If you frequent this site or have listened to any of my talks, you may recall me extolling the virtues of “living water”, a staple element of Slavic religious rituals and craft rites. Today I’ll share a bit more information about its mythical concept and why it is so fundamental to Slavic tradition, especially during this time of year.
It begins with one of the oldest Slavic Goddesses - Mokoša (Old Russian Мокошь) who is the protector of women’s work and destiny. She may have been an an outgrowth of the ancient earth goddess Mat Zemjla. Others argue that she is one of the three Slavic Fates called Rozhanitsy. Her name is derived from mohkri, the Slavic word for moisture. However, this was a specific type of moisture – the clean, pure water that sprang from deep within the earth; this being separate from “dead” water that had accumulated debris and bacteria on the surface, namely ponds, bogs and ditches. Not only was living water seen as a miracle of nature, it was a substance believed to contain magical and medicinal properties; whereas standing water, the result of chthonic forces or manmade alteration, had a destructive power. This is why Mokoša, the mother of living water, was worshiped by placing offerings on stones that resembled female breasts. The bosom is the part of a woman’s body that yields life-sustaining milk for the newborn babe.
So you see, reconstructing Rodnovery is quite intuitive actually. Our ancestors had a keen eye for analogy. Not unlike the hermetic axiom As above, So below, the Slavic axiom might be better phrased As within, So without. This living water was analogous to newborn life – a clean slate that could be used by the priest or wise woman to impart magical intent, just like how a parent imparts his/her character traits on to their child, thereby shaping destiny in a co-creative way. Just as the act of sacred weaving possessed the power to alter fate, so too did living water, which was used in countless rituals, spells and potions. Naturally it was deployed in rituals to consecrate newlyweds…
“In the Ukraine the ceremony involves the entire wedding party on the day following the wedding, after the couple have slept together. The couple wash together in a river or spring and water is often poured over them, especially over the bride’s breasts. The young bride then carries water into their home. In northern climates the ritual is performed in a bath house. Elsa Mahler records the Russian tradition in which the mother of the groom pours cold water over the bride in the bathhouse, encouraging the young bride to fear her as she fears the cold water.
In another wedding ritual the mother of the groom wears a fur coat inside out and sits astride a rake or large fork and rides three times around a baking pan on which a loaf of bread lays. As she goes she spreads seeds of grain and water is poured over the fork from a jar. Both the jar and the fork are later broken and discarded… The destruction by man of the jar and the fork, the fur of an animal turned inside out, and the fork itself, an instrument which slices into the earth, can be associated with destruction at the hand of man. Water poured over a ring of strewn seed, centered around a loaf of bread, the product of the growth which the water will bring forth from the seed, can be related to the recognition of the life-giving properties of water. “
Historians and ethnologists generally agree that Mokoša’s lore was absorbed into the cult of St. Petka Paraschkeva observed in the Eastern Orthodox traditions of the Balkans. Petka comes from the Serbian word for “Friday” - Petak. Her feast day is October 14th. Also on this day, is the feast of the Intersession of Virgin Mary called Pokrov, meaning “veil” or “covering”, which takes place mainly in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Together we can see how the goddess Mokoš may have been honored on Friday and/or believed to wear a protective veil. I would conjecture that water could be viewed as a veil – a shroud covering Mother Earth. The significance of Friday is important too. The Russian word for Friday is pyatnitsa, a matronymic word meaning “fifth day”. This day marked the end of the work week and was likely set aside as a time for ritual bathing. Our ancient ancestors naturally preferred to bathe in hot springs and those places teaming with fresh, living water.
In the Balkans, living water is defined as any water that comes from a spring or stream that is not used for drinking and goes through no metal pipes. A majority of the spells featured in Radomir Ristic’s Balkan Traditional Witchcraft involve the use of a brass or copper bowl filled with living water. This is the canvass par excellence upon which magic becomes art. Whereas the bowl of water no doubt symbolizes the womb, the specially made black-handled Kostura knife represents the phallus. Like the artist’s paint brush, the witch uses the knife to cut the water three times thereby making space to plant his/her seed of intent. In this way, the water goddess Mokoša and the blacksmith god Svarog (Dabog) are still being honored, her cooling waters make solid the scalding ore forged by his hammer. The wise woman who makes magic in this way is reenacting, in erotic fashion, their sacred marriage rite. The occult symbolism is clear, even if the person performing the working professes to be a Christian, secular, or whatever else.
The rites of the Slavic witch that prescribe living water connect directly to the ancient fertility cults that inform the modern practice of Rodnovery. The agrarian Slavic societies worshiped the forces of earth, sky and underworld. The pantheon is made up of a complex, and highly morphological corpus of gods and spirits, whose dynamic symbolism and imagery explain the mysteries of reality – with deities who move vertically between the three worlds, horizontally through the five elements, and diagonally across the kolo’s eightfold cycle of the year. Mokoš (or Živa in some west Slavic traditions) is the water that returns to the earth from the sky to nurture the grain crop; fore during the dry summer months she was the cloud goddess Perunica (Dodole), wife of the thunder god, viewed as a divine cow whose utters held rain. Linen and flax were particularly sacred to her since these were woven by women to make garments for the winter. They were harvested at Dozinky in mid September, dried, threshed and spun over the course of month culminating in her mid October veneration. This took place on a Friday eve. All weaving was prohibited and all fiber was put up lest the goddess arrive and spin an unfortunate fate for the household. This was undoubtedly thought of as a time when the water goddess was moving from the earth to the underworld. This is the opposite of Semik, when the goddess was seen traveling from the underworld to earth as enacted by her hypostasis Jarila (Lada), queen of the Rusalki…
“… a Ukrainian folksong in which Kupala [Jarila/Lada], the plant spirit, spends the winter in springs of water and the summer in the wheat. Pavel Sejn notes that in Bobrujskij Uyesd peasants believe that the water nymphs, the rusalki, spend the winter in the rivers and on about Trinity Day leave the rivers to spend the summer on land. This concept is portrayed in the Russian folk tradition in which a selected young woman from the village plays the role of a water nymph, is taken out of the village and into the fields. There she is abandoned, and after remaining for a period of time she returns secretly to the village. He relates this directly to supplying the fields with the necessary moisture for plant growth.”
Last week was a little hectic for me but this Friday I am honoring Mokoša’s transit to the underworld by fetching some living water from the forest – half of it will be set aside for Craft stuffs and the other half to make some apple cider chai. I’ll bring home a fresh bushel, grain seeds, a ball of twine, an apple and some cottage cheese for the Goddess – maybe even a little hemp! I will begin the internal work of separating the wheat from the chaff in my personal life, so I go into Božič feeling light – ready to take on another year. Can you believe I made my first sacrifice to Mokoš three years ago when I launched this little site? Now we see about 500-600 unique views a day – three times as many as last year! This validates what I believed in my heart all along; that Slavic people the world over are coming together to meet the challenges of a new century and the gods are gathering to prepare us for the role we will play in the world to come.
So be sure to honor your mother Mokoš before November arrives and it’s too late. Be sure to bless your home with some living water using a stalk of fresh basil after you do – you’ll thank me later! Even if you live in an urban area, you can start your relationship with living water by visiting a fresh water spring near you.