The Grateful Dead: The Russian Folktale of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead as which is a type 505 tale as classified Stories of The Grateful Dead under the under the Aarne–Thompson–Uther classification system used by folklorists to categorise folktales.  Grateful Dead tales usually share a basic structure of where a debtor dies leaving and are refused a proper burial or in this case floated out to sea in a coffin. In this case the dead person did not receive a proper burial and was held in a state perhaps similar to purgatory until he received one.  In gratitude his ghost or soul returns to Earth to help the person who took the trouble to ensure he had a proper burial.  There are several other motifs and themes interwoven in the story that are also found in tales around the world.  Presented below is a rewrite of Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock, from The Russian Garland, edited by Robert Steele which is a collection of stories collected from Russian Chap-books.

Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock

This story begins in a time when Russia was ruled by a tsar by the name of Chotei who had three sons.   The eldest was named Aspar Tsarevich, the next eldest was named Adam Tsarevich and the youngest was named Sila Tsarevich.  There came a day that the two eldest brothers went to their father and asked his permission to travel the world. They wanted to journey abroad and see all the foreign countries and meet all the different people who lived outside Russia and see strange and wonderful things.  On hearing their request Sila Tsarevich, the youngest of the three was also filled with a yearning to see strange and wonderful things and travel to foreign climes and also begged permission from his father to travel like his two brothers.  However, although his father granted the two eldest permission but was reluctant to grant him permission due to the immaturity of his years telling him,

“Unfortunately you are too young to go wandering the world.  You are not used to traveling and there are many difficulties and dangers that can be encountered.  Drive this idea from your mind. Wait until you are older, wiser and stronger!”

Despite what his father said, the yearning to see new lands and people had awoken the wanderlust in Sila Tsarevich.  He could think of nothing else, talk of nothing else and repeatedly asked for permission. Eventually, he wore his father down and he reluctantly consented to his request.

The Floating Coffin

Tsar Chotei had given each son a ship manned by skilled mariners and eventually all the ships were laden with provisions and goods and made ready to sail. The first to sail was Aspar Tsarevich,  the eldest brother, followed by Adam Tsarevich the next eldest. The last to set sail was Sila Tsarevich. On reaching the open sea a strange sight was seen by those on board the three ships for floating and bobbing in the water was a stone coffin.  When Aspar saw this he immediately ordered the ship to chart a wide berth around it and continued on his way. When Adam Tsarevich saw the coffin floating in the water he too ordered his sailors to keep clear of it and continued on his way. When Sila  Tsarevich saw the floating coffin he had it be brought aboard and then order the ship to continue on it way.

The next day dawned, the wind blew and a violent storm was whipped up and the ship bearing Sila was taken by the storm and driven to a strange unknown country where it was thrown upon a sandy shore.   Sila ordered his men to carry the coffin on shore where he then told them to dig a grave and give a proper burial.

Then Sila Tsarevich informed the captain that he was going off alone and told him that he and the crew must stay with the ship.  If he did not return after three years the captain and crew were free to sail back home without him. Sila then left them to journey on into the land beyond.

Ivashka

Long he roamed and had traveled many miles from his ship.  One day as he was walking along he heard the sound of someone running up behind him.  Startled he turned and saw a man dressed all in white who was waving and hurrying up to him.  Instinctively he drew his sword both for his own protection and to give fair warning that he was armed and prepared should the need arise to fight.  However, no sooner had the man reached him than he fell upon his knees and thanked Sila showing great gratitude and respect.

Bemused, Sila asked the man what he had done to deserve such great praise and thanks and the man replied,

 “Sila Tsarevich,I am deeply indebted to you and can never thank you enough.  Do you remember the coffin you found in the sea and took on board your ship.  I had been laid in that coffin a hundred years before you came to pick it up. Had you not done so I could have been left to float alone in the ocean for another hundred years, or more, but for you.”

“Who are you and how was it you came to be in that coffin?”  asked Sila surprised.

“My name is Ivashka. When I was born It was discovered I had great magical arts.  As I grew up I became a great magician but my powers did not please my mother who accused me of making mischief and misusing them.  She ordered her servant to put me in that stone coffin. Then they took me and set me set adrift in the sea thinking I would sink in the coffin.  I did not sink but I did die of suffocation. Ever since I have floated around in the sea for a hundred years before you passed by. Then you came along and rescued me and now it is my duty to serve you in return and help you obtain your heart’s desire.  If it is marriage you desire I can tell you I know of Queen Truda who is a most beauteous and gracious woman who would make a worthy wife for you. Perhaps you are interested?”

