NovostiPretragaO projektuMapa projektaKontaktPomocProjekat RastkoPromena pismaEnglish
Projekat RastkoAntropologija i etnologija
TIA Janus

Dejan Ajdačić

The Immanent and Developed Aesthetic Function of Magic in Folk Literature

The Immanent and Developed Aesthetic Function of Magic in Folk Literature

Dejan Ajdačić

Verbal and non-verbal magic in folk works in the light of functional analysis contains elements of magic thought and different types of non-magic thought. The dominant function of magic statements, poems, speeches and actions is magical, but they also fulfil aesthetic functions as well as functions linked to maintaining and establishing order in society, encouraging and preventing phenomena in nature or human lifetime. The relationship of the functions is alterable, which implies that their hierarchy can be reversed. The aestheticizing of the magical is on the one hand developed through the immanent aesthetic foundations of language and magic, and, on the other, through the magic elements' gaining of aesthetic independence in folk literature.

Different means of expression and the languages of verbal and non-verbal communication complement and enrich each other in syncretic performance. Magic value is immanent in symbols on folk costumes, presents, ritual bread, eggs, dolls, colours, gestures, chants, rhythms, types of recitative repetition, voices in which the songs are sung, ways of singing, the direction in which kolo (a dance danced in circles) is being danced or the direction of the ritual action. The immanent and developed aesthetic characteristics of magic elements in folk literature are linked to magic actions, the magic mediated through non-verbal arts; however, the presence and transformation of magic in oral tradition is determined by the formative elements of the art of words and can be observed from the relationship between the phonemes to the highest levels of text organisation.

Language possesses immanent aesthetic traits of words, phrases, the relationship between the literal and figurative statements, etc. In ancient cultures, the power of words was based on the belief in the connection between beings or things and the words denoting them. "Names against spells" protected the bearer of the name from possible dangers. The magic power of cognate words, names, verbs or attributes was based on the alleged ability of related words to cause and incite a certain action. The magic-sympathetic enticement of love, for instance, uses the vocal or etymological similarity or cognation of names of the picked plant and the verb invoking the wished-for action (lyubica - lyubiti, neven-venuti, miloduh-milovati, navalica-navaliti). The stringing of magic statements based on the magic ties between the name and the action in the poem intensifies not only the logic of the magical, but also the logic of poetical meaning arising from the immanent aesthetic value of the statements themselves as well as from the parallelisms established between verses.

Secret words with magic power created by adding a prefix or suffix to the existing words or by inventing words were used in an obligatory manner. Few community members, such as magicians, knew how to use these words, which words were proper and which forbidden ones and to be avoided. On the non-conscious level, the deflection of the speech of magic from colloquial language contains different intertwined functions, including the concealed aesthetic function. The contemporary reader, lacking knowledge about traditional culture, in an aesthetic way experiences the zaumna names, attributes and verbs of oral tradition linked to the nether world.

In magic statements, certain words have exceptional significance because they initiate and determine the type of statement. Some magic formulas have prominent genre traits, while some others can be used in different types of statements. Magic imperative formulas are used in exorcising demonic forces by using verbs ordering certain types of movement - end (stop, cede) or chasing away (run, go). Invocative formulas represent a magically-formed way of summoning superhuman beings and are found in magic statements, genres, refrains. Quantity and quality formulas based on parallelism: kako-tako (as-so), koliko-toliko (how much-as much), kakvo-takvo (like this-like that) can make up the basis of simple statements, but also the basis of developed poetical and oral genres. The quantity of what is wished for in blessings is invoked by the innumerable, the quality by the ideal opulence and beauty, while in curses these are invoked by the absence of the wished for and images of poverty. The temporal formulas of magical prevention are based on the act of conditioning in the temporal dimension by listing impossible events after the word "when". The temporal formulas of magic conditioning are based on the relationship - if-then and represent the basis of oaths and curses.

Repetitions or repetitions with modifications in the vocal, metrical, lexical, phraseological pairs are frequent in magic genres. Metrical uniformity of verse feet testifies of the perfection of certain poems of Balkan Slavs. Stylistic analyses of the hymns of ancient cultures have emphasised this trait as the remnant of antiquity. Refrains as a type of repetition in ritual poems (Oj Lado; Koledo; Oj dodo, oj dodole) rhythmize the poetical expression, attaching to it both magic and aesthetic traits, establishing the community's link with the superhuman being through the form of a dialogue.

