Author Archives: eliseeva

Maslenitsa

Content:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

Мaсленица (Maslenitsa) is a pagan holiday still celebrated in Russia annually. In the week leading up to lent in which people make pancakes in copious amounts. Maslenitsa comes from the Russian word for butter (Мaслo, maslo). So many butter based foods, but primarily pancakes  (Russian pancakes resemble crepes more than American pancakes, they are very thin). The pancake is actually a symbol of the sun in pagan culture. This celebration originates from pre-Christian times and is still celebrated today. It’s one of the few pagan traditions/holidays that Christianity did not get rid of. 

Analysis:

Festivals are a universal occurrence in all cultures. The timing of them is always significant. It is my interpretation that Maslenitsa is intentionally held right before Lent, so that people can enjoy their indulgences before having to give them up for seven weeks. In addition, Russia is still in the middle of winter when lent occurs, so making warm, hearty pancakes is something everyone looks forward to in the months leading up to it.

For another description of this festival, see: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=44139

Ivanushka Durachok:

Context:

The informant is my father. He is a 55-year old white male and spent the first 26 years of his life in the Soviet Union (Moscow). He, like many others in the USSR was raised as an atheist, and his whole family (including himself) has a background in the sciences; therefore he is a very logical, analytical individual. 

The following conversation took place as a part of a larger conversation about Russian folklore during a road trip from Southern Utah to Las Vegas.

Transcribed and translated from an interview held in Russian

“One of the tropes that everyone knows are stories about Ivanushka durachok (Ivan the dumb, Ivan the fool). It is actually quite telling of te Russian people as a whole. Russian culture in many ways relies on luck; that someone can do all kinds of things, but it wont turn out well unless he gets lucky. That’s where the Russian heroes originated from, as well as some proverbs. Ivanushka durachok is a character that can lie on the stone oven top (a common part of any Russian village home – the top of this stone oven would only be warmed a little, so oftentimes people would use it as a place to sleep, especially in the winter) and not do anything. Then he can get very lucky, and through a chain of events marry a princess. Or he does nothing, then he meets a pike and that fish grants him all of his wishes.”

Analysis:

This trope dates back to pre-Soviet folklore. According to the informant, it has to do with the fact that for more than centuries, Russia had this history of never fully being free. Then when serfdom came into effect, the serfs never really had a purpose, a way to advance in life. Therefore, this trope of folklore that portrayed characters reliant on luck and benefiting primarily from luck became very popular in Russia.

This is Russian folklore’s version of the fool character. This archetype appears in many cultures. Russian folklore tends to favor him, possibly because it gives the people hope that good things can happen to anyone, even a simple fool.

Koshei the Deathless


Context:

The informant is a Russian-American-Bulgarian woman who spent the first half of her life in Russia. She currently resides in Boston, MA and the interview took place over zoom in which I interviewed her about the Russian folklore that she grew up with and that she feels represents the Russian people and culture.

Dark wizard who was able to separate his mortality from himself and hide it away. Usually it is hidden in a needle, which is located in an egg, which is hidden in a duck, the duck was hidden somewhere else, and so on and so forth. Similar to the Matreshka system. When you wanted to defeat Koshei, you had to find his mortality – his death.

Analysis:

The description of Koshei the Deathless separating his mortality, is one that is very reminiscent of the horcruxes from Harry Potter. I do not know if folklore in other cultures has a similar motif of hiding your mortality in physical objects, but given how prominent a theme death is in all walks of life, it is very likely. 

I do not know if JK Rowling intentionally drew from Russian folklore for her books, but I doubt that it was a coincidence. This brings up themes of copyrighted work drawing from folklore, and due to the uncopyrighted nature of folklore, not feeling the need to give credit to or acknowledge what the ideas were inspired by

For another version, read: https://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/slavic-legend-immortality-koschei-deathless-002717

Itadakimasu

Context:

The informant is a 23 year old Japanese male. He was born in Nagoya, Japan where he spent the first half of his life. When he was 13, he came to the United States to attend high school and has been living in California ever since. The informant currently resides in Inglewood, CA and works in animation.

Itadakimasu is something we say before we eat. This translates to “I will be having this” in a very polite way. But what you’re really doing is giving thanks to everyone that has put this meal in front of you. You are not only comparing this to Christianity when you are saying Grace, you are saying thank you to everything that you are grateful for. When saying Itadakimasu, you are saying “thank you” to the people that made your food, everyone who brought out your food, the animal that gave its life to provide nourishment for you, the people that caught and collected the food, your mother or father who has bought this food, it encompasses everything. 

Analysis:

Japanese folklore is very centered on making sure that food and things in general are being treated well and appreciated. A lot of that is reflected in the Japanese mindset. Being mindful about other things around you. The whole concept of mindfulness is very important.

Don’t Breathe When You See Ghosts

Context:

The informant is a 23 year old Japanese male. He was born in Nagoya, Japan where he spent the first half of his life. When he was 13, he came to the United States to attend high school and has been living in California ever since. The informant currently resides in Inglewood, CA and works in animation.

This story was told to me by my nanny.

She was quite superstitious, she went to see psychics, and was told by the psychic that when you encounter a ghost, you are not supposed to breathe. You should just keep walking until you pass them, because when you breathe in, the spirit and sometimes they are good, other times they are bad, can enter your body. 

Analysis:

Superstition remains prominent in many cultures, particularly among older generations. This is example demonstrates the Japanese belief in superstitions, particularly more spiritual ones, while also living in a very technologically advanced and science driven society.