Mokosh and Other Ladies of Land and Fate

by posted on July 11, 2021
Related: Irish Culture, Norse Culture, Slavic Culture, Deities

Dear ADF Readers,

This is Dobrogost (“Good Guest”) also known as the author of Slavicpaganfacts (SPF) Blog on wordpress. Some of the material here has been pulled by my own blog, but with significant editing. However, I will also be providing some material exclusively in my ADF article(s). For instance, my entire “The Goddess and Seasonal Change”section at the end  is new material compiled for ADF.

This is partially a gesture to show that I am not just promoting a blog here. I intend to provide original content, but I am reluctant to completely reinvent the wheel. I am sharing this topic of “Ladies of the Land and Fate “ first, because I feel that it has a special relevance to Druidry, and I recognize that my host organization is first and foremost a Celtic polytheist organization. My studies of East European pagan traditions have given me some unique perspectives on the Sovereignty Goddess- a common topic in Celtic studies. So allow me to open with that subject. However, this will also lead me down the rabbit hole of analyzing the Cailleach, and her many significant analogues across Europe- of which the “Baba Yaga” of Russian folklore is one.

My basic approach is using comparative mythology and folklore to reconstruct Slavic paganism. Folklore is inherently high-volume. Folklore texts are notoriously dry sometimes, because they involve numerous fables and beliefs collected and compiled by an avid enthusiast. It is easy to say that two fairy tales are related, for example, but without reading both of them you cannot get a feeling for how related they are. This is one reason why the Aarne-Thompson Classification system of fairy tales exists.  In the context of the Russian Baba Yaga and German Frau Holle, for example, it is known that both of these figures appear in Aarne-Thompson Type 480: The Spinning Woman by the Spring. This is also known as “The Kind Girl and the Unkind Girl.” (1) This is a story type that is especially relevant to the discussion of Baba Yaga, and as I hope to show, the Slavic Goddess Mokosh. However, the story type (AT 480) is extremely widespread, and exploration of the deeper meaning of these tales has implications well outside of Slavic paganism

On the Term “Sovereignty Goddess”

The concept of the “Sovereignty Goddess” is often wrapped up in the story motif of the loathly lady. In Irish lore, it is closely associated with the story known as Echtra Mac nEchach. In this tale, the protagonist willingly kisses an old hag who then transforms into a beautiful woman and bestows sovereignty or kingship upon him. (2) This is far from the only appearance of this motif. It is common in British folklore, the most famous parallel often being drawn to Queen Guinevere of the Arthurian Romances. (3) There’s also an old English Folk Song titled “King Henry” which features a loathly lady. The folk rock band Steeleye Span has a great version of it for modern audiences.

The harder one looks though, the more so-called “sovereignty” connections pop up around a number of Celtic Goddesses. According to Irish lore, the ancient King of Munster known as Ailil tried to force himself on the Goddess Aine. In response to this rape, she bit off his ear. As Ruth Marshall writes in “Limerick Folk Tales”: 

“As sovereignty guardian, Aine could grant or take away the right to rule. Under the ancient laws, a king had to be unblemished and whole in himself. Now that he was disfigured in the damage to his ear, Ailil was no longer fit to be king…- As a result of the rape, Aine gave birth to a son, Eogan, who later became king of Munster. From him, the Eoganacht lineage claimed its descent.” (4) This last portion helps cement her status as a sovereignty Goddess for me. As we shall see, stories about noble lineages going back to Goddess or fairy ancestors are fairly standard in Indo-European cultures.

Another Celtic Goddess who appears to be associated with sovereignty is the Cailleach. Legend says that a saint once struck the hag Cailleach with her own staff, turning her to stone. She became a pile of stones overlooking Coulagh Bay, which are now referred to as Ard na Cailli (The Hag’s Height.) According to Kate Corkery, she embodies the strength of the land, and contains within her all ages and seasons. (5) Her association with the land is one reason why she is sometimes thought to embody sovereignty. A more explicit link is provided by a 8th century poem in which the Cailleach laments that she was once beautiful and powerful and slept with kings.(6) This strongly suggests that the “hag” aspect of the Sovereignty Goddess is tied to Cailleach, or could be associated with her.

No discussion of the sovereignty Goddess would be complete without the Morrigan however. One thing at issue here is that the Morrigan is often described as a triple Goddess. As such, it would almost be surprising if none of her aspects had sovereignty functions. These three are sometimes listed as Babd, Macha, and Neamain. The triad varies between sources however, and the land Goddess Anu or Anan is also frequently included. This link is well demonstrated by the two hills known as the paps of Morrigan. This links her to the Irish land Goddess Anu, who has a similar place in Ireland’s geographical nomenclature. (7) The triad known as the Morrigan is clearly linked to the triad of Goddesses whose names were used to refer to the land of Ireland itself. Of these three, only Eriu is still used in the modern term for “Ireland.”(8) 

However, few would deny that the primary associations with the Morrigan are those of war, death, and destiny. Even here, we see some possible hints of a sovereignty function. For instance, when the Dagda finds her straddling a river and has sex with her on Samhain, she agrees to assist him and the Tuatha de Danaan in the fight against the Fomorians, which leads to the rule of the Tuatha de Danaan over Ireland. On the other hand, when the hero Cu Chulainn scorned Morrigan’s advances, he sealed his doom. He would later see her in the form of the washer at the ford, an ominous woman of Celtic mythology who washes the clothing of the doomed. Her appearance was considered an omen of death. (9) As we will see, this “washerwoman” aspect of Morrigan is one with deep roots going back to  mainland Europe. 

Kissing Dragons and Marrying Snakes

In the Irish tale of Echtra Mac nEchach, the sovereignty Goddess transforms into a beauty and then bestows kingship after being kissed. (2) There seems to be a general agreement that this is one of the classic examples of the sovereignty Goddess. Yet there is an obvious parallel just across the sea, in northern Spain, which is often overlooked. I am speaking of the Spanish sovereignty myths involving fairies called Xanas. Many Spanish nobles traced their descent back to a Xana, often with a very peculiar type of animal-bride myth. In some of these narratives, the xana is actually cursed to take the form of a dragon, and must be kissed by the noble ancestor in order to revert back to her true form. Upon having her beauty restored, the xana then marries the noble ancestor and the two found an aristocratic Spanish lineage together. (10)

This has all of the hallmarks of an Indo-European sovereignty myth. Not just because the frightening supernatural female transforms into a beautiful woman after being kissed, but also because it is a myth about the origins of a noble bloodline, much like the story of Aine and Ailil (above.) What’s more, the antiquity of this snake-woman or dragon ancestry myth is fairly easy to verify. There are numerous versions of this tale in the Indo-European language-speaking world.

One of the more famous examples of the snake-woman ancestor myth comes from Herodotus. Specifically, I am referring to his writings about the traditions of the Scythians, who lived north of the Black Sea in modern day Ukraine. These people were not Slavs, as the Slavic migrations would not take place until the mid 1st millennium A.D., but their traditions still provide us with insight into the history of this region.

