No. XXVIII (1997)

Apocryphal Prayers and Apotropaisms among Southern Slavs

Ljubinko Radenković
Institute for Balkan Studies, Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Published 01.12.1997


  • Church Slavonic texts,
  • apocryphal prayers,
  • apotropaism,
  • South Slavs,
  • folk traditions

How to Cite

Radenković, L. (1997). Apocryphal Prayers and Apotropaisms among Southern Slavs. Balcanica - Annual of the Institute for Balkan Studies, (XXVIII), 151–163. Retrieved from


Among the manuscripts written in the church-Slavonic language, there are ones with a magical purpose - to protect from the demons and other perils. The transcription and usage of these scripts was not approved by the official church authorities, who even denounced them on many occasions. Under the circumstances of a weak ecclesiastic power and insufficient theological education, however, many priests copied and used these kinds of scripts. They often included them into the ecclesiastic books for everyday usage, so called trebnici. Some of these manuscripts were adapted for travelers, written on a special paper or thin lead sheets, and then folded into rolls. It is positive that these scripts were the translations of the originals in the Greek language. The apocryphal prayers are here divided according to their purpose and the structure of the text. According to the first principle, the following groups are defined: 1) against illness; 2) against wild animals' bite; 3) for protection in public life (against the anger of authorities, for a preferable result in court trials); 4) for the protection of one's property (against pests, against thief's, against hail). According to their structure there are three types of these scripts: a) prayer; b) apotropaic formula zaklinjanje; c) incantation - basma. The paper especially deals with the ancient character of the apotropaic formula against the evil being called nežit who, according to the mythological picture, enters one's head in a form of a worm and is especially fond of biting people's teeth.


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