Shipicha: A Mighty Sorcerer in Komi-Zyrian Folklore
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Submitted by: Yuri Klitsenko

Shipicha (Russian ‘sweetbrier, eglantine’; ‘a kind of sedge, carex’; ‘thorn’) – a Zyrian folklore hero, mighty sorcerer.

Shipicha lived near the mouth of the river Sysola, afterwards city Ust’-Sysol’sk (modern Syktyvkar) has sprung up in this place. According to one of the versions, during all his life he was fighting against the Novgorod troops who robbed the local people. According to another version, Shipicha was a Russian. When Shipicha was a young man, he together with his friends travelled about Russia, robbing rich people. Getting old he took all his treasure and hid himself in the Komi region. According to this version, Shipicha just defended his life and the robbed treasure from his former companions.

Like other mighty sorcerers, Shipicha could rule the natural elements. Wind obeyed him. This sorcerer was able to travel under water, moving hundreds kilometres. Diving into a well Shipicha came to a river bank at a considerable distance from it. In the house of Shipicha there was always a vat or tub full of water. When enemies attacked his home he dived into this tub and disappeared. In other cases, knowing that a boat with robbers was approaching his home Shipicha sat down in the tub and the robbers’ boat sank into water as deeply as he sank in the tub. Rivers could even change their river-beds by his order. Forest spirits also submitted to him, they drove any animals into his traps. The description of his death (in very different interpretations) is the base of the subject in the legend about Shipicha.

Russian robbers attack the house of Shipicha. He comes to the tub, but it is empty, because his perfidious servants (who envied him for his might) have not filled it intentionally. The enemies seize Shipicha and torture him for a long time, but he does not die until being tired of the torments he advises them to cut his belt.

After visiting a paramour Shipicha is coming home. His spirits-helpers bring the news that Novgorod people who are approaching his home are going to attack him in the morning. The sorcerer orders his servants to fill the tub with water in order to restore his power decreased after visiting his loved woman and to sink the boat of his enemies. But in the morning he sees that the tub is empty. The Novgorod people seize him and try to kill him in sight of his daughters during two days. At last, seeing the torments of their father and wishing to stop them, the daughters advise to cut his belt. Former friends-robbers of Shipicha attacks the house of this sorcerer. He comes to the tub, but his daughters have filled it just half, and Shipicha could not escape. Then Shipicha runs to the river Sysola in order to dive into it but stumbles over a besom, falls down and the enemies kill him.

After visiting a paramour for three days Shipicha poured water in a cup to make a cleaning sacrifice and to restore his power, but in this time he was attacked by Novgorod people. Shipicha pronounced charms, water flowed from the cup and flooded the enemies, at first – up to their knees, then – up to their breasts, and at last – up to their necks, but Shipicha had no power to continue it. The Novgorod people slashed him with sabres, but could kill him just after they cut his belt, on his advice.

One day enemies attacked Shipicha while he forgot to cast a spell over his besom and buttocks. Knowing it the robbers set fire to the besom and after that set fire to the house of Shipicha with the help of this besom. Then they killed Shipicha thrusting a knife into his buttock.

Shipicha lived for a long time and before the death he ordered his servants to dig a pit. He and all his family came down into this pit and felled the pole which supported the roof over the pit (the contamination with the subject of the legends about chud’ people who have buried themselves).

According to some legends, afterwards the Holy Trinity (Troitski) cathedral has been built on the grave of Shipicha on the bank of the river Sysola. It is believed that some day the river which continually undermines the bank shall destroy the cathedral. Then Shipicha shall rise from the dead and all the Zyrian people will have a happy life.

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

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