Guest Post: Makosh vs Moist Mother Earth

Traditional Ukrainian embroidery, T. Vitta’s personal collection. Photo by G. Krasskova. Do not use without permission.

While our House does not practice Rodnovery (1), given that two of us have strong Slavic backgrounds (the author of today’s piece actually having been born and raised in the Ukraine), it was perhaps inevitable that the occasional Slavic Deity would creep into individual devotional practices (2). For instance, our guest writer today, T. Vitta, has a deep devotion to Moist Mother Earth and when a mutual friend asked about the relationship between this ancient Power and the Goddess Mokosh, it provided an opportunity for T.V. to explore her understanding of these two Deities. I found her words inspiring and asked permission to share them here. She agreed with the caveat that this reflects her understanding and practice. One should always note that there is the possibility for distinctive regional cultus to develop in many different ways (and such most certainly happened as a matter of course in the pre-Christian world), and as part of that, syncretism may also happen. This is always a given point of understanding undergirding her approach. There is obviously a deep working relationship between these two Deities, at the very least, and she acknowledges that this can take forms for other devotees of which she herself is heretofore unaware. 

Mokosh and Moist Mother Earth

By T. Vitta

Moist Mother Earth is much much older than Makosh (3). She is ever present, in Russian fairy tales, embedded in Russian language so strongly. She is a matter of course a part of Russian swears, Russian promises, and an inescapable part of Russian speech.  I sometimes listen to my parents and their friends, but more often Russian movies and Russian documentaries and smile at how expressions are littered with Her, in ways that tell you plainly who She is – very often without people giving full credence to what they are saying. 

If there has ever been a human bodily representation of Her, I have never seen one or found one, not in writings and not in archaeological findings. I don’t believe She has ever taken human form, not from what I have seen, read, or experienced (but I can only speak from my point of view and my experience.)  I just don’t think She ever had a need to do so.  She is the Land, the living spirit of the Slavic lands.  She is the progenitor of health, wealth of the land, fertility, death and the afterlife.  She nourishes when those of Her land are ill, She picks up those who are tired and hurt, and when people of Her land are near death, She collects them, She is the One in whose arms we fall for the last time.  She is so ingrained into the very make-up of the Slavic people, Her names are still embedded in the language.  Today, I hear Her invoked more when people are dying or are dead, probably because people live in cities.  You can’t separate Her from the language, it’s a part of it.  Last year I did a translation of an old Russian fairytale for one of Galina’s publications, and at her encouragement I made a very detailed footnote on Her (4).  One of the oddities about the US to me is how people here, compared to those I grew up with, don’t have this attachment to the land whatsoever (5).  All the nationalistic songs in Russia and Ukraine, the very way that the people there fight wars, fight for their land – it all goes back to Her.  When you read all those old stories you see it staring you in the face – heroes who are far away from home saying how their aching bones need to go back to their land, to feel Moist Mother Earth under their feet, how when they fall on the field of battle, they lay themselves on the Moist Mother Earth, asking for Her peace, for Her to embrace them at the moment of their death.  What has been amazing is that this past year, when faced with illness or lack of vitality, I instinctively prayed to Her for strength and healing, and She heard me, immediately coming to my rescue time after time.  I think it’s the bloodline, She recognized the bloodline and reached out to Her people.  I suspect that there is an unbreakable contract between the Slavs and Moist Mother Earth, and that this contract is so strong and they still uphold it, still ask for Her help, and She still comes to us all.  She is the seeded field.  She is the health of the soil.  She is who gives us power and gives us the right to the land.  She is the fertility of our land.  She feeds us with Her strength when we are weak and sick.  Her cold embrace takes us in when we must transition.  

Makosh on the other hand is a weaving Goddess.  She is the Goddess of the hearth, the Goddess of fate, Goddess of the “women’s” crafts.  In the days these deities were prayed to, things were strictly gendered between the two sexes, and She is pretty much as close as you can come to a Goddess of female mysteries, if you forgive the expression.  I think this is why people conflate them – they are both Goddesses that bring plentifulness.  The thing is, it’s a very different kind of plentifulness.  Makosh, being the Goddess of Fate and Hearth, brings good luck into the home, helps the bread rise, and weaves the futures of all men (humans, I mean by that).  Moist Mother Earth is the fertility of the earth itself, life coursing and pumping itself through the earth to all the animals and plants.  Close – but not the same.  Moist Mother Earth does not distinguish us from every other living creature living on Her.  Makosh – I suspect those who are Hers will learn to weave, learn to spin, learn to work magic into their cooking and learn the magic of the crafts that were considered traditionally female.  If you pray for- let’s say pregnancy,– you would pray to Moist Mother Earth for fertility.  You could pray to Makosh – but because She will weave fate to bring you a child, because She will bring joy into the home.  

I just googled “Moist Mother Earth” in Russian and the 4th link on google says “ensemble, Jesus the Savior and Moist Mother Earth”…  People don’t even think about it there, it just is (6).

