I read The Wind Child over the Christmas break and I was so pleased to have the dedicated time to give it as it is a gorgeous and special book. I love the nods to folklore, the adventure and the friendship between the main characters.
Gabriela Houston has written a fantastic piece for my turn on the blog tour!
A child’s place in Slavic folklore by Gabriela Houston
Children have a special place in Slavic folklore. They are, of course, precious and so their safety holds an important place in the collective consciousness.
But there is also something unknown about them, as the creatures of the in-between. By that I mean they don’t quite belong to the human, adult world, and they no longer belong to the non-corporeal world whence they came. The ancient Slavs recognised that children see and experience the world in a different way to the adults. In this way they are a bridge between the humans and the spirits of the world.
It is only to the children, that the domovoy might speak. Only babies get to understand Bahan who will gladly teach them his language, which they will sadly forget soon after they learn their parents’ tongue, as if the human world rots away the knowledge of the spirits from our souls. Only a few of the kindest ones, those among us with an affinity to the animals, will ever taste a fraction of that connection when grown.
Kindness and gentleness and the awe of the world around is what makes children special, compared to their worn out guardians, and it is that gentleness that the Slavic mythological world responds to. Considering the merciless side of the spirit realm in Slavic mythologies, that quality: appreciating kindness, ascribing worth to it, is perhaps even more striking.
There is a lot of cruelty and violence in the pre-Christian Slavic mythologies, but the one constant I have found is that the source of the cruelty lies almost always in the way (adult) humans interfere with the natural world. Borovy is a horror to those who harm his forest, and Lauma is deadly towards those who try to steal from her, but day-to-day those spirits are simply indifferent towards humans. They grow cruel as a response to us breaking the laws of the land, or interfering with what’s not ours to interfere with. In that sense their cruelties big and small are simply the consequences of us doing what we oughtn’t.
That is not to say that, due to their nature, children are safe. There are some demons who will hurt whoever’s in their path, like Kikimora, for example, who is not above murdering a baby in its cradle. But again, in most cases, the fate that befalls the children, is a consequence of their guardian’s actions: had they offended a spirit, turned away a stranger in the storm?
For example Kania, the shapeshifting demon I have included in The Wind Child, targets the lost children. Those whose parents failed to keep an eye on them, failed to protect them.
Mara, the protagonist of The Wind Child, and her best friend Torniv, both don’t fit into the roles set out for them. Mara lacks the magic of her spirit kin, but she finds the limitations put on her human family uncomfortable. With Torniv, they try to find a new space for themselves, but the Slavic spirit world is not built for those who don’t follow the rules. And the gods and the spirits both seek to punish them for it.
A child’s place in folklore is a curious space. It’s a window into another world, but the child must be content to only look through the glass pane. Opening the window is only for the brave and the stupid. And the stupid don’t last long in the world of Slavic myths.