The story recounted by Herodotus is enigmatic, in part because it is viewed through a Greek perspective. In particular, the Scythian ancestor is referred to as “Herakles” which is obviously an interpolation by Herodotus. In this story, “Herakles” goes to sleep while driving cattle, and awakes to find his horses stolen. To quote Godley’s translation of Herodotus(11):

“When Herakles awoke, he searched for them, visiting every part of the country, until at last he came to the land called the Hylaien (Woodland), and there he found in a cave a creature of double form [i.e. the Skythian Drakaina] that was half maiden and half serpent (ekhidna); above the buttocks she was a woman, below them a snake. When he saw her he was astonished, and asked her if she had seen his mares straying; she said that she had them, and would not return them to him before he had intercourse with her; Herakles did, in hope of this reward.”

This culminates in the birth of three sons, one of whom goes on to found the line of Scythian kings. (11) So this myth is also a sovereignty myth, explaining how a royal lineage acquired its divine mandate to rule by way of a sacred marriage with a supernatural woman. This account from Herodotus places the myth considerably farther east than Spain, and considerably farther back in time than the era in which most folklore was recorded. Yet the same basic myth extends even farther east, as far as India, where the royal line of Uddiyana once claimed descent from a naga (that is, a snake woman.)(12) In fact, even as far as Cambodia, we can find stories in which certain dynasties claim descent from a naga. (13) This distribution from Spain to Cambodia is difficult to explain, short of attributing it directly to the Proto-Indo-European mythology.

Yet one major hitch in this theory is that it shows up in Basque folklore, where we see something oddly similar. The Basques of course, do not speak an Indo-European language. According to Basque tradition, the Goddess Mari married the Lord of Biscay. She placed a condition upon their union that he was free to practice Christianity, but not within the household and away from Mari. Yet when her husband sees that one of her legs resembles that of a black goat, he makes the sign of the cross and she disappears. (14) This story has great significance for the Indo-European sovereignty myth. It clearly fits the criteria. Not only do we have a divine animal bride who contributes to the ancestry of a noble line (the Lords of Biscay) but as we will see, the image of a fairy woman or Goddess with an animal leg is also widespread.

We see this “taboo-breaking” element in the French tale of Melusine, for instance. In this story, the progenitor of the French Lusignan noble house marries a fairy woman named Melusine. She marries him, but makes him promise not to ever watch her bathe on Saturday. When he violates this taboo, he sees that she turns into a serpent from the waist down during this time period. He later gives himself away by calling her an “odious serpent” in anger, and she leaves him. (15)

Another brief note on animal bride stories; Stories of this type do not always involve snake women. In many stories, another animal is selected. In the Nart Sagas for instance, the daughters of the Sea God Donbetty are a dove maiden and a turtle maiden, both of whom marry Nart heroes. (16) In general, these other animal brides are often inserted into the same type of narrative. However, this variation is beyond the scope of my post. Additionally, a lot of these variations are regional. For example, bird maidens are extremely popular in Europe, but not in India. This suggests that these might be local variations, as opposed to being truly Proto-Indo-European. 

Another tale that will be important for this discussion is “The Snake Wife” from Ukraine.(17) In this story, a farmer obeys the advice of a talking snake in the woods, and magical events unfold. Following the serpent’s instructions, he harvests all but the last sheaf of his master’s corn, and asks only for the last sheaf as payment. He then throws the last sheaf into the fire, and a beautiful woman leaps out. He marries her, but she cautions him “Beware, for Heaven’s sake, of ever calling me a serpent. I will not suffer thee to call me by that name, and if thou dost thou shalt lose thy wife.” As expected for this story type, the man violates the taboo and the wife transforms into a snake before leaving him. Before she departs however, he kisses her three times. With each kiss, he gains new knowledge about the world. Finally, she tells him “Go now,” said she, “to the Tsar, and he will give thee his daughter for the knowledge thou hast. But pray to God for poor me, for now I must be and remain a serpent for ever.” The man goes on to marry the Tsar’s daughter, and the snake wife vanishes. 

The tale has obvious parallels to Spanish and French counterparts, as well as some stories that I have left out like the “Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” Suffice to say, it fits the bill of an Indo-European sovereignty/animal bride myth. The protagonist must kiss a snake wife three times, much as in some Spanish stories. It even ends with the protagonist marrying into royalty. There is one element of this story which is immensely significant, but which many readers might overlook; the element of the last sheaf of grain. Why does the peasant burn the last sheaf of grain in order to summon the snake wife? This brings us to our next section.

Grain Goddesses and Stone Goddesses

The last sheaf of grain holds significance in the folk traditions of many European countries. The tradition is perhaps best known from Scotland, where the last sheaf is often dedicated to Cailleach. The Cailleach has been interpreted as the hag aspect of the loathly lady paradigm. According to Patricia Monaghan, the king had to kiss or have intercourse with her in order to “transform” her into a splendid young woman. This has been interpreted as a metaphor for the blossoming of the land itself under the rule of a just king. (18) Like the snake wife of Ukrainian fairy tales however, she also was closely tied to the last sheaf of grain in Scotland. As each field was harvested, the field workers would shout “drive the Cailleach into the next field!” Finally, the last sheaf of grain was harvested and dressed up in woman’s clothes. This last sheaf was given the name of the Goddess herself. (18) 

If we turn our focus slightly further east, we encounter the grain mother of German folklore. Here too, a doll was often formed from the last sheaf, and named the corn mother or wheat-bride. (19) Here the figure changes slightly however. The German grain spirits seem to be more frequently treated as a sort of bogeyman or ghost story to frighten children. So for example, some Dutch stories portray the Ruggenmoeder (rye mother) as an old hag with red eyes and a black nose who carries a whip and pursues children. (20) 

Another trait that will be significant in this post is the association with spinning and Christmas time. The rye aunt was believed to punish maidservants who were not fully spinning on their distaffs until the Twelfth Night.(21) As we will see, this is very much like Frau Holle, another German folklore figure. 

Still further east, in Poland, the last ears or sheaves are fashioned into shape of the Pszena Baba (Wheat Woman), Baba (Old Woman) or Dziad. (Old Man.) (22) In Russia, the traditions of the field are complex. Much as with the German Rye mother, Russian children were told to avoid trampling fields or gardens so that the “Reaper”, “Noon Woman”, or “Iron Woman” did not get them. In the Pskov region bordering Latvia and Estonia, a supernatural woman lives in the rye field, and during harvest is driven into a neighboring unharvested field or into the forest. A number of figures, including the reaper, Baba Yaga, the rusalki, and the fiery serpent may reside in the corn field. (1)

A number of phrases and songs accompanied the harvest rituals in Russia. Field workers would speak of “chasing away the old woman” or “cutting down the old woman” or the old woman was told to “marry our old man.” Sometimes a small patch of rye stalks were left in the corner of the field, and braided for Baba Yaga.  As they did this, people would say “Baba Yaga, you harvested our grain for us, and this is all that we have left for you.” This association between Baba Yaga and the harvest is not an isolated incident. There is also a folk riddle which claims Baba Yaga “Feeds the world, but is herself hungry!” (1)

