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November 20, 2019

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October 19, 2019



Tracing Occult Pasts: Language and Our Understanding of
Pre-Christian Pagan Practices

Dr. Michelle Rubinova Spotleva, PhD

First Published October, 2019

Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies - Harvard Press




Through recent restoration and translation methodology, Linguists and Philologists have begun to uncover more social context on long-obscured pagan and occult practices in Eastern and Mainland Europe. 




The beauty of language is that it’s a living thing. 


All things that live must by necessity, change. The written language fools us into thinking that words and meaning are permanent, but without the proper context and history, sometimes those very meanings are lost to us. 


One such vanishing word exists in the English language.
It is the world ‘Familiar.’


Only naturalized into human tongue in the 12th Century, by the 16th Century, English-speaking Christian converts rejected the root of the Pagan-Germanic compound “Blood Companion.”  Thought to connote pagan ritual sacrifice, speakers of English kept only the “companion” suffix. 


It is easy to see the grave error made here by witch hunters during  17th century Witch Hysteria--many had taken to believing The Blessed communed spiritually with animal ‘companions’ to complete rituals. 


This understanding is incorrect. While spiritually sensitive and grounding, they do not possess enough gates in the body to channel an appropriate amount of energy for The Blessed to commune.
Simply put: Witch hunters in the 17th century had looked for cats and toads, when they should have looked for people. 


The “blood” in “Blood Companion” did not refer only to the blood itself––but any vital fluid that could be given as payment to catalyze a spiritually binding contract.  By ritual, a familiar presented themselves to the blessed. Most familiars are acquired by explicit contract. 


Others, entirely by accident. 




My name is Konstantine, but my mother calls me Kostya for short.

I’ve always liked that, because it sounds like the Russian word for bone. It’s a name that’s especially meaningful now, since on my bones––embedded into every inch, down to my phalanges--is a tiny Cyrillic character. They tell the story of the night I lost my freedom.


 I am what you would call a ‘companion.’ I carry an enscripted contract to serve my master, a Koldunya. That’s what you would call a witch here in America, I suppose. The translation doesn’t quite fit. But I guess they rarely do, so much lost. 


My Master's name is Michelle Rubinova Spotleva. She goes by 'Doctor' now, writing peer-reviewed articles and schmoozing with investors, but I still remember her in braces and glasses, afraid of the world.

Back then, Michelle had been the first person to be my friend. With all the kids she could have picked on our block in suburban West Jersey, she picked me––the boy with no father and the most broken English you’d ever seen in your life. An immigrant from a town in Russia that no one had ever heard of, so poor that it was all my mother could do to keep me clothed, since I grew so fast. 


After years of eating alone at the end of a lunch table, she sidled across from me, one day, dropping all her books on the table. I stared at her, dreading having to speak in English once again, but she just sat down and opened up a packed lunch of cheese blintzes and offered it to me. 


“Nah tebeh,” she said, pushing the lunch box towards me, informal as you please. 


I leaned over and looked at the blintzes, clearly homemade and overstuffed with cheese. The familiar smell made my stomach take nostalgic cartwheels--mamma hadn’t cooked in so long, spending all her hours at work. It had been years since I’d eaten a meal from back home. 


“You’re the boy from two doors down,” she said in Russian, watching me over the thick, plastic rims of her glasses. Behind them, she was freckled and almost albino blonde in her eyebrows and eyelashes, like some sort of mousy ghost. Some of the students to the left of me turned to stare, but I wasn’t sure if it was because it was a language no one recognized, or because someone had sat down to talk to me. 

I bit into a blintz from the lunchbox, sighing when I could taste the sweetened cheese. “Yes,” I nodded, trying not to notice others listening in. 


“I’ve seen you walking to school in the mornings,” her pale eyes looked haunting in the magnification of her glasses. “Maybe we can go together? I can teach you some English so you can tell some of these kids to screw off,” she turned and smiled politely at them, and in two seconds flat, she had earned my respect. 

None of my torn clothes, bad manners and angry outbursts seemed to phase Michelle and her quietly relentless drive. And that was just it: Michelle had an incredible talent for persuasion. She knew how to finesse difficult people. Which was expected, with a lawyer and a professor for parents. Before long she was making them uncomfortably proud--politicking her way out of detentions, shoplifting, and eventually even speeding tickets.


And, as scared of the world as she was, she had no trouble getting me to face it for her first. I let her hide behind me, and she corrected my English. Part of me wondered what part of the Great American Suburban childhood we were missing, but mostly I loved that we were carving out a space that was only for us. It felt like no matter what trouble we constantly got ourselves into, the little mouse could squeeze us out of it. 


I’ll admit that the trouble was half the fun. We’d climb trees, build toy forts, and go stealing apples from the nearby farm.  Even at twelve she was scrawny, and I’d be damned if you couldn’t just pull up the corner of any gate, and watch her scurry under. She was reckless in her own way--we both were.  

Mama said that was the lot of anyone from Eastern Europe––the sons and daughters of reckless bastards. 


That’s what we were up to the night I sold my soul. 


Michelle and I were trying to scale the back fence to the town’s local Country Club when I fell ass over tea kettle, and broke my leg on private property.  When I looked down after hearing the snap, I saw the bone. Clean in two, sticking out and everything. The works. 


I don’t think I’d never actually seen Michelle cry until then. I could read by the resignation in her face that she knew that I was too big to drag back home, and she was too useless to help. Her pale face screwed up as she started to sob.


“Come on, stupid,” I said, breath tight, actively trying not to vomit from the pain, “Climb back over, and get Mama. Tell her what happened.”


“No, no, I can’t do that,” her small voice was hoarse from crying, and her freckles bright against the red of her face. “You’ll be here yourself. I don’t know how I’d find you again.”


“Mich, Myshka. Listen to me. Just run back through the woods until you hit the houses.” I brushed the blonde hair out of her face, “You will be fine.”


She looked back into the yawning mouth of the woods. The sun was down now, and we were about an hour’s hike from the road. I could see it in the trembling of her back before she said anything.  “I’m scared, Kostya.”


“Mich, please,” I grabbed her arm. 


“Maybe we can try to pop it back in, splint it up or something,” she reached down towards my leg and I slapped her hand away out of fear. I felt awful almost immediately when her eyes welled up again. 

“Michelle, you cry baby. We can’t splint it, the bone’s completely out. We don’t even know what we’re doing. You have to go.” 


She looked down at my leg, the blood and sap, and I could see her get nauseous, even in the growing dark. Her lips were closed, but I could see them trying to make words. Finally, she stood up, her legs shaking. 


I knew I was starting to get woozy, because from my angle on the ground, with Michelle framed against the forest, she started to look impossibly small. 


“I think I may be able to assist at a time like this,” a voice resonated from the woods around them, smart and exacting words spoken in a Russian so old, it sounded like scripture. There was a tickle at the back of my head. 


“Who’s there?” Myshka answered, also in Russian. It was the first time I’d recognized how American the words sounded in her mouth. It didn’t sound like the Russian from back home at all. 

“The first chill of winter, my sweet.” 


The humid air around us became bone dry, and gut-lurchingly silent.  Not a single frog, insect or animal could cut through t