Sunday 24 April 2016

Flower girls

Cvetonosnice, Lazarice - flower girls

Palm Sunday, the last Sunday before Easter, is in Serbia called "Cveti, Cvetna nedelja", meaning "Flower Sunday". Originally this was the last week before Jarilo day, the 6th of May, which was the last week of Spring. The week which ends with the Flower Sunday is in Serbia called "Cvetna Nedelja" meaning "flower Sunday" or "Lazareva nedelja" meaning "Lazarus sunday". 

During this week, young girls in Serbia, who came of age (got their first period), would undergo an initiation ceremony which would turn them from children into young women ready to be married. The girls taking part in this ceremony were called Lazarice. In Serbia it was believed that every girl had to take part in Lazarice ceremony or "some misfortune will befall her". It was also believed that every girl had to take part in Lazarice ceremony at least three times. This was probably the way to protect young girls from getting married too early. 

As part of this initiation ceremony, young girls would get up before dawn. They would form a group of at least 6 girls. The oldest, tallest and the most beautiful girl in the group was called Lazar. The second oldest was called Lazarica. The next two were called the front girls and the last two were called the back girls. Lazar and Lazarica were girls who were taking part in the ceremony for the third and the last time. The front girls were girls which were taking part in the ceremony for the second time. And the back girls were girls which were taking part in the ceremony for the first time. The girls would gather in the house of the oldest girl in the group, Lazar, where they would be dressed into their best clothes. In their preparation they would be helped by the Lazar's mother. They would then go to a spring where they would sing and dance and would then wish good morning to the spring water. Spring water is in Serbia called "živa voda" (live water, water of life) and is believed to have magic properties. Spring is seen as a place where fertile Mother Earth releases her "water of life" in the same way that a fertile woman releases her menstrual blood, female "water of life". In this way the spring water is magically linked with the menstrual blood. So no wonder that the spring is the first stop of the Lazarice group, the group of girls whose "water of life has started to run" (who got their period).  After this ritual, the girls would go to meadows to pick wild flowers. They would use these flowers to make wreaths which they would wear on their heads during their initiation procession through the village land and the village. They would first walk through the fields, forests, meadows belonging to the village, and would sing fertility songs wishing nature to be fertile and bountiful. After walking through all the village land, the Lazarice girls would return to the house of the oldest girl, Lazar. There, they would be greeted by the Lazar's mother, who would shower them with wheat, symbol of fertility and rebirth, in the same way a bride is showered with wheat as she enters the grooms house. The girls would then kiss Lazar's mother's hand and would enter the house, where they would have breakfast. Lazar's mother would then give them money and hard boiled eggs, another symbol of fertility and rebirth. After this Lazarice would go on a procession through the village. During the procession, they would sing fertility songs and dance. They would stop in front of every house, and would wish the people in the house fertile, bountiful and happy year. In return the hosts would give them small presents and food for gratitude. 

This ceremony is the celebration of Vesna, the young Earth, one of the three heads of Troglava, Dajbaba, Mother Earth, the other two being Mokoš and Morana. Vesna, young Earth is in April "coming of age". The snow and ice has melted and the springs are gushing with fresh spring water of life. The meadows are blooming and the earth is decorated with flowers. It is getting ready for marriage with young sun, Jarilo, who arrives on the 6th of May, Jarilo day, which is today known as St Georges day. On that day, the Young Earth, Vesna, and the Young Sun, Jarilo, are married. Just like a girl, a young woman, a bride, is deflowered on her wedding night by her husband, and becomes a woman, a mother, so is Vesna, the Young Earth, the Girl Earth, the Young Woman Earth, deflowered at the end of Spring by her husband Jarilo, the Young Sun and she becomes Mokoš, the Woman Earth, the Mother Earth and the summer, the fertile part of the year begins....

Documentary showing the reenactment of the Lazarice ceremony in Serbia.


  1. Beautiful, thank you for sharing this. Any chance of some more Beltane and may 1st themed posts for this time of year? I'm hoping to see maypoles in some of the smaller villages appearing soon.

  2. Great article. This is more in-depth than many of the sources I researched for the Bulgarian version of this for a book about Bulgarian myths and rituals. Well done. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Is the original meaning of "deflowered" that of "stop-flowing" (menstruation)? It would seem to fit etymologically.

    1. No. "The act of taking the virginity of a girl. The term comes from the fact that the hymen, before being torn, most frquently looks like an inverted flower." It comes from the fact that you can only pick a flower once...

  4. For us Croatian I think it's jurjevo, we have Ladarica, they go to house from house dancing and singing.

  5. Pardon me, I am not familiar with all the aspects of Serbian mythology, but it seems most improbable to me that the 'živa voda' - the water of life or 'live water' - is a metaphor for menstrual blood: it would much more appropriately be linked to 'vodenjak', or amnion, and its liquid - or 'water', since its bursting announces the birth of a baby - as if it were indeed the spring of a new life. And though menstrual blood may announce the start of the whole fertility period in the life of a young girl, it seems to me that live water has greater power still - it is well known from folk tales as cure for death itself - when someone cuts off someone else's head, for instance, the latter may be brought back to life if his head was placed next to the neck and the 'live water' (fetched heroically from far away places) poured over the line connecting the two. This exalted value seems to be reflected even in your narrative, through the great respect for older women, those who have already given birth.