The association of the last sheaf with an old woman or hag is clearly widespread in Europe. Another tradition which intersects with this is found in Central Europe, where one can find narratives about an old hag getting ground up by a mill and coming out as a maiden, with her youth restored. Alternatively, stories from some Central European countries speak of a magic mill that destroys evil women, but turns other old women into young maidens. (24) This offers some striking parallels to the fearsome hag of Irish folklore, the Cailleach. In an Irish folktale titled “The Hag and the Long Leather Bag” we see a typical Aarne-Thompson 480 story (the same type associated with Frau Holle and Baba Yaga). The tale ends with the hag being destroyed by a mill. (25)

In Aukstaitija, Lithuania, there was a belief in a Gelezine Boba (Iron Woman) who lived under a stone at the edge of a swamp. The story about her says that she once went under the earth and then turned to stone or iron. Villagers scared their children with stories about her, saying that late at night she comes out to catch children and take them under her stone. Nijole Laurinkiene connects this “Iron Boba” with the German grain woman, who is also associated with iron. He notes that “Goddess stones” were also kept in granaries in Lithuania. He equates her with the Lithuanian Goddess “Zemyna”(26) 

It is worth noting that “Zemyna” simply means earth, and is cognate to the equivalent Slavic word. For instance, in Russian folklore, peasants would sometimes address a personified “Mat Syra Zemlya” or “Moist Mother Earth.”

It is also extremely interesting that the Boba mentioned by Laurinkiene is said to “turn to stone” after going underground. This seemingly contradicts her status as an “iron woman”, yet it is reminiscent of the stories about Cailleach who is also turned to stone. According to the narrative listed at the beginning of my post, the Cailleach was turned to stone when a Saint grabbed her staff from her hand and struck her, thus transforming her into  Ard na Cailli (The Hag’s Height.) (5) This is reminiscent of one Slovak tale, where Jenzibaba (Baba Yaga) also strikes people with a stick which turns people into stone.(1) The association with iron is also typical of Baba Yaga and her counterparts, as well as with the field spirit mentioned above. In fairy tales, a figure like Baba Yaga often is at least partially made of iron, either with an iron nose, iron leg, or iron teeth. 

Some Ukrainian folklore did feature an ‘Iron Woman” as a kind of bogey to scare children, and keep them from wandering into gardens and forests. A similar Iron Woman appears in Belarus as well, although she appears to merge with Baba Yaga in many cases. In Hungarian fairy tales, her counterpart is the iron-nosed woman who lives in a hut that turns upon a goose leg. This is a slight variation on the chicken-legged hut of her Russian counterpart. Sometimes even the Russian Baba Yaga is said to have iron teeth or an iron nose.(1) This is oddly similar to the black nose of the Dutch Rugenmoeder.

Petrification also features in the stories about Baba Dochia, in Romanian folklore. Interestingly, the name “Dochia” has been interpreted as an etymological deformation of “Dacia” which was the name for the land roughly corresponding to Romania and Moldova in ancient times. (27) This is tantalizingly similar to the Irish land Goddesses like Eriu, whose names were applied to Ireland itself. According to legend, Baba Dochia insulted the month of March, who then enlists February to freeze her to death, which apparently turns Dochia to stone. (1)

Sacred stones named “Mokas” also show up throughout the country of Lithuania, and oftentimes are associated with a legend. In at least some cases, the stones are explained as being the body of a person or family that was turned to stone. The Mokas families usually consist of three stones: “Mokas” (the father), “Mokiene” (the mother), and “Mokiukas” (the child). Sometimes Mokas and Mokiukas are next to each other, but the mother, Mokiene, is said to be located under the water of the nearby lake. (28)

Some have connected the name “Mokas” with Proto-Balto-Slavic *Mok meaning “wet.” This makes sense, because the stones are often associated with stories featuring lakes and rivers. Recall that the stone of the Lithuanian “Iron Woman” was similarly located under a stone near a swamp. In all likelihood, this was also a kind of “Mokas” at one time. 

The three stones grouped as a “Mokas family” has parallels in Scotland. In the valley of Glen Lyon, there is a place called Tigh nam Bodach, where a pile of stones is looked after by the locals. The stones are eroded sandstone in the rough shape of people, and they represent the hag Cailleach and her family. The largest stone represents Cailleach, and the second largest is her husband Bodach (meaning “Old Man.”) The third largest is her daughter Nighean- although there are a number of small ones as well representing additional children. (29)  One of the more practical beliefs associated with the Mokas stones is their association with childbirth. Specifically, childless women would journey to these stones with offerings in order to become pregnant. (28) 

However, the most interesting connection that can be drawn from the Mokas stones lies in the similarity of their names to “Mokosh” or “Mokosha” a Slavic Goddess. (28) Scholars have speculated about the nature of the Slavic Goddess Mokosh, but in general they tend to link her with “Moist Mother Earth” of Russian folklore. (30) The rationale behind her name is generally thought to be the association with wetness (Mokri in Russian.) However, this doesn’t explain the “-osh” ending, and it’s not entirely clear why “Wet” would become the proper name of a Goddess. The Lithuanian sacred stone known as the “Mokas” offers a tempting intermediary by which this “Mok-“ root could have acquired such significance. 

However, when it comes to the Slavic Goddess Mokosh, we have a little bit more to go off of than her name. 

Our clearest glimpse of a Slavic pantheon comes from the Russian Primary Chronicle. In the year 980 A.D.,  it tells us that Prince Vladimir of Kiev “…-Placed idols on a hill, outside of the palace yard, a wooden Perun with a silver head and a golden moustache, and Khors, and Dazhbog, and Stribog, and Simargl, and Mokosh.” These names should not be taken as evidence for a uniform pantheon across the entirety of the Slavic population. Not only do we hear some different names from West Slavic sources, but there is also evidence that different East Slavic deities such as Rod, Rozhanitsy, and Iarilo were worshipped on the countryside, outside of Kiev. (30) Even so, it is noteworthy that Mokosh seems to be the only Goddess listed among the six idols erected by Prince Vladimir.

As to what sort of Goddess Mokosh is, we have only a few references from folklore. One of particular interest to this discussion comes from Slovenia, in the 19th century. It is obviously modernized, but it offers some tantalizing hints: (31)

“Lamwaberl (a.k.a. Lamia, Lama-Baba) used to live in Grunau, a marshy place not far away from Saint Florian Square, near the Loznica, which often overflowed its banks. Archaeological artifacts confirm that in the olden times the place had been cultivated. A lone farming estate is situated there now, but once upon a time there stood the castle of Mokoshka, a heathen princess who lived in it. The castle was surrounded by gardens that were always green. She occasionally helped people, but sometimes also harmed them; she was especially wont to taking children with her. At long last, God punished her. On a stormy night, the castle and all its gardens sank into the ground. But Mokoshka was not doomed. She continued to appear, disguised in different female forms. She still carries off children, especially those who have been neglected by a parent.”

