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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Walking Encyclopedia of Folk Facts

Polina Rozhnova has a bit of folk wisdom for every season and every day of the year.


If a spider weaves his web with particular zeal in high summer, expect a long spell of sunny days, she says. If bees refuse to leave their hive, expect rain.


Girls hoping to learn whether they will be lucky in love should make a wreath of grass on July 7 and watch it float it down a river. A sunken wreath spells misfortune. On July 22, eating blueberries will ward off stomach aches of any kind.


Such superstitions pepper all facets of Russian life, and Rozhnova is a walking encyclopedia on the subject.


Her book, "A Russian Folk Calendar", collects bits of old Russian Orthodox and pagan traditions for most days of the year. Originally published in Russian in 1992, it was recently translated into English by Novosti. That edition instantly became so popular that it was pounced on by street traders and sent to bookstores abroad.


Occasionally its bright orange cover can be spied on a bookseller's table on Moscow's streets, or more dependably, it can be purchased at Estamp, the artist's workshop and salon in Moscow that supports Rozhnova.


The book contains intricate details about peasant holiday celebrations and agrarian traditions.


Reading through the months, it becomes clear that pagan beliefs in forest magic, mermaids and sun gods are as much a part of the Russian Orthodox church calendar as the holy sacraments.


"This is why the Orthodox church was so successful in converting the peasants", she says. "They used the pagan traditions".


On the seventh weekend after Easter, Whitsunday, the magical powers of the birch tree are celebrated, the book explains. Young girls braid birch branches and dream of the ones they love, thus linking their thoughts with their beaux.


On Aug. 15, the feast day of St. Stephen, the whole family weaves a wreath of 12 herbs such as mint, clover, wormwood, chamomile and tansy. They then hang the wreath over the door to protect the house from illness all year round.


If such details sound vivid, it is because Rozhnova, 45, grew up deep within the Siberian countryside. Her father, as the Communist Party adviser to collective farms, was moved from farm to farm every few years throughout the Vologodskaya district of Russia, about 500 kilometers northeast of the capital itself, she said.


Rozhnova said that when she was a young girl and new in a village, she became intrigued with an old woman who went into the forest to gather plants.


"Once I entered the house of a babushka and I saw many grasses and herbs on her walls", she said.


"Everyone thought she was a witch, but I became curious and started following her on her trips into the woods".


She memorized all the old woman told her - how to forecast weather, which grasses to use to heal diseases - and from then on each time she moved to a new village, she sought out similar healers.


Because of her unusual interests and her musical manner of speech, she was brutally teased by other children, she said. and so she used to wander out into the fields and wail all that was in her heart. When some school officials tried to punish her for that behavior, one teacher intervened.


"She said, 'allow her to cry in the fields, only let her write all her words down'", Rozhnova recalls.


Eventually, a team of writers came through the village looking for native talent, and the teacher shared Rozhnova's notebook with them.


Rozhnova's fate was sealed: she was sent to Moscow to a literary institute, and to this day produces sheaves of verses and histories, most of which now sit at home in a drawer, she said.


But she passes on her knowledge by teaching children's art classes, writing newspaper articles and giving lectures. In addition, she passes on the traditions to her daughter Sophia, 12. As a traditional healer, she finds that she is always popular.


"Journalists and intellectuals seem to like me best", she says with a self-deprecating grin. "They seem to call me every time they feel ill".