Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


The role of textiles in the folk life in the regions of Eastern Europe known as Transylvania, Transdanubia, and Eastern Slovakia is vividly present in the rituals of human life passages. This portion of Eastern Europe, comprising a part of the former Austro-Hungarian empire, is bounded by Russia and Poland on the north, former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria on the south, Austria on the west, and the Black Sea on the east. These mountainous regions multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic, are both buffers and viaducts for ancient and recent cross-cultural influences. The continued presence of archaic historical elements of costume provides a living textile history rewarding close examination.

The connection that links the village community of the living with the village community of the dead is mysterious, magical and fraught with danger to the uninitiated. The uses of material objects in rituals specific to the occasion include textiles and costumes and are essential to guarantee two requirements. The first is that the deceased obtains safe passage from earthly life into the afterlife where he/she will remain, happy and content. The second requirement is that those left behind be secure from haunting and consequent actions of an unhappy spirit, who may return bent on mischief and destruction. It is these two requirements which keep funeral rituals in place and embedded in their social context.

Only special and significant textiles and dress are used in traditional death rituals. These include household textiles used for the vigil and the funeral, the coffin pall and the deceased's shroud, as well as the proper form of dress for the mourners. The clothing that the body is dressed in for burial is also of great importance.