Morana – The Ancient Slavic Goddess of Winter and Death

Rural areas still have fear of her and burn her on rituals every winter

ArtTower (CC0), Pixabay

Morana – The daughter of the great goddess Lada and her husband God Svarog, has grown up to become what ancient Slavs recognized as the patroness of the winter, the underworld and symbol of the end of physical life as we mortals know it. Morana has many names: Mara, Mor, Morena, Marzanna and she is the all-powerful mistress of Winter, which covers the ground in icy shroud, so that she could rest and gain strength. She belongs to the pantheon of ancient Slavic gods, as is considered to be the sister of Lelia.

In ancient times people especially worshiped Morena in the territory of Kievan Rus. Initially, she was the goddess that was worshiped as a homemaker, but also the goddess of fertility and mother of all living. However with time gradually Morena transformed into the evil messenger of wilting, impotent old age and disease. It should be noted that in many ancient tales she confronts Perun and sometimes even joins Veles in mischief and trickery.

Goddess Symbol – the white death

White, like a shroud or the winter snow, the color that in the old days was put in time of trouble is also mentioned as Mare in Norse mythology, where it appeared as a night daemon. The creature that was sitting on persons chest during sleep and caused nightmarish visions and suffocating. It is obvious that goddess Morena has indo-European roots same as the root of her name “Mora” which in English is Mare, and today we link that root with a well known word “Nightmare”.

Other Slavic legends among Russians say that Morena lives in the mirror palace, which can be reached only through Kalinov Bridge. They say the bridge connects the two banks of the river with bottomless deapth, and the palace is protected by serpents, this is the place that our Slavic ancestors associated funerals with.

In some legends it is said that BabaYaga is also one of the creations of mistress Morena, or even that BabaYaga (Baba Roga among south Slavs) is just one of the transformations of Morena. In some ancient legends Morena turns into a vicious girl Marinka, who wants to tempt the hero Dobrynya.The Eastern Slavs also believed that Morena was the wife of Koshchei the Deathless, who loved to make mischief to people.

Burning Morena to chase away winter, death and disease

Our ancestors would preform an annual ritual of farewell to winter. They would create a straw effigy, of the size of a girl child and it would be dressed in beautiful garments with a lot of decorations. They would place it under the tree intertwined with ribbons and flowers. Villagers would start the ritual by jumping over the huge fire and after the holiday they would burn the effigy of Morena and then drowned her in the river. This was the act of purification of land and people, because by killing and drowning Morena they chased away the disease, troubles, winter and everything that made problems to a medieval Slavic villager.

Echoes of these pagan rituals can be found in today’s ceremonies dedicated to the day of Ivan Kupala.

Unfortunately, today less young people perceive jumping through fire as a fun, and find little enjoyment in recreating these rituals. Some historians suggest that the image of Morena was the prototype of the Virgin Mary – the mother of the Son of God. But why did Morena become evil and harsh towards people over time? Well that is a mystery that we do not know, but people from those ancient times probably felt her rage and they shared the tale of these horrors with us today … through these rituals.

What do you think?

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