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Thread: Slavic Pagan Holidays

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    Post Slavic Pagan Holidays


    Koljada (Kohl-YAH-da) - The Winter Solstice.
    Most agree that the word comes from the Roman word "calendae" which meant the first 10 days of any month. Some, however, believe the word is derived from the word "Kolo" or wheel - much like the word "Yule" is an Anglo-Saxon word for wheel. The holiday's original name may have been "Ovsen". The holiday was filled with revelry. Processions of people masked like animals and cross-dressers roamed the village. Often they were accompanied by a "goat"- a goat's head, either real or (usually) made and stuffed on a stick. The person holding the "goat" would be covered by a blanket to play the part. Sometimes a child on horseback - symbol of the reborn sun - would accompany them; the horse was often played by two young men in horses costumes. One of the wenders would carry a spinning solar symbol, internally lit by a candle, on a stick. Later, after Christianity entered the scene, the spinning "sun" became a star.

    This unusual group would stop and sing Koljada songs from house to house. These songs usually included invocations to "Koljada", the god or goddess of the holiday, praises and good wishes,requests for handouts and threats for refusal. The handouts, also called "koljada", usually took the form of little pastries or "korovki" shaped like cows or goats. The were sometimes just in the shape of the animals head, but often were described as having "horns and tails and everything." The korovki were traditionally baked by the old people in the house, the grandmothers and grandfathers.

    The "tricks" played by those who were not rewarded could be brutal: Garbage might be brought from all over the village and piled in front of the offending host's gate, their gate might be torn off and thrown in the nearest water or livestock could be led off.

    In Poland one "caroller" would carry a bundle of hazel twigs and after receing koljada, would gently hit his host/ess with a small stick loudly wishing "Na shchestia, na zdravia, na tot Noviy Reek" (happiness, health, in the coming New Year). A small twig was left with the farmer who nailed it above his door for wealth and protection.

    Bonfires were sometimes lit and the dead ancestors asked inside to warm themselves. Mock funerals were held where a person pretending to be dead was carried into the house amidst both laughter and wailing. Sometimes even a real corpse was used. One young girl would be chosen and tradition made her kiss the "corpse" on the lips. If a pretend corpse was used, the person would leap up after being kissed - a symbol of rebirth.

    Holiday foods included kut'ia, a traditional funeral food consisting of whole grains and pork. The whole grain is a universal symbol - "the seed as the mysterious container of new life"

    On the last day of the koljada season in Poland, all the unmarried men of the village would get together to "wend" for oats. It was impossible to get rid of them with a scoop of oats; it took at least 7 liters. The farmer would keep a sharp eye on his grain that night, because otherwise the carollers would steal it as part of the evening's custom. With the money from the sold oats the men would hire musicians and organize a large dance party in the village during the pre-Spring festival period.


    Strinennia - Mar 9th. Clay images of larks were made, their heads smeared with honey and stuck with tinsel. They were carried around the village amidst the singing of vesnjanki, invocations to Spring. Birds were thought to bring the Spring with them upon their return. Children were given pastries shaped like birds to toss into the air while saying "The rooks have come.". Sometimes the pastries were tied to poles in the garden. The baking of these pastries was to ensure that the birds would return.

    Maslenica (Mah-sweh-NEET-sa) "Butter woman" from the word Maslo which means butter. Originally it was practiced at the Vernal Equinox but later was celebrated the week before lent. Maslenica (mah-sweh-NEET-sa), sometimes called Shrovetide, was a celebration of the returning light, a time of games and contests, especially horse racing, fist fights, sliding and mock battles. It was a time for protection and purification rituals and a time of gluttony, obscenity and dissolution.

    At the beginning of the festivities a life-sized corn doll would be made as a personification of the holiday. The doll would be invoked and welcomed by the name Maslenica. Sometimes a drunken peasant was chosen, instead, to represent Maslenica. He would either be dressed in woman's clothing or in a costume sewn all over with bells. His face would be smeared with soot and he would be seated on a wheel resting on a pole within a sledge. Wine and pastries would surround him and as many as could would accompany him in other sledges. Crowds would follow on foot, laughing, dancing and singing ritualsongs. Corn "Maslenitsas" were also driven around in barrows, wagons or sleighs accompanied by crowds of celebrants.

    Many customs honoring the sun were included in the festivities such as the lighting of bonfires, pushing a wheel whose axel pole was a flaming torch about or circling the village on horseback with torches. Farmsteads were also circled at this time, either with a religious icon or with brooms, sweeping around the entire property three times to create a magickal circle which protected against illness and evil spirits.

