Mati Syra Zemia (Moist Mother Earth), Slavic mother goddess, is probably one of the oldest and most important deities. Her name explicitly describes her as forever fertile, life-giving and reproductive force. The cult of the mother goddess originates from the period of matriarchy, the system that, in some of its forms, lasted among the Slavs even until the 10th century. Records on the
life of lady Olga (second half of the 10th century) mention that the women of that age had almost the same rights as the men. Olga herself was the owner of a land, and she ruled over it before she married lord Igor, whose throne she inherited. According to written sources, mother goddess, along with an array of natural deities and ancestral spirits, was worshipped until 988. We can see here that some forms of matriarchy survived up to the point when prince Vladimir converted to Christianity in 988 and pulled down the polytheistic idols placed on a hill above Kiev. As for the women rights on our territory, the situation was quite similar. Vladislav Ribnikar thought that the Slav women had lost their rights only after the Serbs had accepted Byzantine customs and laws. Although all the researchers do not share the idea that women's rights were equal to men's (Marija Gimbutas), they generally agree that the Slavs lived in some type of matriarchy. This fact was used by Maria Semionova, the writer, who in her novels on Vukodav described Slavic society as the one in which women were sacred. Another fact supports the claim that the cult of mother goddess was very old – she was never represented in a human form, but was rather worshipped as the divine Earth itself. As we know, this type of perception is characteristic of the oldest form of religion – animism. In animism, everything that surrounds the man is divine and infused with a soul.
Mati Vlazna Zemlja is just one of the names of the mother goddess. In Poland she was known as Matka Ziemia, and in Lithuania as Zemyna, that is, the Earth itself. In The Book of Veles she is mentioned as the cow named Zemun, the divine cow connecter with the constellation of the Bull (the town of Zemun was probably named after this mother goddess). The cow is certainly related to a goddess of fertility, since every mother goddess is represented as having many breasts. The Slavs always had a particular connection with their mother goddess, quite different from the one they had with all the other gods. This connection was a mix of love, admiration, and the feeling of deep intimacy. Mother goddess was the only deity whom the Slavs addressed directly, without mediators or using priests' services. She had the role of an oracle that the Slavs consulted for advice, but she was also a divine witness and judge. In the disputes about private property, people used to plead with her to be their witness and they swore by her name. To confirm that the marriage ceremony is satisfyingly concluded, people would swallow a lump of earth or put it on their head. Her help was also invoked when the cattle needed protection from disease. The Slavs would make a furrow with a plough in the earth around the cattle, releasing in that way the protective power of the earth.
Since Mati Vlazna Zemlja was one of the most worshipped deities, it comes as no surprise to find traces of her cult among the Slavs even after they converted to Christianity. In Russia, after 988 there was a period of the so-called religious duality, during which pagan gods were worshipped along with Christ and Christian saints. Characteristics of mother goddess were transferred to Virgin Mary. A myth presenting mother goddess in a somewhat atypical role originates from this period. This myth tells about how Rod and Lada created the universe, and how the three worlds – Jav, Nav and Prav were created. Jav was connected with Majka Vlazna Zemlja and it stood for everything that people could perceive with their five senses, the material world. Sources available on the internet describe an event that took place in a Slavic village (the name of the village is not given) in which cholera broke out. The village women gathered one night and started to plough the earth in order to stir the powers of the mother goddess and plead with her for help. While doing this, they tried to look as scary as possible, so they carried skulls and various tools with them. Their goal was to drive cholera out of their village by using the power of Majka Vlazna Zemlja, at the same time awaking an ancient force that was slumbering within themselves for hundreds of years. The village virgins let their hair hang loose, and the old women covered their heads with a white cloth. The group made terrible noise to scare the evil forces, and every man that chanced to be in the women's way was beaten by the tools they carried. It would not be surprising to witness this kind of ritual in the times of matriarchy, when the woman had the leading role in the society and when it was believed that she was the human form of the earth goddess. But this particular event took place at the beginning of the 20th century. This shows that the cult of Majka Vlazna Zemlja survived into our times in an almost unaltered form, and we can consequently conclude that this goddess was one of the most important deities of the Slavic pantheon.
by Vesna Kakasevski
translated by Snježana Todorović