“A serious Gazda (host) from Sambir, contemptuously named a Boyko, sits in his house that looks more like a smokehouse for human bodies rather than a human dwelling, slowly chewing the tobacco that has been smuggled from behind the Hungarian border. He ceremoniously tells his children and grandchildren about various miracles and fears which he has personally experienced, or heard about directly from the participants or witnesses”. Wladyslaw Pulnarovych, historian (1889-1941).
I have been doing a lot of genealogy research in the Boyko villages recently, in Staryi Sambir district. I notice that some people still believe in evil spirits. Also, it’s one of the very few topics that are not very eager to talk about. Since my research had to do with late 1800s – the first half of 1900s, when the customer’s ancestors lived there, it was interesting to dig into this issue a bit more and explore the views of Boyko people of that time.
So, what was it about the miracles and fears that a Boyko Gazda from around the Sambir area would tell his grandchildren at that time? Here a few examples:
If somebody was well off, faring better than the rest of the village population, it was believed that he had an inkliuz. It was a special coin that attracted more money, and it was very difficult to get. The best way to acquire one was to carry a silver coin under the arm for nine days and nights. It was forbidden to wash oneself, pray or think about God during this time. On the last night one had to go to the suburbs of the village and wait till midnight. That was when various horrors, even the devil appeared; but if you survived it, your coin becomes an inkliuz.
It was believed that most of the work in the household of the successful family was done by a khovanets, a special hardworking spirit. The method to get one was about the same as for the Inkluiz. but one had to carry an egg laid by a black chicken under the arm instead of the coin. It was quite dangerous too to have a khovanets. One would never be able to sell or buy a khovanets or an inkliuz. They could only be passed on from the deathbed to another person. If a person did not manage to pass it on before his death, he would be doomed to eternal damnation.
“…Nobody has ever seen him… He comes with evil clouds or with the wind… at a time when the wind drinks water from the rivers, propastnyk puts out traps for people. Those who step onto that unclean place have trouble forever; he can be saved only if he crosses himself right away, or says the words that drive the evil away: “pek shchezaj dukhu nechystyi” (may the evil spirit disappear) ”
The fear of propastnyk was even bigger than the fear of didko (the devil). Didko could turn into a human being or an animal – a cat or a wolf. However, propastnyk was an undefined dark force without any form which threatened people at every turn.
Blud is the spirit that would take a person around in circles in the same place, so that they couldn’t find the way home. It could be the spirit of a baby that died without baptism. People who were taken by blud were found frozen in winter, and it often happened at places where babies were buried. Hail or floods often happened at those places too (Rayske village), as their bodies had to be washed by the water.
Stillborn babies or babies that died without baptism could cause a lot of trouble. Even seven years after their death they would come back to ask parents to have them baptized. They were called maluchid in the town of Bukovets. The stillborn babies were still given a name, a band of new linen, holy water and some money, so“the maluchid will not come to haunt them”, they said.
There was a special man called khmarnyk (“a cloud man”) in every village and it was his responsibility to take the storms away.
“… people from far away, even from Hungary would come to bring rich gifts and he would protect their property. He was a godly man, respected by everyone. He climbed a high hill before every storm, turned to the direction from where the storm was coming, prayed and shouted with all his might, and tussled and fought with the evil forces. In most cases he would stave off the storm and the evil spirit that brought it”
If the khmarnyk failed, it was often believed that it was the fault of some other person:
“The whole community was harvesting oats on the landlord’s field,… and their singing could be heard at a long range; nothing predicted the catastrophe. Suddenly, a windstorm started at noon and brought clouds from the west, which covered the hills and forests quickly. The lightning and thunder were followed by rain and hail. The sky cleared and the clouds were taken away by the wind…. The sun illuminated the destroyed crops, … and the scattered bundles. Soon, the whole village started talking about the horrible reason for God’s punishment: a young, rich woman was unreasonably suspected of infanticide. (check another to learn more about this crime in Galicia) “We have the khmarnyk, and the clouds would never be able to destroy the crops if there wasn’t an unclean soul among us”, people said. “He protects us all the time, and he’d protect us if Hania had not committed the crime”. The case was taken to the court and Hania proved her innocence, but the community remained convinced of her guilt”.
Dear friends, if you like to learn more about Boykos’ world view, let me know in your comments on FB or your messages. There’s much more to tell about it. Or the lifestyle in other areas where your roots come from?
Why do I do it? I find traveling in time fascinating because it helps me to explore how my ancestors’ heritage has influenced my people today and understand who I am.
I also invite you to follow Andriy Dorosh on FB so not to miss our further publications; and check our genealogy research and virtual tours offers if you need help with discovering the stories of your ancestors. We do not charge for the preliminary research to explain all details about your project and estimate the chances of success.
Literature and photo: Andrzej Karczmarzewski. The World of Boykos