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Wolf holidays among Southern Slavs in the Balkans

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Abstract

The article discusses wolf holidays among Southern Slavs in the Balkans. They are celebrated for a period of 3-11 days, most often around St. Mrata's day, in Serbia also around St. Sava and more seldom around Archangel Michael's day. During the holidays many prohibitions are observed and many acts performed and the chief purpose of all of them is to protect the livestock (and people) from wolves. People symbolically shut the jaws of wolves, do not work with the livestock or animal products, do not knit or spin, do not go into the woods, do not mention wolves or use other names for them, etc. The last day of these holidays is believed to be especially dangerous as this is the day when the "lame wolf" is supposed to move. The paper demonstrates that these taboos, folk beliefs and practice can only be understood on the basis of folk beliefs related to the Master of wolves and more specifically legends about the Master of wolves who gives out food to wolves on his name day.
1216–9803/$ 20.00 © 2009 Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest
Acta Ethnographica Hungarica, 54 (2), pp. 335–356 (2009)
DOI: 10.1556/AEthn.54.2009.2.6
WOLF HOLIDAYS AMONG SOUTHERN SLAVS
IN THE BALKANS
Mirjam MENCEJ
Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology
Faculty of Ar ts, University of Ljubljana,
Aškerčeva 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
E-mail: mirjam.mencej@guest.arnes.si
Abstract: The ar ticle discusses wolf holidays among Southern Slavs in the Balkans. They are cel-
ebrated for a period of 3–11 days, most often around St. Mrata’s day, in Serbia also around St. Sava and
more seldom around Archangel Michael’s day. During the holidays many prohibitions are observed and
many acts performed and the chief purpose of all of them is to protect the livestock (and people) from
wolves. People symbolically shut the jaws of wolves, do not work with the livestock or animal products,
do not knit or spin, do not go into the woods, do not mention wolves or use other names for them, etc.
The last day of these holidays is believed to be especially dangerous as this is the day when the “lame
wolf” is supposed to move. The paper demonstrates that these taboos, folk beliefs and practice can only
be understood on the basis of folk beliefs related to the Master of wolves and more speci cally legends
about the Master of wolves who gives out food to wolves on his name day.
Keywords: wolves, wolf holidays, St. Martin, St. Sava, folk calendar, summer-winter opposition
Wolves play an extremely important role in the beliefs, customs and rituals of
Southern Slavs. This fact testi es both to the dangers wolves represented in this area,
especially for livestock farmers, as well as to the mythical dimensions of these animals.
For example, inviting wolves to Christmas dinner is widespread in Serbia and Dalmatia,
whereby one wishes that the wolves will not show up again until the next Christmas din-
ner; in Bosnia, men disguised as wolves are an important element of wedding ceremonies;
and there are numerous sayings and folk beliefs related to wolves (PLAS 1999, 2003, 2004;
MENCEJ 2001). Especially among the Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians, numerous pre-
scribed or proscribed activities can be found throughout the year and in relation to sev-
eral holidays, especially in the late autumn and winter when the danger of wolves is the
greatest, the purpose of which is to prevent wolves from harming the animals. Serbs in
Croatia perform several rituals against dangers from wolves on the feasts of St. Tanasije
Potopljenik (Atanasije Atonski; 5 July/18 July),1 St. Nicholas (6 December/19 December),
1 The rst date is according to the old calendar, the second according to the new.
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336 Mirjam MENZEJ
St. Danilo (17 December/30 December), and St. Andrej (St. Andrew; 30 November/13
December). Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina celebrate the feasts of St. Danilo, St. Ignjat
(St. Ignacio; 20 December/2 January), the seventh day after St. George’s Day (the so-called
malo jurjevo; 30 April/13 May) and St. Andrew in relation to wolves. In Serbia, rituals
against the dangers of wolves are performed on St. George’s Day (23 April/6 May) and on
malo jurjevo, on Vav edenije s v. Bogo rodi c e (the Orthodox feast of the Annunciation; 21
November/4 December), on St. Andrew’s Day, on Badnji dan (the day before Christmas),
and in some places during the entire period between St. Andrew’s Day and St. Savas Day,
on St. Anton (17 January/30 January), on Trif u n ci (1–5 February/14–18[16] February),
during the so-called white week (6 Febr uary/19 Februar y–12 February/25 Februar y), on
St. Ilija’s Day (20 July/2 August), on Preobraženije (the feast of Christ’s Trans guration;
6 August/19 August), Velik o G ospoj ino (the Assumption; 15 August/28 August), on St.
Thomas’ (6 October/19 October), St. Luke’s (18 October/31 October), and on St. Alimpije’s
Day (26 November/9 December). In Macedonia, rituals against wolves are performed on
St. George’s Day, during the Christmas fast, on Letnik (also called Marta, Martenica etc.;
1 March/14 March), on St. Aralempije’s Day (Thursday before the Archangel Michael’s
Day), St. Luca’s Day and from 1–3 February. In Bulgaria, rituals against wolves are also
performed on Trif u n ci, which last from 1 to 3 February – according to a folk belief, wolves
go mad during those days, therefore people do not work then, and also do not open knives
so that the wolves’ jaws remain shut throughout the year. If a person wore anything made
during these three days, wolves would attack them. In some places, a cake is prepared,
blessed with burning incense and put into sheep and cattle feed so that wolves will not
attack them. Elsewhere backyards are not swept and trash is not thrown out, no wood or
anything else is cut, and food is not cooked over a re, all because of wolves and to insure
the health of the livestock (MARINOV 1994 [1914]: 490–92; cf. the overview of all rituals on
these days in MENCEJ 2001: 22–64).
However, the most strictly observed and the longest lasting holidays dedicated to
wolves are the so-called wolf holidays. The purpose of these holidays is to protect live-
stock and people from wolves, which are supposed to be particularly dangerous during
those days, by performing certain acts and following various prescriptions and proscrip-
tions which apply during such periods. These holidays most often occur on or around St.
Mrata’s (St. Martin’s) Day (11 November/24 November) – they are in some places also
called mratinci after this saint, and are celebrated by Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians.
Since St. Sava is considered to be a national saint of the Serbs, wolf holidays can also be
connected to this saint’s name day (14 January/27 January). Less frequently they also ap-
pear on Archangel Michael’s Day (8 November/21 November), but since that holiday is
only a few days before St. Mrata’s Day, both holidays often intertwine – celebrations of St.
Mrata’s actually often begin on the Archangel’s Day.
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 337
WOLF HOLIDAYS ON ST. MRATA’S DAY (“MRATINCI”, “MARTINCI”)
In Serbia2 wolf holidays are most strictly observed around St. Mratas Day. In some
places in Vojvodina people say that St. Mrata’s Day is celebrated because of wolves, “so
that wolves will not touch the livestock and the people” (BOSIĆ 1996: 394). In Jarmenci,
they celebrate this day so that wolves will not slaughter the livestock, and they tie chains
together so that they “bind [the wolves’] jaws together” (KNEŽEVIĆ – JOVANOVIĆ 1958: 115).
St. Mrata’s days are celebrated in the Romanian villages of Đerdapska Klisura for a week,
starting on the Archangel Michael’s Day (Aranđelovdan). During those days they refrain
from working with wool so that the wolves do not attack the livestock (KOSTIĆ 1971: 849).
In Homolje, they do not do anything with livestock in that period, especially sheep, and
women do not comb their hair or card wool or utter the word “wolf”. As early as on St.
Đurđica’s Day (on 3 November according to the old calendar), they close all scissors and
razors, and do not pick them up until the end of the holidays (MILOSAVLJEVIĆ 1913: 338). At
that time, the Vlachs in Urovica celebrate the so-called Filipi for 3, 9, 7 or 11 days. During
this period they refrain from working with wool, and women do not comb their hair or
clean the house. From St. Mrata’s Day until St. Jovan’s Day they do not card or spin wool
for cloth, all they do is weave (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 83). In Negotinska krajina, no work is
performed on St. Mrata’s Day because of wolves. In Braćevac they do not weave so that
wolves will not eat the livestock (KOSTIĆ 1969: 393). There is data available from southern
and eastern villages in Serbia on celebrating St. Mrata’s days with the intention to prevent
wolves from slaughtering livestock or people whose clothes were made or at least mended
during St. Mrata’s days. These days usually last from Archangel’s Day to St. Mrata’s Day.
