Book 8, part 2. The Rites of Love (2006)
It was with childlike joy and inspiration that Anastasia began telling me about the Vedruss rite associated with the energy of Love:1
The activities of the Vedruss people amounted to a continuous learning cycle. It was a great and joyous school of conscious being.
All Vedruss celebrations could be described as tests of mind and skill. They all involved, one might say, reminders to the adults, as well as wise lessons to the young. But even during the days of intense harvest gathering, the Vedruss people worked with a joyous heart. Their work was imbued with meaning that went beyond material creations.
Look, Vladimir — see, it is haycutting time. A magnificent, clear day. The whole settlement, from the littlest ones to the greatest, is heading out to the meadows with the first rays of the Sun. See, there go two drays carrying a whole family Only the elder family members have stayed behind to keep the household animals company
But the guys — the young lads — are riding horseback, with only collar-bands on the steeds and long lengths of rope
in their hands. On these horses they will use these long ropes to cope with the task of dragging the stooks of hay over to the main stacks.
The stately muzhiks in the carts hold their scythes poised, blades up, while their wives and older children sit beside them with their rakes, ready to start raking up the hay the men will be cutting.
Also riding on the drays are some very small children. What for? Just for the fan of it, out of curiosity, to mingle, frolic and play, and to observe the grown-ups on this day
The people are by no means dressed in rags. See their clean white shirts, and the women wearing flowers entwined in their braids, and embroidered dresses. Why are they dressed up in their best, as if going to a celebration?
The answer, Vladimir, is that they are under no constraint to actually cut hay. They all have their own piles of hay back in their respective domains. Though naturally it does not hurt to have some community stacks in reserve.
The main thing, however — the tacit purpose behind all the general activity — is to show themselves at work in their neighbours’ eyes. To steal furtive glances at each other, and give a chance to the young guys and girls to get to know each other in a common activity That is why the young people, even from outlying communities, are so happy to turn out for the haymaking.
Now it has begun — look!
The scythemen are moving forward steadily, all in a row. Not one of them must fall behind. Their wives are raking up yesterday’s cuttings to be dried, singing as they work. The young people gather the dried hay into stooks. Those slightly older will build the haystack.
See those two guys standing on top of the haystack? One of them is eighteen, the other, twenty They are piling the hay on the stack which those six smiling girls are handing up to them.
The guys have taken off their shirts. Perspiration is streaming down their tanned skin. But they are trying to keep up with the merry girls below.
There are two guys up top, and there ought to be four girls throwing up the hay from below, but it turns out there are six of them down there, laughing and joking, trying to drown the lads in hay.
The guys’ father comes over to the haystack to get a drink of water. He has quickly sized up the whole situation. His two sons are trying to keep up with the six girls. They simply cannot afford to get done in. Besides, in the group of nimble, laughing girls below there may be two brides for his sons. After taking a drink the father calls up to his boys:
“Hey, there, boys! I don’t feel like cutting any more for now. How about I climb up there and help you? Seeing as how there are six down below instead of four.”
“Why, Father?” answered the elder son, not slacking off for a moment. “There are two of us up here stacking hay, my brother and I, and we haven’t even got warmed up yet!”
“It’s as though I’m still asleep!” added the younger, as he somehow inconspicuously wiped the perspiration from his brow.
Down below the light-headed girls took notice of his move-ments. One of them called out over the general laughter: “Watch out, don’t let the sleepyhead get wet!”
The father broke into a smile of contentment, before rejoining the row of scythemen.
The train of four steeds, which the young men were leading by the bridle, was on its way to the haystack from the farthest meadow. The last horse was led by the youngest, whose name was Radomir. He had turned eight just before the start of the summer, and was now into his ninth year. But the boy Radomir was very well developed for his age.
But it was not only his physical height that elevated him above his peers. He had a quicker grasp of knowledge than did the others, and he excelled in festive games. And here at the haymaking he swelled with pride at having been given work usually assigned to kids just a bit older. He was in no way going to lag behind his elders.
He himself was trying to bind up the stooks as quickly as possible, and the horse obeyed him. Even though he brought up the end of the ‘train’, he was still not lagging behind.
Just a little distance away, a chorus of younger children could be heard in play, over by the edge of the forest. As soon as they took notice of the train of horses dragging the stooks, they rushed over to catch a ride on them.
The kids rushed headlong to their goal, only one little girl, barely four years old, lagged behind. The others had already reached the stooks when she took a mind to try a shortcut and anxiously started running across a swampy stretch of ground. This small swamp had almost dried up, but one could still find patches of elevated ground dotted around. The dear girl jumped from hillock to hillock, very close to the horses dragging the stooks. All at once, however, trying to jump to the next patch of ground, the girl slipped and took quite a fall, scratching her knee badly on a stick and getting her dress and her face all muddied in the process. She picked herself up, but fell back at once and started screaming at the top of her lungs, smarting with annoyance at her plight, just as the last of the stooks came by and began to recede into the distance.
The stately youth Radomir heard the little girl’s cries. He brought his steed to a halt, and followed the sound of her cries to the swampy ground. Here he found a dear little girl with clothes and hands all muddied, sitting in the midst of a puddle, using her tiny fist to wipe away the tears, and bawling with all her might.
Radomir took hold of her under her arms, picked her up out of the puddle, set her down on a dry patch of ground safe from harm and asked:
“What’re you bawling for, little one? Is it that bad?”
Still crying, she tried to explain through her tears:
“I was running, running — see — I was jumping from patch to patch, trying to catch up, only I took a bad fall. All the stooks had gone, and I was lagging behind. Now all the other kids are having fan riding on the stooks, and I ended up in this puddle.”