Notes (added by GK): 

  1. Slavic Polytheism, from the word Rodina or motherland. 
  2. In my case, it’s more the occasional Baltic Deity. I have no particular devotion to either of the Goddesses discussed today, save simple respect. 
  3. I have also seen this name spelled Mokosh. We are translating a divine name of a Holy Power honored throughout Slavic lands at one point so there will be linguistic differences in pronunciation and spelling, not to mention all of this is being transliterated into English. If you see it spelled differently elsewhere, relax. 
  4. See Issue 12 of Walking the Worlds, The Bewitched Queen, translated by T. Vitta. The footnote (footnote 7) reads as follows: 

“The expression “moist earth” has a special significance in Slavic language and Slavic culture.  This is a diminutive of the full expression “Moist Mother Earth”, often heard when heroes are expressing their love for the land in which they were born.  It is an intimate prayer to the soil of their land itself.  This is because the language itself has been permanently marked by 1,000s of years of prayer to Moist Mother Earth and is now inseparable from the language and its people, a practice long before Christianity came to the Slavic lands.  She is the progenitor of health, wealth, fertility, and death and afterlife alike.  Moist Mother Earth is the original primordial Goddess the Slavic people prayed to when they seeded the earth and watched the crops grow, when they were suffering and in pain, and when they were far away from the very soil of their homeland.  This expression stayed in the language, an ancient prayer recalling the connection between the land and its people.  Even in cursory sentences like this it is evoked to remind the reader of the fertility of the land, and how we all eventually and rightfully are put into it to take up our journeys after we die.  

This expression is evoked especially in the older written texts such as fairytales when people lived closer to the land, survived and died via the land.  It appears both when the character talks about the fertility of the earth, such as in the above passage, but also in how it is the inevitable place we all must go to when we die.  This appears in such expressions as “he laid his head on the moist earth” that often appear in fairytales to note the hero as close to death.  While this is a tragic point in the tale, a time when the hero is dying, this is also a powerful reminder of our ties to the land.  Moist Mother Earth is not the enemy that forcibly takes you, rather She is ever loving and loyal and takes you in when life is too much to bear.  Dying and coming into her is like coming home.  This is a particular connection between the Slavic people and the Slavic land, a promise, a covenant that the people know so instinctively that long after Christianization erased all memory of the prayers to a deity, they still pray to Her and She still knows them.  She hears their prayers, and She comforts and protects and eventually takes you in. “ 

5. Since taking a course last year in the History of Jerusalem, I have often pondered the lack of connection to a specific land that I see in modern polytheists and pagans. Is it because our sacred sites were destroyed so thoroughly? Is it because at least in America, we are working in diasporic traditions? Is it something in the attitudes of modernity? I don’t know but I wonder what we have lost by this. 

6. Tatyana told me after she sent me this that there are numerous examples of Moist Mother Earth being syncretized with the Virgin Mary. 

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About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on April 9, 2021, in devotional work, Lived Polytheism, Polytheism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Being a foreign policy geek, after reading this I couldn’t help but think, is it any wonder American diplomats are perpetually confounded by Russian policies or why many Americans still think of Russia as the main boogeyman 30 years after the end of the Cold War? We might literally see reality differently than Slavic peoples. To clarify, by “we” I mean most of America and the West in general. I like to think that I and most pagans/polytheists at least try to feel or cultivate the sacred connection to the land. I was reading in some article(I forget which) that this “different way” even exists between Catholicism and Orthodoxy beyond doctrine. Interesting stuff. Good post!

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    • ganglerisgrove

      we honor the land but so far, I haven’t seen the same connection to the land that say, Jewish communities might have with Israel. land is something we might develop a relationship with but even on our ancestral land, there’s not that indisputable, ferocious tie to it — not that I’ve seen, not as a mark of identification. whether that’s good, bad, or neutral…I don’t know.

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  2. Sorry for commenting again. Might Baba Yaga be a manifestation of Moist Mother Earth or is she a distinct entity?

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  3. I come from some pretty Slavic roots (just a couple generations out from Poland on one side, and Slovakia on the other) but know very little about the Slavic Deities so i love posts like this that let me learn a bit. I know Russia/Ukraine are quite different from Poland or the Czech regions but there’s still some similarities

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    • ganglerisgrove

      The linguistic similarities between these places are striking, and I think to some degree, the same can be said of the religious commonalities. I really want to learn Czech. Right now, I’m learning spanish and trying to settle on a Scandinavian language to learn. After that, omg, I really want to learn Czech. When I was in Poland for an artists’ residency a few years ago, I was really surprised at how similar Czech and Polish are: the former tends to go dental, whereas the latter sibilant. it was fascinating.

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      • I’m not sure what avenue you’re using for language but I’m learning both Czech and Polish currently through Duolingo and you’re correct that they are extremely similar (sometimes it will be the same word exactly, just with an accent for one. Like chleb and chléb. Both words for “bread”. I forget which one is Polish and which is Czech though! 😅). Duolingo is probably not the best for getting deep into the language but for a passing interest, it’s been quite good.

        That is awesome that you were able to be in Poland! It’s on my bucket list to see the land of my people.

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  4. ganglerisgrove

    right now, I’m not working on either. I had Russian in high school so there are some commonalities grammatically and with vocab with Polish too. the word for bread in Russian is the same, btw: хлеб. duo isn’t great long term, but for like the equivalent of two semesters of a language, it isn’t bad. Just avoid the Latin Duo. It’s atrocious. I’m doing Spanish on Duo and German as a refresher (I never actually had formal German, just picked it up). You might also look on YouTube. There’s a series called Easy German, Easy Spanish, Easy X…maybe they have Polish and/or Czech?

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  5. ganglerisgrove

    Both Poland and the Czech Republic were lovely and the people so hospitable. The color palette of each country is different. The way they responded to communism is different: Poles became very religious (I’m generalizing but across the board I saw magnificent examples of this up to and including several times seeing people kneeling on cobblestones in front of a church waiting for it to open so they could pray before a particular icon) whereas Czechs veered toward atheism. I really liked the roadside shrines that are all over the place in Poland. In CR, there is such history that you can almost taste it in the air. I would happily go back to both. I was in Krakow and MIslenice in Poland, plus I went to visit an ossuary in a small town whose name escapes me atm; in CR I was mostly in Prague but visited ossuaries in Brno and Sedlec. In both, I found the people lovely and wish I could have stayed longer.

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