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.

Rökkatru Samhain

The time has come—Samhain is just around the corner, the holiday that is (almost) universally every witch’s favorite holiday.

Certainly it is my favorite holiday, and I have been celebrating it for years with a small, intimate potluck of my best friends and family members who are able and willing to join. This holiday marks the last harvest of the year, and the beginning of the transition from the season of growth into the season of death and hibernation.

Because of this context, coming together to share the bounty of the season in the form of a potluck continues to feel relevant. I have traditionally enjoyed arranging the table around a centerpiece altar for the ancestors and the dead. Over the years this altar has grown to include a statue that puts me in mind of all of those who came before in my lineage, far back past recorded memory, as well as skulls of various animals and a small wooden ghost that, while mostly there to be cute, also signifies the dead who might be passing through. A portion of the meal is set aside as an offering for the spirits represented in this altar.

All of this is fine and good and certainly has its place within a Rökkatru framework—but I think we can make it better. On this holiday which hails the thinning of the veil between this world and the world of the spirits and which and specifically centers death and the deceased, it only seems right to honor Hela, the goddess presiding over one of the Norse cosmology’s many afterlives.

Within not only Rökkatru but Heathenism more generally, Hela is the most recognizably death associated diety. Though it is commonly accepted that those destined for Helheim are those that died of old age, illness, and other such inglorious ways of passing, this is only found in Snorri’s accounts. Other sources for old Norse belief suggest that this delineation may not have been so clear. Nonetheless, it is generally taken for granted that this is where people who experience such deaths are going to go, so it is often taken for granted that many of us will end up in Helheim. As such, Hela is the foremost figure of death in the Norse pantheon.

Within Rökkatru she is an important figure as much for her role in presiding over the underworld as she is for being Loki’s daughter. She is one of the primary Rökkr much as Loki and Angrboda are, and as a goddess of death she is arguably one of the most ubiquitous and most powerful.

So this Samhain perhaps we can represent Hela in our altars for the dead and the ancestors, and save a portion of the meal for her. It is a good time of year to hold a blót for Hela, toasting her with mead, dark beer, or red wine and perhaps pouring some out for her.

If you have the means to safely build a fire, it would not be unreasonable to additionally light a fire and then symbolically douse it in Hela’s honor (perhaps pouring out her portion of a drink onto the fire to do so). This can be done to acknowledge that the summer has come and gone, the days are growing shorter, and we are moving into the season of darkness.

For Rökkatru this is not something to fear, but to celebrate. It is a time to be meditative, to reflect, to rest and incorporate all of the growth of the spring and summer seasons.

The dark season is a time for communties to come together and support one another. Though we don’t necessarily need to worry about the harsh winters and dwindling food stores anymore, there are plenty among us who deal with serious seasonal depressive disorder, and we can support one another through these difficult times, as well as seeking ways to support those who have fallen on hard times and might be dealing with the harsh reality of hunger and homelessness during the winter.

So as we transition into this dark season, let’s take some time to honor She Who Presides Over Hidden Places, and ready ourselves for the cold.

Let me know if you have other ideas for better incorporating a Rökkatru practice into your Samhain celebrations this year. I would love to hear what you try out!

 

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