Ambivalent Status of Sacrum in Slavic Traditional Culture: Cemetery as Horrific and Holy Place
Authors: Maria A. Andrunina
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The article discusses different compounds in the traditional notion of sacrum and typical relations between them on the example of cemetery concerned beliefs and ritual practices, using the data from Polesye region (Ukranian, Belorussian, Western Russian data). The portrait of graveyard as holy place is formed from the religious symbols existing in it (churches, crosses, sanctification of the land for new cemetery); the regarding the dead ancestors as holy forefathers, who always assist their living relatives in all kinds of troubled situations and the consideration of the cemetery as improper place for unclean dead burial (mostly suicidal and others), who habitually were laid on graveyard boundaries. In the other hand, cemetery is the place in between the world of living and the world of dead, where different types of ghosts and demons can be viewed, where all kinds of black magic can be performed, which drives to the place witches and other dangerous persons. The danger of cemetery for people is reflected in great number of taboos and rules concerning the place: for instance, to ask in the gates the spirits for permission to enter, not to visit the place before or after sun, never take anything from the place and so on. So, presented material shows that the notion of sacrum in Slavic traditional culture consists of Christian and pre-Christian layers, contains the ideas of supernatural, death, miracle and horror; the relations between two poles of cognitive field “supernatural” — sacrum and demonic — are formed by the way of turning unholy and demonic place into holy by the means of placing there sacred religious symbols (building of churches, crosses, putting to it “holy” toponymy) and by symbolic exploration of land, which demands finding the center, considered to be sacred; lining the boundaries which divide it from surrounding wild, demonic and thus dangerous land. This structure of sacred is mirrored in the organization of cemetery: it has the central holy place, which is church or main cross with honorable graves of respected forefathers around, it has boundary places there unclean, dangerous, demonic dead are traditionally buried, it distinguished from surrounding lands defied from symbolical meaning.