понедельник, 1 февраля 2010 г.

ANCIENT SLAVS

1000 years is, indeed, a mind-boggling figure. However, that is the actual age of professional musical art in Russia.

1000 years is nothing when it comes to what is called ‘the national culture of peoples of Russia’. The Protoslavs, for example, were molded as a uniform ethnic formation in the 3rd – mid-2nd Millennium B.C.!

Clay whistles… Anyone who has children will confirm: children manifest a consistent interest towards these common toys. No state-of-the-art computer games can do a thing about this!



“From out of the mouths of babes…” Without a doubt it all boils down to the unfettered, open-minded conscience of the child, which intuitively addresses the global Memory bank of Humanity! For our ancient ancestors these clay whistles were a means of communication with the elements, the forces of Nature. It may seem unbelievable, but to this day there exists a ritual among the Slavs, which is no less than two thousand years old! On the day of the summer solstice people make their way to the high hilltops to chant in Spring! With the help of whistles and pipes they imitate birdcalls, scattering symbolic grain for the migrating birds that have yet to make an appearance in our part of the world, and all the while singing special songs. Monotonously, as if in a magical rite, repeating one and the same tiny melody…

The howling of a wolf and the songs-laments from Siberia — incredible fusion of folk art and the voices of nature… The melody, as if born from the voices of nature, carries us away thousands of years back to a time when Mankind spoke a common language with the elements, and worshipped Nature…

The Fire cult and Water cults, he worshipping of the trees and animals – these are all ancient forms of magical perception of the world by Mankind. The folklore of the Slavs bears traces of the ancient Fore-history of Mankind.

This, for example, is a repeated ritual at traditional weddings of the Russians, Byelorussians and Ukrainians — the newlyweds are led up to the festively laid table, and seated on a wild beast’s skin. The insistent desire to ensure fertility and well-being has been thus manifested in an ancient ritual for no less than three thousand years!

Understandably, archeologists have every ground for producing exact dates as a result of their finds, just as linguists have a claim to specific data. How do ethnographers or music folklore experts similarly time their discoveries? 2000 or 3000 years – where does such an age spring from? The 2nd Millennium B.C. is the specific period that experts in diverse fields of science pinpoint as marking the birth of the yearly circle of rites. The springtime awakening of Nature, when the birds and beasts give birth to their young, the beginning and ending of the sowing – in their rites, songs and dances our distant ancestors embarked upon a magical dialogue with Mother Nature. Experts call them ‘calendar’ songs. The age of a specific people is estimated by the number and diversity of these ‘calendar songs’.
So, by these estimates the Slav peoples are, indeed, of an impressive age!

Judging by all accounts the Christmas ‘kolyadki’, or ‘carols’, have very little relation to the modern day Christmas feast. The youngsters ‘exhort’ treats from the hosts of each household they visit, while the latter never allow them to cross their threshold! The treats are meted out on the doorstep… On New Year’s eve, our ancestors firmly believed, the evil forces gain strength, and the only way of neutralizing them is by bribing them to go away!

The processions of carolers to this day resemble a gathering of the evil forces! It’s a masquerade of sorts, with a predominance of animal characters, headed by the Nanny goat! This very Nanny goat was elevated to the rank of almost overwhelmingly principal character in Slav folklore, making an appearance in songs, dances and rituals at the most vital moments!



More examples? – We have plenty! “Rusalnaya”, or ‘mermaid’ week – the week until the vital turning point — the day of the summer solstice – June the 24th. A period of Slav “maiden’s”holidays, complete with fortune-telling, round dances, which had to be danced exclusively clockwise, only with the direction of the sun. Songs and dances were performed outside, in the woods, near young trees decorated with ribbons, in the manner of young maidens, with branches braided…
Or take the day of the summer solstice itself – Ivan Kupala, as it is called in the case of the Slavs… Bonfires lit everywhere, with the invariable leaps over them. The Fire cult, the voice of the distant ancestors, still present in folk customs of today…

One of the oldest on Earth – the Fire cult is the quintessence of a majority of Slav feasts. There’s the repeated ritual of the burning of the huge effigy – we come across it in the culmination of Shrovetide, in the May holiday of the Funeral of Kostroma (it’s hard to imagine from what mists of time this effeminate, eyeless effigy, that had to be burnt before advent of summer, actually hails from!).



The Bear cult – believed to be the most ancient one on Earth… You have to agree, its predictable that traces of it have been preserved in the folklore of the Northern peoples, such as the Mansy in Siberia… Yet, believe it or not, even in the case of the Slavs, populating the European part of Russia, we can discern unmistakable traces of the same cult! Among fairy folklore tales of the Russians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, we invariably come upon an oft repeated plot, where a woman was cooking a bear’s paw, when suddenly a paw-less bear with crutches appears in the house, demanding he be given back his lawful paw… hauntingly strange tales, ominous even – a chilling echo from the distant past…


When scanning the tales in preparation for the program, I wondered: Why is it that the bear became the principal character at Russian fairs? Didn’t this, perhaps, stem from our ancestors’ desire to flaunt their ephemeral superiority over the Forces of Nature, with the bear as their symbol?..

