Russian Village Magic in the Late Soviet Period: One Woman's Repertoire of Zagovory

Sibelan Forrester[1]

Swarthmore College This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it


This article gives a succinct introduction to the Russian verbal folk genre of the zagovor (spell, charm, or hex) and provides a set of seventeen zagovory given to the author’s informant in the early 1980s by an elderly village woman, accompanied by translations into English. The zagovor is at the heart of Russian folk healing, though it was suppressed in the Soviet period. This individual repertoire reflects the sources and uses of folk healing in the Soviet period and beyond.


folk magic; incantation; healing village; orality; Soviet period

Anyone who studies Russian folk healing, traditional culture, or esoteric contemporary popular culture will quickly encounter the genre of the

zagovor, a short magical incantation aimed at healing or protection (or, alternatively, at harming someone). The term may be translated as charm or spell, or in negative cases hex; this article will use the Russian term, zagovor with its plural zagovory, rather than any of these translations. The zagovory presented here were collected in Karelia, in the northwest of Russia. They represent one person’s repertoire, passed along in a traditional way near the end of her life, near the end of the Soviet period. These zagovory are not in themselves unusual texts, but the English translations

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013

DOI 10.1163/18763316-04004017

make them accessible to scholars of magic who do not read Russian, as well as to casual readers.

  • [1] Sibelan Forrester is Professor of Russian Language and Literature at Swarthmore Collegeand a specialist in Russian Modernist Poetry, especially Marina Tsvetaeva. She has published translations from Croatian, Russian and Serbian; her translation of Vladimir Propp’sThe Russian Folktale was published in the fall of 2012 by Wayne State University Press.
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