The middle of the August is marked by a special harvest festival, a festival of fertility, which has its origins in pre-Christian times, when this, the most lush and fertile part of the year, was ruled by the goddess Živa.
The 15th August is the time when the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the death of the Virgin Mary. It is interesting, however, that in distant times, this was marked as the harvest festival or several of them in the late summer and early autumn. And just as Mary leaves this earthly life, Mara has also temporarily changed into Morana, who slowly already indicates the arrival of the new part of the year, when she brings us the cleansing waters from heaven. While Mara is the protector of the earthly waters and is considered the goddess of fertility, Morana is her other face, saying goodbye to fertility and slowly bringing the soil to rest.
Mara is known in Slovenian folklore mainly from folk songs, where it is very clearly and directly indicated that she is a goddess or a face of nature, representing female fertility.
In some places, especially in the peak of the month of May and then in September, in some countries we meet Lada.
In folklore, Živa was also preserved as Vesna, Marjetica, Deva.
Živa is considered the goddess of the harvest, she was represented with ears of wheat, sometimes with apples and vine, so she is also associated with Demeter or the Scandinavian Sif.
At the same time, the face of the goddess Živa at the peak of her birth also represents the Great Mother of even older cultures, or which for the Eastern Slavs is represented by Mokoš.
In any case, Živa’s role is multifaceted, complex and not just one-sided in the sense of the role of the harvest goddess. Živa is life, living water, she is one of the faces of the goddess at the time of fruit picking, she is the protector of children, women, she is the one who defeats death every year and brings a new cycle of growth and life in full swing, who we meet through different names throughout the year in the pulse of Nature.
And just as the East Slavic Mokoš uses magic and teaches people various jobs and how to bake bread, so does Živa teach how to work in the fields.
Throughout history people pictured Živa as a beautiful woman with a lush bust, long blond, grainy hair. Among the Poles, her main attributes are apples and vines, while among the Czechs and Poles and some other Slavs, ears of wheat.
On the island of Bled lake in north-west of Slovenia there is a small church of Mary.
Next to the older church, they found the foundations of a building that is believed to have once been an ancient religious sanctuary which is believed to be Živa’s temple.
In Bled, guests can also spend their holidays in the spa. The source of the thermal water/spring has a temperature of 22 degrees, and bathing in this water has a beneficial effect on the internal organs and nervous system.
In today’s Germany in Ratzeburg or Ratibor, her sanctuary stood on an island in the middle of the lake. The spring Aqua Siwa – Living Water – was dedicated to her. Today there is a spa. But where the temple itself once stood, stands the church of St. Mary. The resemblance cannot be missed.
Bled Island is part of the famous Bled Triangle (“Tročan”), where three cult points of former sanctuaries form a triangle (Tročan, Triglav) connecting Dobra Gora, Bled Island and Gradiška (worship of the heavenly deity, earth and underworld).
During the late summer harvest holidays, we meet the festival of DOŽINKI.
After the procession around the fields, people tie the last sheaf of grain and weave it into a special structure made of wreaths, enriched with colorful ribbons and flowers, which are carried by girls. Wreaths symbolize new life, fertility and a rich harvest.
The time of the harvest depends on the location, but mostly it was carried out the day of the Assumption of Mary. To this day, the ancient custom of having the wreath at the home of the village headman for two days has been preserved in Poland. In some places, the last sheaf of grain was called Veles’ beard.
Even here in Prekmurje, North-east Slovenia, they call the last sheaf of grain, woven on the last day of the harvest, “douzhnek”/doužnjek.
The end of the harvest is always full of dancing and singing. Nowadays, we meet organized harvest holidays all over Slovenia, from July until mid Septmeber.
Today, between Mura and Drava rivers, for the harvest festival, lilies of the valley and fragrant grass are added to the bundle, taken from the “butarica” (special easter bundle), which we know replaces the Easter greenery and thus symbolizes the resurrection.
In Dolenjska region (south-east Slovenia), they tied the last sheaf of grains, drove it on a traditional two ladder wooden cart and hung it in the house where there were unmarried people, as it brings fertility and hope for marriage.
The tying of the last sheaf of grain has been preserved in the memory of many throughout Slovenia, how “baba” or “dec” were once carried on wagons.
In general last sheaf of grain, beautifully woven and decorated, protects the homestead from bad spirits until the next season.
A similar custom was known everywhere, even in the Karst region in the south-west when the youngest in the family tied and decorated the sheaf with red poppies, upright bundle in the field, which was called “Stažić”.
The name represents the “grain old man”, who protects against bad things and that the grain does not lie down.
