Moist Mother Earth
In my very early days of studying paganism, I was rather strongly attracted to the Slavic tradition. I did a lot of research. However, I ended up moving on to other things (although I still practice a few bits of Slavic paganism, mostly having to do with Volos and Yarilo, and a few land spirits). But for all these years, I’ve kept up the page on my website with the fruits of my research, because it still seems that information on Slavic paganism is scarce. Now, I can no longer vouch for the authenticity of any of this, but I figured I should keep it somewhere for future reference, and here is as good a place as any (now that I’m trying to streamline my main website). Please remember I wrote these blurbs over a decade ago, and haven’t revised them since. So here goes:
GODS AND GODDESSES
Baba Yaga is a traditional crone goddess – portrayed not as wise and gentle, but frightening and terrible (although sometimes wise as well). She is one of the most frequent characters in Russian fairy tales, where she plays the part of a witch. She lives in a peasant hut made of bones which stands on chicken legs and spins, and is lighted by glowing skulls on posts. She travels through the air in a mortar bowl, pushing it along with the pestle or a broom. She is always very hungry. In mythology, she is sometimes represented as a snake coiled around the Waters of Life and Death.
Byelobog means “white god,” and so he appears as an old man with a long white beard, dressed in white and carrying a staff. He is a giver of light, traveling only in the daytime. He leads the lost out of dark forests, bestows wealth and fertility on all, and helps reapers in the fields. He fights with Chernobog every winter and summer solstice.
Chernobog means “black god.” He is the opposite force of Byelobog, the lord of darkness, the bringer of calamities and destruction.
Datan is one of three minor Polish gods who guard the fields, along with Lawkapatim and Tawals.
Dazhbog is the sun god, and a kind of chief god, somewhat similar to Zeus or the Dagda. He has horns and a canine head. Dazhbog travels in a chariot across the sky every day like Helios, bringing justice, prosperity and sunshine to the world. He is known as the grandfather of the Russian people. His attendants include two maidens (the morning and evening stars), seven judges (the planets), and seven messengers (the comets). In one myth, he is married to Lada, and the two secure abundance for the world.
Devana is the goddess of the hunt, who roams the Carpathian forests. Her name, as well as her identity, probably came from the Roman Diana.
Dodola is the goddess of clouds and rain. At times of drought, villagers would perform rituals to propitiate her, whcih included pouring water over a flower-bedecked girl.
Dogoda is the god of the gentle west wind.
Erisvorsh is a weather god, though more details are unavailable.
Jarovit (or Gerovit) is the god of war; his name may mean “severe lord.” He rules the springtime, looking toward the West. His sacred symbol is his shield, which was kept in his temple and brought out when a victory was needed.
Khors is another sun god, though he is probably of Persian origin.
Kolyada is the name of the god, or more accurately the personification, of winter, and the festival held in his honor. In Ukraine and Belarus, he represented winter while Perun represented summer.
Krukis is a god of blacksmiths and domestic animals.
Kupalo is a fertility god, though like Kolyada he may be more accurately described as the personification of a season, in his case summer. He also known as Kostroma, and his festival is held at Midsummer.
Lada is the goddess of spring, love and beauty. She lives in the Otherworld, called Vyri, until the spring equinox, when she emerges, bringing Spring with her. In one myth, she is married to Dazhbog. Other stories have Lado, a solar god of joy, as her partner and Lel, the god of marriage, as her son.
Marzanna is the personification of death and winter. She is portrayed as an old woman dressed in white. People sought to trick her and thereby prolong their lives.
