Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Evils of Christianization: A Pagan Perspective on European History - Reconsidering Charlemagne

The reign of the Frankish king and later, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne is
often viewed as one of the milestones in the establishment of European Christian civilization. In recent times, with the increasing strength of pan-European institutions in the framework of the European Union, Charlemagne is seen as an early herald of European unity. His rule is often praised as a “ Carolingian renaissance” for fostering great accomplishments in arts and learning, in partnership with the institutions of the Christian church. There are, however, other dimensions of Charlemagne’s reign which are less often discussed, because they do not fit well with the pleasing image of a wise,
benevolent monarch in whose name religion and culture flourished.
Consider Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons. This was a series of fierce
conflicts from 772 to 804, for some 32 years, with numerous treaties and truces that inevitably gave way to further battle. In the biography of Charlemagne produced by the court official Einhard in about the year 830,it is stated that the war was undertaken by Charlemagne to put an end to the incessant raiding and other misdeeds of the Saxons on the borderlands of the Frankish kingdom. Einhard would therefore have us believe that
this was a purely defensive war, but it is obvious that Charlemagne had territorial ambitions that were far more imperial than defensive.
Einhard also informs us that Charlemagne was dead set on the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity. He notes at one point that “ the war could have been brought to a more rapid conclusion, had it not been for the faithlessness of the Saxons.” According to Einhard, the Saxons’ continuing refusal to fully accept the Christian religion and, in Einhard’s phrase, “ abandon their devil worship,” was the main factor prolonging the state
of war. From Einhard’s Christian-privileging perspective, the Saxons were stubborn, deceitful infidels, whose unchristian ways fully justified the use of massive force against them.
However, if we consider the situation from the point of view of the Pagan Saxons, it takes on a quite different aspect. From this perspective, the Franks, and especially their king Charles, were warrior-fanatics with a relentless desire to impose their religion on the Saxons. Whatever else might be said against the Saxons, there is no indication that they were trying to force their religion on the Franks. If we take seriously that the Saxons had
their own religious traditions which they were trying to preserve from the Frankish onslaught, then their sustained refusal to accept a foreign religion being imposed on them by force takes on a very different aspect from that suggested by Einhard. It is not stubbornness or deceit, but steadfast piety and the willingness to give their lives to defend their own faith.
From the Pagan perspective, there is also reason to be skeptical of Einhard’s
insistence that the Franks’ war against the Saxons was merely a necessary response to Saxon banditry and raiding. Though this was an age rife with such behavior, there are other factors to consider. Long before the onset of Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Saxons, Christian missionaries had become active in the lands of the Saxons and other Germanic peoples. When gentle methods such as preaching and reasoning failed to convince Germanic Pagans to abandon their ancestral traditions, these missionaries often resorted to more forceful methods. The Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface chopped down a sacred oak tree in the village of Geimar, in the region of Hessia, in order to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian god to the Pagan god associated with the oak.After this act of destruction, Boniface confiscated the wood from the fallen sacred oak to use in
building Christian churches, as if to add insult to injury.Such desecration and destruction of Pagan sacred sites and objects became an accepted missionary practice in this period, one which Charlemagne himself used to
inaugurate his hostilities against the Saxons. This happened in 872, when Charlemagne’s army invaded a Saxon town on the river Drimel and hacked to pieces a sacred wooden pillar, apparently a decorated tree-trunk, known as the Irminsul, which was highly venerated in the religious observances of the Saxons as a representation of the worldtree. 8 With this attack on one of the holiest Saxons sites, Charlemagne left no doubt as to his intention to use military force to obliterate the Saxons’ religion, as well as to conquer
