FOLK KNOWLEDGE>Lithuanian Spells

Marija Zavjalova

Spells represent a specific genre of folklore. It is characterised by very close relations with the archaic forms of national culture and the mythical outlook. Being directly connected with practical magic, spells are practised by a relatively small group of people. The verbal contents of spells is usually kept in secret, consequently, spells are subject to change to a lesser degree than the texts of other genres of folklore. In this respect spells can be regarded as a profound source of ancient tradition. A deep-rooted opinion that spell techniques cannot be revealed to anybody because this deprives spells of their power hinders the collection of texts. So, it is difficult to determine both the precise number of spells and the area of their distribution. It is only possible to speak about the registered and correspondingly processed texts.

Maybe first hints about spells should be sought in the descriptions of mediaeval witch trials (see Raganų teismai Lietuvoje (Witch trials in Lithuania). However until late 19th c. there had been no serious attempts to collect and examine Lithuanian spells. First modest collections of Lithuanian spells (with or without translation) could be occasionally found in the books by German and Polish authors (see Bezzenberger; Wolter; Kraszewski; also the Polish Wisla magazine publications teeming with spell descriptions since 1880). It was only at the beginning of the 20th c. that the first exhaustive collection of spells, that is a book by the Finnish researcher V. Mansikka appeared (see Mansikka). Though several spells were published earlier in the book by A. R. Niemi and A. Sabaliauskas (see Niemi, Sabaliauskas), Mansikka’s contribution into the research of Lithuanian spells could be hardy surpassed: V. Mansikka provided the most profound descriptions of spells.

Later the boom of folklore collection started in Lithuania. The twenties and the thirties produced an exceptionally vast quantity of material. Various periodicals, such as “Kosmos”, “Mūsų tautosaka”, “Tauta ir žodis”, “Gimtasai kraštas” , “Lietuvių tauta”, “Mokykla ir gyvenimas”, “Švietimo darbas”, “Tautosakos darbai” , etc. often published texts of spells. Among the authors who wrote about spells the following major ones could be mentioned: J. Elisonas (see Elisonas), V. Krėvė-Mickevičius (see Krėvė-Mickevičius), P. Stukėnaitė-Decikienė (see Stukėnaitė; Stukėnaitė-Decikienė). In the collection compiled by Stukėnaitė-Decikienė, Mansikka’s texts are repeated in several places, but otherwise the work is very interesting. Judging from literature published in those times, it is possible to conclude that the interest in this particular folklore genre, that is in the secret folk knowledge increased considerably: in the course of the two pre-war decades lots of folk magic descriptions appeared (see Mažiulis; Palukaitis; Rūdzis; Miškinis; Šimkūnas; Tumas).

After the war collection and research of spells lost their vigour because of obvious reasons: such activities were forbidden and persecuted as was everything connected with the obscure side of life. Nevertheless, the biggest collection of Lithuanian spells was published at that time in America (see Balys). In 1968, the 5th volume of “Lietuvių tautosaka” (Lithuanian folklore) series, that is “Smulkioji tautosaka, žaidimai ir šokiai” (Small-form folklore genres, games and dances), appeared in press. The volume included also the description of spells and divination practices. Besides, a lot of material was gathered during expeditions. This material has not yet been put in good order or processed duly. It is still resting in the entrails of manuscript depositories. The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore and the Lithuanian Folklore Centre have just started the creation of a corresponding database.

It is necessary to stress that the investigation into Lithuanian spells fostered a tremendous interest in the research of ancient religion and mythology. Compared to the tradition of neighbouring Slavs, Lithuanian spells have a more archaic structure. This is determined by historical reasons: due to a relatively late introduction of Christianity in Lithuania, Lithuanian folklore (spells, in the first place) managed to preserve certain characteristics of pagan outlook. For example, material relating to Lithuanian spells was used by V. Ivanov and V. Toporov to restore the basic Indo-European myth; it was also used in a number of other interesting studies of world outlook of ancient Balts and other nations (see Ivanov; Toporov; Nevskaja; Dundulienė; Vėlius).

