Morana: Slavic Winter Witch

The snow was thawing. Icy drops fell from the trees, like heavy, grief-laden tears, and formed muddy rivulets that snaked downhill and into the overflowing village brook. Morana stood beside the brook, leaning against a tree stump that jutted like a broken tooth from the wet soil. It used to be an apple tree, but it broke under the heavy weight of that winter’s snow. Invisible to the people around her, she observed the villagers’ brutal joy as they hacked at a coarse effigy made of straw and rags that was supposed to represent her. The last remnants of snow around her feet were melting and first green offshoots fought their way upwards into the sunlit day. Morana exhaled and shook her head at a merrily screeching boy. She thought about pushing him into the muddy torrent if he came any closer, but she changed her mind, turned around, and headed towards the World Tree, the mud squelching with her every step. It was going to be a long and dreary summer in Nav, she thought, lonely, but for the lamenting dead. 

Morana, the daughter of supreme gods Lada and Svarog, was not the most beloved deity among the ancient Slavs. Her arrival meant the beginning of long cold winters that could result in death, both for the people and their cattle. She was awaited with fear and her departure was celebrated in various ceremonies, some of which, like the burning or drowning of her effigy, were intended to chase Morana away, and some of which were conducted in honor of Vesna, the widely beloved goddess of spring.

Morana was usually depicted as a frightful dark-haired woman and was associated with witches, demons, disease, nightmares, and dark, deathly waters. However, she was not considered inherently evil, but rather feared and revered since the winter and death were perceived as parts of her nature, her divine tasks. The clearcut distinction between good and evil was introduced much later with the arrival Christianity. Before that, the ancient peoples knew how to handle and respect the natural phenomena that brought them good, but also the ones that terrified them and could cause them ill luck.   

Ancient Slavs explained the change of seasons by claiming that, in the winter, Morana would seduce Dazhbog, the sun god, and lure him to her lair in Nav, the underworld. However, Dazhbog’s goodness and brilliance would soon bore her, and she would find another lover, Chernobog, a much more befitting partner. She would try getting rid of Dazhbog by poisoning him, but Goddess Živa, the goddess of life and fertility would save him. He would get his revenge on Morana, and the sun would return to earth in the spring.        

© 2019 Erna Grcic                                                                                                 

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