Supernatural Beings and 'Song and Dance': Celtic and Slavic Exemplars

Dean Miller
University of Rochester


The specifically human “cultural” activities of song and dance are often extended or attributed to the supernatural world that abuts on the human, or intervenes in its activities.  Celtic supernatural beings described in folktale (Scottish elves, witches or ‘selkies.’ Irish síth, Breton korrigan, Cornish Spriggans and so on) may use song (and less often, dance) in various tactical ways and modes:  to decorate their own ‘parallel’ (but Other) cultural realm, to celebrate and show the superior Otherness of this realm, to lure humans into their power (often breaking the boundaries of ‘human’ time and space in the process) or for other reasons.  Eastern and South Slavic supernatural beings (Russian rusalka, Serbian vile and others) show some similar characteristics, though the vila herself has variant forms (which can be related to the Dumézilian fonctions) – and some shamanistic modes seem possible here.  In the end, in both contexts supernatural beings are described as separated from humankind – but then ‘song and dance’ brings them back into the human realm again.  Their acts and intentions may be benignant or malignant, but what is shown is the imagined power of the Other, and we can indeed find valuable comparanda in the two Indo-European (Celtic and Slavic) cultural-linguistic areas.

Studia Celto-Slavica 6: 101–112 (2012)

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