A lot of information on the archaic understanding of the world can be revealed by the investigation into folklore texts, especially into Lithuanian spells. For example, almost all natural subjects found in them are personified: not only the Earth, the Fire, the Sun and the Moon but also the Oak and the Stone - that is the most important elements found in the centre of the mythic world - have their own spirit; they can actively engage in particular activities if asked to by a spell-binder: Valiolio Dzievolio, per Dougio akmenėlį, per Bubį ūžuolėlį, tavy prašau, tau insakau - žodzį tark, krojų sulaikyk, kad iš NN gyslų nebėgtų, dūšios iš kūno neviliotų. Išviliok geriou dūšių iš to medžio, kuris padziūvo, išlaisk kroujų iš tos žolės, kurių dalgė pakirto (God, I am asking you, I am commanding you through Dougis the Stone and Bubis the Oak: utter the word, stop the blood from running out of NN’s veins, from tempting the soul out of the body. You better tempt the soul out of the tree that has become parched, you better let the blood out of the grass that has been cut by a scythe) (Krėvė-Mickevičius. Kerai, p. 504, N III). Here the tree and the stone are characters with their own names; besides, a stone in Lithuanian spells also has its blood and breath (“kvapą užėmęs” (breathless). Such a view corresponds with ancient beliefs that everything in the world has its own spirit, that is an ability to act freely and independently. This can be said also about a human: he is not subordinate to the Supreme Being as is maintained by the Christian philosophy; a human not only settles his problems himself but is able to command even God (see the above-mentioned text). Traditional attributes of the God are just the instruments of the spell-binder: Saulės vardu, perkūno grousmu tau, drugy, insakou, tavi varou nog žmonių, nog gyvulių, nog poukščių, nog kiekvieno gyvo garo... Jei many nepaklousysi, tavi saulės spinduliu išdžiovinsiu, saulės kaitru nukamuosiu, gailiu rasu prigirdzysiu, užkerėtų duonu pripenėsiu (In the name of the Sun, through the thunder of Perkūnas the Thunderer I command you, the Fever, I drive you away from people, animals, fowls, from every live property... If you do not obey, I shall dry you up with the ray of the Sun, I shall wear you out with the heat of the Sun, I shall make you drink the burning dew, I shall make you eat the enchanted bread) (Krėvė-Mickevičius. Kerai, p. 507, N XVI); Švento Petro raktu tavi rakinu, Dzievo vardu tavi užkeikiu, sustok (I lock you by means of the key of St. Peter, I cast a spell on you, do stop) (LTR 3477 (146).

A spell-binder does not only cast a spell, speak or command, he himself fights actively against evil spirits. Action-denoting words used in spells perhaps reflect corresponding rituals relating to verbal magic: trinu (dantį į dantį) (I grind (tooth against tooth), marinu (I exterminate), šaunu ( I shoot), kandu (I bite), graužiu (I gnaw), kremtu (I nibble), rišu (I tie), kertu (I cut), gnybu (I pinch), mezgu (I bind), rakinu (I lock), ištrinu (I rub out ), sutrasu (I shake), siuvu (I sew), išimu (I take out), plaku (I whip), siunčiu (I send), nugenu (I drive away), varou (I turn out). Not only a human being but also separate parts of his body can manifest their activity: spells reflect an opinion that a definite part of human body can cause illness, so a spell-binder asks that part of body to go back to its usual place, or threatens to punish it for misbehaviour: Aš ėjau per žalią girią ir matau gilų šulinį. Aš tave noriu, tave, “tą dantį”, noriu prigirdyt ir nugramzdinti, kad tu man daugiau nebeskaudėtum (As I walked through the forest, I saw a deep well. I want to drawn you, the tooth, to send you to the bottom, so that you never ache again) (Balys, p. 67, N 444); Kaulelis, iššokęs iš savo vietos, atgal kaulą į savo vietą, kur Dievs tave sutvėręs (You little displaced bone, go back to the place where God meant you to stay) (Balys, p. 73, N 479).

The Christian tradition surely exercised influence on Lithuanian folklore. We can find vivid examples of such influence also in the texts of spells. But, in contrast to the Slavic tradition, here corresponding insertions sound artificial. They clearly do not fit in with the rest of the text: Aš dabar matau jauną Mėnulį ir kandu ant mano apmirusio danties. Vardan Dievo Tėvo ir Sūnaus ir Šventosios Dvasios (Now that I see waxing Moon (during its first quarter) I bite with my half-dead tooth. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) (Balys, p. 23, N 83). Kaip gumbas, taip klynas turi savo dvarų. Išsikačiok, išsivaliok! Panele Švenčiausia, pristok, ponas Jezusis ir visi švincieji, kaip akmuo undenin, taip gumbas zemyn. Amen. (Stomach ache has its own realm. Smooth out yourself, roll out yourself! Holy Virgin, stay here for a while, and you, Jesus the Lord, and you, all saints, like a stone into the water so you, the stomach ache, get down. Amen). (Mansikka, p. 98, N 156). Extracts form popular prayers or the names of saints are usually inserted. The most important acts are performed either by the spell-binder himself or by other characters. There are also the texts describing actions performed by Christian characters (Jesus, Holy Virgin, and saints). The texts were possibly borrowed from neighbours who had correspondingly developed plots. Possibly, such characters just substituted pagan deities mentioned in primary texts. This is evidenced by analogous texts in which, for example, actions are performed by St. George (a more recent variant) or by Švaistikas, a pagan Baltic god (a primary variant).