their lands. Charlemagne’s destruction of the world-tree proved to be an apt metaphor for his wholesale devastation of Saxon people, property, society and culture over the next 32 years. This attack on highly sacred sites and objects must have aroused the most powerful feelings of shock and outrage among the Saxons and possibly other Pagan peoples as well, perhaps not unlike the recent attack on the World Trade Center in New York.
Christian sources such as saints’ lives and missionary correspondence routinely claim that such acts of destruction were highly successful in gaining converts to Christianity.This supposed success is explained with rather curious logic. The missionaries believed that their ability to destroy Pagan objects without incurring the wrath of the Pagan deities proved the nonexistence of the Pagan gods and, by extension, the total absurdity of the religion. These authors never ask themselves whether the same
might not apply to their own religion, that is, if the merits of the Christian faith would be disproven by God’s refusal to forcefully respond to the burning down of a church or the cutting in half of a crucifix.At any rate, the same sources which boast of missionary successes through such acts of religious terrorism as the Irminsul destruction cannot hide the facts of massive
retaliation by the Saxons and other peoples when their sacred traditions were threatened by Christian attacks. The Saxons repeatedly attacked and burned Christian churches;often carrying off their treasures in much the same way as Boniface had carted away the wood from the sacred oak at Geismar. In a letter of 755 to Pope Stephen III, Boniface apologizes for a delay in writing because he has been busy restoring 30 churches plundered and burned by Pagan rebels. Above all, the bare fact that Charlemagne’s
destruction of the Irminsul ushered in thirty-odd years of warfare before the Saxons would surrender to Charlemagne and accept the religion of the Franks underlines that such actions were as likely to incite resistance as win converts.
Although one would expect 32 years of war and destruction to produce an
abundance of violence and bloodshed, there is one particular action of Charlemagne’s which stands out for its excessive cruelty. On one horrific day in 782, Charlemagne had more than 4,000 Saxons beheaded for rebelling against Frankish rule and resuming the practice of their traditional Pagan religion, after having previously signed a treaty agreeing to accept Christianity and Frankish domination.
Such harsh measures did not end with the final surrender of the Saxons in 804.Charlemagne imposed stringent conditions of surrender upon the Saxons that prescribed capital punishment for a wide range of offenses, including many which were religious in nature. Anyone who stole from a church, ate meat during the Christian fast of Lent,remained a Pagan and refused to undergo baptism, or engaged in a conspiracy of Pagans against Christians was to receive the death penalty. At the same time, Saxons were required to provide labor, food and other support to churches and priests. Looking at this
from the Christian point of view, there is some discomfort at the harshness of the measures employed by Charlemagne, but there is no doubt about the rightness of his ultimate goal, the Christianization of the Saxons as part of the larger project of uniting Europe in a Christian empire.
Charlemagne’s cruelty and intolerance in the war against the Saxons have never detracted from his popular image as a wise and benevolent sovereign. Such actions also appear to cause no concern to those people in the present day who see Charlemagne as an attractive symbol of European unity. If we take the Pagan point of view, however,Charlemagne appears to be the exemplar of nothing so much as religious intolerance,persecution and imperialism, the forefather not of European unity, but of some of the
most problematic and shameful tendencies in European history. Charlemagne’s war against the Saxons set the tone for such highpoints of European civilization as the Crusades and the Inquisition, and paved the way for the religious wars, persecutions and pogroms of the future.
From the Pagan point of view, we can ask what might have happened if
Charlemagne had chosen a different path. What if he had pursued a policy of religious tolerance instead of religious persecution? What if he had offered the Saxons the option to join his empire without giving up their ancestral traditions? Perhaps 32 years of war could have been avoided, and the stage set for a European civilization of tolerance and pluralism, rather than one of intolerance and fanaticism. If Charlemagne had chosen a different path, perhaps he really would be an appropriate hero and symbol for our time.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Evils of Christianization: A Pagan Perspective on European History - Introduction