    Traditionally, the house and barn were cleaned and decorated and holiday foods such as bliny (pancakes), kulich (sweet bread) and paskha (pyramid shaped cottage-cheese bread) were prepared. Special loaves were baked and fed to the cattle to guard them from unclean spirits. Kozuli, pastries shaped like cattle, goats, etc. were prepared and eaten to bring on the multiplication of the herds. Eggs were decorated and rolled along the ground in order to transfer the fertility of the egg to the earth. The customary "swinging" which occured at this time was believed to strengthen the stock and fertility of the villagers as well.

    Maslenitsa was considered to be a time for purification. All salt was prepared for the coming year, as salt was used for cleansing and curative purposes. Ritual baths to prepare for the oncoming work in the fields were also taken before sunrise and followed with fumigation in the smoke of the juniper.

    Another important part of Slavic ritual is the funeral meal. A huge feast was prepared and brought to the cemetary where it was eaten amidst much wailing and laughter. Food was always left for the dead. In Eastern European ritual, funeral and fertility rites are intertwined. Volos, a god of the herds, is believed by many to be the same god as Veles, an underworld deity.

    At the end of the week the Maslenitsa (if a doll was used) was taken to a field outside the village, usually where the winter crops were planted. There it was destroyed, either by being torn apart and thrown into the field or burned. This was the remnant of an earlier cult of a dying and resurected God, Volos perhaps, whose death brought life to the fields. The "God" was always destroyed with laughter as such a "death" was seen to bring life. Smaller dolls were also made for individual households which were also torn apart at the week's end and fed to the livestock. This was believed to ensure their fertility and the customary willow branch they were fed was thought to protect them for the entire year to come.

    Krasnaja Gorka - "beautiful" or "red" hillock - the Sunday after Easter. In Russia, a woman holding a red egg and round loaf of bread would face East and sing a spring song which the chorus then took up. Afterward, a doll representing Marzena, grandmother Winter, was carried to the edge of the village and thrown out or destroyed. Xorovods, Russian circle dances, started on this day as well as were Spring game songs; A female performer would enter the center of a circle and mime the sowing, pulling, spreading, etc..of the flax all the way up to the spinning. She and all those in the circle would sing:

    Turn out well, turn out well, my flax.
    Turn out well, my white flax. *

    This is a form of sympathetic magic to ensure a bountiful flax harvest.
    (* - Reeder - Russian Folk lyrics)

    Radunica - (Rah-doo-NEET-sa) The second Tuesday after Easter. This holiday was originally known as Nav Dien (Day of the Dead) and was a bi-annual holiday to celebrate the ancestors. The original dates of these two holidays were probably May eve and November eve - cross-quarter dates. Usually feasting and celebrating occured in the cemetaries among much ritual wailing. Offerings, often of eggs, were left to the dead.

    Ascension - 40 days after Easter. This holiday may have originally fallen on May eve and been tied in with the holiday of Nav Dien. On this day, lark pastries were again baked. After supper, all would rest a while and then take their lark pastries into the rye fields. A prayer would be offered at each side of the field while the larks were tossed into the air and people cried "So that my rye may grow as high". The larks were then eaten.

    Village girls customarily imitated the spring bird's song. Songs were sung on opposite ends of the village with one chorus answering the other. When finished, another song would begin in the distance and in this fashion the songs would travel from village to village.

    St. Egorij (George) Day - April 23 - George is Greek for "farmer". The first day the flocks are taken to the fields. They were driven out using pussy willows that had been blessed on Palm Sunday. The energy of the willow was thought to be transferred to the animal, or person, being whipped by it. According to an old song;

    The pussy willow has brought health
    The pussy willow whip beats you to tears
    The pussy willow does not beat in vain.

    People walk around the fields singing invocations to Egorij begging him to protect the flock from wild animals in the fields and beyond them. These invocations probably originated as prayers to the god Weles, ruler of horned animals, wealth and the underworld. After the flocks left, the entire village would gather together for one solemn moment. Some of the pussy willows were then stuck in the rye fields to give them strength, others were brought home to ensure the flock's return.

    St. Egorij is a holiday predominated by men. One ritual for this day consisted of the old village men going down to the river and gathering a stone for every animal in their family's flock. They would then put them in a bag and hang the bag in the courtyard saying

    Tsar of the fields, Tsarina of the fields,
    Tsar of the forest, Tsarina of the forest,
    Tsar of the water, Tsarina of the water,
    Protect my flocks, from the evil eye,
    From wicked people, from wild beasts,
    And from all others.

