Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Kindreds Essay

The Nature Spirits

Nature spirits are unique in that they share this middle realm with us.  They fall into many categories - those tied to a specific place (genius loci), those with a broader territory (so to speak) and those that represent a sort of collective soul of an element of nature. 

Genius loci are spirits of a particular place, whether it be a specific building, river or a mountain.  On the property my family owns I view the dry creek and trees on the property as having their own unique spirits.  I talk with them and leave offerings.  The land itself has its own spirit as well, one forged in glacial till, bison paths and farming long before we came.

Then there are the creatures with spirit that roam the lands.  Deer, coyote and wild turkeys regularly cross our property.  We've found snakes in the garden, a westbound baby snapping turtle in the field, and too many types of birds to name.  We let them go about their business, maybe offering a word of advice or a morsel here and there.  Bluebird houses dot the fields and each summer night we can spot our resident bat is a good night indeed.  These spirits may just be passing through, or take up residence in our area, but they have just as much right to be there as we do.

There is another type of nature spirit that functions as a sort of collective energy.  We may call on the spirit of the wolf or oak, without referring to a particular canine or tree.  In a way this spirit is a sort of cosmic essence of the element of nature we wish to summon or address.

Sometimes nature spirits can communicate with you, by the leaving of a feather, or mark upon a tree of even by the simple gift of their presence.

I try to take time to regularly stop and appreciate the nature spirits around me.  During the warmer months I often take my morning coffee outside and watch the birds flitter about (sometimes during these moments I also have the delight of seeing deer or turkeys as well).  This activity helps me to remember to keep the bird feeders full.  During the winter I try to take a perimeter walk of our property every month just to "check in" with the spirits.  Sometimes I leave salt out, and when we slaughter our meat chickens we leave the entrails out on the edge of the property for the coyotes.

There are many types of nature spirits identified in Slavic traditions.  Some are specific to a location, such as the bannik (mischievous spirit of the bathhouse), while some are more generalized like leszy (woodland spirits) and polevik (dwarf-like spirits of open fields). 

The Ancestors

The ancestors are the ones who have gone before, that have made today possible.  They dwell in the dark, cool of the deep, beyond the waters.  Ancestors can be of the blood, or of the heart and mind.

Ancestors of the blood are those with which one has a genetic relationship.  They are the grandparents, parents, cousins and siblings who have passed from this living realm into the dark realm.  In my own personal practice I try to honor my blood ancestors both by honoring them collectively in rituals, as well as individually (Grandpa appreciates pipe tobacco, Grandma  likes black licorice, etc.).  Every year since my beloved Great-Grandmother passed away in 2004 I have, on her birthday, served for dinner her favorite meal and sung her happy birthday.  Honoring her in this way seems the least I can do in gratitude for all the love and encouragement she provided me and my family.

Ancestors of the heart and mind are those that we may not be related to but have made a serious impact on our lives.  We may have known these ancestors personally - for example, my best friend from childhood died when we were 16.  She is one of the ancestors I honor in ritual and at my altar and by speaking of her to my children.  Some ancestors of the heart and mind we have not known while they were living, due the limitations of time and space.  For some members of ADF, Rev. Bonewits falls into this category; I did not have the honor of meeting him while he was still living, but the effects of the work he put into this faith and organization have made a tremendous impact upon me.  Likewise, the Slavic ancestors may be separated from me by hundreds (if not thousands) of years, but I honor them in gratitude for the faith they practiced and our common worship of the same deities and nature spirits.  For these ancestors I offer gratitude by speaking of my faith, by keeping the old ways and by making certain choices in the way I live and the crafts I make.

Communication with the ancestors can come in many form; in dreams, smells and meditative visions.

The ancestors are a critical component of native Slavic faiths.  In many traditions the soul of the ancestor was seen to split in two at death - one part contributing to the nature spirits while the other remained with the identity of the loved one.  Plates are often left out for the ancestors at ritual meals and some ancestors take on the task of protecting a household.  These spirits, known as domovoi, are in a sense part genius loci (guardian of the house) and part traditional ancestor (in some traditions the domovoi are viewed as paternal ancestors).  Many families treat the domovoi as an unseen family member, speaking with him and giving him gifts of bread, salt, and old shoes.  In our household the domovoi has his own offering bowl on our altar where we leave gifts of bread and salt for him.

