Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Drowning the Marzanna

Marzanna is an ancient pagan Slavic goddess, and one of her domains is Winter. On the vernal equinox which falls on March 21st, we make an effigy of her, set it on fire and then drown it in the river so that Spring will come.

80/365: The Marzanna
My Marzanna from last year

So, where does this tradition come from?

Slavic Pagans, of course.

Although Christianity in Poland has worked hard for the last thousand years to assimilate and conceal the multitude of wonderful pagan traditions within its Catholic celebrations, the drowning of the Marzanna persists despite many attempts to eradicate it. In fact it's traditional for pre-school children to make the effigy in class and then have a little field trip to drown her. Sometimes, older children will cut out paper numbers- symbolising their bad grades- and throw them in the water as well.

Your typical Marzanna should be made of straw, and dressed in white- or, as they do it in some regions, wound out of rags and wearing a colourful maiden's dress. The puppet would be paraded through the village so that she might draw out misery, hunger, sickness, and all the evils of the cold seasons out of every house. Once that duty was fulfilled, she would be set on fire and dropped into the water- and woe be unto those who looked back at her on their way home. Even torn to shreds, the goddess could still take vengeance with a curse.

The burning of Judas which was meant to replace it somehow never really caught on...and I am glad. Marzanna must die as the Winter cedes to Spring, but she will return next season to live again. Her burning is a symbol of the natural order, while tormenting a straw effigy of Judas only serves to translate guilt into angry righteousness.

Another ancient tradition would have us greet Jaryła, the god of Spring and fertility, with dances and rituals. Slavic religion persists in several modern-day faith groups, but so far my attempts to get in touch with them have been fruitless, so alas I can't give you an account of anything more authentic than the secularised drowning of Marzanna.

So. I haven't done this in a while, for lack of good company, but last year I found two friends who thought it was a great idea. We made our Marzanna from wood, rags and hay, so she should decompose well. The Ner river is pretty dirty already, but there was no need to contribute to the pollution.

Kasia, Piotrek, and Marzanna
Hello, Spring, goodbye, Winter!

Burning the Marzanna
You do have to set her on fire before you drown her.

As a bonus, here's a rather lovely video of the traditional drowning, shot last year by some Poles in...Glasgow. ;) Apparently they're doing it again this year, on March 25th. If you're in Glasgow, go join in the fun!

Meta information:

Wikipedia entry on Slavic Paganism:

COSMOPOLIS- the authors of the Drowning Marzanna video:

Literary source: Polskie Obrzędy i Zwyczaje, Dr. Barbara Ogrodowska

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