“Spring Equinox” – 11″x14″ pastel on velour paper by Patricia Robin Woodruff
“Pagan religions revere the natural forces and cycles of life, and it is from observation of and interaction with these forces and cycles that their beliefs developed.” – Rev. Donald Lewis-Highcorrell
One of the reasons the Orthodox religion couldn’t entirely obliterate the Slavic Pagan religion is that the rural people were so intimately tied to the land and the seasons. Christianity tends to be more linear, starting out from the creation of the Earth, prophets predicting Christ’s birth, the year of the birth of Christ and then continuing onward toward an eventual end of creation. A person’s spirit is considered linear as well, it is born into a body, lives, gets judged and then eternally goes to an end result of heaven or hell. Like most Pagan religions, the early Slav’s concept of time was very cyclical. The chariot of the sun comes up in the East, goes across the sky and then down under the ground and back up again. The Spring turns to Summer, preparations for the cold in the Fall and the quiet, introspective time of Winter, going round and round the seasons perpetually. The early Slavs believed in the continuation of the soul. A person’s body was buried with its head in the West, the direction of the setting sun (or cremated), but both included objects for the next world where they would emerge again. Hence the term, Wheel of the Year, with its cycles of seasonal holidays.
Victorian chronicler, Charles Leland, noted the sacred times: “In Eastern Europe witches and their kin, or kind, assemble on the eve of Saint John and of Saint George, Christmas and Easter, at cross-roads on the broad pustas, or prairies, and there brew their magic potions.” Those would correspond to May Day Eve/ Walpurgisnacht, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. These reflect the agrarian culture of the time. The holidays are focused on “when will the sun start getting stronger” and then “how can we get the plants to grow.” Once the harvest is coming in, there’s not much time for a major celebration until it’s done.
In current times, slovenski staroverci or “Old-believers” in Slovenia, annually celebrate holidays associated with the four seasons: Jarilo (spring equinox), Mara (autumnal equinox), Kresnik (summer solstice) and Božič Svarožič (winter solstice), with the addition of Veles’ day (February 12th) and Perun’s day (August 2.) Looking at the names you can see where they reflect the change to male-centric concepts that coincided with the Eastern Orthodox church. (Only one holiday having a female name and that being Mara who tends to be vilified because she brings winter.) The “Old Believers” for all that they are adopting the pagan ways, they are living in a modern world and thus their holidays tend to be more mechanical: an equal division between Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter (with the two “main” male gods thrown in there.)
In this new millennia of burgeoning equality and enlightenment, we have the choice to reexamine these ancient traditions and have them work for us today. And indeed, if we re-examine the lore, you will find that it was the “priestesses of prehistoric times” that performed the ceremonies, and to honor the deities the “wise women bore certain kinds of boughs and adorned animals with flowers and wreaths.” It was when the “new religion” of Eastern Orthodoxy came it that they declared the rites sorcery and devil-work and the priestesses became witches (or even confused with the fairy folk, the Vilas.) So looking back to the influences “before the common era,” (BCE) we see a harmony of male and female energies, with the women taking a nurturing role as spiritual caretakers of the earth, and men generally protecting the herds and hunting. In the current time, we are struggling to get back to a more balanced spiritual place, even to the point of finding the balance of male and female within ourselves. We can be our own protectors and caretakers, and it is vital we *all* take responsibility for being the spiritual caretakers of the earth…
- Patricia Robin Woodruff – copyright 2017
An excerpt from my upcoming book on Slavic Magic to be released early 2018 (and yes, you can share this for personal use, just not reprint it without permission.)