morana

Slavic mythology: Morana, the Goddess of Death and Winter

All things must die and she provides their endings. When the time comes, she crushes the soft petals of blooming flowers and infects them with decay. She breathes frost into their green veins and watches them wither under the weight of her ice. Everything dies and she is the end. She is the winter whiteness and the chill of the December darkness. Her beauty is black, her touch fatal. And she is necessary, for without her to remind us of it, life would not be truly appeciated. She is death, yet she gives life wings. She is Morana, the Goddess of Death and Winter.

THE DARK SIDE OF MYTH & FOLKLORE: MARZANNA

In Slavic mythology, Marzanna (also known as Mara, Morena, Maržena, Morana, Moréna, Mora, and Marmora) was a goddess of winter, death, and sometimes magic. In Slavic countries, an effigy of Marzanna is burned and drowned in March to symbolize the end of winter and the triumph of spring.

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Slavic mythology marzanna

Marzanna (sometimes Morana or Morenais a Baltic and Slavic goddess associated with seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature. She is often described as a demon and is associated with death, winter and nightmares. In Slavic rites the death of Marzanna towards the end of winter is juxtaposed against the birth of Jarilo – a Slavic god representing the coming of spring. (x)

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Jarilo and Morana are the gods of spring and winter in Slavic Mythology, respectively. Every year, by the end of February, Jarilo was kidnapped by his father’s enemy, Veles, and taken to the Underworld. With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. The first of the gods to notice Jarilo’s return to the living world was Morana. The two of them would fall in love and court each other through a series of traditional, established rituals, imitated in various Slavic courting or wedding customs. This sacred union of Jarilo and Morana, deities of vegetation and of nature, assured abundance, fertility and blessing to the earth, and also brought temporary peace between two major Slavic gods, Perun and Veles, signifying heaven and underworld. Thus, all mythical prerequisites were met for a bountiful and blessed harvest that would come in late summer. However, since Jarilo’s life was ultimately tied to the vegetative cycle of the cereals, after the harvest (which was ritually seen as a murder of crops), Jarilo also met his death. The myth explained this by the fact that he was unfaithful to his wife, and so she kills him in retribution. Without her husband, however, Morana turns into a frustrated old hag, a terrible and dangerous goddess of death, frost and upcoming winter, and eventually dies by the end of the year. At the beginning of the next year, both she and Jarilo are born again, and the entire myth starts anew.

Slavic deities from Poland (part 1): Goddess Marzanna

Marzanna or Marza is a primary deity of the old-Slavic Polish beliefs (also of Czech and Slovak beliefs where she’s called Morana / Morena), very close to the primal concept of the Mother Earth. She is a personification of the repetitive cycles regulating the life on Earth, the changing seasons, a master of both the life and death, patron of fertility, mother of the earth and of a primeval sea (morze).

Her attributes are wreaths, red coral beads, reaped grain stalks, many herbs like the dyer’s madder (in Poland commonly called marzana barwierska) or sweetscented bedstraw (marzanka wonna), apples, and a golden key that opens doors to the afterlife and to the different seasons. Apple trees are dedicated to her.

The most popular but rather misleading interpretations of Marzanna show her as a goddess of winter and death only. An effigy of her is still nowadays thrown to the rivers or burnt around the spring equinox each year in rites of evoking the spring [read about it here and here]. However, many historical sources and traces of her cult (particularly in the West Slavic beliefs) show clearly that the cold winter is only one of the faces of this goddess. After getting rid of the winter effigy, another similar one was being brought up in a procession around the villages and fields - it was a symbol of spring, the same goddess being reborn after the winter phase and waking up nature’s vital strenght for the upcoming growing season. Many of such informations survived in countless folk songs and rituals.

In Poland the cult of her has remained until today, not only directly (like in the rituals of drowning and burning the “winter goddess” before the spring) but also survived in countless indirect ways. The traces are very often intervoven with unique elements observed in the worship of the different aspects of the Christian Holy Mother, and some places where medieval churches bearing the name of the Holy Mother are located were also known for being Marzanna’s cult centres in the distant past.

