In my oral presentation, I would like to discuss the role of paganism present in Painted Bird and H. O. D. Paganism, which means in Latin “rustic” or “country dweller” refers to all people, who celebrate all kinds of rituals and traditions that do not have Christian origins. The following term has a pejorative connotation, therefore it is replaced frequently by terms: polytheism, shamanism or animism. Mythology, such as Scandinavian or Greek are important examples of paganism, which determined the Pre-Christian Europeans.
In paganism, Gods had different roles to fulfill. Freya(norse) and Aphrodite(greek) or Venus(roman) were goddesses responsible for love, passion, beauty and to some extent fertility. Freya however, had many a more roles to play in Norse mythology. Apart for the functions already mentioned, she was the goddess responsible for wars, battles, death, magic and telling the future. This part of a 12th century Swedish tapestry has been interpreted to show, from left to right, the one-eyed Odin, the hammer-wielding Thor and Freyr holding up an ear of corn.
This triad corresponds closely to the trifunctional division: Odin is the patron of priests and magicians, Thor of warriors, and Freyr of fertility and farming.  Stupid Ludmila is a character invented by Jerzy Kosinski, the author of P. B. “She was a strange woman, well built and taller than other females. Her hair, seemingly never cut, cascaded down her shoulders. She had large breasts, which hung nearly to her belly and wore a faded sack in the summer, revealing her body. ” Ludmila has been raped as a young girl and since then, she had an everlasting desire for sexual relations with men.
According to the village people, she even had sexual intercourse with her dog and tried to rape the main character of P. B. In that respect, she may remind us of the Maenads, priestesses of Dionysus, who would participate in the Thiasysus, dancing and screaming in ecstasy and having orgies with anyone around. Stupid Ludmila is a sort of goddess of sex, a figure, which drives men crazy and remains a taboo among “proper society”. She lives by herself in the forest and is excluded from the rest of the peasants.
According to Lekh, “she seemed to belong to that pagan, primitive kingdom of birds and forests where everything was infinitely abundant, wild, blooming and royal in its perpetual decay, death and rebirth; illicit and clashing in the human world. ” In that respect, she has much in common with the boy, who is also regarded as an alien because of his dark complexion and “Gypsy eyes”. Lekh, the boy’s temporary guardian is passionately in love with her.
He writes songs in which she figures as “a strange colored bird flying to faraway worlds, free and quick, brighter and more beautiful than other creatures. Every time she takes off into the wild, he prepares a bird sacrifice. He does it mainly to soothe his rage, but on the other hand we can regard this as a sacrifice for recalling Ludmila. In spite of her exclusion, she remains in Lekh’s eyes a sacred part of the forest, a representative of the untamed, ancient forces present in Nature. Eventually, she is killed by the jealous wives and it seems as if they exchanged roles, since she was the one regarded as wild and unscrupulous. “The women held Ludmila down flat against the grass.
They sat on her hands and legs and began beating her with rakes, ripping her skin with their fingernails, tearing out her hair, spitting into her face. When the last woman finished kicking, Ludmila was dead. ” What is even more surprising, is that she fits the scheme of a “painted bird sacrifice”. Stupid Ludmila becomes the “sacrifice” since she lives in isolation an therefore does not exactly belong anywhere. In tribal mentality, there was no place for any exceptions since it decreased the chances of survival. Ludmila, therefore had to be exterminated (not to mention the hatred and jealousy village women felt towards her).
Kurtz’s tribal wife is also an extraordinary character in Joseph Conrad’s H. O. D, even though the author has devoted her only a few pages. Here is a fragment of H. O. D, which is a profound characterization of the lady:”She walked with measured steps, draped in striped and fringed cloths, treading the earth proudly, with a slight jingle and flash of barbarous ornaments. She had innumerable necklaces of glass beads on her neck; bizarre things, charms, gifts of witch-men, that hung about her, glittered and trembled at every step. ”
According to African culture, she could have been regarded as a beauty and even the narrator characterizes her as a fascinating and gorgeous woman. Most of her life remains a mystery, apart from her tribal marriage to Kurtz and her expressive farewell. She had a certain, ominous air present in her looks and gestures, which makes her remind us of Freya’s prophecy abilities. Kurtz’s wife draws attention by means of her exoticism, her unusual, in the eyes of an European, richness of clothes and lack of modesty in exhibiting her prosperity.
Quoting Marlow, “she must have had the value of several elephant tusks upon her” which is universally regarded as an enormous fortune. The woman represented not only her tribe, but the entire Black Continent, the Cradle of Mankind where Nature reigned over all living creatures. Like Ludmila, she belongs to the pagan, ruthless and yet beautiful in its eternal cycle of life and death world of the jungle and plays the role of a connection between civilization and nature. “The colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul. This imagery reminds me of a book written by Kapuscinski.
The book was entitled “Ebony” and Kapuscinski wrote of the jungle as if it were a living, organic creature. There was something present in the air, a mixture of flourish and decay which contributed to the never ending cycle of life and death. One animal has to die in order for another to live. Only the fittest survive-says the law of the jungle. Even so, eventually the fittest are replaced by even stronger ones and so it goes on in a circle. To some extent, the law of the jungle has similar aspects when compared to the Fathom, a crucial motive in Greek tragedy.
This casts a different light upon tribal woman and places her in the role of a representative of Greek tragedy. At a certain moment, she holds her arms in an act of despair. This may seem ambiguous, since she might be casting a spell or curse upon Kurtz. On the other hand, she may symbolize Cassandra who was confined to live with an awareness of the tragic future of her companions and yet was never believed. The African woman might have known Kurtz’s fate, which was why she could not bear her helplessness and casts a shadow upon the steamboat . Her face had the tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, half shaped resolve. Pain and resolve are motives present in both female characters I have chosen to analyze. In order to continue the endless coil of birth and rebirth, they had to sacrifice their selves. Ludmila had to unwillingly pay it with her life, while the African woman by forsaking the man for whom she felt unutterable passion(that’s at least what I presume. Would she have any other reasons to despair so much? ).
Taking everything into account, Ludmila and the African woman appear to have many features in common and yet seem to be connected with Freya, the primary Norse goddess I have mentioned at the beginning of my presentation. Freya, as we remember was responsible for fertility, love and passion, which are attributes close top Stupid Ludmila. However, Freya was as well the goddess of war, magic, death and prophecy which refers to Kurtz’s tribal wife. It seems that both literary characters play complementary roles determined by the 3rd function of pagan gods and wild nature they represent.