Morana and the Underworld

Artist: Unknown

As the winter months stretch on, many of us will continue to stare longingly at bare tree branches in the hopes that we will see green shoots sprouting. We look for this as a sign that the chill in the air is going to subside and that new life is coming. However, we should still take this time to appreciate the dead—not push it away. And, with that in mind, I wish to take you on a short journey to Nav, the Slavic world of the dead, and introduce you to Morana, goddess of winter and death.

 Morana is often seen carrying a scythe or sickle that she uses to cut the threads of life. In physical appearance, Morana, upon first glance, is terrifying; her skin is pale, she has long dark, stringy hair, her nails are long and sharp, and, sometimes, she’s even said to have fangs. However, this is not her only form, as Morana also is described as a young maiden. Yet, when she first appears to you, most often times you’ll get the ugly, old crone; it isn’t until you show an appreciation for her and a lack of fear for all she stands for that you will see the beautiful, maiden side to her.

Winter is considered to be the time of Morana. She brings the snow, hail, and cold winds with her. The thought of winter coming from Morana is mostly attributed to her relationship with Dazbog, the sun god. As it’s told, Morana seduces Dazbog, and pulls him down into her embrace. With Dazbog distracted, daylight lessens, and we are thrown into the darker, colder winter months. Unfortunately, in later parts to the myth, it is said that when Dazbog moved on from Morana, she poisoned him. As punishment for this, she was then banished to Nav.

Nav isn’t a dark or evil place, though. While it does contain its demons and dark parts, there is much good surrounding it as well. Remember Lada? The goddess of love (who also happens to be Morana’s mother) whom I’ve talked about in a prior post? She also resides in the underworld. And, while this might be shocking to hear, it’s important to know this for one key reason—new life comes from within; be it flowers coming up from the cold earth connected to the below underworld, or a new view on yourself through introspection. So, with that in the forefront of your mind, hopefully it eases some of the internalized fears you might have about the underworld. However, if you still wish for spring to just get here already, there is one more concept imbedded within these beliefs that I know you will appreciate—reincarnation. Reincarnation is something widely believed in in Slavic tradition. It’s thought that your soul could indeed return as anything from a descendant to even an animal. However, it’s still important to remember that, without death, there will be no rebirth.

A-Lada Love: A look at Lada, Slavic Goddess of Beauty

Maximilian Presnyakov: “Lada” (“Slav cycle”), 1998.

It is an unfortunate fact that we have lost much of our Slavic practices. When I set out on my journey to learn more about my ancestors and their pagan practices, it was a hard hit to take to know so little is known about it all, especially their use of deities. Mikołaj Gliński put this sad fact best when he says:

Slavs surely had their deities. While many of them can reflect a more ancient shared Indo-European past, it remains disputable whether these gods were worshiped on the whole vast expanses of Slavic Europe (which ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea) or rather varied depending on the locale and specific Slavic tribe.

However, the deeper you dig in, the more we seem to be uncovering (and recreating).

Thankfully, what we do know about the gods and folktales has given us the knowledge we needed to open up this door that lead to revitalizing the traditional Slavic religion. So, in order to introduce you to the basics, I want to start with a focus piece on the main goddess we focus on in today’s practices: Lada.

Lada is a stunning goddess who truly deserves more credit than she is given. She is not only a goddess of beauty, love, joy, and youth, but also a creation goddess and mother to all the gods. She provides a safe home to many and guards over marriage (many folk songs about marriage mention her in some capacity). 

Many times, if she has a message for you, she comes in the form of a lark. Her connection to all things jovial brings their beautiful song to you, to lift up your spirts when you’re feeling low. When this messenger of hers appears to you, she’s also asking you to look within yourself and go on a journey of self-discovery. Additionally, the lark’s mimicking of other songs and sounds also makes their appearance signal a message from the other realms; listen to how they sound. What are they mimicking…what else is Lada trying to tell you?

Some also connect her with plants with two of the biggest being cherries and peonies. Cherries are considered to be a plant of immortality and combine nicely with Lada’s goddess of beauty and youth aspect. Peonies are for prosperity and good luck, linking it to her side of joy.

The time of the year associated with Lada is spring and summer. Spring brings that rebirth that helps one look within themselves and transform into something greater. Something that I also associate Lada with is the Summer Solstice and Slavic Valentine’s day, which is the day after Solstice. The Slavic Valentine’s day connects to Lada’s love goddess aspect. There is dancing and singing around a fire. One ritual that takes place around this fire is leaping across (carefully!). This is meant to ensure purification and protect against bad energy as well as radiate healing powers. 

If you would like to leave an offering to Lada, she is particularly fond of receiving honey (a symbol of fertility and prosperity) and also responds well to songs sung or played in her honor.

Sources:

Gliński, Mikołaj. “What Is Known About Slavic Mythology.” Culture.pl, 29 Mar. 2016, culture.pl/en/article/what-is-known-about-slavic-mythology.

Warnke, Agnieszka. “9 Slavic Rituals & Customs of Ye Olden Days.” Culture.pl , 9 Nov. 2015, culture.pl/en/article/9-slavic-rituals-customs-of-ye-olden-days.

Druidry, and The Hag of the Ironwood

Image by Hellanim

At their roots, druids are magicians (or shamans) who connected to the Earth and can call upon its’ magic in order to counsel, heal, teach, and divinate. In Druidic practice, there are many gods and goddesses that stand out:  Cernunnos, Brigid, Manannan mac Lir, Rhiannon, Lugh…Celtic deities. However, in today’s pagan society, we have created a melting pot of beliefs; blending the old gods and goddesses into even older practices to create something new and beautiful.

This open-mindedness to blending traditions has opened up many doors within modern paganism. If it’s one thing that can be said for certain, it is that our creativity cannot be stifled. So, with this thought in mind, I wish to open you up to a non-traditional goddess that I turn to in my work as a druid: Angrboða—The Hag of the Ironwood, Mother of Monsters.

Not many people will recognize that name and, those that do, would probably struggle to call her a goddess. At her core, Angrboða is a giantess with a name that means ‘announcer of sorrow’. What can also be off-putting to some is her ‘Mother of Monsters’ title, as she is mother to Loki’s three monsterous children; Hel, Fenrir, and Jörmungandr.

But what makes her perfect for druid work is, underneath this harsh exterior, she has an impassioned connection to nature and is a powerful wolf shapeshifter that can teach even the most seasoned shaman a thing or two about transforming themselves. Plus, she is a shaman herself, with an extensive knowledge of magic and divination. And, even though her children are deemed monsters, her maternal instincts rival that of any mother goddess.

Now, as her other (main) title entails, she hails from the Ironwood—a powerful realm known for the giantesses who protect it and the wolves within. While all of them are known to be connected to nature (namely the trees), Angrboða is a leader among them, a high priestess, if you will. And she is always willing to share what she knows with those she deems worthy (especially the lost, the lonely, and those in need of a mother).

However, be prepared to WORK. Angrboða does not take kindly to slacking. She only works with those who are willing to put the time and effort into developing their craft above and beyond what they ever fathomed possible for them. But, once you’ve proven yourself, she will envelop you in a loving and motherly embrace and protect you with the ferocity of her wolf side. As with any deity, showing your devotion through offerings also helps. Some offerings she truly appreciates are raw meat, to appease the wolf, and anything from nature (bones, leaves, sticks, stream water, etc.).

Angrboða truly embodies what it means to be a druid; someone who calls upon the Earth for knowledge and is willing to help those who are desperate for help and healing. So, I hope you will open your hearts to someone new, someone outside the traditional realm of Druidry.