The Shining Ones

The Shinning Ones, the deities, are the mighty gods and goddesses, those who from the beginning shaped and forged our world.  For some, the deities are the original ancestors.  They are referred to as dwelling in the heavens, although their presence can transcend the three realms (indeed, some are known to inhabit the Underworld).  Each IndoEuropean culture has their own unique gods and goddesses and pantheons; while there are historical examples of syncretism, in general each pantheon is composed of specific, individual deities - they are not simply archetypes or personified forces of nature.

The Shining Ones can participate in all three realms and influence human activity, but they are not necessarily omnipotent.  Each of the gods and goddesses have certain elements of nature and/or human activity that they hold sway over.  For example, Perun is the Slavic god of thunder and warfare - these are his realms and he should not be petitioned to act upon the areas of the dead or weaving because he has little authority there (and these are the domains of other gods and goddesses).

We know of the deities through myth and legend and the prayers that have survived through the years.  We can honor and petition them through prayers, offerings, and sacrifice.  Most in ADF form especially strong connections with specific cultural pantheons; by working with the same gods and goddesses over time we can learn their preferences and strengths (and sometimes their limitations and fickleness).   For the past 14 months I have worked exclusively with the Slavic pantheon, in ritual and in meditation.  I have gained a better understanding of each deity and their strengths and preferences.  This means that during ritual the words I speak are rooted in knowledge and experience and the dialogue between the realms feels balanced.  By repeatedly working with the same deities I know that Perun prefers offerings of alcohol, Dazhbog accepts anything that will feed the flame and gifts of bones are suitable to Marzenna.  Overtime I have forged particularly strong relationships with Veles and Mokosz.  I offer alcohol and oats to Veles, and during the harvest months Mokosz receives a portion of the garden produce.

Before Christian influence the native Slavic faiths were largely aniconic.  Depictions of the gods and goddesses are extremely rare - in contrast to Celtic and Germanic cultures.  As such Slavic prayers typically do not describe the Shining Ones in physical appearance so much but instead focus on the abilities and deeds of the god or goddess, as well as the devotion and intent of the petitioner. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe

I chose to read/review P.M. Barford's 2001 The Early Slavs:  Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe for the hearth culture reading requirement.  As someone dedicated to a Slavic hearth (and with a minor in Slavic Languages and Literature) it seemed a natural choice, as its focus is pan-Slavic and covers some of the earliest periods of known Slavic culture.

The scope of The Early Slavs covers the 5th through 11th centuries - specifically that time period when mention of the Slavs first appear in contemporary written accounts through the formation of Slavic states and nations.  The structure of the book consists of 13 chapters reviewing the material culture, daily practices and political activities of the South, West and East Slavs during the medieval period.

Many limitations exists for those studying the lives of early Slavs.  Because they were illiterate until well after their Christianization, the earliest references and descriptions of pagan Slavs come in the writings of contemporary politicians, ambassadors and missionaries.  Relatively few of these sources remain today and what there is leaves much to be desired.  Barford concisely reviews these sources both in the introduction and first chapters of The Early Slavs, while also noting their limitations.  He wisely cautions the use of these materials for making overarching conclusions about pre-Christian Slavs, reminding the reader that they most likely represent the interests and motives of the writer and their intended (and often elite) audience.

Barford's discussion of ethnogenesis and ethnicity is clear and concise.  He makes use of helpful analogies while avoiding semantic pitfalls and confusions that might deter the average reader.  In this way Barford's writing on the topic is much more accessible than Florin Curta's parallel coverage in The Making of the Slavs:  History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500-700.  Before delving into the archaeology of the Slavs Barford cautions, "We cannot talk of Slav ethnicity, just because we are dealing with Slav-speakers:  there have to be other elements linking the group together before we can refer to it as a ethnic group," (p. 30).

The middle section of the book covering the archaeology and material culture of the early Slavs is vast and is clearly Barford's forte.  Through these chapters he summarizes the cultural assemblages of each region over time, noting logical links of succession and breaks in continuity and technique.  While the weight of this entire work rests on archaeological findings and interpretation, Barford points out the limitations of archaeology and the importance of resisting assigning specific ethnicities to Bronze Age materials.  These chapters can be a bit overwhelming for the lay reader, as the author often uses technical language to describe materials (particularly pottery) that may be unfamiliar.  However, he does occasionally develop historical "scenes" to put all the pieces together into a cohesive whole.

