It’s a cloudy and warm day here in the Highlands. Moorlands are covered with purple heather blooms, some leaves begin to redden, forests are full of berries and mushrooms. As I seal another jar of jams and pickles from this years yield of plums and apples my thoughts drift towards Autumn Equinox celebrations. I am reminded of the Slavic pagan harvest festival and its more modern, Christianised version Dożynki.
The festival has been celebrated for over 1000 years. The key ingredient of the celebration constitutes making of a wreath that traditionally was done with the ritualistically cut last sheaf of grain from the fields. This was done at the end of harvest and in pagan times connected to Autumn Equinox celebrations.
This would have been followed by a parade, a feast, a dance and party. The celebration although both Christianised and secularised still remains very popular. The simple wreath became more and more elaborate. Each year people organise local competitions for the best one. Making it can be a rather laborious process.
The most traditional shape of a circle, like an ouroborus represents infinity. This was often topped up with a crown which nowadays seem to be the most popular design. The symbolism of the crown has to do with leadership and rule. The crown symbolised the dependence of humans on nature.
Amongst other popular shapes are religious icons, church buildings and angels. These appeared fairly recently as additions to traditional crown, circle and hay bail. I can not help but see so much pagan influence on all these creations. They must be one of the best existing examples of modern, European folk art and they seem steeped in folklore magic.
The many different Mother Marys weaved from cereal grasses bring to mind fertility goddesses. They look weirdly non Christian, as if taken out of Slavic celebration and dressed with some insignia to pass for ‘Mother of Christ’.
They somehow resemble Marzanna, the Slavic goddess of underworld associated with death and rebirth of nature. The straw figures of Marzanna are burned and drowned each spring to chase away winter and welcome the new season. Interestingly the wreath from Dożynki celebration would have been kept till spring. Could it be that same wreath would then be made into a Marzanna doll?
Another common motif revolves around the Eucharist and the chalice. The pagan heritage of them becomes more obvious when looked at in this form.
Here we have Holy Grail surrounded by what seems to be Nehebkau, the Egyptian double serpent deity of protection and magic. This god protected Ra during his travells through underworld. This symbolism makes a lot of sense in celebrations associated with Autumn Equinox when we enter the dark part of the year, the underworld. This symbolism has been enforced by sun entering the chalice (sunset). Interestingly the central sun seem to be a multi petal flower, a lotus perhaps….
I could not help myself to add this one of its kind Jesus. If you ever wondered if he was really a Hippie this will remove any doubts. I have not seen one with dreadlocks until now. He looks like a cheerful sun god.
We will also find some bizarre representations of temples…
The religious themes become even more obviously pagan when we consider an array of other wonderful creations that accompany them.
Salwator’s Lajkonik (Krakow’s own Hobby Horse)
A water lily or perhaps lotus flower…
and an impressive collection of birds.
Basket full of grapes, chillies and bread….
And a happy couple bringing to mind god and goddess of the harvest.
All these creations celebrate nature’s abundance and diversity as well as local culture. The Church seems to be more incidental in all this as we will see in the next post, exploring the ritual itself.