In the Timot district, wolf holidays were celebrated on 11, 12 and 13 November. During
those days, women tied up the shears for sheep and goats, since that is considered to be the
most reliable means against the danger from wolves. Women also do not work with wool
since that would attract wolves (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 82). In Grlište, so that wolves do not
attack livestock, they do not spin and weave wool from St. Michael’s to Vavedn je, i.e. the
Orthodox holiday of the Annunciation (21 November/4 December), while in other villages
around Zaječar they follow the same principle on St. Mrata’s Day and during mratinci.
For the same reason, people in Grlište and Grljan do not lend anything from their houses
during mratinci. During these days, they fold their combs shut in order to shut the jaws of
wolves so they cannot attack their livestock. In Veliki Izvor they do not work on Vavednje
so that wolves will not attack the livestock, and on St. Mrata’s Day a black chicken is
slaughtered on the threshold (KOSTIĆ 1978: 401).
On St. Mrata’s Day, Vlach families in Valakonje begin with the so-called guarding
lip. This means that during this period of time nobody is permitted to put anything out of
the house; they are not allowed to do anything they had not begun to work on by the rst
day of “ lip” since they believe that a wolf will attack the livestock of anyone who fails to
observe that rule (MILOŠEVIĆ 1937: 204). In the Boljevac district they do not take anything
2 Both materials referring to Serbs and data for Romanians (Vlachs) living in Serbia are taken into con-
sideration since they cannot be separated – this population is in general very mixed with Serbs and heavily
Serbianised.
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338 Mirjam MENZEJ
out of the house during mratinci. The salt mortar is put away and nobody is allowed to
touch it. Women do not work with white wool or fabric, but only with dyed ones. They
also do not cut out clothing, card wool, spin or weave. Combs and scissors are put away,
and are not touched. They do this in order to close the mouths of wolves which would
enter the enclosure. Those with hay storage would also tie chains together so that wolves
jaws would be tied when they came to kill the livestock. During these days they do not do
anything in connection with livestock, i.e. sell it or slaughter it, they do not shovel away
the manure, all they do is feed them – all in order to prevent the wolves and other predators
from killing the livestock (GRBIĆ 1909: 1011, 74). In Zaglavak, mratinci last from 11 to
18 November. During this period, oxen are not yoked and people do not work with wool
so that wolves will not eat their oxen and sheep. A Mrata’s chicken (usually a cockerel)
is slaughtered on the threshold on the rst day of mratinci in honour of St. Mrata. The
person doing the slaughtering recites: “It is not me slaughtering you, it is Mrata who is
slaughtering you!” (STANOJEVIĆ 1913: 41). In Aleksinačko Pomoravlje, mratinci are cel-
ebrated for a week so that wolves will not strangle the livestock and people. People fast for
the entire week. Women do not work on men’s clothes so that wild animals will not attack
them in the elds or the woods. Nor do they touch scissors or combs because of wolves
(ANTONIJEVIĆ 1971: 165).
In Lužnica and Nišava, seven days of mratinci are celebrated in November so that
wolves will not strangle their livestock – in the villages of Visoko and the mountain vil-
lages of Lužnica people do not work during these seven days: they say that a wolf would
harm anybody who worked during those days (NIKOLIĆ 1910: 142). Mratinci are celebrated
in Gornji Svrljig and Malča in the Niš district; mratinčići (chickens) are slaughtered before
St. Mrata’s Day. The men do the slaughtering on the threshold, and while slaughtering
they recite: “It is not me slaughtering you, Mrata is slaughtering you!” Women do not
work for a week during mratinci also in the atland area of the Vlasotin district, starting
on St. Mrata’s Day when a black cock or hen is slaughtered (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 84). Near
Pirot, people celebrate mratinci for seven days in November so that wolves will not stran-
gle their livestock. The rst mrat begins on 11 November, on St. Minas Day. In the vil-
lages surrounding the city, only the rst and seventh mrats are celebrated, and elsewhere
all seven days are celebrated. Nobody works then because wolves are supposed to strangle
the livestock of anybody who would do anything during those days (NIKOLIĆ 1900: 90).
In the villages of Lower Resava, Serbs celebrate St. Mrata so that the wolves will not
attack their livestock. They do not work during those days, and yoking cattle is especially
prohibited. A day before mratinci they take a salt mortar, put a white stone and embers
underneath it, and then tie scissors and combs to the mortar with a red thread, facing down
(like the fangs of wolves), and by doing this they symbolically tie the wolves’ mouths shut
(TOMIĆ 1966: 45–46). Throughout Resava, nobody works with dyed or black wool during
mratinci, however, they do work with white, undyed and yellow wool. They celebrate
mratinci for a week for the sake of their livestock, as they say. Carding combs (grebeni)
are not opened, and even hidden from children. Speci cally, nothing is made for men who
leave their houses so that wolves will not attack them. Wolves are not mentioned during
those days, but are referred to as kamenik (from the word kamen, i.e. rock or stone – M.M.).
They do not take anything woollen out of the house. In Toplica and Kosanica people also
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 339
do not work during mratinci because of wolves (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 84). In Leskovačka
Morava, the so-called đurđic (Đurđe, Đorđe as in Saint George, M. M.) is celebrated be-
cause of wolves. St. Đorđe (George) is the rst mratinac, one whose name day is the rst
more important holiday celebrated because of the danger from wolves. They do not work
with wool on that day, and some people also fast. On đurđic, children do not comb their
hair so that the wolves will not strangle them, while women from Leskovačka Morava
often do not work on St. Mina’s or St. Mrata’s Day (ĐORĐEVIĆ 1958: 395).
In Ajdukovci and Turekovac, on mratinci two men tie a chicken’s beak with a bright
red thread so that it will not make a sound, and then slaughter it on the threshold while
not saying a word. The head would roll into the house and the body remained outside. In
Dobrotin a marta (hen) is slaughtered so that people can slaughter pigs during martinci.
The head of the slaughtered marta is nailed to a tree and tied with a red woollen thread and
chained. When they are done, they take the head and drive a piece of wood through the
beak which is then pinned to the wall or house door. It is left there during the night, and is
taken away the next day and put on a shelf or a beam under the roof. In Turekovac in the
past, the head of the slaughtered marta was crowned with owers then put on a carding
comb, embers were added and then covered with another carding comb. People would put
carding combs shut closed in this way above the door where they were left until the raspus
(fro m raspustiti – to dismiss, M. M.), i.e. the last day of mratinci. At the same time, scis-
sors were closed shut and people tied chains in the replace. At dawn at raspus they took
carding combs, untied the chains and took their scissors to someone else’s property and
opened them there (ĐORĐEVIĆ 1958: 397).
Wolf holidays begin in Gornji Sinkovac three days after the Archangel’s Day, and are
called martinci. They are divided into rst marta which lasts for three days, second marta
which also lasts three days, and raspus. People do not do work during the rst marta and
therefore everything is done in advance (washing the laundry, yoking the cattle). They
weave a thread from the last yarn, intertwine some pig hair in between, and throw it into a
crossroads. By doing so they satisfy the wolves so they do not cause any harm during the
year. In the old days they did not even thread a needle during these holidays. The second
marta offers a little more exibility: they do make yarn, but men are not allowed to do
so since they go outside and a wolf could nd them and harm them. Nor do they clean
the pens for three days. Before the holiday, the sheep are driven home and should not be
counted during martinci. Anyone who travels during these days is not allowed to wash or
comb their hair, and combs are hidden during the rst marta. Underwear is not changed
for seven days. No bread is kneaded during the rst marta. A black chicken, or more rarely
a black cock, is slaughtered the day before the rst marta, and in only a few villages it is
a coloured chicken that is slaughtered (ĐORĐEVIĆ 1958: 396).
In Leskovac, mratinci are celebrated for nine days; they start on St. Mrata’s Day.