The similarity of this narrative to the Gelezine Boba (Iron Woman) in Lithuania is no coincidence, in my opinion. Here we have not only the narrative of a Goddess being “cast down” beneath the earth, but also taking children away. The two-sided nature emphasized here is also telling: Sometimes she helped people, and sometimes she hurt them. We see something oddly similar to this in fairy tales of Aarne-Thompson type 480, which are associated with Frau Holle and Baba Yaga. (1) Finally, the remark that she could appear “disguised in different female forms” seems to reference something along the lines of the loathly lady motif. Presumably, she could appear as a fair young woman or as a hag.

The Spinner by the Well: Holle, Perchta, and the Baba Yaga:

As mentioned in my discussion of the grain woman, the rye aunt of German folklore sometimes punishes maidservants who have not been busy spinning.(21) I’m not certain how widespread this connection was. More typically in German folklore, Frau Holle and Perchta were the ones who judged spinners, punishing the lazy and rewarding the industrious. Frau Holle may appear as a grey haired woman with long teeth who makes sure women finish their spinning before Christmas or New Year. (1) 

Frau Holle and Frau Perchta often appear in tales featuring the motifs of Aarne-Thompson Type 480: “The Spinning Woman by the Spring” ( abbreviated: AT 480) which is also associated with Baba Yaga and Baba Dochia. (1) The previously mentioned story from Donegal, Ireland, that ends with the hag getting ground to death by a mill is also AT 480. (25) I believe this story type is actually more often referred to as the “Kind Girl and the Unkind Girl.” However, it is worth asking where the other title comes from. Why is this story type called “The Spinning Woman by the Spring?”

This story often begins with a young girl who is abused by her stepmother, whereas her stepsister is treated very well. Her stepmother forces her to work hard, and in particular forces her to spin thread. In the Grimm’s tale about Frau Holle, the poor girl subsequently drops the spindle into a well or a spring, and must dive in to retrieve it. Once she goes in however, she suddenly finds herself in the abode of Frau Holle. She subsequently performs tasks for Holle, and is rewarded for her good work. When she gets back, this makes her stepmother jealous. The lazy step sister is sent to do the same, but ultimately gets “rewarded” with a bucket of hot tar.(32) The story type is incredibly widespread, and doesn’t always conform perfectly to the Grimm’s fairy tale. However, you will recognize it if you see it. 

Some versions cast the hag in a purely malevolent light. In the Donegal Irish story, the “reward” comes from animals that the young girl is kind to along the way, who help stop the hag from getting her. This can also be seen in some Russian stories about Baba Yaga. On the other hand, Baba Yaga also features in some tales that are almost identical to the Grimm’s story about Holle (where she gives both punishments and rewards.) A common element however is the hag acting as a stern task-mistress. In fact, one common task shared from Ireland to Eastern Europe is washing a colored piece of cloth white.(1)

In Romania, it is Baba Dochia who directs the poor girl to wash wool until it is white, which she accomplishes only with outside help. (33) A nearly identical motif is found in Ireland, where the Cailleach forces the young Goddess Bride to wash dark fleece until it is white. (29) This is the second major link between Cailleach and Dochia, the other striking parallel being an association with landmark stones (resulting from magical petrification.)

In Southern Germany and the Alpine regions of Europe, Frau Perchta has a very striking appearance that is very familiar to anyone from Eastern Europe. In early written sources, there  is a 1411 reference to Frau Perchta which denounces pagan beliefs in “Precht with an iron nose” another trait she shares in common with Baba Yaga. (1)

Frau Perchta may also have a single goose leg, whereas Baba Yaga is often described as having a single “bony leg.” Arguably the stronger connection is the one displayed by Baba Yaga’s hut however, which apparently “walks” on chicken legs.  Additionally, witches of Carpatho-Ukrainian folk belief often have chicken feet. There was even an odd tradition in Toulouse, France of all places, in which people would swear by “the distaff of the goose footed queen.” (1)

In Romania, a single chicken foot is attributed to Mother Friday, who is similarly associated with spinning. (1) In reality, “Mother Friday” is probably a product of Slavic paganism and Orthodox Christianity. This female personification of “Friday” has a significant place in Eastern European folk tradition, and deserves some brief explanation.

The Russian scholar Rybakov strongly connected the Russian Orthodox Saint Paraskeva-Friday with the Slavic Goddess Mokosh, who is listed among the idols of Pre-Christian Kiev in the Russian Primary Chronicle. The key piece of evidence for this was a folk tradition from the Russian North, where the name “Mokusha” survived into the 20th century. Evidently, the Mokusha was a spirit who punished women for violating prohibitions on spinning.(30)

There were canon Saints named “Paraskeva” (Greek for “Friday.”) However, in Eastern Europe this figure simply came to be referred to as Pyatnitsa (Russian for Friday) (30) or St. Vineri (St. Friday in Romanian). (1) In the process, this saint acquired folkloric traits similar to the German Holle and Perchta. There is even a Romanian tale which inserts St. Vineri into a story of AT 480. (1) Then there’s the chicken leg.  Stories of a single animal leg should also remind the reader of the Basque Mari, who had a single goat leg. (Refer back to “Kissing Dragons” above) 

It is  tempting to link the association with “Friday” to the Goddess Freyja, whom Friday is named after in most Germanic languages. The idea of identifying weekdays with Gods was transmitted throughout Europe by the Romans, but indirect transmission to Eastern Europe  via the Germanic tribes is difficult to rule out.

Unfortunately, there are issues with this explanation, at least if we apply it as a complete explanation of the motif. Week-Day fairies show up in numerous folktales, and no summary of this idea would be complete without the Iranian/ Central Asian Bibi Seshanbe (Literally, “Queen of Tuesday.”) In the deeply Islamic country of Uzbekistan, in Central Asia, she appears as one of the popular female “Saints” whom women can turn to for aid. (34) Similarly, Tajik women perform a ritual involving flour, and which requires them to recite a story about Bibi Seshanbe. This story is categorized as AT 480 + AT 510 (The Kind Girl and the Unkind Girl + Cinderella). After the ritual is complete, chicken feet are believed to sometimes appear in the flour as an omen. (1) 

Bibi Seshanbe belongs to a broad category of female “Saints” in Central Asian folk tradition, often associated with childbirth. While the names vary, many of the rituals are similar. Oftentimes these rituals center around a stone with a hole in it. One of these stones is found in Shakhimardan (Uzbekistan). During a ritual treatment procedure, childless women either sit on the stone or lay down on it, positioning their belly directly over the indentation. (35) This is very reminiscent of the Mokas stones of Lithuania, which also are utilized to facilitate pregnancy and childbirth. (28) Parallels can also be drawn to certain landmarks associated with Frau Holle in Germany. Typically, newborn babies are said to come from Frau Holle’s Pond. There also many narratives about landmark stones involving Frau Holle (although it’s not clear if these also were associated with childbirth.)

In Slovenia as well, there is an analogous figure associated with Tuesday. This is Baba Torka (named after “Torek” which is “Tuesday” in Slovene. Like Paraskeva-Friday, she punishes women who break taboos around spinning. (31) She doesn’t differ much from the folklore figures already mentioned, except to illustrate that not all of them are associated exclusively with “Friday.”