Speaking about the thousand-year long history of Russian professional music art, lets get acquainted with the prime source of our music, rooted in distant times…

But first, let’s remember a composition from the ‘golden century’ of Russian art — Lel’s Song from the opera “The Snowmaiden” by Rimsky-Korsakov… The 19th century… Why did we remember it? Simply because Lel and the opera “The Snowmaiden” are profoundly linked with our original music source. We shall be recalling Russian classics on more than one occasion, for these classics all grew out of the very ancient roots of our culture…

Lel, a shepherd whom the Snowmaiden falls in love with, is a ‘relative’ of one of the Deities of the Ancient Slavs – the Goddess of Love Lada. Our ancestors worshipped her for many centuries, dedicating songs, magic rites and the like to her. ‘Lado, Lada, Liola’- were some of the names the Slavs used to address her. She was honored throughout all spring. For all peoples on the Earth spring is a period that symbolizes rebirth and renewal of life. The rituals and customs, ‘marriage rites’ in essence, are now the object of study by ethnographers, but the songs from that distant past have survived. “Oi did-Lado, Lado-Lel” is a refrain that we often come across in numerous Slav springtime melodies…

“We were sowing millet” is the title of another very old Russian game-song, which children play to this day. Competing teams resort to symbolic motions to demonstrate their ability to thresh, plough, etc. The game ends with the most worthy, hard-working candidate granted the right to choose a ‘bride’. Just imagine what a distant echo from the mists of Time this is…

Of course, it’s not accidental that Rimsky-Korsakov, who scrutinized at length the history of his own country, recalled this particular song in his opera. His “Snowmaiden” is a miraculously precise and convincing reconstruction of the springtime rituals of our distant ancestors.

Lada, the Slav Goddess of Love and Marriage – can be regarded as the younger sister of one of the most ancient of Slav Goddesses Makosh. “Moist Mother-Earth” is another way the olden folk referred to her. The ‘essence’, ‘the first principle’, ‘one who rules destinies’… Memory of this ancient goddess has been preserved in folk embroidery — an anthropoid figure with arms raised to the Heavens — and even in some folk customs!



Now let’s remember the famous ballet by Igor Stravinsky — “The Rite of Spring”. “A religious ceremony of Ancient Russ – Heathen Russ,” — wrote the composer himself about his brainchild. “My musical ear suggested to me what the voices of our ancestors might have been like.” The endless circle of life, the majestic footsteps of Time, the lofty splendor of Nature – Stravinsky’s music reflects all this in full measure.

Take note: “The Rite of Spring” was how the author chose to entitle his composition. A time of rituals of the ancient Slavs, who strove to enlist the help of the Gods in their attempt to stoke up this eternal vortex of Life.

The Slavonic heathen pantheon was formed in somewhere in the 2nd – 1st Millenniums B.C. While throughout all following centuries we come across signs of those distant times…

Lets again recall the music of Rimsky-Korsakov – and a very unusual composition of his – the opera-ballet “Mlada”. What we have here is an almost complete ‘set’ of pagan deities of the Ancient Slavs: Svarog, Father-God, God of the Sky, His Son, the Sun-God Dazhbog, Yarilo, God of Fertility, the already familiar to us Makosh…

Veles, the Livestock God, is one more representative of the pagan deities of the Ancient Slavs and a most influential figure in the life of the ancients! Incidentally, he not only oversaw very important daily affairs, but also watched over the songs and tales of the good folk!

…Right before the first few dozen years of the 20th century in practically all corners of Russia one could come across the psaltery players – folk tale narrators. They were highly respected by everyone. “Bayan’s Sons” — is how they were called. This is a quite specific historical association: Bayan was one of the most famous folk tale narrators of the Russian Middle Ages.

Its none other than Bayan who launches the story, narrated by Pushkin in his poem “Ruslan and Ludmilla”, and by Glinka in the eponymous opera. However, here is a curious fact: Russian folk narrators had yet another ‘name’ – “grandsons of Veles”!

Both Pushkin and Glinka recall the Goddess of Love Lada. The lead character of both the poem and the opera – Ruslan — addresses the ancient deity – God of Thunder Perun, who was also the ancient Slavs’ Patron of the Warriors.

As you can see now, traces of the pagan deity pantheon can be found in all the centuries of Russian culture. Let’s recall yet another composition by a Russian classic: the symphonic poem “Night on Bald Mountain” (or ‘Lysaya gora’) by Mussorgsky. To be more exact, Mussorgsky’s music is based on a medieval legend about a place where evil spirits used to gather for their orgies… The legend itself, though, has very ancient roots. Lysaya gora was how the ancient Slavs called their places of worship, where they paid homage to their deities that guarded them against all evil, and lent them strength to continue Life…

Source:The Voice of Russia

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