People refrain from sewing and patching as well as pounding hemp, again because of the
danger of wild beasts (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 85). In Crna Trava, even in the poorest house
an old hen has to be slaughtered before St. Mrata’s Day, black if at all possible. Its head is
then hung on chains above the replace, where it hangs until it falls into the replace by
itself and is burnt. This is done so that wolves will not strangle the livestock and that the
impure spirits looking for a victim in a particular house will be satis ed with the hen’s
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340 Mirjam MENZEJ
head. In the villages of Vranje, Pčinje, Masure and Poljane nobody works on the rst day
of mratinci and on raspust. During these two days they do not work with hemp, and they
do not work with wool the entire week in between these two days. They close the carding
combs shut and tie chains in the replace to bind the jaws of wolves. Also, a (black) cock is
slaughtered before mrata. The hair of domestic livestock is stuck into its beak and then the
beak is tied together. During these days, the domestic livestock are left where they were
when mratinci began. Not even a button is sewn on for men during these days, all because
of the danger of wolves (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 84–86).
In Vranjsko Pomoravlje, mratinci, which last from 9 to 14 November, are considered
to be a women’s holiday. They are celebrated so that wolves will not kill cows and other
livestock. On St. Mrata’s Day, which is considered to be a general holiday and not only for
women, people yoke their oxen after they pull embers through the yoke “so that the wolf
runs away from the oxen just like it runs away from the re” (NIKOLIĆ-STOJANČEVIĆ 1974:
312) . Pile martinče (a chicken) is slaughtered on that day, and the woman of the house
throws its head on the chains. This is done so that they can slaughter the livestock during
the year without any fear (NIKOLIĆ-STOJANČEVIĆ 1974: 102). In Preševo, a cock or a hen is
slaughtered on the threshold before St. Mrata’s Day. The head, tail and wing feathers are
stuck into chains, while some people put feathers on the inside of the entrance door to the
house. Other feathers are used to feed and smoke the animals in order to protect them from
wolves and other beasts. They do nothing during the rst three days and on the last day of
these holidays (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 86).
Throughout Macedonia, and especially in mountainous areas, various customs are
observed on mratinci/martinci, which are also known as wolf holidays in Kočansko Polje,
Maleševo and near Đevđelija, and are supposed to prevent wolves (and sometimes other
beasts as well) from killing the livestock. Nobody works during these days, especially
those who have livestock. In several places in the south of Macedonia, the rst day of
martinci is called the rst marta and the last, i.e. seventh day is called raspus. In Bitoljsko
Polje near Đevđelija, martinci were celebrated for three days, and at one time as many as
seven days. On the day before the rst day of martinci a woman or a girl takes carding
combs from the house, and before the livestock are driven home and put away she takes
them to an opening in the fenced pen or enclosure, pulls them apart there and puts one
to one side and the other to the other side of the entrance so that the teeth face towards
the middle of the entrance. She would leave the carding combs lying like that until the
livestock came in, and then go out reciting: “For harmful pests and enemies, so that their
mouths will be shut!” They would throw the shut carding combs onto the door of the pen
or enclosure and leave them there overnight, and the following day they would put them
somewhere where nobody was allowed to touch them for all seven days of martinci. In
Sredorek, on the evening before the rst day of martinci, one of the women of the house
takes a needle and thread, closes her eyes and threads a needle, and then, with her eyes
closed, stitches a piece of clothing which is then worn so that a part of the thread remains
sewn into the clothing, however, they make sure it is not visible. While the thread is being
pulled through the clothing they recite: “We are tying and patching its mouth so that it
cannot open it, we are patching its eyes so that it cannot see”, and then the thread is torn
and tied and they say: “We are tying its legs so that it cannot go.” Everybody else in the
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 341
house, including the children, then uses this same thread and needle to sew, and the same
words are repeated. After everybody sews the thread, they start combing their hair, and
saying: “I am combing its hair so that it cannot see. May it go where the mountain is at,
where the mountain splits and where there is no house.” These words refer to wolves and
other wild animals which cause damage to livestock and people.
A similar custom is observed in Kriva Palanka. The man or the woman of the house
takes hemp yarn, closes their eyes and mouth and weaves a hemp thread behind their back.
When they have nished weaving they say: “Let its mouth be shut, let its eyes be shut, let
its legs be frozen!” etc. All these curses refer to wolves. The man of the house then begins
to weave a carpet, and while weaving he talks to himself and curses the harmful beasts.
He weaves the carpet in front of him, with his eyes shut, and leaves the beginnings of the
weave to stand un nished until the end of martinci. When the martinci week is over, the
thread is burnt. This is done in order to shut the wolf ’s eyes when it encounters humans or
livestock so it will not see and cannot bite.
In Drimkol, chains are tied the day before the rst day of martinci. They have to
remain tied like that for at least twenty-four hours, but they are usually left for the entire
week. They do that so that mouths of wolves, and of everything else which could harm
the livestock or the family, will be tied shut. In addition, in Drimkol and Struško Polje,
combs, scissors and knives are closed before martinci, and remain closed the entire week.
They do all of this in order to shut the mouth s of wolves and snakes so that they cannot bite
the livestock. In Polog they remove all things that close, such as combs, scissors, knives,
threads, making sure that they are closed while removing them, and do not touch them the
entire week, “so that wild animals will not open their mouths”. The people believe that if
these things were not closed during martinci, a wolf or a snake would harm the people and
the livestock. In Skopsko Polje as well, combs are closed and chains are tied on St. Mrata’s
day, and they remain closed the entire week. Before martinci near Kriva Palanka, farm-
ers shut the livestock in pens with a closed lock on one side of the door, so that the door
can be opened and closed, but the lock remains locked on the door the entire week. This
is done in order to lock the muzzle of the wolf. In addition, before martinci the woman of
the house ties the chains hanging above the replace, and they remain tied like that for
the entire week.
In Ovče Polje, sharp objects are not used for seven days. In Struško Polje and Drimkol,
a thorny green branch is split in half before the rst day of martinci, and one half is laid
at the entrance to the fenced pen or enclosure in the soil where the livestock walk, and the
second half is placed above the door. The livestock then walk between the two halves of
the bough. The thornbush bough must remain there like that for the entire week, and then
it is thrown out into the bushes where nobody walks. Before the rst day of martinci, some
wool is collected from all the sheep and a string is woven which is laid above the door
through which the sheep enter in the evening. On that same evening, before the animals
are driven into the pen or enclosure, hazel branches are kindled. When the livestock are
inside, the entrance is closed, and the branches are kept burning the entire night. People do
all of this to chase the wolves and snakes away from the house and the enclosure. In Ovče
Polje, just before martinci millet is mixed with roasted corn and strewn around the pen
or the enclosure, while reciting: “When this millet is gathered, the wolf will come.” The
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342 Mirjam MENZEJ
enclosure is circled three times, and the door is then locked. Sheep are the most watched
after, since people believe they are in the greatest danger.
In Sredorek on the day before the rst day of martinci, a person who has a black hen
slaughters it on the threshold and spills the blood over the threshold; this can otherwise be
done with a hen of any colour. After the hen is slaughtered it is left uncleaned overnight,
and is then cleaned and cooked for lunch the following day. The hen’s head is dragged
through a loop of tied chains several times, then it is tied and hung on chains with a rope,
and one hair of each domestic animal is stuck into its beak. The hen is slaughtered on
the threshold in order to protect the livestock from wolves. A custom is known around
Đevđelija where each house slaughters one hen on the day before martinci, and a bloody
cross is made on the door with its head. Before martinci they try to “shut the jaws” of
wolves at all cost. In Demir-Hisar that is done by a village sorceress (vračarka) using vari-
ous herbs. On the night before the rst day of martinci, she goes up to the entrance to the
enclosure and recites words no one is allowed to hear. Then the herbs and a thread woven
from the wool gathered from the sheep in various enclosures are burnt at the entrance
to the enclosure. After everything burns to embers, the sorceress gathers the ashes and
remains of the burnt herbs, rolls them up into a cloth, takes them away and throws them
under the roof of the house. She returns from the enclosure quickly so that nobody notices
her. If she succeeds in returning unnoticed, the people believe that the wolf’s “jaws will
get stuck”, however, if a wolf kills any small domestic animal during the year, they believe
that the sorceress must have been observed while working, and that is why the magic did
not work.
