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Lemko Folk


Lemko (Лемківщина; Lemkivshchyna) and Lemko region is a large territory traditionally inhabited by the Lemko peoples of Ukraine, Poland and Slovak territory since stone age times. After the deportation of Lemkos from the northern part in 1946, only the southern part, southwest of the Carpathian Mountains do these people remain, which is known as the Presov Region in Slovakia and inhabited by Lemkos.

“Ethnic identity of the Lemki is somewhat controverted. Ukrainians consider them to be a branch of the Ukrainian Nation with very distinct dialects and customs. The Polish have at various times tried to alternatively suppress, cleanse, or assimilate them. Some insist on calling them Carpatho-Russians. Some claim that they form a micro-nationality who call themselves Rusyny, usually translated into English as Ruthenian. You will find individual Lemki who identify with each of these camps. ‘Lemko’ is a tern coined by their neighbors, referring to a word used in the Lemko dialect ‘lem’, which Ukrainians and Poles do not use. Some Lemki have accepted this term. This term is not used by the Rusnaks who live south of the Carpathians or by the neighboring Slovaks. They form a distinctive group of people with a distinctive group of dialects, whether they are considered to be a branch of the Ukrainians or a closely related brother nation.” 

The Lemkos who moved to Ukraine were settled mainly in former Polish villages in the Ternopil, Sambir, and Lviv regions and some live in the Donbas. In Ukraine, as in its borders with Poland, they try to preserve their own folklore, especially their folk songs and dances. But the younger generation is losing its distinctive traits and some Ukrainian monuments have been preserved in the Polish museums in Sianik, Nowy Sącz, in Rzeszów, and Peremyshl as well as in Lviv. Most of them, however, have been destroyed, or, lacking government protection, continue to deteriorate.

Representatives of Solidarnosć criticized the Polish authorities for resettling the Lemkos and destroying their indigenous roots, but most Poles consider the Lemkos to be part of the Polish, not the Ukrainian, nation and Ukrainians consider the Lemkos part of theirs. Obviously the Lemko people have indigenous pre-border roots of their own people which long ago were probably regionally nomadic.

Lemkos lived in dark gray area of the map…

Folk beliefs and Folklore фольклор; fol’klor

In Ukrainian folklore scholarship there is an overwhelming tendency to equate folklore with folk oral literature but it doesn’t and does not have a relationship as most of the indigenous rites are missing and only held by shamans (sorcerers) and folk magicians who carry on their traditions not known to the general public. Witches and Shaman do not really have too much in common either, even through ancient witches were healers, shamans go back much further in their prehistory than witches.

In the discipline folk tales and the tales of magic, animal tales, legends, anecdotes, etc, folk songs (ritual songs and non-ritual songs), and items of the minor verbal genres (proverbs and riddles) are collected and studied. Some of the animal tales, some songs and games, and certain types of proverbs and riddles are children’s folklore that had once been more indigenous oral traditions of the Lemko but only have small amounts that remained in children’s folklore.

Pre-Christian Lemko folk customs and rites have been described in Arabic and Byzantine sources. Other documentation of Ukrainian folklore is found in the earliest of literary monuments in Ukraine (ie, in the chronicles and Slovo o polku Ihorevi), where instances of folk prose, proverbs, and ritual songs can be found. Christianity introduced into Ukraine not only dogma but also apocryphal and classical folklore traditions which were highly monitored by church fathers. The pagans fought much of this but lost their connections to their past traditions. The shamans even lost more of theirs of the pre-pagan rites of prehistory.

A fundamentally religious interpretation of the world that determines the conduct and the attitude of the common people towards the forces of nature and the events of ordinary life. These beliefs are passed on by tradition or spring from an animistic view of natural phenomena, spiritual life (eg, the souls of the dead), and inanimate objects, or dreams.

Lemko folk beliefs encompass almost all events and objects of the external world, which are held to have a determining influence on individual destiny. There is a rich body of beliefs connected with the sun, moon, and stars. There are many different beliefs about atmospheric phenomena which is an indigenous Lemko (pre-pagan era) belief in the clouds, storms, thunder, winds, rainbows and actions of fire, water, earth, stones, plants, animals, and birds as well as shamanic talisman and amulets have survived through some of the oldest folk crafts and symbolism within weaving of Ukraine. Most think Paganism is the oldest religion, but that only sprang out of the shamanic cultures of the earlier indigenous.

