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Marzanna, Goddess of Spring and Sorcery

The myth of Marzanna

Marzanna is a Baltic/Slavic nature goddess associated with sorcery, dreams, agriculture and the seasonal cycle of death and rebirth. Her worship is closely linked to the cycles of the agricultural year and the rites performed to ensure fertility and protection.

In Slavic traditions, Marzanna is prominently featured in spring rituals. One of the most widespread customs involves the creation of a straw or wooden effigy representing Marzanna dressed in colorful clothing and adorned with flowers. During festive processions, people carry these effigies to a body of water, usually a river or lake, where they are ceremonially set on fire and thrown into the water. The ritual is traditionally followed by feasting and celebrations. This marks the end of winter and the welcoming of spring, as well as the triumph of life over death.

Marzanna’s role in these seasonal rituals underscores the importance of acknowledging and participating in the cycles of nature, ensuring a harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world.

The story behind the art

The story of how I came to create this image is a bit more convoluted than the myth of Marzanna. The original drawing, like so many others of mine, came out of a session at Dr. Sketchy's, where the model was dressed in quasi-Victorian Steampunk garb. Back then I used to use colored pencils until I eventually started finishing my drawings with plain black ink outlines and scanning them into Photoshop to colorize them, which of course gave me a lot more freedom and the quality of the colors and textures were immeasurably better, but live and learn.

A while later I responded to a call for submissions to create a poster advertising a lecture about an upcoming book called Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, which details the horrors of Victorian-era fashion, including hazards like mercury-lined hats, arsenic-laden fabrics and elaborate party dresses that were extremely flammable, often involving many heavy layers of skirts draped over cage-like crinolines and petticoats. These not only restricted movement but, combined with the ubiquitous use of gas lamps and open flames as indoor lighting, were essentially fire traps. It's a fascinating book, which I eventually ended up reading, but at the time all I had to go on was the name of the book and a brief overview that it was about Victorian era fashion hazards.

My first submission was a variation on the original drawing above, but the person commissioning it (the organizer of the lecture, not the author of the book) came back and said it needs to be more about the hazards, so I added the ghostly image of a skeleton overlaid in partial transparency and sent back a few different options.

At this point, she revealed that there was an element of flammability that she wanted to convey because this was a big part of the book. Apparently, hundreds of women died as a result of fire in close quarters, when their heavy layers of cumbersome clothing were set ablaze. Oscar Wilde lost two half-sisters this way, when their skirts caught fire at a party after brushing past one of too many flaming candelabras Illuminating the festivities. I had to agree this was a great idea. It only would have been more amazing if she had mentioned it a bit earlier, since clearly she already had something very specific in mind when she put out the "open call" for artists. But whatevs, I worked for a few more hours on a flaming version and sent several variations for her to review.

After that, I was told that it looked too much like a fashion illustration and not historical enough, which is also feedback I felt she could have provided earlier. By that point, we had been emailing back and forth for a week, with me sending new versions every couple of days and her replying with only the briefest nuggets of feedback.

In the end she chose not to go with any of the drawings I submitted, and the final invitation to the lecture featured a very unsurprising reproduction of an old Victorian illustration that she could have easily found with a cursory Google image search. Ah well... If nothing else, it was a good reminder of why I'm not a designer by trade!

A couple of years later, when I was doing my goddess calendars, I came across the myth of the Baltic/Slavic goddess Marzanna, which turned out to be perfect use for this concept. I love how the final image turned out.

Check out my RedBubble shop, where you can find Marzanna art prints, postcards, clothing, tote bags, scarves, notebooks, phone cases, home decor and more.

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Alison Price
Alison Price
Mar 26

The story of the evolution of this piece is as fascinating as the myth. It’s always good to hear some behind-the-scenes goings on in artist’s inspiration, their lives and creative process. I feel I know you a little better for it. Thanks for sharing. 💛

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