The language of magic is additionally marked by the figurative logic of the transformative nature of magic, The figurativeness of magic thought arises from the associative linking of phenomena, most often on the basis of similarity, cognation, contrast, etc. The synecdoche based on replacing a part with a whole or the singular and plural forms is used in magic labelling, separating objects and in the operations of procreation or division/reduction. Magic metonymy is quite frequent in transformative processes which are seemingly conditionally linked. The mythical and magic metaphor is the basic figure of a complex paradigmatic coding in traditional culture (colours, numbers, metals, animal attributes). Different figures entwine in the magic act; however, one figure does not always have the same place and function in different magic rituals or statements.

In his book Le Conte Populaire Joseph Courtes departs from Gremas and considers the configuration to be the bearer of figurative categories and the figurative code contrary to the thematic bearer of paradigmatic connoting. Revsin notes the phenomenon that the reduction of the number of functions increases the paradigmatic organisation of the system.

In the system of folk tradition, the syntagmatic-thematic and the paradigmatic-figurative codes undergo complex intertwining, which results in their fusion and blending. The opulence of meanings in oral culture arises from the manifold correspondences and inter-dependencies of some of its segments. The aesthetic development of syntagmatic and figurative codes depends on the realisation of the formulas, the figurative and thematic codes in a folk poem or story.

Magic statements - In addition to the dominant magic function in communicating with superhuman forces with the aim of morally or pseudo-morally altering the world order, reaffirming it or fulfilling wishes, incantations, curses, blessings, oaths also fulfil the aesthetic function. Harmony and the arcane beauty of magic statements and genres arises from retaining the ancient and poly-semantic traits of language, the secret and forbidden words, magic coinages, the rhytmization of statements, repetition of sounds and words in communication with forces of the nether world, as well as magic parallelism. In communication with the nether world, language itself transcends everyday life in order that the links with the superhuman be effective.

The source of the aesthetic quality of poems and speeches made up of magic statements comprise the linking and intensifying of images rounding up the meaning of overall existence. The curse compiles the values of life upon which the ill fate is cast. The prayer and the blessing invoke the fulfilment of wishes and the fulfilled sense of life, utopian projection. The curse reveals destructive impulses and fears. The images themselves can have magic roots of imitative challenging of fate with the immanent aesthetic value, but the images of opulence in blessings and oaths, or the images of misfortune and desolation in curses and incantations expand, acquiring the fullness and aesthetically prominent polysemy of existence. By stringing and expanding magic statements in an independent poem or speech in the form of a prayer, blessing, curse, oath, these statements can also be enriched compositionally. By using gradation, each new statement as a segment of the poem or speech enhances the wish mediated through the magic statement, so that the last one is always the strongest. Antithesis as a means of compositional addition of simple statements is frequently based on the existing or concealed dialogue and builds its expressive possibilities upon the conflict of two stands or on the parodical transformation of one of them. The composition of the conditional linking of events uses repeated formulas of magic conditioning, which is often linked to the gradation of wishes.

The decomposition of complex relations between actions and words uttered or sung, or between the action and the description of the action as the motif of magic origin in a text must respect the intentions of the magic "text" and the intentions of the genre, as well as the degree of their compatibility. The relationship between order and violence, between life and death, is significant not only in magic, but also in texts with magic logic and motifs.

Elements of magic action which can be transformed into a motif or a fragment of a motif are prohibitions and obligations securing the success of the action being carried out, the objects being used, the description of the steps taken in magic action, the symbolic meaning of words, objects and actions. The motif of magic origin is included in oral folk genres syntagmatically or paradigmatically. Narrative forms assume elements of magic actions on different structure levels along with the narrowing down, developing or transforming the magic ritual meaning.