Michael F. Strmiska, Miyazaki International College, Japan.
Presented at Conference on Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness,
Prague, CZ, March 2002.

Any thoughtful student of history soon comes to understand that major events affecting large numbers of people can be approached and assessed from a variety of angles and perspectives. It is a durable truism that “ history is written by the victors,” with many historical accounts of previous times slanted to favor the interests of particular nations or social groups over others less privileged. In recent times, social and intellectual trends such as feminism, deconstructionism, postcolonialism and indigenous people’s movements have raised awareness of the importance of acknowledging the
voices and viewpoints of persons, groups and nations who have been ignored or devalued in history as it has been construed, constructed and promulgated by the dominant social groups of past times.
In looking at the history of religions in Europe, I am struck by the extent to which one particular viewpoint has dominated understanding and blocked critical reflection about what is arguably one of the major historical transformations in ancient and medieval times: the change of religions which took place in Europe when Christianity spread beyond the confines of the Roman Empire to replace the traditional, natureoriented religions of other parts of Europe. For lack of a better term, I will refer to these pre-Christian European religions as “ Pagan” religions or as “ Paganism.” By and large,
the transition from Paganism to Christianity has been viewed through the lens of a perspective which assumed that Christian domination over and suppression of the preexisting Pagan traditions was a natural and necessary thing.
This view of European history, grounded in the dogmatic conviction in the
intrinsic superiority of Christianity to all other religions, has a long history and venerable history in its own right, beginning with the Christian scriptures themselves. To medieval participants in this Christian-centered discourse, European civilization was one and the same as “ Christendom,” and even today, it is still commonplace to refer to Europe as the “ Christian West.” In the last 150 or so years, however, the authority of this paradigm or
metanarrative of Christian supremacy has been corroded by the general secularization of Western societies and also by Western people’s increasing contact with and knowledge of other religions from around the world.
The deflation of this metanarrative of Christian privilege has enormous
implications for the position of Christianity in relation to other religions in the
increasingly pluralistic societies of today and tomorrow, and it has equally important ramifications for how we view and interpret the past. With the paradigm of unquestioned Christian supremacy giving way to a new ideal of religious tolerance and coexistence in which religious pluralism is viewed as the norm, we have reason to look with new eyes at the topic mentioned earlier, the transition from Paganism to Christianity in Europe.
This change of religions is often characterized as the “ rise” of Christianity, but it should also be understood as the “ fall” of Pagan religions in Europe; a “ fall” which was neither a simple nor a painless process, but rather a bloody and protracted struggle.
Christianity did not simply “ rise” like a spring plant or the dawn sun; it conquered. Nor did Paganism merely “ fall” like a leaf from a branch or a fruit from a tree; it was crushed. The temples of the old religions in Europe did not simply collapse because of old age and dilapidation; they were torn down by the Christians and in some cases, recycled as building materials for the construction of Christian churches.
In many areas, the adherents of the Pagan religions fought tenaciously to preserve their ancestral traditions, even if their struggles were ultimately in vain, and their traditions so thoroughly eradicated that only the most fragmentary traces were to remain.
Clearly, there were, and are, two sides to this story, but we usually only hear one side,that which celebrates the victory of Christianity. What would we hear were we to listen to the other side, to the voices of the Pagans who suffered loss, defeat and erasure? What would we find were we to seek to discover these past peoples and their religions rather than to dismiss them?
I believe that the most basic and perhaps most important lesson that comes from such research and contemplation is the realization that there was religious pluralism in medieval Europe one thousand years ago; a lively clash of competing Pagan and Christian religious cultures. In the terms of the Russian theorist Bakhtin, there was religious heteroglossia, religious dialogue.1 This religious dialogue ended with the victory of the culture of Christian monologue and monologic, but this monologue never succeeded entirely in eradicating all traces of the Paganism of the past, which lived on in
folklore, in popular customs and celebrations, and even entered into Christianity itself,with Pagan gods made over into Christian saints or reviled as forms of the Christian devil, and holy days reinterpreted as feast days for Christian saints. Realizing that Pagan religion represented another distinct dimension of European life, both before, during and after Christianization opens the way to a more nuanced and multi-dimensional understanding of European history and culture. Realizing that the forces of Christianization were continually striving to impose religious uniformity and erase even
the memory of religious dialogue and pluralism contains important food for thought in our contemporary world situation, as I will reflect upon in the conclusion.
In the following brief case-studies, examining first, the role of Emperor
Charlemagne, and second that of the Vikings in the religious conflicts between Pagans and Christians in medieval Europe, I attempt to show how examining European history from the Pagan point of view can illuminate important issues and raise valuable questions for our contemporary understanding of European history.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A More In-depth Account of Baba Yaga

Her Name

While she is commonly known as Baba Yaga, she has been known in the past by several other names: Baba Jaga, Jaga, Jaga-Baba, Jaginavna, and Egibinicha. "Baba" means "grandmother" or "wise old woman." Jaga or Yaga is believed to mean "horror", "wrath", "snake", "evil woman", or "witch".

Baba Yaga's name shows duality. She is at once the old hag and monster and also the giver of good fortune. This duality reminds me of the two-faced Roman god Janus who represents past and future. Baba Yaga is the giver of gifts or adulthood and also the giver of death.

Witch and Hag

In fairy tales, Baba Yaga is a witch, sorceress, and sometimes an ogress. She is pictured as a hag, an ugly woman with long grey hair and sharp metal teeth. She flies or rides in a mortar using the pestle as a sort of paddle. This symbolism of the mortar and pestle is believed to represent the womb and phallus.

She lives deep in the forest or at the edge of the world and her hut stands on a chicken leg or a pair of chicken legs. This makes me think of the magickal cages kept by the Romans which held a chicken or two for divinatory purposes.