It is noteworthy that Lithuanian spells addressing pagan deities are very numerous. In them the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the Fire (named Gabija) are often mentioned as separate independent characters. They are addressed not only in case of simple incantation against a disease (the Sun and the Earth are asked to “take away” venom; the Earth is responsible for the snake’s behaviour; the Moon “treats” toothache) but also in special prayers, for example: Mėnuo, Mėnuo, Mėnulėli, dangaus šviesus dievaitėli, duok jam ratų, man sveikatų, duok jam pelnystį, man Perkūno karalystį. (Moon the Bright God of the Heaven, give him a circle, give me health, give him completeness, give me the kingdom of Perkūnas the Thunderer). (Balys, p. 17, N 1); [when burying fire under the ashes]: Ugnele Gabijonėle, nekurstoma nedek, užklostoma miegok ir nevaikščiok po šiuos namelius. (Gabijonėlė the Fire, do not burn when not kindled, sleep under the cover, and do not walk about the house). (Balys, p. 48, N 302). Such prayers constitute a separate group of spells. Some researchers distinguish spells from the prayers of the above-mentioned type. We think this is not necessary because prayers and spells serve the same purpose: to protect a human from diseases, misfortunes, etc. Besides, the structure of prayers and spells is similar.

Speaking of relations among spells and other folklore genres, it is necessary to stress the rhythmic form of certain spells. This makes them sound like little songs, for example: [during the storm] Perkūne dievaiti, nemušk žemaitį, mušk gudą kaip šunį rudą! (Perkūnas the God, do not strike a Samogitian, strike a Byelorussian like a ginger-haired dog!) (Balys, p. 53, N 355);

Debesėli, pro šalį, pro šalį,
Nunešk gudo veršelį, veršelį,
Ė tatariui paršelį, paršelį,
Ė kunigo gsaidelį, gaidėlį,
Ė ubago maišelį, maišelį,
Dalykitės per pusį, per pusį,
Viena pusė Saulelei, Saulelei,
Kita pusė debesiui, debesiui.

(Cloud, go past, go past, take with you a Byelorussian’s calf, a Tartar’s piglet, a priest’s rooster, a beggar’s bag, divide the spoil equally between you two: one half for the Sun, one half for the Cloud). (Balys, p. 33, N 161).

Sometimes it is even difficult to determine the genre of a certain text: whether the text represents a merry rhyme or is a part of a serious rite of enchantment. Texts of such type can be usually found in the so-called “non-serious” magic (for example, in magic acts aimed at influencing the weather). Incantations against disease are usually different.

Texts of spells are similar to legends or short stories. We have texts relating about a certain event, for example, somebody’s travel or meeting. Such texts usually take the form of a dialogue, for example: Jėzus Kristus ėjo anksti rytą su Šv. Petru ir Panele Švenčiausia. Dievo gimdytoja ėjo pirmiau jų. Marija paklausė Jėzaus: - Mano Sūnau, kur mes einam? Kad čia kelias eina kalnais, skardžiais ir per miškus. Taip apsaugok ir mano kelią nuo viso pikto. Šventas Petras ištraukė savo raktus ir užrakino vilkų gerkles, kad jie kojų neapgraužtų, jokių nelaimių nepadarytų ir nuo kelio pabėgtų. Amen. (Early in the morning, Jesus Christ went for a walk in the company of St. Peter and the Holy Virgin. The God’s Mother walked before them. Mary asked Jesus: - My Son, where are we going to? As here the path goes through the mountains, steep slopes and forests, so you protect my path from all evil. St. Peter took out his keys and locked the jaws of wolves lest they could pick the feet or bring about some misfortune; so that they run away from the path. Amen). (Balys, p. 89, N 555). However such texts are not typical of Lithuanian tradition. Most probably they appeared later when Christianity had been firmly established, or, as a result of it, had undergone great changes.

Spells are directly connected with practical magic. In this respect they differ from other genres of folklore. When casting a spell, a spell-binder not only pronounces certain words but also performs various acts or uses ritual instruments. Surely, the spell-binder or magician himself or herself is the chief character of the ritual. The subject over whom the spell is cast - be it a human or an animal needing help - is just a passive witness of the ritual (very rarely he or she has to participate in the ritual in some way, for example, is asked to say a prayer). If the subject (a patient or an ill animal) is far away from the place of the ritual, the power of magic is transferred to him by means of a certain object. Various instruments can serve the purpose, but usually a magician casts a spell over bread, salt, water or other food that the patient is fed with later. Places that ache are covered with charmed butter, fat or honey. Wounds are treated by applying to them cold iron, rye flour, wool, and paper. (Such remedies have always been used for curing purposes). Knots can be tied on a piece of rope during the ritual in order to stop the wound, or an imaginary sewing up of a wound with a thread can be performed as is done in the following incantation against bleeding: “Mezgu mazgelį, ne vieną, ne antrą, ne trečią, ne ketvirtą, ne penktą, ne šeštą, ne septintą, ne aštuntą tiktai devintą. Kaip šitą raikštelę mazgiau mazgeliais, taip mazgau, rišu tave, NN kraujas...” (I am tying a knot, not the first, not the second, not the third, not the fourth, not the fifth, not the sixth, not the seventh, not the eighth, I am tying the ninth. As I have tied knots on this band so I am tying up you, the blood of NN...). (Krėvė-Mickevičius. Kerai, p. 504, N IV). It is necessary to stress that tying up as well as sewing up or knotting together have their sacral meaning. The process of tying is magic. It is interesting that the words “to sew”, “to tie”, and “to knot” also mean “to speak”. This indicates that the words “a knot” or “a thread” have their secret meaning. They denote “a strong word, speech, and magic” which fully answers their function in spells.

