Book 6. The Family Book (2002)
A good and attentive grandmother
Grandmother! My grandmother was a witch. Not a fairytale witch, but a real, actual white witch. Oldsters, perhaps, will remember her incredible marvels. She lived in Ukraine in the village of Kuznichi in the Gorodnia district of Chernigov Region. She was called Efrosinya, and her last name was Verkhusha. On one occasion, when I was very young, I was present at one of her miracles.
Back then I hardly understood anything about them, but now it has all become crystal clear to me. О God, what simplicity there is in the most puzzling incredible phenomena! I have an idea at least half of the population today, especially the healers, would be able to freely duplicate her results. To provide a few more details, here is what happened.
All my early childhood I spent in the Ukrainian countryside, in a small white, straw-covered hut. I loved to watch my grandmother busying herself about the stove. Once after a scuffle with one of my classmates, someone taunted: “%ur grandmother’s a witch!” Other kids started to defend my grandmother, saying, for example: “My mummy says she’s a good woman.”
On a number of occasions I saw how my grandmother treated people’s physical ills. I didn’t attach any particular significance to it at the time — after all there were many healers in different villages back then. Some had better success treating one particular disease, some another. And nobody was called a witch. But my grandmother’s abilities did not fall under the usual healing methods.
It turned out that my grandmother, who was only semi-literate, easily cured many animals. She did this by a method that seemed at first glance incredible. She would disappear for a day along with the sick animal, and by the time she returned it would have made a full recovery, or at least a partial one, in which case she would instruct its owner on how to continue the treatment.
When I heard my classmate insulting my grandmother by calling her a ‘witch’, even though children are generally afraid of witches, I did not begin acting any worse toward my kind grandmother. On the contrary, she — or rather, her actions — only awakened a greater fascination in me.
One day the collective-farm chairman’s horse was brought to my grandmother. It was a purebred, recently bought for the chairman to travel about on his daily business. We local kids always admired this particular mare when the chairman happened to ride by The mare held her head high, and her gait was friskier and more elegant than that of all the other horses in the area. But this time she was brought to Grandmother not harnessed to a wagon and not saddled. She was being led just by the bridle, looking very downcast and moving very slowly This was a rare event for me — the chairman’s horse right in our yard! I began following the proceedings with considerable interest.
Grandmother walked up to the mare and began stroking her, first from one side on her muzzle, and then around the ear, all the while quietly whispering soothing words. Then she unbridled the mare (taking the metallic bit out of her mouth). Carrying a bench out into the yard, she laid out bunches of herbs on the bench, then brought the mare over to them and began offering the animal various dried herbs in turn. With some of them the horse didn’t pay any attention and turned away, while others she sniffed at and even took a small taste of them. The bunches that caught the mare’s attention, Grandmother threw into a water-filled iron pot which was standing over a coal fire, and finally dropped her night-cap into the mixture.
I heard her tell the people who had brought the horse to come the day after next, in the morning. After the people had left, I realised that Grandmother was once again getting ready to disappear somewhere together with the mare, and
I started pleading with her to take me along. Grandmother, who had always granted all my requests, did not refuse this one either, though she did stipulate one condition: I was to go to bed earlier than usual that night. I obeyed.
Grandmother awoke me at dawn. The mare was standing in front of the house; she was covered with a small piece of canvas. After washing my face with the mixture from the iron pot, Grandmother gave me a small bundle containing something to eat, then took hold of the rope-lead (which she had fastened to the horse’s bridle). Presently we set off along the border between the garden plots in the direction of the little forest that started just beyond. We walked very slowly along the edge of the forest. To be more specific, Grandmother walked alongside the mare and stopped each time the mare bent her head down to the grass to taste some kind of herb. Grandmother held the lead so loosely that it even slipped out of her hands whenever the mare, having spied something in the grass, jerked her head sharply to one side.
Occasionally Grandmother would still keep on leading the horse further, but after coming to a new place, she would once again give her free rein. We kept walking, either along the edge of the forest, or just a little ways in.
It was already past noon when we came to a mudhole in the middle of the field. We sat down by a haystack from the first haycutting for a little rest and a bite to eat. After snacking on milk and bread, I was tired from our long trek and felt like sleeping. On top of it all Grandmother took out of her bundle a small sheepskin coat, spread it out beside the haystack and encouraged me:
“Lie down and have a rest, little one. I guess you must be pretty tuckered out.”
I lay down and began to fight off sleep, fearing that Grandmother might magically disappear along with the mare and without me, but sleep won out.
Upon awakening I saw Grandmother picking some sort of herbs right next to the mare’s muzzle and sticking them in her bundle. Not long afterward we started heading for home, but a different way this time. As it began to get dark, I again felt as though I needed a rest, and once more Grandmother put me down on the sheepskin coat. When she woke me up it was still dark, and we continued once more on our homeward journey
From time to time I could hear Grandmother saying something to the mare. While I don’t recall the content of her words, I clearly remember her voice intonations — soothing, tender and cheerful. When we reached home Grandmother at once began to give the horse water, adding the mixture from the iron pot to the pail.
Later I saw her give the people who came for the horse the bunches of herbs she had picked during our walk and explain something to them.
The mare, who had by this time become a little friskier, was reluctant to leave our yard. She had already been harnessed again and kept turning her head to look at Grandmother, pulling on her lead.
For several days afterward I was angry at my grandmother for not showing me how she could magically disappear like a witch, but the whole time she had just kept on feeding the horse, picking herbs and tying them into bunches.
I might have soon forgotten about the walk and the witchery, but when I told the boy who had called her a witch that my grandmother didn’t disappear anywhere, but simply fed sick animals, he — and he was just a bit older than me — cited a significant fact that neither I nor any of the village kids who were on my side could counteract:
“Why is it then that each time the chairman rides by your yard, the horse stops trotting, and goes by just at a walk — she doesn’t even obey the whip?”
I don’t remember how Grandmother explained this to me. It is only now that I understand the reason. I am confident that a lot of people today who have kind hearts and have an attentive relationship to Nature and animals could also treat creatures’ ailments the way she did.
Now I realise that she allowed the horse to try bunches of various herbs simply to determine what specific herbs the ailing animal required. She also used this to decide the route she would take the next day, counting on finding these herbs along the way, and at the same time replenishing her own stock.
She needed to make this a whole day’s trip, since each plant has a particular time when its consumption is especially beneficial. She held the lead loosely so as to allow the mare to determine for herself which herbs and how many she needed to take in. Animals can feel this in an inexplicable way Since the mixture was prepared from herbs chosen by the mare herself, Grandmother’s use of it for washing, as well as letting her night-cap soak in it, was probably to make the animal more predisposed to her.
See how simple everything turns out to be! Only it’s still not clear to me how all this was known by my semi-literate grandmother. Oh, how we have complicated this simplicity! May that not be the reason for the large-scale epizootic (‘mad-cow-disease’) that recently swept across Europe, and our modern scientific thought came up with nothing better than to destroy thousands of diseased animals!
I have cited just one example attesting to the fact that the achievements of our modern medicine are illusory Indeed, I could cite a whole lot of similar examples of the illusory achievements of our contemporary society. But why talk of specific details when we can go right off to the main thing?