“Of them they say there are three, who when a person is born come into the house in order to decide their fate. A loaf of bread must always be left on the table for them on this occasion. One of the Parkas [Fates] starts spinning the thread of life, the seconds spins further, and the third cuts the thread upon a persons death.” (Slovenian Folktale)
In the archaic religions of Old Europe the concept of fate was personified as three women spinners. Slavic religion appears to have been no different. Surprisingly there is a fair amount of historical documentation in Old Church Slavonic that relays information about pre-christian beliefs concerning the powers of fate. This appears primarily in the didactic literature written in medieval Russia by orthodox christian monks. The god Rod is often placed alongside female counterparts called Rozhanitsy (Rožanice), female demigoddesses responsible for the birth and fate of newborn children. This etymology comes from the Common Slavic root rod- meaning ‘birth’, ‘origin’, ‘kin’. Hence Rodnovery, which means ‘original faith’. The didactic sources shed little light on the cult practices of the male god Rod, but it is safe to say that his female companions had much to do with fate and childbirth. Texts recount a “Rozhanitsy meal” prepared by worshipers following christmas. This is related to the mythological cycle of the sun, which was believed to have been born again from the underworld on the winter solstice. These god/dess(es) of fate were propitiated to ensure the health of the newborn solar deity. In the Balkans he is called “Božić” or “Badjak”. The day of reverence for the goddesses of fate is, as we would expect, also the time when midwives are honored. Today it is known as ‘Babin Dan’, or ‘Grandmother’s Day’. It’s celebrated in the Balkans following new years.
Boris Rybakov speculated that the god Rod was the omnipotent and omnipresent supreme deity of the Slavic pantheon. This might be be because fate, in addition to being a deity, is also the all-pervasive, all-encompassing cosmic web of complex interrelationships that connect our world with the worlds beyond. In this way, Rod and Rozhanitsa distinguish themselves from the other gods who are much more transient in nature. Rather they are in a class of beings who, like the ancestors and spirits of the clan, have a co-dependent relationship with us throughout life, mediating our daily successes and failures. Unlike the other gods whom we may choose to enter into a cooperative relationship with, we have little choice when it comes to the rule of the Fates. I will expound on this more later. In the Balkans we perceive them as three female sisters. Usually they are young women. The Serbs call them suđaje or sudice, the Croats suđenice. Other names include the Bulgarian orisnice, Macedonian narecnice, Czech sudičky, Polish rodzanice, narecznice or sudiczki and the Slovenian sojenice or rojenice. In the east they make up a binary entity called dolya / nedolya, or srecha / nesrecha, personifications of good and bad luck respectively.
Little is known about their worship in antiquity but we do have some clues from related folklore and folk magic. According to one Czech legend, the Sudičky are three old women who spin wool. They approach the cradles of every newborn child and weave their fate. The first has a big bottom lip from continuously salivating the thread. The second has an inch-wide thumb from constantly drafting the fiber, and the third has a huge foot from pedaling the spinning wheel. What they pronounce cannot be undone. This motif brings to mind the image of Baba Yaga. Her forest cottage was buttressed by chicken feet which sometimes had a spindle for a heel. Even the vila and rusalkas work with thread in some instances, the latter being associated with un-spun wool in some Ukrainian tales. A poem recorded by the Serbian ethnologist Vuk Karadžić tells of the faery queen Radiša who enjoins another vila to spin thread on a golden spindle. Note how this name connects to our Russian Rozhanitsa via the prefix rod-/rad-. Returning to Russia, the diminutive female house spirit kikimora, or mora for short, sits on the stove and spins yarn at night when everyone in the home is asleep.
According to the thesis put forth by Slovenian ethnologist Mirjam Mencej, balls of un-spun wool are a metaphor for the otherworld, while the act of spinning refers to the world of the living as it transits from the liminal sphere into material existence symbolized by the finished thread. In her work Connecting Threads, Mencej draws upon European folklore, including a tale from Croatia recorded the 19th century where women weavers connected by a single thread of yarn go to the forest to meet a vila who taught them healing secrets. A Slovenian tale recorded in the same period features a rojenica that possess an unending ball of yarn. This ball continues unwinding so long as some afore mentioned taboo remains observed. When the taboo is broken, according to Mencej, “… the connection with the otherworld from which the yarn or thread is clearly coming is cut off and riches are prevented from entering this world.” This rule also applies to the otherworld it seems. Serbian legends tell of a bridge of hair cast over the pit of Hell on which the souls of the dead must travel to reach Paradise. The righteous make it across while the sinners fall. This mythological continuum comes full circle in Slavic folklore concerning childbirth. Children were believed to be recycled souls of the dead and thus there are many tales, motifs and tropes about newborn children arriving from the otherworld via a thread.
