Semik

Semik is an ancient Slavic fertility festival celebrated in early June and closely linked with the cult of the dead and the spring agricultural rites. It usually fell upon the Thursday of the Green Week (better known as Trinity Week in Russia and the Whitsuntide week in Britain). Its name is derived from the Slavic word for "seven", because the Green Week was the seventh (sometimes the eighth) week after Easter. The end of Semik inaugurated the celebrations of the Trinity Sunday.

The Rusalki were believed to be at their most dangerous during the Green Week (Russian: русальная неделя), and were supposed to have left their watery depths in order to swing on branches of birch and willow trees at night. [Max Vasmer notes that the very word "rusalka" originally referred to the dances of girls at Whitsuntide. The word is derived through Greek ῥουσάλια from "rosalia", the Latin term for Whitsuntide week (originally it meant "the festival of roses").] Peasant women sometimes hung offerings to appease them. A cross, a magic circle, incense, garlic, wormwood, a pin or poker and verbal charms were used to render the rusalki harmless. Swimming was strictly forbidden, lest mermaids would drag the swimmer down to the river floor.

On Semik, funeral services were held for those who had not received a proper burial. Peasants decorated the insides and outsides of their houses with birch branches, and they selected a birch tree to decorate with ribbons and beads. The birch was usually left in the forest, but was sometimes brought into the village. The birch (referred to as "semik", just like the holiday itself) was seen as a symbol of vegetative power and stood as a focal point for girls' singing and dancing. Vows of eternal friendship were made here. Like Kostroma during Maslenitsa, this fertility symbol was destroyed at the end of the festivities. Usually, it was drowned "in order to provide the needed rainfall for the sprouting crops". [Joanna Hubbs. "Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture". Indiana University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-253-20842-4. Page 73.]

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