    On the eve of this holiday, young boys and men do a form of trick-or-treating by singing from house to house for food and bestowing blessings upon those who are generous and curses upon those who are not. This door-to-door singing was called "The Labor of St. George."

    Cows, give birth to calves. Pigs, give birth to sucklings.
    Roosters, stamp your feet. Hens, hatch chickens.
    Hostes be good to us. Host, don't be stingy.

    If the host and hostess were generous, the singers would usually wish for the hosts and for themselves 200 cows and 150 bulls each. If the host was stingy, he might hear:

    Neither a farm, nor a courtyard
    Not any chicken feathers
    May God grant you cockroaches and bedbugs

    Rusal'naia Week - (Roo-sahl-NIE-ya) originally just after May eve, this holiday was later celebrated on the 7th or 8th week after Easter. The holiday was possibly named after the Roman holiday Rosalia. During this week the Rusalki, female water spirits, were said to leave the rivers and go to the forests and fields. Birches were considered a source of vegetative power and homes were decorated with birch branches, both inside and out.

    On the Wednesday of this week, girls would go into the forests and choose and mark the birches. The following day, Semik, bringing fried eggs (omelettes) & beer, they would decorate the chosen trees with flowers. One special birch would be chosed and "curled". That is, the ends of the twigs would be knotted and twisted to form wreaths. The fried eggs would be placed around it while Semickajas (songs sung only at Semik) were sung. Then the kumit'sja ceremony would be held: The girls would kiss each other through wreaths on the birch tree and swear an oath of friendship. This spell was believed to ensure that they would be friends for life or, "kumas".

    This tree was sometimes left in the forest, and sometimes cut down and brought into the village. No males were allowed to touch the tree. The tree might be dressed in woman's clothing and/or stripped of its lower branches. Sometimes this tree was set up in a home as a guest. If left in the forest, its tip might be bent down and tied to the grass, ensuring that its sacred energy would return to the earth. Girls would sing and dance the xorovod around the tree.

    Banishings of the Rusalki were performed during Rusal'naia. Dolls of them were made and ritually torn apart in the grain fields.

    On the Sunday of this week, girls would perform memorial rites on the graves of their parents and afterward divide eggs among their family members. Then the sacred birch tree was removed from the village and tossed into a local river or stream. Girls would take wreaths from their heads and toss them in after the birch. If their wreath floated off, love was to come from the direction the wreath floated toward. If the wreath sunk, the girl was supposed to die within the following year. If it circled, misfortune would come.

    I, a young girl, am going to the quiet meadow, the quiet meadow.
    To the quiet meadow, to a little birch.
    I, a young girl, will pick a blue cornflower,
    A little blue cornflower, a cornflower.
    I, a young girl, will weave a wreath.
    I, a young girl, will go to the river.
    I will throw the wreath down the river.
    I will think about my sweetheart
    My wreath is drowning, drowning.
    My heart is aching, aching.
    My wreath will drown.
    My sweetheart will abandon me.

    Semik - (Seh-MEEK) the Thursday of Rusal'naia Week. This was the day to perform funerals for all those who had not yet been properly buried.

    Semik songs (Semikjas):

    While selecting the birch:
    Don't rejoice oak trees. Don't rejoice green ones.
    Not to you are the girls coming. Not to you, the pretty ones.
    Not to you are they bringing pies, pastries, omelettes.
    Yo, Yo Semik and Trinity!
    Rejoice birches! Rejoice green ones!
    To you the girls are coming!
    To you they are bringing pies, pastries, omelettes.
    Yo, yo Semik and Trininty.

    While curling the birch:
    Oh birch, so curly, curly and young,
    Under you, little birch, no poppy is blooming.
    Under you, little birch, no fire is burning -
    No poppy is blooming -
    Pretty maids are dancing a xorovod,
    about you little birch, they are singing songs.


    Kupalo - (Coo-PAH-loh) - the Celebration of the summer solstice. Kupalo comes from the verb kupati which means "to bathe" and mass baths were taken on the morning of this holiday. On this holiday, the sun supposedly bathed by dipping into the waters at the horizon. This imbued all water with his power and therefore, those who bathed on this day would absorb some of that power.