A special cycle of beliefs in rituals deals with one’s personal appearance, the one’s way of seeing, of speaking, and of breathing—and with the main events in life of the cycles and seasons of our life along with our birth, marriage, family and death, Folk beliefs also include these. The more spiritual shamanic levels are about the wandering and appearance of fog, the wandering lights, the sacred women’s fern flowers, the dark shadows of the wolf clan people who took their demons (werewolves), the healers who were witches and the earlier sorcerers (shamans who carry true magic), and so on have served as sources of themes for many Lemko traditions (Slovak, Poland and Ukraine) earlier Slavic people.

Folk Calendar народний календар; narodnyj kalendar

A folk method of measuring time, based on centuries of observations of periodic changes in nature and the moon cycle along with women’s bleeding cycle. All indigenous people of pre-pagan times were on this natural calendar. The seasons were the earliest measure of longer periods of time; at first two seasons were recognized and that was a direct season of lunar rites of the shaman women.

Later the warm and the cold, spring and winter were replaced by the sun calendar of the four seasons. The ancient including Lemkos and Hutsuls lived within the natural rhythms of the Season of Fire (Spring and Summer) and the season of Night (Autumn and Winter). The time based on the phases of the moon (misiats) originated in Ukraine in prehistorical times and carries the same name as the moon (misiats month). That this system was used by the ancient Slavic people up to the time of the pagan eras and is evident from the names of the lunar moon months and the year began with nature’s year on the Spring Equinox of March:

Berezen or Berezozol (March), Kviten (April), Traven or Travny (May), Cherven (June), Lypen (July), Serpen (August), Veresen (September), Lystopad (November), Hruden (December), Sichen (January), Liutyi or Snizhen (February).

Evidence shows that the division of the year into months (moon cycles of woman’s cultures) dates back to prehistoric times: A ritual chalice of the 3rd–4th century ce was found in the Village of Lepesivka in Volhynia, represents the months (moons) in symbols, and a Polianian calendar of the 4th century from the village of Romashky in the Kyiv region defines the spring and summer cycles as running from the emergence of shoots at the beginning of May to the completion of harvest in the first half of August.

In the Ukrainian folk calendar, as in the calendars of many other nations, the year consisted of 13 months (moons), which coincided with the lunar cycles. It began on the 1st through 1 April (the New Year). The beginning, duration, and end of the year were defined by the sun’s position on the equinoxes, the moon’s phases. The dates folk rituals that inaugurated, separated, or marked the end of the various seasons of the year or periods of agricultural work were determined in the same way.  Later these folk feasts and rituals were combined with Christian church holidays and saints’ days and are grouped in four cycles to fit into the Christian Sun Calendar of the Romans and Greeks.

The turn of the century saw an impressive number of folklore collections and studies. Two outstanding members of the commission were Ivan Franko and Volodymyr Hnatiuk. Franko wrote numerous articles on folk oral literature, but his greatest contribution to Ukrainian folklore remains his six-volume edition of Ukrainian proverbsHalyts’ko-rus’ki narodni prypovidky (Galician-Ruthenian Folk Proverbs), published as part of Etnohrafichnyi zbirnyk. The most productive ethnographer and folklorist of this period was V. Hnatiuk. He was responsible for the publication of most of the volumes of Etnohrafichnyi zbirnyk, contributing on a variety of folklore genres as editor, collaborator, collector, and critic. One of his singular achievements is the six-volume Etnohrafichni materiialy z Uhors’koï Rusy(Ethnographic Materials from Hungarian Ruthenia). His publication (together with P. Tarasevsky) Das Geschlechtsleben des ukrainischen Bauernvolkes in 1909–10 is also noteworthy.

