Candlemas / Imbolc, the midway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox brings with it (in the northern hemisphere) the first signs of awakening spring. Here in Canterbury, southeast England, where I am living this year, the birds are already starting to sing for mates and build their nests. In Celtic pre-Christian religion, Imbolc is associated with the Goddess Brigid / Bride (and the Christian Saint Brigid), but today I suggest we pay a visit to Brigid’s Slavic sister, the Goddess Mokosh / Mokoš, who is also powerfully associated with emerging fertility in the woman, the land and the year.
As well as fertility, Mokosh and Brigid bless and protect women’s crafts and women’s work, and share attributes of healing, motherhood and midwifery. They are both Goddesses of Fate and of destiny: spinning the thread of creation, giving life and cutting the thread, like the Three Fates of Greek tradition. Both have a special connection with sheep, wool, and weaving, and of course with textiles: Brighde is honoured through the tying of cloths or ‘clooties’ at sacred wells, while a favourite offering to Mokosh was a hank of spun wool dropped into a well. In the Slavic lands, Mokosh is a key figure on embroidered ritual cloths.
Mokosh, like Brigid, is associated with wells, springs and moisture; the name Mokosh comes from the root ‘mol’ meaning ‘moisture’, and is connected with the Slavic words mokry and moknut (‘wet’ and ‘to get wet’) . Mokosh brings the water of life and protects the life-giving waters on which human and animal existence depend. In this way Mokosh gives life to plants and animals, and is often portrayed with them. She is an important Slavic Mother Goddess, embodying fertility, femininity, prosperity, protection, health, good luck, abundance, and a successful future.
Mokosh is also a warrior goddess, in her fierce aspect as a goddess of protection. One of her epithets is ‘She who strikes with her wings’. The fact that she is a winged Goddess indicates her power and that which she grants to her priestesses and devotees, to travel between the worlds in trance, dream, and vision, for blessing and for healing on behalf of the community and all who are in need. Mokosh is also connected to butterflies, symbols of transformation, and bees, symbols of priestesses in antiquity. The beautiful Slavic embroideries shown here depict some of her typical manifestations as a tree/flower/goddess figure with branches/arms/wings/wheat ears, sometimes all at once.
Mokosh is a Slavic sister in the same lineage of water-loving fertility deities who were so important in ancient Greece, the Nymphs and Muses. Mokosh features centrally on women’s aprons, directly over the life-giving place of the womb, on sacred cloths for the icon corner in the home, or on cloth and clothing tied to birch or willow trees in Russia and the Ukraine. All over Europe, these elements of the Goddess and the divine fertile feminine can be found, disguised but discernible, in embroideries, dances, songs, fairy tales, ritual breads and other seasonal customs.
In the Christian era Mokosh continued to be worshipped in the form of the Virgin Mary, and more specifically was transformed into St. Petka / Paraskeva / Paraskevi, ‘Saint Friday’, which links her with the Norse Goddess Freya. Friday is the holy day of both Brigid and Mokosh.
Late winter/early spring, the time of Imbolc, is one of her sacred seasons. Whether you call her Brigid or Mokosh, or by another name or none, now is an opportune time to ask her help and invoke her presence. By lighting a sacred flame, tying a cloth to a tree in a fertile place, honouring the waters of Earth which give life to all, spinning and weaving threads of creation and creativity – literally or metaphorically – we too can connect once again with the source of all, and open ourselves to receiving Her blessings.
We may not be able to see what this year will bring, but we do know that the waters of the earth, the birds, bees and animals, the food sources which nourish all life, and the women of the human family, all need blessing and protection. Brigid and Mokosh can help with this. Reconnecting with these and other Goddesses also helps reawaken the Old European worldview as articulated by Marija Gimbutas, Carol P. Christ, and others: cooperation and community, respect for nature and shared resources, an understanding of our mutual interdependence, the value of craft and creative expression, and the need for social justice to protect what is precious.
As the spring returns, may we all both receive and give abundant blessings of new life and rebirth on every level.