Derived from the word maslo, or "butter/oil," Maslenitsa was a pagan mythological being personifying death, gloom, and winter as well as a week-long festival that divided winter and spring seasons. The pagan festival was synchronized with Lent and is equivalent to the western European Shrovetide and carnival. Maslenitsa survived among all Eastern Slavs, particularly Russians, who began celebrating it on a Sunday a week prior to Lent, the final day when meat was permitted in the diet according to Church practices. After the last meat meal, for the remainder of the week people consumed milk products and fish, but most commonly butter-covered bliny, or pancakes. The festival ended on the following Sunday, the day before Lent, and is known as the day of dispatching Maslenitsa or Proshcheny Voskresenie ("Forgiveness Sunday"), as people who had wronged others (alive or deceased) begged for absolution. This day was rounded off with the ritual destruction and burial of Maslenitsa, commonly represented in the form of a female effigy made of straw and dressed in woman's garb, in a bonfire, drowning in a river, or tearing apart. A wooden wheel, symbolizing the sun-disk, was also often burned alongside the effigy, leading to the idea that this festival was celebrated in connection with the spring equinox (usually on March 22) in pre-Christian times.
The annihilation of Maslenitsa symbolized the passing of the winter, spring renewal, and preparation for the new agrarian cycle as well as human and animal procreation. Family-marriage relations were tested among newlywed couples, who were publicly discussed, required to openly show affection, and put through trials testing their love and fidelity. Eligible singles who failed to wed the previous year were publicly ridiculed and punished. Virility of humans, plants, and animals were conjured up by performing magical rites, fist-fighting, dancing, loud singing, and sled-riding contests downhill or on troikas. The continued celebration of this pagan festival cloaked in a Christian holiday into modern times among the Eastern Slavs is a good example of dual faith (dvoyeverie ) or syncretism.
See also: folklore; russians
Ivantis, Linda J. (1989). Russian Folk Belief. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.
Roman K. Kovalev
"Maslenitsa." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 13, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maslenitsa
"Maslenitsa." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved April 13, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/maslenitsa
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