The incorporation of a magic action into narrative forms does not imply that all of its elements are included, not even the characteristic ones. The magic action, which has immanent aesthetic traits, thus simultaneously loses and acquires certain elements and their functions. Ways of transforming magic actions into motifs or their varied forms, allo-motifs, depend on the degree to and the ways in which these actions are transformed in oral poems or stories. In fabulats, the predominantly pragmatic logic of magic thought is complemented by attaching aesthetic meaning of the fabulats' motif function within the "text's" whole. Magic spells, as described actions, are adapted to the genre and narrative traits of the plot of the poem or story; during the process, some of the plot's elements disappear since they are not always equally important in the magic action and its representation. The non-representation of part of the magic action, however, does not completely obliterate the magic ritual meaning. Collective memory retains this meaning as latent knowledge as long as the living matrix of national culture exists.

In narrative texts with motifs of magic origin, the correspondence between the verbal act and the magic act, which is transformed into a motif subjected to the text's genre strategy is established in an even more complex and direct manner. Magic meaning is activated through the interest of the narrated text and the appropriate relationship between the protagonists and the genre sense of the narrated plot. Deflections from the ordinary genre meaning of magic effect in versions depends on the degree of deflection from the contents, on religious transformation, abridgement, expansion or contamination of genres.

The interpreter of folk literature faces a methodological problem when having to choose relevant elements of a folk poem or story among heterogeneous motif elements which should be brought into the context of corresponding ethnographic and folkloric facts and genre rules.

In the significative interpretation of narrative genres as descriptions of rituals proposed by Levinton on the basis of Propp's research, magic might play a certain role in the characteristic magic parts of the ritual. When significatively interpreted as an aesthetically developed description of initiation, the fairy tale as the achievement of the utopian projection of ideal integration in society contains actions which can be understood as its magic segments.

In fairy-tales, the magic is found in motifs of presenting miraculous objects, in the actions of assistants, miraculous birth, caring for the entrusted animal or treasure, the blossoming of plants in the wrong season, fleeing accompanied by the throwing of magic objects. In fairy-tales, there are concealed motifs of unsuccessful initiation, with punishment inflicted upon the hero's enemies or other heroes who do not complete the task before the main hero. The initiative series of difficult tasks in fairy-tales contains elements of magic actions from ritual temptations.

Some types of mythological ballads can be significatively explained by the punishment for violating taboos or the sacrificial ritual which, besides magic meanings, contains non-magic aspects in guarding against a sacrificial crisis or propitiating superhuman forces. In the act of sacrifice, violence secures the restoration or establishment of order. Magic actions can sometimes be found in ballads, in which a link is established between the living and the dead (visits to a dead brother, the wandering sinful deceased).

In epic poetry, heroes oppose death with their own death, while heroes in fairy-tales are helped in their struggle by magic assistants and objects. Epic poetry nevertheless takes over magic elements directly from the ritual practice or through other oral literary genres. The hero's assistant, as the mediator between worlds, possesses magic knowledge and can influence the course of the plot. The motifs of miraculous birth, the gaining or loss of power can be related to magic in legends about heroes and in epic poetry.

Songs performed as part of a ritual most often do not have a developed narrative structure, but they themselves belong to an act which can be narratively presented. Insight into the relationship between verbal and non-verbal folklore and their meaning in ritual culture are important in order to understand the magic text. In her text Semantics of the Folklore Text and Ritual, Lyudmila Vinogradova notes their inter-relationships: words describe an action, words reveal the meaning of the action, words note the symbolic trait of some of the ritual elements, words contain hidden meanings. In the relationship between the text and rituals, Vinogradova reveals different types of parallelisms. The simplest case is the parallel unfolding of the plot and its description. Formal parallelism reveals the folkloric symbolism's dependence upon concrete ritual realities, while formal semantic parallelism notes the symbolic trait of a certain ritual aspect. Symbolic parallelisms of the world of humans and nature are incorporated in the parallelism of the verbal and non-verbal texts through formulas, thematic and figurative codes.