Fates and Domestic House Spirits 

Fates are an often misunderstood concept in European folklore, and the western obsession with Greek mythology is partially to blame. We tend to conceptualize the three fates as just three major Goddesses, like the Greek Moirae. Similar figures are found throughout Europe, but the situation in other European traditions tends to be more complex. The word “fairy” in many European languages, including English and Italian (fata) and French (fée) actually comes from the Latin word “fata” or “fate.” This implies that Vulgar Latin speakers of the late Roman Empire somehow associated fates with the fairies. But why would they?

The Prose Edda has some illuminating things to say about the fates of Norse mythology- the Nornir. It states that there are indeed three “main” Norns who weave at the well of Urd, but it also claims that there are many others who appear when a child is born. In one Eddic passage, Gangleri concludes: (36)

“Most sundered in birth I say the Norns are; They claim no common kin: Some are Aesir-Kin, Some are Elf-Kind, some are Dvalinn’s daughters.”

Dvalinn’s daughters are dwarfs. So we basically have a passage saying that fates or “Norns” are extremely diverse, and may not always be Goddesses (Aesir-Kin.) For me, this goes some way to explain the transformation of Latin “Fata” in “fairy.”

Another term closely associated with fates in Norse paganism is “Dis” or “Disir.” This one is harder to explain. It can seemingly be translated simply as “Lady.” However, the religious overtones of the word are also evident, and there were likely multiple times of year designated for “Disablot” which was essentially worship of the Disir. Sources refer to Disablot ceremonies in Spring, Autumn, and Winter. (37) Disir were associated with fertility and death. They could assist at childbirth, and every family had a protective dis of its own. (38) The Disir not only acted as midwives, but when present at the birth of a child, they could determine its destiny. (39) If you think back to “Sleeping Beauty” the three fairies at the beginning actually play this role by assigning “gifts” like beauty to the princess when she is born. 

However, even all of this doesn’t capture the full diversity of the beings known as Disir in Norse paganism. They could also be local land spirits. In Iceland, the tradition of respecting Landdisarsteinar (Land Disar Stones) has been remembered up to modern times. (40) On top of this, even the chief Goddess Freyja was apparently “Vanadis” that is “The Dis of the Vanir.”

In Slavic paganism, the exact counterparts of the Disir are the Rozhanitsy. More specifically, Rozhanitsy in Russian means “ones who give birth.” Church chronicles chastise people in Russian for continuing to honor the Rozhanitsy, but are of course vague of the details. They are generally connected with the cult of ancestors, and are often considered analogous to the Roman penates. (30) This is supported by equivalent figures in other Slavic countries, such as the Slovene “Rojenice.” A paragraph in a Slovene journal from 1844 briefly describes the Rojenice as fates, who are associated with childbirth, as well as fertility and the fortune of the household. (31)

Suffice to say, the bewildering array of traits that we see associated with Frau Holle, Frau Perchta, and Baba Yaga strongly parallels the collection of traits associated with the Disir. (Hence the title of this post, “Ladies of Land and Fate.”) It can also explain why they may sometimes appear as Goddesses, and other times as something more humble like a fairy or a house spirit. 

Moving to Southern Europe, we see a very similar tendency in Albanian folklore, where fates are known as the “Ora.” There are said to be as many Ora as there are people, and each person is thought to be assigned an Ora as a guardian at birth. However, a chief “Ora” reigns over all others. To quote Albert Doja’s article “Mythology and Destiny.” (41)

The principal ora, who is beautiful,
with eyes that shine like precious stones, presides
from atop a big rock over the meeting of the three
hundred ora. Their faces change according to the
degree of happiness they mete out to the new baby.

In some parts of Albania however, the role of the Ora is replaced by another type of fate called a “Vitore.” This has been interpreted as meaning “A spinster, a woman who spins” based on the word “vek/vegj” meaning “loom.” The Vitore and the Ora both function as fates, and as house spirits. As house spirits, they regularly take the forms of snakes: The Vitore can appear as a serpent with golden horns who brings gold; in other regions, she appears as a snake that protects the house and brings the family luck. (41) The Albanians are not Slavs- rather their language belongs to its own branch of the Indo-European language family. However, if we look at their Slavic neighbors like the Slovenes, we can see that they too have a kind of household serpent in their folklore, which is said to dwell by the fireplace and bring luck. (31) The association of the house spirit with the fireplace is not arbitrary. There are other examples of the link between the house spirit and a domestic fire.

This notion of a fate as a household spirit is fairly widespread in Eastern Europe. The Russian fate known as “Dolya” (Lot or portion) is said to live behind the stove. When happy, she brings good luck. When unhappy, she becomes a hag and brings misfortune. (42) The Dolya has a cognate in Baltic mythology, namely the Dalia or Dalis. The Baltic Dalia is not the Fate Goddess proper (that’s Laima) but rather, the Dalia personifies the individual portion of luck distributed by Laima. (41) 

 By analogy with the Baltic “Dalia” (41), we might presume that the Slavic “Dolya” was given to the household by Mokosh. This explains why the “Mokusha” of Russian folklore, recorded after Christianization, seems to have qualities of the female domestic spirit. In particular, she resembles the kikimora, a feminine household spirit who would tangle thread if spinning and needlework were not put away at night, and not protected by the sign of the cross. (30) She was said to dwell around the oven or stove, like the Dolya, and was described as having chicken legs. (42) There is ambiguity, but the Kikimora and Dolya probably both refer to a type of Rozhanitsa, and Mokosh is (according to my interpretation) the Queen of the Rozhanitsy. 

Another Baltic parallel can be found in the Baltic fairies known as the Laumes. The violation of spinning taboos is punished by fairies known as Laumes in a number of Lithuanian tales- very much like the Mokusha of the Russian North. (1) However, Laumes are distinguished from the related Baltic fate Goddess known as Laima. (43) Based on this, the application of a fate Goddesses’ name (i.e. Mokosh) to a lesser fairy or spirit might not be a modern development, but rather something that dates back to ancient Balto-Slavic paganism.

