October 14th is St Parascheva’s Day according to the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. Folklorists unanimously conclude that this was once a day of reverence for Mokoša, the mistress of fate, magic and weaving. This holiday was observed mostly by women as it is still to this day. Fresh from the harvest, the Goddess would take up the spindle and distaff and begin weaving the fates of men for the following year. The ancient Slavs believed women held great powers over fate and that these powers were wielded through the weaving of textiles. Following this day Slavic women would begin weaving tapestries and clothing for the coming winter, and with it the fates of their clans. A great many rituals and taboos were observed: One should take care not to leave stray threads of yarn out on this night lest the Goddess take it up and begin weaving without your knowledge. Magic and weaving were prohibited on the Friday following the 14th as this was set aside for solemn observance of the Goddess. Offerings of fruit, cottage cheese, porridge and other sweet things were placed at the foot of her alter. Libations were poured and fertility rituals were conducted to protect livestock and insure soil quality.
It appears the Slavs, unlike their western neighbors, viewed this holiday as a women’s affair, not a day of the dead. The revelry and mumming traditions were reserved for the conclusion of the dark of the year, not the beginning. Although our ancestors knew this time brought with it a thinning of the veil that left the living vulnerable to dark spirits like the vampire, they combated the threat by hunkering down and deferring to their women, who had power over such forces. In their magical practice, these women took forward-thinking steps to ensure their family’s safety over the long winter. At the end of winter (around the beginning of February) the men were then tasked with the duty of chasing away the daemons of the dark.
The opposite is true of Celtic tradition and as such the corresponding Celtic mumming and weaving rituals take place on opposite quarter days. The late winter celebration of Imbolc was a women’s seed-sowing holiday and Samhain, or Halloween, began as a men’s mumming procession in honor of the fertility god Crom Cruach. It stands to reason the that the Slavs and Celts had differing philosophies on how to negotiate the wheel of the year. Mumming rituals in Celtic culture were a form of passive resistance; people dress up as ghouls so as to not be recognized by the ghouls themselves. Slavic mumming rites were more assertive in their approach; ghouls were chased away by humans dressed up as bigger, louder ghouls. Likewise the Celtic Imbolc festival was dedicated to the Goddess Brigid in whose honor ritual crosses were woven. These were placed on doors and in windows to welcome the Goddess with the hope that her presence would bring a swift end to winter. The Slavic worship of Mokoša was more proactive, women began weaving on the eve of winter with the belief they had a co-creative role to play in their Goddesses’ handiwork.
I put out an offering of oats, cottage chess and apple. Together my partner and I made prayers to the Goddess and asked that she weave our shared desires into her eternal tapestry. We then consecrated her alter by each of the four elements using incense, candles, a bowl of water, and sea salt, all of which were placed together as our prayers concluded. Although no magic is preformed on this night, the burning coal once cast into the pot of water doubles as an old Slavic divination method. Depending on the the noise it makes and the direction it floats, it can indicate whether or not your wish for the following year will be granted by Mokoša. I was very pleased with our result!