THE VIRGIN MARY IN 19TH- AND 20TH-CENTURY POLISH FOLK CULTURE (SELECTED SOURCE ISSUES AND QUESTIONS WHICH ARISE) - PDF

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289 Etnografia Polska vol. XXXII, 1988, book 1 PL ISSN ZOFIA SOKOLEWICZ (Katedra Etnologii i Antropologii Kulturowej UW) THE VIRGIN MARY IN 19TH- AND 20TH-CENTURY POLISH FOLK CULTURE (SELECTED
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289 Etnografia Polska vol. XXXII, 1988, book 1 PL ISSN ZOFIA SOKOLEWICZ (Katedra Etnologii i Antropologii Kulturowej UW) THE VIRGIN MARY IN 19TH- AND 20TH-CENTURY POLISH FOLK CULTURE (SELECTED SOURCE ISSUES AND QUESTIONS WHICH ARISE) Certain facts have begun to emerge from the increasingly more numerous and extensive studies of religiosity, including folk religiosity; facts related to the Marian cult and its huge significance in the lives of local, regional and national communities and for various professional and artistic groups. However, an analysis of this essentially religious phenomenon presents certain difficulties; primarily due to the fact that it appears in a wide variety of forms, including ones of a para-religious, customary or magical nature. Based on the various works published on the topic up until now, it seems that the Virgin Mary is present in many domains of Polish folk culture, as can be demonstrated by various initial comparative research conducted, and the situation is similar in other Slavic countries and even in European ones. The very interesting text by Maria Frankowska, entitled Sanktuaria i pielgrzymki ich rola w procesie ewangelizacji Indian Meksyku oraz kształtowania się miejscowego synkretyzmu religijnego (1986), which devotes a lot of space to the Marian cult, can be seen as proof that this phenomenon is also present in similar cultural contexts, not only outside of Poland but outside of Europe, in almost the entire Christian world. In this outline, I would like to indicate some of the types of ethnographic sources concerning the cult and more broadly the Virgin Mary, and the related issues of source criticism, as well as to suggest a series of research questions which emerge from such an analysis of the source material. Maryja (Mary), Bogurodzica (Theotokos, the one who gave birth to God), Matka Boska 1 (the Mother of God), Królowa Niebios (the Queen of the Heavens, Przenajświętsza Panienka (the Most Holy Lady), Przeczysta (the Most Pure), Najświętsza (the Holiest) these are the names under which she most often appears in Polish folk culture. The terms Maryja and Bogurodzica seem to encompass the others. It is these terms in fact which most often appear as the main entries in encyclopaedias and indexes containing lists of academic articles. 1 This phrase seems to be the one most often used in Poland editor s note. 290 In the fundamental position for ethnographers, Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens, we can find the entry Maria [St.]. The situation is similar in most church encyclopaedias and dictionaries, such as Biblejskij Slovar, as well as in the important Soviet work Mify narodov mira. The Srpski mitoloshki rechnik contains a very short entry for Bogurodica. This was also the term chosen by the index of the second volume of Kultura ludowa Słowian by K. Moszyński (1967), devoted to spiritual culture. In the above-mentioned encyclopaedic approaches, the entries for Maria and Bogurodzica differ in terms of the content structuring. On this basis, they can be divided into two groups. The first would include those for which the point of departure is in principle Mary and which limit themselves to depicting the life history of the evangelic Mary, who stems from the line of David and is the mother of Jesus. These entries take into account apocrypha, telling the history of her cult within the Church, as well as mentioning the basic iconographic motifs and listing the most important works of art devoted to her. The second group, for which the point of departure is more often the entry Bogurodzica than that of Maria, encompasses those entries, where the authors almost exclusively refer to folk culture, to the almost complete exclusion (Srpski mitoloshki rechnik) of historical and religious information. Against this background, the Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens is of an exceptional nature, as it contains both types of information, similarly as is the case with the entry Mary (Virgin), published in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1926). The lack of any entry for Maria or Matka Boska in the dictionary Słownik folkloru polskiego should be mentioned, and it can be read as a show of restraint on the part of folklorists in discussing the topic, as well as a sign of the difficulties connected to the writing of such an entry, resulting at the very least from the presence of the Virgin Mary in many domains of folk culture. However, in the classification of plots in folk tales (Krzyżanowski 1963, II), we come across Marian legends and those about the baby Jesus in the etiological tales section, marked with the numbers T 2441 to T Krzyżanowski devoted