Mokosh is an earth goddess. She rules over fertility and midwifery. She is commonly called Mati-Syra-Zemlya, or “Moist Mother Earth.” Mokosh spins flax and wool at night and shears sheep. She also spins the web of life and death. She wanders during Lent disguised as a woman, visiting houses and doing housework; at night strands of fleece are laid beside the stoves for her. She may have originally been a house spirit concerned with women’s work. Evenrually, her worship was transmuted to the modern widespread reverence for Mother Russia. Mokosh is dark, like good, black soil.She is portrayed with uplifted hands, flanked by two horsemen. Mokosh became St. Paraskeva, whose hair hangs long, loosely, and whose icon is decorated with flax and birch. Paraskeva is also known as Mother Friday. One prayer to Mokosh involves going to the fields at dawn in August with jars filled with hemp oil. Turn East and say: “Moist Mother Earth, subdue every evil and unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us nor do us any harm.” Turn West and say: “Moist Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power in your boiling pits, in your burning fires.” Turn South and say: “Moist Mother Earth, calm the winds coming from the south and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds.” Turn North and say: “Moist Mother Earth, calm the north winds and the clouds, subdue the snowstorms and the cold.” Oil is poured out after each invocation, and finally, the jar is thrown to the ground.
Mora is the god of the sea, and the father of Lada in one story.
Morena is the Slovakian death goddess.
Musail is the king of the forest spirits. His sacred tree is the rowan.
Myesyats is the moon deity. In Russia, Myesyats is a goddess. In Ukraine, he is a god, and the consort of the sun-goddess.
Pereplut is probably a goddess of fortune. She was worshipped by drinking from a horn.
Perun is the god of thunder and lightning, very similar to Thor. His name comes from the root “to strike.” He carries an ax or mace, his sacred animal is the bull, his sacred tree is the oak. He has dark hair with a long, golden beard, and is sometimes portrayed with three heads with fiery-red faces surrounded by flames. A perpetual fire was maintained in his honor; if it went out, it was rekindled by the use of a stone. Worshippers laid arms at his idol’s feet, and stuck arrows around oak trees in his honor. His idol was thrown into the Volkhv River when Christianity came to Russia. A six-petalled rose within a circle was carved on roofs to protect houses from thunder and lightning, and the symbol may have been associated with Perun. Perun became Ilya of Murom in epic tales, and St. Elijah in the church, because the saint’s chariot rolled like thunder and his arrow was lightning. Perun was also associated with St. George, since he slays a dragon (Volos). St. George is the patron of wild and domestic animals.
Porenutius is a four-faced, unarmed god; nothing else is known about him.
Porevit is a god of summer.
Praboh is the Slovakian chief god.
Proven judges wrongdoing.
Rarog is the god of whirlwinds. He appears as a hawk, a falcon or a dwarf.
Rod is the god of fertility and light. His name means “kin,” and he is linked with ancestor worship. Rod originally created the world and life itself. He is represented as being “seated in the air.” He has a wife called Rozanica (or perhaps plural wives), though this seems to be confused with the Rozhanitsy.
The Rozhanitsy are mother and daughter goddesses of fertility. Their name means “one who gives birth,” and they are involved in human births. Their feast day marks the completion of the harvest. Alternately, the Rozhanitsy are three goddesses who are the fates, or spirits of human fatality.
Ruevit, Rugievit, or Rinvit is the god of autumn. He has seven faces. He is the patron deity of Rügen island.
Stribog is the god of wind, storms and dissension. He brings the frost and cold. He is called the grandfather of the winds, and sometimes the distributor of wealth.
Svantovit is a horned god connected with the ancestor cult. He is also a god of war, and protector of fields. His idol had four heads, and held a horn filled with wine, from which the priest predicted the harvest. Svantovit also had a sacred white horse which predicted the outcome of war – if it stepped across the palings with its right foot, it was a good omen, but with its left, a bad omen. Svantovit became St. Vitus.
Svarog is the sky god, as well as a smith and the giver of fire. He is similar to Hephaestus. Svarog hammered the sun into shape and placed it in the sky. He is the founder of monogamous marriage. He has two sons. A short invocation to Svarog reads: “Sky, you see me! Sky, you hear me!”
Svarozhich is the personification of fire, and a son of Svarog. He gives life to the newborn winter sun. He is often seen as warrior, clad in armor on a horse, with a bird-shaped helmet, a bison on his breastplate, and holding a shield and a double-axe. At harvest time, he kindles a fire to dry the corn and wheat before threshing.