Fearing violence and the deceptions of demonic beings, man of the pagan culture protected himself, his home and estate by preventing links between the human and demonic worlds. Protection from the demon is particularly developed in rituals of transition linked to birth and death, or symbolic birth and death (for example, the initiations of a boy or a girl, or a wedding). In order to protect themselves, both the protagonists whose position in the community is changed and the community itself at the time at which the protagonist of the ritual is exposed to the actions of demonic forces, carry out prescribed actions and prevent forbidden ones, they utter words with beneficial magic power and leave dangerous names unsaid. The procedures of magic protection are carried out at the time when which the human and demonic worlds are still separated. Although the procedures of exorcising demons and purifying the possessed are carried out in a situation in which the two worlds are already clashing - the magic of protection and exorcising intertwine. Black magic is used to destroy the existing order by encouraging superhuman forces, while the protection from black magic implies neutralising the cast spells. Numerous researchers wrote about the magic of protection in the folk culture of the Balkan Slavs, but they have rarely devoted it special attention or emphasised the constructive element of oral literature.

Traces of magic protective actions are most often present in ballads about fate, fairy tales, narrative forms with elements of legend, stories about heroes trying to avoid ill fate.

Demonic beings punish people for disobeying the rules of the demonic order. Protagonists (victim and demon), types of violations and types of punishment (petrification, blinding, maiming, illusions) as a rule appear in an attempt to articulate and comprise elements of the punishment motif. In her text Vestiges of Taboos in Bulgarian Poetic and Prose Folklore, Yordanka Kotseva groups the types of taboo according to figures, places, time, totems (lingual, etc.). The types of taboo are frequently blended; it is forbidden to go to a cross-roads or a cemetery at midnight, it is forbidden to utter certain names and words upon the birth of a child. Although certain types of punishment arise from the violation of certain interdictions, they are not always tightly linked to them. The same demon may punish people in different ways for the same violation.

Not all constituent factors of demonic punishment appear in all plots: type of prohibition - future victim - reasons for the violation of or non-observance of protective magic - type of demon - type of punishment. The keys to understanding the motifs of violating the demonic order in narrative forms are present in folk beliefs and rituals, whose partially retained, genre-modified and aestheticised traces in songs and stories indicate their ancient meanings.

Prohibitions linked to demonic time-spaces warn the individual on behalf of the community of the dangers of committing violations. On the other hand, the understanding of the holy time-space of holidays as crisis renewal might signify precisely an opposite need - to use the sacrifice of an individual because of his violation or because of the traits that make him different from others to atone the community. In the former case, the link between the described event of tragic fabulats and the ritual event is underscored, while, in the latter, it is concealed. The significative interpretation of narrative texts with motifs of violating the prohibition, therefore, reveals or conceals the ritual which does not end happily for the individual. Departing from Liszka's interpretation of tragedy, as Frye's literary mythos, the victory of hierarchy over violation is presented as the victory of the demonic order over the human order or as the victory of the human demonised order on behalf of the community over the individual. Narration describes and interprets a partially deritualised and aestheticised sacrifice, the ritual excommunication from community or the unsuccessful initiation in demonological legends, mythological ballads.

The procedures or magic encouragement of fertility are reflected or symbolically presented in ritual poems, narrative forms, as well as in motifs of magic conception, the resolution of a difficult task and in fairy tales. Inducing magic is built on imitating the process of the growth of plants or on the symbols of male and females principles. The anticipated impact of the world of humans on the world of superhuman forces is reflected in oral tradition in the parallelism between the two worlds (vertically: clouds-land, chtonous world-land, or horizontally: the world of demons - the world of humans.) as well as in the parallelism between the human world and the world of nature. Plants, ritual bread, objects symbolising fertility powers as objects used in the magic encouragement of fertility are modified and become poetic symbols by acquiring new emotional, moral and pictorial qualities.

Any change in the text or context of the magic action in oral tradition changes the relationship between its functions. Here, the diminishing of the magic function can cause the increase or decrease of the text's autonomy. In folk literature, the idea of magic prevention and encouragement of wished-for phenomena can be retained despite the aesthetic transformation of words, formulas, motifs and genre intentions. There are, however, processes of disintegrating the magic meaning.

Motifs of magic origin, which have remained in narrative forms despite their obscurity acquire a fantastic or psychologized explanation depending on the genre. When the binding elements of ritual culture fade with the diminishing of the ritual poem's pragmatic function, the poem's aesthetic function can become dominant. Deritualization most frequently turns a ritual poem into a love or family poem, while subsequent pseudo-magic ritualization turns them into non-aestheticised superstition.