The chapters that would most likely be of use to ADF members are those entitled "Daily Life" and "Pagan Ideologies."  Both of these chapters provide a brief overview but unfortunately lack the depth and exposition of the previous chapters (despite the availability of published, academic-quality material).  "Daily Life" provides a nice snapshot of a Slavic household in the early medieval period but is light on some important cultural practices, such as the evidence for fiber work, animal husbandry and cooking. Additionally, in future editions the section on the physical appearance of early Slavs could benefit from a refocus on the copious amount of research conducted in the past decade on the genetic composition of early Slavs and any isotopic analyses of human remains from the same time period.   "Pagan Ideologies" is at best a skimming of traditional views on the religion of the early Slavs.  It is disappointing that Barford does not make use of some of the cross-cultural comparisons in the academic literature for illumination.  Additionally, this chapter is considerably light on references which is concerning with some of the broad-sweeping conclusions Barford puts forth (i.e. Svarog was not just the god of celestial fire but also "probably the domestic hearth," p. 195).  In future editions, both of these chapters could greatly benefit from academic collaboration.

The last few chapters of The Early Slavs focus on the rise of state-nations and the emergence of Slavs onto the political map of late medieval Europe.  The pedantic nature of the text makes reading difficult and confusing at times, especially if the reader is not already familiar with the names and players of those in power during the time period. 

 Despite any shortcomings, The Early Slavs is a rare gem - a compendium written for the Western reader in a field where most research is published in scholarly, non-English journals. It serves as a thorough survey of early Slavs, from which the interested reader can take advantage of the citations and more recent academic publications to further their own personal research.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Personal Practice Essay

Like many members, I came to ADF with an eclectic religious background.  I grew up in a relatively non-religious household but knew all the common Sunday school stories. When I was in fourth grade I stumbled upon the Greek mythology books in our school library and became absolutely obsessed with the topic for the next several years. During that time I concluded that the gods and goddesses still existed and even prayed to them on occasion.  In my teen years my interest in religion plummeted and  for many years I professed myself as agnostic. My favorite way to spend time was hiking around area farms, learning about the local wildlife and flora.  In my college days I was an anthropology student (with a minor in Slavic Languages and Literature), so my exposure to world cultures and religions expanded many fold.  In my early 20's I became interested in Judaism and even considered conversion, though the rabbi I worked with was very discouraging. In my study of Judaism I realized that what I was drawn to was more of the ritual and traditions, rather than the theology itself.  Blending of any faiths wasn't necessary once I was married, as my husband had long before grown disillusioned with his Lutheran upbringing.

After our daughters were born our family began attending the local Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowship, where I bumped elbows with many different faiths. At one point I co-led a women's group exploration of the diving feminine.  As a result of this experience I began to feel more comfortable working with the concept of deities (in a very generic sense) and event set up a small altar at home.  In April of 2006 my husband was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoma and the world came crashing down. Over the next year my faith in the divine grew as blessings that should not have fallen in to place on their own did so. This was a time that I can point to now as the period when my faith in something larger was cemented.  Finding a need to be grateful to a higher power, I became disenchanted with my heavily-humanistic/anti-spiritual UU community. Once my husband's health stabilized after a stem cell transplant in May of 2007 I felt like I had not only a desire, but an obligation to explicitly honor the divine. Sadly, our UU community did not provide a place where I could do so.  Eventually, upon an invitation from my in-laws, I attended an Episcopal cathedral for a while, where the deistic language and worship service helped fill a void within me. But after a full year cycle in the Episcopal church I could no longer ignore the nagging in the back of my mind which longed for social justice and environmental awareness in my religious work.  I returned to the UU fellowship in 2009.  