Her hut is surrounded by a fence of human bones that are topped with human skulls. (Read Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire for an excellent description of Baba Yaga's hut.) The skulls have eyes that glow in the dark. Human feet are used as bolts and human hands are used as hinges. Mouths with sharp teeth are used as keyholes.

The home of Baba Yaga is at once a cemetary and a place for divinatory magick. This makes her, many believe, an ancient goddess of the underworld.

As can be seen in numerous tales, she either appears as a helper or as an enemy. It all depends on how one (almost always a child-youth) approaches her. If the child-youth approaches Baba Yaga with disrespect, she will usually bake them in her oven or turn them into stone. Some believe that she may have ruled over symbolic death, the initiation into adulthood when children let go of their playthings and are born anew as adults and responsible members of society.

In the story of Wassilissa the Beautiful told by Post Wheeler, we see Wassilissa entering the hut of Baba Yaga as a girl and leaving as a young woman, eligible for marriage. We are also introduced to Baba Yaga's three servants: a white knight (bright morning), a black knight (dark night), and a red knight (the day's red sun). (See Iron John by Robert Bly.)


By Post Wheeler

In a certain Tzardom, across three times nine kingdoms, beyond high mountain chains, there once lived a merchant. He had been married for twelve years, but in that time there had been born to him only one child, a daughter, who from her cradle was called Wassilissa the Beautiful. When the little girl was eight years old the mother fell ill, and before many days it was plain to be seen that she must die. So she called her little daughter to her, and taking a tiny wooden doll from under the blanket of the bed, put it into her hands and said:

"My little Wassilissa, my dear daughter, listen to what I say, remember well my last words and fail not to carry out my wishes. I am dying, and with my blessing I leave to thee this little doll. It is very precious, for there is no other like it in the world. Carry it always about with thee in thy pocket and never show it to anyone. When evil threatens thee or sorrow befalls thee, go into a corner, take it from thy pocket and give it something to eat and drink. It will eat and drink a little, and then thou mayest tell it thy trouble and ask its advice, and it will tell thee how to act in thy time of need." So saying, she kissed her little daughter on the forehead, blessed her, and shortly after died.

Little Wassilissa grieved greatly for her mother, and her sorrow was so deep that when the dark night came, she lay in her bed and wept and did not sleep. At length she bethought herself of the tiny doll, so she rose and took it from the pocket of her gown and finding a piece of wheat bread and a cup of kwas, she set them before it, and said: "There, my little doll, take it. Eat a little, and drink a little, and listen to my grief. My dear mother is dead and I am lonely for her."

Then the doll's eyes began to shine like fireflies, and suddenly it came alive. It ate a morsel of the bread and took a sip of the kwas, and when it had eaten and drunk, it said: "Don't weep, little Wassilissa. Grief is worse at night. Lie down, shut thine eyes, comfort thyself and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening." So Wassilissa the Beautiful lay down, comforted herself and went to sleep, and the next day her grieving was not so deep and her tears were less bitter.

Now after the death of his wife, the merchant sorrowed for many days as was right, but at the end of that time he began to desire to marry again and to look about him for a suitable wife. This was not difficult to find, for he had a fine house, with a stable of swift horses, besides being a good man who gave much to the poor. Of all the women he saw, however, the one who, to his mind, suited him best of all, was a widow of about his own age with two daughters of her own, and she, he thought, besides being a good housekeeper, would be a kind foster mother to his little Wassilissa.

So the merchant married the widow and brought her home as his wife, but the little girl soon found that her foster mother was very far from being what her father had thought. She was a cold, cruel woman, who had desired the merchant for the sake of his wealth, and had no love for his daughter. Wassilissa was the greatest beauty in the whole village, while her own daughters were as spare and homely as two crows, and because of this all three envied and hated her. They gave her all sorts of errands to run and difficult tasks to perform, in order that the toil might make her thin and worn and that her face might grow brown from sun and wind, and they treated her so cruelly as to leave few joys in life for her. But all this the little Wassilissa endured without complaint, and while the stepmother's two daughters grew always thinner and uglier, in spite of the fact that they had no hard tasks to do, never went out in cold or rain, and sat always with their arms folded like ladies of a Court, she herself had cheeks like blood and milk and grew every day more and more beautiful.

