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Shamanic Elements in Some Early Eighteenth Century Russian Woodcuts

Author(s): Dianne E. Farrell

Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Winter, 1993), pp. 725-744
Published by: The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2499650
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Shamanic Elements in Some Early Eighteenth Century
Russian Woodcuts

Dianne E. Farrell

While several authorities have held that the shamanism' of indigenous

Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples influenced the Russians with whom
they lived in close proximity, particularly via pagan Slavic volkhvyor
sorcerers, little concrete evidence of that influence persisting in the
seventeenth or eighteenth centuries has been discovered.2 However,
several early eighteenth century woodcuts (lubki) which refer to sorcery
reveal concrete links to shamanic cosmology and practice in what are
otherwise enigmatic textual references and visual symbols. These prints

I would like to acknowledge support received from the International Research and
Exchanges Board in 1984, which contributed to this article. I would also like to ac-
knowledge a partial leave granted me by Moorhead State University for spring term
1989 in support of this and other work. Earlier versions of this article were presented
at the April 1990 meeting of the Western Social Science Association and the October
1990 meeting of the AAASS.
1. A distinction is generally made between sorcerer (witch, wizard) and shaman
as practitioners of the occult. Both function as healers and diviners but the shaman
is distinguished by his/her direct contact with the spirit world through a special state
of consciousness (trance), whereas the sorcerer relies upon incantations or the manip-
ulation of objects to work his/her magic. See Mircea Eliade, Shamanism:Archaic Tech-
niques of Ecstasy (New York: Pantheon, 1964), revised and enlarged from the original
1951 French edition; and Wendy Doniger, ed., Mythologies(Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1991), 2: 1103; a restructured translation of Yves Bonnefoy, comp., Dic-
tionnairedes mythologieset des religions des societestraditionnelleset du mondeantique (Paris:
Flammarion, 1981). Gloria Flaherty, in Shamanismand the EighteenthCentury(Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1992) deals with the assimilation of rediscovered shaman-
ism by Europeans and provides an extensive bibliography. She pays particular atten-
tion to Catherine the Great, who wrote a play ridiculing shamanism and generally
made a cause of combatting serious intellectual interest in it.
2. On the influence of shamanism on volkhvy,see George P. Fedotov, The Russian
ReligiousMind, vol. 1, Kievan Christianity:The Tenth to the ThirteenthCenturies(New York:
Harper Brothers, 1960), 356-57. On the persistence of volkhvyin the eleventh, twelfth
and thirteenth centuries, who, as leaders of popular revolts, seriously contested the
authority of the church, see Fedotov and Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels:A History of
the Skomorokhi(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978), 128, fn. 73. In-
formation on the still active volkhvy is based on chronicle entries and ecclesiastical
admonitions. As to whether a volkhv functioned through trance states like a shaman,
these sources tell us nothing. It would appear that, by the seventeenth century, the
volkhvhad become a practitioner of magic, marginal rather than central to community
life (see Linda Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief [Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1989], 86, fn.9, citing
N.A. Nikitina, "K voprosu o russkikh koldunakh," SbornikMuzeia antropologiii etnografii
(Leningrad: AN SSSR, 1928), 7: 299-325). Nikitina believes that the Russian sorcerers
in the pagan era were shamans but that, under pressure from Christianity, they had
by the seventeenth century been consigned to serving the dark forces and were achiev-
ing their trance states via large amounts of alcohol (ibid., 324-25). Her study of sorcery
among Russians is based on field research done in 1926 in Nizhegorodskaia province
and on ethnographic literature, some of which was based on old court records.
Slavic Review 52, no. 4 (Winter 1993)


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Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 727

may attest to the presence of a volkhv-shamanic tradition among an

economically well-off segment of the population in the time of Peter
the Great, for it can be shown that the earliest lubki were expensively
produced. This interpretation also belies earlier readings of lubki as
political satire, which have become increasingly unsatisfactory for con-
temporary scholars.
"Baba-laga Rides Forth to Fight the Crocodile" (Figure 1),3 a lubok
from the end of the seventeenth or the early eighteenth century, has
repeatedly been identified by researchers as a satire, having emanated
from the Old Believers, which mocks the domestic relations of Peter I
and his wife. D.A. Rovinskii, the pioneering late nineteenth century
scholar of lubki, was the first to give this reading, based both upon the
rumor, current in Peter's time, that the foreign Catherine had be-
witched Peter and upon the nineteenth century report that the Old
Believers referred to Peter as a crocodile because he persecuted them.
In this reading, the tiny ship in the space below the "crocodile" refers
to Peter's passion for the nautical and the bottle of wine or vodka
refers to the drinking habits of the imperial pair. The most recent
Soviet publications of this lubok repeat that interpretation.4
Several objections may be raised to this reading, among them that
current researchers find no evidence that the Old Believers produced
any political satire in the eighteenth century, written or pictorial. While
they depicted Peter (and other tsars) as the Antichrist and predicted
the apocalypse, they did not stray from a religious frame of reference.5
Furthermore, it cannot be shown that Old Believers had access to me-
chanical means of reproduction in the eighteenth century; they pro-
duced manuscripts and hand-reproduced copies of watercolored art
works in this period, but no woodcuts or engravings.6 M.A. Alekseeva
successfully challenged political interpretations of "The Mice Bury the
Cat" lubki; it seems likely now that other political interpretations, all
originated by Rovinskii and V.V. Stasov, will also be contested.7 The
work of Mikhail Bakhtin has additionally influenced scholars to recon-
sider lubki: within the tradition of festive folk humor common to pre-
modern European culture, poking fun did not express challenge or
rejection but did provide relief from the seriousness of a doctrinaire
and authoritarian culture.8 There are also good internal reasons to re-

