The Slavs had certain mythic beings, "babicas" for example, that could harm only a specific group of people at a specific point in time. Babicas therefore attacked only new-born babies and their mothers within forty days after delivery. There were however mythical beings that could bring illness to anyone anytime. Those were "milosnicas". Milosnicas could come alone or in a group and bring disease to an area. Depending on how many milosnicas participated in the attack, the intensity of the disease and the number of the people that catched it varied greatly. People believed that no one could be saved from milosnicas, because they could suddenly fall upon any man. Similarly to other demons of disease, personal names of milosnicas were never mentioned and were consequently forgotten. However, those names were known to people in the past. People believed that mentioning the name of a god or a demon was the same as summoning them. Logically, nobody had any intention of deliberately summoning a disease demon, so the names that were never mentioned at some point sunk into oblivion. Apart from the term milosnicas, these creatures were also called milostive (another derivation from the noun milost), the good mothers or aunts. These names are not indicative of the role that milosnicas had, but the people believed that by calling the demons by such flattering names they would pacify them and prevent their attack, or at least reduce its scope. People actually wanted milosnocas to treat them like good mothers or aunts would.
Milosnicas were imagined as women dressed in black. D. Marinov says that they were invisible. People had to give them presents to prevent being tormented by them. Their number was not always the same. It varied depending on the type of the disease that would break out in certain periods: small-pox, diphtheria, etc. Each of the milosnicas carried a disease and could cause its spreading. They caused epidemics by joining forces.
There was a ritual aimed at driving milosnicas away. If the people suspected that a disease would break out, or if an epidemic had already started, they would light fires at the crossroads and on the road leading into the village. They believed that by doing that they could prevent the disease from entering the village. Food and drink were given out at certain places in the village, and some sort of festivity including songs and dance was organised. These rituals were called either The Aunts or Baba Kalja. They were performed when frequent deaths of people in the neighbouring villages made the villagers doubt that the disease would spread on their village as well.
by Nikola Milosevic
translated by Snježana Todorović
*derived from noun milost = mercy; Serbian plural form is milosnice, and could be translated as "the merciful women"; the noun is of female gender