MILESTONES OF A HUMAN LIFE
We as individuals, are part of Mother Nature’s cycle and as we pulse with Her, we feel certain changes in ourselves throughout the year and thus, following the example of our ancestors, we surrender to the flow that leads us to the ultimate goal, which is our happiness and inner perfection and leaving something behind.
Rituals and gatherings on traditional holidays are a reflection of our desires to walk a similar path and seek a higher meaning of our staying here and an expression of gratitude, which the native faith followers regularly practice, as they do not not take anything in life for granted.
Just as the annual milestones honor various aspects of the gods, which are a reflection of natural forces in all their multifaceted phenomena and at the same time many local versions how the ancestors are remembered, the milestones of human life have always been just as important.
The main milestones include the birth of a child, the transition to adulthood, marriage, and death.
All milestones in their deeper symbolism represent the death of something and the birth of something new.
At these transitions certain spheres open in the world of individuals, where certain rules of conduct apply so we do not accumulate bad energies and misfortunes on our way.
CUSTOMS AND BELIEFS ABOUT BIRTH
Pregnancy, especially in the last part and childbirth itself, represents the journey of the mother to the world beyond and the journey of the unborn soul to this world from the afterlife. The worlds of Nav and Jav are mixed with each other, making people much more susceptible to bad spirits and negative energies in these cases. Similarly or. Named the same, but only from different cultural backgrounds, our aura is porous. In this susceptibility to accept everything so much more intensely, and with it all the bad things too – people tried to protect themselves based on old traditions in all possible ways, both mother and child.
Birth is one of the biggest milestones in life.
It’s a journey, it’s a start.
From the Slovenian environment, some modest customs at birth are known, especially watering the tree with water in which the child first bathed or burying the placenta.
However, if we turn around throughout Slavic lands, we detect fragments of traditions that can be collected as a whole.
Role of a woman
Traditions recorded in the west and in some other parts of Slovenia in the 19th century must also be taken with a certain distance, because these records were current during the national revival that shaped social life according to the principles of the “new religion”-Christianity. Despite the fact that a woman had an equal role in our ancestors society and even inheritance was arranged on the female side, and she could also be a warrior who followed a man into battle, the differences over the centuries are clearly visible in how a woman submitted to a Catholic system and mostly took a role of a housewife and taking care of children. There is nothing wrong with that because it is the hardest job in the world and the most noble. There is just a fact – she didn’t have much choice what to do with her life.
Despite some preserved native practices, the genuine sense of equality and the true meaning of women even amongst native faith followers as we know them in the West have long since faded back then.
As in other nations, where we observe large local differences in the social arrangements themselves (such as the Scandinavians and their view of the relationship between the two or in marriage), the same is true in our country, especially in local versions of worship and aspects of the holy forces. however, we find common denominators.
Protective role of a man
Among the Slavs, men have an exceptional protective role towards women, especially during pregnancy! If he cannot share his time with her, especially at night, the woman must wear his clothes or part of his clothes, if nothing else, keeping his belt is good enough.
Our ancestors believed that at the time of birth, the upper and lower worlds open in the intimate space of the family, so that the soul of the unborn child can enter this world, and thus the mother also finds herself at a crossroads. Everyone present at the birth is also more open. Therefore, the ancestors preferred to give birth in places where they did not stay long like the bathroom or sauna (or bath, as it was called in some places).
Pregnant women were recommended to the goddesses before birth, each in their own environment – for a successful and easy birth and the health of the child.
For this purpose, e.g. In Lithuania, women wore hand-embroidered scarves and shawls to the goddess Laima, and an East Slavic woman prayed to Mokoš and connected with her through women’s chores.
An East Slavic woman made a doll during her pregnancy in which she put all her worries, gloomy thoughts or unwanted energies of others. No one was allowed to see this doll. She was thrown away after birth.
She also made a doll for the baby and even before the baby was born, it had to be placed under the father’s pillow for a while to be filled with the energies of protection. After birth, the doll is placed in the baby’s cradl. If the doll got lost, they felt it had fulfilled its purpose of protection and they simply made a new one.