While on the subject of Dolya, it should be noted that the dwelling place behind the stove is attributed to numerous other beings in East European folklore. Each of the following is said to live behind the stove:

Aitvaras, a Lithuanian domestic spirit resembling a fiery snake. (44)

Asplenie/ Zaltys, a literal grass snake kept beside the stove in Lithuania. (43)

The Kikimora, a female house spirit associated with spinning. (42)

Jezibaba- The Slovak version of Baba Yaga. (1)

Dolya, a household luck/fortune spirit of Russia and Ukraine (42)

The case of Jezibaba is particularly intriguing. The link with the stove ties in with a number of spinster spirits mentioned in the previous section (The Spinner by the Well: Holle, Perchta, and Baba Yaga) The name “Jezi” in Czechoslovak is directly related to the Russian “Yaga” and therefore Jezibaba (or Jenzibaba) can be literally translated as “Baba Yaga” in Russian. Both are thought to take their name from a common medieval (Old Slavic) character name. (1)

 In Slovakia, Jenzibaba was said to live behind the stove, and in one charm she is addressed much like Baba Torka; Slovak children placed their baby tooth behind the stove and said “Jenzibaba, here is a bone tooth for you, give me an iron one for it!” This is nearly identical to the requests made of Baba Torka in Slovenia. Additionally, one Russian love charm begins with the surreal proclamation: “In the open field there are 77 copper bright red hot stoves, and on each of those 77 copper bright red hot stoves there are 77 Egi-Babas.”(1) 

There are some fairy tales which strengthen Baba Yaga’s connection to the domestic fire. In Vasilisa the Beautiful, the heroine is sent to obtain fire from Baba Yaga’s hut. She later returns with fire in a skull that has glowing eyes. Her family, which initially put out the fire as an excuse to send her to her death, reveals that they were unable to strike a spark while she was gone. The skull later burns the stepmother and her daughter to death. (45) This tale is probably best understood as a variation on AT 480, except with the unkind girl (the heroine’s step-sister) having Baba Yaga’s punishment brought back to her (rather than the step-sister being sent to Baba Yaga after the heroine returns with a reward.)

The fact that people offered a tooth to Jenzibaba in Slovakia is also extremely telling. Tooth offerings have a wide array of parallels throughout European and modern American folklore. Obviously, a lot of us know of the tooth fairy. In a lot of countries, including Germany and most Romance language speaking countries, a newly lost tooth is given to a mouse. In parts of Germany, children would throw its first cast tooth upon the stove, saying, “Little mouse, little mouse, my dear little brother,  take my bone tooth and give me an iron one.” Alternatively, in the southern German region of Swabia, the tooth is dropped directly into a mouse hole. (46)

The tradition of offering a tooth to a spirit behind the stove or in a mouse hole, as seen with Jenzibaba and Baba Torka (1) is also highly significant. The Swedes of Finland addressed the Tomte or Locke, the hearth spirit when offering a tooth. It is noteworthy that the “Tomtorma” or Swedish house snake mentioned above literally means “Tomte Snake.” In Estonia, teeth that fell out were offered to the Stove Spirit. (47)

Triple Goddesses and the Mor Rigan

In one Russian tale, Baba Yaga responds to the hero’s inquiry as follows: “Well, go then; my sister lives closer to there. Here’s a ball of thread for you. Wherever the ball of thread rolls, follow it, and you’ll come to my sister.” Unsurprisingly, her sister is also a Baba Yaga. As is the third one after that. It is the third one who provides what the hero needs.(48)

The three Baba Yagas have a number of interesting analogues outside of Russia. In a Romanian tale, we see a similar triad comprised of Lady Wednesday, Lady Thursday, and Lady Friday. (49) This seems like an obvious reference to St. Paraskeva (mentioned previously.)

One of the most fascinating triads depicted in Slavic folklore comes from Slovenia. The narrative is quoted directly below: (50)

“According to the tradition of Lokev, the female mythical being called Baba is connected on one side to the cave and on the other to the hill called Selezna Babica (Iron Baba, Granny, Midwife.) One of the legends says that one of the three fates called Rojenica, Sojenica, and Babica from the Vilenica Cave fled into the cave on the hill and was transformed from a midwife (In Slovenian, babica) to the evil Baba. The villagers wanted to regain assistance for Babica for their birthing mothers. To achieve this, they have to bury iron pokers from the oven at Zelezna Babica during a thunderstorm when three ninth children were born. The pokers attracted lightning, which caused Babica to run away and return to Vilenica Cave, to help birthing mothers again…-

-…The connection between births and Babas from caves can also be noted in other traditions. In the region of Soca valley, the women who gave birth were told that “Wild Babas” brought new-borns from caves. In contrast, there are traditions that connect Babas from caves to death. In Skocjan, Baba Ancka from the cave cooked broad beans and took dead children with her.”

This one narrative combines nearly everything I have discussed in this post, from the Iron Woman to the Rojenice. It appears to depict a triad of Rojenice- a group of Goddesses associated with childbirth. Only one is named “Rojenica” but the meaning of all three names is fairly similar. While a single Fate might be an isolated house spirit, three together starts to look very mythological. This obviously parallels the three Fates or “Moirae” of Greek mythology.

In the Greek mythology of Homeric times, it’s thought that there was one fate named “Moira.” Later, evidence arises of a triad of “Moirae” or Fates. The Moirae were powerful Greek Goddesses whom even Zeus could not countermand. Superstitions about them survived up to modern times, including, the tradition of leaving offerings of cake at caves where the Moirae were supposed to live. (43) 

Some researchers have actually linked the three “Moirae” with the “Morrigan”, a triple Goddess of Irish mythology, as well as the three chief Norns of Norse mythology (51) There is some data to support this. In particular, the Morrigan of Irish mythology resembles the Germanic Disir/Idisi, which have been discussed previously. Some scholars like John Lindow have noted that the Disir can be indistinguishable from Valkyries- the battle maidens who would choose the fates of warriors on the field. Similarly, one of the Old High German “Merseburg Charms” mentions the idisi as maidens who give aid to warriors in battle. (52) The Valkyries choose those who will be slain in battle, which is reminiscent of the role played by a number of forms taken by the Morrigan. Among them, already mentioned (at the beginning), is the washer at the ford, who appears as an omen- a woman washing the clothes of the doomed before they are even dead. This is often specifically before battle. (9)

Among the supernatural women of Slavic folklore, those who govern the fate of men in battle do not seem to be typical. However, the element of the washer of the ford does track all the way across Europe with remarkable regularity. 

In Scotland she is called the Bean Nighe or fairy woman. She is said to sling her long breasts behind her back while washing the clothes of the doomed. It is advised that a man who sees her should sneak up behind her and drink milk from her breasts, so as to become her milk-kin. After this is done, she will reveal any secrets of the future that the man desires. (53)

This has strong parallels as far east as the Caucasus region of Russia. In the Circassian Nart Sagas, we see this same episode of “nursing at the hag’s back” except it’s with Kuldabagus, the Bitch of the Flying Wagon, who is basically playing the role of the Russian Baba Yaga, the keeper of the magic horses in many fairy tales. (54) Hags or ogresses who sling their breasts over their shoulders are actually bizarrely common (1). In some Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga does have this strange talent for slinging back her breasts. (55)  However, the episode that shows up in Scotland and the Caucasus of sneaking up behind her to become “milk kin” to her is pretty specific and striking.

