Devana, also known as Dziewanna and Vesna, was a Slavic entity. Her origin is dubious and questioned. Some say the sources mentioning her are unreliable. Yet, she keeps popping up in literature, cultural references, paintings, and even popular culture. The theory that most intrigues me is that Devana and Morena are two splinters of one entity.
Ancient Slavs lived close to nature. Proof of that is that the most important Slavic holidays were connected to natural cycles of the seasons and solstices. The year began in the spring, when nature awoke from its wintry slumber, and ended in the winter.
The more I read and learn about Slavic beliefs, the more inclined I am to believe that their views of the world weren’t so black and white. Nature could be brutal and dangerous, life-threatening even, but it could also be nurturing and life-giving. Therefore, it would make sense that Morena and Devana are one. Morena ruled during winter, while Devana replaced her in the spring. Either way, they were bound tightly in the circle of life and the changing of the seasons.
Devana is the equivalent of Roman Diana, Greek Artemis, Celtic Brigid, and German Lusse. She ruled spring, youth, forests, groves, hunting, animals, and the creative power of nature. She is particularly remembered in Polish folklore as the caretaker of forests and groves. She was beautiful with golden hair, extraordinarily strong, hunted with a bow and arrow in the accompaniment of dogs.
Devana is associated with several plants: mullein, mugworts, and St. John’s wort. All three plants are continuously tied to folk traditions around fire, light and midsummer’s night celebrations. The trees that are associated with her are the evergreen pine and spruce. Interestingly, coniferous tree branches were also used to decorate statues of Diana (pine) and Artemis (fir).
Some ethnographers connect Devana with the Catholic celebration of Our Lady of the Candles, which is celebrated on February 2 as Candlemas. Mullein plants, also known as “royal candles” or “Our Lady’s Candles,” were used to make the wick of candles, which were decorated with coniferous tree branches. Etymologists sometimes translate the name Devana as lady of light or bright lady, which would seem fitting for Our Lady of the Candles.
Devana’s sacred animals are dogs, especially hunting dogs, wolves, deer, and hares. She is the patroness of the hunt and protector of wild animals, accompanied by wolves (or dogs) and the hare, symbolically identified with the moon.
Devana is first invoked at the beginning of spring, when Morena is drowned, and Devana is welcomed. Another celebration occurs on midsummer’s night, when the veil between this world and the next is thinnest. Celebrations are tied to fertility and cleansing. Fire is used, such as: candles on top of wreaths that are released onto rivers and streams, jumping through fire.
Illustrations by K.Perkowski