Morena (also known as Morana, Marzanna, Mora) was a Slavic goddess of winter, night and death. Although she is generally referred to as a goddess, some scholars consider her a demon. She symbolized the destructive power of nature. Her name most likely derived from the Old Slavic root mar or mor, which is associated with death.
Some scholars believe there may be a relationship between Morena and the Roman god Mars, Roman goddess Ceres, and Greek goddess Hecate. Some of the first written documents on Morena liken her to Persephone. There are also hypotheses linking Marena with Devana/Vesna, a goddess of forests, hunting, spring, and the creative power of nature. In some aspects she is also associated with the Mare, a female demon that caused nightmares. Witches are often associated with her as well.
In Old Slavic lands, winter came with the first snowfall, which usually occurred sometime in October, and snow cover tended to last well into March or even April. Winters were long, harsh and extremely cold. Such conditions made living and surviving difficult. Winter could mean death through famine, extreme cold, and disease. It could cause death of livestock, resulting in loss of livelihood and food. Therefore, it is no wonder the Slavs felt a need for a deity for this difficult period.
Although her myth is not well known and still debated among scholars, she is remembered to this day with the folk tradition of burning and drowning of her effigy at the end of winter to welcome spring (usually on March 21st). A straw figure was made, which was ceremoniously carried through the village in a procession and taken to the nearest river to be burned and drowned. Yelling at her was often involved.
Water has the power or renewal and rebirth. The sacrifice of Morena brings about the birth of spring. The aim of this ritual was to ensure early arrival of summer, abundance of crops, protection against plague and death, and a good appetite in livestock.
The Slavs did not have a clear division of deities into good or bad. Morena reflected the natural cycle of life and rebirth. She is often referred to as a personification of Mother Earth. Although this time of year isn’t very pleasant, it is a necessary time of slowing down, resting, and looking within – all enabling renewal or rebirth.
In January, I’ll write about Devana and her connection to Morena. Then in February, I’ll write about how the two relate to Baba Yaga.