Around Kriva Palanka, people do not change their clothes and shoes during the entire
week of martinci. To protect cattle from wolves, they also do not comb their hair or sew
during martinci. For the same reasons, in Ovče Polje nobody is allowed to do anything
during martinci, especially not start a new piece of clothing, or patch an old one, sew or
prepare in any way for making clothes or shoes, as well as spin wool or knit. The people
believe that anybody wearing clothes made during those days will be attacked by a wolf.
If they encounter a wolf, they must immediately take such pieces of clothing off and then
they will be safe since the wolf will tear apart only the discarded pieces of clothing. Nor
are they allowed to break the soil or plough for the entire week, or at least on the rst day
of martinci, since they believe that otherwise the wolf will kill their livestock during the
year and bury it in the soil. During martinci the livestock is not given any salt, wheat or
bran so that wolves will not gather around the sheep enclosures like the sheep do when
they are being fed such food. For the same reason, the sheep are not given any hay during
these days. Men only do the most urgent jobs that cannot harm the sheep.
In Kočansko Polje, people are not allowed to cut with knives during these holidays so
that wolves will not attack the livestock. In Bitoljsko Polje nobody is allowed to use sharp
tools during this period, particularly not the shepherds. During these days, res are not
to be burnt within the pens and enclosures, nor can lights be turned on. Women are not
allowed to do anything with wool: washing, weaving, spinning, carding, etc. – all in order
to protect the sheep from wolf attacks. In Sredorek, people do not comb their hair during
this period so that wolves will not attack them. They are not allowed to make sandals, the
women do not work with wool, only a little bit with cotton, and even that only on Tuesday,
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 343
Thursday and Saturday. People also tell many stories about how a wolf grabbed a man by
the leg and tore apart his socks which were made during this period of time. This is why
farmers do not work throughout all seven days of martinci. They do not count their live-
stock during this week, since they believe that a wolf would eat all the counted livestock
as well as the person doing the counting. In Žegligovo nobody works during the rst three
days of martinci, and during the last three days the women work only with cotton. They
are not allowed to sew or patch woollen things during these days, all for the sake of the
livestock and protection from wolves. They do not mention wolves during these seven
days so that they will not attack the livestock. Near Kriva Palanka people are not allowed
to weave during these seven days, and only girls of marrying age work the entire week.
They do not work during these days because everything that is made would go to some-
body else’s house as a gift. (RAIČEVIĆ 1935: 54–61)
In Đevđelija, these holidays, which last three days, are called martinci or wolf holi-
days. Before martinci, each household would slaughter a hen and make a bloody cross
above the door with its head. Then the woman of the house would take white millet in
a woollen apron, without watching how much she takes, and strew it around the house
and herself while reciting: “When the enemy has the will to gather all the seeds of this
millet then they will get lucky!” The same words are pronounced when she walks around
the house, the garden and the enclosure. People do not work on the rst day of martinci,
and are especially careful not to cut anything. On that day they do not carry anything out
of the house, and they do not cut. Some people call martinci wolf holidays. During the
three days of mratinci nobody is allowed to slaughter livestock, or anything else, because
all of their animals would die (TANOVIĆ 1927: 16–17). In Kriva Palanka it is mostly the
stockbreeders who celebrate this holiday. Before Mrata they slaughter a hen of any colour.
Work is strictly prohibited (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 88).
Mratinci are strictly observed in the highest villages around the Kozjak highlands.
An animal, usually black, is slaughtered on the threshold, and blood is intentionally
spilled on the threshold. They do not do any work around pens with animals in them
(DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 88). In Gornji Polog (Gostivar), the week between 11/24 November
and 17/30 November is called martinovica. Women do not perform any manual work in
the mornings and evenings, and do not touch carding combs and looms during the day
either so that beasts and snakes will not attack their livestock. Only hens but no cocks
are slaughtered (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 90). In Tavor, a village between Skopje and Veles,
celebrations are held for three days. On the rst day they do not do anything, and do not
yoke their animals; the same applies for the third day, however they are allowed to work
a little on the second day. Before St. Mrata’s Day, a knot is tied on the chains in order to
“bind the mratinci”, and women hide carding combs in the sheep or livestock enclosure.
In Bogomile they would even set re to the ploughs of people who yoked their oxen on
mratinci. In Papredište people do not work for the entire week during mratinci, they do
not even sweep so that wild beasts will not “sweep away their livestock” (DIMITRIJEVIĆ
1926: 88–89).
In Morihovo in order to protect their livestock from wild beasts the people celebrate
for four days, i.e. from St. Mina’s Day to the so-called božične poklade (14/17 November),
and those days are referred to as babi prazniki (women’s holidays) or Minovi prazniki
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344 Mirjam MENZEJ
(Mina3s holidays). The women do not work then, and the men do not even collect rewood
(DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 89). Around Prilep, mratinci are called “Mina’s holidays”, and people
do not work during the four days of these holidays so that their elds will not be destroyed
by hail, or their livestock killed by wolves or bitten by snakes (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 89). In
Katlanovo, people celebrate for three days, and during these three days they do not cut
anything with a knife so that wolves will not bite their livestock and snakes will not bite
humans. In Šuševo it is said that “Martinjac” is celebrated because of worms, and during
these three days they cook in the house without boiling any water so that the worms will
not “boil (up)”. In the villages above Pčinja and in Karšijak in the Skopje basin, St. Mrata’s
holiday is celebrated “because of wolves” (FILIPOVIĆ 1939: 404).
St. Martinija (Martiden) is celebrated in Debarski Drimkol especially by the wives of
sheep farmers, cattle farmers and loggers, since the purpose of this holiday is to drive wild
animals away from people. They do not work during this time: they do not knit, weave,
spin or sew since it is believed that clothes made on this day attract wolves. Nor do the
people shear sheep on that day. On the evening before St. Martin’s Day a rose bough is
broken into two pieces. One piece is put on the threshold, and the other above the door.
Also, one part of a carding comb is put above the door, and the other under the door. The
sheep are then allowed to enter one by one and bits of wool are taken while they are enter-
ing. A thread is spun from the wool collected and a bough is tied with it. The tied bough
of a rose bush is set above the door where it remains for a year or until the following
Martiden (St Mrata’s Day). At the end the carding combs are closed shut and these words
are recited: “I tied up the wild one, I bound its eyes and mouth so it cannot see. So that it
cannot look at rams, and that my sheep can walk freely!” (DOMAZETOVSKI 1979: 67–68).
Martinoj praznici (Martinija) last for twelve days around Ohrid, but are celebrated
only for the rst three days. During these three days people do no work since these days
are considered to be a holiday for both people and livestock. Not even women’s tasks are
performed during these days, they do not sew, weave, spin, etc. For twelve days knives are
not opened, so one knife is opened the night before St. Martin’s Day and is then left open
throughout all twelve days. They do that in order to protect animals from disease and wild
animals. During the holiday they also tie a chain above the hearth so that the mouths of
beasts will be tied, and they remain tied through the entire period of time. Carding combs
for hemp or wool are opened before the holiday, and are left open and facing each other in
front of the door of the area where the livestock is kept. When the livestock enter, they are
locked in and kept shut in during the entire period of time. This is done to shut the mouths
of w ild animals so that they cannot attack domestic animals ( KITEVSKI 1979: 55–56). In the
village of Strezovce near Kumanovo, women usually slaughter a black cock or hen before
St. Mrata’s Day. Its beak is then sewn together so that it cannot open, so that the jaws of
wolves also do not open. Women do not work the entire week, while men do not work only
on the rst and last day (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 87).