much more space to this group in his classification in comparison to the classification prepared by Aarne-Thompson, simultaneously explaining that such plots are rare in Protestant and Orthodox countries. It is difficult for me to give my opinion about this first issue of the rarity of such plots in Protestant culture. Krzyżanowski s statement seems logical in light of Protestant theology. I do not, however, have enough knowledge of the empirical material on folk culture from Protestant areas and other reformed churches, thus I can only rely on Krzyżanowski s authority and the above-mentioned Aarne and Thompson, but it can be expected that even on this issue further research will lead to a modification of Krzyżanowski s thesis, at least in relation to some areas (e.g. Protestant Masurians), as has been indicated by the research conducted in the Olsztyn centre (Nowak 1986). In the case of the culture of Orthodox regions, the research into these areas seems to contradict Krzyżanowski s suggestion, as can be testified to by various material pertaining to the territory of Belarus (Federowski ), Serbia (the opinion of P. Vlahovic given during a conversation), Croatia (Bielaj), Bulgaria (Georgieva 1983). Additionally, many of the Polish plots were labelled in such a way that their connections to the Virgin Mary disappear, and which is no small matter the Marian threads in the tales which Krzyżanowski takes into consideration do not exhaust all of the material in existence in Poland, even if we were to limit ourselves only to the Catholic areas. 291 The question arises as to whether the appropriate indexation of the plots in which the Virgin Mary is present for example, about the cancer deprived of its venom by the Virgin Mary and then designated to become food for human beings, about the sentencing of the reptile to crawl as punishment for frightening the Virgin Mary, about the spider, about the greedy woman and diminished ears of wheat, about thistle leaves stained by the milk of the Virgin Mary (Krzyżanowski 1963, II: 185, 189) and a number of others as well as placing them all within the same group would not help us to understand why within folk tradition the name of the Virgin Mary is connected only with these specific tales and not others. This issue seems all the more significant as the fact of the interchangeability of the Virgin Mary in some of these plots with other characters (Jesus Christ, Adam, etc.) and the fact that she is connected to certain animals, plants, people, actions and not others may contribute to explaining the issue of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in folk culture from as early as the 14 th century and the gradual displacement of other characters. The logic behind this process should be very interesting for researchers. For this reason, I have devoted some critical commentary to J. Krzyżanowski s momentous work (1962, 1963) I would like to present a slightly different reading of this text, in order to find the answer to a question the author did not pose himself. The Marian cult in folk culture is primarily the cult of Mary as the Mother of God, frequently treated as if this was the only fact that mattered; therefore her history, her biography (even the apocryphal one, thus closely tied to folk cultures) remains in the shadows. Paradoxically, it sometimes seems as if within folk culture she leads a life independent even of her son, Jesus. It is thus no accident that in the above-mentioned Srpski mitoloshki rechnik we can encounter the entry Bogurodica and respectively within the index to Moszyński s text (1967): Bogarodzica both included due to the place occupied by the Virgin Mary in folk beliefs and culture. For this reason, we can find beliefs which apply only to her and which indicate her presence since the beginnings of the world (beliefs and legends connected to the origins of peas, the diminution of ears of wheat, the stopping of the flood, etc.), information about yearly and family holidays and rituals, folklore in the general sense (as knowledge and as an artistic form), as a cultural fact. It should be emphasized that in some of the general works, such as for example J.C. Cooper s An illustrated encyclopaedia of traditional symbols, information about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is included into the entry Mother (Great). I would like to note the important theoretical question of whether Mary is one of the Great Mothers of the great religions of the world. A positive answer to this question would, however, be a misunderstanding. On the basis of G. van der Leeuw s Phenomenology of Religion, it is possible to formulate significant differences between the Great Mothers of the old religions and Mary. Can this point of view be upheld in light of the data from folk culture, for example references to the presence of Mary during the Flood, at the very beginnings of the world? It seems so, most certainly. The Marian cult in Polish folk culture is primarily the cult of the Mother of God it is this motherhood, and not her proto-presence from the beginnings of the world, entitles her to this cult. It is not her who was the source of everything that lives, it is not within her that everything is contained, and it is not she who holds within her the possibility of rebirth. She was the Mother, but not the Great Mother. It is with this hypothesis that I began my research, searching out arguments for and against this thesis. 