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Dziady – Autumnal Granfathers: the slavic week devoted to commemorating the Dead

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Autumn is here.
Bright sunrises and beautiful sunsets keep replacing each other as the days pass, and nights become increasingly dark.
Most of the trees have already lost their foliage, red and yellow splashes show among the gray bare branches and lush greenery of the conifers now stand astonishingly bright in the clear autumn air.

From October 22 to 29 (in this year, 2022) Slavic Pagans celebrate “Dziady”, Grandfathers’ Week, an ancient holiday dedicated to commemoration and communication with the dead. The Polish, Belarusian and Ukrainian word means in fact “grandfathers”, and is sometimes translated into English as Forefathers’ Eve.
In this period the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and it is time invite the deceased loved ones over to share a meal with the living, in order to secure their favour and at the same time help them to achieve peace in the hereafter.
The basic ritual form was feeding and watering of souls (for example honey, groats, eggs, forge and vodka) prepared in houses or cemeteries, directly on graves.

Those are not the days to be in a hurry.
The house needs to be cleaned, as it is really a shame to invite your ancestors into a mess!
And then a solemn funeral feast (pominki), or commemorative dinner has to be carefully prepared by the family.
Finally, everything is ready – the house shines, the candles are lit, and dinner stands on the table, where extra plates and silverware are served.
Now the master of the house invites the Grandfathers, deceased ancestors that loved us.
He calls out their names, remembering their deeds.
Hot steam rising from the food tickles the nostrils attracting hungry spirits that miss the scent and taste of food in the Otherworld.
They believe that the food for the dead has to be hot, as the spirits ingest the steam instead of actual food.
Traditionally, this meal is quiet, full of memories of the people that are no longer with us.
If this year happened to be successful, Grandfathers deserve to be thanked for it, if not – it is okay to ask for help.
Remains of food are left at the table overnight, and in the morning they are used to feed wild animals and birds.
Once the dinner is over, one can peek into the future and communicate with Gods and spirits by means of divination, be it runes, or crystal ball, or pendulum. The answers will be clear and easy to read this week bacause, according to popular belief, our own ancestors stand behind our shoulders helping us on our way. Protection spells are also very powerful at this time.

In some areas, however, the ancestors also had to be given the opportunity to bathe and warm up.
This last condition was fulfilled by lighting fires, whose function is sometimes explained differently, depending the area you are.
They were supposed to light the way for wandering souls so that they would not get lost and could spend the night with their loved ones, and the remnants of this custom are contemporary candles lit on graves.
However, fire (especially the one kindled on a crossroads) could also have had another meaning. The idea was to prevent demons (souls of people who died suddenly, suicides, drowning, etc.) from being born, which were believed to have been extremely active during this period.
In some regions of Poland, for example in Podhale, in the place of someone’s violent death, every passer-by was obliged to throw a sprig at the stake, which was then burned every year.

Friday on Grandfathers’ Week (October 28, in 2022) is called Makosh’s 11th Friday, and this is one of the chief festival devoted to the Mother Goddess for the whole year.
A candle is lit on the household altar in Her honor and a traditional offering of a skein of natural fiber or a length of thread is left there for Makosh, the Goddess of Fate, protector of women’s work and women’s destiny. She watches over spinning and weaving, shearing of sheep, and protects women in childbirth.
Later on, this offering may be cast into flowing water, or left near a well.
Older women spin a white thread while sitting by the window on this day, that calls on the patronship of the Ancestors and may be used in knitting, embroidery, ritual tying of knots, or spindle rituals meant to attract something or call for Ancestors’ help.
Because Friday has been traditionally associated with women and the feminine, it makes sense to hold a ritual dinner devoted to all the deceased females in a family, or Grandmothers’ Day.

In the year 2008, Belarus issued silver and copper-nickel coins in the memory of this festival.
Either way, as the week passes, spirits need to be thanked for visiting and released, and the candles are blown out.
Don’t miss this week, slow down and listen.
Turn around to remember and say “Thank you” for your very existence in this world.

Images from web – Google Research

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