Triglav, or Tribog, is a god with three faces, representing the sky, earth, and underworld. His head is covered with a golden veil. A black horse was consecrated to him and used for divination. He eventually became a deity of pestilence. His worship was strongest in Pomerania.
Troian is sometimes seen as a god of night, with wax wings (in the Balkans), or a demoniacal creature. He is possibly a deification of the Roman emperor Trajan.
Uroda is a Slovakian goddess of agriculture and fields.
Varpulis is the god of storm winds.
Vesna is a goddess of spring, possibly Serbian.
Volos, also called Veles or Walgino, is the god of the underworld, a protector of flocks and cattle and a patron of trade, divination, the arts, and poetry. Oaths were sworn in his name. He is sometimes portrayed as wolf-headed, sometimes as a huge serpent who dwells in water. Cock sacrifices were made to certain waters in which he lived. He is the enemy of Perun. With Christianity, his idol was thrown into the Pocayna River, and he became the Devil, or alternately he became St. Blaise (Vlas), a shepherd. He is mentioned frequently in medieval Bohemian curses. His name is close to words for ghost and devils. He is also associated with St. Nicholas, patron of merchants, fishermen, seafarers, because he lives in water as a snake and is slain by St. George (see Perun).
Yarilo is the god of erotic sexuality, similar to Dionysus. He is young and fair, and wears a white cloak and a wild-flower crown. Yarilo leads a white horse and goes barefoot, carrying a bunch of wheat ears in his left hand, and a human skull in his right. His rites are in the springtime and at harvest, as he is a vegetation deity. His feasts were celebrated in Russia into the nineteenth century. In one story, he is the son of Dazhbog and Lada. At Lada’s command, he opens the gates of the sky and descends to earth, bringing spring, then he returns to the heavens at the end of summer. It is said: “Where he treads with his feet, there is an abundance of rye; And where he casts his eyes, ears of wheat will spring.”
Zivena is the Slovakian goddess of life.
The Zorya are Zorya Utrennyaya, goddess of dawn; Zorya Verchernyaya, warrior goddess of dusk; and Zorya Polunochnaya, the goddess of midnight. They are possibly the fates. They watch the demonic god chained to Ursa Major; when he escapes the world will end. For protection, say the following prayer to the Zorya: “O Virgin, unsheath your father’s sacred sword./Take up the breastplate of your ancestors./Take up your powerful helmet./Bring forth your steed of black./Fly to the open field,/There where the great army with countless weapons is found./O Virgin, cover me with your veil./Protect me against the power of the enemy,/Against guns and arrows, warriors and weapons,/Weapons of wood, of bone, of copper and iron and steel.
Bannik, a bathhouse spirit, who takes on the appearance of a family member. Offerings to the Bannik include soap, fir branches, and water.
Belun, Belorussian, an old man who helps reapers, gives gifts, and guides the lost, but only in daytime.
Bereginy, river bank nymphs, who steal babies and leave changelings.
Bolotnyi, a female bog spirit.
Divozenky, meaning “wild women,” live in the woods and mountains. They are good-looking beings with large, square heads, long, thick hair (ruddy or black in color), hairy bodies, and long fingers. They live in underground burrows and have households like humans. The Divozenky know nature’s secrets, and they can make themselves invisible from the use of certain plants. They are fond of music and singing; their dancing can cause storms. They used to be on friendly terms with humans, coming into their settlements to borrow household things. Those who left out some food for them were repaid in housework. Occasionally, they married human boys, and were excellent wives. They are driven away by disorderliness, and also by being called “wild women. They are dangerous to meet alone in the forest, for they will make you lose your way. They exchange their offspring for human babies; the former are then called Divous (“wild brats”) or Premien (“changelings”), and are very ugly. The Divozenky are most powerful on Midsummer Night. Similar creatures include the Divji Moz, from Slovenia, a strong, dangerous Wild Man who lives in a cave, and the Czech Jezenky, half-animals, half-women who live in caves and kidnap children.