3. In D.A. Rovinskii, Russkie narodnyekartinki, 5 vols. and 4 folios (St. Petersburg,

1881-93), folio 1, No. 37; hereafter, RNK.
4. The Lubok:Russian Folk Pictures, 17th to 19th Centuries,intro. Alla Sytova, trans.
Alex Miller (Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers, 1984), fig. 27.
5. Michael Cherniavsky, "The Old Believers and the New Religion," Slavic Review
25, no. 1 (March 1966): 23-35 and figs. 7 and 8.
6. Communicated to me by E.I. Itkina of the State Historical Museum in Moscow
in 1984. See her Russkii risovannyi lubok (Moscow: Russkaia Kniga, 1992).
7. M.A. Alekseeva, "Graviura na dereve 'Myshi kota na pogost volokut'-pamiat-
nik russkogo narodnogo tvorchestva kontsa XVII-nachala XVIII v.," in XVIII vek,
Sbornik 14 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1983), 45-79.
8. Mikhail Bakhtin, TvorchestvoFransua Rable i narodnaia kul'tura srednevekov'iai
renessansa(Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1965); translated by Helene Iswolsky
728 Slavic Review

interpret "Baba laga Rides Forth to Fight the Crocodile," since both
costuming details and signs of shamanic influence link it to the Finno-
Ugric culture.
Baba Jaga is, of course, a famed witch of Slavic folktales, a chthonic
goddess whose meanings and functions as such may be only dimly
sensed or entirely lost.9 Russians also used "Baba Jaga" in reference
to any witch or to malign any cantankerous old woman. In this lubok
Baba Jaga is shown astride a pig, riding into combat over a bottle of
wine or vodka-combat with a most peculiar creature. "Jaga baba edet
s korkodilom" dratisia na svin'e s pestom" da u nikh zhe po[d] kustom"
sklianitsa s vino[m]" (Baba laga rides forth on a pig to fight a crocodile
with a pestle and there beneath a bush they have a bottle of wine/
With whom will Baba laga fight? A crocodile or the crocodile, mis-
spelled "korkodil"(in another version of the print-"karkarladil"). But
the creature depicted is not a crocodile by any stretch of the imagi-
nation. It has the head of a man with a very long beard, long hair and
forelock; its body is furry and it has a bushy tail. Its only reptilian
features are its forepaws, which are held up to meet the blows of the
oncoming Baba Jaga. Excepting the forepaws, the predominant impres-
sion is of a wolf-man, or perhaps a fox- or coyote-man. In many cul-
tures, such creatures were believed to be transmogrified sorcerers and
-witches; sorcerers had a particular affinity for wolves since their ste-
reotypical appearance, with bushy hair and brows, and penetrating
eyes, was thought to be wolf-like.10 Male sorcerers had long beards and
it was thought that they could be disempowered through shaving.11
Both male and female sorcerers were magician-healers who were com-
monly paid by their clients in wine or vodka,12 so that a conflict be-
tween practioners of magic over a bottle is readily conceivable as
professional rivalry.
More than anything else in this woodcut, it is the small sailing ship

as Rabelaisand His World(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968); reprinted by Indiana University

Press, 1984. See, e.g. my "Laughter Transformed: The Shift from Medieval to Enlight-
enment Humor in Russian Popular Prints," in Russia and the World of the Eighteenth
Century,eds. R.P. Bartlett, A.G. Cross and Karen Rasmussen (Columbus: Slavica, 1988)
157-76; and "Medieval Popular Humor in Eighteenth-Century Lubki,"Slavic Review 50,
no. 3 (Fall 1991): 551-65. Notable treatments of premodern popular culture and its
transformation are found in Natalie Z. Davis, Societyand Culturein Early ModernFrance
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975); and Marc Raeff, The Well-OrderedPolice
State: Social and Institutional Change through the Law in the Germaniesand Russia, 1600-
1800 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983).
9. Maria-Gabriele Wosien, TheRussian Folk-Tale:SomeStructuraland ThematicAspects
(Munich: Verlag Otto Sagner, 1969); and Aleksandr Nikolaevich Afanas'ev, Poeticheskie
vozzreniiaslavian na prirodu (Moscow: Izd. K. Soldatenkova, 1865-1869).
10. A.N. Nikitina, "K voprosu o russkikh koldunakh," SbornikMuzeia antropologii
i etnografli7 (1928): 304.
11. Ibid., 320.
12. Ivanits, 118.
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 729

shown in the lower left corner beneath the wolflike sorcerer that has
been thought to link this figure to Peter the Great (although he was
never depicted with a beard). The ship serves my argument better, for
it is depicted in a cut-away space, as though beneath the earth's surface;
this is the position where the pictorial canon dictates that hell be de-
picted in LastJudgment scenes. Figure 2,13 from the Koren' Bible (of
the same period and stylistic school as this print), shows the devil in
this space on the fourth day of creation, when he was cast down from
heaven by God. The double line in the Baba laga woodcut, separating
the terrestrial battle from the ship, is similar to the cosmological scheme
depicted on shamans' drumheads that demarcates the boundary be-
tween the nether and upper worlds."4 In this woodcut the ship, then,
is in the shamanic underworld, the nearest equivalent to the Christian
Shamanic belief attributes illness to spirit loss (or spirit intrusion);
it is the shaman's function to restore (or extract) this spirit, which often
appears in zoomorphic form. Shamans have a "helping animal" (or
animals), frequently considered in northern Eurasia to be a wolf."5
They specialize in achieving trance states during which their souls
leave the body and journey to other worlds to heal the sick, to foretell
the future or to conduct the souls of the dead to the nether world.16
Shamans may sit upon a drum which is addressed as a horse, reindeer
or boat, and which serves as their vehicle for soul travel to the under-
world. On this journey, they may have to combat spirits who hold the
sick person in their grip: for this battle shamans may be clad in the
attire, mask or symbol of their helping animal, or they may be trans-
formed into that spirit.17 A sacred post or pole, symbol of the world
pillar or world tree, may serve as channel of communication to the
upper world (the sky, heaven) and-in some cases-to the lower world.
This "world tree" or shaman's tree is an important cosmological sym-
bol in Siberia; shamans' drums, prepared from its wood, are central
to their practice. "Like the Cosmic Tree and the shaman's costume,
the boat functions as a vehicle of the gods or spirits or of shamans on
their journeys to other worlds and, as such, signifies the shaman's es-
sential technique of earthly transcendence." 18 The sorcerer's part-wolf
appearance, then, may be from a wolfskin that he has donned to sha-
manize, representing his helping animal or his own transmigrant soul

13. RNK, No. 810/4.

14. See illustration reprinted in Doniger, ed., Mythologies2: 1137.
15. A. Hultkrantz, "Ecological and Phenomenological Aspects of Shamanism" in
Shamanismin Siberia,ed. V. Di6szegi and M. Hoppal (Budapest: Akademiai kiado, 1978),
16. Doniger, 1103-4.
17. Hultkrantz, 36-39.
18. Joan M. Vastokas, "The Shamanic Tree of Life," in Stones,Bonesand Skin:Ritual
and ShamanicArt, eds. A.Brodzky, R. Danesewich and N. Johnson (Toronto: Society for
Art Publications, 1977), 107.
.~ ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~~~~~
..._ ~. .. ..