Word itself is equally powerful in spells. If uttered correctly or pronounced by a powerful character, it may become a strong weapon, for example: Griaudžia griausmas, žaibai žaibuoja, krenta rūdys, žaidai byra, dievo žodžio niekas negal pergalėt... (Thunder is thundering, lightning is flashing, rust is falling down, sparks are flying, nothing can overcome the word of God...) (Mansikka, p. 103, N 181). Somebody’s name is a word of special importance: if you know your enemy’s name you can defeat him or her; and vice versa: if you mention the names of powerful characters, you can make use of their power, for example: Aš visų vardus žinau, nė vienos nebijau: ar juodoji, ar margoji, ar varinė trejos devynerios. (I know the names of them all, I am not afraid of any of them: be it the black one, be it the spotted one, or the copper-coloured one three times nine). (Balys, p. 56, N 382); ... Per Dievo vardų pagalbes tegul pamočyja Onai Mažeikienei. (...through the God’s name may Ona Mažeikienė be helped). (LTR 4921 (17). Name carries the internal essence of the character. No wonder various taboos against the revelation of name exist: if you know a person’s name, you can destroy him/her or demand his/her help; in any case you can control the owner of the name. The victim’s (patient’s) name is to be mentioned in every incantation. The name is the main distinctive feature of it. (If incantation is uttered on behalf of an animal, the colour of its coat is to be mentioned). As soon as the spell-binder utters the name, the joint power of all forces is turned in the favourable direction. The name of the spell-binder himself/herself is also very important, for example:

Švinta Marija, pristok (Holy Mary, stay a while) (to be repeated 3 times)
Plaukė ilgauodegė par mares (The long-tailed one swam across the sea) (to be repeated 3 times)
Švinta Marija nemiega (Holy Mary is not sleeping) (to be repeated 3 times)
Juodas plaukas nemiega (The black hair is not sleeping) (to be repeated 3 times)
Mano vardas nemiega (My name is not sleeping) (to be repeated 3 times). (LTR 3863).

Secret power of the word is stressed also by a secret and discreet ritual of casting a spell: incantations had to be uttered in a low voice, in a whisper, and quickly (without pausing for breath) so that nobody (even the person on whose behalf the incantation is uttered) could understand anything. Only a person with healthy teeth was able to utter incantations so that the word (and breath) released by him/her could not be mutilated. Word was related with breathing: having uttered the incantation the magician had to blow softly on the object or wound on which the spell was being cast (as if sending out the words pronounced by him/her). It was extremely difficult to utter the whole text without stopping for breath, especially if the text had to be repeated several times (3, 9, 12 or sometimes 27 times!). So, the spell-binder had to have not only good teeth but also good lungs. Besides, only the oldest or the youngest member of the family could become a spell-binder. A spell-binder was allowed to hand down his/her powers only to somebody who was younger than he/her or whose gender was the same as his/her.

The time and the place of the ritual was special: spells used to be cast usually at dawn or at sunset, within or without the house (depending on the purpose). Spells used to be suited to some important ritual moment, for example, sowing, sending the cattle to grass for the first time in spring, or kindling a fire. In such cases spells are similar to short prayers, that is a genre close to them. For example: [In spring when driving the cattle off to the pasture for the first time, it is necessary to walk in a circle around your herd three times a twig of kemalas in hand, then turn to the East and repeat the following three times:] Šventas Jurgi, vilkus pažabok, šituos gyvulius saugok. Neskirk vilku nei karvės, nei kioulės, nei paršuko, nei teliuko, nei mažo ėriuko. Laisk vilkam gaudzic cik kiškius, lapias, miško žvėris. (St. George, bridle the wolves, protect these animals. Do not give the wolf either a cow, or a pig, or a piglet, or a calf, or a small lamb. Let the wolves be after rabbits, foxes and other forest animals). (Krėvė-Mickevičius. Kerai, p. 508, N XIX); Žemynėle, žiedkėlėle, žydėk rugiais, kviečiais, miežiais ir visais javais, būki linksma, dievel, ant mūsų; [kad] prie tų mūsų darbų švents angelas pristotų; piktą žmogų pro šalį nukreipk, kad mūsų neapjuoktų. (Žemyna the Raiser of Flowers, bring yourself forth through the blooming rye, wheat, barley and all corn, show us your mirth, o Goddess; [so that] Holy Angel may stay with us while we perform our works; turn an evil human away from us so that he or she may not ridicule us). (Balys, p. 53, N 360).

