Vladimir Storm is a Komi indigenous person living in Germany. Over the course of the last 7 years he was traveling and researching worldwide spiritual beliefs by collaborating with various indigenous communities in Asia, Australia, Africa and Americas. By expanding the professional network Vladimir eventually had a chance to reconnect with a group of Komi artists and anthropologists to learn about the Komi culture and beliefs. It took several trips to Syktyvkar to find the hidden knowledge of the Komi witchcraft.
Komi is an ethnic minority group in Northern Europe. Ancient Komi culture, traditions and beliefs were mostly first erased by Christinity in the 14th century, and what is left is a mixture of both. Later, during the USSR formation, there was a genocide towards ethnic minorities, those who weren’t accepting the new government were killed or sent to concentration camps. All anthropological research dedicated to ethnic minorities was prohibited, local traditions suppressed. Scientists went through repressions, and the research studies about minority cultures weren't ever released. Majority of knowledge and ethnic identities were lost in history. Nowadays, there are enthusiasts and passionate anthropologists who are trying to recover those identities, assembling the fractures of what’s left. However, people who are successful and have a big impact on local societies, are very often being detained and sent to jail by the government.
It was extremely difficult to find the information about Komi witchcraft and spirit beliefs. This project couldn’t have been done without help of Peeter Laurits, Pasha Mikushev, Yuri Lisovskiy and Pavel Limerov. Thank you so much for helping with the research and revealing the knowledge about Komi culture.
Bannik (Pivsansa) is a bathhouse spirit in Komi mythology. A bathhouse was a sacred place where women gave birth and practiced divinations, where witches were getting their power, a portal to the spirit realm. No Christian icons or pectoral crosses were allowed inside because they would offend the occupant spirits. If disturbed by an intruder while washing, Bannik might pour boiling water over them, or even strangle them.
The image depicts one of the rituals. When someone wanted to get the sacred knowledge, they had to go to a bathhouse after midnight and call the bathhouse spirit. They had to stay in a circle drawn with a bread knife to protect themselves, otherwise they could have been taken to the spirit world.
The image is framed with 4 magic elements used by Komi for both white and black magic. A spruce resin cross is a protection amulet which has both animistic and Christian roots. A needle with a broken eye could be left in bed sheets or clothes along with a curse. A bear's tooth is a pre-animistic amulet which gives protection and strength to a wearer. A stone with a hole allows the owner to have a peek into the spirit realm.
One hunter was killed by a bear in a local forest. People saw how the hunter’s ghost was coming back to the village at night and looking in the windows. The hunter had a 4-eyed dog. They believe that such a dog can see the spirit realm and barks when seeing a ghost. Villagers had to stick an axe into a window frame to keep the evil spirit outside of the house.
There are 4 magic elements framing the image. A spruce resin cross is a protection amulet which has both animistic and Christian roots. Bread crumbs used to be thrown in an oven to scare the spirits away, 27 of them were considered as a sacred number. A needle with a broken eye could be left in bed sheets or clothes along with a curse. A stone with a hole allows the owner to have a peek into the spirit realm.
Vodnik (Vakul) is a lake demon in Komi mythology. A fisherman always has to give offerings to the demon otherwise he will never catch anything. Anyone who goes to the water domain has to ask permission from the demon.
The image depicts the “Bathing of Icons” ritual which is practiced in some Komi villages. Every house in a village has a so-called “red corner” where villagers put sacred relics including orthodox icons. The icons are worshiped regularly and it's believed that they accumulate various energies from the worshipers. There’s a special day when villagers go out holding their icons, singing songs and chanting prayers through the village to the river where the icons are being bathed. The energies collected by icons are being released to the river. Some icons went through the ritual so many times that there’s no image left on them and only the naked wooden plane remains.
There’re long green monster arms emerging from the waters and embracing a stone. It’s believed by villagers that the same water is a realm of the water demon. This dualistic worldview applies to the border between village and nature, when Christian beliefs blend into animistic.
The image is framed with 4 magic tools used in Komi witchcraft. A plant grown through a horse skull's eye socket has magic powers. A traditional hunter's knife is used to kill both animals and spirits. A bear's tooth is a pre-animistic amulet which gives protection and strength to a wearer. A bread bullet is used to kill a spirit. A hunter has to bend over and shoot behind him through a triangle formed by his legs and a floor, only that way he could see the spirit realm.