Slavic Way: Rodnovery and slavic Wheel of the Year.

Rodnovery means "native faith" and is a term used to describe Slavic paganism. Just like any other pagan faith, Rodnovery also has its own Wheel of the Year - a calendar of celebrations based on the seasons. When we hear "Wheel of the Year" we usually think of the Celtic Wheel, which is the most popular year-round calendar of pagan practice today - but not the only one. Slavic Wheel shares some similarities with other pagan calendars. All natural religions stem from the same core, after all - the core being observation of the natural world, the seasons, and basing our way of life and beliefs on it.

Slavic Wheel of the Year - Major Celebrations
Source of the original image: click


Major Celebrations on the Slavic Wheel of the Year

  • Jare Gody / Spring Equinox
Jare or Jare Gody is a cycle of celebrations happening accross a few days, starting with the first day of Spring (Spring Equinox) when we conduct a ritual of burning and drowning Marzanna to banish Winter. Once we banished Winter, we want to welcome Spring by cleansing our space from residual old energies by doing a complete house cleaning + burning herb bundles, washing all the clothes and home textiles - beddings, drapery, cloth. Other than cleansing our homes, we celebrate Spring by lighting bonfires on top of hills, searching for willow/hazel/birch twigs to construct wisps or brooms. One of the most popular traditions to this day is decorating eggs (named "Pisanki" or "Kroszonki") - a symbol of new life, fertility and new energy - as well as celebrating Konopielka (nowadays known as Śmigus Dyngus)- a fun festivity where men visit women to sprinkle their heads with perfumes (older men usually prefer this method) or drench them in water (water being a symbol of fertility and youth), sometimes in exchange for sweets or decorated eggs. In some parts of Poland there's also a tradition called "Zajączek" (literally meaning Bunny) - children look for presents hidden in their gardens by said bunny, usually sweets or decorated eggs. Hares are mostly associated with abundance and fertility which is why it's Zajączek who hides the presents.

Traditional "Kroszonki" - scraping floral patterns
on dyed eggs

  • Dziady Wiosenne / Spring Forefathers
Slavs used to celebrate "Halloween" from three to six times a year! Ancestry veneration is one of the most important parts of Slavic paganism. Dziady Wiosenne is one of the two major celebrations dedicated to our ancestors and is usually celebrated around May 2. (depending on the phase of the moon). During Dziady, we commune with our Ancestors who come back from beyond the veil to visit their loved ones. We dine with our families, making sure to prepare additional food for the Dead. We light candles in our windows and on crossroads to ensure all of the Dead find their way to us and back to where they came from. It's believed that by respecting our Ancestors we gain their protection and providence.

Dziady Dinner

  • Noc Kupały / Summer Solstice
Kopała Night is celebrated on the shortest night of the year. It's the Slavic "Valentine's Day", a celebration of Fire and Water, the Moon and the Sun, fertility, joy and love. On this short night, everybody's "single" and free to wander around the forests in search of the mythical Fern Flower, jump through bonfires, drink, dance. Maidens weave wreaths of fresh flowers and herbs to release them into the rivers or lakes in hopes of finding a suitable partner. Noc Kupały is traditionally the most popular time of the year for weddings, finding new partners, procreation, love spells and everything love related.

Maidens releasing the wreaths

  • Plony or Dożynki / Autumn Equinox
Dożynki is a celebration of the year's harvest. We bake breads and traditional cakes, feast, drink and give thanks to Mokosh or Mother Earth. Dożynki is pompously celebrated in rural areas to this day. The most popular tradition is a contest for the most beautiful
and biggest wreath, usually made of wheat. Nowadays, in a more christianized form,  it's sometimes huge crowns or chalices instead of wreaths. This tradition has its roots in an older custom - gathering the "Last Bunch" (of wheat) and leaving it on the fields for some time after the harvest to ensure the continuity of Earth's abundance. This "Last Bunch" was later taken home and used during Jare Gody (Winter Solstice) celebrations.

Dożynki bread and wreath

  • Dziady Jesienne / Autumn Forefathers
Similarly to Dziady Wiosenne, this Slavic equivalent to Samhain was a celebration dedicated to the Ancestors. The night of Oct 31. - Nov 1. we celebrate "Zaduszki" or "Noc Zaduszkowa" (literal translation being: "for souls" or "the night for souls") which is a preparation for the actual Dziady (Forefathers) celebrated on November 2. (depending on the moon phase). Similarly to Spring Forefathers, we prepare a feast for our Ancestors (nowadays mostly at homes but in the past also directly on the graves) to gain their providence and help them reach the otherworlds. It is important to offer food and drink to every Soul (honey, groats, eggs, mead, vodka), usually by spilling or dropping small amounts of our food and drink on the ground. Sometimes the Dead were also offered baths (sauna) and the opportunity to warm themselves up by the bonfire. But bonfires' primary function is to guide the Souls to us and back to where they came from, as well as preventing demons and the souls of people who died horrible deaths (suicide, drowning etc) from crosing through the veil to our world and doing us harm.
Dziady was a good time of the year for all the outcasts and homeless - it was believed that at this time of the year the Souls of our Ancestors and loved ones "borrowed" their bodies to visit us in flesh and bone, so it was important to offer them food and drink in exchange for a prayer for the Ancestors.