The process of procreation itself was viewed in the act of spinning. The making of a textile was akin to the making of a child. The image of a basket containing un-spun wool is, in this context, a symbol for the pregnant womb. The basket is the womb and the wool is the bodily tissue that is spun thereby creating the child, i.e. thread. The mother here is the distaff and the spindle is the wheel of time, i.e. the nine month gestation period. Slavic riddles reflect this, ‘The mother shrinks, the child grows. What is it?’ This allegory also applies to the transmigration of the soul described in the paragraph above. The basket symbolizes the otherworld and the wool/thread conveys the process of reincarnation into this world. The Fates are the primordial embodiment of motherhood; the mother who spins life out of herself thereby creating all growth, time and destiny. The thread of time is also the thread of our very tissues, from womb to tomb and tomb to womb, for all eternity.
This act of spinning also had implications for life in general. The progression of un-spun wool into thread, and from thread into textile is also an allegory for the transition from nature to culture. According to ethnologist Pieter Plas, this downward movement of wool, from the distaff to spindle, represents movement from wild to domestic space. The Slavs of the west Balkans equated this with the image of the wolf that descends from the mountain, hence the prohibitions against spinning fabric until after St. Sava’s Day (Velja Noć) or the end of winter. In the south Balkans precautions were undertaken to save a child believed to be the offspring of a dragon by weaving him a special shirt. In this way the child would not fully “turn” but instead use his supernatural abilities as mediator between his community and the otherworld. What’s more, Czech records from the 19th century make mention of people setting out spinning wheels and scissors so that the Fates would decide a more pleasant fate for the newborn child. Examples such as these illustrate how the Slavs sought to mitigate or “tame” a harsh judgment of fate. Though destiny is preordained at the moment of birth, there are measures one can take to better manage it’s more precarious implications.
By now you might have noticed that the Slavic view of fate is rather deterministic. People follow the destiny bestowed to them by the Suđenice because there is little viable alternative. Any decision made against one’s destiny will only reap their destructive power. The corpus of Slavic folklore is littered with tales of ill-fated love affairs, rich men brought to ruin by personal dissatisfaction, and yeoman turned heroes rewarded by the Fates for their acceptance and perseverance. Yet destiny often appears at odds with our ambition, desire and need for gratification. When we follow the latter at the expense of the former the Fates cause misfortune and breed discord in our lives in an effort to put us back on track. Every action we take effects our calibration with destiny, but such ‘battles of the soul’ have already been won and lost in the world beyond long before they become “conscious” decisions. In the book The Dream-Hunters of Corsica by Dorothy Carrington, the nocturnal rites of the Corsican mazzeri are catalogued. The mazzeri are keepers of a bygone occult art that once flourished in the rural villages of Corsica. These men and women hunted game while in a dream state. Compelled by a “taste for blood” they might kill a wild boar in their dream only to see the face of a neighbor in the ravaged animal corpse. This person was then prophesied to die; a prognostication made with remarkable accuracy according to the book. Though not part of the Slavic experience, Corsica is one of those places that escaped much of the Industrial Revolution. I find their view of fate both mesmerizing and informative as it speaks to an ontological understanding shared by all “primitive” peoples of ancient Europe and it that seems to align well with the Slavic view.
“The [mazzeru] maintained that all great events, such as revolutions, epidemics, wars are enacted in a parallel, spirit world before they take place in the material reality. According to this view man, or rather his conscious part, is no more than an actor in a shadow drama, the original of which has already been played, elsewhere.” (Carrington 106)
Determinism is a touchy subject as it eschews the power of free will and by extension can be construed as an abdication of moral responsibility. Yet this is only true for those who take action in the material world while disregarding their role in the spiritual world. Despite their grim determinism, Slavic people have a rich magical tradition. This would seem like a philosophical contradiction if you failed to grasp my pervious statement, which bares a more nuanced repeating. It’s not that there is no free will per se, only that our ability to exercise it in the form of lucid and conscious decision making unencumbered by imprinted biases and cyclic behavioral patterns has already elapsed by the time the Fates have made up their mind about us. In other words, you abdicate your free will the second you fail to take an active role in the spiritual world where these precognitive battles, which give form to those imprints and patterns, play out.
