Marzanna (in Polish) or Morena (in Czech, Slovak, Russian) or also Mara, Maržena, Morana, Moréna, Mora or Marmora is a Slavic goddess associated with seasonal agrarian rites based on the idea of death and rebirth of nature. She is associated with death and winter and often described as the goddess of death. The end of winter is still being celebrated in some Slavic countries by throwing an effigy of Morana to the river on first spring day in March.
Some medieval Christian sources such as the Czech 9th century Mater Verborum also compare her to the Greek goddess Hecate, associating her with sorcery. 15th century Polish chronicler Jan Długosz likened her to Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov supposed her name was derived from the same root as the name of Roman god of war Mars, originally an agricultural deity. Other theories claim her name is derived from the same Indo-European root as Latin mors 'death' and Russian mor 'pestilence'. Some authors also likened her to mare, an evil spirit in Germanic and Slavic folklore, associated with nightmares and sleep paralysis. In some Russian dialects the word 'mara' means 'phantom', 'vision', 'hallucination'.
The tradition of burning or drowning an effigy of Marzanna to celebrate the end of winter is a folk custom that survives in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. Typically taking place on the day of the vernal equinox (20–21 March), the rite involves setting fire to a female straw effigy, drowning it in a river, or both.
In the Czech Republic or Poland, this is often performed during a field trip by children in kindergartens and primary schools. The effigy, often prepared by the children themselves, can range in size from a puppet to a life-size dummy. This ritual represents the end of the dark days of winter, the victory over death, and the welcoming of the spring rebirth.
It concerns the "drowning of Marzanna," a large figure of a woman made from various rags and bits of clothing which is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring calendar. Along the way, she is dipped into every puddle and pond ... Very often she is burned along with herbs before being drowned and a twin custom is to decorate a pine tree with flowers and colored baubles to be carried through the village by the girls. There are of course many superstitions associated with the ceremony: you can't touch Marzanna once she's in the water, you can't look back at her, and if you fall on your way home you're in big trouble. One, or a combination of any of these can bring the usual dose of sickness and plague.—Tom Galvin, "Drowning Your Sorrows in Spring", Warsaw Voice 13.544, March 28, 1999
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- Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov, Vladimir Toporov. Indo-European Mythology. / В. В. Иванов, В. Н. Топоров. Индоевропейская мифология. Мифы народов мира, М:Российская энциклопедия, 1994.
- Мара (Mara) in Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language by Vladimir Dahl.
- Marjorie Yovino-Young. Pagan Ritual and Myth in Russian Magic Tales: A Study of Patterns. Edwin Mellen Press, 1993.
- Skvortzov, Konstantin. Mater Verborum, 13th century Czech manuscript, with comments. Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, 1853.