Figure 2. "The Fourth Day of Creation," woodcut by Vasilii Koren

in the 1690 s. RNK no. 810/4. Reproduced by courtesy of the Hoover
Institution, Stanford University.
Shamanzc Elements in Russian Woodcuts 731

in animal form.'9 (The use of drum, rattles or masks, important in

shamanism, never became the regular practice of east Slavic sorcer-
ers.20) Both the boat and the bush in the center of the woodcut rep-
resent vehicles for soul-travel.21 The creature opposing Baba laga may
be either a shaman of the Finno-Ugric people of northern Russia or a
Russian sorcerer who was trained in his calling by a shaman. But there
is a composite ethnicity in this group of related prints (Figures 1, 3
and 4) with respect to the sorcerer and to Baba laga as well, as we shall
The boat can be linked specifically to the Ugric peoples of north-
western Siberia who used boats as vehicles for soul-travel. The Mansi
(Voguls), Khanty (Ostyaks) and Samoyeds of the upper and lower Ob'
River buried their dead either in a small boat or made a coffin some-
what in the form of a boat.22 The Khanty shaman is reported to travel
in the upper world by boat and floats down a stream to return to
earth.23 The Evenk (western Tungus), who live on the upper Yenisei
and between the Yenisei and the Ob' (thus adjoining the Ugrians of
the Ob'), also envision the cosmos as a great river. Their shamans
accompany the souls of the dead downriver, the shaman's drum serving
as a boat, the soul following on a raft.24
But why "crocodile," when the figure clearly is that of a wolf-man?
The portrayal of the lord or guardian of the underworld as reptilian
is widely dispersed. The serpent, dragon and Satan are synonymous

19. The difficulty with this supposition is that no shamanic costume I have seen
illustrated is simply the pelt of an animal; most are of leather or cloth adorned with
drawn or painted designs, feathers, tufts of hair, bits of metal, colored rags, etc. This
difficulty is overcome if the figure is a shaman-werewolf, as I show below.
20. Nikitina, 324.
21. I.S. Gurvich, "Kosmogonicheskie predstavleniia i perezhitki totemicheskogo
kul'ta u naseleniia olenekskogo raiona," Sovetskaiaetnografiia,no. 3 (1948a): 130; Bo
Lonnqvist, "Problems Concerning the Siberian Shaman Costume," EthnologiaFennica,
no. 1-2 (1976): 6. The symbological functional theory was advanced early in the cen-
tury by various ethnographers: Troshchanskii (1902), Nioradze (1925) and modified
by Uno Harva of Holmberg in 1938.
22. Anna-Leena Siikala, The Rite Techniqueof the Siberian Shaman (Helsinki: Suom-
alainen Tiedeakatemia, 1978), 164, citing N. Gondatti, Sledy iazychestvau inorodtsev
Severo-ZapadnoiSibiri (Moscow, 1888). This practice was not unique to northwestern
Siberia; Pallas reports it from neolithic burials of the Pribaikal'e (Siikala, 168). Afanas'ev
(Poeticheskievozzreniia 1: 576-79) finds reference to such customs among the Greeks,
Slavs, Germans and Lithuanians (putting coins in the dead person's mouth to pay the
ferryman); Vikings (the burial of Baldur on a ship set afire and put out to sea described
in the Edda); Ibn Foszlan describes the Rus' doing the same; in Greek mythology
Charon ferries souls across the River Styx. Afanas'ev also reports Old Believers making
coffins by hollowing out a whole tree, just as boats were made in former times. All of
this indicates that boat-burials and soul-ferrying have a wide geographical and chron-
ological range.
23. V.M. Mikhailovskii, "Shamanism in Siberia and European Russia, Being the
Second Part of 'Shamanstvo,"'Journal of the Royal AnthropologicalInstitute of GreatBritain
and Ireland 24 (1895) citing P.I. Tret'iakov, Turukhanskiikrai, ego priroda i zhiteli (St.
Petersburg, 1871), 217-18.
24. Doniger, 1117.


