INESSA KALABEKOVA

Fairytale

Slavic myths for children

I recently finished reading “Slavic Myths for Children” by Alexandra Barkova. Perhaps the sage was right; knowledge increases sorrow. Or maybe it’s best not to read children’s books if you know the history too well. It seems to me that not all fairy tales and myths have ancient origins. Translators might have made their own amendments to the texts during the recording and translation process. Another intriguing theory is that a talented translator might have even surpassed the original author. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of studying myths through the lens of folk conjurations. A whole picture of peace emerges there. The customs studied by scholars, many of which are presented here, are of pre-Christian origin. However, expressing sympathy for paganism was punishable by death according to royal decrees. People could only whisper the names of their gods while looking around cautiously. This is why Christian saints appear in printed texts: the Church combined John the Baptist with Kupala, resulting in the holiday of Ivan Kupala, and replaced the Heavenly Mother-Rozhanitsa with the Mother of God, among other adaptations. For instance, to prevent bleeding from a wound, healers in the Meshchovsky district would recite: “A raven flies across the Black Sea, carrying a thread of silk; your thread breaks, and you stop bleeding.” This incantation was repeated three times while blowing on the wound. Similarly, if someone cut themselves, they would recite another charm: “I will become a servant of God (name of the river), blessed, crossing myself as I leave the hut doors and the courtyard gates, into the open field. In the open field stands the holy Okian-stone, upon which a red maiden with a silk thread sews up the wound, removes the thorn, and stops the bleeding. May there be no stinging, aching, or swelling, with my kind word, the key and lock from now on, forever, amen.” There are also love charms, such as one for a young man longing for a red maiden: “On the sea of Okiana, on the island of Buyan, there is melancholy; melancholy is defeated, cast from the board into the water, from the water into the fire. Satan emerges from the fire, shouting: ‘Father Romanea, run quickly, and blow on the lips, teeth, bones, and body of the white-skinned slave (name). Make her heart fervent and liver black, yearning every hour, every minute, at noon and midnight. Let her yearn for him more than any other young man, more than her own father and mother, more than her own kin. I seal this charm with seventy-seven locks, seventy-seven chains, throwing the keys into the Ocean Sea, beneath the white flammable stone Alatyr. Whoever is wiser than me and can drag sand from the entire sea will drive away melancholy.’” There are also spells to maintain distance between people, such as: “As the Volga River flows fast and the sands rinse with sand, and bushes twine with bushes, so a slave (name) will not be with a slave (name) neither in flesh, nor in love, nor in youth, nor rage. As in a dark dungeon and in a den, there are undead with simple hair, and with long hair, and with bulging eyes; so the slave (name) would seem to him (name) bare-haired and long-haired and with bulging eyes; just like cats and dogs, dogs and cross-hairs, so a slave (name) and a slave (name) will have no contract, neither day, nor night, nor in the morning, nor at noon, nor at dusk. My word is firm.” When I lived in Kazakhstan, my friend and I went to see one grandmother, who was famous throughout the city for her conjurations.. Interestingly, she did not take money for her work, only gifts. You could bring her anything you want.

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Jade’s Secret of Immortality

In the ancient realms of China, jade held a powerful secret—immortality. Our ancestors conducted rituals with a clear goal: to understand and harness the forces of nature. One of their remarkable discoveries was the jade cicada, a small yet mighty symbol used in burials. Placed on the tongue, it had a profound purpose: to prevent the body from decaying and to safeguard the life force, known as qi.   The cicada, with its intriguing life cycle, living underground for up to seventeen years before emerging as a mature insect, became a symbol of transformation and rebirth. Its unique shape, marked by a slightly enlarged head and gracefully pointed wings, held an abstract charm. Placing these figurines in the mouth or near the body was believed to grant the departed the gifts of everlasting purity, transforming them into immortals.   Jade, the stone of choice, took subtle forms in Neolithic cultures, from the Yangtze’s mouth to southeastern Mongolia. It was crafted into clean geometric shapes adorned with harmonious patterns and polished to perfection. This was no easy feat; working with jade required friction, abrasion, and relentless polishing. Jade was chosen not just for its beauty but for its symbolic purity and strength, values deeply cherished in Chinese culture. As time passed, it also became a guardian, protecting the body on its journey to the world of ancestors, ultimately leading to immortality.   In this ancient tale, we discover the unyielding quest for immortality in Chinese culture, where jade held the key to resurrection. With the transformative magic of the jade cicada and the enduring allure of jade, we unveil a culture’s relentless pursuit of life beyond the mortal coil, where immortality reigned supreme.  

