Jonas Basanavičius Folklore Library, Vol. 12
The Black Book. Collected by Jonas Basanavičius.
Vilnius: Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore, 2004
This bulky volume presents the results of a long-term interest harbored by Basanavičius for the Lithuanian folk beliefs, charms, superstitions, incantations, and folk medicine. Basanavičius himself recorded a rare incantation in his own native place as early as 1878, while subsequently publishing large handfuls of folk belief legends in the series Mitteilungen der Litauischen litterarischen Gesellschaft in 1884 and 1885. Already in the last decade of the 19th century Basanavičius compiled a program, defining what kinds of folk belief materials should be collected and how. The rich collection of charms and superstitions that was thus accumulated is now presented to the reader in this volume.
The ardent assistants contributed significantly to the successful collection of data, although many of those people were compelled to hide the identity of recorders as well as place and date of recording because of the ban for Lithuanian press and the imminent prosecutions. The earliest materials included into the collection are 86 charms and superstitions recorded in 1874 by Motiejus Ališauskas. The largest contribution was submitted by Matas Slančiauskas, who recorded it in the first decade of the 20th century. It consists of over 1100 texts altogether. The second big amount was sent over by Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė, who was mostly interested in folk medicine and divinations of weather. Interesting texts were received from Vilius Kalvaitis, who was collecting Lithuanian mythology-related materials, working under particularly difficult circumstances in the end of the 19th century in Lithuania Minor, where processes of Germanization were very intense.
The materials published in this volume had served various purposes. Mostly they used to guide people’s behavior and expectations in different instances of life. Economic activity was among the most important spheres of life, clouded by all kinds of superstitions, charms and folk beliefs. There are quite a few texts recorded, mentioning different fate of various people, either fortune or misfortunes that await them, including illnesses, death and even dangers of the afterlife. Incantations are characterized by particularly peculiar poetics. Imperative intonations can be heard in swear-words and curses.
The materials that Basanavičius had accumulated serve as an open access today into the world of folk magic, popular belief and other related folklore genres, as well as the adjoining sphere of folk medicine, that have been hardly ever systematically investigated.
The twelfth volume of Jonas Basanavičius Folklore Library was compiled by Kostas Aleksynas, edited by Kostas Aleksynas and Leonardas Sauka. The author of the foreword “The World of Folk Magic, Belief and Superstition” and commentaries is Leonardas Sauka, who also compiled indices that guide the reader through different kinds of materials that comprise this book. Aspects of textual editing were discussed by Kostas Aleksynas, vocabulary was compiled by Vitas Agurkis.