Incantations against a snake bite are very numerous in Lithuania. Not only the urgency of magic measures (there are many snakes in Lithuania) but also the importance of the snake’s role in folk culture accounts for their popularity. Incantations against snakes reflect the existence of the cult of snake. Incantations against diseases, especially against erysipelas (the rose) and blood, occupy a second place according to popularity. Wound stopping by means of magic acts can be explained by the frequency (because of various reasons) and obviousness of this phenomenon: everyone can see when blood stops running from the wound. Treatment of the rose can be explained not only by the above-mentioned obviousness but also by a very common view that it can be cured only by casting a spell. (People still believe it). It seems that the range of diseases cured by casting a spell covers all illnesses known to people. But in reality each tradition gives preference to one or other disease. For example, we have only several incantations against tuberculosis or evil eye in Lithuania, while in the neighbouring areas occupied by Slavs such incantations are very numerous. Besides, such Lithuanian incantations are obvious borrowings.

Besides incantations against diseases, there are household incantations in Lithuania. They are mostly related with agriculture. Spells relating to animal protection represent a separate group. Compared to the tradition of Eastern Slavs, the Lithuanian tradition is almost void of love magic. Maybe this can be accounted for by the fact that love magic is universally considered to be black, therefore the attitude of people towards it is more serious: love magic is practised less often; on the other hand, people are reticent about it.

According to the structure of text, Lithuanian spells can be grouped in the following way:

1) Charms: very short texts consisting of only 1-2 words (usually, an enumeration of things that can help in case of an illness; or an address to the disease itself, for example: Saule, mėnuo, šešėlis... (The sun, the moon, the shadow...) (TD, p. 179, N 447); Žeme, žemela (The earth, ...) (Mansikka, p. 81 N 79).

2) Comparisons built according to the principle: “A like/as B” , for example: Kaip šitas stalelis siudžiuvęs, tegū ir ana sudžiūsta (Like this shrunken table, may it shrink) (LTR 3585 (413); Ėda mane rėmuo-rėmuonėlis, kaip vilkas žalią mėsą, kaip žuvis žalią žuvį, kaip avis ramunėlį (Heartburn eats me like a wolf eating raw meat, like a fish eating raw fish, like a sheep eating a camomile) (Mansikka, p. 100, N 168).

3) Direct address to a disease or its personification. It may have the form of a covenant, a request, an order, a wish, a threat, or a command to get out, for example: Meška, meška, išlįsk iš akių! Aš tau duosiu urbaną medaus! (Bear, Bear, get out of my eyes! I shall give you a jarful of honey!) (LTR 4511(363); Rože, rože, tu iš kur atsiradai, tu ir pražuk; rože, rože, iš kur tu atsiradai, ten ir pranyk. (Rose, Rose, go thither whence you have come from; Rose, Rose, depart thither whence you have come from) (LKAG 70 (64).

4) Address to outsider characters or powerful natural forces with a request or demand to help get rid of the disease, for example: Unduo, undenėli, sustok, kur bėgi, kur susilaikai, nuo rytų lig vakarų apsiprausi, apšvarini vingiuotas pakrantes, geltonų smėlį, apiprausk mano sūnų Jonų (Water, Water, you who run and pause, you who wash yourself from East to West, you who clean the winding banks and the yellow sands, stop and wash my son Jonas) (Dundulienė, Akys, p. 55); Pele, pele, te (šia) tau kaulinis (dantis), duok man geležinį (Mouse, Mouse, here is a bone tooth; take it and give me an iron tooth) (LT, p. 903, N 9332).

5) Acts performed by the spell-binder himself/herself (or with the help of other characters), for example: Šitą karpelę rišu, šitą karpelę rišu... (I am tying up this wart, I am tying up this wart...) (LTR 4511 (359); Aš nugenu NN (vardas) nelabas dvasias, slegučius ir visa pikta su trim devyneriom galybėm, su trim (devyneriais) angelais. Išdilsi, kaip delčios Mėnuo, sudžiūsi, kaip liekno švendrė. (I am driving away evil spirits, nightmares and all that is evil from NN (name) with the help of three times nine powers, with the help of three (nine) angels. You shall wane like a crescent moon, you shall shrink like a reed in a marsh) (Balys, p. 81, N 525).

6) Addresses directed to God or saints expressing a request to help, for example: Panela Švenčiausia, kadangi pamynei tų ledulielų, kurioj an viso pasaulio norėjai praryt, pamink nuodus šitos leduliulos, kurioj inkando, reiškia, tokį ir tokį gyvulį (Holy Virgin, as you have trampled on the snake that wanted to devour the whole world, do trample on the venom of the snake that has bitten, so to say, some animal) (LTR 4325 (253); Švintas Jokubai, atimk sopi nuo NN. Yra in dangaus dvi zvaigzdes seserys: viena Polia, kita Lidia (St. Jacob, take away the pain from NN. There are two stars in the sky: one is called Polia, the other is called Lidia) (Mansikka, p. 90, N 118).