Sila agreed he was interested and if she was as beautiful and gracious as he said then, yes, he would like to marry her.  He asked him to take him to her to her country so that he may court and woo her. Ivashka readily agreed and the two set off on the long journey to the country of Queen Truda.

The Country of Queen Truda

Ivashka led Sila many miles through forests and over mountains for many many days.  They saw many strange and wonderful things along the way that Sila had never seen before.  Eventually, at last they reached the country of Queen Truda, but Sila had a shock. The entire realm of Queen Truda was surrounded by a pallascade. Upon each and every one of the sharpened posts there was a human head impaled.  There was just one stake that had no head impaled upon it. Sila looked at the heads in horror then turned to Ivashka and asked him what had happened here. Ivashka then explained that the heads had all belonged to the suitors who had come to court Queen Truda.  Sila looked on in horror and turned to Ivashka and told him he no longer wanted to present himself to Truda’s father and wished instead to go home. Ivashka promised him he had nothing to fear and urged him to proceed with courage to the father of Queen Truda to ask for her hand in marriage.

As soon as Sila and Ivashka had passed beyond the terrible palisade Ivashka turned to Sila and said,

“Listen closely to what I’m saying!  You must now go before King Salom and speak most politely and humbly. Tell him what your business is and tell him who your father is and that  that I am your faithful servant. You must not try to conceal anything from him as he will see straight through you. Then ask for his permission to marry his daughter and he will be delighted and agree.”

King Salom

With this advice fresh in his mind Sila Tsarevich went directly to the palace.  As soon as he saw him King Salom jumped to his feet and rushed across the room to greet him.  He took Sila by the hand and led him into the marbled halls of his beautiful palace chatting to him all the way.  He seated him in a splendid chair next to his throne then sat down himself and begged that Sila tell him all about himself saying, “Now my friend, please tell me where you are from, who is your father, your name and your business.”

“My father is named Tsar Chotei the ruler of of all of Russia and I have come to ask your permission to court your beautiful daughter, Queen Truda,” said Sila politely and humbly.

The Wedding

This pleased King Salom greatly.  He was delighted with the idea of a son of the tzar of all of Russia being his son-in-law and agreed immediately.  He sent for his daughter and told her the news and she began the preparations for her wedding. The day of the marriage soon came around and the King and all of his knights, noblemen and courtiers met at the palace. When all was ready they formed a grand procession to the church where Sila Tsarevich the son of Tsar Chotei of Russia married King Salom’s beautiful daughter Queen Truda.  After the wedding ceremony they all returned for a grand banquet thrown by the King to celebrate the marriage of his daughter to such a worthy husband. There was music and singing and jesters, acrobats and jugglers and entertainment of all kinds and the best food and drink his kingdom could provide and a merry evening was had by all.

When at at last the feasting and entertainments came to an end and it was time for everyone to go to their beds Ivashka came to Sila and whispered in his ear,

“Listen to me Sila Tsarevich when you go to rest with your wife, beware!  You must not speak a single word to her or you will not live out the night.  Your head will be severed from your body and placed on the last stake on the palisade.  Your wife will try her hardest to make you speak and to make you embrace her but if you wish to live you will not utter a word or fall for her embraces.  Listen well or die!”

Shocked at this revelation,  Sila demanded to know what this all meant.  Ivashka told him,

“Queen Truda is possessed by an evil spirit that can take the shape of a six headed dragon and fly through the night.  It appears each night to her in the form of a man. I warn you that when the time comes and she lays her hand upon your breast and pushes down you must leap up shake her with all your might.  You must continue to shake her until all your strength has gone. Throughout the night I will remain awake and on watch at the door of your room.”

The First Night

So Sila went to bed with his new wife with this strange warning going around in his head.  As Ivashka had warned Queen Truda tried her hardest to kiss and embrace him but he lay still and silent throughout.  At last his wife placed her hand on his heart and pressed hard against it. Remembering Ivashka’s warning, Sila jumped up and shook her hard.

Outside in the darkness of night a storm arose and a six-headed dragon flew in through the window.  It was about to attack and eat Sila when Ivashka leapt through the door with his sword in his hand and attacked it.  The two fought ferociously together for three hours and then Sila managed to cut two of its heads off. This caused the beast to withdraw from the fight and escape through the window.  Ivashka then turned to Sila and told him it was now time to sleep and need fear nothing more. At this Sila laid himself back in bed and went to sleep.

