Belarussians - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditional knowledge of Belarussians was represented by the folk calendar that was oriented toward the phases of the moon, relative to which the starting point of various stages in agricultural work was defined. Weather watching at certain calendar days made long-term meteorologic forecasts possible, whereas observations of animal behavior and natural phenomena were used for short-term forecasts. Traditional meteorology relied on length, space, weight, and volume measures.

Ceremonies. The family was the main institution through which Belarussians socialized in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The entire population of the village would participate in the celebration of holidays. The most important events of the year-long cycle were Christmas festivities ( kaladi ), calling the spring ( gukanje ), the first driving of the cattle to the pasture on Yuri day, Easter ( balikden ), Trinity ( semukha ), summer solstice (the feast of Ivan Kupala, or Saint John the Baptist), and the beginning and the end of harvest ( zazhinki, dazhinki ).

Arts. Traditional Belarussian art was very diverse. In the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries, within the framework of the early Baroque style, the Belarussian Uniate school of icon painting and sculpture was formed: it combined features of professional art and folk art. Applied decorative art was the main development in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; it was represented by weaving, embroidery, pottery, artistic forging, and wood carving. Straw weaving is a type of decorative art peculiar to the Belarussians. This technique was used for making ornaments, toys, boxes, and even architectural details of church interiors—the "czar's gates of the iconstasis." Traditional music was represented by two forms—songs and instrumental music. Archaic forms of vocal art are monophonic. Polyphony started to spread mostly at the end of the nineteenth century in the south. The most popular instruments were the violin, cymbals, different kinds of bagpipes, flute ( zalejika ), "lyre" (a string instrument with the body of a violin but with a keyboard), and the basetla (double bass). Puppet theater ( batlejika ) was a characteristic form of theater. Performances of a carnival character were also known. The repertoire included plays with biblical themes, for example King Herod.

Medicine . Folk medicine was based on a developed system of beliefs and treatments in the fields of hygiene, epidemiology, pharmacology. The most common drugs were made from herbs, dried root and bark infusions, animal fat, bile, and preparations of mineral origin. They were quite successfully used to prevent the spreading of infections and diseases (notably cholera) and to treat colds, wounds, and bruises. Baths were considered a kind of physiotherapeutical treatment.

Death and Afterlife. The funeral ritual of Belarussians included many magical elements. The dead person was buried on the third day after death. Salt, a pipe, and copper coins were usually put into the coffin. After the funeral and also on the sixth, ninth, and fortieth days and after half a year after the memorial, ritual dinners ( trapeza ) were held. Kutsa (a sweet barley porridge) was a necessary dish at these events. According to the traditional beliefs of the Belarussians, the next world is separated into two parts: heaven in the south, where summer is eternal, and hell in the north. God assigned people to either parts, depending on the good and bad deeds they had accomplished during their lives. Four times a year Belarussians held commemorative feasts for all the dead ancestors ( dzadi ), who returned home on these days. Every participant at the ritual left some food for them (three pieces or three tablespoons of each course). There was a belief that the late relatives patronize the family and ensure its success.

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