Slavic earth goddess, Mokosh, at Harvest.
by John McCannon
Goddess of the earth worshipped by the ancient Slavs; one of the most primeval deities in the pagan Slavic pantheon. Mokos is most likely a later and more strongly personified variant of the Slavs’ elder earth goddess, “Damp Mother Earth,” or Mati syra zemlya. According to Roman Jakobson and Marija Gimbutas, the worship of such a primal earth goddess was widespread among the Slavs and their neighbors; this is attested to by the fact that the earth deities of a number of Baltic, Phrygian, and Finno-Ugric peoples exhibit similar characteristics and seem to derive from the Indo-Iranian Ardvi Sura Anahita (“Humid Mother of the Earth”). Just prior to the conversion of the Eastern Slavs to Christianity, Mokos was worshipped officially in Kievan Rus, along with Perun and other deities mentioned in the Primary Chronicle.
As the only female god of note to be worshipped by the Slavs, Mokos assumed a broad range of divine roles. She was first and foremost a symbol of the earth’s fertility. During the early spring, it was taboo to spit on or strike the ground, since Mokos was said to be pregnant then. Holidays were dedicated to her in the autumn, after the harvest. The belief that Mokos invested the earth with divinity was reflected in peasant practices that, in some parts of Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia, persisted into the 19th century: the swallowing of a lump of soil to consecrate wedding vows, the placing of earth upon one’s head to seal oaths, the confession of one’s sins to a hole in the ground instead of a priest.
Over time, Mokos became a patron of women, especially those bearing children or giving birth. She oversaw women’s work, such as spinning and weaving. By some groups, such as the Czechs, her name was invoked in times of drought. She was also thought to protect flocks of sheep. The strength of her cult remained substantial, even after the Christianization of the Slavs; as late as the 17th century, Orthodox priests attempted to uncover Mokos-worshippers among the peasantry, asking women whether or not they had “gone to Mokos.” In Russia, Mokos was partially absorbed into Orthodox worship, in the guise of St. Paraskeva-Piatnitsa (“Paraskeva-Friday”), whose name day fell in late October, around the time of Mokos’s former harvest celebration.