Religions (May 2021)

The Carol about the Pagan Rite of Sacrifice of a Goat and Its Interpretation in Russian Scholarship of the 19th to 20th Centuries

  • Andrey Toporkov

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 12, no. 5
p. 366


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In publications of Russian folklore, along with authentic texts there are a number of literary stylizations based on folklore. The article traces the history of one such pseudo-folkloric text—a carol which was first published by Ivan Petrovich Sakharov (1807 to 1863) in 1837. It has been established that this carol is a montage of two texts: the first is a carol, printed in 1817 by I.E. Sreznevsky in the Ukrainian Bulletin, and the second is a song included in the Tale of Brother Ivanushka and his Sister Alyonushka (SUS 450). Such contamination is unique and is found only in this one text, which was later reprinted many times. Taking into account Sakharov’s reputation as a falsifier of folklore, there is no reason to doubt that it was he who composed this carol; such contamination of works belonging to different folkloric genres is also characteristic of other of Sakharov’s publications. The carol that Sakharov published attracted the particular interest of researchers of Slavic mythology due to the fact that it described how an old man was going to sacrifice a goat. Several generations of historians saw in this pseudo-folkloric text a description of a ritual that pagan Slavs performed in ancient times. Considering the carol as an historical document, researchers of mythology built their interpretations based on the supposed time of its appearance, the nature of its genre, plot, and individual details. Thus, Sakharov’s pseudo-folkloric creation found an eager audience among scholars, and it stimulated their imagination in picturing the life of pagan Rus’.