Slavic Way: Morana, my matron goddess.

You probably never heard of Morana, unless you were specifically looking for some Slavic goddesses. Don't worry. Even Slavs don't have too much knowledge about their native pantheon if they're not pagan or scholars, or maybe The Witcher fans. I'm not entirely sure what's it like in other Slavic countries, but I know that in Poland you'll never learn about our native mythology at school, ever.
"History" lesson! Poland officially exists since it got christened in 966 and before that there was literally nothing here. No people, no tribes, no civilization of any kind. (Too bad the Romans never managed to conquer us in the age of the "barbarians", at least we'd have proof!) And to celebrate the 1050th anniversary of the christening this year, there was an official catholic celebration on top of our sacred pagan mountain Ślęża (oh, the irony), where our ancestors cultivated Solar worship since Neolithic period, probably longer. A sister mountain next to Ślęża is Radunia - a place of Lunar worship. Yes, totally no sign of life on these lands before Catholicism!

An entrance to the Archeological Sanctuary in Będkowice
under Ślęża, where you can visit a reconstructed slavic settlement
and an original barrow cemetery, both from 8th century.


Anyway, let's focus on Morana. Known as Marzanna in Poland, she's a well-known figure in folk tradition. Nowadays, mostly recognized as an effigy of a hag that people carry through the streets in a colorful procession to finally burn and then drown it before Spring Equinox. This celebration, still cultivated mostly in villages but also some cities of Poland, is an act of banishing Winter and welcoming Spring, and of course has its roots in pre-christian traditions.

A simplified mini version of Morana effigy we constructed from twigs,
leaves, weeds and branches last Spring Equinox.

Marzanna is Winter incarnate. She's a goddess of the dark side of the Wheel of the Year, of magic, inevitable death, decay, sickness and falling into oblivion. Usually portrayed as a pale as snow lady with long dark hair, dark eyes and slim figure. Often compared with Hecate and other dark goddesses. In Poland, she is often equated to Mother Mary, especially the Mother Mary of Herbs (PL: Matka Boska Zielna) who was also known as Mother Mary of Sleep and Death before that.
Some scholars believe that the cult of Marzanna survived christianization by evolving into an intricate cult of Mother Mary (of many names around the Wheel of the Year), which is very prominent in Poland to this day. There is an archcathedral in Gniezno and a very old church in the Saint Cross voivodeship both named after the Mother Mary of Herbs. Both of them are believed to stand on original spots of Marzanna cult. This leads to think that Marzanna used to be one of the most prominent goddesses of pre-christian times on these lands, revered by many and sometimes thought to be the closest to a personified expression of Mother Earth.
It is important to note that Marzanna is not only a goddess of death but rather of the cycles of death and rebirth. When she returns into the sea (a symbol of underworld) each Spring, she makes room for a mirror goddess - Dziewanna - to emerge and revitalize the Earth. While Marzanna is thought to be a Crone goddess, Dziewanna is the Maiden.
Dziewanna is usually considered to be Marzanna's daughter but also her opposite side. Often compared with Artemis, she's a goddess of wild nature, forests and groves, and the hunt. Some believe that Marzanna and Dziewanna are actually one goddess, though it's imposible to establish due to lack of source material.