There used to be opinions that a doctor was not needed at birth, that a woman could give birth by herself or be helped by an experienced midwife, and that the strongest link in terms of help was the father himself.
Traditions, customs, habits are viewed in many layers and geographically differently, in some places this opinion prevailed, in some places e.g. in Lithuania, women gave birth exclusively in the company of women.
However, according to some Slavic beliefs, the father is the one who redirects all the negative energy to himself at the time of birth.
Unfortunately, the ancients did not left us with the information on how to get rid of this bad energy, so it is necessary to look elsewhere and use other techniques to ensure that after birth, the father can cleanse everything that he “attracted” to himself.
Energy must flow
In order for energy to flow and not accumulate anywhere in / on a person, all knots must be deciphered, during childbirth a woman must also have her hair loose, ie not tied in any way, and the door must be open.
After birth, the father must show the baby to the forces of Nature. He can show / lift the baby towards the sun, towards the fire in the home fireplace, he must touch the ground with the baby and at least slightly / symbolically soak them in the water. If there is no water, just spray it on them. Thus the child introduces himself to the gods and asks for a happy life. This concludes the ritual of connecting with Nature / creation.
Russians believed that on this trip a woman is destined for the afterlife, and thus must lose human or. Earthly properties, so she should be as quiet as possible during childbirth, singing was not allowed, because she also loses her voice.
Some women have problems with the vocal cords during pregnancy, which in itself settles after birth, which is an extremely interesting phenomenon, which probably speaks of the need to turn inward, turn off the whole world and really only focus on this journey to yourself and the child in silence, in intimacy and to connect mentally as best you can.
This happened to me personally in 2017 while pregnant, me who wrote this article and speaks to you now.
I was very much scared the vocal chords would fail on me forever and I wouldn’t be able to sing to my child. To someone, who has been professionally into music for a long time, is even more stressful.
But luckily, despite the fact doctors could not find a physical cause of the problem, after giving birth, I was able to speak and sing again, like nothing happened in between. 🙂 <3
The tree and the Goddess
The Baltic Slavs have a habit of planting a tree at the birth of a child. If a baby girl is born, they plant a linden tree, if a boy, an oak tree.
This custom derives from the ancient mythological notion of creation, which is known in large parts of Slavic lands.
The supreme god (according to some testimonies – Svarog) created the first man from oak and a woman from linden. Then his wife Lada (or Vida or Božena) breathed life into the woman’s tree and he breathed life into the oak. This is how people were born. Lada had previously dreamed of them and, after the creation of the sky, which Svarog placed on the 12 pillars (zodiac?), Suggested that they create more people.
The oak is considered a “male tree”, also the tree of the god Perun, who receives lightning, Perun’s ax, which is a symbol of justice and struggle, and the linden tree bears heart-shaped leaves as the goddess Lada is the protector of lovers and holy marriage.
The Baltic peoples know many goddesses and gods, among whom are especially important Perkunas or, according to our Perun, the earthly mother of Žemyn and Laim, who weaves the threads of destiny. She is also the protector of women and women in labor, especially revered in Lithuania and Latvia, as the most important female goddess. It assigns life expectancy, happiness, misfortune, wealth, and poverty. Sometimes she is depicted as one goddess, and sometimes as a group of three goddesses, a young woman, a mature woman and an old woman, who come to foretell the fate of a newborn – just as the fairies Sojenice come to a newborn in our country of Slovenia.
In Lithuania and Latvia, women once gave birth in a sauna and washed themselves ritually before giving birth, and after giving birth, they brought gifts to Laima. Laima occurs in many forms, including the shape of the linden tree. An important incarnation of Laima is also the cuckoo, which represents her spring aspect.