Now the reason for this was the tiny doll, without whose help little Wassilissa could never have managed to do all the work that was laid upon her. Each night, when everyone else was sound asleep, she would get up from her bed, take the doll into a closet, and locking the door, give it something to eat and drink, and say: "There, my little doll, take it. Eat a little, and listen to my grief. I live in my father's house, but my spiteful stepmother wishes to drive me out of the white world. Tell me! How shall I act, and what shall I do?"

Then the little doll's eyes would begin to shine like glowworms, and it would become alive. It would eat a little food, and sip a little drink, and then it would comfort her and tell her how to act. While Wassilissa slept, it would get ready all her work for the next day, so that she had only to rest in the shade and gather flowers, for the doll would have the kitchen garden weeded, and the beds of cabbage watered, and plenty of fresh water brought from the well, and the stoves heated exactly right. And, besides this, the little doll told her how to make, from a certain herb, an ointment which prevented her from ever being sunburnt. So all the joy in life that came to Wassilissa came to her through the tiny doll that she always carried in her pocket.

Years passed, till Wassilissa grew up and became of an age when it is good to marry. All the young men in the village, high and low, rich and poor, asked for her hand, while not one of them stopped even to look at the stepmother's two daughters, so ill-favored were they. This angered their mother still more against Wassilissa; she answered every gallant who came with the same words: "Never shall the younger be wed before the older ones!" And each time, when she had let a suitor out of the door, she would soothe her anger and hatred by beating her stepdaughter. So while Wassilissa grew each day more lovely and graceful, she was often miserable, and but for the little doll in her pocket, would have longed to leave the white world.

Now there came a time when it became necessary for the merchant to leave his home and to travel to a distant Tzardom. He bade farewell to his wife and her two daughters, kissed Wassilissa and gave her his blessing and departed, bidding them say a prayer each day for his safe return. Scarce was he out of sight of the village, however, when his wife sold his house, packed all his goods and moved with them to another dwelling far from the town, in a gloomy neighborhood on the edge of a wild forest. Here every day, while her two daughters were working indoors, the merchant's wife would send Wassilissa on one errand or other into the forest, either to find a branch of a certain rare bush or to bring her flowers or berries.

Now deep in this forest, as the stepmother well knew, there was a green lawn and on the lawn stood a miserable little hut on hens' legs, where lived a certain Baba-Yaga, an old witch grandmother. She lived alone and none dared go near the hut, for she ate people as one eats chickens. The merchant's wife sent Wassilissa into the forest each day, hoping she might meet the old witch and be devoured; but always the girl came home safe and sound, because the little doll showed her where the bush, the flowers and the berries grew, and did not let her go near the hut that stood on hens' legs. And each time the stepmother hated her more and more because she came to no harm.

One autumn evening the merchant's wife called the three girls to her and gave them each a task. One of her daughters she bade make a piece of lace, the other to knit a pair of hose, and to Wassilissa she gave a basket of flax to be spun. She bade each finish a certain amount. Then she put out all the fires in the house, leaving only a single candle lighted in the room where the three girls worked, and she herself went to sleep.

They worked an hour, they worked two hours, they worked three hours, when one of the elder daughters took up the tongs to straighten the wick of the candle. She pretended to do this awkwardly (as her mother had bidden her) and put the candle out, as if by accident.

"What are we to do now?" asked her sister. "The fires are all out, there is no other light in all the house, and our tasks are not done."

"We must go and fetch fire," said the first. "The only house near is a hut in the forest, where a Baba-Yaga lives. One of us must go and borrow fire from her."

"I have enough light from my steel pins," said the one who was making the lace, "and I will not go."

"And I have plenty of light from my silver needles," said the other, who was knitting the hose, "and I will not go."

"Thou, Wassilissa," they both said, "shalt go and fetch the fire, for thou hast neither steel pins nor silver needles and cannot see to spin thy flax!" They both rose up, pushed Wassilissa out of the house and locked the door, crying: "Thou shalt not come in till thou hast fetched the fire."

Wassilissa sat down on the doorstep, took the tiny doll from one pocket and from another the supper she had ready for it, put the food before it and said: "There, my little doll, take it. Eat a little and listen to my sorrow. I must go to the hut of the old Baba-Yaga in the dark forest to borrow some fire and I fear she will eat me. Tell me! What shall I do?"

Then the doll's eyes began to shine like two stars and it became alive. It ate a little and said: "Do not fear, little Wassilissa. Go where thou hast been sent. While I am with thee no harm shall come to thee from the old witch." So Wassilissa put the doll back into her pocket, crossed herself and started out into the dark, wild forest.