I’ll give you an example form personal experience. I often receive auditory communications from discarnate beings right as I begin to doze off at night. 90 percent of the time it is idle chatter. Less frequent are the loud personal insults that I just ignore or banish with the basil water I keep at my bedside. The other 10 percent of the time what comes through causes me to wake up in order to recall it for later analysis. In 2012 following my transplant operation I received a clairaudient transmission in Croatian, “Suđena zdrav ka na suda” it said. This translates something to the effect of “meant for health… in court(?)”. I spent sometime trying to figure out who said this and what it meant to no avail. I figured it was positive since it seemed to indicate future health. I should point out that I received this communication months before I crawled down the rabbit hole of Balkan traditional witchcraft. I didn’t even know who the Suđenice were at that time! That said, I set it aside and forgot about it. The point here is that my spiritual self, in alignment with the will of the Fates, charted the path spiritually that I was soon to undertake at conscious level.
Here is another example. This took place this year on March 9. This is St Evdokia’s day, the patron saint of Serbian witches. A few weeks prior I had been unsuccessfully working magic to make an alliance with the wolf, the animal of my matrilineal clan. So I decided to visit my folks at the cemetery for help. There I made sure to visit a (deceased) friend I made there last summer when I was hard pressed to locate my great grandparents grave. His name is Božo Mravic, and on that sweltering day last summer I had all but given up hope finding my folks’ resting place. I stopped at his plot after spotting the Jugoslavian name on the headstone. The dates listed indicated he was a peer of my great grandfather. My great grandfather ran a notorious speak-easy in Portland during Prohibition, so I figured they may have crossed paths once or twice. I asked Božo if he knew Marijan Kokich. Shortly after, with the wind at my back, I was guided right to my his plot. I never forgot about Božo. So on that day in March I left the rune charm I made to summon the wolf on his headstone. Again, I let it go and forgot about it.
Then on the eve of St Evokia’s day I had a lucid dream where I was walking along the sidewalk heading to my apartment. I didn’t realize I was dreaming until I spotted a large grey wolf turn the corner and walk in my front door. My motivation for doing the ritual was about more than mere novelty however. What I really desired was the wolf’s tenacity and persistence, especially its ability to stock prey over great distances while working with a pack to secure it’s kill. The wolf would, to my mind, help me with commitment issues, staying on task and working collaboratively to see complex projects through to their conclusion. This has been my most successful magical working this year, yet the “conscious me” was so certain it had failed because the procedure didn’t go according to my plan. The Fates had other ideas though. In my dogged (pun intended!) pursuit of the wolf, perhaps I had forgotten about the other allies who supported me along the way? Now I always stop by Božo’s plot after I visit my familial dead.
Returning to the academic side of things, the idea of fate being a network of three female “sisters” dates to the earliest forms of European religion. As with the three Slavic ‘Sudice’, the Greek ‘Moirai’, Roman ‘Parcea’ and Germanic ‘Nornir’ all appear as weavers. Bede’s De Temporum Ratione relays that night before Christmas was known by Saxon heathens as Modraniht, ‘the night of the mothers’. Now recall the yuletide rituals I mentioned above; the ones made by Slavs to mid-wives and goddesses of fate? The Saxon’s cult naturally extended to the Norse world from whence they came. According to Saxo (no pun) the Danish King Fridleif took his three-year old son Olaf into a temple to pray to “three maidens sitting on three seats”. These ‘mothers’ might connect to that the goddess Frejya who was known by the alias Mardoll, the prefix mar- meaning ‘by way of sea’. This prefix corresponds to Common Slavic more, ‘sea’, which is the etymological basis for the name of the goddess Morana/Marzanna and the folk demonesses mare who were thought to be responsible for nightmares and sleep paralysis. In some Russian dialects mara means ‘phantom’, ‘vision’, ‘hallucination’. This etymology suggests a relationship to the trinity of Celtic Morrigna, ‘phantom queens’, who also had a role in childbirth, as well as the Portuguese maura, enchanted maidens said to be endlessly weaving.
Ancient people didn’t need Karl Jung’s psychoanalysis to imagine the sea as the choice landscape for their inner reality, the place one returns to when they die. From such places come our dreams, visions, nightmares and phantoms. Germans and Slavs saw the underworld in the same light; a dreary and damp abode. The ruler(s) of this realm traveled across water to claim their cache of human souls. Roman historian Tacitus tells of the Suebian goddess ‘Nerthus’ embarking aboard a ship from an island in the Baltic sea. Returning from her seasonal tour of the mainland her human tribute were drowned in a nearby lake. Writing of the Slavic pagans of Suebia a thousand years later, William of Malmesbury recounts an oracular mead drinking ritual centered around the worship of one ‘Fortuna’, undoubtedly interpretatio romana for a Slavic goddess of fate. Her temple, like many other Slavic a deity at this time, was located on an artificially formed island surrounded by a moat. Writing a hundred years prior to William is the Arab traveler ibn Fadlan. His account details a Russian Viking ship burial on the Volga River facilitated by an elderly priestess he dubbed the “Angel of Death”. She just so happened to be flanked by two female attendants called “daughters”. Perhaps these goddesses of fate were once embodied by the very priestesses who served them? Just a few thoughts to consider…
If you made it this far in this installment of Rod Work I commend you. As information dense this post has been I assure you it is the result of about four solid months worth of spirit work, academic study and contemplation. Thank you for bearing with me as we near the conclusion.
