Myth / Slavic Mythology
Slavic mythology is the mythological aspect of the polytheistic religion that was practised by the Slavs before Christianisation. It possesses numerous common traits with other religions descended from the Proto-Indo-European religion.
There are no known written accounts of Slavic mythology predating the fragmentation of the Proto-Slavic people into Western Slavs
(Czechs, Slovaks, Sorbs and Poles), Eastern Slavs
(Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians), and Southern Slavs
(the modern Balkans
). Actual historical data can be divided into three: archaeological, ethnographical, and written. The first two tend to have a role in reconstructing the rituals, with the latter — predominantly the chronicles by Eastern Roman scholars and Ruthenian and German monks — being the primary source of knowledge concerning the pantheon itself. As with Celtic Mythology
, a lot of the written evidence suffers from having been Hijacked by Jesus
before anyone thought to write them down
Exactly what it looked like may be somewhat confusing. Overall, ancient Slavic religion seems to be fairly local and cultic in nature, with gods and beliefs varying from tribe to tribe. Historic sources show that each Slavic tribe worshipped its own gods, possibly even had its own pantheon. Some scholars believed that Slavs' religion actually was focused on daemons and spirits, with the organised pantheon appearing only under foreign pressure. Others have claimed that while there was a single general pantheon, various regions held different gods in high regard. However, through cultural comparisons, linguistic research, and critical analysis of the written sources, it is generally assumed that there was a single Proto-Slavic pantheon from which pantheons of various Slavic tribes originated.
The Slavic religion had semi-nomadic steppe origins, where each geographical direction had a color of its own. Thus, Belarus
actually means "the Western Rus", because the West was linked to the color white. (Compare to Byelobog, "the white god", and Belgrade, "the white city".) It appears that it was built upon the dualism personified by two gods, Perun and Veles. Perun was a "dry" sky god, commandeering fire
, and lightning
(his name means simply "lightning" in Slavic languages). Veles was a serpentine, cthonic, "wet" ruler of earth
, and magic. To whom the rain belonged was pretty much the "whose is the apple tree on the fence" problem. In some stories, Perun creates the world and Veles accidentally helps him by trying to interfere. Whatever the reason, they constantly fight each other, lightning strikes marking Perun's attempts to kill his foe from the sky. However, despite the easy analogies
, Veles was not really a bad guy, as he was also a patron of cattle. (It should also be noted that Veles had a nasty habit of stealing Perun's possessions — up to and including his wife and children
— so Perun's rage is perfectly understandable.)
Another important set of gods were Svarog, Svarozic ("little Svarog" or "son of Svarog
"), and Dazbog. The exact relation between the trio is somewhat obscure (or if it was a trio at all); however, Svarog might have been the father of the rest. Whatever the case, their area of competence was the fire — the one in the sky
, and the one on the earth
(other possibilities include the Moon and sunlit sky). It is important to note that, by some researchers of the Slavic beliefs, Svarog is considered the creator god or the original top Slavic deity — the personified life-giving sky. In an attempt to explain how does this coexist with apparently high status of Perun, it has been theorized that Perun was an evolved aspect of Svarog.
Slavs valued earth and the vegetation cycle; there was plenty of taboos concerning the treatment of the earth before the wheat grew (so, during "pregnancy"), and the end of the winter was a big festival — remnants of it have survived to this day. An interesting one is the tradition of burning or drowning (or both
) an effigy of the winter and death goddess Morana on the first day of spring. The Slavic patron of the harvest, vegetation and fertility was Yarilo/Yarovit, while Mokosh or Mother Earth (Mat Zemlya) was the earth goddess herself (and possibly a borrowing
); Mokosh might have also been a goddess of feminine labours like spinning and weaving
The four-faced patron of warnote
, divination, fertility, and abundance — Svantevit — is possibly the best-known Slavic deity. However, his status is not correspondingly clear. His worship is most strongly linked with the fabled Arkona on the Rügen Island, last vestige of Slavic paganism destroyed in 1168. Thus it is possible that he was a local deity, or a local variety of another god (presumably Perun). But on the other hand, the best-known effigy of Svantevit was found in the river Zbruch in Ukraine, obviously far from Arkona. The westernmost Slavdom, being well-described by chroniclers from neighbouring German lands, is also responsible for plenty of other regional deities. If it is not Svantevit, a Slavic god a layman might know of (even if not its link with Slavs) is likely Chernobog
, known to have been worshipped in this area. Meanwhile, on the other side of Slavic Europe, deities like Hors or Simargl make an appearance, though they are often considered borrowings from neighbouring Turkic and Iranic peoples.The Other Wiki
has a list of Slavic deities
for your perusal. See also Slavic Mythology
, from which some of this article has been cribbed.