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734 Slavic Review

and interchangeable as evil spirits, though neither shamanic nor Bib-

lical lore feature the crocodile as such. However, in old Russian usage
"crocodile"denoted a fierce wild beast or a generic monster. Rovinskii
cites passages from the chronicles and religious literature of the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries in which the crocodile is described
as a river-monsteror simply an extraordinarilyfierce creature.25The
Slovar'russkogoiazykaXI-XVIIvekovcites other similar usages from this
period, which describe the reptilian nature of the crocodile.26In a
striking and wholly laudatory passage, the first entry of the Galician-
Volynian chronicle, concerning the death of the Great Prince Roman
in 1201, likens the late prince to various beasts: "He would pounce
upon the infidels like a lion and [rage]like a lynx. He would annihilate
them like a crocodile and sweep over their lands like an eagle, for he
was courageous as an aurochs."27A story from the seventeenth century
chronograph about Volkhov, son of Prince Sloven, is particularlyrel-
evant: "a fierce sorcerer who created many delusions by diabolical
tricks, he changed himself into a wild-beastcrocodile in the river Vol-
khov, blocking the path of the river."28The crocodile belonged to a
literary convention (and way of thinking about human nature) which
likens persons to animals in terms of speed, cunning, ferocity or other
desirable qualities and powers.An admired prince, warrioror sorcerer
was lauded in these terms.29However the designer of the print came
to know about crocodiles, the sorcerer's lizard-likeforepaws indicate
that its reptilian nature was understood. Surely the intent was to iden-
tify the sorcerer-shamanwith a fierce and dangerous, or evil, spirit.30
Yet there is no definite indication of white versus black magic and one
would hardly choose Baba-laga to represent white magic. In folklore
Baba laga is functionally ambivalent, exercising both destructive and
helpful powers,though certainlyshe is dangerous and fearsome.3'Here
25. RNK IV, 158-59.
26. (Moscow: Nauka, 1980-1981), v. 7, "korkodil'," v. 8, "krokodil"."
27. Cited in Nicholas Riasanovsky, A History of Russia, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1984), 89-90, from The Hypatian CodexII: The Galician-VolynianChron-
icle, annot. and trans. George Perfecky (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1973).
28. Quoted in Roman Jakobson and Marc Szeftel, "The Vseslav Epos," Russian
Epic Studies, ed. Roman Jakobson and Ernest Simmons (Philadelphia: American Folk-
lore Society, 1949), 76. Even the spelling of crocodile in the chronograph entry, "kor-
kodil,"matches that in figure 1. Jakobson and Szeftel present sound reasons for iden-
tifying Prince Volkhov with Volkh Vseslavevich of the epic and this prince-bogatyrwith
the historic Prince Vseslav of Polotsk.
29. Ibid., 70-80. The intermingling of mythical, historical and literary elements
are treated here.
30. The Buriats called their god of the underworld Okodil and apparently this
term achieved wider currency. (Johann Gottlieb Georgi, Beschreibungaller Nationen des
russischenReichs: Ihr Lebensart,Religion, Gebrduche,Wohnungen,Kleidungen und iibrigen
Merkwiirdigkeiten[St. Petersburg: C.W. Muiller, 1776-1780], 171).
31. On Baba laga as Great Mother and Zmei or KoshcheiBessmertnyias the reptilian
monster, see Wosien, TheRussian Folk-Tale,136-44. Wosien understands both as having
evolved from positive to negative functions as they lost out in the competition with
monotheistic religions; but the dragon, as the earliest historically known personifica-
tion of evil, seems to have been left without positive functions in the folk tale.
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 735

Baba laga is the aggressor and the male sorcerer takes a defensive
posture, his beard standing as a veritable shield between them. Of
course her aggressive ferocity may be meant to be admired. Yet, as we
will see, this is surely a comic battle; to look for a favored protagonist
is probably pointless.
In figure 1 and in the two other early woodcut lubki depicting her
(figures 3 & 4), Baba laga is distinctive primarily for her costume and
because she rides a pig (figures 1 & 3). Riding pigs was a prominent
part of Maslenitsa (the Russian pre-Lenten carnival), and in another
lubok a personification of Maslenitsa is shown riding into Moscow on
the back of a pig to initiate the festivities.32 Riding pigs was also part
of carnival festivities in western Europe and can be found in west
European prints.33 Thus this print is in the tradition of festival clown-
ing, as are many other eighteenth-century lubki. In that tradition mock
combat was prominently featured. The lubok may certainly also have
reference to real-life conflict but, if so, it has been transformed here
for comic effect.34 The print makes a mockery of both sorcerers: their
contest is, after all, over a bottle. The carnivalesque riding of pigs is
also part of a folkloric substratum, in which the entrance to the un-
derworld may be Baba laga's mouth, her teeth sharpened for the pur-
pose of consuming a hero, or a mouth bristling with teeth-a mouth
which belongs to Baba laga in the guise of a pig.35 There is no contra-
diction here; the carnivalesque riding of pigs is a remnant of an older
culture, as are many features of carnival.36
The attributes or implements which Baba laga carries, the pestle
and the yarn-comb or rake, are traditional; the ax is not, but is typically
used as a weapon and is surely intended as such here. The implements
used for the fabrication of cloth relate to divination through the "spin-
ning of fate" practiced by Baba laga and her sisters, like the Three
Fates of classical lore. (Whether this was understood by the printmaker
is another matter.) The pestles and yarn-comb in this lubokare shaped
very much like the wooden implements used in the Mordvinian re-

32. RNK, no. 93.

33. For a random example, see figure 95 (Florentine, late fifteenth century) in
H.T. Musper, Der Holzschnitt infiinfJahrhunderten (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1964).
34. Ewa M. Thompson, UnderstandingRussia: The Holy Fool in Russian Culture(Lan-
ham: University Press of America, 1987), 105, citing N.I. Kostomarov, Ocherkdomashnei
zhizni i nravov velikorusskogonaroda v XVI i XVII vv. (St. Petersburg: Karl Wul'f, 1860)
to the effect that witches and sorcerers fought duels in contention for supremacy.
35. Wosien, 138.
36. Carlo Ginzburg, Ecstasies:Decipheringthe Witches'Sabbath,trans. Raymond Ro-
senthal (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991), 136; Ivanits, 100-101. This emptying of
archaic popular culture into carnival is dealt with throughout in Mikhail Bakhtin,
Rabelais and His World.
37. V.N. Belitser, Narodnaia odezhdaMordvy (Moscow: Nauka, 1973), 15. All infor-
mation concerning the ethnicity of Baba laga's costuming, jewelry and implements
was communicated to me by Ildiko Lehtinen, curator of the Finno-Ugric collection of
the National Museum of Finland in a letter of 7 August 1991.
736 Slavic Review