In Bulgaria, wolf holidays are partly celebrated on Trifun c i (the rst three days in
February), but they are observed even more strictly, and for a longer period of time (three
times for three days, sometimes less), around November 11. At that point, the women stop
3 I.e. St Menas.
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 345
all manual work: nobody spins, weaves, tailors, sews, cards wool, embroiders, etc. Knives
used for tailoring and cutting are closed and tied rmly so that nobody can open them. In
order to keep them out of children’s reach, they are hidden somewhere high. Salt is not
crushed because the opening in the mortar must be tied from above and turned upside
down so that the wolves will not be able to open their jaws. Cracks around the replace
and behind the door are lled up with mud in order to glue shut the eyes of wolves so that
they cannot see the sheep. In the villages of Podves and Karnobatsko, the wolf holidays
last 5 days, and the last day is called kuculan (from kuc – i.e. hobbled, lame; M. M.), which
is considered to be the most vicious and dangerous of all wolves. In the villages of Kolibite
and Trojansko, these days are called zverini prazniki (beast holidays), and wolves are re-
ferred to as beasts. The people celebrate for three days: on 13, 14 and 15 November, but
the last day, i.e. kuculan, is considered to be the scariest. In the villages of Tvrdnica and
Novozagorsko, wolf holidays are celebrated for nine days: they celebrate for three days,
then work three days, and again celebrate for the next three days. The last day is kuculan
(21 November) which is also called volčja bogorodica (Wolf Mother of God). People say
that “this bogorodica commands the wolves”. According to this belief, there are three bo-
gorodicas: the big one, the little one and the wolf one (the middle one), which are the three
sisters – this is where the triad characteristic of these holidays is derived from: the people
celebrate for three days, work three days, and then celebrate again for three days.
In Medven and Kotlensko, wolf holidays are celebrated for one week starting on 14
November. They end on the wolf bogorodica on 21 November (i.e. on Vaved e nij e); this
day is called kuculan. When the holidays begin, knives are tied together so that the jaws
of wolves will also be tied for the entire year. The people do not weave either. In the vil-
lages of Kipilovo and Elensko, these days are called wolf holidays and are celebrated for
a week, and the last day is called kuculan. In Litakovo, knives are tied after slaughtering
the chicken, and remain tied until the last night of mratinci, i.e. 21 November. In Litakovo,
the Orhanijsko wolf holidays last from 14 to 21 November, and the last day is called kucu-
lan. In Šipka, wolf holidays begin on St. Filip (St. Phillip, 14 November) and last until the
volčja bogorodica, which is called kuculan. Knives are tied and put away so that wolves’
jaws will be closed. In Vresovo and Ajtosko three days are celebrated from 12 November
on. In the villages of Riš and Preslavsko, wolf holidays last eight days, starting on St.
Mina’s Day (11 November); the last day is the most dangerous. In the town of Panagjurište
these holidays are called wolf holidays; they begin on St. Mina’s Day (11 November);
knives are closed shut and carding combs are closed and stuck together with fresh cow
manure. Salt is not crushed in the mortar so that wolves do not open their jaws during the
next year, and strangle the sheep and cattle. Cracks around the hearth and behind the door
are lled with clay so that wolves have their eyes shut and do not see the sheep and the
cattle. On that day, people do not even touch the carding combs.
In Željava and So jsko, wolf holidays last for a week, from St. Mina’s Day (11
November) on. The last day of the holidays is on volčja bogorodica and is called kuculan.
In Lopjan, Tetevensko, wolf holidays or rangelovi prazniki (the Archangel’s holidays) last
for ten days – the last day, i.e. the day of volčja bogorodica, is called kuculan, and is con-
sidered to be the scariest. In Grusen and Tetevensko the so-called rangelovi prazniki last
seven days, and wolf holidays last three; they start on St. Mina’s Day. The last day of the
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346 Mirjam MENZEJ
holidays is celebrated in honour of the Lame Wolf (the so-called kuculan, 21 November).
In Todjovci, Elensko, wolf holidays are celebrated for a week, from 12 November on. At
the beginning of the holidays a chain is tied to a lock where it remains until the end of the
holidays. Knives are closed so that the mouths of wolves will be tied. In the villages of
Pirgos, Rusensko, wolf holidays last ve days, starting on 11 November. In some houses
these holidays are celebrated on Rangelovdan (Archangel’s Day). People do not make
holes in sandals, they do not touch soap and they do not work. In Topleš and Gabrovsko
these holidays are called Rangelovi prazniki; they last for a week, from 10 November
on. During that time no spinning, weaving or sewing is done, except when the mouths of
wolves and bears are symbolically sewed together.
In Tetevene, wolf holidays last a week. In the evening on the rst day of wolf holidays,
cracks in the hearth are lled in with mud in order to glue together the eyes of wolves
so that they cannot see the sheep. People refrain from working for the entire week, and
knives are not opened; the last day is called kuculan because people say that this scariest
and most dangerous wolf has its legs broken. In Maraški Trastenik and Plevensko these
holidays used to last from six to ten days, and were later reduced to three days only, start-
ing on 11 November. The third day is called kuculan, klekucan or natlapan. People do not
work at all during these days. Knives are tied together with a rope, which is thrown into
re on the last day. In Brjastovica, Peruštica and Plovdivsko wolf holidays are celebrated
from the evening of 10 November to 15 November. The rag used to clean the oven, the
poker and the baker’s palette are put in the oven, and then the door of the oven is shut in or-
der to close the mouths of wolves. The horse and oxen stables are not cleaned. No sewing,
weaving, spinning, knitting or laundry is done. In the villages of Goljamo Alačkjoj and
Dobričko, wolf holidays last three days. Nobody works during that time. In some places
the women (who are otherwise not allowed to slaughter animals), i.e. the oldest woman in
the house, might slaughter a black chicken on the threshold on this day while reciting: “It
is not us who are slaughtering you, it is Mratinjak who is slaughtering you!” (MARINOV,
1994 [1914]: 695–700; cf. also SEDAKOVA 2002: 209–10).
WOLF HOLIDAYS ON ARCHANGEL MICHAEL’S DAY
In some places in Serbia, wolf holidays are connected to the holiday of the Archangel
Michael (St. Aranđeo) (8/21 November). During the three days after St. Aranđeo’s holi-
days, which are called Filipi by the Vlachs, women do not perform any of their tasks so
that the wolves will not attack the livestock. In the Vlach village of Jasikovi, St. Aranđeo’s
Day is called “Dzou lupilor” (the day of the wolves), as well as by Vlachs in Negotinska
krajina and around Bor (KOSTIĆ 1978: 402). In Timok, Aranđelovdan (Archangel’s Day)
is celebrated for protection against the danger from wolves (as is St. Mrata’s Day). In
Braćevec and Timok, shepherds do not work on Aranđelovdan in order to prevent the
wolves from strangling the sheep, since a saying goes that the Archangel closes the mouths
of the wolves so that they cannot bite the sheep (KOSTIĆ 1969: 393).
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 347
WOLF HOLIDAYS ON ST. SAVA’S DAY
In addition to mratinci, in some places in Serbia the best-known and most important
days against the danger of wolves are the days around St. Sava’s Day. St. Sava is considered
to be a national saint of Serbia. In Boževac the people fast on St. Sava’s Day since they be-
lieve that if they break this fast, harm will befall their livestock (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 75).
In Jadar in north-western Serbia, during savinski prazniki (Sava’s holidays) women
refrain from combing bunches of ax for spinning, opening carding combs and weaving
yarn, since if they did that they would “weave the beasts to life”. People observe all the
holidays in this period and stop working during these days. People believe that if they
work, a beast (they are not allowed to say the word wolf!) would come into the enclosure
and kill their livestock. In some villages celebrations continue for seven more days after
St. Sava’s Day and people refrain from working during that period (TOMIĆ – MASLOVARIĆ
– TEŠIĆ 1964: 198). In Takovci, most people did not work on Sredosavica (11/24 Janua r y),
while nowadays only those going to the woods with livestock refrain from working. If
somebody was to work on that day they could not protect their livestock from the wolves
(FILIPOVIĆ 1972: 188, 218). In Gornji Branetići/Takovci, the Friday before St. Sava’s Day
was also celebrated, and people would fast and were not allowed to work so that the wolves
would not eat their livestock. The wolves would eat the sheep of anyone who worked on
that day. The women stopped weaving from St. Andrew’s Day to St. Sava’s Day so that the
wolves would not kill the livestock. Savindan (St. Sava’s Day) is strictly observed. Seven
days before and seven days after St. Sava’s Day nothing is coloured with red so that the
wolves will not come and kill the sheep (FILIPOVIĆ 1972: 188). In Gruža, St. Sava’s fast
or Savica lasts seven days, during which people fast “because of the beasts”. Women do
nothing on that day, for the sake of their health. Chains (“savine verižice”, Sava’s chains or
necklaces) are tied in order to tie the jaws of the beasts (PETROVIĆ 1948: 235–36).