During my absence a new family had joined the fellowship, one in which the wife was visibly growing in her belief and practices as a pagan.  Watching her reminded me of what I had learned and felt years before - walking on the farms, praying to the Greek gods, and singing to the goddess.   Moved by this (and always the anthropologist) I indulged my curiosity by once again researching the ancient religions I studied in college.  Eventually, I came across the works of Ceisiwr Serith and felt an instant connection with his description of PIE deities and rituals.  During this same time period the above mentioned woman started up a local ADF proto-grove and invited me to attend the rituals.  Initially, I was hesitant as I was not familiar with ADF and what the rituals entailed.   Eventually, I was sweet talked into hosting the proto-grove's 2012 PIE Beltane ritual once it was discovered that I was a fan of Serith's work.  That ritual served as my introduction to ADF, and I liked what I saw - the ritual structure, the reverence and the camaraderie.  Over the course of the next several rituals (which continued to be held on our property) and months searching online I learned more about ADF and came to also appreciate the scholarship and thoughtfulness inherit in the organization.  One again our family had an altar in the living room and my daughters participated in both household and ADF rituals.  I realized that I truly was a polytheist.  It was a natural outgrowth of this participation when I joined ADF in October of 2012.

During this time most of my spiritual work (mostly prayers) where with the PIE pantheon, but I had also been very interested in Slavic folklore for many years.  As I researched more I began blending the two a bit, especially when I had time to do simple devotionals.  I knew that I would have to choose one specific pantheon to focus on for the Dedicant Path program and wasn't sure how to proceed - both personally and with the Dedicant Path requirements.  I briefly explored the Norse and Celtic pantheons, but there was not the connection I felt with the PIE and Slavic pantheons.  I knew I would eventually need to find a home hearth for the Dedicant Path, and was feeling a bit ungrounded and unfocused in my worship.  As a result I made the quest to find a home hearth the core of my first mental discipline/meditation sessions in the winter of 2012/2013.  Over the course of several sessions I received what I perceived to be an invitation of guidance from the Slavic ancestors. I began to research the Slavic pantheon in length and found that my background with Slavic languages and cultures helped me forge a connection. Eventually I made the commitment to focus solely on the Slavic pantheon.

When I first joined ADF I did not have a desire to work on the Dedicant Path program right away.  However, I attended the Ad Astra Grove retreat in March of 2013 and had the pleasure of meeting Michael J. Dangler and Jon Drum.  Their workshops energized me to start working on the Dedicant Path and I made a commitment to myself to complete it during the next year.  I had been experiencing a break in meditation work so instead I wrote up my ritual attendance essays and really dove in to studying the early Slavic religion.  Working with the Slavic pantheon can make one feel like a bit of an outsider on ADF discussion boards and social media pages, since most ADF ritual, philosophy and terminology (and member base) is very Celtic/Germanic oriented.  Additionally, sources on Slavic history can be hard to come by and are often academic in nature.  Luckily my experience in academia and strong research skills aided in this work.  Another struggle I encountered is that many Slavic neo-pagans (some in ADF) include in their worship and rituals tributes to deities for which there is no reputable historical source.  This is an unfortunate consequence of The Book of Veles, an apocryphal text describing ancient Slavic religious life that has near universally been deemed a forgery by researchers and specialists.  I feel like it is a bit of an "elephant in the room" situation that I have not seen any discussion about in ADF channels (either formally or informally).  

I have worked exclusively with the Slavic pantheon during the past year when not required to do otherwise when participating in grove rituals.  During this time I restarted my meditation work, the workings of which greatly increased my connection to Veles.  I also began embroidering an altar cloth and committed to extra gardening work out of devotion to Mokosz.  I completed personal rituals with the Slavic pantheon on the spring equinox, autumn equinox, fourth cross-quarter and winter solstice (the latter two focused heavily on the ancestors).  I also led a Slavic-oriented public ritual for the grove on the third cross-quarter.

During the next year I plan to erect an altar to the nature spirits on our land and to make a small altar to Mokosz and Matka Ziemia (Mother Earth) in the vegetable garden.  I also plan to dedicate a spot in our living room to honor the ancestors.

Monday, January 13, 2014

High Day Essay: Third Cross-Quarter

The neo-pagan third cross-quarter holiday, commonly known as Lughnasadh or Lammas, is based upon historical Gaelic festivities of similar name.  In the past, the holiday of Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season and included several activities that strengthened community identity, such as ritual meals which followed sacrifices.  Athletic competitions and mock battles were also common at this time of year.

For modern pagans the observance of the third cross-quarter can vary greatly depending upon background and location.  Many choose to honor the harvest aspect of the holiday by baking bread and other treats, while some organizations host games in the spirit of the historical Lughnasadh activities.

