Burial Customs and Superstitions in Vapenik of Šariš County

©1995 by: GCU Honorary Editor, Michael Roman K.S.G.G.

The Rusyns of Vapenik not only had the basic customs and superstitions of Vyšnij Svidnik but also had additional and different ones as will be noted in the following paragraphs.

In Vapenik there was a superstition concerning time of death. If the villager died during the night such a person was not destined to go to heaven. If death occurred in the morning, the Vapenikchans believed that his estate would be well managed by his heirs.

As was noted before, the above superstition and others were in existence prior to 1945. This writer does not know if they still exist today - even partially.

The Vapenikchans also believed that if a person died during the Holy Week before Easter, he or she would be welcomed with open arms into heaven. However, in other parts of the Carpatho-Rusyn territory, there was a superstition that the Gates of Heaven were widely open to all who died during the Bright Week, that is, from Easter Sunday to St. Thomas Sunday.

Dying on a Rainy Day

One must smile at this superstition: If an individual passed away on a rainy day, the Vapenik villagers believed that the deceased loved liquor excessively.

According to the superstition, the family was forbidden to fertilize the land owned by the deceased from time of death until interment. The family was also forbidden to clear the liquid residue from the top of the sauerkraut in the barrel or to add water to it.

There was another strange superstition about nailing the top of the coffin after the corpse had been placed therein. If a wisk of straw protruded from the nailed casket, that meant another villager would soon be called by death. It was also believed that a villager would soon die if the nail fell to the ground during the nailing of the coffin. The casket maker had to be extra careful.

Touching Large Toe

The Vapenikchans also believed that by touching the large toe of the deceased, an individual would not have any fear of being haunted by the ghost or apparition of the deceased, nor would he dream about the one who died.

Water also played a part in the burial ritual. When a funeral procession had to cross a stream, participants had to wash themselves as soon as possible after the funeral. According to superstition, such washing would bring good luck and enhance their attractiveness.

Clenched Fist

If a Vapenikchan died with a clenched fist, his or her estate could not expect any prosperity according to superstition.

When a very sick person, suffering from extreme pain was about to die, he was placed in front of or behind the stove. His family had gathered in the same room. If this procedure failed to alleviate the terrible pain, the sheaves of the pea plant were strewn on the floor and the dying person was placed on the sheaves. During this agonizing period, all present knelt and prayed, holding lighted candles. Subsequently the immediate family members left the room to make it easy for the dying person to leave the world in peace, without hearing their wailing's.

Death of a Young Person

When a young person was summoned by death, a small wreath was placed on his head and a cross on his breast. A lighted candle was placed near the dead person. If the deceased was unmarried, the young people made their visitations in the evening. Although there was very little light in the saddened home, the youngsters played various games throughout the night. One such game was called "mill grinding" and was played in the following manner: A youth lay on a bench in the middle of the room adjacent to the coffin. He was covered with a large sheet and went through exercises that suggested an illusion of a grinding mill. Another youth sat on the stove - it must have been summer -and impersonated the miller. Each of the girls was given the name of a grain. The miller started the game by crying out "Now we shall grind wheat for dumplings." A young man grabbed the "wheat" girl and threw her over the mill to the boy on the bench. The miller continued to call out the names of the grain girls until he came to the "barley" girl. As she was turned over to the miller, the other "millers" applauded gleefully. In sadness there was some gladness but no disrespect.

Was There Any Mourning?

Yes there was some mourning, but the family was stoic and did not weep until the funeral day, when they became cognizant of the departure of a loved one. During the funeral services the priest delivered the farewell eulogy, mentioning the names of the survivors and then the mournful weeping began with much lamentation.

At the cemetery, all present, after the prayers were said by the priest, threw clods of earth on the casket in the grave. The grave digger usually threw a hazelnut branch as the grave was being completely covered.

Immediately after the grave was covered, a member of the surviving family poured whiskey and gave some bread to all who came to show their final respect.

In Vapenik, the "komašna" or post-funeral luncheon occurred a week later, after a Memorial Liturgy was celebrated for the deceased in the local church. Perhaps the reason for celebrating the requiem Liturgy one week later was because only the funeral service (and not the Liturgy) was chanted in the early years prior to the interment.

Although the early Rusyns had many, many burial superstitions, they did have respect for the departed.

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