In Žučkovo, the fast lasts throughout St. Sava’s week in order for the livestock to be
healthy and safe from the wild animals. In Trbunje people fast on St. Sava’s Day so that
the wolves, and wild animals in general, will not strangle the livestock. In the northern
part of Toplice, in Blače and Kopaonik as well as further along Rasina and in Kuršumlija,
St. Savas week is celebrated to gain protection from the wild animals (DIMITRIJEVIĆ
1926: 113–16). Saint Sava is celebrated because of the danger from wolves also in Pertate
near Leskovac (TREBJEŠANIN 1971: 191). In the mountain villages above Priština, around
Mitrovica and in Ibarski Kolašin, people fast on St. Sava’s Day so that he will spare their
livestock from wolves. Also in Rogozna, people strictly observe the fast so that no harm
will be done to their livestock. In Kosovo, many people fast for a week on St. Sava’s Day
or do not eat the meat of four-legged animals so that wolves will not do any harm to the
livestock. Some refrain from working with blades, and do not open razors and knives, so
that the wolves will not slaughter the livestock. During St. Sava’s week, many women do
not card wool and do not weave so that the wild animals will not come running from the
woods (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 126: 73–74).
Leaving aside the general matter of fasting and prohibitions regarding work during
wolf holidays (which undoubtedly point to the strict observance of these holidays), the
purpose of the majority of the acts performed during this period is to prevent wolves from
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348 Mirjam MENZEJ
harming livestock and people, i.e. primarily to protect the livestock from wolves. For
example, people symbolically shut the jaws of wolves (e.g. by closing enclosures, closing
knives, scissors, carding combs, etc.), do not work with the livestock or animal products
(wool and similar) in order not to “show off” the livestock to the wolves, do not go into
the woods (a dangerous, “chaotic” place) where there is danger of wolves, do not mention
wolves or use other names for them. Animal sacri ces to saints, especially of hens or
cocks, are often encountered – perhaps as an offering to appease a saint so that his wolves
will not kill the livestock.
Therefore, even though individual holidays during which people perform various ac-
tivities aimed at preventing harm from wolves are repeated throughout the year, the main
wolf holidays in the Balkans occur in the middle of November and are associated with the
name day of St. Martin (Mrata; and can be expanded to include other holidays as well,
e.g. the holiday of the Archangel Michael). It is only on this day that wolf holidays are
celebrated everywhere where these kinds of holidays are celebrated at all, and this is true
for the Serbs and Macedonians as well as Bulgarians.
In addition, local wolf holidays are also found in Serbia on St. Sava’s Day (which is
no surprise taking into consideration the importance of this saint in Serbian folklore!), in
Bulgaria on trifunci, and very occasionally also on some other holidays.
So why do wolf holidays appear around St. Mrata’s Day in particular, as well as par-
tially around St. Sava’s and the Archangel Michael’s Day? In order to understand this, wolf
holidays should be connected to the wide-spread belief about the Master of the Wolves.
This connection is not arti cial; where wolf holidays are celebrated, people themselves of-
ten base them on the belief that the saint on whose name day they celebrate is the Master of
the Wolves. In places where wolf holidays are celebrated around St. Marta’s Day, St. Mrata
is usually considered to be the Master of the Wolves. In places where wolf holidays are
celebrated on St. Sava’s Day, St. Sava is considered to be the Master of the Wolves. Since
Archangel Michael’s Day is only a few days before mratinci, people sometimes consider
St. Mrata to be the Master of the Wolves even when wolf holidays are celebrated around
the Archangel’s Day, and sometimes this role is ascribed to the Archangel himself.
For example, in Lužnica and Nišava, where mratinci are celebrated for seven days so
that the wolves will not strangle their livestock, people believe that St. Mrata commands
the wolves (NIKOLIĆ 1910: 142). In the mountain villages in the Pirot district, people be-
lieve that Saint Mrata commands the wolves and decides what each wolf should do to a
person who disrespects his holiday (NIKOLIĆ 1928: 106-107; ĐOR ĐEVIĆ 1958a: 217). In
Macedonia where celebrating mratinci is very common, the people think that St. Mrata or
Mina commands the wolves and that the entire week around his holidays he sends them
wherever he wants to (RAIČEVIĆ 1935: 54; DOMAZETOVSKI 1979: 67–68, etc.).
In Takovci, where wolf holidays are celebrated on Sredosavica (10/23 January) peo-
ple say that all wolves are St. Sava’s dogs, and he is the Master of the Wolves; he decides
which livestock enclosures the wolves are allowed to attack during the winter (FILIPOVIĆ
1972: 188, 218). In Gruža, the people fast on Savica and perform various acts in order to
protect themselves against wolves, since St. Sava is supposed to have led dogs, but once
he became a saint his dogs turned into wolves (PETROVIĆ 1948: 235–36). In some places in
Serbia, shepherds fast for a week before St. Sava’s Day so that wolves will not kill their
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 349
sheep, because “wolves are the greyhounds of Saint Sava” (MILIČEVIĆ 1894: 180, No. 66).
According to the belief of the inhabitants of Metohija, packs of wolves are commanded by
St. Sava – if one is endangered by wolves all they have to do is say the name of St. Sava
and the wolves will not touch them (RADUNOVIĆ 1983: 49).
Especially in some mountain settlements, the Archangel Michael’s Day is also cel-
ebrated in order to gain protection against wolves, because the people believe that St.
Aranđeo shuts the jaws of the wolves. It is said that only he can stop the Lame Wolf,
change the will of St. Sava and lead the wolves to get lost in the wilderness, where there
are no livestock or people, and that he leaves secret signs in villages where wolves are not
allowed (KULIŠIĆ 1974: 194; ANTONIĆ – ZUPANC 1988: 169).
In addition to St. Sava, in some places in eastern Herzegovina the Serbs also consider
St. Danilo to be the Master of the Wolves. Even though the belief that St. Danilo is a “wolf
saint” is merely local, the same pattern can be observed here as well: in order to protect
themselves against the wolves, on his name day shepherds dressed and tied their shoes in
such a way that they would not have to change their shoes during the day, they took a stick
prepared in advance which they did not change afterwards during the year, and performed
activities to ensure that wolves would not attack the livestock and people (FILIPOVIĆ 1967:
268–69).
Even though this is perhaps not explicitly true of Bulgaria, the last day of wolf holi-
days is named after the volčja bogorodica, for whom it also is claimed that she “commands
the wolves” (see above), i.e. has the function of the Master of the Wolves.4
Not only do wolf holidays as a rule relate to the name days of saints who appear in the
role of the Master of the Wolves, they also clearly re ect the deep-rooted belief that the
main function of the Master of the Wolves is to dictate what they may eat and/or provide
their food. This kind of distributing food to wolves or sending wolves around to search
for food takes place, according to folk beliefs, right around the saint’s name day. People
basically justify the celebration of wolf holidays on the saint’s day or around his holiday
through the belief that the Master of the Wolves is the saint who commands the wolves
and who summons the wolves at that time of the year and distributes food or sends them
to various places for food. For example, in Lužnica and Nišava people say that throughout
the week of mratinci, St. Mrata sends the wolves wherever he needs them to go (NIKOLIĆ
1910: 142). In Macedonia as well it is believed that St. Mrata or Mina sends the wolves
wherever he wants them to go throughout the entire week around his holiday (RAIČEVIĆ
1935: 54; DOMAZETOVSKI 1979: 67–68). In Banat the people say that on St. Sava’s Day,
St. Sava feeds all the wild animals and gives them food for a year (BOSIĆ 1996: 179). In
Leskovačka Morava, according to people’s beliefs, St. Sava sends a wolf to punish people
or households which sinned, and worked on the wolf holiday on St. Sava’s Day when the
saint releases and sends the wolves around (ĐOR ĐEVIĆ 1958: 358). According to another
belief, on the eighth day of marta, i.e. on the raspus, St. Sava sends out all the animals
4 In Bulgarian tales God appears as the Master of the Wolves as well, while in southern Bulgaria ac-
cording to folk beliefs St. George is considered to be the Master of the Wolves (KOLEVA 1977: 158; MARINOV
1994 [1914]: 698–699; GENČEV 1996: 284). St. George is also most often the Master of the Wolves in western
Slavic folk beliefs, songs and legends, and various customs and incantations against the danger of wolves are
performed on St. George’s Day (cf. MENCEJ 2001: 61–64).
