Old rituals and mysteries
Each nation celebrates the arrival of spring a bit different, that’s why today I’ll talk about some Slavic rituals. Many of them have been forgotten, but that’s the common legacy of all Indo-Europeans.
The Spring Feast comes from the Nature Faith (pre-Christian Slavic belief) and was also called the Feast of Life. Those days all the important events were connected with the moon cycle, consisting of 13 months, where the month Świcień (świt – daylight) had a compensatory meaning. According to this measure spring was not coming on March 21th, but in the equinox, after which the life kept growing, until the Midsummer Night. That was the beginning of a new year, celebrated between 21th of March and 24th of April on the first Sunday after the equinox. The story itself is magical, so not surprisingly there were some mystical rituals.
The most famous is the ritual of killing the Winter called Marzanna, which was based on forming a female figure with straw. She was dressed in white robes, had linen hair and was wearing a hawthorn crown to protect people from demons. This doll in Belarus and Ukraine was called Kostroma, in Moravia was compared to the Greek Hecate and in the old Russian songs she was just death, although its oldest name is Nyja. The doll was burned or drowned to evoke the spring, accompanied by a joyful procession, singing and sounds of rattles and pipes to scare evil forces. In many Polish regions this rite is still being cultivated.
Another custom that survived until now is known as Ognie Gromadne (Poland), Grmači (Czech Republic), Пасхальный костёр (Russia) or Osterfeuer (Germany). During the Pentecostal Night huge straw stacks were on fire, and the shepherds with the torches of the “living fire” were asking for blessings. The stack was usually made of a barrel of tar, wrapped with straw and tied to the spruce. When the fire was burning people were dancing and singing, when it was dying down some of them were taking glowing wood to their homes to protect the house from evil spirits.
This feast was cultivated three to six times a year, but the most important celebration took place in spring. It was believed that the souls of the dead come and to gain their favour they should be fed during the special feast, in which people were dropping food and beverages on the floor. At times they went to cemeteries to leave there the nourishment. Souls should be also provided with the bath and warmth, so sauna and fireplaces were prepared. Fire should also scare away evil demons, which could appear together with the souls of the ancestors. Dziady is not an accidental name. It means wandering beggars, who were perceived as connectors between worlds. They were being asked to pray in exchange of food. Even today in some regions of the Poland, Ukraine and Belarus it is popular to leave food on graves.