Whether she walked a short way or a long way the telling is easy, but the journey was hard. The wood was very dark, and she could not help trembling from fear. Suddenly she heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and a man on horseback galloped past her. He was dressed all in white, the horse under him was milk-white and the harness was white, and just as he passed her it became twilight.

She went a little further and again she heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and there came another man on horseback galloping past her. He was dressed all in red, and the horse under him was blood-red and its harness was red, and just as he passed her the sun rose.

That whole day Wassilissa walked, for she had lost her way. She could find no path at all in the dark wood and she had no food to set before the little doll to make it alive.

But at evening she came all at once to the green lawn where the wretched little hut stood on its hens' legs. The wall around the hut was made of human bones and on its top were skulls. There was a gate in the wall, whose hinges were the bones of human feet and whose locks were jawbones set with sharp teeth. The sight filled Wassilissa with horror and she stopped as still as a post buried in the ground.

As she stood there a third man on horseback came galloping up. His face was black, he was dressed all in black, and the horse he rode was coal-black. He galloped up to the gate of the hut and disappeared there as if he had sunk through the ground, and at that moment the night came and the forest grew dark.

But it was not dark on the green lawn, for instantly the eyes of all the skulls on the wall were lighted up and shone till the place was as bright as day. When she saw this Wassilissa trembled so with fear that she could not run away.

Then suddenly the wood became full of a terrible noise; the trees began to groan, the branches to creak and the dry leaves to rustle, and the Baba-Yaga came flying from the forest. She was riding in a great iron mortar and driving it with the pestle, and as she came she swept away her trail behind her with a kitchen broom.

She rode up to the gate and stopping, said:

"Little House, little House,
Stand the way thy mother placed thee,
Turn thy back to the forest and thy face to me!"

And the little hut turned facing her and stood still. Then smelling all around her, she cried: "Foo! Foo! I smell a smell that is Russian. Who is there?"

Wassilissa, in great fright, came nearer to the old woman and bowing very low, said: "It is only Wassilissa, Grandmother. My stepmother's daughters sent me to thee to borrow some fire."

"Well," said the old witch, "I know them. But if I give thee the fire thou shalt stay with me some time and do some work to pay for it. If not, thou shalt be eaten for my supper." Then she turned to the gate and shouted: "Ho! Ye, my solid locks, unlock! Thou, my stout gate, open!" Instantly the locks unlocked, the gate opened of itself, and the Baba-Yaga rode in whistling. Wassilissa entered behind her and immediately the gate shut again and the locks snapped tight.

When they had entered the hut the old witch threw herself down on the stove, stretched out her bony legs and said: "Come, fetch and put on the table at once everything that is in the oven. I am hungry." So Wassilissa ran and lighted a splinter of wood from one of the skulls on the wall and took the food from the oven and set it before her. There was enough cooked meat for three strong men. She brought also from the cellar, kwas, honey, beer and wine, and the Baba-Yaga ate and drank the whole, leaving the girl only a little cabbage soup, a crust of bread and a morsel of suckling-pig.

When her hunger was satisfied, the old witch, growing drowsy, lay down on the stove and said: "Listen to me well, and do what I bid thee. Tomorrow when I drive away, do thou clean the yard, sweep the floors and cook my supper. Then take a quarter of a measure of wheat from my storehouse and pick out of it all the black grains and the wild peas. Mind thou dost all that I have bade; if not, thou shalt be eaten for my supper."

Presently the Baba-Yaga turned toward the wall and began to snore and Wassilissa knew that she was fast asleep. Then she went into the corner, took the tiny doll from her pocket, put before it a bit of bread and a little cabbage soup that she had saved, burst into tears and said:

"There, my little doll, take it. Eat a little, drink a little, and listen to my grief. Here I am in the house of the old witch and the gate in the wall is locked and I am afraid. She has given me a difficult task and if I do not do all she has bade, she will eat me tomorrow. Tell me; what shall I do?"

Then the eyes of the little doll began to shine like two candles. It ate a little of the bread and drank a little of the soup and said: "Do not be afraid, Wassilissa the Beautiful. Be comforted. Say thy prayers, and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening." So Wassilissa trusted the little doll and was comforted. She said her prayers, lay down on the floor and went fast asleep.