    Fire was sacred to the ancient Slavs and fires were never allowed to go out. In the sanctuaries, fires were tended by the priests and in the home, guarded by the mother. On the eve of Kupalo, however, all fires were extinquished and rekindled with "new fire". New fire was created by friction. A peg was rotated within a hole in a block of wood made especially for this purpose. In some areas, animals were sacrificed on Kupalo's eve and a feast prepared of them entirely by men was shared as a communal meal. Bonfires were lit and couples jumped over them. It was considered a good omen and prediction of marriage if a young couple could jump the flame without letting go of each other's hand. Cattle was chased through the fires in order to ensure their fertility.

    At the beginning of the celebration, a straw image of "Kupalo" was made of straw, dressed like a woman and placed under a sacred tree. At the end of the festival, the effigy was ritually destroyed by burning, "drowning" or being ripped apart. Afterward, elaborate mock funerals were held. Two people pretending to be a priest and deacon would cense the figure, with a mixture of dung and old shoes burning over coals in a clay pot. The funeral was carried out among much wailing and laughter.

    Kupalo was considered the most powerful time to gather both magical and medicinal plants. It was considered the only time to gather the magical fire-fern. On Kupalo's eve, the flower of the fern was said to climb up the plant and burst into bloom. Anyone who obtained it would gain magical powers including the ability to find treasures. To gather the herb, one must draw a magic circle around the plant and ignore the taunts of the demons who would try to frighten them off. Kupalo marked the end of the "Spring festival" period which started in the beginning of March.

    Perun's Day - July 20th. On this day a human sacrifice was chosen by ballot. There is record of a viking's son being chosen and the viking refusing to give him up. Both father and son were killed as a result. This day was considered a "Terrible" holiday. The sacrifice was seen as necessary to placate the God and keep him from destroying the crops with late summer storms. According to Dr. Buhler in De Diis Samogitarum, the prayer uttered by the officiating priest went as follows:

    Perkons! Father! Thy children lead this faultless victim to thy altar. Bestow, O Father, they blessing on the plough and on the corn. May golden straw with great well-filled ears rise abundantly as rushes. Drive away all black haily clouds to the great moors, forests, and large deserts, where they will not frighten mankind; and give sunshine and rain, gentle falling rain, in order that the crops may thrive!"

    A bull was also sacrificed and it was eaten as a communal meal.

    St. Ilia's Day - August 2nd. In the Ukraine, this day marked the beginning of autumn. It was said "Until dinner, it's summer. After dinner, it's autumn." Ilia is closely related to Perun and this was most probably one of Perun's holy days. After this day, no swimming was allowed as Ilia will curse anyone he finds swimming after his feast day.

    Harvest - Harvest Holidays occured anywhere from Aug 2 to the autumn equinox and lasted from 4 days to a week. Various rituals center around the reaping and threshing of the sheaths.The Harvest Holidays of the Slavs were far more practical than ritual. The songs sung at this time are almost completely concerned with the work at hand or praises for the host and hostess or the one who brought the cup. Work parties called tolo'ka or pomoi' were formed and these travelled from farm to farm until all the work was done. The host was obligated to provide the day's food and entertainment.

    Yablochnyi/Medovoy Spas - or "Apple/Honey Saviour. This is a crossquarter holiday between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. It celebrates the wealth of the
    harvest when fruit and honey are ready to be gathered. The first fruits and honey picked on this day and the bee hives were blessed.

    Zaziuki - on or around Aug 7, might be the same holiday as Spas. Particular attention was paid to the first sheaf (zazhinochnyi or zazhinnyi) which was usually brought into the house and threshed separately. Sometimes it was blessed and then mixed back in with the seed. The end of the harvest celebration was called Dozinki. The last sheaf (the dozhinochnyi orotzhinnyi) was also brought in the house where it was either decorated with flowers and ribbons or dressed in woman's clothing. It was then placed in the entrance corner of the home or near any religious icons until Oct 1, when it was fed to the cattle. Sometimes the last sheaf ceremony was merged with the ritual surrounding a small patch of field that was left uncut. The spirit of the harvest was said to precede the reapers and hide in the uncut grain. This small patch was referred to as the "beard" of Volos, the God of animals and wealth. The uncut sheaves of wheat in "Volos' beard" were decorated with ribbons and the heads were bent toward the ground in a ritual called "The curling ofthe beard". This was believed to send the spirit of the harvest back to the Earth. Salt and bread, traditional symbols of hospitality were left as offerings to Volos' beard.

    Mokosh Day - Mokosh was honored on the Friday between Oct 25 and Nov 1. She was given offerings of vegetables. One reference fixes this date on Oct 28. here's the site.
    Last edited by Borivoj; Tuesday, October 7th, 2003 at 11:17 PM.

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