“They haven’t all gone,” Radomir responded. “Look, I’m still here, and there’s my stook. If you can stop your bawling, I’ll give you a ride on it. Only you seem to have got so dirty all over. Now stop that screaming once and for all,” he demanded. “It’s making me deaf!”
Radomir took hold of the hem of the little girl’s dress. Finding a clean patch of dress, he put it up to her nose and commanded:
“Come on, now, blow your nose!”
Completely taken aback by this move, the little girl let out a loud “Ow!” and covered the front of her exposed lower torso with her hands. Now she blew her nose hard — one! two! — and stopped crying. Radomir let down the hem of her dress, and stared with a critical eye at the filthy and dishevelled little girl standing before him.
“You’d better take your dress off altogether,” he said.
“Shan’t!'" she declared firmly
“Take it off, I shan’t look. I’ll rinse out your dirty dress in the lake. You can sit here in the tall grass while you wait. Here, you’d best take my shirt. It will go right down to your ankles — it’ll be longer on you than your dress.”
Radomir rinsed the little girl’s dirty dress in the lake while she wrapped herself in his shirt and peeked at him through the tall grass.
As she sat there in the grass, the girl was struck by a piercing, frightening thought. She remembered once overhearing her grandfather telling her grandmother:
‘A terribly scandalous act took place in the next settlement — some good-for-nothing lifted up the hem of a maiden’s dress before marriage.”
“If he lifted up her hem, it means he’s crushed the poor dear’s life,” her grandmother had sighed.
The little girl decided that something must be crushed in her too, now that a strange lad had lifted up the hem of her dress. She examined her little arms and legs and, even though they seemed to be in working order, nothing crushed, her fear did not dissipate.
If grandfather and grandmother believed that lifting up a dress hem would crush something, then something of hers must be crushed, too.
The girl jumped up from the grass and called out to Radomir, who had been rinsing out her dress in the lake:
“You’re a dirty good-for-nothing!”
Radomir straightened up, turned toward the girl standing in the grass wearing his shirt and asked:
“What’re you carrying on about this time? I don’t know what you want.”
“I’m telling you, you’re a dirty good-for-nothing. You dared lift up the hem of a maiden’s dress before marriage. You’ve crushed everything of hers.”
Radomir looked at the girl’s mud-covered face for some time, then burst out laughing. After getting a hold of himself, he said:
“Well, you’ve heard the song but got it wrong! Sure, lifting up the hem of a maiden’s skirt before marriage is a bad thing. But in my case, I didn’t lift up the hem of a maiden’s skirt.” “Y>u did, you did! I remember, you lifted up the hem of my dress.”
“Tour dress, sure,” Radomir agreed. “But then you’re not a maiden, are you?”
“How come I’m not a maiden?” the girl asked in surprise. “’Cause all maidens have protruding breasts, but you don’t. Instead of breasts all you have are two little spots which are hardly noticeable. That means you’re not a maiden.”
“Then who am I?” the little girl asked distractedly “You’re still a little one’. Now you just sit there in the grass and don’t say a word. I haven’t the time to talk with you.” Once again he stepped into the water, finished rinsing out the dress, then wrung the water out of it and laid it out neatly on the grass to dry Then he called out to the girl:
“Come down to the water, little one. You need to get your face washed.”
She came to him obediently, and stood quietly while he washed her face.
“Now let’s go to the stook, and I’ll give you a ride.”
“Let me have my dress back first,” the girl asked, almost in a whisper.
“It’s still too wet. You can stay in my shirt for the time being. I’ll bring your dress along with me. It will have dried out by the time we get to the haystack and you can change there.” “No! Give me back my dress!” the girl insisted. “Maybe it’s wet, but I’m going to put it on anyway It can dry on me.” “Have your own way, spruce yourself up,” said Radomir, as he handed her the wet dress and headed over to his horse.
The little girl quickly put on her dress. She rushed to catch up to Radomir at the stook.
“Here I am,” she said, panting away ‘And here’s your shirt back.”
“Okay You’re my bad luck charm. All the other lads are heading back already, and here I’m stuck with you. Climb aboard!”
He helped the girl climb onto the stook. He took hold of the bridle and they started off in the direction of the haystack.
The little girl sat on the stook in her wet dress, jubilant as it whisked smoothly over the ground. She was riding the stook all alone, not in twos or threes like the other kids. She sat there all by herself. Her face was beaming with joy, as though she had suddenly been turned into a goddess. If only her girlfriends could see her now, not as part of a train, but all alone. He was carrying her all by herself.
She noticed the way Radomir led the horse by the bridle, and couldn’t take her eyes off his back. Her little heart began to beat faster. She felt a sensation of warmth permeate her whole body Naturally, she was still too young to realise what was going on: she was in love.
Oh for the love of childhood! It is the ultimate of purity — the precious gift of God. Only why does it sometimes make an early start, and perturb a little one’s heart? Why? What does it mean when it comes early like that? It turns out that there is truly great meaning in early love, something the Vedruss people well knew.
Upon arriving at the haystack, Radomir came back to the stook.
“Climb down, little one. Don’t be afraid, I’ll catch you.”
Catching the little girl in his arms, he set her down on the ground and asked:
“Whose kid are you?”
“I’m from the next settlement. My name is Liubomila. My sister and I are visiting, helping our brother,” she replied.
“Go on then, go to your sister,” Radomir admonished, walking away He did not turn back even once to look at the little girl.
She stood there, watching everything: how he untied the rope from the stook, climbed up onto a barrel from where he could leap onto his steed. Then he took off at a gallop to fetch a new hay stook.