Dola, a protective spirit, but one who may become hostile if not appeased. The Dola is a personal fate, and is with a person throughout their life. It is usually a woman, but can appear as a man, god, cat or mouse.
Domovoy, a household spirit that probably originated in ancestor worship. The Domovoy lives in each family’s home, near the oven, under the doorstep, or in the hearth, and he never leaves the house. He guards the family and its wealth by default, but he likes hard-working people the most. The Domovoy can cause poltergeist-like activity, either when he is displeased, or when he is playing. Some people leave part of each meal for the Domovoy, to placate him. To attract a Domovoy, go outside of your house wearing your best clothing and say aloud “Dedushka Dobrokhot, please come into my house and tend the flocks.” To rid yourself of a rival Domovoy, beat your walls with a broom, shouting “Grandfather Domovoy, help me chase away this intruder.” When moving, make an offering to the Domovoy and say “Domovoy! Domovoy! Don’t stay here but come with our family!” The Domovoy’s wife is called aDomawiczka. He is called Stopan in Bulgaria, Dedeks by the Czechs, and Setek by the Bohemians. Sometimes the family house spirit appears in the form of a snake.
Dragons, guardians of the aspen-wood bridge over the fiery river leading to the Other World. The hero in epic stories must defeat the dragon and rescue the kidnapped woman. He tries to decapitate the dragon, who threatens to swallow him and inflicts him with a strong desire to sleep.
Dvoroi, a yard spirit, often malicious. Offerings to the Dvoroi include shiny objects, a slice of bread, and sheep’s wool.
Eretik (heretic), this later term for the vampire comes from the belief that heretics returned from the grave as evil spirits. This was the cause of the brutality and hysteria surrounding the medieval Russian campaign against heretics. The eretik usually returns from the grave to devour people, the eretsun (a similar creature) is a living vampire created when the soul of a sorcerer possesses and revives the body of one on the brink of death. The eretica (yet another variation) usually causes one to wither by the power of her eye. The eyes of the dead, in Slavic belief, could lure one into the grave. That is why it was so important to close the eyes of the newly deceased.
Kikimora, a tiny invisible female house spirit. The Kikimora lives in the cellar or behind the stove, and like the Divozenky, she likes a clean house. At night she troubles human sleep, and any manifestation of her presence foretells trouble. She has long, flowing hair, and she never ages.
Leshy, a forest spirit who likes to trick people playfully, but can be very dangerous. He is rarely seen, but one can often hear him laughing, whistling, or singing. The Leshy, although often shaped like a man, has no eyebrows, eyelashes, or right ear, and his head is somewhat pointed. He is as tall as a tree in his native forest, but the size of grass anywhere else. He can assume other shapes, usually animals, but sometimes that of a relative. He is most closely associated with the wolf. If captured by a Leshy, a person returns mute, wild-eyed, and covered with moss. To protect against this, turn your clothing backwards or inside out, or make him laugh. Offerings to the Leshy include kasha, suet, salt, cookies and candy, which can be left on a stump or log in his forest. Hunters should leave him salted bread and their first game. To call a Leshy, cut down an aspen tree so that it falls facing East. Bend over and look through your legs saying “Leshy, Forest Lord, come to me now; not as a grey wolf, not as a black raven, not as a flaming fir tree, but as a man.” The Leshy will teach the magic arts to any whom he befriends. There is usually only one Leshy in each forest. He dies in the beginning of October, and returns in the spring. His wife is called a Lesovikha.
Ludki, Serbian little people, who lived before humans. They were pagan, didn’t like bells (similar to the Celtic fairies), and left the country at some point. There were similar creatures in Poland and Hungary.
Lugovik, a male meadow spirit.
Mora, a malevolent spirit, pan-Slavic, who takes the shape of straw, a white horse, white shadow, leather bag, white mouse, cat, or snake. The Mora sends sleep and nightmares to humans, then tries to suffocate them. She chokes people and sucks their blood, especially children.
Navky, spirits of children who died unbaptized or who drowned.
