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Mother Russia. The Feminine Roots of Russia. Russia is inherently close to the earth because of its long-standing agrarian existence The personification of the land as “Mother” conveys the protective and life-giving qualities of the earth

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mother russia

Mother Russia

The Feminine Roots of Russia

Russia is inherently close to the earth because of its long-standing agrarian existence

The personification of the land as “Mother” conveys the protective and life-giving qualities of the earth

In the peasant tradition, all things are borne by the earth and derive from her fertility

The soil is considered sacred because it provides sustenance for the village

  • We can view Matrioshka as a symbolic embodiment of “Mother Russia”
  • Matrioshka doll contains progressively smaller versions of her own images within her body
  • “Like the ancient Great Mother Goddess, the Matrioshka spills all creation out of her body; like the protective and nurturing individual mother, she gathers her children ‘under her skirts,’ where they must find identity through nature’s cyclical rhythms of confinement and release” (Hubbs)
historical context
Historical Context
  • The concept of “Mother Russia” is deeply rooted in Slavic past
  • Well-organized, sedentary society existed in the general area of Russia for millennia. This “Old Europe” characterized as a peaceful, matrilineal culture
  • Worshipped an all-powerful Goddess of creation, death, and regeneration that encompassed various attributes of goddesses of other cultures
  • First invasion affecting the culture of Old Europe was the Indo-European tribes from the East. These warriors invaded around 3000 B.C. from the Eastern steppes
  • This resulted in a change towards a warfare-oriented, class stratified, and patriarchal society
remnants of the past
Remnants of the Past
  • Old European way of life still found in several “corners” of Europe today, its traditions preserved in myths, legends, tales, popular beliefs, customs, and rituals
  • The cult of the Mother Goddess was carried into religious and folk traditions of various forms
In the North of Russia during the winter festival of Koliada, this folksong is sung about a girl who sits inside a white tent in a meadow embroidering a napkin as she waits for her future husband:

And the first thing she embroidered was

the moon,

The shining moon and then the stars.

Then she made the beautiful sun,

The beautiful sun and the warmed clouds.

And after them the wet pine trees in the forest,

The wet pines in the forest with wild animals

around them,

And then the shining sea with its waves…

The girl of the song creates all nature like a goddess; she then populates nature, becoming fertile as she embroiders herself a husband. The napkin she embroiders in the meadow is like those offered by peasant girls in northern Russia to an all-encompassing female divinity.

This goddess of all creation has been revealed in three figures representing the progressing life stages of a woman; the young maiden (rusalka), the mother/lover (Mother Moist Earth/Mokosh), and old wise woman (Baba Yaga)

Each aspect associated with the three figures contains all the others. For example, the old wise woman figure Baba Yaga sometimes appears as a young maiden, as represented in the figure of rusalka.

baba yaga
Baba Yaga
  • One of the most well-known figures in Russian folk tales is Baba Yaga
  • She is represented as an old witch with magical powers
  • Associated with the goddess of embroideries
  • Dually “good” and “bad”
  • She is bringer of life and death, both devours children and reunites couples
the frog princess
The Frog Princess

Baba Yaga helps a young prince win the competition for the kingdom. He acquires a frog-bride, who is actually an enchanted princess – the daughter of a sorceress. The King gives his kingdom to this youngest son because his bride’s abilities cannot be matched by the brides selected by the older sons.

This tale speaks to the matriarchal past. The criteria of the competition set by the king is based on the abilities of the brides, not his sons.

By analyzing the symbolic meaning of such tales, the pre-Indo-European social structure is recreated

  • Slavic folk figure
  • Young maiden with long, flowing hair; runs amongst lakes and trees
  • She represents the untamed life-giving and life-taking force of woman and nature
  • Associated with fertility, reproduction, as well as death
  • Connected with the underworld and the deadly waters; siren-like, she lures men to their deaths

She looked at him and shook her hair

Threw kisses, laughed

And like a child

Cried to the monk: “Come to me here….”

-Alexander Pushkin, Rusalka

mokosh moist mother earth
Mokosh / MoistMother Earth
  • Mokosh closely associated with the most ancient of the Slavic gods, Moist Mother Earth.
  • Mokosh was a great female deity
  • Mokosh the sole female in the pantheon of gods that Duke Vladimir of Kiev attempted to establish before the spread of Christianity
  • Venerated as goddess of the soil, fertility, and weaving
paraskeva piatnitsa
Paraskeva Piatnitsa
  • She is a “transitional” figure
  • Believed to be the pagan deity Mokosh transferred to a Christian context
  • In contrast to the pure image of Mary, Mother or God, she is the “Dirty One”
  • Like Mokosh, she is associated with spinning, fertility, health and marriage
  • Piatnitsa, meaning “Friday,” is connected with the Fridays of other cults (such as the Roman Venus and the Scandinavian Freya)
mary mother of god
Mary, Mother of God
  • Orthodox Church venerates the Mother and not the Virgin, as does the Western Church
  • Mary, Mother of God, absorbed properties of the more ancient goddess
  • The Tree of Life, usually depicted with the fertility goddess Mokosh, here appears in connection with Mary
  • What are some of the ways in which the feminine roots of Russia reemerged?