Setting of BEAST takes place between XIII-XVI century, in and around the Carpathian Mountains.
Highlands of Carphatia Ruthenia for the few previous ages were borderlines between two warring powers - The Kingdom of Hungary and the Kievan Rus. Now, in these times of chaos and uncertainty, as old dominions crumble and decline, pretenders rise to power; new ideas thrive boldly, unbounded by the ancient doctrines.
Accompanying turmoil breeds violence to the point where demons of fear, hunger and desperation rise and consume the souls of lesser men, forcing them not to live, but simply to survive at any cost.
Carpathia-Ruthenia was settled since the Bronze Age. Most notable waves of settlers started appearing a couple of hundred years BC - Greeks, Celts, Scythians, Sarmatians, Slavs and eventually Hungarians.
In X and XI century the area was a borderland between the Kingdom of Hungary to the south and the Kievan Rus' Principality of Halych to the north.
Between XIII and XIV centuries Hungary collapses as a central power. As a result, a number of semi-independent regional domains rise to power.
From 1526, the region was divided between Habsburg Monarchy and the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom. Beginning in 1570, the region was divided between the Habsburg Monarchy and Principality of Transylvania under Ottoman suzerainty.
The Unions of Brest-Lytovsk (1595) and of Ungvár (Uzhorod) (1646) were instituted, causing the Byzantine Orthodox Churches of Carpathian and Transcarpathian Rus' to come under the jurisdiction of Rome establishing "Unia", or Eastern Catholic churches in the region, the Ruthenian Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
Rusyns sometimes referred to as Rusnaks, Carpatho-Ruthenians or Carpatho-Russians, are an East Slavic people speaking the Rusyn language. They are descendants of an East Slavic population that inhabited regions of the Eastern Carpathians since the Early Middle Ages. Together with other East Slavs settled around Carpathian Mountains they were often labeled as Ruthenians or more specific designation Carpathian Ruthenians. Sub-group designations are Dolinyans, Boykos, Hutsuls and Lemkos. Unlike their neighbors to the East, who adopted the use of the ethnonym Ukrainians in the beginnings of the 20th century, Rusyns kept and preserved their original name. Residing in Northeastern regions of the Carpathian Mountains, Rusyns are sometimes associated with other Slavic people in the region, like the Slovakian highlander community of Gorals (literally, "Highlanders").
Carpathian Ruthenia or Rusynia is a historical border region covering south-western parts of today's Ukraine, north-eastern regions of Slovakia, and south-eastern regions of Poland. Officially in the Ukraine the subgroups of Carpatho-Rusyns are called Verkhovyntsi (literal meaning - "Highlanders").
Out of the estimated 1.5 million Rusyns, only around 90,000 people have been officially identified as such. They are usually considered a sub-group of Ukrainian people, only in some countries they are officially recognized as an ethnic minority.
The region of the Ukrainian Carpathians (including Zakarpattia and Prykarpattia) have since the Early Middle Ages been inhabited by the tribes of White Croats. There are different theories to explain Rusyn origins. Most popular states that the origin of the present-day Carpatho-Rusyns is complex and not exclusively related to the Kievan Rus'. The ancestors were early Slavs whose settlement in the Danubian Basin was forced by the Huns and Pannonian Avars somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries, the White Croats living on both sides of the Carpathians, the Rusyns of Galicia and Podolia, and Vlachian shepherds of Transylvania.
In Ukrainian encyclopedias and dictionaries, and the Great Russian Encyclopedia, the Rusyns are generally considered to be the descendants of the White Croats.
The Carpatho-Rusyns were mostly farmers, livestock herders - usually raising sheep, and foresters. The mountainous landscape of Carpathian Rus' doesn't allow for high scale agricultural production. As a result, the Carpatho-Rusyns were usually poor and were often forced to survive by emigrating permanently or temporarily for work.
Many of the modern customs and stories in Eastern Europe can be traced back to these first settlers. Some are pretty common, others are unique depending on region and heritage. Since different tribes lived side by side, it was common that traditions and legends mixed and evolved. Most customs reference to the human condition and the crucial events of one’s life.
The first thing after a child was born was to confirm that the child was in perfect health. Defects were corrected, if possible. Next, the child was "blessed" with holy water and tightly wrapped in linens. It was believed that as it was not yet used to being “free”, the newborn could accidentally harm itself. If the child was born sick or with any defects it was believed that the mother must have seen something terrifying or shocking while pregnant. If the child was born with red birthmarks the mother saw a fire and was frightened by it. A common belief was that if a mother saw someone blind or lame shortly before giving birth, the newborn would also develop such a condition later in his life.
If the newborn was healthy than arrangements were made to have it baptized. If the newborn was sick or weak, one of the women helping with birth would baptize the child in lieu of a priest and the customary baptism performed by a man of the cloth was conducted when the child got stronger.
Before leaving the house, the father used to say a prayer over the child for it to return home safely. After the rites performed in the church were conducted and the child was brought home it was placed on the doorstep to the house behind closed doors. Inside all the woman stood up and the eldest said through the door to the baptized child - "You left this house a devil, now that you are baptized enter our home as an angel and may your life be long and healthy so that you may serve God."
