Piotr ZelnyPolishOrigins Team
Joined: 19 Feb 2019
Posted: Sat Apr 27, 2019 7:15 pm
Post subject: Oral tradition passes for centuries My grandma the whisperer
It's mid-80's, Poland, I'm a few years old boy. I stand in the kitchen and watch my aunt sitting on a stool. Above her, my grandmother leans towards with a knife in her hand and whispers something to herself incomprehensibly. Finally, she lifts the knife and submerges it in the glass of water with piece of charcoal held in her other hand. She cuts the water into four parts, cutting out the sign of the cross on the water, then spits three times from side to side saying: not three, not two, not one. I run out of the kitchen and continue looking for my cousin who has hidden somewhere from me.
Various people comes to grandma, mainly from the family but not only. She helps, treats them for the spell (charm), like that aunt on a stool, heals a rose, a fright, a wind (the chills), explains dreams, warns (She would always tell me: Remember my son, do not trust a woman with red hair. And what? My ex-wife is red hair. How did she know that for god sake? ) and reads the cards, writes herbal formulas for them.
The rituals are mix of folk belives and christian faith. People performing them are called szeptuchy, the whisperers, in some regions.
This knowledge was passed on to my granma by older women or maybe one woman, probably my family member, as she said once something about an aunt who taught her that. Whereas the explaining and interpreting dreams, she was taught by a Jewish friend woman from the family village.
I always thought that at that time, in the 1930s and 1940s, it was common knowledge in the Podole countryside where my family has originated (south eastern Poland at the foot of the Carpathians by then, nowadays western Ukraine). And probably to some extent it was like that, people knew how it operates, but only few of them took up that and even fewer took up it in the future. In spite of the fact that most of Koszalin population (the town in north western Poland) comes from interwar eastern Poland (Ukraine nowadays) none of my friends in my hometown have such family memories.
Fortunately, just before my grandmother's death, at the beginning of my historical studies I became interested in it. I conducted several interviews with my grandma. Some of the information she gave willingly, others had to be taken out of her while about another she did not talk at all. However, I had collected at the very most 30 minutes of the recording and few pages of notes. I was able to add this great micro-history, which roots probably extend far, far deeper into the past, to the only pre-war family souvenir that I have got from Ukraine then Poland, my grandmother's birth certificate. It is said that such beliefs, rituals and knowledge have been transmitted orally within the rural communities for centuries.
Currently, the largest number of such people in Poland live in the Podlasie region, the overwhelming majority comprises of older women of the Orthodox denomination. According to anthropologists, there have left about 30 of them there. In addition, probably an unknown number in other regions of the country. The most of them are in Belarus. But as you can see from the example of my family, this type of phenomenon was also present among Polish, Catholic families, what is more, even of slightly higher social level as it was minor noble and clerk family.
Such precious family stories and cultural phenomenon are still a lot of different kind. Our relatives can greatly enrich our family histories. But the oral history is ephemeral as memory and life. So people, memento mori, not three, not two, not one.