Mythology

Vesna: Goddess of Spring

Vesna goddess
Mythena /Youtube.com

Vesna, goddess of spring and fertility was a mythological female character in early Slavic mythology (on the territory of today’s Croatia, Serbia, North Macedonia and Slovenia).

The cult of Vesna was related to the rituals that were conducted in rural areas during the spring. There (and then) she would be celebrated with her male companion Vesnik.

Keep reading this article to find out everything there is to know about Vesna, the Goddess of Spring.

Vesna, Morena or Devana

Vesna is a goddess of the Slavic pantheon that is often compared or equated to the Morana (goddess of death and rebirth of nature).

In the Polish tradition, Vesna is also known as Devana, a goddess who is more closely associated with hunt and fertility. They also sometimes call her Diva or Zhiva.

Vesna and Goddess Morana in Slavic Mythology

Vesna is the goddess of spring that is born after (or because) of the death of the Slavic goddess Morana (Morana’s death represents the end of winter).

Therefore, Vesna is closely related to the rituals that accompany the procession of the death of Morana, such as the burning and drowning of the Morana’s effigy.

However, these two goddesses cannot exist in the same place at the same time. In the 19th century, the return of Vesna was celebrated on March 1st. It was a ceremony that honored rebirth and fertility.

This ceremony took place after the one that was associated with Morana (Slavic goddess of death).

Vesna and Morana

The Portrait of Vesna in Slavic Mythology

Ancient Slavic people portrayed Vesna as the complete opposite of goddess Morana. She was presented as a beautiful woman who was full of life and fertile. With her presence, she was the staple of the spring season.

Vesna was typically depicted as a smiling, naked and barefoot person with only a few leaves and flowers covering her body (or sometimes in beautiful feminine attire).

Her hair was long as Morana’s but her complexion was bright and she had rosy cheeks that contributed to her healthy look. Her breasts were large and were there to emphasize her fertility.

Some visual portrayals represent her holding grapes and an apple, while in others she is shown with a swallow and a bouquet of flowers (both represent spring and marriage). 

The Tree and Flowers of Vesna

The initial tree of Vesna was the willow that in the later versions of this myth turned into flowers (both were interpreted as the symbols of spring).

According to the theory of some folklorists, the other name for Vesna was “Cvetnica” or “Cvetink” which refers to the word “cvet” that is translated as “blossom” [1].

Vesna in Carantania

Historical records have shown that on the territory of Carantania, a Slavic principality that emerged in the second half of the 7th century (on the territory of present-day southern Austria), spring was personified by Vesna (she was the goddess of spring, after all).

In Carantania, the feast of spring was observed during the final days of March, although not on a specific date (since the first day of spring arrives earlier in some places than in others).

The spring is heralded by the spring flowers such as snowdrops, primroses, violets, and catkins. The spring goddess is often surrounded by these flowers (in visual representations and portrayals of her).

The name of Vesna is encountered in the myth of god Kresnik who was also honored in this territory.

Vesna is present in many Russian and Ukrainian myths [2].

Vesna and the Ancient Slavs

The ancient Slavic people greeted the first day of spring with a special honoring that included feasts and celebrations (March 1st and later on the day of the equinox, March 21st) [3].

The Myth in Christian Times

In Christian times, the arrival of spring was related to Blossom Sunday or Palm Sunday that preserved and maintained the pagan celebrations (once performed in honor of the goddess Vesna) [4].

On the day of Palm Sunday, people would bring sheaves to church (as a symbol of blessing). The sheaf personifies the spring deity.

The custom was recorded in Europe in the 9th century and this indicates an older, pre- Christian ritual linked to certain holy trees, herbs, flowers and bushes that were associated with fertility and growth.

It was believed that these plants would protect the people from evil magic and illness as well as harsh weather conditions.

The Powerful Name of Vesna

The word “vesna” is the poetic word for “spring” in the Slovenian language as well as in Slovak and Czech.

In the Russian, Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian languages, “vesna” or “wiosna” means simply “spring”. In some ancient versions of the Slavic languages, the month of February was named “vesnar”.

In Serbian, the word “vesnik” denotes someone who is a messenger of springtime.

The Rivalry Between Vesna and Morana

In many regions, the death of Morana marked the end of winter. Morana’s death happened on the day of the spring equinox. Because of that, the day was celebrated and regarded as special.

In some versions of the myth, Vesna was the one who with her power destroys Morana (as Morana was her main rival).

Vesna would be carried on the winds of Striborg (the god of the winds) to fight Morana. The god Jarilo would also protect her on her journey.

The death of Morana marked the official ending of the winter and ushered in the warmth of spring and the sparks of new life and prosperity..

What About the Vesnas?

Although goddess Vesna is a popular mythological character, people may often find characters in mythology named “Vesnas” ( Vesna in a plural form).

The Vesnas are female characters that are associated with spring. According to the tale, they live in a palace on the top of a mountain where they decide the fate of the harvest.

Goddess Vesna is also a patroness of the prosperous harvest and fruitful crops.

The Vesnas are related to another name for Vesna – Diva or Divas.

Divas in the Slavic Folklore

In Slavic folklore, the Divas are represented as woodland fairies that also live in a palace on the top of a mountain. They wake up and become active only during spring and fall when they would come down from the mountain.

However, the Divas are slightly different from the Vesnas as they are interpreted as mischievous, fairy-like characters.

Vesna in Modern Culture

This goddess takes part in the Slavic fantasy series “The Frostmarked Chronicles” as a mythological character [5].

She is combined with other spring deities to form a story of the arrival of the spring, together with her counterpart named Zywia.

Zywia represents the calm, gentle nature of spring and her main element is water. Vesna, on the other hand, represents the vibrant growth of life.

The series also includes Dziewanna who protects the deepest forests, wilderness, and the animals within.

The god Jarilo, who brings prosperity to the crops and protects the people from war, as well as Dazbog who brings the heat of the summer Sun and replaces his winter counterpart Hors, are also in the series.

Some of the roles of the deities overlap but the reason for this are the different interpretations of myths as part of the rich oral cultural heritage.

Sources
  1. https://worldofdictionary.com/dict/serbian-english/meaning/cvet
  2. https://thezaurus.com/vesna/
  3. https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/march-equinox.html
  4. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Palm-Sunday
  5. https://brendan-noble.com/books/the-frostmarked-chronicles-slavic-fantasy/

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