Rovinskii refers to Baba laga's chukhonskiedress and jewelry in fig-

ures 1, 3 and 4.38 Chukhonskiireferred broadly to Finnic peoples, in-
cluding Finns, Karelians and Ingrians. The flat cap and twining em-
broidery pattern of the Baba laga of figure 1 resembles the Ingrian
woman's costume as shown byJ.G. Georgi in his late eighteenth century
volumes on the peoples of the Russian empire. Georgi used the term
chukhonskiiin reference to the Ingrians.39 The most striking connection
to Ingrian costume is the distinctive embroidery on Baba laga's cos-
tume in figure 4, where concentric circles and rectangles with diagonal
lines inscribed within them are prominent. This unusual embroidery
bespeaks the magical arts; the designs (especially the concentric circles,
prominent on shamanic costumes and implements) symbolize the
opening through the earth-disc or to the sky by which a shaman departs
on a cosmic journey.
Other details of costuming in figures 3 and 4 point to other Finnic
groups. The high cap of figure 4 is not Ingrian but is more typical of
Mordvinian or Mari (Cheremis) caps. The long earrings with dangling
feathers (figures 3 and 4) are typically Mordvinian40 and the rectangles
at the front opening of the dress in figure 3 are distinctively so. There
is no reason to expect the Russian artist to have discriminated among
various Ugric stylistic elements. The styles represented here cover a
broad area of north and northeastern European Russia, reaching
southeast to the Mordvinians of the middle Volga. "Chukhonskii"was
not a complimentary term and to show Baba laga in various elements
of Finno-Ugric dress may have contributed to an essentially comic
treatment. It certainly links the group of prints to Finno-Ugric culture.
The placement of the bottle beneath the bush, itself placed cen-
trally so as to cosmologically represent a world tree, calls attention to
it and indicates a deliberately designed visual statement. A somewhat
later print (figure 3) copied from this one but crudely and carelessly
made, omits the boat and the remark about the "bush," and shows the
bottle next to a folk-art flower.41 This shows a lack of comprehension

38. Figures 3 and 4 are RNK Nos. 38 and 39 respectively.

39. Georgi, Pt. I.
40. Ildiko Lehtinen, Naisten Korut:Keski-Venajallaja Lansi Siperiassa(Women's jew-
ellery in Central Russia and Western Siberia) (Helsinki: Museovirasto, n.d.), 162.
41. With respect to the dating of woodcut lubki, it should be noted that of all the
Russian non-book woodcuts of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there are
only three dated works and they are all late seventeenth century. But these firmly link
the Koren' school to the 1690s. See M.A. Alekseeva, for an authoritative discussion of
dating, especially 48, 57-58. All surviving copies of these late seventeenth-early eight-
eenth century prints were printed from old blocks in the 1760s or 1770s, with the
exception of the Koren' Bible, printed on Dutch paper with a late seventeenth century
watermark. I infer that RNK No. 38 is somewhat later than RNK No. 37 and derived
from it because they are obviously closely related and the reverse is improbable. A
better executed, more coherent print will not be derived from a worse executed, less
coherent one. Also the "flowered variants" in other related pairs of prints seem to be
the later ones. But all derive from the very end of the seventeenth through the first
quarter of the eighteenth centuries.
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 737

of the content. Most likely the shamanic world tree and soul-boat were
not reproduced in this print because they were not understood.
Another lubokrelated to that under discussion (figure 4) shows Baba
laga dancing with an old man who plays bagpipes. Below is a tradi-
tional festive verse: "Iaga baba s muzhikom, s pleshivym starikom skachiut,
plashiut, v volynku igraiut a ladu ne znaiut" (Baba laga dances with a man,
an old, bald man; they hop about, they play the bagpipes, but don't
know the tune/steps).
These late seventeenth or early eighteenth century prints (figures
1 and 4) are urban products; as with the other turn of the century
prints of the Koren' school, they show thoughtful design and careful,
expensive execution. The school is so named because these prints form
a stylistic group around the "Koren' Bible," a series of thirty-six illus-
trations to Genesis and Revelation, several of which are signed by
Vasilii Koren' and dated between 1692 and 1696.42None of the "Koren'
school" prints is signed, but it is entirely possible that some of them
were engraved by Vasilii Koren'. The Koren' Bible is often and prop-
erly compared with the western medieval Biblia Pauperum or "Poor
Man's Bible," and the conclusion drawn that these were books for the
illiterate masses. But this is true neither of the west European Bibliae
Paupera nor of the Koren' Bible.43 Both were series of fine woodcuts
or engravings designed for devotional use, probably during Lent. (Most
contain forty prints for the forty days of Lent; the Koren' Bible is
incomplete in its sole surviving copy.) The fact that the Koren' Bible
is printed on imported Dutch paper would have made it relatively
expensive and links the Koren' school to an economically well-off seg-
ment of the populace. However, this is not to say that the purchasers
of Koren'-style prints were necessarily nobility or merchants, nor that
the print in figure 1 is a product of an elite culture; it belongs, rather,
to a common culture of which all classes still partook in the early
eighteenth century and from which the elite separated themselves as
they took up western artistic styles. The Baba laga print appeared
perhaps a quarter of a century before the elite turned from old Russian
artistic styles to foreign styles. (Even later, the elite continued to par-
ticipate in such popular traditional culture as Maslenitsa festivities, sor-
cery, fortune-telling and the like.)
In fact, we do know a little about who owned the sole surviving
copy of the Koren' Bible. Owners' inscriptions appear on the flyleaf
and, of the eighteenth century owners, the third identified himself as
a peasant of Zvenigorod district and the fourth as this peasant's master,
a "collegiate assessor and cavalier." The first two owners did not in-
dicate their social standing but their poor handwriting and the laro-
slavl' watermark on the paper suggest that they were provincials, either