The birth and the ritual of burrying the placenta in Western Slovenia
Here in Slovenia in western »Posočje« (Soča river valley area,) the ancients said that “the placenta and the umbilical cord form a living bond between mother and child. After childbirth, however, this bond continues, but is invisible. However, it can only continue if the living bond is returned to the mother earth. Only when she fully accepts the invisible bond becomes permanent to us. This lasts three times for seven moons. If anyone took the placenta and umbilical cord out of there, the baby would die.
In the book »Iz nevidne strani neba« where Pavel Medvešček gathered many information of the old faith and practices we read – he says women only gave birth in a chamber with only women by her side. The main one was the midwife, who also gave orders and advices to the other participants. When the baby was born, she wrapped them in a prepared towel and hid the placenta in another. She then showed the baby to the mother, and one of the women involved hit the floor three times, in the knowledge of those waiting downstairs room the offspring is here. The father or grandmother came to see the baby first, but that only happened when the baby’s father was not at home. The hidden placenta was taken by the chosen women unnoticed to a pre-determined place, which was a secret.
Washing followed. The midwife brought the child to the kitchen, where a bowl of warm water was prepared, and the father brought it from one of the healing springs. When the midwife washed, wiped and swaddled the child, she handed them over to the mother. While the newborn was breastfeeding for the first time, she uttered their name aloud. Those present repeated it. Some approved of it, others did not. This was called »imenje« which is a small tradition of naming the child. It always stuck to the name the mother first uttered. The last act at this birth belonged to the father. He took a container of water where the baby was cleaned to the chosen tree and watered the tree with that water.
At the castle above Solarji once grew a hundred-year-old linden tree, which had three peaks at the ground; thus it formed a Tročan, Trinity of fertility. It was mostly visited by women who could not conceive. In a recess between the three peaks, they placed a jug, which they made by knotting together one male and one female thing. These could be hair, woolen threads or buttons. The most effective swab was considered to be one made by women soaking one piece of cloth in menstrual blood and the other in men’s semen. After the birth of the child, the women took placenta there to thank the tree and all the helpful forces.
Watering the tree with the first water in which the child bathed is a well-known custom in other parts of Slovenia, especially in eastern Prekmurje on the whole other part of the country.
The childbirth and the sacred bread
The function of bread has been largely festive throughout history. We meet it as an integral part of rituals from birth to death. In the world of the old the loaf itself symbolizes the sun. In ancient rituals, bread is a constant, which also symbolizes abundance and fertility.
Already in the sources from the 12th century, when various rites of fertility or associated with divination were performed in honor of the ancient gods, we find bread loaves and cakes. People believed in the magic of bread. For them, it meant holiness and the measure of all good.
Our forefathers once believed that a newborn baby is visited by the fairies who foretell their fate. There are always three coming in, with the last one dressed in white. One is youth, the other is married life, and the third is old age. Some say one predicts happiness, another misfortune, and a third death.
Therefore, on the night after the child’s birth, a loaf of bread was placed on the table for fairies »Sojenice« to set child’s best possible life.
Across Slovenia, we encounter the custom of baking and bringing white bread to the child’s mother in order to make the child happy and never hungry for bread. In Prekmurje, it is a white braid called “bosman”, which is decorated with birds. The mother gets as many bread birds as there are babies or children at the house.
Pentagram and other protection
The midwife poured the water in which she bathed the newborn for the first time onto a fruit tree to make the baby grow well.
The baby was protected from bad spells by drawing a trutamora sign – a pentagram and morca (flower of life).
The pentagram embroidered with red thread was also placed on children’s shirts, which can be seen in the museum at Bogenšperk Castle. The people of Prekmurje placed two crossed brooms in front of the door to prevent witches entering the house.
Even the midwife who helped with the birth got bread.
Regardless of the already Christian environment, people continued to believe in various evil spirits known from the old tradition and resorted to the old religious custom of repelling evil spirits, which has survived despite the new faith; these are also the red ribbons with which they decorated the cradles or wore them on the way to baptism.
If the child did not speak quickly in Bela krajina, south-east Slovenia, the midwife baked two loaves and handed them to the child’s mother through the window.
