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from The Roots of Slavic Magic by Patricia Robin Woodruff

Chapter 11
Mat Zemla

"All that is alive - is a sign of the earth's kindness. Every earth born object is full to the brim with life's strength, granted by mother earth. Tree, flower, stone, and man - all from the earth. They are all full of earth's power, although in each, the power is of various shape and form." - M. Gimbutiene

Mat Zemla (maat ZEM-lah) - (Matka Ziemia, Matka Ziema, Matka Zeme, Matkę Ziemię, Matki Ziemi, Mati Syra Zemlya, Mati Zemlya, Zemynele, Zemyna, Žemina, Zemes maate, Žytniamatka )

Although I have listed her as the third part of the agricultural trinity this goddess is probably the earliest and most primal of the three. The version of her name “Mati Syra Zemlya” literally means “Damp Mother Earth.”(1)  Sometimes in Poland she was worshipped in her natural form and not given a human personage or likeness,(2) so in that manner she is like Gaia, the Earth given a maternal consciousness.  In other places, she is recognized in the bountiful, round “Venus Figurines.”  Even in the early Middle Ages, Mat Zemla was still recognized as a powerful goddess.   She is bountiful and giving, as well as all-receiving.  In Lithuanian Pagan prayers she is poetically referred to as ziedkele, “she who raises flowers.”(3)

Mother Earth was sacred and oaths were made touching the ground, putting earth on your head or swallowing a lump of earth.  In swallowing the earth, it was a way to state that should you lie, may the earth kill you.  Even in the Middle Ages, if you couldn’t get to confession  it was considered acceptable to confess your sins into a hole in the earth and then fill in the hole.  In the same manner, you could bury your illness by digging a hole and giving it to the Earth Mother to transform.

A traditional ritual to honor the Earth Mother:

“East – "Mother Earth, subdue every evil and unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us nor do us any harm." West – "Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power in thy boiling pits, and in thy burning fires." South – "Mother Earth, calm the winds coming from the South and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds." North – "Mother Earth, calm the North winds and clouds, subdue the snowstorms and the cold." The jar, which held the oil, is buried after each invocation and offering is made at each Quarter.”(4) In the Ukraine a very similar petition was made and then beer was poured at each quarter of the fields for fertility of the crops and and as an offering to Mother Earth in her form as Mokosh (Makos.)(5)

There is a lot of blending overlap between these two goddesses, Siva and Mat Zemla.  The snake was sacred to the goddesses.  In this we see the worship of both the Goddess of Living Water and the Goddess of the Earth combined; snakes living in holes in the earth, their movement like rippling water, holding healing powers like Siva, and the concept of the afterlife being that of a watery Underworld.  We see Neolithic figurines of snake goddesses, and snakes with female attributes.  In some Lithuanian sources you will see the snake connected with “Zemininkas, god of agriculture.”  However, this is another example of a male-centric interpretation.  Jan Łasicki, a theologian and historian from the 1500’s assumed that all the deities were male, consequently he recorded in Latin the earth goddess Zemyna, as the male form, Zemininkas.(6)

With dirt floors and warm cook stoves, house snakes were common.  The snake was hono...

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