The cult of her is confirmed in numerous Polish resources. The oldest surviving chronicles mentioning her name and the customs of drowning come from 15th century.

More about Marzanna in Polish.

Image © BogowiePolscy.net

Check also my general tag Slavic mythology.

Marzanna (in Polish), Morė (in Lithuanian), Morana (in Czech,Slovene and Croatian), or Morena (in Slovak and Russian) or also Mara, Maržena,Moréna, Mora or Marmora is a Baltic and Slavic goddess associated with seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature. She is often described as a demon and is associated with death, winter and nightmares. In Slavic rites the death of Marzanna towards the end of winter is juxtaposed against the birth of Jarilo – a Slavic god representing the coming of spring. (source: wikipedia)

Vesna & Morana

Vesna is the slavic goddess of spring and youth, while Morana is the goddess of winter and death.
Every year, after Morana would leave, Stribog, god of wind, would bring Vesna on his wings,  and Jarilo, god of spring, would follow her everywhere. Opposite to Morana, who was feared, Vesna was very much adored goddess. Bird that announces Vesna’s coming, and is associated with her is swallow. Even today it is possible to find celebrations dedicated to Vesna among the Slavic people, for instance Mladenci and Vrbica (which are of course cloaked as Christian celebrations, but have nothing to do with it). Seeing Vesna is a goddess of youth, these celebrations are reserved for young lads and girls (Mladenci) and for children (Vrbica), these weren’t important days for the elders. 
According to some stories, Jarilo is married to Morana, but he cheats on her with Vesna, and when Morana finds out, she kills him, and this repeats every year, because he is always reborn in spring. 
Tree associated with Morana is walnut tree, and it is said that young people should never plant it, because one who plants walnut tree will die once tree reaches thickness of his neck. At the end of every winter, a doll that represents Morana was made, it was carried through village while villagers would hit it and yell at it, after which it was burned and thrown in water. This a goodbye to a goddess, which represents how much winter is hated and feard -  of course this doesn’t mean Morana wasn’t respected.

Jarilo & Morena

Here’s the story of Jarilo and Morena:

In Slovakian folklore, Jarilo is the god of war, vegetation, fertility, spring, and the harvest. Morena is the goddess of the harvest, witchcraft, winter, and death. Jarilo is associated with the moon and Morena is considered a daughter of the sun. Both of them are children of Perun (the god of thunder and lightning).

They are born on the night of the new year, but Jarilo is snatched from the cradle and taken to the underworld, where Veles (god of the underworld) raises him as his own. At the spring festival, Jarilo returns from the world of the dead, bringing springtime from the ever-green underworld into the realm of the living. He meets his sister Morena and courts her. At the beginning of summer, they are married. This sacred union between brother and sister (children of the supreme god) brings fertility and abundance to earth, ensuring a bountiful harvest. And, since Jarilo was raised by Veles and his wife is the daughter of Perun, their marriage brings peace between two great gods and ensures there will be no storms to damage the harvest.

After the harvest, however, Jarilo makes a bad choice. He is unfaithful to his wife, and Morena vengefully slays him. His death returns him to the underworld. Without her husband, Morena — and all of nature with her — withers and freezes in the upcoming winter. She turns into a terrible, old, and dangerous goddess of darkness and frost, and eventually dies by the end of the year.

The whole story repeats itself anew each year. There is always a fresh springtime, followed by summer, autumn, and winter.

EASTERN EUROPEAN/BALTIC MYTHOLOGY MEME > slavic gods and goddesses [4/9]: morana

Morana is a Baltic and Slavic goddess associated with seasonal rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature. She is associated with death, winter and nightmares. Morana was the first goddess to witness the god of spring’s return, Jarilo, from the underworld to the realm of the living. They later got married, assuring a time of peace, prosperity and fertility to the crops. However, after the harvest, Jarilo also met his death: the myth explains that he was unfaithful to Morana and then she killed him. Without her husband, she turned into an old, frustrated hag, and also died at the end of the year. At the beginning of the next year, both Morana and Jarilo are born again and the whole myth starts anew.