In the Slavic tradition, Perun's Day typically falls between July 20th and August 2 (depending on the calendar tradition) and is the holiday closest in date to the third cross-quarter.  This holiday was morphed into festivities for St. Elijah.  Based on what few descriptions of activities survive, modern Slavic neo-pagans (especially men) typically observe this day by making special sacrifices to Perun, engaging in athletic competitions and renewing their oaths to the community.

Friday, January 10, 2014

High Day Essay: Summer Solstice

Summer solstice activities among neo-pagans vary greatly depending on region and hearth inspiration.  In general, most neo-pagan summer solstice activities focus on celebrating the power of the sun.  Outdoor activities (swimming, picnicing, camping, bonfires) are common.  A popular name for the summer solstice among contemporary pagans, Litha, is based on an Anglo-Saxon calendar term.

Mid-summer celebrations were common in most Indo-European pre-Christian cultures.  While actual observances varied greatly from region to region, the most common traditions include bonfires and specific rituals for unmarried girls and women.

In Slavic cultures the great festival known as Kupala (both Kupala day and Kupala night) typically occur around June 23rd.  Historically, this holiday was association with fire and water and included rituals for both purification and fertility.  Bonfires were lit, sometimes on the tops of hills, and celebrations around the fire lasted through the night until dawn.  This was a time for ritual bathing in rivers and lakes, as the powers of the trickster water spirits were viewed to be their weakest.  A tradition that survives to this day is that of wianki (literally, "wreaths").  Unmarried girls and women create lavish head wreaths out of flowers and greenery.  A lit candle is placed on the wreath, which is then let loose to float in a river or lake.  Tradition holds that a young man will find the wreath and fall in love with the maiden who made it.

High Day Essay: Second Cross-Quarter

Beltane is a neo-pagan holiday that is typically identified/recognized by non-pagans due to it's accessibility and joyous nature.  Named after the Gaelic festival of the same calendar period, modern neo-pagan Beltane observances run the gammut from the historically-inspired (bonfires, May poles) to the (for most) socially deviant (public nudity and sex).

The ancient festival of Beltane is attested to in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  This day marked the beginning of summer and was tied to many important mythological stories.  Beltane also marked the beginning of the pastoral season, when livestock were sent out to the fields, not to return until the end of autumn.  Bonfires were lit and both the people and livestock passed either between the fires or around the fires in an act of ritual purification and protection.  In some areas ritual foods, such as grain-cakes, were cooked over the bonfires and shared within the community.  Flowers (particularly yellow flowers) were used to adorn houses, people and livestock.

What we now refer to as May poles were more common in pre-Christian Germanic communities.  However, their usage was not necessarily tied to observances at the second cross-quarter holidays.

Not all Indo-European cultures have such festivals.  In fact, Beltane-esque festivities seem more prominent in cultures with strong pastoral traditions, rather than farming.  For example, there is no evidence of a comparable Slavic holiday at the second cross-quarter, although some Slavic neo-pagans now observe a holiday honoring ancestors on or near the same date.

High Day Essay: Spring (Vernal) Equinox

To many neo-pagans the festivities associated with the spring equinox are related to the fertility and greening of the earth at this time of year.  In many neo-pagan circles this holiday is referred to as Ostara, in reference to an apocryphal Germanic goddess of spring and fertility.  During this holiday many neo-pagans prepare foods associated with fertility (such as eggs) and those few garden goods that may be harvested at the beginning of spring (such as mesclun and asparagus).  Many also chose to plant herbs or frost-hard vegetation on this date.

Like many Indo-European cultures, Slavic traditions around the vernal equinox focus on the ripening earth and the end of winter.  In Bulgaria, bracelets of red and white thread are woven and distributed to friends and family in early March; the bracelet is then transferred to the branch of a newly budded tree later in the month.  This practice most likely stems from similar practices in pre-Christian times.  In most Slavic countries the tradition of burning or drowning an effigy of Marzenna, the goddess of winter and death, remains popular to this day.  Special meals of cheese, butter and honey are common at this time - the later reflects the emergence of bears from hibernation.  Folk customs in many Slavic cultures held that it was forbidden to strike or plow the earth before this date.