Another interesting figure in Eastern Europe who slings breasts over her shoulders is the Hutsul Bohynia, also called the Diva-Baba. Hutsul (Carpatho-Ukrainian) folklore has remembered her as a vicious child-stealing she-devil, who is the mother of changelings. However, her name “Bohynia” literally translates to “Goddess.” (56) 

The Polish counterpart of the Carpatho-Ukrainian“Diva-Baba” or “Bohynia” is the Dziwozona/Boginka. In Polish folklore, she very clearly plays the part of a washerwoman with large breasts, similar to the Scottish Bean Nighe. Sometimes this is portrayed almost comically, for instance, she may use one of her large breasts as a laundry paddle. She is also portrayed as a kind of water nymph, similar to the Russian rusalka.(57) In the Białystok (Northeastern Poland) another name for this being was the “Mara.” (58)

It should be noted that In Ukrainian, a “Mara” is a ghost or spectre, or else an evil force of demon in female form. (62) In Northern Russia, especially around Karelia, the spinning female house spirit discussed previously may actually be referred to as a “Mara” instead of a Kikimora. (59)  In fact, the “-mora” in Kikimora probably comes from the same root. This seems puzzling at first, because the Kikimora is a domestic spirit. However, some Russian sources say the Kikimora originated from the swamp. Thus, she could have enjoyed a previous existence as a swamp hag like the Bohynia. 

Interestingly, in Latvian folklore, there is also a folk-Goddess named “Mara” who is associated with the earth and childbirth. However, some researchers believe that this is a conflation with the Christian “Maria.” (60) Fairy washerwomen are also fairly common in Romance language speaking countries. In French/ Breton folklore, the Lavandieres de la Nuit (night washers) are said to wash shrouds for the dead. (61) 

In Spain, the fairy washerwoman appears as the Moura Lavadeira. The term “Moura” typically glossed as fairy, is thought to come from Celtic “MRVOS” meaning a dead or supernatural spirit. (62) It is extremely tempting to connect this figure with the Irish Goddess triad known as the “Morrigan.” For one, obviously, the Morrigan is closely associated with the fairy washerwoman. Additionally, the name “Morrigan” is typically interpreted as meaning “Phantom Queen” with the “Mor-” root meaning “phantom” or “mora” specifically a nocturnal spirit.  (63) Certainly in Germanic languages like English, the term “Mare” or “Maere” is typically associated with nightmares (hence the name), and the spirits that were thought to cause them. The Russian Mara or Kikimora has the exact same association with nightmares as her Germanic counterpart. (64) Thus, her name probably references the exact same Celtic root as Spanish Mouro. 

Moura’s have a dazzling array of other functions in Iberian folklore. In some tales, they have the form of a snake or dragon who must be kissed in order to transform into a fairy woman, much like the Xana (one of the other terms for a Spanish fairy). As mentioned previously, this seems to connect her with the sovereignty Goddess. Some tales speak of  pedra-mouras, which are mouras which inhabit a stone. For this blog post, probably the most interesting are the moura-fiandeira (the spinning moura). These fairies spin thread, and are often said to have created giant stone megaliths overnight. One large, wheel-like stone called Pedra Formosa at Citania de Briterios is said to have been carried on the head of a moura fiandeira while she was spinning thread with as spindle. (65)

It seems that to our ancestors, fate was closely associated with birth (specifically, being assigned at birth.) Consequently, deities visiting children at birth were seen as merging fate with fertility. We see this tendency with the Rozhanitsas, as well as the Disir. On the other hand, death (Mora/Mara in many IE languages) was likely also associated with fate, and it was the flip side of fertility. This cycle also applied to the seasons, with the hag being destroyed each year to give rise to a younger Goddess. The renewal or destruction of an old “hag” obviously lends itself to a seasonal interpretation. This raises the question of the exact seasonal cycles that are embodied in the mythology of Mokosh. There are a number of sources that hint at this.

The Goddess and Seasonal Change

In Poland, some people still celebrate the spring equinox by constructing an effigy called Marzanna. The meaning of this name should be no mystery, after reading the previous section. They made the effigy of straw or hemp, and dressed it up before parading it around. They then cast it into a body of water. On the way back, it was customary to bring back a “gaik.” The gaik was a green branch or small tree adorned with ribbons. At the end of this ritual they sang;

“We have taken death from the village

And brought the green branch to the village.” (22)

The practice has analogues across Eastern Europe. The same effigy is known as “Mara”or “Marena”among other Slavic peoples. In all cases, she is clearly a personification of winter (56) While the mythology is unclear, it does seem from a ritual standpoint that “Mara”, “Marena”, or ‘Marzanna” was an aspect of Mokosh, at least originally. It is not clear if the Marzanna effigy should be identified with the last sheaf, which was often called “Baba” (The Old Lady.) However, based on analogues to the Cailleach, it seems doubtful that they can be entirely separated.

 The Celtic Cailleach was clearly the personification of winter, as well as the Goddess of the last sheaf harvested. A Scottish term for her was the “Carlin.” The Carlin/Cailleach was believed to be embodied in the last sheaf harvested. Yet she was also associated with winter storms (18) In addition to the last sheaf however, the Cailleach could be embodied by a log called “Cailleach Nollaigh” (Christmas Old Wife). This log was dragged through the village and beaten. It was eventually burned to banish death from the household, and mark an end to winter. (29)

A closer analogue to the Polish Marzanna ritual is probably the Semik rituals in Ukraine and Russia. In East Slavic countries. “Semik” was the 7th or 8th week after Easter, and it had a number of names, including Rusal’naia Week (Rusalka Week.) This holiday seems to have fallen mostly in late May, early June- much later than the Spring Equinox tradition surrounding Marzanna in Poland. However, Marzanna effigies could also make an appearance as late as June. More specifically, on Ivan Kupala (Summer Solstice) the name “Marena” or “Morynka” was given to a tree branch decorated with flowers and ribbons. Essentially, this was the spitting image of the Polish “gaik.” This Marena tree was then dismantled or even burned. This is more-or-less identical to the effigy destruction that took place on Semik. (66)   

On Semik, it was believed that Rusalki were water nymphs who left the waters for a week to bring fertility to the land. The grass was believed to turn green beneath their feet. Grain also grew thicker in the fields where they frolicked.  Birch trees were especially venerated at this time in Russia, due to their association with Spring and Summer. Sometimes a particular birch tree was cut down and brought to the village, where it was decorated and songs were sung. (30) 

Most tellingly however, the grand celebrations of Rusalka week often ended with a “farewell” or even a funeral for the Rusalka, which was intended to send it back to the waters.Sometimes a girl assumed the role of the “Rusalka” and sometimes an effigy was carried by a procession to the nearest river. In short, the female effigy rituals taking place in Spring and Summer are largely similar. However, these rituals are typically restricted to the first half of the year. They do not make an appearance in Autumn or Winter.  One of the most interesting tales about the Rusalki showcases them as dangerous beings who attempt to drown men in the water. The story ends with the Rusalki stopping in the middle of drowning a man, and saying that their “elder” is calling them back home, thus ending Rusalka Week. There is no clarification on who the ‘elder” Rusalka is. (30)

At a glance, the connection to summer traditions may seem confusing. If Mokosh is the elder of the life-giving Rusalki of Summer, then can she also be considered a Winter Hag? To be sure, we see slightly more evidence of a Winter Hag figure across Europe;

