Ancient Russian shrines
Externally, the sanctuary looked like a real fortress on the high Bank of the Desna: a deep moat, a high horseshoe-shaped rampart and wooden walls (fence?) on the upper edge of the platform. The diameter of the rounded (now triangular) site was about 60 m, i.e. it was equal to the diameter of medium-sized marsh settlements.
The inner structure of the courtyard of the sanctuary-fortress was as follows: along the entire rampart, close to it was built in the Western part of the site a long, curved structure with a width of 6 m. its Length (including the collapsed part) should have been about 60 m.
At a distance of 5 – 6 meters from the longhouse, vertical pillars were dug into the mainland to a depth of more than a meter, located, like the house, in a semicircle. These are idols.
At the Eastern end of the platform, opposite from the house and idols, there was a certain structure, from which (or from which, if one was replaced by another) there remained vertical pillars, coals, ashes, and scorched earth. At the southern wall of the platform – ash, coals, animal bones and an abundance of so – called “horned bricks” – stands for skewers. The middle of the courtyard, free of structures, was about 20 to 25 meters in diameter. The entrance to the settlement was from the side of the plateau.
The fortification had an impressive appearance, but was purely symbolic, since the moat was blocked by an earthen “rowing”, and the rampart was cut in the middle. The only real protection here could only be the gate, from which only one massive post, which gave us the line of symmetry mentioned, survived. The structure on the Eastern edge of the settlement, located at the opposite end from the entrance, could be a platform-an altar, on which a fire often burned for a long time and the butchering of sacrificial carcasses took place. Abundant traces of bonfires near the southern wall indicate that meat was roasted on numerous spits. All this took place in front of a semicircle of idols that bordered the empty middle of the sanctuary courtyard.
The idols were probably tall, as their bases were very deeply sunk into pits carefully dug in the dense material. In the surviving part of the settlement, only 5 idols ‘ nest pits were preserved; there could have been 10 or 12 of them in total.
Near the idols, at the very foot, small clay vessels were found, and at the idols located in the center, at the entrance, bronze grivnas were found, cast, but not cleaned, with foundry burrs.
A living woman would not physically be able to wear such a hryvnia. Apparently, they either decorated wooden idols or were presented to them. Near these female idols, near the entrance, the most remarkable find of the Annunciation mountain was made – the neck of a huge thick-walled vessel in the form of a bear’s head with a wide-open mouth.
The middle position of the vessel on the hillfort on the line of the entrance-altar, at one of the Central idols of the goddess with a bronze mane on her neck, reveals to us the content of the entire sanctuary. The goddess with the bear is well known to us from ancient mythology – this is Artemis, or Diana, the sister of the sun giver of blessings of Apollo, the daughter of the goddess Leto, known since the Cretan-Mycenaean times. In honor of Artemis Brauronia priestesses of the goddess were performed the sacred dances, dressed in bearskins. And Artemis is associated with the creation of the constellation URSA Major. Artemis was dedicated to the month of artemision – March, a time when bears Wake from hibernation. According to the solar phases, this coincided with the spring equinox around March 25. Bear festivals were called comoedia by the Greeks, which served as the basis for later Comedy.
Bear holidays with exactly the same name, which preserved the ancient Indo-European form of “komoeditsa” – are known among the Slavs. In Belarus, komoeditsy was held on March 24, on the eve of the Orthodox Annunciation. Housewives baked special “comas” from pea flour; there were dances in fur-turned-up clothes in honor of the bear’s spring awakening.
The ancient Maslenitsa was moved from its calendar date by the Christian great lent, which was incompatible with the Maslenitsa revelry. And since the fast was subject to the mobile Easter calendar, the pagan Maslenitsa, although it survived after the baptism of Russia and survived to our days (at least in the form of pancakes), but its timing is variable. The original term of the unbroken Maslenitsa is the vernal equinox. An indispensable mask at the Maslenitsa carnival was a “bear”, a person dressed in a bear’s fur coat or a turned-out sheepskin coat.