When she woke next morning, very early, it was still dark. She rose and looked out of the window, and she saw that the eyes of the skulls on the wall were growing dim. As she looked, the man dressed all in white, riding the milk-white horse, galloped swiftly around the corner of the hut, leaped the wall and disappeared, and as he went, it became quite light and the eyes of the skulls flickered and went out. The old witch was in the yard; now she began to whistle and the great iron mortar and pestle and the kitchen broom flew out of the hut to her. As she got into the mortar the man dressed all in red, mounted on the blood-red horse, galloped like the wind around the corner of the hut, leaped the wall and was gone, and at that moment the sun rose. Then the Baba-Yaga shouted: "Ho! Ye, my solid locks, unlock! Thou, my stout gate, open!" And the locks unlocked and the gate opened and she rode away in the mortar, driving with the pestle and sweeping away her path behind her with the broom.

When Wassilissa found herself left alone, she examined the hut, wondering to find it filled with such an abundance of everything. Then she stood still, remembering all the work that she had been bidden to do and wondering what to begin first. But as she looked she rubbed her eyes, for the yard was already neatly cleaned and the floors were nicely swept, and the little doll was sitting in the storehouse picking the last black grains and wild peas out of the quarter-measure of wheat.

Wassilissa ran and took the little doll in her arms. "My dearest little doll!" she cried. "Thou hast saved me from my trouble! Now I have only to cook the Baba-Yaga's supper, since all the rest of the tasks are done!"

"Cook it, with God's help," said the doll, "and then rest, and may the cooking of it make thee healthy!" And so saying it crept into her pocket and became again only a little wooden doll.

So Wassilissa rested all day and was refreshed; and when it grew toward evening she laid the table for the old witch's supper, and sat looklng out of the window, waiting for her coming. After awhile she heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and the man in black, on the coal-black horse, galloped up to the wall gate and disappeared like a great dark shadow. And instantly it became quite dark and the of all the skulls began to glitter and shine.

Then all at once the trees of the forest began to creak and groan and the leaves and the bushes to moan and sigh, and the Baba-Yaga came riding out of the dark wood in the huge iron mortar, driving with the pestle and sweeping out the trail behind her with the kitchen broom. Wassilissa let her in; and the witch, smelling all around her, asked: "Well, hast thou done perfectly all the tasks I gave thee to do, or am I to eat thee for my supper?"

"Be so good as to look for thyself, Grandmother," answered Wassilissa.

The Baba-Yaga went all about the place, tapping with her iron pestle, and carefully examining everything. But so well had the little doll done its work that, try as hard as she might, she could not find anything to complain of. There was not a weed left in the yard, nor a speck of dust on the floors, nor a single black grain or wild pea in the wheat.

The old witch was greatly angered, but was obliged to pretend to be pleased. "Well," she said, "thou has done all well." Then, clapping her hands, she shouted: "Ho! my faithful servants! Friends of my heart! Haste and grind my wheat!" Immediately three pairs of hands appeared, seized the measure of wheat and carried it away.

The Baba-Yaga sat down to supper, and Wassilissa put before her all the food from the oven, with kwas, honey, beer, and wine. The old witch ate it, bones and all, almost to the last morsel, enough for four strong men, and then, growing drowsy, stretched her bony legs on the stove and said: "Tomorrow do as thou hast done today, and besides these tasks take from my storehouse a half-measure of poppy seeds and clean them one by one. Someone has mixed earth with them to do me a mischief and to anger me, and I will have them made perfectly clean." So saying she turned to the wall and soon began to snore.

When she was fast asleep, Wassilissa went into the corner, took the little doll from her pocket, set before it a part of the food that was left and asked its advice. And the doll, when it had become alive, and eaten a little food and sipped a little drink, said: "Don't worry, beautiful Wassilissa! Be comforted. Do as thou didst last night: say thy prayers and go to sleep." So Wassilissa was comforted. She said her prayers and went to sleep and did not wake till next morning when she heard the old witch in the yard whistling. She ran to the window just in time to see her take her place in the big iron mortar, and as she did so the man dressed all in red, riding on the blood-red horse, leaped over the wall and was gone, just as the sun rose over the wild forest.

As it had happened on the first morning, so it happened now. When Wassilissa looked she found that the little doll had finished all the tasks except the cooking of the supper. The yard was swept and in order, the floors were as clean as new wood, and there was not a grain of earth left in the half-measure of poppy seeds. She rested and refreshed herself till the afternoon, when she cooked the supper, and when evening came she laid the table and sat down to wait for the old witch's coming.