292 It should however be emphasized that these two types of cults: of the Great Mothers and the Marian cult, do not constitute disjoint sets. Both contain common elements, common symbols, e.g. the symbol of the lily in the West and its equivalent in the East the lotus flower, to give just one example. At this point, it seems appropriate to mention the great ethnologic work by W. Schmidt, one of the writers of Kreislehre, devoted to the subject of matriarchy (Schmidt 1955a). The author understands this concept broadly, not so much as a historical epoch, but more as the laws of the mother. The author indicates the universal nature of the laws of the mother and introduces the Marian cult into the frameworks of this law, or rather places it within these frameworks. Therefore, he emphasises what is common for these different cults (derivable from this law), putting aside anything that would constitute a specific feature of the Marian cult. However, the search for differences did not seem to have been the intention of the author in all of his works he searched for the roots of universal laws. There are, however, few ethnographic studies devoted to the Virgin Mary and practically all of them were taken into account or at least mentioned in Polska Sztuka Ludowa (no. 3: 1984). A number of articles from this issue dealt with the topic of the Virgin Mary as a result of a highly interesting exhibition organized in the autumn of 1982 by the Ethnographic Museum in Cracow, entitled Matka Boska Częstochowska w sztuce ludowej i popularnej. As a result of a chronicler s sense of duty, the numerous non-ethnographic but nonetheless valuable positions should be mentioned which have appeared in recent years in church publications and magazines: in Przegląd Powszechny, W drodze, Studia Claramontana devoted completely to the Our Lady of Częstochowa, and finally the collective works: Gratia plena (1965) and Religijność ludowa (1983), which contain a rich bibliographical list. The state of research on the Marian cult up until 1980 was described by K. Fiedeń, MSF (1982). A large amount of new information was introduced by the papers presented at the 5 th Mariological Congress in Lublin in Among these, there were also ethnographic topics presented by Rev. Z. Kopiczko, A. Kunczyńską- Iracką, Z. Sokolewicz, H. M. Zowczak. All of the authors drew attention to the necessity of researching sources, the possibility of the creation of new sources (induced) and the extreme difficulties connected to their critical analysis. H. M. Zowczak s paper on the role of the Virgin Mary in contemporary stories about heroes and her being attributed with the function of mediator is a good example of the significance the sources being created now may have for the formulation of new hypotheses or the confirmation of previous ones. All of these listed works clearly show that despite the appearance of new issues and new facts about the Marian cult, we are still at the beginning of our journey. The unpublished Ph. D. thesis by J. Grąbczewski (only a small fragment has been published; Grąbczewski 1984) should be added to this list. The author focuses his attention on the relationship between beliefs and ceremonies and the Virgin Mary, as expressed in dates, names, symbols, taboos, dictates or intentions. This material attempts to introduce some order by making use of the concept of the topos and by reading into any such information some form of personification of the Virgin Mary: as the helper, the intercessor, of flora and of luna. The comparison of the results of this work with others, including non-ethnographic ones, testifies to the fact that ethnographers are only at the 293 beginning of their journey. Among the various domains of folk culture connected to the Virgin Mary, thanks to the efforts of Anna Kunczyńska-Iracka and the organizers of the afore-mentioned exhibition about Our Lady of Częstochowa, the relatively most researched section would be the artistic aspect: the representations of the Virgin Mary in art painting, the graphic arts and sculpture (cf. also Dobrzeniecki 1965; Mroczko, Dąb 1966). I. AN ETHNOGRAPHIC ENQUIRY INTO THE AVAILABLE SOURCES The search for sources about the Virgin Mary presents more difficulties in comparison to such classical ethnographic subjects as yearly or family rituals, when it is possible to focus on quite concise issues and to rely on quite vast source material. On the other hand, the Virgin Mary is present within the whole cycle of yearly celebrations, in all family ceremonies, in beliefs, legends, stories, tales, apocrypha, proverbs, requests, objects connected to the decorations inside churches and homes, and also to iconography. She is also present in the sphere of folk religiosity in a domain not