By Phoenix of Elder Mountain – When I celebrate gromnitsa / gromnica, I do not do it for one night, I do the ritual like I do my Marzanna, I do it over the entire winter season. I light my candles (three to ten candles) every night in my home from the First Full Moon of Winter (equinox) until the first Moon of Spring or around the (equinox), making the three moons of winter sacred for me personally.
Pagan, spiritual or religious people tend to do shorter rituals, one day, a week or one night and when I was younger I do that as well, but I do less rituals, for longer periods of time in a simpler way. I stay consistent with the four season broken into the moon cycles and find that winter is one of the most powerful times of the year. Autumn used to be my favorite time of year since childhood, and it seemed to hold more mystery. But as I have gotten older, this changed to Winter as I began to work in ceremony as a shaman with the weather. Its also because I am in the spring of my Winter phase of life as Elder, thus I changed as my life changes.
Gromnitsa is a Slavic rite, the time where winter and spring meet, during the transitional change of the season that brings the end of the seasonal lunar year. Many people celebrated February as the last seasonal turning point, before Springs breaks through. For eastern and western Slavic people and some Baltic people, February is still the time of Midwinter, which starts near the second full moon. When March returns, nature’s changes toward Spring and the Birds begin to appear more predominantly.
I love February because its the quiet time of Winter before the quiet time of the first Moon of Spring begins. Some of you have probably noticed during the Spring Equinox, we celebrate not human rituals and rites, but mother earths rebirth.
Everything has the energy and intensity of life when the seasons shift, and this is divided into the duality as creative (bringing good and blessings) or destruction (conflict, war, shadow and sickness.) Moon names reflect usually only the positive as do the month names, and the ancient Slavs were no different, although they were connected to the shamanic past of being connected with creativity and animals, especially the Birds. One reason older cultures rely on creativity of ancient bird art, bird symbolism (soul) and bird migration is because of bird migration.
When working with rituals, try to understand how the birds, animals, bugs and oceanids live their life. For example, Birds migrate predominantly in Autumn and Spring, and are closely related to the lunar cycle of the changes of the season. Their way of life of experiencing these seasonal changes used to be the same as ancient humans, who were also migratory like the animals and birds in shamanic cultures. Humans gave great respect to birds and their teachings of travel and so did many ancient artists used birds as the seasons of the soul, the moon birds who have roots in lunar migration as well.
Ancient Slavs worship both the moon and the sun (like many pagan countries and religions around the world who honor the sun rituals from pagans). But there are moon rituals from a time before religion and paganism, and it is a living rituals, and one the peasants, before christianity honored. Shamanic Rites, woman’s Moon rites, Grandmother’s Shamanic Rites, and the Dreaming Rites were all the core foundation of all paganism and religions. Slavs continued the worship of stones, trees, lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and the seas.
One of the February Slavic rituals is called Gromnitsa or Gromnica which comes from the word “Thunder” and this too is a fire ritual of winter that was eventually Christianize and brought into the church. They birth a baby in winter instead of spring and they die in spring rather than being born. This is not what mother earth’s nature does, everything on earth, animals, birds, oceanids, trees and plants do the opposite – they are born in the spring and die in the winter.
As the days when spring soon approaches and we can here the clouds and storms rolling in for spring, in mythology Perun, Perunika and Thor, are all named after the Thunder God, the planet Uranus support the seasonal changes of the weather as it gets warmer. Fire meets Water and in Poland, one of the rituals are the candles are blessed as a talisman from violent storms and lightning storms.
Poland – Gromnice
Czech Republic – Hromnice
Serbia – Sredozimtsi
Croatia – Svitlomarinje
Belarus – Gramnitsy, Gramnichnik, Ustretsіnnne
At Gromnitsa families gather in houses to burn candles and spend time together. The original ritual was maintained in its purest form only Belarus. Their ritual and rite was the most important for the survival of the village people. In the villages several courtyards had eight to ten heated wax, twisted large and thick candles, which were kept somewhere in the hut. Ceremonies were at night.
The dark veil of the deep winter on a Belarusian night, is when the Gromnitsa candles were lit to acquire strength and become a powerful talisman for the new year. In Russia there was a rite conducted with child given to a stranger, usually an old woman of the village, and the child was passed through a window.
Afterwards, the child returned to the parents with the words: “Live for my happiness.” They bought candles and believed that the flame of such candles could ignite the fire of life in the child. This means that the child was “tied” to the fire of life, so that she or he could conquer any of her or his illnesses in life, and live with dignity and strength through the trials of adulthood and old age.
In Ukraine, water was worshiped more than fire, because water is a curative element, an emotional body element and a soul body element. It also keeps shadows (darkness), the evil eye and various diseases at bay, creating a current and flow connected with our soul (astral body within) and the water in our body. The purer our rituals are with water, the more we are able to release our tougher issues as a practiced ritual.
The purer we strive to be through our disciplined spiritual practices and healing with other healers when we need to, we then eventually become like clear water, the more purified we are to overcome our diseases. As a shaman with a family from the borders of Southern Poland at the Ukraine border, I use both fire (Slavic / Polish / Whisperer) and water (Ukraine / Molfarka) in my rituals. I use fire from autumn into winter (season of night) and water in the spring and summer (season of fire) in my healing work, rituals and work with self and others.
In Russia, when the nearing winter’s end, imagine a celebration where you eat a year’s worth of pancakes in a single day, and burn a huge straw effigies, and beat each other with heavy sacks? Welcome to Russian Maslenista celebration, a traditional Slavic holiday celebrating the end or near end of winter, and the beginning of Spring or if religious, Lent. Ancient folk carnival like in Moscow and St. Petersburg keep this creative traditions alive. Its celebrated from Feb. 9 – 18. Some of the Slavic traditions at this time of the end of the Seasonal Year are:
Bake bread or bread in the shape of birds, leave some for the ancestors;
Connect with the returning birds of spring;
Burn the candles so that soft warm light illuminates your home;
Respect your domovoi or brownie with milk;
Spend time with the weather spirits outside and observe;
Keep the last moon of winter the most quiet and restful.
Sources: Ceramic Grandmother Shaman Effigy in White by Phoenix of Elder Mountain Dreaming; Felt ornaments by Chloe Redfern Embroidery; Russian children by Belarus Aleksander Lukashenko; Photos This traditional Slavic holiday celebrates the end of winter; https://vk.com/@witchofthewilds-o-gromnice-bez-domyslov?anchor=gromnitsa-vstrecha-zimy-s-vesnoy – Agapkina, T. A. Mythopoetical foundations of the Slavic folk calendar; Agapkina, T. A. Slavic Antiquities: Ethnolinguistic Dictionary; Afanasyev, A. N. Poetic Views of the Slavs on Nature; Baranova, O. G., Zimin, T. A., et al; Russian holiday. Holidays and rituals of the national agricultural calendar; Koleva T. A. Calendar customs and rituals in the countries of Europe Abroad; Lozka A. Yu. Belarusian folk kalyandar; Rozhnova P. Russian Russian folk calendar. https://adsby.ru/id/as-the-month-of-april-was-called-in-old-slavonic-the-name-of-the-old-slavonic-months-of-the-year.html.