42. A.G. Sakovich, Narodnaiagravirovannaiakniga Vasiliia Korenia,1692-1696 (Mos-

cow: Iskusstvo, 1983).
43. See Avril Henry, Biblia Pauperum:A Facsimileand Edition (Ithaca: Cornell Uni-
versity Press, 1987).
738 Slavic Review

peasants or posadskie(townspeople).44 If so small a sample can indicate

anything, it is the permeability of class boundaries with respect to old
Russian culture. It may also serve as a reminder that social class and
economic status correlated poorly: especially in the north, there was a
substantial segment of well-off peasants, and a large proportion of the
nobility was poor. The sophisticated treatment of shamanic cosmology
in the lubokmight be taken as an argument for its being representative
of elite culture, but it is well to remember that this complex and pro-
found tradition was the common property of tribal peoples.
Sorcery was prevalent among all classes of Russia in the seven-
teenth and early eighteenth centuries.45 The period during the struggle
for power between Peter I and Sophia was rife with stories about
witches and sorcerers: Sophia's advisor, Vasilii Golitsyn, had a man
tortured for casting a spell; Peter I in 1690 had two sorcerers burned
and the man who resorted to their services beheaded.46 If shamanic
cosmology and practice had been handed down by Russian sorcerers,
could it have been that the social elite in the late seventeenth and early
eighteenth centuries still preserved a sophisticated volkhv-shamanic tra-
dition acquired centuries earlier? Or is concurrent influence from
tribes still practicing shamanism likely? There is good reason to think
that a contemporary, living tradition has influenced this print. That
shamanism was still alive in the first half of the eighteenth century is
attested to by various travelers and expeditions.47 Particularly relevant
to this furry sorcerer, however, is the testimony of a self-confessed
Livonian werewolf in 1692.
Crocodile? Wolf-man? Werewolf? I had every intention of avoiding
the subject of werewolves until Carlos Ginzburg's study, The Night Bat-
tles: Witchcraftand Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenthand SeventeenthCenturies,
forcibly drew my attention to their likely connection with shamanism.48
Ginzburg not only introduced me to a "usable werewolf' but to one
very close to the culture I am discussing, for he cites the trial of a
Livonian werewolf, Thiess, atJuirgensburg in 1692.49 The unusual as-

44. Sakovich, 8.
45. Ivanits, 87-88.
46. Ibid., 88; Askalon Truvorov, in "Volkhvy i vorozhei na Rusi, v kontse XVII
veka," Istoricheskiivestnik: istoriko-literaturnyizhurnal 36 (1889): 713, cites evidence of
sorcery cases in all three volumes of the Rozysknykh"del" o FedoreShakhlovitompublished
by the Arkhiograficheskaia Kommissiia.
47. Di6szegi and Hoppal, 83.
48. Translation of II benandanti (1966), English translation by John and Anne
Tedeschi published first in Great Britain by Routledge and Kegan Paul (1983) and in
the United States byJohns Hopkins University Press (1983) and Penguin Books (1983,
1985). References here are from the latter, in which, see the preface to the Italian
edition; it treats the problems of connections to any "real" witch cult and the probable
connection of such phenomena as the benandanti and Livonian werewolves to sha-
manism. Ginzburg's account of the Livonian trial is section 16 of chap. 1, which he
draws from Hermann von Bruiningk, "Der Werwolf in Livland und das letzte im
Wendeschen Landgericht und Dorptschen Hofgericht i. J. 1692 deshalb stattgehabte
Strafverfahren," Mitteilungen aus der livldndischenGeschichte22 (1924): 163-220.
49. Von Bruiningk, 193-96.
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 739

pect of this witchcraft trial was the old man's insistence that he became
a werewolf to do battle with witches for the benefit of the community
and, in particular, for the fertility of crops and livestock. Three times
a year (St. Lucia's Day just before Christmas, Pentecost and St. John's
Day) he and his companions changed into werewolves by putting on
wolf pelts and walked to a hidden place in the marsh from which they
"departed" for the gates of hell. There the "devil's watchmen" or
witches tried to keep them out by driving them off with iron whips
while the werewolves tried to seize cattle, seed corn and other fruits
of the land which the devil's sorcerers had carried away to keep the
crops from growing. Thiess was insistent that the werewolves served
God and that their souls went to heaven, while witches served the devil
and went to hell. To questions about the sex and ethnicity of the
werewolves Thiess replied that women, but not maidens, were included
in the werewolf band and that Germans had their own packs and their
own hell. But in two prior years Thiess's Lettish band arrived too late;
Russian werewolves had preceded them and garnered the plentiful
harvest for their own people. Thiess claimed that the packs of were-
wolves did no harm to their neighbors except to take small livestock
which they roasted over fires and ate, not as werewolves, but as men.50
This last seems to indicate a gathering and some preliminaries in cor-
pore before the in spirito departure to the netherworld.
Analogous to the benevolent Livonian werewolves are the subjects
of Ginzburg's study, the benandanti or "goodwalkers" of Friuli, the
northeastern part of Italy, which overlaps with south Slavic culture.
On certain nights, this troop was assembled by their captain beating a
drum, fell into a trance during which their souls left their bodies and
traveled, sometimes in the form of butterflies and mice. Armed with
fennel stalks, they would do battle against sorcerers (stregoni)to assure
the fertility of the land; other times they would participate in proces-
sions for the dead, which procured prophetic and visionary powers
for them. The benandantiwere discovered by the Church in 1575 and
during fifty years of inquisitorial pressure were progressively molded
to the stereotype of diabolical witchcraft.5'
The evidence of the benandanti and of the benevolent Livonian
werewolves opens up the whole question of the genesis and dispersion
of shamanism: whether it once encompassed all of Europe and how
far back a true shamanism can be verified. Ginzburg sees both the
benandantiand Livonian werewolves as representatives of age-old agrar-
ian cults and considers them related to Eurasian shamanism. Certainly
the trances, the magical journey to the netherworld, the metamorpho-
sis into animal form, the ritual combat and processions of the dead all
evoke shamanism. In Storia Notturna, published in English in 1991 as
Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath,52 Ginzburg shows a connection

50. Ibid., 194.

51. Ginzburg, The Night Battles, ix.
52. Trans. Raymond Rosenthal (New York: Pantheon, 1991).
740 Slavic Review

between remnants of goddess cults (transformed under the hostile

pressure of Christianity into devil-worshipping witches) and a much
older layer of Eurasian shamanism.53 He assigns a major role in the
diffusion of Eurasian shamanism to the Scythians, who held sway over
the entire Eurasian steppe in the first millenium BCE.54Ginzburg finds
evidence of shamanism among the Scythians and among Greek pop-
ulation in contact with the Scythians as early as the seventh century
BCE; this evidence pertains primarily to trance states and animal
metamorphosis in conjunction with soothsaying.55 On the other hand,
if some experts are right in seeing evidence of shamanism in paleo-
lithic cave painting and if shamanism crossed over the Bering straits
with migrating peoples before the land bridge was broken, then a
Scythian agency in its diffusion is perhaps an unnecessary hypothesis.56
There is a scattering of evidence about werewolves in Slavic and
Livonian areas in historical sources from Herodotus through the sev-
enteenth centuries. Indeed, the Slavic peoples in general, but Livonia
in particular, seem to have been famous for them.57 In the fifth century
BCE, Herodotus disbelievingly reported rumors about the Neuroi,
either a Slavic or proto-Baltic tribe (location uncertain, but in the
direction of the Baltic, to the north of the "Scythian ploughmen" of
the Dnieper basin), to the effect that they all became werewolves for

