krsna slava is a traditional serbian (although it seems that there are similar traditions elsewhere in the balkans) celebration of a family’s particular patron saint — and by “family” here i mean an extended, patrilineal family — a celebration by a man and his wife and their sons and their families (if they have any) plus any unmarried daughters. a wife would celebrate the slava with her husband and his family of their patron saint, not the one which she grew up with (although if a woman was the last in her line, her slava might be celebrated in the household, too). the tradition goes right back to at least the medieval period — the earliest known record of slava celebrations is from 1018 a.d. [pg. 68] — although it probably has pre-christian roots.

the krsna slava qualifies as “clannish” as far as i am concerned (even though the serbs might not — surprisingly — be the most clannish of the balkan populations — more on that some other time). the slava is a way of distinguishing one extended family from another — each family has its own patron saint and own slava day (the saint’s feast day, i think) — and there’s some evidence/suggestions that the slava tradition ties back into the days when the serbs (and other balkan populations) were organized more into clans or tribes and not just extended families.

from Serbia [pgs. 42-43]:

“There are many facets of Orthodox religious practice that are central to Serbian culture even for individuals who are not especially religious. One of the most important of these is the custom of celebrating *slava*, a practice which may also be encountered in Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia, although it is most commonly associated with the Serbs. *Slava*, which might be best translated as meaning ‘praise’ or ‘glory’, is the celebration of a patron saint. Each family celebrates its own saint, who is considered to be its protector. A particular *slava* is inherited from father to son and the occasion brings families together as each household, in sharing the same *slava*, is obliged to celebrate the event together. In special cases, such as migration abroad, family members may stage the event separately but as a rule it takes place under one roof, that of the family patriarch.

“During a *slava* the family home is open to anyone who wishes to drop by. It is considered untraditional to actually invite guests outside the family, but visitors are welcomed if they come of their own free will. To be turned away from a Serbian home during a *slava* is unheard of as this would bring disgrace to the household. The Krsna *slava* ritual involves the breaking of bread and the lighting of a candle by a priest. A prayer is said over the *koljivo* — ground cooked wheat — the third of the three ingredients central to the *slava* ceremony (the Serbs have a thing about the number three). Incense is burned and everyone present is blessed with holy water before the priest blesses and cuts the bread in the sign of the cross. The bread is then rotated by the family patriarch, his godfather and the priest before everyone assembled sits down for a meal. Of the various saints’ days, the most commonly celebrated are those of St. Nicholas (Nikolijdan) on 19 December, St. George (Durdevan) on 6 May, St. John the Baptist (Jovanjdan) on 20 January and St. Archangel Michael (Arandelovdan) on 21 November.

The custom of *slava* is believed to date back to the late 9th century when the Serbs were first Christianised. It is thought that each of the Serb tribes adopted its collective saint protector around this time and this is borne out by *slava* variations according to geographical regions. Another commonly held belief, which does not necessarily contradict this, is that the custom of *slava* is a remnant from pre-Christian paganism and that *slava* was a syncretic adaptation in which the qualities of the old Serbian gods found sustenance in the personalities of the new Christian saints. Occasionally, a new *slava* is adopted when it is believed that a particular saint has facilitated deliverances from an afflication such as an illness, in response to prayer.”

interestingly, though:

“As well as individuals and families, various communities such as villages, cities, organisations, political parties, institutions and professions, can have their own *slava*. Belgrade’s *slava* is on Ascension Day, which takes place on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter each year.”

middling inbreeders/outbreeders, the serbs? more in-betweeners? dunno.

james hedman (of the nsa?! (~_^) ) commented the other day:

“The tribes of Arabia were at the time of Mohammed by and large polytheistic pagans, each tribe having its own specific deities to nature, such as oases, trees, and weather.”

quite so. from Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians [pgs. 41-42]:

“The inhabitants of Arabia assuredly had a religious tradition before Islam, and although we are not particularly well informed about it, it appears to have been quite complex, as we would expect to discover in societies that were splintered into tribes and clans of widely varying sizes, some sedentary and some nomadic, with a number of the latter ranging seasonally over enormously broad terrains.

“The inhabitants of the Hajaz worshiped the way they lived: the small settled populations visited fixed shrines in oases, whereas the Bedouin carried their gods with them. The objects worshiped were principally stones, trees, and heavenly bodies, or rather, the gods thought to reside in them, or possibly — and here we begin to enter a world we do not fully understand — represented by them. Reasonably clear is that in the more recent Arabian past sacred stones were increasingly being shaped into human likenesses, rough or fine, perhaps, it has been surmised, because of the extension of Hellenistic styles into the peninsula.

“However the devotees thought of it, Arabian cultus was highly volatile, the deities often sharing characteristics, being harmonized into families, or passing now into the possession of this tribe and now of that. There is a distinctly tribal notion to the Arabs’ worship of the gods. On the basis of the South Arabian evidence, with which the more meager Arab tradition concurs, each tribe or tribal confederation had a divine patron whose cult gave the group a focus for its solidarity. In a practice that points directly to what was occurring at Mecca, each of these ‘federal deities’ was the ‘lord’ of a shrine that served as the federation’s cult center.”

i feel that the krsna slava of the serbs is just a half step away from the tribal gods of the arabs, and both of them are clearly related to household deities. all of these “clan gods” serve to both unite extended families/clans/tribes AND to distinguish them from all the other extended families/clans/tribes out there.

the best sort of “clan god” worship, imho, has got to be the veneration of the dead. have some shrines in your house to your ancestors — maybe exhume them every now and again just to say hello. how more uniting can THAT be to actually remember, on a regular basis, (former) members of your actual family/clan? it’s very direct. i like that!

i kinda/sorta recognize the family patron saint thing from my own semi-clannish background. traditionally, individuals often had “favorite” saints, and it was not uncommon for kids to adopt their parents’ favorite saints, although, afaik, there were no hard-and-fast rules about this. and there were no party days on the saints’ days (d*rn!). my mother adopted my grandfather’s (her father’s) favorite saint, and i am actually named after that saint. my gradmother’s favorite saint was st. martin de porres:

MartinDePorres

granny was always so daring! (~_^)

previously: mating patterns in medieval eastern europe

(note: comments do not require an email. family shrine – japan.)

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