The Historiolae in Belarusian Incantations

  • Tatsiana Valodzina Head of the Department of Slavic Folklore and Culture at the Research Centre of Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus
Keywords: traditional medicine of Belarusians, incantations, historiolae, precedent, Biblical images


The article deals with one of the most popular techniques in Belarusian magical medicine — the so-called historiolae, the essence of which is to recall precedent situations. This implies that the “disequilibrium of being, which has arisen in human life at the present moment (e.g. a disease), is restored according to a sacred pattern that took place in the past”. The texts declare connections between different levels of the worlds, past and present, but to the same extent between the microcosm and the macrocosm, erasing all distinctions between the real and the supernatural worlds. The present time of these charms prevents the transfer of the patient and the healer to ancient times of the myths. Instead, it is the sacred world that spreads around the requester. The most common form of such charms includes a narrative that relates certain events in Christian history, primarily describing the life of Christ or of one of the saints. A particular place among the narrative manifestations of historiolae is occupied by references to the Passion of Christ. These narratives, in turn, possess powerful life-affirming and healing potential. It is not the logical correspondence of a specific comparison in an incantation that is central, but the very desire to place the situation of treatment in an appropriate context. A number of texts from the author’s field records and archival materials are introduced here into scholarly circulation.