In the interwar period there was a lull in folklore studies in Western Ukraine in comparison with the days prior to the First World War. In contrast, the twenties were marked by an explosion of activity in Soviet Ukraine exemplified by the growth of a multitude of commissions, museums, societies, committees, and institutes. These activities came to almost a complete halt in the thirties. In Western Ukraine the outstanding folklorist of the period was the musicologist Filaret Kolessa, who had published before the First World War; he continued his work on a variety of musical genres and regional music, wrote encyclopedia articles, and published the first Ukrainian school text (an introduction and a reader) devoted solely to oral folklore, Ukraïns’ka usna slovesnist’ (Ukrainian Oral Literature, 1938). A contemporary of Kolessa’s was the literary scholar Mykhailo Vozniak, who published a number of manuscripts containing folk songs and dumas from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The historian Mykhailo Hrushevsky, who as president of the Shevchenko Scientific Society in the period before the First World War had published the first two volumes of Etnohrafichnyi zbirnyk, continued his work in the Ukrainian SSR. Parts of his Istoriia ukraïns’koï literatury (History of Ukrainian Literature) are valuable in Ukrainian oral folklore studies. His daughter, Kateryna Hrushevska, published a two-volume collection of the duma genre. Another musicologist of note was Klyment Kvitka, whose publications are numerous. His collection Ukraïns’ki narodni melodiï (Ukrainian Folk Melodies, 1922), containing over 700 melodies of various genres of Ukrainian folk songs, is still an important source for Ukrainian musicologists. Of the prose collections published in this period, only Mykola Levchenko’s Kazky ta opovidannia z Podillia v zapysakh 1850–1860kh rr. (Folk Tales and Stories from Podilia Transcribed in the 1850s and 1860s, 1928), containing collections made by Andrii Dyminsky and Stepan Rudansky, is of any importance. The leading ethnographic journal was Etnohrafichnyi visnyk (1925–32), and the most complete bibliography up to 1916 was published by Oleksander Yu. Andriievsky (1930).

The Lemko region occupies the lowest part of the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains and has a series of mountain passes along the Torysa River and Poprad River—Tylych Pass (688 m), Duklia Pass (502 m), and Lupkiv Pass and facilitate communications between Galician and Transcarpathian Lemkos. The northern border with the Poles runs along the first mountain ridges, which closed off the Ukrainian ethnic territory from the low foothills populated densely by the Poles (south of the Ptaszkowa–Szymbark–Cieklin–Żmigród–Dukla–Rymanów line).

Toward the east the Ukrainian-Polish border descends from the highlands and runs across the foothills which is an ethnically mixed zone. The southern, Slovak limit of the Lemko region has many ethnic islands and peninsulas: expanded far north along the wide Torysa River, Toplia River, Ondava River and Laborets River, whereas the Lemkos generally inhabited the mountains. The eastern border with other Ukrainian ethnic groups consists of a wide Lemko–Boiko transitional belt from the Oslava River to the Solynka River.

During the Nazi occupation, the entire Country of Ukraine was cut off Militaristically and 1 million Ukraine people starved to death, including many of the Lemko people.The number of Lemkos in Galicia in 1939 was estimated at (depending on whether or not the transitional groups were included) 140,000 to 200,000, and in the Presov Region around 100,000 to 140,000.


Most of Ukraine, Poland and Slovak systems of esoteric and magic were born from the Indigenous Lemko and Hustul earlier traditions. A set system of rituals and invocations having a mysterious mystical power of “a natural relationship with mother earth” – and not to influence physical phenomena or natural events as later pagans through witchcraft did.

Shamanic pre-pagan principles are based not on power, but personal empowerment of the health of women in power circles, with direct relationship to the animals, birds, and nature herself. Late magical practices of the pagans can be traced into the past of witchcraft. They can be classified by their social function into love, medical, preventative, productive, and meteorological, or by their psychological mechanism into contact (touching an object), imitative (similarity or mimicry), and sympathetic (substitution of part for the whole).

Magic played an important role, particularly in the peasant culures of pagans. Not a step could be taken without it and it was used widely in medicine of shamans who dreamed in prior pagan eras. Pagan era Witches like most witches of earth after the 12th and 13th centuries, used magic as prayer, incantations, spells and charms, often combined with rational practices, employing natural flower medicines and counsel, which were very positive.

Water and Fire elements were held in the highest esteem by  Indigenous Ukrainian sorcerers (shamans) as this was part of the matriarchal lineage of the bird and serpent cultures of shamanism.  Magic was also an important part of calendar folk rituals tied to shamanic cultures of hunting and nomadic regional living. Later in the earliest of the pagan cultures, it was tied to farming (sowing, harvesting rituals and family life (birth, wedding, and death.

The egg phenomena came later when there was no outlet for true shamanic magic anymore of women’s lunar rituals and the egg was a good symbol for that fertility of the world egg, which have been in many older indigenous countries. It represented in the shamanic cultures, the womb medicines of woman, the incubation of her creativity, her  dreams and visions and the life containment of her reality, teachings and relationship with the earth. Later the egg represented in pagan cultures began to express the fertility of child birth and magic and in its last forms of expression of what we have today, was the coming of the Christian fathers and their birth of Christ.