The next morning the king called his servants to him asking them if his new son-in-law was still alive and was told Sila was indeed alive and well.  The king was delighted and rejoiced because Sila was the first of his daughter’s husbands to survive a night with her. He request Sila be brought to him and the rest of the day was spent celebrating.

The Second Night

The next night before Sila went to bed with his wife Ivashka again gave him the exact instructions and warnings he had given him the previous night and hid by the door to keep watch.  That night everything unfold exactly as it had done the previous night. As Sila shook his wife the dragon flew in through the window and was about to eat him. Ivashka leapt from his hiding place with his sword drawn and fought the dragon and managed to sever two more of its heads before the dragon escaped through the window.

The Third Night

On the third night, Ivashka gave the same warnings to Sila and again hid himself by the door to watch.   Again his wife tried to make Sila speak and embrace her and again he would neither speak or respond to her entreaties to embrace her.  Once again she pushed down upon his heart and he began shaking her. Once again the dragon flew in through the window and attempted to devour him but was attacked by Ivashka who cut off the remaining two of its heads and burnt the remains of the dragon scattering the ashes across the fields.

The Journey Home

Sila continued living with his wife at the palace of KIng Salom for one year but through all that time he continued to refrain from speaking to her or win her love.  One day Ivashka went to him and told him it was time to go to King Salom and request permission to return to his own land. The king gave his permission and provided two companies of his soldiers to escort him home.  So Sila, taking his wife and Ivashka with him set off with his escort on the journey back to the ship and to his homeland.

The Freeing of Queen Truda

When they reached halfway Ivashka told Sila to make camp for the night.  The next morning Ivashka collected pieces of wood to make a fire and then brought Queen Truda near to it.  Then he took out his sword and cut her into pieces.

This shocked Sila and he began to weep and wring his hands but Ivashka said, “Have trust, my friend and stop your weeping!  I tell you she will return again to life.”

Sila stopped weeping but watched in horror as as all manner of vile and evils things crept and slithered from her body.  Ivashka threw each and everyone of these on the fire and said, “Now you see for yourself the evil things that have possessed your wife, but now she is free from them!”

When all the evil things had left her and been burnt he placed the pieces of her together to form a new body.  Then taking out a vial he said contained the water of life he sprinkled this over the reassembled body and Queen Truda instantly sprang to life whole and free from evil.  With that he turned to Sila Tsarevich and said,

“Now my task for you is done and I have repaid my debt to you for saving me from the water and giving me a proper burial.  You will soon discover that your wife loves you above all things and that you will have great happiness together until the end of your days.  You will never see me again and now I bid you farewell.”

With that the smiling figure of Ivashka dissolved into the the thin air before the eyes of Sila Tsarevich and his wife Queen Truda.  Sila and his wife continued on the journey to his homeland. When he reached the place he had left his ship the captain and crew were still faithfully waiting and he and his wife went aboard after dismissing his escort.

The ship met with a fair wind which carried them quickly and safely to the port Sila had previously set sail from.  On news of his arrival his father, Tsar Chotei was delighted and welcomed them with a spectacular volley of cannons and fireworks. He came down to the ship and led them back to his palace and threw a lavish banquet to celebrate the return of his youngest son and his wife.

Heart’s Desire

Sila Tsarevich was pleased to find that his wife seemed to love him more and more  every day. He felt the same about her and they were very happy together. After two years living with his father Sila decided he and his wife would return to her homeland.  On his return King Salom abdicated and handed the crown to Sila who with Queen Truda beside him ruled the kingdom for many years in peace and happiness. Let us remember that and all of this came about because Sila had stopped to take in an abandoned coffin floating in the sea and give the dead a decent and proper burial and because of that he received the help of the Grateful Dead to achieve his heart’s desire.

© 08/08/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright August 8th, 2018 zteve t evans

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Russian folklore: The firebird

The firebird is a creature from Russian or Slavic folklore that has been the inspiration of many fairy and folktales, literary works and works of art.  According to folklore it is a very rare and beautiful bird whose plumage glows red, orange and yellow like the flames of a flickering fire.  When removed the feathers continue to flicker in color and glow.

It is said that one feather is sufficient to light a large room.  Some accounts say the firebird is large but other depictions show the firebird as being smaller than a peacock, with a crest, tail feathers and fiery glowing eyes. The firebird is said to live in a distant land and a is bringer of blessing or doom to those who become involved with it.

