Burning the Morana

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I’m here in the Vysočina region of the Czech Republic, in a small village in the midst of hills, fresh air and idyllic countryside. Next to me are a couple of young ladies who are preparing a Morana which is the god of winter. Basically what happens is that you make a figure out of some branches which are just being put together now, and that is going to be taken for a long walk and we’re going to find a river and set alight to it. Thus, symbolically saying goodbye and setting fire to winter.

Now there has been some debate this year because there hasn’t really been much of a winter as to whether it should be burnt – whether an effigy of spring should be burnt instead. But in the end, it is going to end up being the traditional way. So they’ve basically just taken a branch from a tree and they are bending it into the shape of a person. They are just tying a rope now around the effigy, there’s a lovely shape of a head and two arms coming together, it’s a very intricate process.

What’s happening now is that we are in the tool room or in the shed and the guy in front of me is just drilling holes into little pieces of wood, so that everybody gets a tag that they’ve been here this year for this special event.

The Moravian girls here are having fun deciding how to decorate the winter effigy. It should be wrapped around with a piece of cloth, with a pair of eyes and a mouth drawn on it.

So these are “buchty” The woman of the house has just come out of the kitchen because she has been baking Czech “buchty” (a kind of bun) so I’m just about to sample one. She’s whispering because she has lost her voice so we won’t be hearing much from here. I’m just going to try a “buchta” now. I wish you could see it and taste it, it’s very delicious. Do you like “buchty”?

“I like buchty very much!”

The dog here is getting very excited because we are all just about to leave to head off for a very long walk to a river to burn the effigy of winter. Everybody’s all prepared with rucksacks, and we are just heading off.

Flash forward and hour and a half. After lots of hard walking through forests and fields we’re all sitting on a hill. There’s about fifteen of us and we’re taking a bit of a break before we reach our final destination. People around me are drinking various alcoholic beverages from wine to…

“wine is fine!”

I don’t think that needed any translation. I think that there are various home made drinks here as well. Home made liquors, brandies, “slivovice” (Czech plum brandy). So, we’ll probably take a break here and then carry on.

Many, many hours have passed…many hours of hard slogging, walking miles and miles and miles and we’ve finally reached our destination – a small bridge which overlooks a river, and the ceremonies will begin. The sun is setting, so the effigy will be burnt and thrown into the river.

At this point, I asked Olga Urbánková, who along with her husband and two daughters host the event, to explain the meaning and history behind this ceremony…

“It is an old symbol of the death of winter, because Morana was a Slavonic goddess of winter in medieval times. The fact that she was sent out at the end of winter, meant that spring was being greeted. And the fact that she was set fire to, and then drowned meant that winter would not return. And this was done before Christ, in Pagan times. Hey, it’s burning!”

It’s burning. The effigy is on fire. It’s about to be thrown into the river. Farewell to winter. It’s in the water. Spring is here!