7) Descriptions of acts made by saints, for example: Panele Švinčiausia, ana Mariutė, ana žegnojo savo švintu runkeli, ligas pavietrius sutabdinėjo (Holy Virgin, Mary, she would cross by her holy hand, she would stop illnesses and diseases) (Stukėnaitė-Decikienė, p. 136, N 104); Turėjo Ponas Jezusis penkias ronas ir užgijos. Kaip tos ronos užgijos, kad taip užgyt ir čia (Lord Jesus had five wounds, and all of them healed up. Like the wounds that healed up, so may this wound heal up) (Mansikka, p. 72, N 36).

There are also mixed texts. However, comparisons, addresses to diseases, and acts performed by the spell-binder himself/herself prevail. Probably these are the most archaic spells. They are static, that is the action described in them takes place without any specification of place and time, or, in other words, “here and now”. This fully answers the purpose of casting a spell: being closely related with the ritual act they themselves perform an act within a word. Longer incantations with a more elaborate plot (usually epic, and widespread in the Slavic tradition) are dynamic: they give an account of somebody’s travel; as Christian characters are common in them, this may indicate that such texts developed relatively later.

Usually, the purpose of casting a spell does not determine the type of spell. For example, incantations against a snake can be of any type. However there are strategic preferences in the treatment of one or other disease. For example, incantations against the rose usually belong to the 7th type, that is a description of a travel taken by a powerful character and his/her manipulations with the metaphor of the disease (that is with the flower of rose) are given; in incantations against blood, a comparison between blood and the Jordan in which the flow of water ceased (or was stopped by Jesus) is made; incantations against heartburn represent just a list of comparisons; incantations against grižius (aching joints) are dominated by a dialogue. Possibly such distribution is connected with the circumstance that every disease had its own most effective way of treatment.

The analysis of each of the above-mentioned variants revealed that the expected effect was supposed to rest on the widely-known principle of similarity (similar treats similar): sometimes a disease was likened to an outwardly similar thing (for example, blood - river), sometimes the same was done on the grounds of similar manifestation (for example, heartburn gnawing like an animal), sometimes - on the basis of similar sounding of the word (for example, rose (a disease) was likened to rose (a flower), sometimes a parallel was drawn between gryžius (a disease) and graužimas (gnawing). If the use of the principle of similarity did not work, then the spell-binder tried to establish a personal contact with the disease, that is he/she addressed it directly. Such method was common in incantations against a snake, a dog, and gumbas (stomach ache). Address directed to third persons was usually used in difficult cases when the spell-binder lacked self-confidence.

Though spell casting techniques may differ, all texts share common structure. By this specific structure spells can be distinguished from other folklore texts. As almost all such texts purpose to restore the system of the world disturbed by diseases or other misfortunes, or to create a closed circle (as is done during a magic rite), this attempt can be observed also in the structural elements of the text. For example, in the repetition of sentences, words or even sounds: Ažuažadu nuo kirmėlės baltam arkliui. Nekenčia tavęs saulė, nekenčia tavęs mėnuo, nekenčia tavęs žvaigždės, nekenčia tavęs dangus, nekenčia tavęs pati, nekenčia tavęs vyras, nekenčia tavęs vaikai, nekenčia tavęs visa pamilija, ir aš tavęs nekenčiu. Amen, amen, amen (I am uttering the words against a worm for a white horse. The sun hates you, the moon hates you, the stars hate you, the sky hates you, the wife hates you, the husband hates you, the children hate you, the whole family hates you, and I hate you. Amen, amen, amen) (Mansikka, p. 77, N 59); Saulė saule, mėnuo mėnesiu, žemė žeme, upė upe! Nueik tu, gyvate, skradu žeme! (LT, p. 895, N 9283); Grauž gryžių, da grauž geriau (Mansikka, p. 96, N. 148). The formation of an orderly image of the world can be also observed in the description of various objects: Paukštis be pieno, akmuo be sparnų, vanduo be kraujo (A bird without milk, a stone without wings, water without blood) (Mansikka, p. 81, N. 75). Objects are to form a harmonised whole. Sometimes this harmony may seem absolutely illogical. However here we encounter another logic, that is the logic of the magic world.