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350 Mirjam MENZEJ
and tells them how they should live (ĐORĐEVIĆ 1958: 397). In Kosovo, people think that
St. Sava determines what prey the wolves will receive; on his holiday St. Sava is supposed
to climb a tree, and wolves gather around it, and he determines for each and every one of
them what they should strangle during the year (DIMITRIJEVIĆ 1926: 73–74). Serbs around
Nevesinje (the village of Bojišta) in eastern Herzegovina say that the prophet Danilo, who
is considered to be a wolf saint there, determines “nafaka”5 for the wolves, and his name
day is the royal day of wild animals. On that day, they say, St. Danilo gathers the wolves
and determines where they will go during the year (FILIPOVIĆ 1967: 269). A legend is told
there about a man who hid in a tree, and the saint (Danilo) ordered the Lame Wolf, who
came to the meeting late, to eat him. (The narrator also said that the Lame Wolf is more
dangerous than ten other wolves put together; FILIPOVIĆ 1967: 269,)
Variants of this type of legend which is associated with the belief about the Master of
the Wolves can be found over an extremely wide area. It is widespread among the Croats,
Serbs and Bulgarians, as well as among Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians and Poles;6 in
addition, it was also recorded in Romania, Estonia, Latvia, France, among the Gagauz in
Moldavia7 (for a presentation of these narratives see POLIVKA 1927; MENCEJ 2001). The plot
is more or less the same in all variants: a man sitting in a tree in a forest sees the Master
of the Wolves, who is giving out food to the wolves or sending them in all directions in
search of food. The last in line is the Lame Wolf. Since there is no more food, the Master
of the Wolves says he can eat the man watching from the tree. The wolf – either immedi-
ately or after various twists in the plot – does actually succeed in eating him.
In the mountain villages around Pirot in Serbia, for example, where people believe
that St. Mrata commands the wolves and tells them what they should do to people who do
not respect his holiday this story is told as follows:
On St. Mrata the wolves get together, in one spot, expecting St. Mrata to tell them
where they should go and what they should do. A man comes walking by, and when
he sees them climbs a nearby tree, unnoticed. Soon afterwards St. Mrata arrives on
a green horse; the wolves gather around him to hear what he will order each of them
to do. St. Mrata starts giving orders one by one: “You will kill N.N.’s ox because he
worked on St. Mrata’s…” In that manner, he have them all orders. Only one wolf
remained, an old and crippled one [kriveljan – ‘the lame one’], who couldn’t go far.
The lame one asks St. Mrata what he should do but St. Mrata points at the nearby tree
and says: “You will kill the one in the tree.”
Afterwards St. Mrata leaves, and the wolves scatter in order to carry out their orders.
Only the lame one lies down under the tree waiting for the man to come down, in order to
kill him. The wolf lay under that tree for two days and the man suffered and crouched in
the tree, expecting the wolf to go away. But the lame one did not move. At last, when he
realized that the wolf would not leave, the man starts climbing down the tree, and when he
5 Turkish: what is meant, destined to be eaten.
6 The only Slavic people among whom I could not nd it are Slovenes, Macedonians, Czechs and Slovaks.
7 I collected 91 legends about the Master of the Wolves all over Europe, and 54 variants of this type of
legend (for an overview of all of the legends see MENCEJ 2001).
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 351
gets close enough to the wolf, not yet completely out of the tree, he pulls out a gun, shoots
the wolf and kills him. Then he gets out of the tree and goes home.
A year later, this same man comes to the same spot with some company, and nds
only the bones of the wolf he killed. When he sees them he brags to his buddies that these
are the bones of the wolf he killed. Showing them off, he kicks a rib with his leg, and the
rib rolls over and somehow stabs the man in the leg. The wound becomes infected and he
dies from it. In that way, at the end, death came from the same wolf, “the lame one, since
it was destined for him” (NIKOLIĆ 1928: 106–107; see also ĐORĐEVIĆ 1958a: 217).
In Stari Vlah, where people say that St. Sava distributes the prey to the wolves
(SCHNEEWEIS 1935: 169) and the shepherds fast for a week before St. Sava’s Day “so that the
wolves will not slaughter their sheep because the wolves are the greyhounds of St. Sava”,
a tale similar to the previous one about St. Mrata is told:
There is a story of how at one time up on the mountain St. Sava was sending
wolves around to different pens to have dinner. An old wolf comes up and says that it
is old and weak and cannot go to any pen. St. Sava looks around and sees a man who
was hiding, and pointing his stick at him says: “There’s your dinner!” and then leaves.
The villager goes to his house all shaken, and tells his family what he saw and heard.
The villagers laugh at him, but he begs them to let him sleep in the middle of them.
And so they let him. He goes to bed. During the night, the wolf comes: he pulls the
one on the end by the leg, and the man moves so the wolf leaves him alone; he pokes
the next one, and that one moves around too. When he tugs on the one in the middle
he gets as stiff as a stick and tries not to move. “This one is mine,” says the wolf, grabs
him and pulls him out of the cabin and eats him all up. The following day only his
head was found by the villagers in front of the cabin.” (MILIČEVIĆ 1894: 180, No. 66)
Stories relating to the Archangel Michael have the same structure:
At one point shepherds were talking and telling each other how sometimes, at
some time or another, at this or that spot wolves gather from all over, and afterwards
the Archangel comes and sends them in all directions, telling each wolf whose live-
stock they are allowed to kill. Among the villagers there is one Doubting Thomas
who doesn’t believe any of this, and says “Well, I will go there on that very night,
climb a tree and see whether it will really be like this!” And – God bless him – he did
so. He leaves early, and climbs a tree and waits. It gets dark. Soon the moon rises. It
is quiet. Then he hears a sound coming from somewhere. He looks in the direction
the noises are coming from when suddenly a lame wolf comes right up to his tree and
stops. It sniffs around and then howls as loud as it can. A-wooo! once, twice – and
nothing. After the third time, the same howling is heard from several places around.
It doesn’t take long before some kind of noise is heard coming through the woods. An
entire pack of wolves gather around that one tree. The person in the tree is shaking
and watching it all. He is no longer a Doubting Thomas, probably his bucket is over-
owing with belief by now. At around midnight, in the still of the night, a horseman
appears, riding straight towards the pack. When the wolves notice him, they all jump
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352 Mirjam MENZEJ
at him as if they are going to tear him to pieces but then they all happily gather around
him! The horseman stops on the horse not far from that tree, and wolves make a big
circle around him. Then the Archangel starts waving his hand and sending the wolves
in all directions, and as he points at a wolf and at a direction, each wolf immediately
leaves in that direction. After he sends them all off, it is the Lame Wolf’s turn, who
cannot go anywhere. The Archangel says to him:
“Hey, friend, what are we going to do with you when you cannot even catch prey
for yourself? You can have the unbeliever up the tree, he came to you, so you can do
whatever you want with him!” After he says that, he mounts the horse and disappears.