included in the above list, i.e. in material dealing with church holidays, big and small sacral architecture, votive offerings, devotional articles, etc. As a consequence, this means that there is a necessity to conduct research into practically the entire symbolic sphere of folk culture. Ethnographic sources about the Virgin Mary are numerous but very scattered. Passages which mention her role in specific yearly ceremonies or family rituals are usually short and poor in context; therefore, difficulties arise in attempts to read the information in an unambiguous way. Such sources can seldom be used to establish the history, structure and function of the Marian cult, while much more frequently giving information about folk beliefs, the specific folk theology or even magical practices. They are a reflection of the syncretism of folk beliefs. It is also often difficult to conclude on their basis anything about the level of relations between the described cultural behaviours and the figure of Mary or, more generally, Marian piety. In many similar situations, Mary appears interchangeably with other figures: Jesus Christ, one s own mother, etc. The above-mentioned etiological tales may be seen as being an example of this. Within them, we can find that peas were created from the tears of the Virgin Mary, at other times from Adam s tears resulting from having lost paradise (Krzyżanowski 1963, II: 188). In songs, wedding and funeral orations and other cultural texts, we can find many more examples of such interchangeability. This is undoubtedly important information for those interested in the ways the Virgin Mary has been adapted by folk culture. It is a fact all the more worth considering as we have made this observation in reference to a field as homogeneous according to Krzyżanowski as etiological tales, derived from medieval apocrypha (Krzyżanowski 1962, I: 14) and seems to be consolidated by literary equivalents of apocrypha, which became a source of inspiration for sermons and treatises, which most probably spoke to the masses. Among the ethnographic sources, some can be indicated as presenting different behaviours on specified calendar dates dedicated to Mary, but which contain little information about the relationship between such a day and these behaviours. A fragment of a description by W. Szuchiewicz of Huculszczyzna may serve as an example, giving 294 the following data concerning the course of events during the 4 th of December, thus the day of the Blessed Virgin Mary s Sacrifice: On the eve of the day, the Hutsuli sprinkle the cows with linseed and apply butter to their udders, so that the cows would give a lot of milk. After midnight, naked women sit on the threshold and spin self-sowing hemp, while during the day they begin various works, so that they would be successful during ploughing [...] around noon, they burn incense around the cows, made from cow dung and spruce branches and say «much as no-one can collect this smoke in a sack, no-one will be able to take the manna from my cow» (Szuchiewicz 1904). I chose the above fragment to bring the reader to the realisation what a long journey awaits a researcher who would want to justify the connection of this type of behaviour with the day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Most probably each of the signs which appear here spinning, burning incense, beginning work is especially often connected to the name of the Virgin Mary, while justification for the other symbols nudity, self-sowing hemp, linseed can be found within mythology. However, the establishment of why this specific day was chosen for this type of practices, as well as the answer to this question can be found in the analysis of the correlation between the lives of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ and the whole cycle of yearly ceremonies and customs, the policies of the Church in these regards and people s reaction to it, their method of adapting everything that at a certain point in time entered culture as something new. Fundamentally, a similar question should be asked when analysing the less controversial texts dealing with, for example, behaviours during the Day of the Assumption of Mary 2. Most of them cannot be explained by referring to Marian piety. Thus, the selection of sources from such a perspective constitutes a serious problem for source criticism. Many sources indicate the ties between certain behaviours and Mary in the references to her or the prayers addressed to her or the fact that she was incorporated into a church ceremony. An example of the first would be the sigh addressed by Mr Twardowski to the Virgin Mary during the last hour of his life or her being summoned by other characters, also in contemporary times (Zowczak 1986), towards whom the Blessed Virgin Mary performs the role of advocate and ancillary. An example of the second type of behaviours may be the burning of blessed wax candles on Candlemas Day 3 or of herbs during the Day of the Assumption of Mary. Ethnographic sources from the 19 th and 20 th centuri
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