Title of the article:



Alexander M. Petrov

Information about the author/authors

Alexander M. Petrov — PhD in Philology, Senior Researcher, Institute of Linguistics, History and Literature of the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Pushkinskaya St. 11, 185910 Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, Russia. E-mail: petrof@onego.ru


Theory and history of culture




Vol. 51


pp. 48–64


March 23, 2018

Date of publication

March 28, 2019

Index UDK


Index BBK



The notion of primary elements (fire, water, air, earth) determining appearance of the universe goes back to the ancient times and exists not only within the Christian religious system, but also in numerous pre-Christian beliefs, philosophical teachings, mythology, folklore of various peoples of the world. In the Russian popular orthodox culture, bookish-Christian views closely interact with folklore stereotypes, many of which date back to Slavic mythology. The aim of the paper is to reveal the narrative functions of the image of fire in Russian spiritual verses. The research draws upon widespread subjects: “The Torment of Yegoriy”, “Yegoriy the Brave — the Serpent-Winner (Miracle of George and the Serpent)”, “About Kirik and Julitta”, “The Merciful Wife”, “Anika the Warrior”, “Two Lazarus”, “Boris and Gleb”, “The Book of the Dove”, verses on eschatological themes and other epic and lyrical texts collected mainly in the Russian North during the 19th–20th centuries and included in the classic collection of the genre of Russian spiritual verses.  Earlier on the image of the fire element was not subjected to special examination basing on the material under study. The author systematizes and distributes the subject-thematic blocks in semantic groups, in which the image of fire plays a leading role. The method of work is determined by genre`s nature: spiritual poems are genetically closely related to the Christian culture, but have undergone significant changes within folklore environment in accordance with the norms and stereotypes of folk culture. In this regard, the texts are examined in a broad cultural context including biblical sources, apocrypha, pre-Christian beliefs, ancient and Russian mythology and folklore. Book sources of popular religious texts are considered, regularities of folklorization of images of Christian culture are detected. The author identified seven functions of fire. Fire is: 1) a means of bringing the saint to torment; 2) the instrument of Divine retribution; 3) the border between righteous and sinners, between heaven and hell; 4) a means of renewing the land through the universal conflagration in the face of the Last Judgment; 5) the attribute of a other world, including hell and hellfire; 6) a symbol of divine glory; 7) a means of creating the world (the equivalent of the Sun).


spiritual verses, fire, poetics of folklore, plotline functions, symbolism, folklorization, popular Orthodoxy.


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