In Romanian folklore, Baba Dochia is clearly the equivalent of the Celtic Cailleach. To recap; In Romania, it is Baba Dochia who directs the poor girl to wash wool until it is white, which she accomplishes only with outside help. (33) A nearly identical motif is found in Ireland, where the Cailleach forces the young Goddess Bride to wash dark fleece until it is white. (29) The name “Baba Dochia” like “Cailleach” (Irish for hag) both appear in stories of Aarne Thompson type 480: The Spinner By the Well AKA “The Kind Girl and the Unkind Girl.” (1)(25)

Baba Dochia also shows up as the winter hag in Hutsul lore from the Ukrainian Carpathians. One Hutsul legend tells how the Spring Wind appeared in the form of a gallant youth on a horse. The horse kicks the ice woman Eudochia, bringing winter to an end.(67) This is not unlike the conflict between the Cailleach and Angus Mac Og in Irish lore. (33)

 On the other hand, it would be wrong to see this Goddess as a simple villain. Romania also has a holy figure associated with the story type AT 480; St. Vineri, or Saint Friday, who is sometimes portrayed as governing taboos on spinning, and also has  a chicken foot. (1) This St. Vineri is the exact counterpart of the Russian St. Paraskevi- also meaning “Friday” in Greek. Her enforcement of spinning taboos is one reason that the Russian scholar Rybkov believed she was a disguise of the Slavic Goddess Mokosh. (30) 

Interestingly however, the feast day of St. Paraskevi is October 28. (43) If you adjust for the Julian calendar, this actually means that Eastern Orthodox churches still using the old calendar would celebrate this feast on our (Gregorian calendar) November 10. This corresponds very well to the transition date between Autumn and Winter. The date of November 10 is also very close to the Celtic Samhain, which could indeed be associated with the Cailleach. In Scottish folklore,  it was said that Cailleach rises on Samhain to bring the ice and snow. (29) Oddly enough, the Irish and the Slavs both loved early November festivals, whereas the Germanic peoples tended to elevate December/Midwinter as their chief festival during the cold season. That’s not to say Germans did nothing in November, or Slavs nothing in December- but there is a pattern in the relative prominence of November vs December festivals. This makes sense even from a resource standpoint; Few agrarian societies could have an enormous feast both in November and December. 

The legends in Central Europe largely track with the Germanic tendency of celebrating around midwinter. Here, we see Frau Holle and Perchta assume the mantle. She is clearly associated with a holiday in December or even early January ( in association with The Epiphany)(1) much later than the Irish Samhain or the day of St. Paraskevi in Russia. 

A final major piece of insight on this Goddess comes from a source that may seem unlikely; The Mordvins. The Mordvins are a Finno-Ugric language speaking minority in modern day Russia. However, like all Finno-Ugric people they have a long history of interaction with Indo-European language speakers. These ancient contacts with the Mordvins include the Old East Slavs, as well as Baltic and Indo-Iranian speakers, as evidenced by loanwords.(68) Why the sudden pivot to the subject of the  Mordvins? Because it turns out they have a fabulously well-preserved tradition which includes a Spinning Goddess named Ange Patyai. This Goddess is obviously a very close relative of the Slavic Mokosh. 

Ange Patyai is the highest Goddess of the Mordvin pantheon, and the mother of all of the other main deities worshipped by the Mordvins, except for the Heavenly Father deity Cham-Pas. One of her sons is the solar deity Nishke-Pas, arguably the most important Mordvin deity in terms of overall worship. She is also the mother of Purgine-Pas (The Thunder Child God.) This word “Purgine” in Purgine -Pas translates to “Thunder” (69). The word is obviously an Indo-European loan related to the name of the Lithuanian Thunder God “Perkunas” and Slavic “Perun.” Therefore, we have good reason to believe there are correspondences between the Mordvinic and Balto-Slavic mythologies.

One of the most fascinating things about Ange Patyai is that she has a number of festivals throughout the year. One of her main festivals is on Winter Solstice, but the other is the week of Semik. During her week from Christmas-eve to the new year and winter, and from the beginning of Semik to the following Thursday, traditional Mordvin women did not spin. To do so on either of these periods was considered a great sin. (69) This is obviously quite similar to the spinning-related taboos associated with Mokosh and St. Paraskevi among ethnic Russians. (30)

The Goddess Ange Patyai has a number of illuminating characteristics in common with the figures described here; Ange Patyai lives both in heaven, and on earth. Her heavenly house is filled with unborn human souls, and with growing corn. She can take a very beautiful form in the sky, but when she descends to earth, she may change into an old woman. In this form, she is said to be  “like iron” and the earth bends beneath her as she walks.  She can also take the form of a great white and gold bird showering seeds from its beak. Sometimes in the summer at mid-day, one can see a thin shadowy veil moving over the corn fields; The Mordvins say this is the shadow of Ange Patyai. Like the Russians, the Mordvin celebrate Semik by setting up a decorated birch tree near a watercourse. This is one of two major festivals dedicated to Ange Patyai. The other one in Winter has a much more domestic character. Here too, however, the birch tree makes an appearance as kindling for the stove. (69)

The Goddess also assigns an Ange Ozais or good guardian spirit to each babe. Mordvin legends talk about her creating good spirits by striking sparks that fell from heaven (Much like “God” creating angels in the legends of ethnic Russians.) However, she often goes to visit children herself and does acts of kindness for them.(69)

While Ange Patyai looms large over most other female deities, the Mordvins of Simbursk venerated at least one other figure as a prominent goddess; “Sorya” (A loan from Slavic “Zorya” meaning dawn) was said to be Ange Patyai’s dearest granddaughter. (69) This strengthens the ties to the Slavic pantheon, and also suggests that there were in fact other important Goddesses within both pantheons.

The Mordvin material on this Goddess speaks for itself, and requires very little analysis that hasn’t been done already. Ange Patyai completes and reinforces this article’s topics perfectly. The Slavic Mokosh/ Paraskevi can be inferred to be a close relative of the Mordvin Ange Patyai, and perhaps more distantly to Frau Holle and the Cailleach. She was a Goddess of fertility, birth, and of the guardian spirits assigned at birth (which could share many qualities with her.)

 She had a major winter festival in November or December, but was probably celebrated prominently during the warm half of the year as well- thus casting doubt on any simplistic generalizations about her seasonal nature. The Eastern European effigy/ tree rituals hint at a very complex and cyclic seasonal myth. This is also illustrated by folktales claiming Mokosh and Ange Patyai could take different female forms, including a young beauty or an old hag. This is consistent with the Celtic mythology around the Cailleach. Both can be linked to the magical transformation in stories about the “Loathly Lady.” The land/fate Goddesses of ancient Europe were clearly  dynamic figures that were not easy to categorize, but this article presents what I believe is a good outline.

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“Mokosh and Other Ladies of Land and Fate.” submitted by Dobrogost on 22 March, 2021


by posted on July 11, 2021 | Related: Irish Culture, Norse Culture, Slavic Culture, Deities
Citation: Dobrogost, "Mokosh and Other Ladies of Land and Fate", Ár nDraíocht Féin, July 11, 2021, https://ng.adf.org/article/mokosh-and-other-ladies-of-land-and-fate/

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