Kostroma is not only the name of the river flowing through the city and flowing into the Volga. It is also a mysterious pagan deity of the eastern Slavs, associated with fertility and the annual agricultural cycle. Ancient Russian cities like Kostroma hide many secrets and customs that help us better understand the life and traditions of our ancestors.
The origins of the name Kostroma
According to historical data, Kostroma got its name from the river that was called Kostroma in the 12th century. It is now known as the Kostromka. However, in Dal’s Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language, you can find another meaning of the word. In some provinces of Russia, including Tula, “kostroma” was called bundles of twigs. This meaning is also reflected in the work of T. A. Bernshtam “Spring and summer rituals among the Eastern Slavs”. Kostra, bark or kostriga is a weed and waste from the stalks of flax, hemp and other plants, from which fibers for yarn are obtained.
Kostroma as a pagan deity
Researchers of history and folklore, such as A. Afanasiev, P. Propp, and B. Rybakov, consider Kostroma a pagan deity of the Eastern Slavs. It is a spirit associated with fertility and the annual agricultural cycle. Slavic pagan conceptions have reached our days in a very fragmentary form. Most of the myths have been lost, but their fragments are imprinted in folk rites, songs and games. One of these rites-games is the funeral of Kostroma.
Kostroma funerals: an ancient custom
The custom of Kostroma funerals was common in Russia until the middle of the 20th century. During this period of the year, between Trinity and Peter’s Day, village youth, including newly married couples, gathered for this rite. Together they created a human-sized doll of straw, grass, and twigs. The doll was called Kostroma and dressed in a young bride’s smart sundress. The doll would then be placed in a trough and carried across the village, accompanied with wailing and lamentation. The lamentations were ironic in nature and someone sometimes portrayed terrible grief by “fainting”. Such a “sufferer” was brought to his or her senses by pouring water on him or her. It was considered a good omen to spill water from a muddy puddle on that day.
Upon arriving at the bank of the river, the young people held a mock duel for Kostroma. But soon the “defenders” would give in, and the “attackers” would tear the doll to pieces and throw it into the water. All this was accompanied by ritual songs, in which they asked God to create rain for a good harvest.
If there was no river nearby, Kostroma was carried to some birch tree and left there.
Preservation of traditions
Although the Kostroma funeral rite has become a rarity in modern Russia, it still lives on in some places. For example, in the village of Shutilovo in the Nizhny Novgorod region, the custom still exists today.