Part 1, Section 16 - Beliefs and Customs

[Note: These are pre-WW II practices - wm]

When a Lemko is starting to build a house, he must first inspect the site, where he intends to build his house, to determine suitability of the place, whether it will good and not harmful. For this process he performs the following tasks: at the point where the corners of the house will be located, he places a piece of bread for the night. If on the following day the bread is still there, then the site is fit for construction. Otherwise, if the bread is gone, then the site is unfit for construction, and another site would be selected. Afterwards the site is plowed around, to keep the evil spirits away. Performing this work, no shouting or cursing is permitted, since this would result in arguing in the new house, wife's lack of respect for her husband, and children's lack of respect for their parents. After plowing, he places heavy stones at the corners of the future house, as start of the foundation, and above them he places fir [tramy?]. After placement of [spodkov?], he invites a priest to bless the selected site and its foundations. At each corner the priest makes a cross, and inside of it a deep hole, within which he places one-fourth of a silver coin (for self sufficiency), leaves of "barvinok" [periwinkle] for girl's early marriage, flowers from "osika" [aspen tree] or "vuzhderevo" [?] , (so that no sin will find hospitality within this house), leaves from "topola" [poplar tree] (so that children will behave themselves, and will grow well), a "prosforka" wrapped up in cloth (so that God would look over the builder's reliance for bread and earnings), a piece of glass (so that the evil spirits would never approach his house, and so that the help around the house would always stay healthy). Lemko wouldn't ever dare to chop down an old fruit tree, because this act would bring on him and his family a great misfortune: he could die within a year, the kids might remain sick, the cattle would start to die, hail would destroy his fields of grain, etc. For this kind of work he would usually hire a gypsy or a bum.
When a homeowner heads out to sow oats for the first time, and when everything associated with planting is ready, the housewife puts on a sheepskin coat, turned inside out, walks three times (following the sun) around the horse drawn cart, loaded with the planting oats, in her hands she's holding the holy water and sprinkler, with bread on her bosom, and sprinkles the cart, grain, horses (oxen), the homeowner, while reciting words from the 50th Psalm. The bread she places in front of the oxen, over which the homeowner makes a sign of the holly cross, three times, and then rides over the bread with these horses (oxen). This bread is then taken into the field, in addition to a bag with another bread, cheese and eggs in it. After plowing the first furrow, he places the egg in it, and with the soil from the furrow, rubs it on the horses (oxen), for them to stay healthy and strong. If a crow sits down on a freshly plowed field, that is a sign for a plentiful harvest, but if it is "plishka" [wagtail], expect storms and lightning. Good luck is to see, while plowing, a man, bad luck if it's a woman.
Just before planting the seeds, he sews up into the sock, or the pouch from which he intends to saw the grain, a piece of prosforka and some grain, for a good harvest. During a new moon, sowing of "yarets" [barley?], "orkish" [spelt], peas and beans is out of the question, because meals prepared afterwards from them would be harmful to ones health. The same goes for planting of clover, since it will be harmful to cows and calves. To prevent brownouts in a newly planted field, one places in it a piece of shining metal or sheetmetal, from which bad rays of heat will bounce off.
During harvest time, no drinking of alcohol is allowed, to prevent formation of scabs on head and face. During loading of "snopy" [sheaves] on the cart, no talking is done, until the cart is full, otherwise expect misfortune. After delivery of sheaves into the "stodola" [barn], the farmer or his son "babka" [honing stone?] into his teeth, and walks around the cart with it, while sawing fine grain sand over the spot, where the grain will be stored, to keep the mice away. To buy oneself out of the mice, some "merva" [?] is left in the field.

Excerpted from "Istoria Lemkovyny" (History of Lemkovyna), in 5 parts, by Ioann F. Lemkyn, published in distorted Lemko in 1969 by Lemko-Soyuz of USA & Canada, Yonkers, NY. Translated by Walter Maksimovich.

Icon Return to Lemko Home Page

Date Posted: February 24th, 1998
Last Revision: May 29th, 1999

We welcome questions and comments. Please send them to Walter Maksimovich.

© 1998 LV Productions. All Rights Reserved.

LV Productions
c/o Walter Maksimovich
3923 Washington Street
Kensington MD 20895-3934