Karaboszka masks - Slavic equivalent of Samhain pumpkins,
masks carved out of wood used to protect the place
of celebration

  • Szczodre Gody / Winter Solstice
Szodre Gody literally means Generous Festivities. Winter Solstice is the moment when the Old Sun (equated with Swaróg - a Sun God) retires to make place for the New, Reborn Sun (equated with Dadźbóg, Swaróg's Son) for the year ahead. At this time of the year we feast, visit our loved ones, sing traditional songs and avoid working. Celebrations last for 12 days - each day representing one month of the year and foretelling what that month is going to bring for us. On the night before/of Winter Solstice called Szczodry Wieczór (Generous Evening) we have a feast of 12 dishes, making sure to prepare an additional place at the table for our Ancestors. The "Last Bunch" that we saved from Autumn Equinox is now decorated with dried fruit and placed near our front door to invite the Ancestors to dine with us. Some of the straw from our "Last Bunch" is also placed under the tablecloth. Instead of decorating a tree, we hang a decorated pine, fir or spruce branch called "Podłaźniczka" from the ceiling. A huge part of Szczodre Gody celebrations was also "kolęda" - groups of  people dressed up as various archetypal figures (i.e. Death, the Devil, Dziadek Mróz = Granfather Frost, Baba and Dziad, Turoń = horned beast, the Sun etc.) wandered through the village singing kolęda songs (cheerful songs about the resurrection of the Sun) and visiting all the houses to wish all the best to their inhabitants, usually in exchange for some food and drink.

Kolęda in Belarus, 1903



Minor Celebrations on the Slavic Wheel of the Year
- Subjective selection of some of the most widely recognized celebrations - 

  • Gromnica or Bear Day (February 2.)
Gromnica is a Slavic equivalent to Imbolc. Today, in christianized Poland "gromnica" is a huge candle that people use during the most important catholic celebrations like christening or praying for the deceased before the funeral (literal translation - "thunder candle"). The word "gromnica" comes from "grom" which means thunder. On February 2nd we light candles as a symbol of the light visibly starting to conquer darkness. From this day on we can start expecting the first thunders - a sign of Spring approaching, meaning that Perun conquered the Snake that bound the waters for winter. The first thunderclap is a sign that Mokosh (Earth) is ready to be fertilized - it'd be ideal for the thunder to happen between February 2. and the Spring Equinox. The special thunder candle, being dedicated to Perun (the god of thunder), was traditionally used to cleanse the house and to inscribe a solar cross with its flame on the ceiling of the household for protection.
Bear Day is another name of the same celebration. Bear, being a symbol of strength, is quite an important totem for Slavs. Bears hybernate for the Winter season for 40 days - from December 25th to February 2nd. That is why we know that Spring is inevitably approaching when the Bear finally wakes up from hybernation. It is believed that if the Bear wakes up on February 2nd and sees his own shadow (and therefore a sunny weather), he knows that this means more frost still on its way and goes back to sleep. But if the Bear doesn't see his own shadow, which means there's cloudy weather, he knows that this means Spring (and thunders) inevitably approaching in no time.

Our Lady of Thunder Candle, by Michelle Andriolli

  • Tydzień Rusalny / Nymph Week (May 2. - May 11.)
Also known as Rusalia, Nymph Week is a celebration of herbs, flowers and feminine fertility. During this week women give offerings of bread, cloth stripes and wreaths to the Nymphs (Rusałki), Wiły and goddess Mokosh. Nymph Week ends with a celebration known as Zielnik (May 11.) - gathering medicinal herbs, having ritual meals in the forests and on the fields, weaving wreaths and decorating our homes with plants and flowers.

Rusałki, Konstanty Makowski

  • Stado (celebrated 50 days after Easter)
Nowadays mostly known as Zielone Świątki (Green week), Stado is the oldest known Slavic pagan festival. Stado literally means Herd and is a joyful celebration fertility and community, as well as Ancestors. In 2016 Polish rodnovers and pagans organized the first Stado in over 500 years, hoping to continue the tradition for years to come. According to the chronicles, the central part of the festival are tournaments where people can test their physical strength and endurance in various competitions. Other than tournaments, one of the major parts of Stado is also the tradition of decorating a Maik which is a long pole with ribbons attached to the top. Everyone grabs one of the ribbons and by dancing around the pole the ribbons get gradually more and more entwined around it - and so do the people. There's also the usual celebration - feasting, dancing, drinking. 