Why is Morana my matron goddess? Well, it's been a long road of reclaiming. First of all, ever since I decided to walk this path, I wasn't really a fan of deity worship. I believed that the source of my strength and power comes from within - and I still believe it to be true today. Tradition wasn't a positive word in my book - I considered it to be limiting and blind, especially coming from a catholic background which was never my kind of jazz. Things started to change when I matured and learned to appreciate the importance of tradition. I needed to reclaim this word and redefine it by understanding that there's an older tradition underneath the one I was raised in. It made me realize that I don't want to be a rootless tree anymore and I finally felt at home.
It's important to mention - I believe that detaching oneself from tradition is an extremely valuable experience. It allows us to form a new perspective, experience a huge variety of approaches, study the human condition and history with a comparative, open-minded approach and shift paradigms at will. Coming from a Chaote's perspective makes us consider and allows us to truly understand why we'd possibly want to follow a certain tradition or paradigm, which automatically sets us on a path of conscious choice instead of a blind follower mindset. Either way, if it wasn't for this process, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. I am a tree with roots!
Another thing I needed to reclaim was Marzanna herself. As I described earlier, she's mostly known as an effigy of a hag that I also burned as a kid each year. I remember this tradition being a thing since kindergarten - each of the kids had to bring some pieces of old clothing, those who had farms also brought hay for the stuffing. And it was this big crafty project to create a huge Marzanna together.
Of course, we were never really given any background on who Marzanna actually was. And being born in the pre-internet era didn't help with educating ourselves. So Marzanna was always just this effigy of a hag that we burned and drowned to help Spring come faster. Now that I think about it, when you're denied any background information, this ritual really seems like burning an old, evil witch that brought the nightmare of Winter upon us, and it's completely her fault.
In the past few years, knowledge about slavic paganism and rodnovery became much more easily available in Poland because of a peak in popularity of old traditions and returning to roots. I started acquiring books and educating myself as soon as I realized this was the case. Now I'm fully operating in the slavic pagan tradition for two years and considering Marzanna my matron goddess for around a year.
I found it extremely hard to reprogram her image in my head - from the effigy I knew since I was three, to a strong goddess of death. The whole process of slow redesigning and taming of her concept probably took me around two years of intense study and gradual incorporation of her presence into my practice.


Part of my altar dedicated to Marzanna.

What can I say - she means a lot to me. She's my companion in shadow work, my teacher of humility and endurance. She's the dark goddess that taught me how to accept aging, sickness, death more in depth than I have before. She is the mistress of periodicity - in nature, in life, in femininity. She teaches survival, both in the light of day and in the dark night of the soul. She emanates bravery and honor - not being afraid to do what needs to be done, what perhaps nobody else wants to do. She's Winter incarnate.


8 comments:

  1. Beautiful. Reclaiming is a powerful process.

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  2. I am currently a rootless tree, trying to regain *something* since I abandoned my roots (and they abandoned me). This was beautiful and hopeful, thank you.

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    1. Thank you, Jac. I wish you all the best on your path, whether you want to reclaim your roots or build new ones from scratch!

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  3. I have struggled with the idea of worship - from having come from an entirely faithless background, it seems sort of awkward and ridiculous. And yet I love archetypes and idols, so I am working on my own way of understanding deities. This was lovely and thank you for sharing!

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    1. I hear you! Personally, I prefer to look at it as partnership, not worship. Worship seems to be more passive and dependent, while a good partnership is something that benefits both of the sides. It took me a rather long while to feel comfortable entertaining the idea of working with a deity. To my surprise, it's not much different than working with archetypal energies. It takes time to come up with one's own system of incorporating deities into practice but it's definitely worth the effort ;)

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  4. Hello!
    I'm Polish and I was brought up in a Catholic family. I've been a practicing Catholic for most of my life. Then I discovered it's not something I can follow any longer. Now I don't actually know what I am. It's already been 4 years and I still don't have those solid roots you mentioned.
    About goddess worship in Poland: exactly! I find it incredible that in a country with undeniably Mary-centered worship, scholars still claim that goddess worship on these lands was marginal. WHY do we worship Holy Mother so, if there was no prototype for her here in the first place?
    Great post, thank you!

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    1. Hey Magdalena! The process of rediscovering my roots took me around a decade in total, so definitely take your time with it. It's better to take it slow than jump into something that might not necessarily feel right for you.
      And you're totally right - even in contemporary Polish pagan movements goddesses are a bit left out and practices are very much centered around male gods. I believe it's a remnant of the catholic mentality that almost all Poles are deeply familiar with. It's usually males who hold the "rulership", women are still in the background sadly.

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