🇺🇦 SLAVA UKRAINI! 🇺🇦
This whole week we're running spooky folklore posts, and you can find the previous folklore entries here!
Vidma are the female counterpart to Vidmak, who we wrote about a couple days ago. They are the witches of Ukrainian folklore, and they have a prominent role in so many stories that this post can only be a glancing blow at best!
Unlike in many other countries, there has never been a wave of systematic persecution of witchcraft in Ukraine after Christianization. To the contrary – one of the most famous Ukrainian ethnographers of the 19th century, Petro Efymenko claimed that belief in witches was so widespread in Ukraine that “in every village you will find one or more witches… even large university cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv are no exception.” Better witches than orcs ¯_(ツ)_/¯
Many of these everyday witches have a good knowledge of witchcraft, which they can use to harm or help – depending on your behavior and their mood. They can save your life by healing, or kill your livestock, destroy your crops and make your family sick and even cause death. They can call upon evil spirits, for instance having the Chort do some work on their behalf. It's also worth pointing out that Vidma is definitely an emancipated woman – she takes lovers and freely chooses her husband, usually based on her heart's desire.
The people of the Carpathian mountains in particular had some pretty wild lore about witches; some of these beliefs may not be widespread, but each is colorful enough that I thought you might find them interesting. I've paraphrased the info below from Mykhailo Kotsiubynskyi’s notes that he gathered from interviewing people in the mountains in 1890 during the writing of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which we've written about so many times in this series.
Vidma are known to have visions, and to have the power to make them come true. This Vidma is having a premonition of the future for the government architecture of the invaders. Art by Ukrainian artist Tanya Sergienko. Artist links in the comments!
Vidmas have the ability to leave their bodies at night – their souls fly up and out a window or chimney. While flying, they can appear as a glowing ball moving through the night! If she is a so-called Cheredilnytsya, what she is looking for most is a cow – she wants its milk! Once she has had her fill (literally), she rolls back home to return to her body. This is really bad news for subsistence farmers, as you can imagine.
Interestingly, some Vidmas are known to hyper-focus on the shady acquisition of milk, and if they don't have access to a cow will compulsively milk nearby furniture after affixing short pegs to the bottom of a table or chair.
If you catch Vidma in the act of returning home, you may be able to kill her – if the ball of milk is pierced, she will die. If you want to gain leverage over Vidma, the best way to trap her is to catch her ball in your dress as it rolls past, or for men it's to take your trousers off and let it roll into them. Not sexual at all, this myth.
Once you've caught her, you can keep Vidma's soul fresh indefinitely in a Makitra (Ukrainian pestle bowl). I don't know why you'd want to do that, but there's the tip of the day for you. Note: if you come across a sleeping Vidma, don't move her body. If you do, she will never be able to return to it and her soul will wreak absolute vengeance on you in return.
Like their sisters in other lands, Vidma travel by saddling a broomstick or a long poker used to rake the hearth. They use this means of locomotion when traveling to a witches' sabbath held high on Hoverla (the highest mountain peak in Ukraine). Lysa Hora (Bald Mountain) near Kyiv serves as the meeting place for Central Ukrainian witches. Vidma use a special cream that facilitates flying when rubbed over the body; if it is rubbed over an object, the object also flies.
Like their counterparts Vidmak (sorcerers), there are Born Vidma and Adopted Vidma. Adopted Vidma are kind of the nouveau riche of the witch world, and are scary because they chose to gain these powers.
That said, Born Vidma have the most potent power of all: the evil eye. She can make you ill or even die with just a look. The evil eye's power extends to speech: if the witch praises anyone or anything, that person or animal will soon wilt away and die. Even an object acclaimed by Vidma is certain to be destroyed soon afterward. If Vidma does not want to do harm with her evil eye, she whispers to herself: “I am cutting, I am cutting, but I do not cut through”.
The Sun and the Moon
Perhaps the most terrifying and cosmic activity of Vidma is to drink the sun and the moon.
Drinking the sun is super rare, and this fact is obvious because eclipses are so rare. Vidma and other bad creatures fly up close to the sun and drink most of it, causing the sky to darken before it is refilled. When a researcher asked the teller of this folktale why God would allow Vidma to do this, since the Sun is holy – the storyteller told him that God gets exhausted from Vidma begging him so often and so earnestly. Vidmas can have a little sun, as a treat.
That said, since Vidmas are active at night, they prefer to drink the light of the moon so that total darkness will hide their evil deeds. Vidmas drink the moon until only a stain of blood remains in the night sky. Although the moon takes much longer to heal than the sun, it does eventually renew itself; after seeing it grow again the following night, the Hutsuls are thankful that the witches were not allowed to completely destroy the moon.
Baba-Yazya, also commonly known as Baba-Yaha, is probably one of the most famous bad witches of the Slavic nations. She is present in vast areas of Europe and truly Pan-Slavic – she is known by many names, like Baba Jaga/Yaga, Ježibaba, Baba Roga. No one knows for sure where this witch came from, but she is deeply feared, as her favorite food is baked children.
The history of Baba-Yazya is super complicated and of course controversial. According to Ukrainian scholars, her name is derived from the Proto-Indo-European word for “snake”. And in old Ukrainian tales, this connection is richly represented. For example, in one of the most epic ancient tales about the mythical warrior Dobrynya Mykytych (who was based on the real-life uncle of Kyivan Rus King Volodymyr the Great who we wrote about here) he fights the Great Snake (a 12-headed dragon), but other versions mention a culminating battle with Baba-Yazya.
The word “Yazya” was included in the first Ukrainian dictionary published by Pamvo Berinda in 1627 – the word appears as a synonym to “witch”, and this is attested to in the use of Yazya as a documented term for witch in Western Ukraine in the past. And this makes sense, because Baba-Yazya is considered the biggest, baddest arch-witch of them all, and the all Vidma are thought to report to her.
Baba-Yazya has bony legs and a hairy tongue. She usually is depicted as very ugly and even disgusting, but loves to throw parties for her fellow bad demons. She travels in a giant mortar through the sky, and in most recollections, she lives in a house that stands on chicken legs. The house can walk around the forest scaring the shit out of people.
She has many magical nifty things and treasures, and loves to play tricks on and torment people by “gifting” one of these objects for an awful, unforeseen price – often some completely impossible, arbitrary or absurd task.
Yet in some Ukrainian tales Baba-Yazya is almost a human witch, who even needs a helping hand around her homestead sometimes. She can reward good work and even become an ally, yet she always harbors some dark secret – usually the fact that she transformed a princess into an animal and keeps her hostage.
Then again, the dark secret could simply be that she was planning on eating you this whole time and the “nice old lady” schtick was a lie.
🇺🇦 HEROYAM SLAVA! 🇺🇦
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