difficult to determine and we will need to discuss more of where Baba Yaga came from both through pictures and thoughts and words before being able to fully understand how old her stories are. The Baba Yaga is a folk tale that certainly came from the Eastern Slavs who viewed the character as a spirit in their practice. Unfortunately there are norecordings of secular folktales from the Kievan time period as most writing at that time focused on ecclesiastical writings. Literary documents do mention that storytellers and tales existed, but that were condemned by officials of the church. In the twelth century, for example, St. Kirill of Turov spoke of punishments in the world beyond for anyone who told a story or played a gusli. But, just as bath water continued to be saved from ceremonial baths against the churches wishes, certainly people still continued to tell stories and sing songs. Although the church spoke out against people doing many of these things, there were no true punishments today, just in the life after. Many of these traditions were staples to people, especially those in the smaller cities and towns were the churches were not as prevalent.

Still, written records in Russia only refered to having oral traditions and no stories were written down until the sixteenth century when an Italian historian recorded a folktale during a diplomatic mission from a Russian member. It wasn't until around the eighteenth century that true collection of folktales began, and by then the tales were being edited with the authors own ideas for the stories.

What historical references do we see in typical Baba Yaga stories?


In China during the Tang Dynasty, cannibalism was reported by rebel forces who were said to raid neighboring areas for victims to eat. Even in Mongol, under the rule of Genghis Khan, hard times created stories of 'eating anything that moved'. With the constant Mongol raids into Russian, it is not hard to imagine people making stories that warned of a cannibalistic old woman in the forest, far from the city, that would harm curious and wandering children.

There were reports of cannibalism recorded during the Crusades as Crusaders fed on bodies of their dead opponents. Even the inhabitants of Hungary were reported to be cannibals as they had only converted to Christianity from paganism in the 10th century. Even during the great famine, in 1315-1217, there were many reports of cannibalism among starving populations.

A popular statue called Menschenfresserin (cannibal) by Leonhard Kern in 1650 depicts a woman eating a leg while a child sits beside her.

Taking a look into other folktales in history, one of the most prominent is Hansel and Gretel with a witch that planned to bake them in her oven.

-Death houses

It is thought that Baba Yaga stories came about in the same manner as the scare tactics in other cultures where a child would be informed that their dead grandmother lived under their bed and if they did anything wrong, grandmother would rise and eat them or their souls.

In 1905, an excavation found burial mounds dating to the 11th-12 centuries. Within these mounds they found a fence that surrounded three-walled boxes set on stumps of oak to keep them sturdy. Sound familiar? These mounds were always kept far from the cities as people thought death might be infectious and the openings to the boxes were faced away from the city and towards the forest. The boxes were small, just enough to fit a person inside. In Slavic tradition, the bodies were to be cremated as that would help the soul rise towards the heavens. When Christianity took over, the condemned the idea of cremation and spoke that only burying a body was correct. This upset the Slavs as they felt it placed the person closer to hell. It is theorized that they asked for a fire to help warm the frozen ground and would then burn the bodies and place the bones of the bodies in these three walled coffins ontop of the tree stumps so that the body was still raised higher towards the heavens. Most all the bones found in the boxes in the burial mounds in 1905 were clearly cremated and then the bones laid to rest. It was also certain that the fires had to be elsewhere as there was no pile of ash or charcoal anywhere in the mound.


Kievan Russia by George Vernadsky

This book discusses a lot of the changes from Slavic pagan traditions as Russia evolved into Christianity.

Slavic Folklore: A Handbook by Natalie Kononenko

A great book that discusses many traditions and beliefs of the Slavic people. Good for learning more about the various figures in Slavic belief from Perun to Baba Yaga.

Russian Fairy Tales collected by Aleksandr Afanas'ev

One of the best and oldest collections of Russian folktales that has been recorded. Many wonderful and fantastic stories of Baba Yaga in all her forms.

Morphology of the Folktale by V. Propp

Perhaps the best book to go to for any resource as to how folktales were and are created and how they can be taken apart to find historical references. Very useful to be able to see the commonalities between folktales from all over the world.

Baba Yaga: The Ambiguous Mother and Witch of the Russian Folktale by Andreas Johns

The be all end all book packed full of psychological, mythological, and folk belief basis for the creation and continued life of Baba Yaga in tales.

