Samhain is a favourite sabbat among witches, commonly associated with death, the afterlife and witchcraft. When Samhain ends, we turn to the next sabbat, Yule.
However, when Samhain ends, we start all over as it marks the end and beginning of the new wheel. We’re thrown into further darkness, waiting to be reborn at the return of the Sun at Yule.
Slavic Paganism, Winter and Death
The Slavs are an Indo-European ethnic group found in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, Northeastern Europe, North Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. Countries include: Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia.
The Slavs have their own folk traditions, cultures and mythology, although not much is readily found.
Most of the Slavic countries are predominantly Christian or Orthodox, but many people practice “double faith” (Russian: двоерие / Ukrainian: двоєнавство) which has been long upheld from pagan times.
Old customs and practices survive today, but like many pagan traditions, have been converted to Christian or Orthodox meanings to represent the pagan symbolism.
According to Slavic mythology, the concept of death and winter are synonymous.
The idea of honouring death only at Samhain in modern Paganism doesn’t have to only be reserved for one day, but can carry throughout the following months.
In pagan times, winters were harsh and brutal for most common people. Preparation had to be made all summer and into autumn to be ready for the long nights and snow.
Death was certain for many as winter progressed through the cold months, especially the weak and elderly.
February is usually the harshest month of the season, even though spring is soon to come in the following month. In Ukrainian, the word for February (лютий) also means “ferocious; savage; brutal; severe; wicked; diabolical; rampant; angry” which quite seems to describe the weather of a typical February.
Morana, Goddess of Winter, Death and Witchcraft
Winter was the most brutal and harshest time during pagan and medieval times, a far cry from modern amenities we enjoy today. The crops die, trees become bare as well as the land.
Yet, in times before modern invention, people would have to wait out the long winter, certain that some people and even animals would die during the winter months.
For cultures and civilizations that experience winter, many have deities associated with the season and traditions that honour them or even to try and cast them away so that the spring will return.
Morana (Cyrillic: Морана) is the daughter of the Spring goddess Lada (Cyrillic: Лада) and the Sky/Fire god Svarog (Cyrillic: Сварог) and is the Slavic goddess of winter, death and witchcraft.
She is known by different, but similar names in Slavic languages: Marzanna, Mara, Morena, Marena, Morė, Maslenitsa to name a few. Her name, Mara (Cyrillic: Мара), in Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish is believed to be related to the word “mar” (Cyrillic: мар) which means “nightmare.”
From stories and beliefs of Slavic paganism, Morana was a goddess who brought the cold of winter and with her came death.
She is compared to the Greek goddess Hekate, as noted in medieval Christian sources such as the Czech 9th Century encyclopedic dictionary, Mater Verborum. The association with Hekate links Morana to witchcraft and sorcery.
Some say that Baba Yaga, another folklore figure/goddess, is the creation of Morana or is a variation of Morana herself. Each year, Baba Yaga’s Day is January 20. The story of Hanzel and Gretel comes from the folktales of Baba Yaga.
Near the end of winter, a ritual would be done to cast winter finally away.
Bonfires would be jumped over to start the ritual and small effigies of a small girl with flowers, garments and decorations would be made in the likeness of Morana to chase her away, to rid the land of winter, death and illness. The effigies would be burned then drowned in a river.
Winter offers us a time of year that we can use what remains locally for magickal purposes.
Herbs, plants and berries such as poinsettia, holly, elderberry and cranberry can be used for holiday and winter magick.
Branches and bark from trees such as birch, pine and elder or even evergreen trees can also be used.
Fire is an excellent method to use during the winter for spells and magick.
Cauldrons, candles and even fireplaces are great to use to add light and warmth to spells.
Snow and ice are natural elements of winter; collect them from outside and use them to work natural magick.
There is little that is said about Morana and her connection to witchcraft, other than that she is sometimes associated as a “Death Crone.”
Morana is considered as a Crone, but in ancient times, witches and witchcraft often had a negative connotation as evil, negative and cruel.
As we begin to collectively shift the image of what the “crone” means and represents, instead of vilifying the crone and elderly women as hags, unwanted and negative, we can begin to see Morana in a different way and the perception of the use of modern witchcraft.
As Morana rules over the winter months, we can be creative in using what remains and what is exclusive to this time of year, to bring prosperity, protection and healing during the cold winter months.
Morana’s cold winds, snow, illness and death come with the season, so we can use our creativity and magick to work with whatever Morana brings our way and make the most of the resources that we have.
Witchcraft is about being creative, using what you have and the elements of the season to craft and create, to manifest what you desire and hope for.
Winter gives us unique magickal opportunities that aren’t found in any other season.
Honouring the Darkness of Winter
Although historically, the Slavic people would burn and chase away Morana, we can learn to accept her place in the order of the wheel of the year.
For many parts of the world, the cold, dark season of winter is a part of life just as life and death happen to us all.
We can learn to accept the harshness of winter for what it is which comes every year.
From November to late December (or even January depending if you adhere to the Julian calendar), we begin festivities and celebration of lights, spirits (alcohol), gift giving, kindness, family, friends and joy.
We try to forget the darkness outside and light up our world inside as a distraction.
But, for many, the highs of holiday celebrations are met with the lows of seasonal depression and the aftermath of the festivities, when we’re just left with grey overcast skies, cold winds, snow and dreariness after New Years.
(New Year’s Eve is December 31 on the Gregorian calendar, but if you follow the Julian calendar which Orthodox faiths follow, that’s January 14. The Julian calendar is two weeks behind the Gregorian calendar.)
By this time, many of us are ready for winter to be over – that is unless you enjoy winter activities outdoors.
But, for the most part, after the festivities are over and the new year has begun, it’s business as usual – except the harshness of winter impedes us often with weather and traffic delays, cold snaps, and daylight that is slowly increasing after December 21 still isn’t making a big enough impact to lessen seasonal affective disorder.
We can try to get away from the cold and go somewhere tropical to enjoy the last months of winter in a better climate.
But, that wouldn’t give Morana her due.
Most people avoid discussing death and difficulties that we face, we turn our attention elsewhere.
Morana brings these challenges forcing us to face the darkness in the world, within ourselves, to hear the cries of the departed and to craft our own magick from deep within ourselves when we feel all is barren, dead and nothing is left.
We can embrace the season for all it is: the cold, the desertedness, the darkness and feel it for what is it.
Walk through a bare forest in winter and feel the trees hibernating, listen to the wind blowing through the branches and feel Morana.
See the wild animals scavenging for food; leave some wildlife appropriate food for the animals on your way.
Collect a piece of nature such as a pine cone, acorn, a tree branch and place a gift by a tree for the animal spirits and Morana.
Take what you have collected and place it on your altar or sacred space to connect you with the seasonal change happening outside.
Make a small note and attach it to your item and mark the date it was collected.
We can choose to ignore winter, focus on the festivities of the season, but when the festivities are over, we’re still left with winter and Morana remains.
We can honour the season and Morana with open hearts and arms. Her season like all seasons is only temporary, and come springtime, her mother Lada will bring warmer temperatures.
We don’t have to cast Morana away, she has her time to rule like all deities of the seasons and weather.
Prepare yourself for what may come this winter, keeping yourself warm and safe, so that each time you step outside into the cold, you can smile and greet Morana.
Stacey & the Tarot Pugs
Images designed in Canva.