See also Russian Mythology and Tales
, the eastern branch (well, an evolved form of the eastern branch) of this, or take a look at the characters page
for more detailed description of deities.
- An Axe to Grind: apparently a weapon of Perun. It would seek out the wicked, and always return to his hand after being thrown.
- Ascended Extra: when most of the other gods were nigh-forgotten, the minor god Chernobog was expanded into a powerful God of Evil.
- The Blacksmith: Svarog, the fire (and possibly sun) god. Also possibly non-Time Travel-related My Own Grandpa, due to the confusion over the whole Svarog/Svarozic affair.
- Canon Immigrant: there are traces of cultural exchange with the Turkic and Iranic peoples of the steppes, with whom proto-Slavs had ancient contact, and some Slavic gods may have begun as the result of that. Scholars have also noted a distinct similarity to some Nordic myths.
- Cool and Unusual Punishment: the veelas (Slavic fairies), when they were feeling nasty, could kill a man by dancing him to death. Or even better: tickling him until he died from laughter.
- Dark Is Evil: night time was considered dangerous, as most of the troublesome spirits came out during the dark hours.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Possibly Czernobog, who isn't the Satan analogue that he is generally depicted as nowadays.
- The Triglav (the "holy trinity" of Dazbog, Svarog and Perun) was often represented as a black horse by the worshippers, but wasn't by any means considered evil by them.
- Most magical entities in Slavic mythology aren't evil or good for that matter. For example the embodiment of plague is an old woman. If you help said woman across the river when she asks you, she will spare you of illnesses. She will however, probably infect the entire village. Also you can have Death or any other 'evil' entity as a Godmother. They'll treat you as nicely as any human Godmother would. Plus use their powers to protect you. As long as you don't go against what they do - which might vary from neutral - being a wolf to causing or helping people die.
- Dragon Hoard: While the zmeys (dragons) of East and South Slavic folklore do not lie on hoards in caves, they frequently own palaces and great riches in far-away lands. When zmeys demand tribute from humans, they will either demand maidens, or gold.
- Evil Is Deathly Cold: Winter was considered a more sinister time of year, not just because of the cold, but because of the longer nights. This meant more time for the dangerous spirits and demons to roam the land.
- Half-Human Hybrid: Some mythological creatures were believed to be able to sire children with humans. The resulting child would have some sort of unnatural power, or if female - often extraordinary beauty. Most notable are heroes in South Slavic myths and legends, who were born from a Zmey and human women. Such a man was called a yunak and these men were larger and much stronger than normal.
- Haunted House: a less sinister example, as most Slavs believed in house spirits. The domovoi and kikimora were male and female house spirits respectively and were thought to often take permanent residence in people's homes. They could be both helpful to the owners or mischievous, depending on how well people kept their houses.
- Hijacked by Jesus: as many others, Slavic mythology was a big victim of the hijack; for example, Perun the lightning/sky/fire god and Veles the earth/water/magic god were assimilated into respectively God and Satan.
- Belobog and Czernobog would be a similar example — German scholars deduced that, since Czernobog literally translates to `Black God`, he must have been an all-purpose evil deity similar to Satan, and that he must have had a counterpart similar to the Christian God (when in reality Belobog almost certainly did not exist in Slavic mythology).
- Interestingly enough, the Renaissance-era written sources, fittingly for a period infatuated with Classical antiquity, have done what was called interpretatio Romana, or "Roman interpretation" of the Slavic mythology. That means that we have to deal with not only the Christian hijacking, but Roman-fanboy hijacking too.
- Horned Humanoid: Veles is often portrayed as this.
- Humanity Ensues: according to some tales, stealing the shirt of a samodiva (also known as a samovila, vila, or veela), will cause her to lose her powers and become like a normal human. If she manages to get it back, however, she'll revert to her old self.
- Jumping Out of a Cake: Inverted. One of the Polabian tribes celebrated harvest by throwing a party, during which they saw if their high priest could hide behind the huge-ass cake they baked for the occasion, which was then eaten. If he could, that was a sign of good fortune, if he couldn't, he wished them good fortune in the next year.
- Made of Iron: Koschei the Immortal (also known under the badly translated name "Koschei the Deathless"), one of the major inspiration for the Liches of modern fantasy. He is functionally immortal - because his soul is separated from his body inside a needle (a phylactery), which is inside an egg, which is itself inside a rabbit, who is inside an iron chest, buried beneath an oak tree on an island. While Koschei is primarily a Russian myth, similar figures exist in the mythologies and folk tales of certain other Slavic peoples, such as Bash Chelik (in Serbian mythology).
