Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Understanding Russian Fairy Tales - part 1

A man saw an older woman enter a Russian church and light a candle for a saint but then was surprised when she went to light a candle to an image of Lucifer being cast out of heaven. Surprised the man asked her what she was doing and she told him that essentually since there is no way to know where one will end up it didn't hurt to have friends everywhere (Haney, 1999).
Such thinking is an important aspect of many Russian fairy tales, where one of the primary moral lessons is that one must learn to respect that which is fearful and at times cruel. In the "Black Smith and the Demon" this a black smith shows disrespect to an icon of a demon, spitting on it and calling it ugly. So the demon kills his friends and frames the blacksmith for the crime. When the blacksmith apologizes for the wrong he he committed to the demon the demon then saves him. Baba Yaga, perhaps one of the most feared and loathsome creatures in Russian folklore is also the donor, the one who supplies hero's with the ability to succeed in their quest, to grow up.
It makes sense for the Russian serfs who made up the majority of Russia's ancient population to try to pacify the cruel and the dangerous. After all all those that can harm you need to be placated as most Russians were powerless before the mighty. These mighty beings from Ivan the Terrible to the local Lords where the heroes of the Russian tales but they must also have been feared, at least to some extent. Thus we see that within the Russian world good and evil mesh together into a single figure more then in many other tales. Certainly I have argued that internal dualism (the presence of good and evil in a single being) is an important feature of most of the original belief systems of Eurasia, and so is present in most fairy tales. Still the idea seems more well defined within Russian fairy tales. A certain amount of rugged toughness was required to survive in a land where one could die of cold or heat and so no season gave any real respite to the bitter whims of the natural world. Russia too has also existed in the world between the raiders of the East and the West, who have attacked them constantly. While any one group from the Scythians to the Mongols may have attacked many places they did seem to do the most damage to Russia.