Accepted Paper:

Clothes as symbolic objects and signs in the ritual time of the Slavic childbirth customs  


Irina Sedakova (Institute of Slavic Studies, Moscow)

Paper short abstract:

The paper analyzes the practical and magical functions of female, male and babies clothes in Slavic childbirth-lore. Traditional clothes and their parts are seen as “objects and signs” (Peter Bogatyrev), and their cultural semantics and symbolism depend on the ritual situation, its actors and goals.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper childbirth-lore is considered as a long ritual period starting from the conception till the first socialization acts of the baby. At every stage of this ritual complex clothes apart from pragmatic meaning obtain symbolic semantics and, as Peter Bogatyrev showed for the national costumes, turn into signs. The construction of the functional roles of the clothes is often based on various semiotic oppositions (male-female, old-new, old-young, white-black, long-short, culture-nature, Christian-pagan, etc).

Detailed investigation of male, female and babies clothes as used in a childbirth customs with regard to the actors, ritual obstacles and the magic purposes, involves the following issues:

- Magic use of clothes in "conceiving the baby of the desired sex".

- The dress of the pregnant woman, the folk concept of secrecy and the magic of driving away the evil spirits and avoiding the evil eye.

- Magic acts with the parts of the costumes to ensure an easy birth.

- Male clothes used during the confinement as relics of kuvada.

- The first clothes for the baby (symbolism of the form and the color; markers of identity; magic for the love in the family, health, good luck and long life, etc.).

- Festive clothes for baptism.

To conclude I will make a brief survey of the drastic changes in the childbirth customs with the clothes nowadays (modern dresses which do not hide, but demonstrate the pregnancy; lack of bans for the mother-to-be to openly prepare the first clothes for the baby beforehand).

Panel Heri013
Folk costume in the ritual year and beyond: heritage, identity marker & symbolic object (Ritual Year SIEF Working Group panel)