Returning to my St. Evodokia’s day reintegration with the wolf, it was not long after that I had another dream-time visitation. This happened,
coincidentally enough, on the first of May during Jurjevo. A female figure dressed in a hooded white clock blessed me with a necklace on which dangled a traditional Slavic Lunica pendent. She said that it would always protect me. The dream was vivid enough for me to be able to recall the detail of the particular casting. My first impulse was to seek it out online then purchase it if possible. After a while however, I began to suspect I was missing the point again.
I recalled Radomir Ristic’s account of how he discovered he was a witch; one of his dead relatives visited him in a series of dreams where, at one point, he was gifted with an “astral” broom. This idea stuck with me then hit like a ton of bricks while thumbing through his book yet again as I compiled research for a handwritten grimiore on South Slavic folk magic. The ritual was dedicated to the Suđenice and is employed in emergency situations to rapidly recalibrate one’s life trajectory when habitual actions run afoul with the destiny prescribed by the Fates. I wasn’t necessarily in a desperate situation, but there was some dramatic head-heart tension that needed a resolution lest I go mad before I even had a chance to enjoy the all-too brief Northwest summer. I paired down the ritual, added some of my own ideas and performed it following a series of ritual cleansings. I’ve since gotten back into a groove with my personal relationships and have made more sincere connections in the last month than I have in the prior twelve. I never did buy that Lunica pendant. I figured if I am supposed to have a physical version of it the Suđenice will find a way to get it to me. Until then, the astral version fits quite nicely.
Ritual Feast of the Suđenice
What you need:
- Purification Incense
- Black table cloth
- Three novelty candles of equal size color and shape
- Copper bowl (bonze or tin will do)
- “living water”
- Stalk of basil and/or ritual knife
- Ball of thread or yarn
- Food (lots of it!)
- Corked glass bottle
- Burn incense in your home to clear the space of spirits and other psychic debris (Sage, Mugwort or Elacampane are used in the Balkans).
- Consecrate a space separate from your main devotional alter. Lay down a black table cloth and set the three novelty candles up in a triangle formation. The first ‘anchor’ candle must be set in the north. The other two are placed in the eastern and western flanks.
- Place your copper bowl in the center of the triangle. Fill it up with “living water” procured from a virginal stream or creek from which no one drinks. Cut it three times with a stalk of basil and/or knife that you use only for ritual purposes.
- Take the bowl into your hands and pray sincerely to the Suđenice. Inquire as to why they work against you. Implore them to make the correct path known. The “living water” now holds your prayer. Place it back in the center between the candles. Light all three candles.
- On this first day prepare a meal of porridge, milk and/or cottage cheese. Recite a blessing over the food and pray that your gift be accepted. Present it to the candle in the north. Take the twine and gently tie a knot around the candle. Do not cut it yet.
- On the second day prepare a meal of meat and root vegetables. Recite blessing over the food and pray that your gift be accepted. Present it to the candle in the west. Take the twine, give it some slack, then gently tie a knot around the candle. Do not cut it yet.
- On the the third day prepare a meal of honey cakes, fruit and other sweets. Recite a blessing over the food and pray that your gift be accepted. Present it to the candle in the east. Take the twine, give it some slack, and tie a knot around the candle. Do not cut it yet.
- The following morning when you wake the candles should be at or near extinguished. When all three have gone out take the ball of twine and loop it a final time around the candle in the north creating a closed circuit. It represents “Usuda” the elder Sudjenica whose name means “destiny”. Give yourself enough slack to sever the remaining string over the bowl of water. Do this carefully with the ritual knife or with scissors. Allow the loose string to fall into the water.
- Now dispose of the offerings in the usual manner (I like to leave them at the base of a tree or at a crossroads). Take the bowl of water and pour it into a corked bottle. Keep it at your bedside and pull the cork off when you go to sleep. Repeat as need for either 3 or 9 nights. The Suđenice will hear and answer your prayer.