Inside, a longitudinal, flat-bottomed depression was dug the entire length of each half of the “house” and on both sides of it solid benches were made in the mainland-beds also the entire length. On the flat floor in three places (in the remaining half) laid fires without special hearths. Only four earthen benches on both sides of the building could seat 200 to 250 people.
This built room was obviously intended for those feasts and fraternities that were an integral part of pagan ritual. After performing the sacrifice, slaughtering the victim on the far platform, presenting and praising the semicircle of idols, preparing sacrificial meat on horned bricks, the participants of the ceremony completed it with “conversation”, “table-eating, honourable feast” in a closed room, sitting on benches near small (obviously lighting) fires.
All the clothing material of the Blagoveshchensk mountain differs sharply from the material of ordinary Yukhnov settlements. There are no ordinary homes, no hearths, no fishing sinkers, no spinning wheels for spindles. Everything found here is intended for feasts: large vessels (for beer?), small cups, knives, animal bones, coasters for skewers.
The entrance to the sanctuary was arranged so that first one entered the bridge over the moat (“rowing”), then got into the narrow space of the gate, which fell in the middle of the rampart and in the middle of the longhouse. Perhaps there was some kind of ceremony of “feeding” the contents of the vessel-bear. From this middle room, two gentle descents led to the left, into the Northern half of the building, and to the right, into the southern half. Directly from the entrance was the entire inner courtyard of the sanctuary. It is possible that a clear division of space into two halves associated with matriliny division of the tribe.
Closed space, which compared favourably with Tebis under the open sky, confirms the assumption about the Lada, as the main owner of this unique temples: songs in honor of Lada sang for the New year and then in the spring, from 9 March to 29 June, half of the holidays associated with the name Key (including Annunciation) falls on a cold winter and early spring season when it is preferable to not celebrate in the cold. However, it cannot be excluded that the most mass actions could take place on the entire plateau of the high Bank of the Desna and outside the sanctuary proper.
Sacred trees a Kind of category of places of worship were sacred trees and sacred groves, “trees” and “groves” in the terminology of medieval scribes, insufficiently mentioned in historical sources.
One of the most revered trees was the birch, which is associated with a number of spring rites and dance songs. It is possible that the birch was dedicated to the guardians, the spirits of good and fertility. Ethnographers have collected a lot of information about the” Curling ” of young birches, about spring ritual processions under the bound branches of birches. The felled birch tree in se-MIK (the ancient date is June 4) served as the personification of a female deity and was the center of all the Semitic rites. The trees involved in the pagan ritual were lavishly decorated with ribbons and embroidered towels.
Embroidery on ubrusah contained images of those goddesses who at these times made prayers and offered sacrifices: the figures of Makoshi and two women in labor (mother and daughter) Lada and Leli, prayers in “groves”, in “trees” can be functionally likened to the later Church deity, where the temple corresponded to a grove or clearing in the forest, frescoes of deities – individual readable trees (or trees-idols), and icons-images of Makoshi and Lada on ubrusah.
Trees located near springs, springs, and crinits were especially revered, since here one could simultaneously appeal to the vegetative power of the “grove” and to the living water of the spring that gushed from the ground. The meaning of referring to spring water and the emergence of the fairy-tale concept of “living water” is explained by the idea often carried out in anti-linguistic literature:
“Registe: let’s create zyla, come to us good – porgram Studenicani and rivers and, lo fact, take petitions for their own.” “S demand after the great target on studenci, djida of icky from him.”
The cult of oak differs significantly from the cult of birch and trees that grow in students. Oak-the tree of Zeus and Perun, the strongest and most durable tree of our latitudes-is firmly included in the system of Slavic pagan rites. The Slavic homeland was located in the area of oak growth, and the beliefs associated with it must go back to ancient times.
Up to the XVII – XIX centuries.oak and oak forests retained their preeminent place in the rites. The village wedding train went around the lonely oak tree three times after the wedding; Feofan Prokopovich in his “spiritual Regulations” forbids “to sing prayers before the oak tree”. Live roosters were sacrificed to the oak tree, arrows were stuck all around, and others brought pieces of bread, meat, and what everyone had, as their custom required.