Dziady, ?????, Zadushnice – Slavic precursors of All Saints’ Day

Dziady celebration

Dziady at homeIn pre-Christian Slavic belief Dziady or ????? (“Forefathers”) was the day of commemorating the dead and bringing offerings to their graves. Dziady was celebrated by the end of October and beginning of November, which makes it a pagan equivalent to contemporary All Saints Day. There was another Dziady day in the spring, equally important. Slavs believed that the deceased and the living form two parts of the same community, with the dead constantly watching our world from beyond. In some days the boundary between our realms becomes blurred, and the dead come to visit their former homes. “Forefathers” was one of these days, and families were ready to welcome the guests from the netherworld with food, drink, gifts as well as pleads and requests. These requests were particularly connected to fertility, since the ancestors were held responsible for the survival of genealogical tree. Sterility was believed to be a consequence of an insult towards the deceased, which made Dziedy the perfect opportunity for apology and appeasing the ancestors. Cemeteries were visited Dziady by Adam Mickiewiczand food and drink was carried to the burial sites. According to some records, old sacral places such as ancient trees or hill tops could also serve as a place for offerings to the dead. Reminiscent of Halloween was a Polish custom of making masks known as kraboszki, which were put beside the food for the deceased. Libations with wine were regularly practiced on the occasion. Beggars who were attending the cemeteries were richly awarded not only because it was a noble deed but also because many of the living believed that the beggars are actually their dead in disguise. Prayers and messages were conveyed through the beggars in exchange of food. After the cemetery visit, rich meals were prepared at home, and a few unattended plates and glasses were filled with the offerings, as if the dead are also sitting at the table. In some regions, small quantities of food and drink were spilled at the floor for the ancestors. Numerous actions such as sewing or spinning were prohibited as a precaution from unintentional capturing of their souls. Loud speech or other noises were suppressed in order not to frighten the dead, and in some places even the saunas were prepared for them to bathe. However, not all the deceased were welcome to the world of the living. Those who died a violent death were believed to turn into evil spirits, and fires were burned at the crossroads which served as “portals” through which they could come back. This custom is not preserved, but lighting the candles on the graves, in order to illuminate the way home for the beneficial spirits, persists today. Food offerings at the graveyard survive among contemporary Slavs under the name of “Zadushnice”, and it occurs several times a year. Accommodated with the Christian calendar, it always falls on Saturday and sometimes the priest joins the procession, reciting prayers. The pagan rites of Dziady are made immortal by the poetic drama of the same name written by the famous Polish poet and dramatist, Adam Mickiewicz.

About the author

Vesna Adic

Vesna Adic holds an MA degree in Art History from the University of Belgrade and has graduated with the Mention of Excellence from the Paideia Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. She is a certified curator, an experienced public speaker and a freelance writer. Her major interests are history, 19th century art & literature, music and traveling.