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 Very Belated Yule

I beg your forgiveness for the lateness of this post — usually I try to get my holiday posts up a couple of days before said holiday, not several weeks after! I’m sure many of you can understand the stress that comes with this holiday season, including occasional flare ups in mental health concerns — which is approximately why I’m running so late on this one.

So since Yule has come and gone, instead of telling you about you can have a more Rokkatru flavored Yule, I’ll tell you what I did this year and what I might change up for next year.
The weekend before Christmas I traveled to visit my family — who does not celebrate Yule and who have no established Yule traditions. While my mother and sister contributed to making dinner, I got busy baking a Yule log cake and cooking up some mulled wine — called glogg in Sweden. Tasty treats seemed the perfect way to integrate some Yule flavor into a family gathering, and as I served out the cake and wine I informed my family what this Yule thing is all about:
Yule is one of many ancient traditions revolving around the winter solstice, or the longest night of the year. Between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, the days have been growing shorter and the night longer. But now, with Yule, we celebrate the return of light and warmth — from here, the days will grow longer toward the summer solstice, when the process repeats.
Traditionally there is fire involved these celebrations, to represent the return of the sun. Unfortunately weather interfered with the bonfire plans I had, so we stuck with candles instead.

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My Yule log from 2018 — featuring a tomten and a yule goat

When I returned home, where my fiancee met me determined to help me round out a patchwork Yule celebration of sorts (which is fair, evidence suggests the old Norse celebrations of Yule were between a week and two weeks of feasting and drinking) we got to work on a Yule log. Sharing the left overs of the cake and cooking up some more mulled wine, we carved an actual log, cut from the remnants a Maypole, to fit three candles, which we burned while we exchanged gifts. When we tried to actually build a fire in the firepit outside to burn the log it was an utter failure but hey, an attempt was made.
The whole celebration ended up being a rather ramshackle one, and ideally being able to have my fiancee join for a family Yule would help remedy this. Yule has a great potential for being a wonderful, cozy holiday shared with loved ones around a fire, delicious treats and healthful meals. But for a holiday celebrating the returning of the light, what can a Rokkatru practitioner do to align the celebration more closely to their path which celebrates the dark?
There are several deities that we could honor during this season — Hela, whose season of darkness and death is coming to an end with Yule, or perhaps any number of jotnar who are closely associated with the earth. This could be a time to do a blot of awakening for Gerdr, who is often interpreted to represent the fertile but cold soil being roused into wakefulness by Freyr, the fertile light and warmth of the sun (a myth which can be re-enacted in spring blots). Yule may be a time to call to Gerdr, give her a blot with sweet offerings in the earliest attempts to cajole the spring out of the freeze.
One could also make the argument that now is a time to hold such a blot to Jord — the earth which has gone into slumber through the cold and the dark, and which will soon be awakening again. Jormungandr, who has been associated with the liminal, the in-between, might be hailed at this time as the season on the thinned veil comes to a close (some traditions see the dark season as a season in which the veil is thinned, only beginning with Samhain but sometimes drawing on for a month or two). Skoll and Hati could again be hailed, for their ongoing chase through the heavens which drives the sun and the moon through their cycles.
If one wanted to do Yule classically, with multiple days of feasting, one could set aside nine days for Yule — each day holding a blot to honor one or more of the Rokkr and jotnar, the deities and sacred spirits of the dark, the night, and the wild. At the marking of the descent of darkness back into light, it seems a perfect time to honor those deities of the dark that we hold dear — to honor them even as we move forward out of the season of the dark and the cold, and move back into the realm of light and warmth.
This, I believe, is what I will seek to do for next year’s Yule.
How did you pass this Yule? Have you introduced any particular traditions to flavor this solar holiday for a darker path? I would love to hear if you wouldn’t mind sharing!