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The world of “fairy tales”

The world of “fairy tales” and similar stories reflects the timeless art of storytelling, a universal method of sharing cultural wisdom and life lessons. As we explore the different terms and traditions, we discover some captivating insights: In Japan, the magic of storytelling takes on various forms, like “mukashibanashi” (legends from the past), “namidabanashi” (touching and sad stories), and “obakebanashi” (tales of supernatural beings). The stories traveled with itinerant storytellers, including monks known as “Biwa-hoshi,” who used the enchanting sounds of a Japanese lute to weave their tales. China uses the word “gushi” to embrace the idea of a fairy tale, capturing the essence of “an ancient matter” or “a timeless story.” The storytelling tradition evolved with the creation of “huaben,” a genre of written prose that began as records of spoken performances and transformed into unique, authored works between the 10th and 13th centuries.   In the English-speaking world, a “fairy tale” is often simply called a “tale,” a term that beautifully captures the essence of a story. Other phrases like “legend,” “nursery tale,” and “nursery rhyme” are used, especially when these tales are meant for children, reflecting the nurturing role of caregivers in passing down these timeless stories.   In Old Russia, the word “fable” or “bakhars” was used to describe the enchanting genre of fairy tales. The term “kazat” eventually came to be associated with “fairy tale,” although it didn’t appear in written records until the 17th century.   In these diverse cultures, storytelling often began as an oral tradition. Itinerant poets, storytellers, and even monks journeyed from place to place, sharing their captivating tales. The addition of musical instruments, like lyres or lutes, in cultures like Ancient Greece and Japan, added a magical touch to these stories, making them a vivid and enchanting experience.  

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A Tale of Transformation

Since the Middle Ages, we’ve come a long way from trembling at the mere mention of dragons. In European civilization, we found solace in stories of our triumphs over these mythical beasts. Meanwhile, in Asia, dragons have always been revered, blessing civilization with their strength and wisdom.  But here’s the magic of change: over the last 100 years, a remarkable transformation has taken place. We’ve bid farewell to the age-old narratives of slaying dragons, and instead, we’ve opened our hearts to befriend these magnificent creatures.  No longer are dragons our foes; they’ve become our comrades-in-arms, helping us shape our shared destiny. Our children now revel in playful adventures with these lovable beings, much like the enchanting tale of “The Reluctant Dragon” by Kenneth Grahame.  In this shift, we’ve even embraced the Ouroboros, a dragon snake that consumes itself, symbolizing the eternal cycle of life, death, and creation from destruction.  The truth is, we no longer need to depict dragons as adversaries in our stories. Our centuries-long battle has concluded, but we’re still here, alive and vibrant, igniting the flames of curiosity and courage within us.  In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, “A man who fights dragons for too long becomes a dragon himself.” 

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Magic of swan stories

From the classic fairy tales that kindled our childhood dreams to the timeless myths that unveil the mysteries of the gods, stories have a way of captivating our hearts and minds.   Fairy Tales: These whimsical literary creations whisk us away to distant lands filled with talking animals, benevolent fairies, and daring adventures. The main purpose? Pure, unadulterated entertainment.  Mythology: Ancient tales of gods and heroes, once whispered by bards, have become an integral part of our cultural tapestry. Their stories weren’t sacred texts but were meant to entertain, making the myths of yore a captivating blend of the divine and the imaginative. Folk Tales: Like seasoned travelers, folk tales have journeyed through generations, evolving as they cross borders. Their power lies in their ability to transcend cultural boundaries, uniting us in shared experiences. Swan Stories: Just like the swan, a single species of bird, tales like “Swan-Zeus,” “The Ugly Duckling,” and “The Wild swans” showcase the diversity of storytelling, where the same subject gives rise to different and captivating plots. Moral Lessons: While Greek myths might not have modern morals, stories like “The Ugly Duckling” and “The 12 Swans” clearly convey lessons of acceptance, friendship, and humility.  Universal Desires: Regardless of nationality, people worldwide share common desires and values. These recurring themes in our stories reveal the unifying power of the human experience. Hope and Progress: Despite life’s complexities, we hold on to the belief that the world is becoming a better place. Stories serve as our guides, illuminating the path of hope and progress.

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Fairytale. My thoughts on this matter are still raw

In the early 17th century, Charles Perrault emerged as one of the first chroniclers of these captivating tales. His collection, “Mother Goose” stories, featured classics like Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Little Red Riding Hood, totaling eight enchanting fairy tales. Originally penned for adults in salons, these stories were far from mere children’s bedtime tales. Perrault’s work added a unique twist, interpreting Giambattista Basile’s earlier, eerier fairy-tale plots from a century before.Giambattista Basile’s tales were characterized by their eerie and graphic nature, hardly suitable for children.The Brothers Grimm, German folklore collectors of the 18th century, contributed their own interpretations of folk stories, initially not intended for young readers. So, why were these fairy tales told? In my perspective, they served multiple purposes: sheer enjoyment, education, and reflections of the cultural and societal values of their times. Fairy tales, whether through Perrault’s salon tales, Basile’s dark narratives, or the Grimms’ folklore collection, have always been a versatile and enduring form of storytelling. They’ve provided entertainment, moral lessons, and glimpses into the human condition, enriching our literary heritage.  

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