53. Ginzburg concurs with the general rejection of Margaret Murray's book, The
Witch-Cultin WesternEurope (1921; repr. Oxford Clarendon Press 1962, 1970, 1977),
because it sees in the confessions of the witch trials direct evidence of a real cult of
witches worshipping Diana in an ancient fertility rite. He agrees that Murray's work
is not usable because it takes the confessions as accurate descriptions of rituals, does
not discount distortions and accretions introduced by inquisitors, judges and demon-
ologists, nor does it distinguish between surviving belief systems and practising cultists.
The general scorn heaped upon Murray's work for over fifty years discouraged anyone
else from examining the question of real agrarian fertility cults surviving into the era
of witch persecution. Ginzburg's benandantiare one such group, the magical part taking
place in ecstatic trance, not in ordinary reality. Livonian werewolves may be an ex-
ample of belief survival or old Thiess may have been a surviving individual practi-
tioner, or a member of a cult like the benandanti.That he was a lone practitioner seems
likely from evidence given by his neighbors (his healing of animals), his own descrip-
tion of how he received his powers and how he intended to pass them on before he
should die, etc.; but no evidence was adduced that there were any other locals who
belonged to his werewolf band. The fact that ten years earlier Thiess had brought
charges against another man (since deceased) for breaking his nose in one of these
combats does not help much. That man supposedly was a witch-an opponent-and
broke Thiess's nose with his broom. Von Bruiningk, 192-93.
54. Doniger (1103-4) begs the question of antiquity, stating that, while the antiq-
uity of shamanism can no longer be questioned, as the Turkic term qam appears in
the ninth century Tang Annals, what exactly is comprised by the term cannot be
determined. It asserts that only from the seventeenth century do actual accounts of
shamanic trance journeys survive.
55. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, 207-10.
56. See Mircea Eliade, Shamanism,503 and A Historyof ReligiousIdeas, trans. Willard
R. Trask, vol. 1, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1978), 16-22 and corresponding bibliography, 380-83.
57. Caspar Peucer, Commentariusde praecipuis generibusdivinationum (Witebergae,
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 741

several days each year.58 In the early seventeenth century an English

traveler, RichardJames, made the same report.59
Numerous examples of wizards who changed into werewolves may
be cited from Slavic cultures, and generally they were viewed with
favor. The Bulgarian Prince Baianus, ruling in 970, was reputed to be
a magician who could change into a wolf or any bird or beast.60 Prince
Vseslav of Polotsk (d.1101) is celebrated in a fifty-line segment of Slovo
o polku Igoreveas a werewolf and clairvoyant: "At night he loped like a
wolf: from Kiev . . . to Tmutorakan', arriving before the cock crowed
...., Prince Vseslav was born with the caul, as the benandantiwere,
a sign of the born werewolf throughout the Slavic world.62 Volkh Vse-
slav'evich, hero of one of the most ancient of the byliny(epic poems),
was a sorcerer-werewolf.63 In fact, this prince-bogatyr(hero-warrior) may
surely be identified with Prince Vseslav, whose story is told in the
Primary Chronicle,Slovo o polku Igoreveand the bylina, all of which refer
in one way or another to his sorcerer-werewolf identity. Jakobson and
Szeftel postulate that all three derive from an oral epos and that the
princely werewolf mythos is much older than Prince Vseslav's reign,
but became identified with him for good biographical reasons. All
three sources-Chronicle, Slovo and bylina view the prince-werewolf
positively, contrary to the Chronicle'sgeneral attitude toward sorcery.
In the ChronicleVseslav demonstrates the power of the true cross in
his escape from captivity and his victories; in the bylina he saves God's
churches and monasteries; in the Slovo one of his magical powers is to
hear church bells over vast distances. In the byliny there are only two
prince-bogatyry. One is Volkh Vseslav'evich and the other Gleb
Volod'evich, princes of Polotsk and Novgorod respectively. The Chron-
icle managed to preserve both its partiality for Vseslav and its general
opposition to sorcery by omitting Gleb's greatest victory over Vseslav
in 1069 and substituting a colorful tale about his triumph over a local
sorcerer who turned himself into a crocodile and blocked up the Vol-
khov River.64 Thus are sorcerers, princes, werewolves and crocodiles
related in Russian traditions.

58. Herodotus, 4:105.

59. "The people of Narva and Livonia become werewolves every year, as incre-
dible as it may seem to me: however, they assert and swear, kissing the cross, that it
is actually so" (as quoted in Jakobson and Szeftel, 68-69, citing F. Psalman, "Un Rus-
sisant anglais au XVI-e-XVII-e siecle, Richard James [1572-1638]," Bulletin de Geographie
Historiqueet Descriptive [1911]: 372).
60. Montague Summers, The Werewolf(New York: E.P. Dutton, 1934; repr., New
Hyde Park: University Books, 1966), 245.
61. The Tale of the Campaignof Igor:A Russian Epic Poem of the TwelfthCentury,trans.
and annot. Robert C. Howes (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), 46.
62. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, 155.
63. Ibid., 174 fn. 9 cites two articles on the Vseslav epos: Jakobson and Szeftel,
"The Vseslav Epos," 13-86; and Roman Jakobson and G. Ruzicic, "The Serbian Zmaj
Ognjeni Vuk and the Russian Vseslav Epos," Annuaire de l'Institutdephilologieet d'histoire
orientaleset slaves X (1950): 343-55.
64. Jakobson and Szeftel, 75-76.
742 Slavic Review