The lame one walks around in thought for a little while, then goes under that tree and
starts circling it to see how it could climb it. No luck though. He even starts biting
at the tree, and struggles to get to the unbeliever but can’t. At last he gives up and
leaves. The man in the tree suffered for a long time and doesn’t know whether to come
down or not. He climbs out of the tree and goes straight to his friends in a cabin. He
tells them all that happened and asks them to let him sleep among them in the middle
because the lame one might come and get him. They let him into their midst and they
fall asleep. When they wake up in the morning – believe it or not – the man is gone
and only his stick and fur hat were left. (SVRLJIG – VASILJEVIĆ 1894: 40)
A legend of the Master of the Wolves which is the basis for the celebration of wolf hol-
idays is also known among the Torlaks who live in the mountainous area of north-western
Bulgaria, even though the story does not relate to any of the saints; in this case the Master
of the Wolves is a white wolf, which probably indicates an older layer of this tradition:
Every wolf pack has a leader. He decides what the wolves should do. He is white,
strong and cannot have any weaknesses. The wolves roam together and then share
their food. At one time, they went and gathered their food, and then met again under
a walnut tree in the woods and started to share the food. But right then there was a
shepherd up in the tree who saw the wolves coming and hid up the tree. He watched
and listened to what the wolves were doing. The Master of the Wolves distributed
the food, but the Lame Wolf came later and there was no food left for him. Then the
leader said: you can eat the man sitting in the tree. The shepherd started running
and the Lame Wolf couldn’t catch him because he was crippled. The shepherd hid in
the village, and the Lame Wolf came back without his food. The shepherd told all of
this to the people. [] The people also said that because this Lame Wolf didn’t get
his food they fear the last day of these wolf holidays the most [i.e. in the middle of
November and during trifunci]. From there on people would go under this walnut tree
and bring raw cakes as a sacri ce (so-called “kurban”) for the wolves, but because
then people forgot where exactly the walnut tree was, nowadays they give these cakes
to the livestock in the pen. (In the village of D’lgi del near Mihajlovgrad, previously
known as Kutlovica, now Montana, recorded by Iveta Todorova Pirgova in 1982; per-
sonal communication; in MENCEJ 2005; cf. MARINOV 1994 [1914]: 698–99.)
The belief that the Master of the Wolves gives food out to wolves on his name day can
also sometimes be explicitly seen from the legends. In a story from Kola (Croatia), a boy
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Wolf Holidays among Southerns Slaves in the Balkans 353
goes into the woods on the eve of St. George’s Day and encounters St. George distributing
food for the next three months among the wolves (ŠAJNOVIĆ 1898: 263-64); there is a simi-
lar story in Slavonia as well (ILIĆ 1846: 128–129). A Serb farmer goes to a meadow on the
eve of St. Sava’s Day, and sees St. Sava there distributing food to the wolves (DIMITRIJEVIĆ
1926: 114–115). In two versions from Vojvodina, on St. Sava’s Day a person/hunter sees
St. Sava distributing food to the wolves (BOSIĆ 1996: 179, both versions). In a legend from
the Pirot district, a man sees St. Mrata distributing food to the wolves on his name day
(NIKOLIĆ 1928: 106 –107).
Even though this type of legend is known among other Slavic peoples as well as else-
where in Europe, wolf holidays, based on the belief regarding the Master of the Wolves
whose primary function is to provide food for the wolves as verbalised in this legend, are
not known anywhere else but in the Balkans. Where wolf holidays are celebrated, the
close relation between the holidays and the legend (and belief) cannot be denied, since we
can nd obvious parallels between the two with regard to their internal structure as well.
Holidays held on days when according to popular belief the Master of the Wolves is dis-
tributing food among the wolves (which means that the wolves are especially dangerous to
the livestock and people at that time, which is why the people observe numerous customs
intended to provide protection against the danger from wolves, e.g. symbolically close
their jaws, observe numerous restrictions, etc.) directly re ect the events in the legend
relating how the Master of the Wolves sends the wolves around to get food or distributes
food among them. However, the parallels between the two are even closer: the arrival of
the last, lame wolf (kuculan) in the story, which turns out to be the most dangerous for
people (since it is this very wolf that ends up eating the person) can be paralleled to the
special emphasis on the strictly observed celebration of the last day of these holidays,
which is also considered to be the most dangerous. That day is called rasturnjak (from
rasturati = send around, dismiss), raspus(t) (f rom raspustiti = dismiss) or kuculan (since
the kuc, i.e. lame or crippled wolf comes then, as according to the folk legends). This is the
day ending the period of sending wolves around in all directions for food, and is the most
dangerous because the most dangerous, lame and crippled wolf (kuculan) comes then.
For example, near Pirot people say that St. Mrata commands the wolves and sends them
wherever needed during the week around his name day. On the seventh day, the Lame
Wolf, called kriveljan (the lame one), comes. This wolf is the most dangerous one, and
that is why this day, called “rasturnjak”, is strictly observed and celebrated (NIKOLIĆ 1900:
90). In Lužnica and Nišava, it is believed that on the last, seventh day of mratinci, i.e. ras-
turnjak, which is celebrated with special emphasis, the last, crippled (lame) wolf, called
kriveljan arrives. This wolf is the most dangerous one, and the holiday is strictly observed.
Some livestock are slaughtered on rasturnjak and it is said that the slaughtering is done for
Mrata (NIKOLIĆ 1910: 142). In Braćevac, even though the story has not been written down
in its entirety, people say that on St. Mrata’s Day the Lame Wolf (krivi volk) comes – a
wolf with a wounded leg which limps or was killed (KOSTIĆ 1969: 393). It is believed in
the Romanian villages of Serbian Đerdapska Klisura that on the seventh day of mratinci
wolves which are crippled and blind in one eye come, and they are ascribed supernatural
abilities (KOSTIĆ 1971: 849), etc. In Bulgaria the last day of wolf holidays is usually called
kuculan after the most dangerous Lame Wolf who starts out on that day, etc.
006mencej.indd 353006mencej.indd 353 2009.07.08. 10:56:002009.07.08. 10:56:00
354 Mirjam MENZEJ
Regardless of the name day on which the wolf holidays are celebrated in the Balkans,
the customs, proscriptions, prohibitions, etc. that people perform or observe at that time
are closely connected with the belief regarding the Master of the Wolves, usually a saint,
who is supposed to distribute food to wolves on his name day (usually for the whole year).
At the same time, beliefs regarding the Master of the Wolves, and wolf holidays, which
are based on this belief, are closely connected with the most widespread type of legend
about the Master of the Wolves, which essentially represents a charter, a guideline, an
explanation for the observance of these holidays. That is, the structure of wolf holidays
on the semantic level fully corresponds to the structure of legends; moreover, the holidays
in all details follow the details of the tale (cf. MENCEJ 2002)! It has therefore become clear
that the wolf holidays, legends and beliefs about the Master of the Wolves constitute a
whole which cannot be dealt with only in its separate parts. In the Balkans where the wolf
holidays, legends and beliefs are still alive (or were still alive until recently and for which
we have evidence from recent ethnological records), these simply cannot be separated: the
wolf holidays are based on the legends about the Master of the Wolves, and there is (or
was) more or less general belief in the Master of the Wolves and his deeds.8
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Article
Full-text available
The paper is about symbolic meanings of spinning, the material (fibres - un-spun wool) for spinning and the results of this activity (thread, yarn). On the basis of comparison of the records of beliefs from different sources - ancient poetry and treatises, European folklore and ethnological data, and iconographic material - the author argues that in European traditional folk conceptions, spinning and the material and products associated with it refer to basic aspects of human existence, birth, fate and death. While un-spun wool is related to the otherworld, spinning and thread refer to the world of the living, link this world and the otherworld, and allow the transition between the world of the living and that of the dead.
Article
The paper is based on the folklore tradition of a mythical being, the Master of the Wolves, whose chief function was commanding or dividing up food among the wolves. He appears in many Slavic and other European legends, and some Southern Slavs also celebrate the so-called “wolf holidays”; a being with the same function appears also in incantations against wolves. It turned out that the incantations are usually connected with the first days of pasturing in the spring and the beginning of summer, while the legends refer to the last days of pasturing in the autumn and the beginning of winter. The legends and incantations as well as the beliefs and customs clearly indicate the remains of a tradition, the intention of which was to explain and to support the changing of time, the binary opposition of winter and summer, as it pertained to the annual cycle of Slavic stockbreeders.
Annual Customs in Serbian Villages from Rumanian Dzerdap]
  • Godišnji Običaji U Okolini Zaječara
Godišnji običaji u okolini Zaječara [Annual Customs in Serbian Villages from Rumanian Dzerdap]. Glasnik etnografskog muzeja u Beogradu 42, 399–441.
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