Ancient Origins of Green Week celebration among Slavs

Anestiev (CC0), Pixabay

Green Week – Like most of the spring rituals that can be found in Slavic countries, this one too has elements of pre-Christian Slavic culture. Green week or “Zielone Świątki” (better known as Trinity Week in Russia) is a festival of several Slavic rituals that celebrate full spring, the rebirth of nature, and as such it usually falls around from mid-May to June. It is connected with celebration of Pantecost that starts 50 days after (or seventh week after) Easter and it’s core meaning is to purify the surrounding from winter, evil spirits, demons to make way for nature to blossom.

It’s actually a very eco-friendly festival that many today who are environment aware would enjoy to celebrate as they try to boost nature’s fertility and ability to grow by preparing soil, crops, livestock and preparing for harvest.

Pleasing the Rusalki and purifying nature

Ancient tales believed that Rusalki are most dangerous during the green week because this is the time when all of them would leave the depths of lakes and come to surface to swing on branches and coast, that would of course result in casualties among any man that would come close. This is why villages would send peasant women to hung offerings to calm the Rusalki and to protect their village men from them and their deadly seduction. Also during Green Week it was forbidden to swim because of Rusalki or they would drag them down to the lakes bottom.

Polish folklore in this ritual sees Birch-tree as very important because that is the ancient symbol connected to female fertility, life and youth. In old Rituals among Poles Birch-tree would always be used by women that asked nature for fertility, vegetation cycle and similar. This is why and women would pick birch branches and decorate birch trees with ribbons, beads, flowers and similar natural decorations. Birch was seen as a symbol of vegetative power. This festival is actually widespread and this is why there are similar holidays in non-Slavic Romania, called Rusalii, while in Germany similar tradition probably inherited from Wendish strain is “Pfingstbaumpflanzen.

Connection to several folk customs: 

  • Decorating houses with green branches, herbs and flower symbols
  • Purifying or simply cleaning house floors with green birch-tree branch
  • Protecting house by scattering calamus on floors as a barrier from evil
  • Adorning farm cattle with flowers and incensing them with smoke
  • Boosting cattle fertility by rolling eggs around cattle’s sides
  • Burning large bonfires around joyful celebrations with festive (ritualistic) dancing
  • Torch walking around crops to purge them from demons and evils

Also it should be noted that originally most of the mentioned rituals were linked with ancient Slavic festivity called Stado (meaning Herd), and it was a popular pagan festival celebrated in rural areas in Slavic countries. For example this festival was described in 15th-century document written by Długosz’ Chronicle.

They mention Stado as a festival organized to worship Slavic gods, this would be done by song singing, dancing, sports or in other words a real rural festival. Later as Christianity came this celebration become Christianized but still carrying a lot of original pagan elements. Some Medieval chronicles of Cosmas of Prague also describe a ritual preformed by Czech pagan population and same sources mention Green week or another term “Rusalki Week.

Christianization vs Paganization of festival today

The original names as Rusalki Week, Green Week or Polish Zielone Świątki survived only among rural populations and eventually was renamed by Christian church in “Pentecost” in a effort to separate it from some pagan elements and it’s nature. For example the word “świątki” was used to describe wooden idols (of Slavic Gods) this is why Christianity in Poland has seen the need to change the name of festivity. Such ‘świątki’ idols were usually placed in pathways, roads to protect the wanderers and passengers and they were little shrines to Slavic gods. Most of these rituals today are clearly of Slavic pagan origins and this is why Rodnovers (modern believers of the Slavic Native Faith) incorporate Green Week traditional “rituals” (listed above) in modern summer solstice and other spring and summer celebrations.

Do you recognize any of the mentioned folk traditions?

What do you think?

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