In Dolenjska, we know Kurent (which is actually the oldest mask we meet in festival Kurentovanje as we say goodby to winter) during threshing as a straw doll. In the Sava Valley, a man dressed in Kurent with his fur turned inside out sat on the last sheaf of grain, with horns on his head and a stick with two horns in his hand.
To pat the last sheaf is to “kill the grain spirit.” That, of course, the new fertile year can start again and connect to a new birth cycle.
In Posočje (west Slovenia by the Soča river), this type of ceremony is not attested in detail, but we know that the last grain was buckwheat. And this harvest was called “Ajdna” (Ajda=buckwheat) or buckwheat harvest.
Buckwheat was sown at the time of the cresent moon, which symbolizes the sickle, and then it was harvested in September and later.
Unlike the rest of Slovenia, where the last sheaf of grain has the greatest validity, in Posočje the FIRST sheaf of grain was taken to the holy place at the full moon. They believed that the place was ruled by the Hostnik (wood spirit), as well as the spirit of the land.
In the northern part of present-day Germany, where the well-known shrine and oracle of Arkona was once located on the island of Rugen, at harvest time they called to the Svetovid, who, among other things, also represented fertility.
The harvest festival, in addition to individual divination and the famous liquid divination in Svetovid’s horn, is also marked by the baking of large cakes made from new grain. The priest hid behind it, and if people managed to see any part of him, they realized that the harvest would be bad. If he could hide completely behind the cake, they predicted that the next harvest would be abundant.
On the day of Mary’s Assumption, herbalists also celebrate, when we give thanks for all the healing energy that is given to us in the form of plants.
From later times, when the holiday was preserved in the new christian dress , we learn that traditionally the ritual bouquets contained mainly these plants:
St. John’s wort, dill, gorse, wheat, apples, dahlia, sunflower, oats, poppy, partridge, goldenrod, yarrow, mint, hazel, oregano and others.
While the end of April, when we celebrate the final arrival of spring on Jurjevo in Slovenia (Jarilo), in the East Slavic lands it is also a turning point in the year, when the priests moved the bees to the open air and thus recorded an important milestone of the leap of two worlds. And later on the time of mid-August is the time of the first honey collection which especially Russians and Ukrainians mark with a special holiday.
During this time, afetr the honey is picked, processions to the water are held everywhere, where both people and domestic animals ritually bathed in order to purify themselves, alleviate health problems or cure infertility. It is a holiday that was continued by the Orthodox Church based on antiquity, and the customs are also known among the southern Slavs.
In some places, there is an opinion/belief that after August 15th, one should not bathe anymore, as the s becomes dirty. It is, of course, only a symbolic representation that the fertility of the earth, together with the water, is receding. The time of purity and fertility of the earth’s waters recedes and the waters pass into the sky to be cleansed and supplied with water for a new birth cycle from the sky.
It is important to collect as many crops as possible from the fields at that time and sow anew for the autumn harvest.
If we just quickly jump a little further back in time, we see that in ancient Roman times from 13-15th August they celebrated Nemoralie or the feast of the virgin goddess Diana, with a procession of girls with torches, wreaths on their heads, who walked to the round lake and made offerings.
In some parts of Europe, even in pre-Roman times, a holiday called “Lady of the Harvest” was known.
This deity is also indirectly related to Isis, which we recognize in the Etruscan culture, which in many ways shaped the Iron Age period also in part of our country and to the west of us.
At the same time, we also recognize the ancient Egyptian Isis, who knows how to raise from the dead. Her depictions of a seated mother with a child (Horus) can be found and recognized in the Christian environment of the Virgin Mary with Jesus.
According to the modern calendar, on August 15th, the constellation Sirius began to move across the sky towards the east, which meant the flooding of the Nile and thus a new fertile period every year.
Milina, hvaležnost, obilje, ljubezen, veselje do življenja so lastnosti boginje Žive s čemer nas navdaja predvsem v času in
Kindness, gratitude, abundance, love, joy of life are the qualities of the goddess Živa, with which she fills us especially during the time of intensive fruit picking, especially during the harvest.
Of course, we associate our golden, lush Živa not only with working in the fields, but with harvesting the fruits of any of our work that provides us with making a living.
Goddess Živa represents the pillar of our basic life energy, which we must nurture in various ways in order to maintain strength, to know how to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to be proud of our creation.
Živa is the sacred source of our own being, the knowledge and power to appreciate ourselves and all the good around us, to know how to appreciate even bad experiences and draw good from them. Živa instills in us gratitude and the awareness that nothing is taken for granted, that every moment is just a gift to us. But it is up to us what we make of that moment.
text: Irena Petrič
graphic art of Živa: Irena Petrič (born Urankar)