St. Stephan and Oshlapej in Zyrian Folklore

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St. Stephan and Oshlapej in Zyrian Folklore

Submitted by Yuri Klitsenko

Oshlapej – literally “bear-pawed, with bear paws”, a sorcerer, hero of a Zyrian legend about St. Stephan the Permian.

According to the legend Oshlapej lived on the Lower Vychegda near village Tuglim. He had an anthropozoomorphic appearance, harelip and bear paws instead of the hands. Before the people of Tuglim were converted to Christianity he lived in a secluded den, hunted and did not offend his neighbours. But when they adopted Christianity Oshlapej became their worst enemy, he began to steal their cattle, to attack and kill people without any reason. Being despaired the Tuglim people applied to St. Stephan the Permian with the request to protect them from the blood-thirsty sorcerer.

When St. Stephan with his assistants approached to the den of Oshlapej the latter demonstrated sorcery abilities typical of the Zyrian folklore: authority over water and the ability to turn into animals. At first trying to turn the boat over Oshlapej raized huge waves on the Vychegda but failed. After that turning into a huge pike he again tried to turn over the boat, but nevertheless the boat moored to the bank. Then he turned into a huge bear and attacked St. Stephan and his companions. He demonstrated his invulnerability, and so his enemies hardly killed him. At first they wounded him after shooting a bow in a particular way. They shot stooping between legs. After that the sorcerer took his usual appearance and was killed, but only after they cut his belt on Stephan’s advice. Afterwards village Oshlapie has appeared at the place of the grave of Oshlapej.

The reminiscences of real vents are reflected in the legend – the struggle of the Stephan the Permian against pagan priests in the time of the conversion of the Zyrians to Christianity. In people’s views these priests have eventually turned to the mighty sorcerers opposing to the Christian Komis. The subject that Oshlapej was a cattle thief draws him with the image of Jurka and is probably a deep reminiscence of conflicts which formerly took place between Ancient Komi migrants who had cattle-breeding skills and the bearers of the Vanvizdino archaeological culture (4-10th cc. A.D.) who were hunters and fishermen. Since the legend is in fact toponymic, we can suppose that it formed in rather late time.


“Komi Mythology: Encyclopaedia of Uralic Mythologies” ed. by Vladimir Napolskikh, Anna-Leena Siikala, Mihaly Hoppal. Budapest: Akademiai Kiado – Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2003