- Multiple Head Case: Triglav has three heads, one atop the other — for sky, for earth, and for the underworld. Also, Svantevit has four faces (one for each direction of the world). And many dragons had several heads, see below.
- Our Monsters Are Different
- Our Dragons Are Different: most prominently Zmey ("the Wyrm" tends to be considered the English equivalent of this name). Although they breathed fire and were capable of speech like their western counterparts, they were also famous for being shapeshifters (usually into human form), having mystical powers and knowledge, and for abducting beautiful women to be their brides. They were also prone to having several heads.
- The most famous Polish dragon is pretty much a mindless beast that happens to feed on people and livestock. It is theorised that it might have been a local dynastic legend, a fanciful reimagining of historical events, or just made up by a chronicler who based it on popular stories of his time.
- In Czech legends, there is a difference between smok which is a basic huge lizard, and drak which has wings as well. Or between drak which has several heads, and saň which only has one. Or maybe really no difference whatsoever, because you can also frequently encounter the phrase sedmihlavá saň - "seven-headed dragon". No shape-shifting dragons among Czechs, and they tend not to speak either but some apparently whistled.
- Our Dwarves Are All the Same/Our Gnomes Are Weirder: There's a great variety of house-spirits, diminutive red cap-wearing bearded humanoids, and similar creatures, possibly later contaminated with German (-ic) folk beliefs. The closest Slavic equivalent to fantasy dwarves were more like house-spirits or gnomes. The confusion is occasionally worsened by linguistics.
- For example, in local Czech legends you can find (according to Labyrintem tajemna by Martin Stejskal): bejválek, a mountain guarding spirit that looks like a child with a large head and is mostly benign unless provoked; another spirit from a mountain region called červený panáček ("little red man") "small, with sparkling eyes and dressed all in red" who had something to do with protecting water; kožíškoví mužíčci ("little furcoat men") who lived in forests and jumped on passing people’s backs and suffocated them; permoník / permon etc., which is your most typical mine-dwelling creature and definitely Germanic in origin (the name itself comes from German Bergmänchen and mining regions usually had large German populations) – but sometimes also called skřítek or trpaslík, which are the more generic words for "dwarf"; šotek or hospodáříček ("little housekeeper") who was a house spirit but took your soul after death (and did not necessarily have to look like a dwarf at all); similarly rarášek / rarach / skřítek / pikulík / diblík / jarášek who was a house spirit gone wild or something along those lines, sometimes helpful but often dangerous.note
- And then there are some small-figured veelas, like myška / mniška. note
- In Polish krasnal or krasnoludek is the lawn gnome/Snow White-dwarf type. Karzeł ("midget" or "dwarf") is the Norse Mythology dwarf, pre-fantasy or in separation from fantasy, as well as the word for real life "little people". The fantasy dwarf, meanwhile, is a krasnolud — an augmentative of krasnoludek, a neologism created by the default translation of Lord of the Rings which has been followed ever since (there were other translations, but didn't stick).
- Our Mermaids Are Different: A "rusalka" is basically what people called a mermaid. The difference is that rusalki did not have a fish tail and looked like regular human women, mainly because they were thought to be physical manifestations of the spirits of young women who drowned (or were killed violently near a body of water). Another difference is that they were usually hostile and would come out mostly at night, because if the sun dried their skin completely, they would die: this time permanently. There were also myths of "true" mermaids among the western Slavs (although they were fonder of rivers than the sea), and they show up on many Polish coats of arms.
- Our Vampires Are Different: the Slavic vampires were the basis for the modern idea of a vampire. They were notably different to the Dracula kind of modern vampires, however; having several Evolution Powerups; starting out as a Living Shadow, then developing into a Blob Monster, and finally a Humanoid Abomination with a scaly, clawed left hand. They were able to shapeshift into butterflies. They sometimes spawned from - of all things - rotten pumpkins, melons, and squash.
- In the Czech lands, there was also můra / morous (related to the English ''mare'').
- Power of the Storm: some people, called variously in different regions (planetnik in Poland, zduhac in Serbia etc.), were believed to hold sway over the weather. Their duties usually involved using their powers to fend off evil weather spirits and/or their counterparts from the neighbouring villages.
- The Power of the Sun/Light Is Not Good: the Poludnitsa (Noon Maiden/Lady Midday), a personification of sunstroke. Often depicted as a woman in white, holding a sickle.
- The deities Svarog, Dazbog, and Hors are also associated with the Sun, although whether their solar attributes were present in the original mythology or were added afterwards is unknown. The (possibly made up by later writers) deities Radegast and Belobog are also associated with light.
