Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Wrach

In Cornish and Welsh the word "wrach" means old woman, hag, witch. Fraic as in the placename Leitir Fraic is said to be an old obsolete Irish word for a woman. In Serbian, the word "vrač" pronounced "vrach" means doctor, physician, shamanistic priest, witch doctor, magician, warlock. The verb "vračati" means to cast spells, to divinate, to perform any magical action. The word is found in all Slavic languages. 

In Serbian villages the role of "vrač" was usually performed by a woman who was then called "vračara", feminine form of "vrač". Vračara was the healer, midwife, amulet maker, spell caster, fortune teller, and basically keeper of "magical" and other ancient religious traditions and taboos. Some of the rituals preserved as part of this folk magic are remnants of ancient Vedic, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Old Slavic, Turkish... religious rituals which accumulated in Serbian culture...

Vračara was usually an old woman who received her "magical" knowledge from her mother who got it from her mother who got it from her mother...Vračara was quintessential witch...But witch which was part of the community. The good witch. The real ones never charged for their services. They did their what they did because it was their calling. 

Vračara was most likely to look something like this. Basically your typical Serbian baba (grandmother, old woman, hag, "wrach"):







The tradition of vračara was suppressed during Christianity, when vračara was seen as part of the old pagan belief system. It was also suppressed during Communism when vračara was at best seen as part of the backward peasant culture and at worst as fraudster who was danger to society. It is today also suppressed as stupid dangerous superstition of which we Serbs should be ashamed... 

Despite centuries of suppression, village vračara managed to survive until recently. However today the tradition is dying out because the Serbian villages are dying out and crumbling to dust. And soon the Celtic "wrach", Serbian "vrač", the old village "witch" will disappear into the legend for ever...

10 comments:

  1. If I look at those pictures, I clearly see apostasy in faith. They look to "magic" what they ought to seek from God.

    "it was their calling."
    By whom? God or the prince of trickery? ;-)

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    1. Well that is the question everyone has to answer for themselves. As you know, if you have read history of religion even a little, old gods quickly become new faith's devils...So you go figure who is who...

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    2. Let’s be fair, if you look at those pictures, you can clearly see a conflict in faith.
      The fact that the "witch" and those who seek them, expect something through the possibilities of "magic", rather than putting their trust into God, implies a lack of faith.

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    3. You are missing the point. Peasants don't have exclusive faith in anything. They will try anything that works. The Christianity, Islam and pagan beliefs are completely intertwined and mixed up in the Balkans. This doesn't mean that people don't believe in god, or gods, but that they prefer to take extra insurance that their prayer will work :) So you sacrifice a cockerel when you build a house and bring the priest to bless it. Just to be sure to be sure :)

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  2. Heinrich Kramer...
    "And all this is indicated by the etymology of the word; for Femina comes from Fe and Minus, since she is ever weaker to hold and preserve the faith. Therefore a wicked woman is by her nature quicker to waver in her faith, and consequently quicker to abjure the faith, which is the root of witchcraft."

    Seriously, I don't believe in such things either way.
    I'm actually more interested in the nature of the performed "rituals" in the pictures. Thanks

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    1. Heinrich was at best a fool and at worst a misogynist. As for you, you are obviously a believer considering that you are constantly talking about loss of faith and wickedness...And that prevents you to see the point of all this. I my article I am talking about ancient traditions and words which have been preserved in the Balkans for thousands of years. I am not making any pro or against statements...

      As for nature of performed rituals they are many and complex and vary from village to village...

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    2. Seriously, what actually caught my attention is that you summarized his core claims in your article, among other things he also claims that old women pass down "magical" knowledge orally from generation to generation and he even realizes that this knowledge is pre-Christian in nature. Maybe you should look into the Malleus maleficarum, with your background knowledge you will probably interpret it in a different way. The book describes a lot of folk beliefs and is clearly written in a shamastic milieu were the common people apparently believed in the evil&good wrach. A lot of people misinterpret the Malleus maleficarum as something that was born out of the evil church, what it is clearly not. Actually the whole book tries to convince the clergy and especially the worldly leaders to listen to the people’s voices and to do something about the witch plague. What makes Heinrich Kramer a dangerous fool, is that he actually listened to the Peasants... The book is merely a reflection of (folk) Christianity overlapping with pre-Christian beliefs and Kramer trying to put it in a theological context.
      I personally double checked some of the claims the Malleus maleficarum makes in regard to witch practices and they are all actually true. There were a lot of very evil folk superstitions (some pre-Christian) regarding magical ingredients like the fat of unbaptised children, children hearts hands of the dead and so forth.

      The only thing I can agree on, is that Heinrich Kramer was a misogynist;
      however, with a sense of humour. :-)

      Heinrich Kramer
      "There is also a story of a man whose wife was drowned in a river, who, when he was
      searching for the body to take it out of the water, walked up the stream. And when he was asked why, since heavy bodies do not rise but fall, he was searching against the current of the river, he answered: “When that woman was alive she always, both in word and deed, went contrary to my commands; therefore I am searching in the contrary direction in case even now she is dead she may preserve her contrary disposition.”

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    3. Ok I get it now. Women have always been the preservers of the knowledge. The reason for this is that they were the ones who survived the men. Men died in battles and often, at least in the Balkans, we find that a woman is the oldest person in the extended family.

      The main word for the witch in Serbian language "veštica" literally means the one with the knowledge, the one who is skilled...

      There are of course different types and degrees of knowledge...

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    4. Interestingly, Kramer also distinguishes between male&female knowledge on magic. He views males who apply magic more favourable than female witches. (Due to the strong overlap between science and superstition aka the Alchemist). So according to him, most men apply magic to gain hidden knowledge (of nature) or to modify nature on a non-emotional basis. In contrast to women who use magic for profane intentions from the start, basically love&hate, that arises out of irrational emotions.

      "A note on Kramer"
      As a member of a mendicant order (Dominican) Kramer (born around 1430 in Schlettstadt, Elsass) naturally had contact to commoners plus he himself comes from a poor peasant background ,which I think explains his obsession with folk beliefs and witches and his career choice,Inquisitor... This and the fact that he was a sharp thinker + his scholastic approach in regard to God and the World,make him a interesting man.

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  3. Hi. First I thought it's more than questionable to compare the Celtic *wrach and Slavic "vrach". But then I found that Cornish *wrach corresponds to Welsh *gwrach (meaning hag or witch). With *g it sounds much more interesting taking into account that the etimology of "vrach" can be explained by Slavic verb «вьрати» meaning «говорить» (= "speak" like witches charming away or putting on a spell). According to Fasmer, in its turn, GOVOR is stemming from Proto-Slavic *govorъ, wherefrom we got: Ukr. говорити, Bulg. го́вор, гово́ря, Serb. го̏во̑p, гово́рити, Sloven. gȏvor, govoríti, Czech. hovor, hovořit, Slovak. hovoriť, Kashub. gævær, Lusatian howrić. Also possible: Polish. gwar «speech», gwara «dialect». From other families, although they do not remind *vrach: Latv. gaura «idle talk», gaurat, -ãju «whistle», gavile^t, -ẽju «cheer loudly, warble», Lithuan. gauju, gauti «wail», gaudžiù, gaũsti «sound», Old German. gikewen «call», Anglo-Sax. cíegan (from *kaujan) — call, Gutnish kaum «wailing», Old High German kûma «groan», Old Indian. jṓguvē «scream», gavatē «sounds», Greek. γόος «moan», γοάω «cry». Thank you for your daring ideas!

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