According to custom a potential groom was supposed to give his future bride a small gift to show that she belonged to him. These tokens varied depending on the wealth and social standing of the future groom. Often it was only a piece of ribbon for his bride’s hair but it was not uncommon to gift jewelry or a new piece of clothing.
Before the young bride was married, her mother and other female relatives helped her dress and style her hair. It was forbidden for the groom or any of his male relatives to see the bride on the day of marriage before she arrived at the church for the rites. Many times before the bride left for the church her mother would stand in front of the kneeling bride for a prayer asking that the bride’s new life would be peaceful and happy.
In some families, beautiful pysanka was gifted to both pairs of parents. As both families lost someone this gift was supposed to make up for their losses. Another common custom was the bridal dance in which the bride was placed in the middle of a circle and the groom was supposed to break through the dancers and get back his bride. This customary dance is present in most of the Slavic cultures.
Death was accompanied by many customs and traditions for the Rusyn people, more common of which are present even in this modern age.
When someone died in the house, the first custom was to open all the windows allowing the soul to leave the home on its way to the next life.
It was common to cover any mirrors in the home.
The family would pray over the deceased as they bound the jaw with linen preventing any evil spirits from entering the body and taking it over to live in the mortal world.
While the body was prepared the priest was called to offer prayers and rites. Priest entering home was greeted by the family holding lit candles and led straight to the deceased.
Sometimes the body was placed into the coffin with items of particular favor to the deceased - a favorite prayer book, a musical instrument, a favorite piece of jewelry or clothing, etc. It was important for the very religious to place an icon of the resurrection in the hands of the deceased. This way God would know about the deceased’s hope in the resurrection.
For the 40 days after the death, nothing in the home belonging to the deceased could be touched. As it was believed that the soul of the deceased was still among the living visiting the places and people he or she loved in their life, it was a custom not to speak ill about the newly departed out of fear that the angry soul would bring hardships and bad luck for the family in revenge.
The Ruthenian custom of Christmas Eve Holy Supper, also called Velija, varied from region to region and often even from village to village - what was considered essential in one place, could be regarded as a minor addition in another. It was not uncommon to discuss these differences during the celebrations, over time leading to exchange and incorporation of different customs making it near impossible to describe a unified canon of traditions.
Centuries ago most foods were homemade and cooked ahead of time. Since many homes had only one room that was heated, the foods were stored in the parlor or an enclosed porch for a couple of days before the celebrations. Common foods included nut, poppy and lekvar cakes (called Kolachi), various soups and stews in pots, homemade Piroghi, (little doughy pockets usually filled with meats), Holupki (cabbage rolls), Pagach (bread dough with sauerkraut) and Bobalki (small balls of bread dough with poppy seeds).
Preparations of the food was left in the care of the wife of the family or divided between older women of the household if the wife was not present. The cooking took some time during which the younger generations learned from the older by watching and helping prepare the dishes.
On Christmas Eve day the family gathered at dusk to set out and celebrate the feast. Many times the eldest male relative would stand and lead prayers while all others knelt on the floor. Sometimes patches of straw were placed under or on the table as a reminder of the humble birth of God. Usually, a simple "Our Father" was recited, but it was not uncommon to include more elaborate prayers such as church hymns.
The dishes on the tables varied but it was the custom to serve twelve to honor the twelve apostles. Before eating began a bowl of peeled garlic and honey was offered to each guest. The housewife would take a chunk of the garlic and inscribe a cross upon the forehead of every guest. The person would taste the piece of garlic dipped in honey to remind themselves that life was both sweet and bitter.
During the feast, all had to try each dish. The most common foods were mushroom, beet (borsch) and cabbage soups, piroghi, holupki, fried or baked fish, vegetables, fresh bread with various other condiments such as pickled herring and mushrooms, homemade pickles, relish.
This entire meal was totally lacking any meat product due to the subscription to the religious requirement of that day.
For the duration of the meal, a single candle burned in the middle of the table. When everyone was finished eating the eldest child blew out this candle. It was considered a good omen if the smoke rose upwards, meaning that everyone gathered will be well and everyone would be together for the next Velija.
If the smoke flickered and changed direction towards the main door it was considered a sign that someone in the room will not participate in the next year gathering as he or she will most likely die sometime during the year.
Many younger members of the family were scared into good behavior by this custom and took the omen quite seriously.
One place at the table was always left vacant with a full set in front of the unexpected stranger that might knock on the doors.
Tradition dictated that no one could be turned away on Christmas Eve and should be invited to partake in the feast with family and other guests.
After the meal, most of the guests sat and talked, sang carols and enjoyed each other’s company until came the time to attend religious services.
After midnight the people were no longer obliged to fast and could partake in late dinner including cold hams, kielbasas (sausages), salads and a host of other meat-based foods.
It was customary for the neighbors to visit each to sing carols and extend their best wishes for the new year.
With the fast gone it was finally allowed, and pretty common, to take out bottles of liquor, with the adults celebrating long into the night, often even up to the morning.
If the weather allowed people visited each other all night long, singing, playing, talking and sharing food and drinks in celebration of the holiday and the end of a long fast.
We hope that these few facts will interest you to further explore the history of this region and you will be able to find even more historical curiosities in our game.
- Mateusz Witkowski, BEAST writer