"Kissing the crone": on a Slavic and pre-Slavic mythological figure

  • Katja Hrobat Virgolet
Keywords: crones (mythology), folklore, Karst (Slovenia), comparative studies

Abstract

The research focuses on the folklore regarding two monolith ‘Babas’ in the Karst region of Slovenia. From the Karst to the Vipava Valley and Croatian Istria, parents used the ‘baba’ to frighten their children, telling them that they would have to kiss or blow up the buttocks of the ugly ‘old baba’ (crone’)

or swallow her snivel on their _rst visit to a neighbouring town (for example, Trieste). Throughout the area, stone ‘Babas’ were represented as personifications of a repulsive old woman. At Grobnik in Croatian Istria, a ‘Baba’ with pronounced female attributes is carved in rock at the entrance to the old town.

In some parts, the imaginary or stone ‘Babas’ were given offerings of crops. At Golec in Cicarija, a three-day ritual to ‘Baba’ was performed on Midsummer Day, offering her water, soil and ashes (from a bonfire). Immolation and rituals performed in the immediate vicinity of ‘Babas’ are recorded also in Macedonia, as well as in France and Italy.

The ‘Baba’ appears to be an omnipresent, yet fragmentarily preserved phenomenon in the traditions of all Slavic peoples. It encompasses different phenomena. On the one hand it represents old age, infertility, and on the other young, fertile things, or a structural support or basis.

In Slavic traditions, the ‘baba’ is connected with water or equated with precipitation phenomena (rain, hail, places where storms break, etc.). She is associated with moisture through some adjectives (‘snotty’, ‘muddy’) or through the location of the stone monoliths by the water. According to the Rodik tradition, the ‘baba’s’ urine turns to rain, her fart to wind, and by lifting her skirt she brings clear weather. Slavic and Indo-European folklore material points to a close connection between bodily winds and conception,

birth, and new souls. The lifting of the skirt is reminiscent of the obscene gesture by Baubó in Greek mythology. In several rituals of the Balkans, crawling under the skirt of the ‘baba’ (the oldest woman in the village) is believed to protect from diseases and bring fertility.

The ‘baba’ is most commonly associated with a mountain, which could point to the wider Eurasian representations of the mountain as the earth and a woman/mother. The Karst tradition which has it that a person falling on the ground has kissed ‘the snotty baba’ could also suggest that the ‘snotty baba’ is nothing but the earth itself.

As stone monoliths or mountain names, ‘Babas’ commonly appear in the vicinity of archaeological sites. The toponyms show a pattern of the Baba opposed to a celestial male deity (Slavic Perun), often in a tripartite structure. The lasciviousness of the traditions about the ‘baba’ can be compared to those surrounding the Slavic goddess Mokosh. Both figures are associated with adjectives of moisture, debauchery, sexual traits, and to Mother Earth.

However, the analogies go beyond the Slavic world. The traditions of ‘kissing the crone on the buttocks’ on going somewhere for the first time are known also in Liguria, the valleys of Adda and Mera, and Friuli in northern Italy, in Benevento in southern Italy, and in France up to Brittany. Like in Slovenia, people in northern Italy used to predict bad weather by observing the mountain ridge named after the ‘baba’ or ‘crone’. Moreover, Liguria has the same saying about falling down on the ground as the Karst tradition mentioned above.

The widespread analogies all over Europe suggest a much more ancient background for the ‘baba’ than has been supposed. Particularly striking is the similarity between such specific grotesque, lascivious traditions as ‘kissing the baba or blowing up her buttocks’.

The ‘Baba’ is an ambivalent folklore figure. Her degraded principle can be seen in horrifying representations and in the threats with repulsive, muddy, and snotty ‘crones’ on entering a town, in her connection with a sudden cold, winter, etc. Her vital, generative principle can be discerned in the representations of the ‘baba’ that symbolise fertility: exaggerated female attributes, association with water, personification of (moist) earth, her power over the weather, her role of providing structural support, etc. With the Karst tradition of burning the last sheaf of grain, again called ‘baba’, people asked for the return of the same in the following year. The ‘baba’ concludes the yearly cycle, which has to finish with ‘death’ so as to be renewed in the following year.

What presents the basis or support of the entire macrocosmos, the grounds for construction, for life, is also its end.

Despite criticisms of the ‘Great Mother’ theories, it is dificult to avoid comparisons to the ambivalent deities and female figures from European folklore. But such a deity would probably be part of a larger tripartite belief system, demonstrated in the recent researches. This would be corroborated by the immolation of the three basic nature elements to ‘Baba’ and by her inclusion in the tradition of ‘trocan’, a reflection of the old beliefs in the three primary forces of nature from western Slovenia.

The common opinion perceives the traditions of ‘kissing the baba on her buttocks’ just as a ‘fairytale’ intended to frighten children. However, the presence of such a specific tradition all over Europe suggests the remnant of an initiation rite on first entering a place, a rite connected to an ancient European goddess governing the forces of nature.

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Published
2012-07-24
How to Cite
Hrobat Virgolet, Katja. 2012. “"Kissing the crone": On a Slavic and Pre-Slavic Mythological Figure”. Keria: Studia Latina Et Graeca 14 (1), 67-81. https://doi.org/10.4312/keria.14.1.67-81.
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Reports