Such absurd representation can be explained by another principle of spell magic, that is by the building of a reverse world model. In it, like in a mirror, the image of the real world is reflected. Surely, in the reverse world things are also interrelated. Consequently, they can exchange their places, or be likened to anything. No wonder that sometimes things seem to go against the principles of logic. For example, the illogical order of objects exists in the following incantation against a snake: Žema žemynela, un pirkelės upelė, un tos upelės aniolas švintasai (Žema žemynela, a river on the hut, a holy angel on the river) (Mansikka, p. 80, N 72). It is possible that here certain characteristics of human thinking, namely the associative relation among antipodal and distant objects manifests itself. Such a reverse world model can be distinguished also in the structure of the text: even the words can be read in reverse order, for example: Te, va, gi, da, jo, da, ru. du, var, nia, vel, skie, ku, nie, na, ma, Jonas [= Gyvate, juoda, ruda! vardu velnio - nekąskit mano Jono!] (= Snake, black and brown! in the name of Devil - do not bite my Jonas!) (Mansikka, p. 77, N 58). It is interesting that in this text the only “normal” word is the name of the snake’s victim. As can be seen, objects belonging to “this” world are not turned upside down. That is, they remain unchanged.

The chief purpose of a spell is not only to describe the magic world, or to put its constituent parts in good order. Spell also purposes to perform a definite act, namely to strike a blow. Therefore many texts are similar to a blow in terms of their outward characteristics, such as compression, curtness and precision. Sometimes even verbs are omitted, for example: Džiovinto vėjo, pernykščio sniego, šių metų ledo, rupūžės kraujo (Parched wind, last year’s snow, this year’s ice, toad’s blood) (LTR 4035 (15); Dangus Jezau, saulė Jezau, žemė Jezau, rasa Jezau. Amen Jezau Kristau (The heaven, O Jesus, the sun, O Jesus, the earth, O Jesus, the dew, O Jesus. Amen, O Jesus Christ) (Mansikka, p. 82, N 82). Such expressive compression is characteristic of Lithuanian spells. In this respect they can be likened to a blow struck from the centre. (Contrary to the spells of East Slavs characterised by a search for the above-mentioned centre). In Lithuanian spells the centre is represented by a spell-casting human who can achieve his aim - to tie up blood, to gnaw up gryžius (disease), to enter into an agreement with evil spirits, even to kill by means of a thunderbolt if needed - all by himself without any external help. The prevalence of nominatives in Lithuanian spells evidences once more their archaic character: it is commonly known that in human phylogeny the part of cortex responsible for nominatives was formed relatively early.

Characteristic features of Lithuanian spells described in this article are closely related with the problem of borrowings. It is obvious that various traditions share common plots. For example, the motif of rose can be found in German and other European spells. (It is not so common among Slavs). Certain plots (for example, a comparison between blood and the Jordan) may have been borrowed owing to the Christian influence. However there are universal methods of treatment reflecting, perhaps, common characteristics of human thinking. Probably, such universal methods represent the likening of herpes to a bough, the asking of a mouse to provide good teeth, etc. However every tradition prefers certain plots to other ones. By the distribution of such preferred and, therefore, highly elaborated plots we can form an opinion about borrowings. For example, Lithuanian texts “against lamanina (rheumatics)” or “against evil eye” are created according to a traditional Slavic scheme, consequently, they must have been borrowed.

Sometimes separate borrowed words in Lithuanian texts betray the route by which the borrowing arrived. If we pay attention to the vocabulary of Lithuanian spells, we shall see many Slavisms. This is quite understandable, bearing in mind the linguistic situation and close contacts between the nations throughout the historical times. However the most interesting thing is that the most important words used in spells, that is the names of diseases or addresses to diseases, such as: Gumbas, apsistanavyj! (Stomach ache, do stop!) (Stukėnaitė-Decikienė, p. 130, N 56); Mumine Žemine, Atimk savo zjadus, Atduok margai karvei sveikatų (Muminė Žeminė, take back your venom, give back good health to the spotted cow) (LKAG 207 (46, 48); Šventa Gabija, būk spakaini (Holy Gabija the Fire, be calm) (Balys, p. 47, N 299) are non-Lithuanian words. Maybe every culture regards a foreign nation or a foreign language as a dangerous and unusual phenomenon. It is interesting that in our case foreign language is also considered to be more effective in the fight against the world of evil forces, or even in the maintaining of closer relations with it. The belief that a foreign obscure word is more helpful than a clear native word determines the appearance of quite unintelligible texts. They are formed of mispronounced or misunderstood texts of foreign languages (usually Polish or Russian). Because of the same reasons equivalent texts repeated in several languages appeared, for example: Viespato Jezus per jura plauke jura nustojo teketo, kad ir mano kraujas nustota tekete. Gospodz J. czerez more plyl more pierestalo tem cztoby I moja krow pierestala tecz. (Jesus the Lord swam across the sea, and the sea stopped flowing; oh, that my blood would stop running) (LMD I 942 (16).

Bearing in mind the situation at the Lithuanian border, it is interesting to note that it is this area that abounds in spells possibly related with the basic dichotomy of the archaic man’s outlook, namely the “one’s own - alien” dichotomy. “One’s own” culture surrounded by alien environment is to be able to protect itself from unknown and therefore dangerous world.