The art of Pysanky Egg in the 19th century began to express unconscious connects to the pagan and shamanic past, but church approved, now its a great art form of all of it wrapped into one egg. The rituals of wetting with water and leaping over a fire are the connection to the two seasons of the year (water: autumn and winter solstice) and the second half of the year (fire: spring and summer solstice). The rituals of the fur coats were all symbolic rituals of shamanic connections of animism (shape shifting), the oldest ritual symbolism of the circle of woman.

More modern and in late pagan peasant times, these were associated with maiden and her fertility (abundance, wealth).

The most common was what I term Confusion Magic was when Christianity and Pagan cultures of the Slavic people merged, and the benevolent magic turned malevolent because of the changing of the times and the dominance of the stigma onto paganism. Most teachings of any magic or shamanism of any peoples were downplayed and then lost by the 15th century. But Slavic people like African people tended to just merge the two.

In the Middle Ages white magic, which invoked the saints and angels, and black magic, which turned to ‘unclean spirits’ such as demons, were practiced widely in Ukraine. The alleged practitioners of black magic were often women who had authority of the old ways of community for healing the sick and what remained of the shamanic culture. But they were tried by the community and the courts, but there were no witch hunts comparable to those known in Western Europe and the Americas.

Weaving, Weavers and Embroiderers ткацтво; tkatstvo

Weaving has been practiced in Ukraine for many centuries. Using flax, hemp, or woolen thread, weavers have produced various articles of folk dress, towels (see Rushnyk), kilims, blankets, tablecloths, sheets, and covers. The colors, ornamentation, and even the techniques of weaving varied from region to region. By the 14th century weaving had developed into a cottage industry. Weavers’ guilds modeled on Western European examples were founded in Sambir (1376), Lviv, and elsewhere in Galicia.

They tried to improve weaving techniques and the quality of the products. Later, artistic textiles and kilims were manufactured by small enterprises established by magnates in Brody (1641), Lviv, NemyrivZalishchykyKorsunKorets, Kyiv, and Horokhiv. In 17th-century Left-Bank Ukraine the Cossack starshyna established similar enterprises to make decorative furnishings on order for the nobility and churches, using imported silk and gold thread. Eventually such thread was manufactured in Ukraine.

Eastern Lemko Embroidery via

Weaving flourished from the mid-17th to the mid-19th century and sometimes people were imported weavers from Turkey, Armenia, and Persia which meant the Oriental designs became popular in Ukraine. In the 17th century Emmanuel of Corfu (Korfynsky) established a factory for luxurious silk and gilded textiles in Lviv, Ukraine. Many weavers were trained there, and they disseminated their craft throughout Ukraine. From the 1650s on the development of weaving as a cottage textile industry intensified in Ukraine. The town of Krolevets became one of the largest centers of artistic folk weaving.

Ukrainian textiles were popular abroad, where they were called ‘Ruthenian textiles’ by foreign merchants. In the mid-19th century commercial weaving began declining. To reverse the trend and to improve the technology and the artistic level of weaving, various zemstvos created weaving schools (eg, in Dihtiari and Shylovychi, in Chernihiv gubernia) and weaving departments in technical-industrial schools.

In late-19th-century Austrian-ruled Galicia renewed interest in folk-weaving techniques and designs prompted the opening of weaving schools and kilim-weaving shops in villages such as Vikno, Kosiv, and Hlyniany. To promote the merits of Galician folk weaving, exhibits of their wares were included in industrial and agricultural expositions. There they won awards and attained a reputation as far abroad as North America.

Eastern Lemko Traditional beading embroidery via

In early Soviet Ukraine, efforts were made to revive handicraft and commercial artistic weaving. The School of Ukrainian Folk Masters was set up in Kyiv in 1920 and then reorganized into the Kyiv State School of Applied Art. It gathered together many noted folk artisans, who passed on their skills and knowledge to their apprentices. Since the 1930s the main centers of artistic weaving in Soviet Ukraine have been Bohuslav and Pereiaslav-Khmelnytskyi in Kyiv oblast, Krolevets in Sumy oblast, Dihtiari in Chernihiv oblast, and Reshetylivka and Velyki Sorochyntsi in Poltava oblast. After the Second World War weaving artels were organized in those centers and in Galicia (particularly Lviv, Kosiv, and Yavoriv), Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia, where artistic commercial and domestic weaving has continued developing.