- Sacred Hospitality: the name of alleged Polabian Slavic deity Radegast translates literally as "dear guest", so he was thought to be a god of hospitality. However, nowadays it's usually assumed that there was no such deity in the pantheon, and it's merely a misinterpretation of sources.
- Shock and Awe: Perun, the lightning god and the generally highest god of the Slavic pantheon.
- Top God: it is thought that Perun was a henotheistic top god of the Slavs. Veles was Perun's opposite, but apparently wasn't regarded as equally top.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Seems to be a bit of a running theme with supernatural beings. The vodyanoy, for example, are hideous, bloated fish-people - but their wives and daughters are described more like beautiful mermaids. The domovoi, too, are described as hairy, wizened little men but when their wives do appear they tend to look like beautiful fairies.
- Upgrade Artifact: the fern flower, which blooms only during the night of summer solstice (particularly as Real Life ferns don't have flowers) and grants various powers to its finder. Sometimes it could help find treasures. It may also have been a sex metaphor.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: most creatures and spirits in Slavic mythology are able to do this, whether it's adopting an animal or human form (or even the form of an object). Usually they used it to trick people, though sometimes they might help them.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: though the Slavs are a pretty numerous people, their late appearance on the scene of history left us with few written accounts of their pre-Christian beliefs.
Appearances in popular culture:
- Lots of authors from Slavic regions, naturally, use Slavic mythology to various degrees, especially in fantasy books. Most of them never get translated to English, probably due to the material's lack of familiarity to non-Slavic readers. They're frequently translated between Slavic languages, though.
- The Witcher is a good example of this, as it uses at least some Slavic material, but for once was translated into English.
- Czernobog, Bielobog, and the three Zoryas appear in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Czernobog/Bielobog display confusion over whether they're the same person or not, in a nod to the ambiguity in the records.
- The Veela of Harry Potter are based on the Slavic version of The Fair Folk. They quite fittingly appear as the Bulgarian national magical creature, although the quarter-Veelas who receive screen-time are for some reason French.
- Baba Yaga makes an appearance in Shrek Forever After. She is also a prominent character in Hellboy, Bartok the Magnificent, and Quest for Glory (see below).
- Chernabog appears prominently on the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of Fantasia.
- There is a character named Baba in Dragonball Z.
- The bad guys — I mean, the opponents — in Blood are the Cult of Tchernobog, although the god in question doesn't appear to be too close to his Slavic roots.
- Chernovog (her spelling) is the title of the second of C. J. Cherryh's Russian trilogy, along with Rusalka and Yvginie, and is a player in the book.
- Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica setting takes some inspiration, including a cycle of rusalka (one per colour) and a card called Drekavac.
- While Quest for Glory I is set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Germany and Switzerland, Baba Yaga is the Big Bad.
- Veles is one of the psychopomps in Gunnerkrigg Court. He's that horned snakeman guy.
- The ship in Call of Duty: Black Ops which houses General Dragovich's numbers station is called the Rusalka.
- Barrayarans tell tales of Baba Yaga, Father Frost, and other figures of Slavic mythology in Vorkosigan Saga.
- Koschei (here spelled Katschei) shows up in the first of the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books; the third book is based largely off Russian mythology and contains Baba Yaga, a number of rusalkas, and others.
- The music of Natalia O Shea is based on this and Celtic Mythology.
- The book Krabat is based on an old Sorbic folk legend.
- Rusalkas are one of the enemies you can face in Betrayal at Krondor. They are portrayed as undead spirits that attack by throwing ice bolts at you, and are usually found near water. There's even a magic item which allows you to summon one to fight on your side.
- Rusalka is a boss in Bravely Default.
- Veles is PS238's take on the "Trickster God" supervillain archetype, and sends a group of heroes into Koschei's egg, which is a Pocket Dimension.
- In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, Koschei is the real name of the Master. The tendency of EU Time Lords to have Earth mythology names has not been elaborated on.
- Perun is a Marvel Comics character, where he's basically Russia's counterpart to The Mighty Thor. Which is fitting given the distinct similarities between the Thor and Perun in the original Norse and Slavic mythologies.
- Thea: The Awakening is a weird but delicious mashup of Slavic mythology (Perun, leshys, rusalkas, etc.) and Tolkienesque fantasy (dwarves, elves, etc.).
- Deathless is a retelling of the Koschei myth, featuring Baba Yaga, rusalkas, Zmey Gorynych, vilas, etc.
- A side story to The Life and Times of a Winning Pony has a ponified version of a rusalka, described as looking like an earth pony with an algae-like mane, green teeth, hairless, almost translucent skin, and a hypnotic voice. It prefers to kill its victims by drowning them, and has a Healing Factor as long as it’s underwater.