Nightingale the Brigand, a half-bird, half-human, who lives in the tree blocking the road to Kiev. He can summon a howling wind that flattens trees, and he kills mortals.
Ovinnik, a barn spirit in the form of a huge black cat.
Polevoy, a male field spirit, who is rarely seen and then only at noon. He is as black as the earth, with hair of grass, and he dresses in white. Offerings are made to him at night to ensure fertility.
Poludnitsa, a female field spirit, who appears as a tall woman or a girl dressed in white. She can be seen in the fields at noon, when the farmers are resting. Interrupting this visit is dangerous. Will-o-the-wisps are sometimes attributed to her.
Polunocnica, the lady of midnight, who lives in swamps and torments children with nightmares. She may be the third Zorya.
Poluvirica, a female forest spirit, who appears naked, wears her hair in three braids, and carries child.
Pozemne Vile, earth spirits, like gnomes, who guard treasure and help miners.
Rusalka, the spirit of a child who died unbaptized or of a virgin who drowned. Rusalki live in lakes and have long, wavy green hair. Some have fish tails like mermaids, and some can turn into fish. They manifest either as beautiful girls, dressed in robes of mist, who sing sweet songs to bewitch passersby, or as ugly and wicked women who attack humans, especially men. During Rusalki week, around Midsummer, they emerge from the water and climb into weeping willow and birch trees until night, when they dance in rings in the moonlight. Any person who dances with them must do so until he dies. After that week, the grass grows thicker wherever they walk. In the 19th century, the Rusalki were connected with the cult of the dead.
Simargl, a winged dog or griffin, possibly the firebird, who guards seeds, new shoots, and the sacred tree. His name may come from the words for family and harvest. Simargl is probably of Iranian origin.
Sirin, a bird of paradise with the face of a young girl, which comes from the Greek siren. The Sirin represents happiness and beauty. She comes down from heaven to a dying man; listening to her song, he forgets everything and dies peacefully.
Skritek, a hobgoblin and household spirit, who takes the form of a small boy. The Skritek is represented by a wooden idol with crossed arms and a crown, which is put in the corner behind the table. It is given food on Thursdays and at Christmas dinner.
Slava, the messenger bird of Perun, often a flame-colored owl. Slava points its wing toward the direction where an army should go.
Spor, the embodiment of fertility, who watches over the corn and cattle.
Sudicki, Czech demons of fortune.
Vampire, this word comes from South Slav “vampir.” The modern word is “vukodlak,” meaning wolf’s hair, though this creature is like a cross between a vampire and a werewolf. The Istrian Slavs believed that every family has a vukodlak, which battles with their kresnik (a good spirit). At midnight, vampires visit houses, and suck the blood of or have sex with sleeping people, often their relatives, who then waste away and die. If a vampire has no relatives, it pulls on the church bell, symbolizing death. A vampire can also be found at crossroads or in cemeteries seeking victims. In some areas, vampires are thought to be the souls of the dead; their physical body does not actually leave the grave. To still a vampire, place a cross of poplar wood in the grave, scatter millet grains to keep them busy counting, or maim their ankles so they can’t stand or walk. To kill a vampire, drive a hawthorn or aspen stake into its body, put a nail in its head, decapitate it, dismember it, and/or burn the body. The belief in vampires still exists in some remote areas, and among the Kashub communities in Canada.
Vodyanoy, a malevolent water spirit who likes to drown humans. He will attack anyone who swims after sunset, or on a holy day. He can appear in different shapes to trick his victims. The Vodyanoy lives alone in his body of water, and he especially likes rivers with strong currents and swamps.
Vodni Panny, sad and pale water nymphs, who dress in green, and live in underwater crystal palaces.
Vila, an young, beautiful woman with long hair, who is usually the spirit of a girl who died unbaptized. Vila are warriors, and they can shapeshift into animals. They leave fairy rings where they walk. Round cakes, ribbons, fruits, vegetables, and flowers are left for them at sacred trees, wells and fairy caves.
