Academic journal article Ethnologies

Prayer and Power: A New Women's Tradition in a Ukrainian Village

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Prayer and Power: A New Women's Tradition in a Ukrainian Village

Article excerpt

Une jeune fille du village ouest-ukrainien de Horodnytsia etait gravement malade. En 2007, une famille d'Allemagne lui a envoye une statuette de la Mere de Dieu, qui avait pretendument pouvoir miraculeux. Le don avait pour but d'aider la filie a se remettre de sa maladie. La statuette a cependant pris une nouvelle signification, et de la se developpa une nouvelle tradition. Elle a ete incorporee dans un autel bricole qui a voyage de maison en maison, accompagne par de nombreuses femmes entonnant des chants religieux et des prieres.

Cet article met l'accent sur l'importance collective du rituel de Horodnytsia. Du point de vue emique, partage par les praticiens du rituel, la nouvelle tradition communique la reponse des femmes a la crise socio-economique post-sovietique en cours. De ma propre perspective etique, inspiree des etudes de genre et de la performance, le role de l'autel semble aller au-dela de ces considerations, en ce qu'il revele les efforts creatifs, bien qu'inconscients, de femmes de subvertir l'ordre patriarcal du christianisme vernaculaire. Le rituel donne un pouvoir aux femmes du village, en particulier parce qu'il a ete faconne par le modele familier de l'autorite religieuse. Les femmes sacralisent leur espace domestique selon un schema bien connu de l'organisation spatiale de leglise. Elles etablissent leur propre autorite a travers le developpement d'un contact etroit avec le sacre qu'elles ne pouvaient pas atteindre dans le cadre traditionnel de l'eglise.

A young girl from the western Ukrainian village of Horodnytsia was seriously ill. In 2007, a family in Germany sent her a statuette of the Mother of God that was said to have miraculous power. The gift was intended to help the girl to recover from her illness. The statuette took on a new purpose, developing into a new tradition. It was incorporated into a homemade altar that traveled from house to house, accompanied by many local women performing religious songs and prayers. This paper draws attention to the Horodnytsia ritual's collective significance. From an emic perspective, as shared by the ritual's practitioners, the new tradition communicated women's response to the ongoing post-Soviet socio-economic crisis. From my own, etic, perspective, informed by performance and gender studies, the altar's role appeared to expand beyond this, revealing women's creative, though unselfconscious, attempt to subvert the patriarchal order of vernacular Christianity. The ritual empowered the village women, especially because it was shaped by the familiar model of religious authority. The women consecrated their domestic space following a well-known pattern of church spatial organization. They established their own authority through the development of a kind of close contact with the sacred that they could not achieve in the context of the traditional church.

Background and Methodology

In July of 2008, I observed a new ritual organized by women in the village of Horodnytsia, western Ukraine (1). The ritual involved a statuette of the Mother of God sent by a family in Germany as a gift to a seriously ill village girl. The statuette was incorporated into a homemade altar that traveled from house to house, accompanied by many local women performing religious songs and prayers. This paper is an ethnographic snapshot of the socio-cultural dynamics of the life of the Horodnytsia women as communicated through the new ritual.

My study is inspired by a number of works on domestic altar making practices that reveal the multiple meanings home altars convey to those involved in their creation and maintenance. Kay Turner, in her book-length study devoted to private altars in diverse locations and religious contexts across the USA, addresses a wide range of people's experiences (including dreams and memories), emotions (such as fear) and beliefs as expressed in their altars through both physical objects and personal stories. Special attention is paid to the aesthetic dimensions of the altars (Turner 1999). …

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