High Day Essay: First Cross-Quarter

The modern pagan holiday of the first cross-quarter of the year is commonly referred to by its Gaelic name - Imbolc.  The name itself references the pregnancy and lactation of livestock (such as sheep and goats) and ties the holiday to the waxing presence of life and fertility as the days continue to grow longer and winter falls behind.  There is no common denominator that unites neo-pagan practices for Imbolc; in fact, for many it is a holiday that is barely acknowledged.  For Celtic Reconstructionist and those following a similar path, Imbolc observances are rooted in historical descriptions.

There are historical reports of Imbolc being celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.  These festivities marked the end of winter and ushered in a period of purification, fire and divination.  There is considerable documentation attesting to the importance of the goddess Brighid during Imbolc observances.  Up until the 19th century is was not unusual for rural communities to show hospitality to Brighid by making her special foods (particularly those with dairy-based ingredients), beds and trinkets during Imbolc.

The celebration of the first cross-quarter seems to not be universal among Indo-European cultures.  There is no equivalent celebration in Slavic cultures, although it is possible that certain traditions (such as meals focusing on butter and cheese) now observed during the week  prior to Lent may have their origins in such a holiday.

High Day Essay: Winter Solstice

The winter solstice celebration among neo-pagans is most often referred to as Yule.  Based upon descriptions of pre-Christian Germanic and Norse winter festivities, there are a variety of ways that Yule is observed today.  Most practices include the lighting of a special candle or log, symbolic meals and gift-giving.  For some, Yule begins on the winter solstice itself; for others the celebration begins a day or two prior.  The length of the Yule celebration can vary, typically lasting anywhere from one to twelve days.

Descriptions of ancient Yule celebrations are available in sagas and other historical accounts dating to as early as the 4th century.  These accounts sometimes contain conflicting information but generally agree on the elements of celebratory feasts, multiple toasts and sacrifices.  A summary of historical texts suggests that Yule celebrations lasted at least three days and may have been focused on the god Odin (specifically, his psychopompic aspects).

Slavic cultures lack the depth of pre-Christian historical accounts of pagan observances that are available to Germanic and Norse scholars.  There are, however, several texts which describe aspects of winter festivals in ancient Slavic lands.  In Poland, these winter festivities are known as Dziady (literally, "Grandfathers").  In it's most archaic form, Dziady was a festival in honor of the ancestors and Veles, the Slavic god of the underworld and the shepherd of souls.  The time preceding the solstice was seen as one of increasing chaos which allowed the gates between the living and dead to open.  Dadźbóg, the god responsible for shuttling the sun across the daytime sky and through the underworld at night, was perceived as crippled or hindered at this time.  Bonfires were lit and ritual meals were consumed.  Children and teens roamed from house to house, singing songs that the performers hoped prophesied good luck in the coming year.  It was not unusual for some of the young men to don animal skins and headgear supporting horns, appearing in the image of Veles himself.  This time of liminality ended with the return of the sun and Dadźbóg's strength.  Several scholars suggest that the winter solstice may have originally been the start of the new year in some pre-Christian Slavic cultures.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

High Day Essay: Fourth Cross-Quarter

The fourth cross-quarter High Day, commonly referred to in the neo-pagan community as Samhain, falls roughly midway between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice.  Loosely based on pre-Christian Celtic festivals, most modern observances of Samhain emphasize the honoring of ancestors during this liminal time when the veil between the three realms is perceived to be lifted.  Many reconstructionist neo-pagans also view this as the pagan New Year, although their is little evidence for such a historical precedent.

Many of the more common practices of the modern secular celebration of Halloween do have historical bases in the recorded festivities of the ancient Celts, including those of Brittany, Scotland and Wales.  These include costumed performers traveling door-to-door in exchange for food, fortune-telling, communion with the departed and lanterns made from carved vegetables.

In non-Celtic traditions, such as the Slavic cultures, this time of year contains the festivals known as Dziady and ZaduszkiDziady (literally, "Grandfathers") is an ancient tradition which honors the ancestors and is performed several times a year (the exact number varies by region).  Dziady involves a solemn, evening ritual meal to which the ancestors are invited.  Related to Dziady is Zaduszki, which is the Slavicized Christian observance known as All Souls' Days.  Zaduszki traditions, such as beautifying graves, ritual meals and leaving household items out overnight for the deceased to use, are based upon ancient customs that pre-date the Christianization of the Slavs.