Fairy tales

There are many folk or fairy tales that feature the firebird.  It was originally told orally and most examples have a common structure interwoven with a number of common themes which helped the orator remember and tell the story.   At the same time having a structure enabled variations of the same themes so although the main structure and themes of many of these tales are similar there are variations of detail which give rise to different tales.

Events are often set in motion by the finding of one of its brightly colored feathers by the hero of the story, who is often accompanied by a magical animal helper.  Despite being warned not to touch the feather by his magical helper, which is often his horse, or a wolf, he picks it up and takes it to the Tsar expecting a handsome reward for such a rare and beautiful item.  But the Tsar although greatly pleased is not satisfied and sets the hero one or more impossible or difficult tasks such as capturing the firebird and bringing him a princess for a wife from a distant land.  He promises the hero great rewards if he succeeds but death if he fails.

The hero is sent  forth, often reluctantly,  to capture and bring back the elusive and fabulous bird. This often results in him experiencing a misfortune, or a series of worsening misfortunes, which he blames on the firebird for his troubles, though he eventually does win through.

Although he admires the firebird he views it as the cause of his troubles.  He forgets he ignored the advice of his magical animal helper who advised him not to touch the feather.  Nevertheless the trials that he goes through change him and to overcome these he grows spiritually and he becomes a stronger person.  Through his trials he not only wins the hand  of the princess he is sent to find from the Tsar but supplants him becoming ruler himself.

Hidden messages

Are the firebird stories nothing more than quaint children’s stories or is there hidden information in the story that is not necessarily apparent at first but becomes clearer on reflection and contemplation of the story?

In fact some of the stories may be seen as subversive to the established social order.  There is the hero of the story, often an archer who has helped defend his country in the service of the Tsar or a hunter, who is self-sufficient, hard working and loyal, who knows his place in the social hierarchy.  Despite his efforts to please he is  treated with ingratitude and scorn by the Tsar and threatened with death. Nevertheless, eventually, through his trials he becomes greater than the Tsar and it is the Tsar who finds death.  The hero then becomes Tsar and marries the beautiful princess.

Sheer enjoyment

Many  of the firebird tales are very old and have been adapted through the ages and from place to place and while the structure, elements and themes are similar the action taking place within the stories can be different.  Hidden messages and meanings may vary depending on political and social factors but the sheer enjoyment of hearing a good tale remains constant throughout the ages.   Therefore let the reader make what they will of the stories but above all, let them enjoy them!

References and Attributions

Copyright zteve t evans

Russian folklore: The fool of the world and the flying ship

The traditional Russian folktale of the Fool of the World and the flying ship although a children’s story has a number of lessons built within it for those who care, or dare to look. For example there are themes of naivety and innocence, but also friendship, love, faith and belief. The important thing for the reader is to make up their own mind using their own knowledge and experience as to what if any lessons there may be, at least for them.

The Fool of the World

In the days of the great Tsars of Russia there lived in a village an old peasant couple who were the parents of three sons. The two oldest sons were deemed to be young men of high intelligence and considered handsome to look upon by maidens. The youngest was deemed to be a fool. His parents were ashamed of him and often mocked him and were cruel to him calling him the Fool of the World. Sometimes he felt sad at this. Even so, he had a cheerful and optimistic disposition and mostly remained happy in his own ways.  Read more

Russian folklore: The hidden city of Kitezh

According to Russian legend hidden beneath the waters of Lake Svetloyar is a mythical city built by Georgy II, the Grand Prince of Vladimir in the early part of the 13th century.

The Drown Town” by Konstantin Gorbatov, 1933 – Public Domain

Batu Khan and the Golden Horde

According to legend when Batu Khan sacked the Russian city of Vladimir he first heard of Kitezh and became determined to capture it and he led the Golden Horde into Russia. The Mongols attacked and captured Maly Kitezh forcing Georgy to retreat with his army to the forests towards Bolshoy Kitezh . Although they had found and captured Maly Kitezh the Mongols did not know where to look for Bolshoy Kitezh as it was hidden on the lakeside which was protected by thick forest. Only those who knew the secret paths could find it.

The Mongols attempted to bribe and torture the prisoners to get the secret but none would talk despite the pain inflicted. At last one of the prisoners betrayed the secret of how to find Bolshoy Kitezh and was greatly rewarded for his treachery. He led Batu Khan and the Golden Horde through the forest towards Lake Svetloyar where they found Bolshoy Kitezh.  Read more