This is the article on the death houses that I found.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Apprentice Belt Documentation

I decided I was going to surprise Master William the Alchemyst with the idea of becoming his first apprentice. I wanted to make certain that my belt would not only be hand crafted, but also adapted to show both of our personas. It was important to me that people could look at my belt as see who I was, but also who I belonged to in the academic sense. Master William, having a laurel in period mathematics, made me think of Leonardo of Pisa – better known as Fibonacci. Myself having a Russian persona, I decided to work with a lot of the Slavic folklore.
Fibonacci was born in Pisa around 1170 and had a big part in the development of algebra. In Fibonacci's book, Liber Abaci, written in 1202, Fibonacci took a great deal of time helping to spread the Hindu Arabic number system through algebra, geometry, and practical applications. In specific, chapters 8-12 deal with word problems that would naturally arise from business situations. This includes the famous “rabbit problem” that most people recognize better as the Fibonacci sequence. Since the Fibonacci sequence is well know, it seemed an appropriate design idea for my belt.
In Slavic folklore, red was a prominent color. It was placed at the openings of many tunics creating the trim for sleeves and hems because it was seen to keep the evil spirits away from one's body. Bells, whips, whistles, and many other forms of making noise were also important in the Slavic culture in order to announce yourself and, again, keep the spirits far from your paths of travel so that you may travel in safety. Although I have a much later period persona where the Russian's were known to be devoutly Christian, many of these traditions were unable to be released by the people. When it came to belts, both men and women would wear belts of cloth that were highly ornamented or decorated if they were wearing them on the outside of their clothing.
Taking all this into consideration, I began to design my apprentice belt. Since I am a fiber person, I decided I would spin and weave the belt myself. Girl's were taught how to spin wool in Russia from a very young age as they found it to be a very important skill to have. Weaving, on the other hand, was not something everyone was able to do as the houses were small and not all of them would be equipped to handle a loom. Since there is evidence of women in Russia spinning, both written and depicted (even on coins), there is a possibility that they delivered their hand spun to somewhere, such as a monostary, who would then weave the yarn into fabric at a price. This was something seen in medieval Russia in other mediums, such as women with ovens too small would make their bread dough and deliver it to the local bread baker who would bake it for them at a price. Since I do have the room for a loom, though, I spun and wove the belt myself.
Deciding on colors as well as how to work in the Fibonacci sequence and, as well, what type of weaving pattern to use was fairly easy. The weft would be red to symbolize the need for protection in Russia. The weave would be done in Fibonacci sequence stripes that would alter between green, for the apprentice belt, to a golden color that symbolized the fact that Fibonacci had a large impact with his algebra systems in the business world. The pattern would be a simple 2/2 twill, a pattern that was found not only in many typical woven medieval patterns, but it was definitely found in linen and wool cloth finds in Russia.
Using a small table sized four harness loom, I used my hand spun wool that measured at 16WPI. Although I did not card and dye the colors myself, I did make certain the colors I used to be reached in a period style of dye. The belt was a majority of green with golden stripes and the red weft created a red fringe at the ends of the belt that I then decorated with glass beads, which were typical in peasant and city folk decoration, and little bells in hopes of keeping the evil spirits off the track of my journey I was to be taking with my laurel.
Needless to say, I presented my belt to my laurel without a word – it made him chuckle and he accepted me as his apprentice.

For those who don't know Master William, he is a very shy man. Although he wanted me as his apprentice, he never would have managed to find the courage to ask me quite so quickly – so I asked him. He actually sat beside me at War of the Roses mentioning we needed to have a meeting as to whether we would like to stay in the student – teacher relationship, go further, or perhaps drop everything for now due to life being busy. All the while that he was saying this to me, I was sitting on the ground weaving this belt and his son was helping me by pushing down the levers. Master William is a wonderful man and it is for reasons like this that he is adored.

A huge thank you to Siobhan and Mistress Brid for their support, knowledge, and help with this project.


Kononenko, Natalie. Slavic Folklore: A Handbook. Greenwood Press: London. 2007.

Pisa, Leonardo of. Liber Abaci. 1202.

Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston. The Domostroi: Rules For Russian Households in the Times Of Ivan the Terrible. Cornell University Press: London. 1994.

Pushkareva, Natalia. Women in Russian History: From the Tenth to the Twentieth Century. M. E. Sharpe: Armanok, NY. 1997.

Sepanov, Julia. History of the Russian Traditional Suit. (February-April 2011).

Russian Tortoise Brooches Documentation

When I decided I was going to make Viking age Russian brooches, I didn't have a very good idea of where to start. I was offered a few books to look at for both the process as well as design ideas and a lot of information on how metal was melted and cast in the middle ages. There aren't that many differences between what is done now and what was done then other than they type of materials used and a safety precautions being taken.
In period, it was typical to find two types of molds made for casting. One was a solid mold, made of stone, wood, dried clay, or whatever they could use for making the impression. Many of these types of molds have been found in various grave sites around Russia, sometimes multiples of the exact same designed piece with minor changes. These changes were most likely due to wanting the design a little different or perhaps even that before the change there was a significant flaw that continued happening and the change fixed it. The second type of mold was is a little harder to discern since it isn't something that could be found. This style of casting is known as sand casting where the piece they with to make would be pressed into sand or clay to take on the details and shape of the piece and then the metal would be poured within. Sand castings were always destroyed as you couldn't lift out the cooled metal with keeping the design in the sand, but you would be able to make many copies of something with less resources needed. All you needed was your one base piece that you would push into the sand again and again.
After a long time trying to decide how I would do this, I decided I wanted to try the plaster process:

  1. Make an ovular wax mold in the size and shape wanted for the brooch
  2. Push the wax mold into wet plaster to get the shape indented in it
  3. Carve the design into the plaster mold (instead of the wax where things would need to be the way they should as opposed to being carved into in mirror image, if that makes sense)
  4. Melt wax and put wax in the plaster mold to now get the proper shape needed
  5. Make a good half dozen molds in plaster by pushing the wax into the plaster
  6. To make the backing, lay a few pieces of waxed linen on the inside of the mold and then place talc or similar substance on the outer section of the mold before pouring new plaster down to form the backing.
  7. Cast

As I was making these brooches to go with my Viking age Russian dress, I decided to make the brooches as similar to those that were found in the grave with the dress as I was able. I started with the easiest part, which was making sure they would be the proper size. The brooches that were in the find were 12.5cm long, so the wax oval was carved into that length. I then shaped it as the brooches were shaped, into an oval with a rounded top. I did not carve out the inside to make it into the full shape needed as I feared it would then be too flimsy and I needed to make sure I could push this piece in and pull it back out again.
Once the wax was carved into a very simple oval shape, I mixed up the plaster (a combination of potter's plaster and plaster of paris) and made an imprint of the oval within. I then began carving my design which was based on a period Russian brooch design from about the same century as they believe the dress was from. Unfortunately, the brooches that were found in the birch bark box with the dress only had shared photos of them from behind and not the design that was on the front. The brooches were so varied, though, with different designs in many different territories with people also most likely stealing them when they raided villages and wearing those as well, that I didn't feel the design to play a terribly huge role. I found the size and shape of them, since they were so big and a surprising find at that size, to be more important.

Once the design was drawn into the plaster, I allowed it to dry overnight. I should have baked it and probably would have had much less issues had I done so, but I did not for whatever reason. I melted down another chunk of wax and placed cooking oil into the plaster mold before pouring the wax inside to act as a buffer so I could get the wax out easier. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed I had made some undercuts which became an issue as I tried to un-stick the wax replica, but I eventually had gotten it out. At this point, I added some extra carving into the wax to create more definition in the lines I had drawn before even starting to make more plaster casts to be able to cast into.