In his Historiae de gentibus septentrionalibus (Romae, 1555) Olaus Mag-

nus, Bishop of Uppsala, gives the oldest account of what seems to have
been a veritable plague of werewolves in Prussia, Livonia and Lithu-
ania although he had no first-hand knowledge of the area. The bands
he described were destructive; they gathered on Christmas night and
their raids ended with emptying, unwolf-like, whole storehouses of
beer and mead.65 The stories in the western literature which bear most
closely upon Thiess's account all relate to the mid-sixteenth century.
Caspar Peucer's Latin treatise (cited above) tells of peasant werewolves
who boast of fighting witches when they have transformed themselves
into butterflies (like the benandanti).The werewolves assumed the guise
of wolves during the twelve days of Christmas and, summoned by a
lame child and driven by a tall man with an iron whip, they would
cross the river which their master's whip had parted for them. They
attacked cattle but did no harm to human beings. Obviously this story
coincides partially with that of Thiess.66 Peucer also refers to an inter-
view with an incarcerated werewolf, conducted, it appears, by Her-
mann Witekind, born in Livonia and professor at the universities of
Riga and later Wittenberg. Ginzburg has discovered that Peucer and
Witekind met around 1550, hence Peucer's second-hand account; Wi-
tekind gave a much livelier version of this interview in 1585 when he
published, under the pseudonym Augustin Lercheimer, ChristlichBe-
denken u. Erinnerung von Zauberey. In this account the werewolf tells of
leaving his prison and shackles behind on Easter Eve, flying through
the window and across a river but returning before morning, as his
master bade him. The prisoner was merry and insolent in defending
his master; told that his master was evil, he answered "If you know how
to give me a better one, I will follow him." Witekind had concluded
that he was crazy and "knew God as a wolf might."67But this werewolf
had no doubt that he and his master were on the side of the angels,
as it were. Ginzburg has discovered that in medieval texts, especially
literary ones, werewolves are portrayed ambiguously as victims of fate,
if not as beneficent figures. Only toward the mid-fifteenth century-at
the same time that the hostile stereotype of the witch took shape-
does one encounter a superimposed stereotype of the werewolf as de-
vourer of flocks and human beings. Thus the transformation of pri-
marily male werewolf cults parallels the transformation of the predom-
inantly female goddess cults also analyzed in Ginzburg's study.68
Thiess, who remained defiant to the end, was sentenced to twenty

65. Von Bruiningk, 169-71. Ginzburg links this drinking of beer and mead with
myths about the "inquenchable thirst of the dead." This element is present in the
benandantibeliefs as well. See Ecstasies, 100-01, 159.
66. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, 175, fn. 16, citing Peucer, Commentarius.Philip Melanc-
thon, Luther's colleague and Peucer's father-in-law, also lectured on this topic at Wit-
tenberg and quoted a letter he had received from Hermann Witekind concerning the
Livonian werewolf. (ibid., 157).
67. Ibid., 156.
68. Ibid., 154, 159 and especially pt. II, chaps. 1 and 3.
Shamanic Elements in Russian Woodcuts 743

strokes of the rod and permanent banishment.69 He had not been

threatened with torture: it had been abolished several years earlier
when the area was under Swedish rule and this may have emboldened
Thiess to defend himself.70 The volkhv-shaman in mock combat with a
witch in figure 1 could be one of Thiess's band of werewolf-shamans
in ecstatic (trance) combat. It is certainly an interesting possiblity that
news of the 1692 trial of Thiess, then in his eighties, might have sug-
gested this woodcut of an old, long-bearded werewolf-sorcerer in com-
bat with a witch. And there is a geographical link which renders this
connection more likely: Vasilii Koren' was an uprooted Belorussian,
brought to Moscow from his native Dubrovna in 1661 when Russia
conquered that area. This connection may appear tenuous: Dubrovna
is some 600 kilometers from Jiirgensburg; Koren' was residing in Mos-
cow in the 1690s and the print is not definitely attributed to Koren'.
However, this and several other prints of the "Koren' school" are styl-
istically identical, both in graphics and lettering, to the Koren' Bible,
and may well be by Koren'. Only the Koren' Bible is definitely attrib-
uted to Vasilii Koren', because those are the only prints signed by him.
Dubrovna, on the eastern edge of Belorussia, is on the western Dvina-
Dnieper trade route at the point where traffic leaves the river system
to take the road to Smolensk and Moscow. In Dubrovna one would
hear the news from Riga and the Dubrovna expatriates in Moscow no
doubt received visitors from their former home. Thus Koren' was likely
to have heard of the trial in Jiirgensburg.
The lubok analyzed in this article bears testimony to the presence
of shamanic features at the turn of the seventeenth century-but where?
Whose Kulturgut was this shamanism? Is the male figure a Lettish
werewolf amidst elements of Finno-Ugric shamanic cosmology, along-
side a Russian Baba laga depicted in various items of Ugric costuming?
Language is the only purely Russian aspect of this print. The print as
a whole is a cultural salad, a production of a print designer with a
multi-ethnic pictorial vocabulary. It may represent a point of conjunc-
tion between Eurasian shamanism, based on hunting and herding so-
cieties, and European shamanism, based on agrarian societies. Ginz-
burg has concluded that the public trance and one-on-one duel are
typical of Eurasian shamanism (Finno-Ugric and Siberian) while the
private, unwitnessed trance and mass ritual combat are typical of Eu-
ropean shamanism.71 In this print we have a one-on-one duel and nu-
merous Finno-Ugric references, while a reference to Thiess and his
pack of werewolves would represent the European type.
These prints provide a unique bit of evidence that an understand-
ing of shamanism and shamanic cosmology was part of the printmak-
er's culture. They also attest to interest among an economically well-
off element of the Russian population in shamanism (of which there

69. Von Bruiningk, 201-2.

70. Ibid., 189.
71. Ginzburg, Ecstasies, 170-71.
744 Slavic Review

is otherwise precious little evidence) and to the lack of comprehension

of the symbols of shamanism as the material was reproduced in cheaper
versions and passed down the socio-economic scale in the course of
the eighteenth century.