Katarina Pejovic

Katarina Pejovic

Lecture & Workshop Host

LECTURE: Not Even Elijah Can Strike My Nettle-Crown!: Traditions of Herbal Magic with Saints in the Serbian Orthodox Folk Context

The Balkan Peninsula is home to a remarkably rich, diverse, and well-preserved lineage of folk magics, beliefs, and traditions. Arising out of myriad cultural and historical influences, including Hellenic, Roman, Thracian, Illyrian, Slavic, and Ottoman-Turkish, the traditions of witchcraft, sorcery, folk magic—and naturally, herbalism—throughout this mountainous region have continued to endure across the centuries, adapting to newer religious frameworks and symbolic worldviews while ever-retaining their original principles and forms.

This lecture will explore a sampling of some of these traditions, specifically those in the Serbian Orthodox folk context. Drawing on anthropological and ethnological scholarship never before translated in English, as well as intimate oral lore and knowledge gained through a lifelong study of Serbian folk magic and mentorship, the presentation will explore ways in which Eastern Orthodox saint veneration and practical herbal cunning come together: from rituals for protection, fortune, love, and good weather, to folk necromantic expressions of saintly intercession for the dying and dead. Where there are the beloved tears of the saints, there are the burgeoning seeds of their herbal allies. We will consider a number of saints in their folk magical applications, as well as the herbs they are most associated with, oral charms for their conjuration, folklore surrounding their supplication and careful, assiduous approach, and the cult of the divine trees that link Slavic gods, Christian saints, and green familiars all upon the same great axis of ancestral memory.

WORKSHOP: In The Burning Hands of Saint Friday: A Communal Feast to Paraskeva of the Balkans, Weaver of Fate and Mother of the Forest
3 HOUR INTENSIVE– space is limited to 15 participants

After the Theotokos, there is perhaps no holier woman or more beloved female saint in the Balkans than Paraskeva, affectionately known as St. Petka (Saint Friday) across the peninsula. A healer and ascetic in life, she is deeply respected and regarded as the premier women’s saint and protector, being a patron of embroiders, spinners, weavers, marriage, the house, and family. Her fame in the Orthodox Church, however, is matched only by the vast proliferation of her presence in Balkan folk magic. A mask for the Suđenice (Three Fates), the Slavic goddess Petka or Živa, and pan-Balkan and Mediterranean figures like the Šumska Majka (Forest Mother), Mokoš, Demeter, Cybele, and Hekate—she seamlessly connects old Slavic, Thracian, Illyrian, Hellenic, and Roman threads with her dexterous and capable loom. On Friday new moon nights, and during the “Unbaptized Days” between Eastern Orthodox Christmas and Epiphany, her name is invoked with the greatest trepidation and fear, for it is under these temporal shadows that she becomes recognized in her “demonic” guise, slaughtering children and disobedient women, and preying on even other sorcerers and witches as food and materia in league with the likes of Baba Yaga and Baba Roga.

While her Slava (Feast) in the Serbian Orthodox Calendar is celebrated on the 8th of August, for the purposes of this workshop, I will lead participants through a ritualized veneration of St. Petka in her guise as the Forest Mother, the foremost witch-mother of herbal cunning, borrowing greatly from Serbian Orthodox traditions of saint feasts. Having already explored some of the ritual importance of slavas as well as St. Petka herself in my lecture, here we will put much of what we have learned into practice: baking her bread, cooking her koljivo, performing a Balkan favomancy divination (known as “gledanje u pasulj”) to confirm omens, and consecrating a tree as the temporary “zapis” (inscription) on the property to receive Petka’s offerings. I will provide English translations of folk songs and prayers, assist participants in holding the communal feast, and finally close with the creation of protective charm bags that everyone will be invited to take home with them.

This workshop will borrow greatly from existing traditional practices surrounding the veneration of saint holidays, as well as from my own mentorship and training in Balkan folk magic. Ultimately, it is an adaptation born for the sake of this conference, allowing for modern syncretism when necessary, and delving deeply into traditional roots where possible. It is my hope to cultivate a greater awareness of this most holy and tremendous saint, with the deepest affection for her Christian context, as well as the folk and oral traditions of witchcraft and herbalism I have been raised and trained in.

$65 workshop add on fee
$10 materials fee
*Materials fees paid to presenter day of workshop.

BIO: Katarina Pejovic is a PhD candidate at the Department for the Study of Religion, University of Toronto. Her SSHRC-funded research examines the legends and grimoires of the sorcerer saint Cyprian of Antioch, with a special focus on his presence in Eastern Orthodox traditions in the Balkans and Mediterranean. In addition to her work on St. Cyprian, she writes on various topics including grimoire history, folk Christianity, Western occultism, and traditions of divination, witchcraft, and magic in Eastern Europe. Her lifelong passion for the unique folklore, sorcery, and spirits of the Balkans forms the roots of both her academic studies and personal praxis; watered by ancestral veneration, enflamed by Quimbanda and dragon-fire, and nourished with an endless curiosity of mystery.

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