In the territory of Lithuania, there are many texts of spells created by other nations, mostly by Poles and Russians. In some regions bilingual spell-binders can cast spells in several languages. However the genesis of such texts and the influence of translation on different traditions can be revealed only by means of a research into the cultures of nations living there. At present the folklore of Russian Old Believers residing in Lithuania is gathered actively (see published texts of spells - Novikovas, Trimakas). Maybe this material will help us answer the above-mentioned questions, or will invite a lot of new ones.


Balys - Balys J. Liaudies magija ir medicina. Bloomington, Indiana, 1951
Bezzenberger - Bezzenberger A. Litauische Forschungen. Göttingen, 1882
Dundulienė P. Akys lietuvių pasaulėjautoje. Vilnius, 1992
Dundulienė P. Ugnis lietuvių liaudies pasaulėjautoje. Vilnius, 1985
Dundulienė P. Žalčiai lietuvių liaudies pasaulėjautoje ir dailėje. Vilnius, 1996
Elisonas J. Pantinė gyvatė (Vipera berus) // Kosmos, 1930, N 6.
Elisonas J. Keletas folkloro dalykų apie mūsų krašto roplių (Reptilia) atstovus// Kosmos, V t., 1924
Elisonas J. Mūsų krašto ropliai lietuvių folkloro šviesoje // Mūsų tautosaka. Kaunas, III t., 1931
Elisonas J. Keletas folkloro dalykų apie mūsų krašto varles (Amphibia) // Tauta ir žodis. Kaunas, IV kn., 1926
Ivanov, Toporov - Ivanov V., Toporov V. Issledovanija v oblasti slavianskich drevnostej. Moskva, 1974
Kraszewski - Kraszewski J.I. Starožytne dzieje, ustawy, wiara, obyczaje, piesni, przyslovia, podania I t. d. Warszawa, 1847
Krėvė - Mickevičius:
Krėvė - Mickevičius V. Burtai Sedos parapijoje// Tauta ir žodis, Kaunas, 1925
Krėvė - Mickevičius V. Marcinkonių burtai ir prietarai// Tauta ir žodis, Kaunas, 1925 N 3, 1926 N 4
Krėvė - Mickevičius V. Aitvaras // Gimtasai kraštas 1941 - Vim N 1-2 (28 - 29)
Krėvė - Mickevičius V. Kerai // Tauta ir žodis, IV, 1926
LKGA - sound records of Folk Creation Archives (Centre of Lithuanian Folk Culture)
LMD - Lithuanian Science Society (Archives of the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)
LT - Lietuvių tautosaka. V t. (Smulkioji tautosaka, žaidimai ir šokiai), Vilnius, 1968
LTR - Lithuanian Folklore Manuscript Depository (Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore)
Mansikka - Mansikka V. Litauische Zauberspruche. Helsinki, 1929
Mažiulis - Mažiulis A. Blogos akys // Gimtasai kraštas, 1938, N 3-4
Miškinis - Miškinis J. Trys šimtai dzūkų burtų ir prietarų// Tauta ir žodis, IV, Kaunas, 1926
Nevskaja - Nevskaja L. O zagovornoj realizaciji odnogo epizoda osnovnovo mifa // Etnolingvistika teksta. Semiotika malych form folklora. Moskva, 1988
Niemi, Sabaliauskas - Niemi A.R., Sabaliauskas A. Lietuvių dainos ir giesmės. Helsinki, 1911
Novikovas, Trimakas - Novikovas J., Trimakas R. Lietuvos rusų sentikių užkalbėjimai// Tautosakos darbai, VI - VII (XIII - XIV), Vilnius, 1997
Palukaitis - Palukaitis J. Burtai ir prietarai // Lietuvių tauta, N 4, 1924
Raganų teismai Lietuvoje - Raganų teismai Lietuvoje. Vilnius, 1987
Rūdzis - Rūdzis M. Vilniaus krašto dzūkų burtai // Lietuvių tauta, N 3, 1920
Stukėnaitė - Stukėnaitė P. Šis tas apie Vilniaus kaimo prietarus ir burtus // Gimtasai kraštas, 1940 N 124
Stukėnaitė - Decikienė - Stukėnaitė - Decikienė Pr. Užkalbėjimai Švenčionių apskrity. // Gimtasai kraštas, 1941 - VIII m. 1-2 (28-29 nr.)
Šimkūnas - Šimkūnas P. Lietuviškieji žavėtojai // Mokykla ir gyvenimas. 1930, N 6
TD - Vilniaus krašto lietuvių tautosaka // Tautosakos darbai, t.IV, Kaunas, 1938
Tumas - Tumas J. Kalbamieji žmonės // Švietimo darbas, N 3-4, 5-6, 1921
Vėlius - Vėlius N. Chtoniškasis lietuvių mitologijos pasaulis. Vilnius, 1987

translated by FRAZĖ