Marzanna
An artist's impression of Morana with Vesna.

Maržanna, Mara, Maržena, Morana, Moréna, Mora, Marmora or Morena is a Slavic goddess associated with death, winter and nightmares. Some sources equate her with the Latvian goddess Māra, who takes a person's body after their death. Some medieval Christian sources such as the Mater Verborum also compare her to the Greek goddess Hecate, associating her with sorcery. The Polish chronicler Jan Długosz (15th cent.) likened her to Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.

Contents

Central Europe

Modern Marzanna effigy, Poland

The tradition of burning or drowning an effigy of Marzanna to celebrate the end of winter is a folk custom that survives in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Typically taking place on the day of the vernal equinox, the rite involves setting fire to a female straw effigy, drowning it in a river, or both. In Poland, this is often performed during a field trip by children in kindergartens and primary schools. The effigy can range in size from a puppet to a life-size dummy. This ritual represents the end of the dark days of winter, the victory over death, and the welcoming of the spring rebirth.

It concerns the "drowning of Marzanna," a large figure of a woman made from various rags and bits of clothing which is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring calendar. Along the way, she is dipped into every puddle and pond ... Very often she is burned along with herbs before being drowned and a twin custom is to decorate a pine tree with flowers and colored baubles to be carried through the village by the girls. There are of course many superstitions associated with the ceremony: you can't touch Marzanna once she's in the water, you can't look back at her, and if you fall on your way home you're in big trouble. One, or a combination of any of these can bring the usual dose of sickness and plague.
—Tom Galvin, "Drowning Your Sorrows in Spring", Warsaw Voice 13.544, March 28, 1999

Russia

In the Book of Veles, Marzanna is a sorceress and enchantress who turns the sun god Dažbog into an ox. She refuses to turn him back until his father, Perun, allows them to marry. However, she later leaves him for Koschei, son of the Underworld lord Vij, and as Dažbog searches for his wife the couple conspire to kill him. Marzanna drugs him and Koschei throws him down a well. Finally, she nails him to a mountain in the Caucasus. However, the goddess Zhiva rescues Dazhbog and he returns to get his revenge. This story is somewhat reminiscent of the Welsh tale of Blodeuwedd, who betrays her husband for the love of another man and, with her lover, conspires to kill him. Marzanna's rites survived into Christian times as Maslenitsa, a six- or seven-day feast celebrated in early March. During the first five or six days of Maslenitsa, flat blini were served, believed to symbolize the Sun.

Interpretation

Some interpretations of this ritual argue that setting fire to a female straw puppet in the last day of winter symbolises the triumph of the "patriarchal", Christian religion over the pagan, "matriarchal" order.[1] The burning and drowning may bring associations with the punishment for witches in the Middle Ages. However, the Marzanna rite is of pre-Christian, pagan origin, preceding witch trials by several centuries.

Sources

  1. ^ Ewa Mazierska, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK (June 2002). "Witches, Shamans, Pandoras - Representation of Women in the Polish Postcommunist Cinema". http://www.scope.nottingham.ac.uk/article.php?issue=jun2002&id=268&section=article&q=pink. 
  • Marjorie Yovino-Young. Pagan Ritual and Myth in Russian Magic Tales: A Study of Patterns. Edwin Mellen Press, 1993
  • D.A. Gavrilov, A.E. Nagovitzhyn. Slavic Gods. Paganism. Tradition (Боги славян. Язычество. Традиция.) Moscow, 2002
  • Skvortzov, Konstantin. Mater Verborum, XIIIth century Czech manuscript, with comments. Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, 1853.

See also


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