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MOKOSH is the life-giving goddess in ancient Slavic mythology, inherited from the pre-Indo-European pantheon and debased during the early Christian era. She is the only female deity mentioned in the Kievan pantheon established by Vladimir I in 980 ce. In northern Russia, she has survived as a house spirit, Mokysha or Mokusha; a tall woman with a large head and long arms, she shears sheep at night and spins flax and wool. Her name is connected with spinning and plaiting (Lithuanian meksti, makstyti, "to plait," and mākas, "shirt"; Russian meshok, "sack, bag," moshna, "pouch") and with moisture (*mok - or *mokr -, "wet, moist"). These associations suggest her ties with the life-giving and life-taking goddess of Old Europethat is, with Fate, the spinner of the thread of life and the dispenser of the water of life. Menhirs (kamennye baby ), venerated in some Slavic areas into the twentieth century (and some now called Maria ), seem to be connected with this ancient goddess, who possessed healing powers. Paralytics, the blind, and the deaf offered flax, wool, and sheep to these stones.

In the Christian era, Mokosh was superseded by Paraskeva-Piatnitsa ("Friday, fifth day") or Lianitsa ("linen washer"). In the Russian Orthodox tradition she is identified as Saint Paraskeviia (from the Greek paraskevi, "Friday"). Friday was a day sacred to the goddess and was characterized by taboos on women's work. In Carnival processions, the saint's image was that of a woman adorned with flax, her hair hanging loose and her hands extended. Legends speak of the miraculous powers of healing springs or river sources associated with Paraskeva-Piatnitsa. In the Russian ritual called mokrida (from mokr -, "wet"), a sacrifice to her consisted of flax, wool, thread, or woven articles such as towels and shirts. Her most important holiday fell on October 28, a day within the annual period of flax preparation. Women may not work on this day. Disregard of this rule may bring on blindness or some other malady, or may even result in death. Piatnitsa may transform intransigent women into frogs. Posts and shrines in her honor were built at crossroads, and wooden images of her were erected as late as the twentieth century.

In northern Russia, old icons testify to the continuing importance of this pre-Indo-European goddess in Christian guise. In them, Saint Paraskeviia, who replaced Mokosh, is shown as one of a saintly triad, along with Saint Elijah (Il'ia), who replaced the Indo-European deity Perun, and Saint Blasius (Vlasii), who replaced the Indo-European deity Veles-Volos.


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New Sources

Kapica, F. S. Slavyanskije tradicionnije verovanija, prazdniki i rituali [Slavic traditional beliefs, festivities and rituals]. Moscow, 2001.

Shaparova, N. S. Kratkaya enciklopedija slavyanskoj mifologii [A short dictionary of Slavic mythology]. Moscow, 2001.

Tokarev, S. A. "Moskva Mifi narodov mira (World myths)." Bolshaya Rossijskaya Enciklopedija, vols.12, 1998.

Marija Gimbutas (1987)

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