Sarakatsani - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Sarakatsani are Christian and associated with the Greek Orthodox Church. However, their participation in the institutional forms of the church is not particularly marked. Although not particularly concerned with formal participation, Sarakatsani believe strongly in the concepts of God the Father, Christ, and the Virgin Mary. God is seen in strongly paternalistic terms, as protector and provider, as judge and as punisher of evil deeds. Folk beliefs in such things as the "evil eye," and in a complex of Panhellenic spirits, are interwoven with Christian beliefs. On the whole, religious life centers upon the family rather than the church, except for the observance of specific feast days in the liturgical calendar. Each hut shelters an icon or icons upon which family devotions focus.

Religious Practitioners. The family is thought to be a reflection of the relationship expressed among God, the Virgin, and Christ. The father, as family head, is thus responsible for the spiritual life of the family. The Sarakatsani do not have formally recognized religious practitioners, and each Household constitutes an autonomous religious community. There is a belief in the efficacy of magic (e.g., in the casting or warding off of the evil eye). Again, however, there are no formally recognized magical specialists among the Sarakatsani.

Ceremonies. The Sarakatsani honor the feast days of Saint George and Saint Demetrius, which fall just before the seasonal migrations in spring and early winter, respectively. For Saint George's feast day, a family kills a lamb in the saint's honor, a ritual that also marks Christmas and the Feast of the Assumption. Easter week is the most important ritual period in Sarakatsani religious life. Other ceremonial events, outside the formal Christian calendar, are weddings and funerals.

Arts. Sarakatsani folk art consists of song, dance, poetry, and some decorative sculpture in wood, as well as elaborate embroidery such as that which adorns their traditional costume. Principal motives used in sculpture and embroidery are geometrical shapes and human and plant representations.

Medicine. The Sarakatsani employ a number of folk Remedies that make use of herbs, honey, lamb's blood, or a combination thereof.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are ritual occasions that involve not only the immediate family of the deceased but also the members of the larger kindred. Funerary practice is consistent with that of the church. Mourning is most marked among the women, and most of all by the widow. Beliefs in the afterlife are conditioned by the teachings of the church, though flavored to some degree by traditions deriving from pre-Christian folk religion.

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