Why Morana?

Yet again, I have received asks about my devotion to Morana - and general questions about Her, her nature and role in the Old Faith, and Her relation to us. This post is I think similar to the previous one I made about my connection to Veles. This is not informational, not academic. It’s what I feel about Her. 

Why Morana? Morana - or in my native Polish Marzanna - is the slavic Goddess of Death and Winter. Such a strange Goddess she is, so different from others worshipped in the Old Faith. Not a sweet girl in a flower crown that brings happiness and love, not a dear mother that watches over successful crops. And she’s the patron of witchcraft, and nightmares as they say, and sickness - and yet she’s worshipped. And by some loved and appreciated above others. 

What is necessary to understand to even begin thinking about Her, is that Death isn’t evil. In any form. It’s a natural cycle, a necessity, a release. A sad one, as we mortals feel so deeply and we love so strongly - but it’s not evil.

She is the one who brings the cold, the howling freezing wind that catches up to you when you hurry through the frozen field to get to the fire. She’s the one that dresses the hills and the mountains in coats of snow, and lets rivers and streams rest under an embrace of ice. She’s the one whispering in the night, and in those dead gray hours of morning when everything is still. 

She’s the one listening to your silence when you think about dying. She’s the aching in your soul when you think of times long gone, and people long lost.

She’s the one who watches with unyielding gaze as crops wither and die, as trees wither and die, as animals wither and die. As humans wither, and die, and her hands do not tremble.

She is the one we worship.

She is the one we fear.

She is the one we drown.

Her beauty is stubborn, and her love is harsh. Her burden is a heavy one to carry, and her strikes are often cruel. But there is no one - no other Old God or Goddess here - who understands better. She is the one who knows that there is no Life without Death, as all things must die so they can live anew. She is the one who knows there is no Spring without Winter, as all lands must be stilled and frozen, and hidden under whiteness, so they could later welcome sweet Jarilo and blossom and burst with green, and flowers, and life.

And She is the one who knows that there is no Death without Life, and no Winter without Spring. She knows the time comes when she has to step back, to stop the wind, to cease the breathtaking freezing lullaby. She smiles upon the Gods that sit around the fire, and dance under the summer sky, who laugh and take offerings where for her there are none. And she smiles upon the people, as they carry her effigy and sing of her, tired of winter and death and hard times, and she looks at them with understanding as they throw her into the water, as they set her on fire, as they exclaim and shout in great joy.

Every Winter has to pass so the Spring could come.

But also every Life has to pass. And the Death will come.



żmija

when you first
laid your eyes
upon his vernal grace
you knew it.
he wasn’t meant for you.

when you first
met him
and returned his warm smile
your knees were shaking
(it was the first time in years you felt something)
and yet
you knew it.
he wasn’t meant for you.

when you first
sat by his side under a tree
and his fingers traveled amongst your locks of hair
he looked at you
and you saw spring blooming in his eyes
but your very own eyes had winter
the cold, killer, merciless winter.
you knew it.
he wasn’t meant for you.

he wasn’t meant for you
because he was too pure
too lively
too alive
to be ruined by you.
you were a savage force of nature
a grim goddess of death
you were too cruel to taint him with your twisted love
(and you still are).

in your wedding day
everyone seemed happy
except for you.
you were delighted to spend the whole time by his side
but you still knew it.
he wasn’t meant for you.
you would be his damnation.

and when he fell by your feet
with a trail of blood falling over his lips
and life fading from his core
you were expecting it
you knew
sooner or later
you would destroy him
but you still wept
you still cursed yourself
for he loved you
and you loved him
but he wasn’t meant for you.
he never was.

—  love, too, can be destructive; l.t.