Today weavers are trained at tekhnikums of folk handicrafts; designers are educated at schools of applied art in Lviv, Vyzhnytsia, and Krolevets or at departments of artistic textiles at institutes of decorative and applied art in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Lviv. Mass-produced woven ornamental articles are made at the Kherson (see Kherson Cotton Textile Manufacturing Complex), Donetsk, and Ternopil cotton-manufacturing complexes, the Kyiv (see Kyiv Silk Manufacturing Complex), Darnytsia, and Lutsk silk-manufacturing complexes, and the Kyianka Kerchief Factory in Kyiv. (See also Kilim weaving and Textile industry.)

There is much disagreement concerning the early history of the Prešov region and of the Ukrainians(Ruthenians) living south of the Carpathian Mountains. Archeological evidence suggests that the region was already inhabited during the late Stone Age. From the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD a series of peoples—Celts, Dacians, GothsHuns, and Avars—passed through, settling there briefly and leaving behind remnants of their way of life.

Linguistic and archeological evidence indicates that by the 6th or 7th century AD the region’s inhabitants were Slavs, although there is no consensus on whether they were West Slavs (‘ancestors’ of the Slovaks) or East Slavs (White Croatians, ‘ancestors’ of the Ruthenians [Ukrainians]). It seems that the first permanent settlers in the Prešov region arrived from north of the Carpathian Mountains sometime between the 6th and 11th centuries, which date would suggest that they were East Slavs.

Slovak scholars contend, however, that there was a continuous settlement of West Slavs from the 7th century, and that the ancestors of the Ukrainian-Ruthenians did not arrive in the area until their migration from Galicia beginning in the 14th century (a view also held by Hungarian scholars). It has also been debated whether the Prešov region received Christianity in the Byzantine form from the Bulgarian Empire in the 9th century or from Kyivan Rus’ in the 11th century. In the Prešov region, for which there are documents beginning only in the 14th century, were initially under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox bishop of Peremyshl and then (after the 15th century) the bishop of Mukachevo.

Throughout its early history the Prešov region was a sparsely settled border area between the Hungarian Kingdom to the south and the Rus’ Halych principality to the north. In the 11th and 12th centuries the Hungarian kings pushed northward toward the crest of the Carpathians and even beyond, into parts of Galicia, where they ruled intermittently until the end of the 14th century. To ensure their control of that northern border region the Hungarian kings granted, during the 14th century, large tracts of land to princes (mostly from southern Italy and therefore related to Hungary’s new ruling House of Anjou), such as the Drugeth family in Zemplin county (see Zemplén Komitat) and the Perényi family in Šariš county. Thus from the 12th century until 1918 the Prešov region was to remain within the political and socioeconomic framework of the Hungarian Kingdom.


The southern Lemko region belonged to Kyiv’s sphere of influence from the mid-10th century to the 1020s, when it came under the rule of Hungary. The eastern part of the northern Lemko region, extending to the Wisłoka River, belonged to Kyivan Rus’, and then the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. After Casimir III occupied the eastern part of the Lemko region in the 1340s, the entire Lemko region came under the rule of Poland until 1772. The eastern part formed the so-called Sianikland, which was part of Rus’ voivodeship; the western part was integrated into Krakow voivodeship.

From the mid-14th century three colonization waves penetrated the Lemko region: Slovak-German colonists from the southwest, who settled in Transcarpathia; German-Polish colonists from the northwest; and Ukrainians, with Wallachian herdsmen, who settled in the east. Colonization ended in the 16th century, although some new settlements sprang up in the 17th century. By the end of the 16th century the contemporary Lemko dialects had been formed, and the dialects’ boundaries, which with minor changes lasted until 1946, had been established. In spite of political divisions, Galician and Transcarpathian Lemkos maintained close ties and rituals.

Animals were bought in the spring in the Boiko region and Hutsul region and then sold in the fall in neighboring towns. After the servitude were abolished and grazing in the forests were restricted, animal husbandry declined, and dairy farming and crop growing (oats, potatoes, flax, and, in the northern Sianikregion, rye and wheat) expanded. Occupations included lumbering and Arts & Traditional Crafts (cottage industry) such as weaving, textiles, embroidery and woodworking.  The Lemkos also found work and markets for their dairy products, berries and mushrooms at spas and health resorts in Shchavnytsia, Krynytsia (Krynica), Zhegestiv, Vysova, Iwonicz, and Rymanów.

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