Stado, XIX century Russian print

  • Perunowe (July 20.)
Perunowe is a celebration of Perun, the God of thunder. It's a rather masculine celebration, with men gathering for various tournaments and competitions to test their strength and endurance - similarly to Stado. It's also a good time to take oaths of brotherhood and pray to Perun in Oak groves for strength. Another common tradition during Perunowe is for men to consecrate their steel (knives, axes, swords etc) in Fire and Water.

  • Mokosza / Marzanna Of Herbs (August 15.)
It is widely accepted today that August 15. is the day of the Mother Goddess. We celebrate harvest and abundance of the second half of Summer. Mokosha seems to be the most popular Mother Goddess today, which is why August 15. is usually associated with her. However, in Poland August 15. is when Catholics celebrate Mother Mary of Herbs which - as I mentioned in this post - hints that traditionally it should be a celebration dedicated to Marzanna rather than Mokosh. 

  • Domowy / Domowik ( September 24.)
Domowy or Domowik is a protective spirit of every household. September 24. is the day when we give offerings of oatmeal or small fruits and nuts to our Domowik to thank him for his protection over our hearth and home. It is quite popular amongst Slavic pagans to keep a small idol of Domowik on their altars or in central parts of their homes to give offerings to.

Typical wooden Domowik statue

  • Jesienne Święto Matki Ziemi / Autumnal Mother Earth Celebration (October 1.)
Beginning of the wedding (Swaćba) season. Young girls praying to Mother Earth for happy marriage.

  • Dola / Święto Złotej Baby (November 24.)
Slavic personification of fate and destiny named Dola is a personal protective spirit that attaches to humans the day they're born and stays with them until the day of their death. Even though she might not always be favorable, she is a gift from the gods - a force given to humans to help them overcome hardships. On November 24. we celebrate Dola, also known as Święto Złotej Baby (literal translation: Celebrations of the Golden Hag). It is an evening of divination and fortunetelling - trying to find out what our Dola has in store for us. If the prognosis wasn't exactly positive one could always try to bribe their Dola by offering supper. During christianization the church tried to get rid of this celebration by replacing it with St. Andrew's Day - it didn't go too well, as nowadays everyone (be it christians, pagans or agnostics) equates St. Andrew's with partying, divination and fortunetelling.


Disclaimer: There are, of course, many more traditions and celebrations around the Slavic Wheel of the Year. I chose to present and organize some of those celebrations into major and minor ones for the sake of readability, in accordance with my personal understanding and belief. I decided not to include all of the celebrations we know of - mostly because not all of them are native to Poland (where I live).
It is important to understand that Slavic pagan traditions may vary depending on the region. While most of the traditions are very similar to each other they are sometimes celebrated at different times of the year depending on the region - it wouldn't make sense for me to include, for example, four different dates dedicated to the same deity/festivity.
Some Rodnovers might argue that the only major celebrations are the Equinoxes and Solstices, other would probably consider some of the minor celebrations to be more significant than I portrayed them. In the end, it all boils down to personal (or group) preference.

I wrote this article to aid people with Slavic roots, born and living away from these lands, as well as Slavic culture and tradition enthusiasts who find it hard to come by legit, first-hand information about contemporary Slavic paganism. It is sometimes challenging even for a Slav living on Slavic lands to gather legitimate knowledge about our own roots and ancestry - not to mention how hard it must be for english speaking enthusiasts.
If you've got any questions, would like me to talk more in-depth about any of the celebrations or anything else concerning Slavic paganism, mythos or tradition, feel free to contact me - I'd be delighted to help!

While we're at it, I'd like to grasp this opportunity to raise awareness. Watra - a Foundation for Slavic Culture - is currently raising money to build the first pagan temple in Poland, to serve not only as a sacred space for all pagans but also as a Cultural Centre to promote Slavic culture through education and miscellaneous workshops. You can read a bit more about the initiative here: >click<. If you would like to support the cause by donating money, you can do it here: >click<.



4 comments:

  1. Such a full post! I do have some relatives that came from the Czech Republic, so it is interesting to read about your traditions. Thank you so much for sharing, Joanna. Love all of the photos and art you included :)

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    1. Haha, glad you made it through! Czechs (+Slovaks) probably have the most in common with Poles when it comes to pre-christian traditions, so a lot of the celebrations described in the article would apply to your relatives as well. Thanks for giving it a read!

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  2. What a great post. I don’t speak Polish so the musicality and mystery of your language added a layer of enjoyment that echoed through it for me.I particularly enjoyed reading about the ‘minor’ festivals. In many ways it’s the smaller moments of connection that stay with us more strongly. And these festivals feel a bit like this. Gromnica is intriguing. I think of Bear as such feminine, mother energy. In the US and Canada we have a similar tradition called Groundhog Day that involves the sighting of the groundhog. Whether he’ll see his shadow or not determines the length of winter for the rest of the year. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

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  3. This is such an interesting and lovely outline of the celebrations. I particularly really love your description of Dola: "she is a gift from the gods - a force given to humans to help them overcome hardships."

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