Werewolf, babies born with a caul, birthmark, or wolfish tufts of hair were believed to be werewolves. The caul was kept as an amulet. Herodotus said of the Slavs (here called Neuri): “There is a custom among the Neuri whereby once a year everyone changes into a wolf for several days, then returns to his original shape.”
Zaltys, the serpent coiled at the roots of the World Tree, and an enemy of Perun.
Zmei Gorynich, the Serpent of the Mountain, and ally of Baba Yaga. He is sometimes half-human, and dwells in mountain caves and or the bowels of earth. He loves to kidnap princesses.
Koliada – approx. December 21
This is the Winter Solstice festival, although it can be celebrated at any time between the solstice and the end of the year. The old folk agricultural year began at this time. This is a time of feasting, drinking and merriment, in an attempt to drive the dark away. People go from house to house in costumes, dancing and singing and asking for food and drink in return. In older times, a goat was sacrificed. Songs are sung for Lada and Perun, who are imprisoned under frost and snow. This is the most powerful time of the year for divination. Pork is traditionally eaten, along with porridge and cakes shaped like cows and goats. There are also mock funerals, accompanied by lamenting and laughter, and sometimes including a real corpse. At the solstice, the house and hearth represent the sky, the yard is the earth, and beyond the yard is the underworld. Travelers, especially those in masks, are considered to be emissaries from the underworld, and are fed and treated with respect so they will bring good luck. Because this is the longest night of the year, people must bring the sun back from the underworld by connecting the latter to the sky (the hearth). To this end, women sing special songs and dance around the hearth.
The Days of Volos – January 1-6
These days (and especially the nights) are also called the Holiday of the Wolves. This is a time to worship Volos, as he is the god of pets and cattle. People give thanks for the animals and defend them from the wolves which attack at this time of year.
Turisi – January 6
This is the day of the bull, Jar-tur, a symbol of life and fertility. People celebrate by wearing masks, parading and imitating the bull. They play games called “Turisi”. This also ends the period thought of as the New Year holiday.
St. Vlas’ Day – February 12
St. Vlas is associated with Volos.
Navii’s Day (Vjunitci) – March 1
This is the first of four days during the year dedicated to ancestor worship. It is called the Day of the Dead. People make sacrifices to their ancestors and share a feast with them. On a side note, the Russian civil calendar began in March until the fourteenth century.
Strinennia – March 9
To invite birds, and therefore the Spring, to come, people bake pastries shaped like birds. Children throw them into the air, saying “The rooks have come.” Clay images of larks are made, and their heads are smeared with honey and dressed with tinsel. They are carried around the village while songs of Spring are sung.
Maslenitsa – approx. March 21
This is the Spring Equinox festival. It celebrates Lada coming back to earth from Vyri, bringing Spring with her. There is feasting, dancing, masks, music, and contests of strength. Blini (a kind of pancake) are baked, to symbolize the sun. The sun is also celebrated with bonfires, and flaming wheels are pushed down hillsides. The house and barn are cleaned, decorated and circled with fire for purification. Eggs are decorated (see “Ukrainian Egg Designs”) and rolled on the ground to symbolically fertilize the earth. A life-sized corn doll called Maslenitsa is made, and driven around in carts. At the end of the week, it is destroyed by being torn apart or burned. Smaller dolls were made for each family, which were also destroyed and fed to the livestock. There are also rites of the dead at Maslenitsa, including offerings left for the deceased, and a funeral meal at the cemetery, accompanied by mourning and laughter.
Komoeditsi – March 24
This is the holiday of the great Bear God (Meveshii Bog), the god of honey. Sacrifices are made.
Krasnaja Gorka – the Sunday after Easter
The name of this holiday means “beautiful” or “red” hillock. A woman holds a red egg and round loaf of bread facing East and sings a Spring song. Afterward, a doll of Marzanna, the goddess of winter, is destroyed. Khorovods, or circle dances, are performed on this day. A woman mimes the actions of sowing, reaping and spinning flax, as she sings, “Turn out well, turn out well, my flax. Turn out well, my white flax.”