We know from Ormož that the housewife, while baking festive bread for the child’s baptism, also prayed that nothing bad would happen.
A pregnant woman should not cut her hair, as she keeps all the information and good energy in her hair, which connects her to the baby. With loose long hair, however, she practices better intuition, as human hair acts as an antenna to the afterlife. Thus, a woman should have her hair loose as often as possible, except in cases when she goes among people and there is a possibility of accepting negativity from the surroundings. Then she should have a braid for protection.
Even today, mothers keep a bit of hair that they cut off from the baby for the first time. This modern custom has its beginnings in the ancient belief that with a bunch of hair next to her, the mother can continue to feel the child even at a distance and all the protection she can send by the hair.
A man without a beard was considered a pampered man and one with “non-traditional inclinations”.
The hair is a conductor of energy and should be at least 7cm long to perform this task.
Emperor Nero ordered the men’s haircut of the legionaries to be cut short as he himself expressed, they will not think but only obey. A bare head was once also a sign of slavery in Europe.
Some places in Russia still use the old magic way to ensure harmony and understanding in the family: a few hairs of each family member need to be tied into a leaf from a tree or a piece of white or red silk, tied with mother’s hair and buried under an oak with words during the rising moon : “For happiness, peace and health!”
SUMMARIZING CRUCIAL RITUALS REGARDING PREGNANCY AND CHILDBIRTH THAT STILL APLLY TODAY
• during pregnancy, a woman should not cut her hair (so as not to lose contact with the child)
• during pregnancy and childbirth, a woman should have her hair loose as often as possible – easier contact with intuition and driving away bad spirits
• ritual washing before childbirth
• the father should be present at birth and be physically and spiritually cleansed after it
• the woman should devote as much time as possible to herself and the child in silence / travel to the beyond and back
• at birth, when the mother breastfeeds the child for the first time, she also names it, the others present repeat the name aloud
• before or after birth, a tree is selected or a new one is planted, where the placenta is buried, so that the bond between mother and child will be permanent due to the living offering to Mother Earth
• watering the tree with water in which the baby bathes for the first time is a ritual for health and good growth
• in the home environment, the father raises the child to the Sun, to the Fire, lays him on the Earth and immerses him in water a little – so he presents the child to the gods
• draw trutamora or morca on a cradle as a symbol against bad spirits / energies
• decorate the crib with red ribbons for protection
• under the tree, the family buries the strands of their hair wrapped in a tree leaf to achieve family harmony throughout life, while saying “For happiness, peace and health.”
• a mother gets bread braid as a gift, as well as bread birds for other children at the house so that the family will never go hungry
• white homemade bread is also given to the midwife (who helps with childbirth)
• the arrival of the Sojenice fairies: the table is set and the fairies come after birth, usually th third day to foretell the fate of the child from beginning to death. Each imprints through the child’s forehead the part of the destiny they had announced.
Ever since I have been studying our heritage of the old ways – for many, many years – on this path I have grown tirelessly as a person, I have spread it in my own way throughout our country, feeling a deep connection with our ancestors. At the same time, there is a firm belief that true old faith cannot survive only by research and the knowledge of it, collecting information …, but must truly live in our everyday rutines. Living in practice. That everything we know can be internalized to become a part of us, an unbroken bond that carries within it timeless divine traditions that are appropriate for every time, even the one in which we currently, transiently dwell.
That is why the rites of the annual milestones, which I perform in central Slovenia together with my colleagues and the small gestures of everyday life, have also passed into my blood. Thus, in addition to the traditional celebrations of the annual milestones in the native religion, it will now be the turn of some other traditions, due to the personal experience that will give my work, and ultimately existence, »a dot on the i«, as we say here in Slovenia.
I hope that the article also encourages some of you to delve into these meanings and perhaps to some extent follow the guidelines of our ancestors even at this most sacred event for the family.
Irena Petrič (maiden name Urankar)
guardian of the native faith