The Multifaceted Role of Knives in Slavic Native Faith and Cultural Practices.

The Slavic realm, rich in traditions and spiritual practices, has long revered the knife as a powerful talisman, integral to the Slavic native faith. This tool transcends its physical utility to become a symbol of protection and spiritual defense, playing a crucial role in key life events and everyday rituals.

 

For expectant mothers, the knife was more than a mere object; it served as a guardian against malevolent spirits. During childbirth, its presence was considered essential. Knives, along with other sharp implements and thorny plants, were strategically placed in the vicinity of the laboring woman — tucked into doorways, beneath pillows, or hidden under beds. This was believed to create a protective barrier, warding off evil entities and ensuring a safe birth.

 

The postpartum period was equally significant. Women, in their first six weeks after childbirth, carried knives whenever they left their homes. Discreetly placed in belts, pockets, or garments, these knives were not only protective amulets but also served to prevent the spread of ritual impurities. To safeguard infants, knives were placed alongside needles, salt, coal, bread, and fragments of stove bricks under pillows or cradles. This practice aimed to protect the child from the evil eye and thwart any spirits attempting to replace the baby with a changeling.

Medieval knives illustrated by Dovzhenok

The role of the knife extended to the construction of homes, where it was placed with its point facing westward at the front corners of a dwelling. This was believed to form a protective barrier against harm. Similarly, passing a knife through a new shirt before wearing it was thought to neutralize potential dangers. When engaged in tasks like shoving, winding, or weaving, attaching a knife to one’s belt was a common practice to shield the work from negative influences.

 

Knives were also central in spiritual combat. They were used to create protective circles with other iron objects during winter solstice divinations at crossroads, or in rituals like seeking the fern flower on Kupala Night. In Bosnian Herzegovinian tradition, those afflicted by sleep paralysis would walk around their homes thrice with a knife, countering supernatural forces.

 

In domestic settings, knives, along with scythes, axes, and sickles, were placed on thresholds, windowsills, and door frames to prevent evil beings from entering. It was believed that a sorcerer could not enter a house if it contained a knife, alongside altars and candles. Knives were even placed in beds at night for protection against death, witches, vampires, and other supernatural beings, a practice prevalent across various Slavic cultures.

 

In pastoral contexts, knives served as guardians against spoilage, diseases, predatory animals, demons, and harmful spirits. During cattle herding, knives were placed under thresholds and at the entrances of paddocks. They were also embedded in the ground or hung over cattle-passing doors, waved over the herd, and strategically placed on ominous calendar dates.

The act of using knives for protection involved specific actions like sticking and crossing, each with its own symbolic significance. Inserting knives into certain locations not only created protective zones but also symbolically repelled advancing danger. These practices included preventing lightning strikes on trees, dispelling nightmares by placing a knife in a bowl, and quelling whirlwinds by embedding a knife in the earth.

 

Knives were also used to divert hail from crops and to protect against pests during thunderstorms, demonstrating their widespread protective associations. In safeguarding against predatory animals, knives symbolically protected both people and livestock. Even lost cattle were believed to be shielded from predators by knives concealed in walls, highlighting their role as protective amulets within the Slavic native faith. This multifaceted and deeply symbolic use of knives illustrates their enduring significance in Slavic culture, embodying a rich tapestry of beliefs and practices steeped in spirituality and protection.