Radunitsa – the Second Tuesday after Easter, alternately May 1
This was originally called Nav Dien (Day of the Dead). Feasts are held in the cemeteries. Offerings of eggs, beer, vodka and other food are left for the dead. The name of the festival may derive from the god Rod.
Festival of Jarovit – sometime in April
This festival was celebrated by the Slavs on the banks of the Havola.
Goddess Karna’s Day – April 7
This is another holiday of ancestor worship. On this day, Karna, the Goddess of Crying and Wailing, is honored. Fires are started to warm the dead.
Lela’s Holiday – April 22
This is the feast day of Lela, who may be identified with Lada and Lel.
St. George’s Day – April 23
St. George is associated with Perun.
St. Nicholas’ Day – May 9
St. Nicholas is associated with Volos.
Grudie Rosnoe – May 20-30
During these ten days, volhvs make sacrifices to Rod for rain and good harvests.
Yarilo’s Day – June 4
A festival of Yarilo, celebrated with dancing and general merriment on a grand scale.
Rusalka’s Week – June 19-24
On the Thursday preceding Whitsunday, women go into the woods, singing, and pick flowers to bind into wreaths. The men cut down a birch tree, and the girls decorate it. A ritual meal of flour, milk, eggs and plenty of beer and wine is eaten. After the meal, the tree is carried into the village and put into a special house to be left alone until Sunday. The tree becomes the focus of girls’ songs and dances, then it is thrown into the river at the end of the week. On Whitsun Monday, a small shed covered with garlands is erected in an oak grove. A straw or wooden doll called Rusalka is decorated and put inside. People come bearing food and offerings. At the end, the doll is destroyed by burning or drowning. Sometimes a girl or horse replaces the doll and undergoes a mock funeral. This celebration is connected with the Rosalia, the Roman festival of roses. See “Women’s Trance Ritual.”
Kupalo – approx. June 21
This is the Summer Solstice festival. There is singing, dancing, outdoor festivities, and divination. Women go to the forest, find a birch tree, bring it to the festival, strip the lower branches, fix it in the ground, and decorate it with garlands. No men can touch it. Under it, they put a straw idol of Kupalo, dressed in women’s clothing and adorned with ribbons and necklaces. At night (called “Kupalo’s Night”), people dance in circles and jump over bonfires, sometimes in couples, carrying an effigy, and wearing garlands of flowers and girdles of holy herbs. Wheels of fire are sent down hills to represent the sun declining. On this night, the trees walk and speak to each other. On the next morning, people bathe in rivers and the “dew of Kupalo.” At sunset, they perform the funeral rites of the god, when the idol is drowned or burned. Midsummer is the time to gather herbs for magical uses (oak and pine give energy, aspen takes bad energy, thistle and juniper repel demons). The fairies are powerful on this night.
Perun’s Day – July 20
This is the festival of Perun. In old times, a bull was sacrificed to the god.
St. Paraskeva’s Festival – August 3
On this day, women would gather at St. Paraskeva’s church, where some would become possessed and then be exorcised on the site. The saint is associated with Mokosh.
Harvest Holiday (Zaziuki) – August 7
Thanks are given to Volos and Mokosh for a good harvest. The first sheaf is brought into the house and threshed. Sometimes it is blessed and mixed in with the seed. At the end of the harvest, the last sheaf is brought into the house and decorated, then placed in the entrance until October 1st, when it is fed to the cattle. A small patch of field is left uncut and called the “beard of Volos.” It is decorated with ribbons and the heads are bent toward the ground in a ritual called “the curling of the beard,” to send the spirit of the harvest back to the earth. Salt and bread are left as offerings to Volos’ beard. A handful of corn is thrown in the air to call forth the protection of the gods. Also at harvest time, a phallic doll representing Yarilo is enclosed in a coffin, and carried through the streets accompanied by lamenting women. The family shrine is decorated at this time of year.
Sproshinki – August 15
This holiday celebrates the end of haymaking. People feast and hold contests.
