The Goddess Mokosh by Laura Shannon


Laura Shannon - CopyCandlemas / 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.

Slavic Goddess Embroidery

Slavic Goddess Embroidery

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.

Russian women in ceremony

Russian women in ceremony

*****
I will be teaching dances from Greece and Eastern Europe which honour Mokosh and the nymphs and muses at my workshops this year in Greece, Austria, Germany, Morocco and the UK. For details of these dance events, please visit www.laurashannon.net
I thank Sylwia Geelhaar, who researched Mokosh for us in my most recent 2-year training group in Women’s Ritual Dances in Lebensgarten, Germany, and gathered together many of the images shared here.
Further reading: Barber, Elizabeth Wayland (2013). The dancing goddesses. W. W. Norton & Co.
Gimbutas, Marija (1989). The language of the goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Kelly, Mary B. (1989). Goddess embroideries of Eastern Europe. McLean, New York: StudioBooks.
Rigoglioso, Marguerite (2010). Virgin mother goddesses of antiquity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Shannon, Laura (2011). ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: an Ancient Source of Healing in Our Time.’ In: J. Leseho and S. McMaster, eds., Dancing on the Earth: Women’s Stories of Healing Through Dance. Forres: Findhorn Press.
*****
Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth. Laura lives partly in Greece and partly in the Findhorn ecological community in Scotland.
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Categories: Divine Feminine, Goddess, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, Pagan Holidays, Paganism, Women's Spirituality

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15 replies

  1. Hi Laura
    I imagine that you know the work of Danica Anderson? It seems you may have passions in common. Good article thank you.
    Blissings

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    • Thanks for mentioning Danica Anderson. I have been interested in her work and have been trying to get hold of her books, but they are not in the libraries where I am living. From the impression I have so far, there is a definite link, so I hope to learn more.

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  2. Wonderful, dear Laura! It was so very fitting having just celebrated Imbolc at Chalice Well and then next day again with my little Sacred Circle Dance group.
    Thank you, again.
    Love and blessings, Sue

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  3. Thanks Laura. Love the Slavic embroidery, somehow it does express a goddess persona to me. I visited your website too, and the slide show is absolutely delightful — all those circle dances of women, wonderful. This group at FAR — we could imagine ourselves that way too, hand in hand in a ring, and we should.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for writing this. It’s always good to learn about goddesses.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a blessing on this chilly Imbolc season morning — to meet a sister of my beloved Brigid. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been feeling those first signs that spring is out there somewhere, especially today, while I was out walking in the sun, and I remembered your post, thanks so much.

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  7. Thanks, Laura, for introducing us to Mokosh. I’m always looking for the faces of the Goddess in all her different cultures, and Mokosh was new to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love Mokosh! I’ve been researching the slavic deities over the years and fell in love with Mokosh. I have a collection of images from web research on my computer. Thanks for writing about her. Miss you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you, Laura, for this post! I obviously absolutely love Mokosh (or Makosh) – my room is full of her figurines, some of which were made especially for me and my daughter. I am especially grateful to you and other researchers of Slavic paganism (such as Elizabeth Barber, whim I respect deeply) for even bringing it up. All too often Western neo-pagans act as if there was only Western European pagan tradition. Whereas it is exactly in the Southern and Eastern Europe that pagan traditions are not only remembered, but actually practised regularly. I just wanted to note that The name of the Goddess might have been Makosh, and it could have meant “Mother of the harvest” (ma – being an Indoeuropean root, as in Kali-Ma). However, it does not mean that the interpretations you give in your post are irrelevant. As often with myths, meanings do not cancle each other out, but enrich each other. Best wishes in everything you do!

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  10. Thank you for this information, and also for the invitation to honour these powers in our daily lives.

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  1. Мокош – Mokosh | Música Folclórica de Ucrania

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