Humorous aesthetization of magic in oral tradition exists in carnival rituals ridiculing the contents and function of ritual actions, words, costumes, gestures, masks. In parodies of genres, magic elements are sometimes present in humorous stories and parodical fairy tales, stories about animals, legends, et al.

Meanings in folk art arise from the traditionally set needs formed by expressive and symbolic means of national culture on the foundations of collective knowledge. In his study on the reconstruction of semantics and function of certain Slav artistic and verbal symbols and motifs, Nikita Ilich Tolstoi notes the need for establishing a phraseology and lexicology of symbols and rituals. If all aspects of folklore were taken into consideration, it would be possible to discern a universal system of symbols and particular systems of symbols. Sub-systems based on genre traits have been interspersed within the framework of folk literature, as a particular system. By observing the relationship between universal and particular systems, it is possible to discern meanings and ways of transformation of anthropologically universal and particular meanings and phenomena.

The preserved magic meaning, transformed and adapted to the new reality of the oral text, becomes independent through the development or contraction of formulas, figures, motifs, functions of protagonists, magic objects, statements, codes of time, space, objects. In addition to the pagan rituals and beliefs from their original homeland, magic actions of Balkan Slavs also comprise elements of tribal and local beliefs, influences of different religions, traces of magic actions taken and transformed from the phantasmal or Christian, apocryphal Christian, Moslem., non-Slav traditions (Thracian, Vlach, ancient Balkan, Carpatian), or the tradition of written culture. Elements of magic in oral literature on the one hand bear traces of numerous independently developed or adopted traditions. These traces, however, have been formed both through the development and the adoption of genre and supra-genre elements of oral tradition without the direct impact of the ritual magical.


Ajdačić, Dejan: Kletva u kontekstu žanrova usmene književnosti, Književna istorija, 24, 1992, 87, pp. 193-203.
Bandić, Dušan: Tabu u tradicionalnoj kulturi Srba, Beograd, 1980.
Bogatyryov, Pyotr: Magicheskie deistvia, obryadi i verovaniya Zakarpat'ya. In: Voprosy teorii narodnogo iskusstva, Moskva, 1971.
Courtes, Joseph: Le conte populaire: poetique et mithologie, Paris, 1986.
Đorđević, Tihomir: Zle oči u verovanju Južnih Slovena, Beograd, 1938.
Girard, Rene: La violence et le sacre, Paris, 1972.
Frye, Northrop: Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton, 1957.
Kotseva, Yordanka: Ostat'tsi ot "zabrana" (tabu) v b"lgarskiya pesenen i prozaichen folklor, B"lgarski folklor, 1, 1975, 2, p. 50-62.
Levinton, G.A.: K probleme izucheniya povetstvovatelnogo fol'klora. In: Tipologicheskie issledovaniya po fol'kloru, Moskva, 1975, pp. 303-319.
Liszka, James Jakob: The Semiotic of Myth, Indiana, 1989.
Makarius, Laura Levi: Le sacre et la violation des interdits, Paris, 1974.
Marinov, Dmitar: Narodna vera i religiozni narodni obichai, SbNU 28, 1914.
Mukarovsky, Jan: Struktura, funkcija, znak, vrednost, Beograd, 1986.
Propp, Vladimir: Istoricheskie korni volshebnoy skazki, Leningrad, 1986.
Revzin I.I.: K obshchesemioticheskomu istolkovaniyu treh postulatov Proppa, In: Tipologicheskie issledovania po fol'lkloru, Moskva, 1975, pp. 77-91.
Tolstoy, Nikita I.: K rekonstruktsii semantiki i funktsii nekotoryh slavyanskih izobrazitel'nyh i slovesnyh simvolov i motivov, Fol'klor i etnografiya, Leningrad, 1990, pp. 47-67.
Vinogradova, L.N.: Semantika fol'klornogo teksta i rituala: tipy vzaimodeistviya, In: Istoriya, kul'tura, etnografiya i fol'klor slavyanskih narodov. XI mezhdunarodnyi s'ezd slavistov, Moskva, 1993, pp. 210-220.
На Растку објављено: 2007-03-10
Датум последње измене: 2007-08-04 05:08:34