Once I had four plaster casts that I made with the wax replica, I decided it was time for the next important step. That step was to create a backing for the piece since I didn't just want a huge solid piece of metal. In medieval times, backings were made with waxed linen in the thickness you wanted your pin to be in the end being laid into the mold itself and then pouring plaster over top to make everything sit perfectly together. This can be shown in the fact that some brooches that have been found have, on their back, a linen pattern and sometimes even threads of linen stuck in the metal. So I waxed up my linen and made another large mistake. Although I laid my linen in the mold, before I poured the plaster, I decided to put waxed linen around the sides of the mold too so that it would be easier to get the two molds apart. This did two very importantly bad things: one, it created an uneven surface for the backing that caused me a long and painful time filing it to get it flat. And two, it made it so that the two layers of waxed linen that I wanted the thickness of my brooches to be ending up being incorrectly measured. The second time I poured the plaster so I could have another cast, I tried to fix this issue, but unfortunately, unknown to me since I didn't know much about casting, I had managed to let the fabric in the mold stick out from the edging too far which caused dire undercuts in the backing mold (which I didn't find out until casting).
I decided I wanted to test how well of a job I did and placed the most uneven packing on my original mold that had the more simplistic design, and poured wax in it and let it set. It seemed to work out well, but I didn't understand that wax had much different properties than melted metal, such as the fact it takes a lot longer to cool so I could pour the wax in the front of the mold and then place the back on top and it would still come out fine. I didn't understand that I needed a sprue and a clamp and everything for the metal.
I thought I was ready to cast, but I was very wrong. At first, I was going to cast in bronze. We set up a whole furnace, much like a furnace would have been set up in period, and began melting the bronze in a crucible while I was drying my molds in the oven. When I brought them out, I was informed that my molds would explode if I tried to pour molten bronze into them, which was the best of the worst case scenarios. I had used an incorrect material to make my molds and, although I had baked them to get all the water out, bronze heats to a much higher temperature than, say, pewter. Because of that it actually changes the chemistry of the plaster and forces some bonds to break which creates water molecules which then produces steam which, while trapped in a small area, causes explosions that could send molten bronze into the air. I decided I did not want that to happen and scratched that idea.
Luckily there was some lead-free pewter to play with, so we decided to cast in that. And, as I mentioned before, I didn't understand the properties of melted metal and so I did not have a sprue in my piece. We filed one in and packed sand around the mold to hold it upright because, as I didn't know, I couldn't just pour the metal in and then quickly place the backing onto the mold. So we propped it into sand and, because I didn't have a clamp, we mounded the sand up and around the mold. Once the pewter was melted we poured it into the mold and I learned I had made three large mistakes.

Mistake one: I had put a backing onto a front that was not made for that front. That meant that these two pieces were not poured to meet each other and so there was a large flash and we lost most of the pewter out the sides.
Mistake two: Again, because it was the incorrect back for the front, the thickness was completely off and it was much thicker than I planned on this piece being.
Mistake three: This particular backing was the one I had mentioned earlier that had severe undercuts. This meant that all the metal that we had melted and poured was unrecoverable unless we broke the mold apart.
Obviously the molds were not working for me, but thankfully I had my wax replica and decided this was a perfect opportunity to try out the second form of medieval casting: sand casting. The idea of casting concerned me because I heard many people tell of it going horribly awry. The process was almost exactly what they would have done in period only we used a special type of sand which has rough edges and then is rolled in oil and then in clay so it sticks to itself easily. We used an actual framework so that we could pick up the two pieces, back and front, and remove the wax replica to use again.

It went a lot smoother than working with the plaster did and gave me a fantastic cast that merely needed some trimming to make it work correctly. After trimming and studying the closures that were used in most pictures of medieval brooches, I knew what kind of spring pin mechanism to use.

The process was a tad bit more modern than I could have made it, but part of me also felt like I was doing things the medieval way. There wasn't so much differentiation that made it stand out as obviously modern. And now I have a nice pair of brooches out of it.

Many thanks to Lady Irene and Yvan Wolvesbane for all their help in this process.


Madsen, Helge Brinch. Ribe Excavations 1970-76, Volume 2. Sydjysk Universitetsforlag. 1984.

McCreight, Tim. The Complete Metalsmith. Sterling Publishing. 1991.

McCreight, Tim. Practical Metal Casting. Brynmorgen Press. 1994.

Sepanov, Julia. History of the Russian Traditional Suit. (February-April 2011).

Theophilis. Translated by Hawthorne, John. On Divers Arts. Dover Publications. 1979.

Zubkova, E. S., Orfinkaya, O. V., and Mikhailov, K. A.. “Studies of the Textiles from the Excavation of Pskov in 2006.” North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles X. Oxbow Books: London. 2010.