Slovenski etnografski muzej

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Slavic Folk Conceptions of Death According to Linguistic Data

There are some basic ideas and semantic models reflected by the vocabulary and the phraseology "of death" in the Slavic languages.
1. The concept of soul and the interpretation of death as a "separation of soul from body, going out of body, parting of soul with body" etc., can be seen in such expressions (related to a dying person) as (a) someone has his soul in his nose (Serbian), in his teeth (Bulgarian), in his nails (Bulgarian), in his bones (Serbian) etc.; (b) one's soul is going out, is flying away, is falling (dropping) from someone's body, is breaking of the body; someone is parting with his soul, is giving his soul to God, is gathering his soul, is fighting against his soul etc.; (c) God, an Angel, a Saint or Death is taking one's soul, is pulling one's soul out of body (by a knife, a scythe, a sabre), an Angel and a Devil are fighting for one's soul etc.
2. One of the most important concepts in the "text of death" is the idea of the way (route) and that is why there are so many verbs of movement in descriptions of death. A dying person is going apart, is going out, is flying, is going to travel, is looking at the road, is on the way; he may be called a traveller, a wayfarer (Bulgarian pytnik) etc. It is often said that someone is going home, it is time to go home, someone has gone to his eternal home, to his ancestors, to his dead relatives, to the woods, to the birches, to the brooms etc.
3. The interpretation of death as the return to the earth which was the element and the material for creating Human Being (cf. The Book of Genesis) forms the semantic basis of such expressions as to go to the black earth, to go under the black earth, to be married with the black earth, to eat earth, to puddle the clay etc. In Polesie it is said about old people: someone "smells of earth". The belief of sinful souls which have not been accepted by the earth is well known in East-Slavic tradition.
4. The next idea about death is the concept of the end, the completion of one's life, the "exhaustiveness" of the resources (lot), forces of life and assigned time. The following verbs and expressions can be mentioned here: "to come to the end", "to be over", "to drag someone's life down", "to go out of the years", "to eat someone's life" etc.
5. The Christian conception of death as a way to the new life or another birth can be noticed in such nominations as Bulgarian "to have been saved" (spasi se), to be born "to die", Russian (oldbelievers) to change 'to die'.
6. Sometimes an external (outward) symptom of dying or a peculiarity of the funeral rite serves as a motive of the nomination, e.g., to roll the eyes, to put hands together, to have "kolivo" in one's mouth etc.