The Feast of Lada and Lela – September 8
Lada and Lela are honored because the work in the fields has come to an end. There is much dancing and singing. This day also marks the end of summer.
Svarog’s Holiday – September 21
This is the Autumn Equinox festival. People drink mead in honor of Svarog.
Baltic Feast of Dead – September 29 through October 28
Traditional festivities to honor the dead. October is called Walla Manes (month of Volos)
Day of the Ancients — October 26
This is the last day of ancestor worship in the year. In Belorus it is called Dziady. There is a traditional feast with food offerings for the dead.
Mokosh’s Holiday – the Friday between October 25 and November 1
This is a festival of Mother Earth. It is centered around the vegetable. October 28 is the feast of St. Paraskeva.
St. Michael’s Day – November 8
This marks the beginning of the seasonal activity of evil spirits.
St. George’s Day – November 26
St. George is associated with Perun. Wolves are considered to be particularly dangerous on this day.
St. Nicholas’ Day – December 6
St. Nicholas is associated with Volos.
DEATH AND THE AFTERLIFE
After a death, the windows and doors of a house were left open so the soul could leave.
Early Slavs cremated the dead on pyres with earthly things, then put the ashes in an urn and buried it in a cairn; direct burial was a result of foreign influences. The dead were often buried with heads to the east. The burial included articles for the soul’s journey, like food, drink, clothing and coins. In areas where it was believed that the soul must travel across a wise sea, the body was burned in boats, or buried in boat-shaped coffins.
At the graveside, profane jokes were sometimes made by masked men in Bohemia. After the funeral, a banquet was held and food left out for the dead soul. On the first night, water was left out too. Kuchiya is food for the dead and ancestors, a pudding made from barley groats and honey or wheat groats, poppy seeds and honey.
Ceremonies were held on the third, seventh, twentieth and fortieth days after the death, plus six months and a year. The rites were often performed at the grave site.
The Thrice Tenth Kingdom was one version of the afterlife; its name comes from a folktale. It may lie beyond an impenetrable forest on the other side of a fiery river, or beyond or below the sea, or above or below the earth. To get there, one must climb up hillside of iron or glass to celestial land of goodness, so one must save one’s nail clippings so that they would turn into talons after death for the climb to the other world. Other versions say the otherworld is located in the rainbow or in the Milky Way.
Nav is the name of the underworld, the realm of the dead, much like Hades. Volos and Lada were also said to reside here. Lada would return from the underworld in the spring. Ancestors were thought to dwell below earth, and cracks and holes in the earth were thought to be gates to underworld.
Spell against Demons (using tear-weed, or purple loose-strife)
you have wept much and long but gained little.
May your tears not drown the open field
nor your cries sound over the deep blue sea.
Frighten off the demons and the witches!
If they do not submit to you, then drown them in your tears!
If they run from your glance, throw them over cliffs or into pits!
May my words be firm and strong for hundreds of years!”
Podbljudnaja “Under the Plate” Divination
Performed on Koliada and New Year’s only. Each person takes a ring off their finger and places it in a bowl filled with water. They put a plate on top of the bowl and songs are sung over it. At the end of each song, a ring is pulled out, and the fate that the song describes belongs to the owner of that ring. Traditional symbolism: Bread, grain, millet or rye symbolizes harvest, fulfillment and material security. Gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fur and expensive cloth symbolize luxury and wealth. Doing things together like eating, drinking, working, standing or sitting together symbolize love and happy marriages. The songs are usually short as one song quickly follows another. Traditionally, each refrain ends with a praise word such as “glory.”
Sleep on the ground in only a shift. Mokosh will reveal what the weather will be. Make a hole in the ground, listen with your right ear. If you hear a sound like a full sleigh riding over the ground, it predicts a bountiful harvest. If it sounds like an empty sleigh, there will be a bad harvest.
Also called a need-fire, this is made of poplar, pear and cornel wood, and its aim is to repel, not to kill, vampires and other evil spirits.
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