Soon the man in black, on the coal-black horse, galloped up to the gate, and the dark fell and the eyes of the skulls began to shine like day; then the ground began to quake, and the trees of the forest began to creak and the dry leaves to rustle, and the Baba-Yaga came riding in her iron mortar, driving with her pestle and sweeping away her path with her broom.

When she came in, she smelled around her and went all about the hut, tapping with the pestle; but pry and examine as she might, again she could see no reason to find fault and was angrier than ever. She clapped her hands and shouted: "Ho! my trusty servants! Friends of my soul! Haste and press the oil out of my poppy seeds!" And instantly the three pair of hands appeared, seized the measure of poppy seeds and carried it away.

Presently the old witch sat down to supper and Wassilissa brought all she had cooked, enough for five grown men, and set it before her, and brought beer and honey, and then she herself stood silently waiting. The Baba-Yaga ate and drank it all, every morsel, leaving not so much as a crumb of bread; then she said snappishly:

"Well, why dost thou say nothing, but stand there as if thou wast dumb?"

"I spoke not," Wassilissa answered, "because I dared not. But if thou wilt allow me, Grandmother, I wish to ask thee some questions."

"Well," said the old witch, "only remember that every question does not lead to good. If thou knowest overmuch, thou wilt grow oId too soon. What wilt thou ask?"

"I would ask thee," said Wassilissa, "of the men on horseback. When I came to thy hut, a rider passed me. He was dressed all in white and he rode a milk-white horse. Who was he?"

"That was my white, bright day," answered the Baba-Yaga angrily. "He is a servant of mine, but he cannot hurt thee. Ask me more."

"Afterwards," said Wassilissa, "a second rider overtook me. He was dressed in red and the horse he rode was blood-red. Who was he?"

"That was my servant, the round, red sun," answered the Baba-Yaga, "and he, too, cannot injure thee," and she ground her teeth. "Ask me more."

"A third rider," said Wassilissa, "came galloping up to the gate. He was black, his clothes were black and the horse was coal-black. Who was he?"

"That was my servant, the black, dark night," answered old witch furiously; "but he also cannot harm thee. Ask more."

But Wassilissa, remembering what the Baba-Yaga had said, not every question led to good, was silent.

"Ask me more!" cried the old witch. "Why dost thou not ask me more? Ask me of the three pair of hands that serve me!"

But Wassilissa saw how she snarled at her and she answered: "The three questions are enough for me. As thou hast said, Grandmother, I would not, through knowing overmuch, become too soon old."

"It is well for thee," said the Baba-Yaga, "that thou didst not ask of them, but only of what thou didst see outside of this hut. Hadst thou asked of them, my servants, the three pair of hands would have seized thee also, as they did the wheat and poppy seeds, to be my food. Now I would ask a question in my turn: How is it that thou hast been able, in a little time, to do perfectly all the tasks I gave thee? Tell me!"

Wassilissa was so frightened to see how the old witch ground her teeth that she almost told her of the little doll; but she bethought herself just in time, and answered: "The blessing of my dead mother helps me."

Then the Baba-Yaga sprang up in a fury. "Get thee out of my house this moment!" she shrieked. "I want no one who bears a blessing to cross my threshold! Get thee gone!"

Wassilissa ran to the yard, and behind her she heard the old witch shouting to the locks and the gate. The locks opened, the gate swung wide, and she ran out on to the lawn. The Baba-Yaga seized from the wall one of the skulls with burning eyes and flung it after her. "There," she howled, "is the fire for thy stepmother's daughters. Take it. That is what they sent thee here for, and may they have joy of it!"

Wassilissa put the skull on the end of a stick and darted away through the forest, running as fast as she could, finding her path by the skull's glowing eyes which went out only when morning came.

Whether she ran a long way or a short way, and whether the road was smooth or rough, toward evening of the next day, when the eyes in the skull were beginning to glimmer, she came out of the dark, wild forest to her stepmother's house.

When she came near to the gate, she thought, "Surely, by this time they will have found some fire," and threw the skull into the hedge; but it spoke to her, and said: "Do not throw me away, beautiful Wassilissa; bring me to thy stepmother." So, looking at the house and seeing no spark of light in any of the windows, she took up the skull again and carried it with her.

Now since Wassilissa had gone, the stepmother and her two daughters had had neither fire nor light in all the house. When they struck flint and steel the tinder would not catch, and the fire they brought from the neighbors would go out immediately as soon as they carried it over the threshold, so that they had been unable to light or warm themselves or to cook food to eat. Therefore now, for the first time in her life, Wassilissa found herself welcomed. They opened the door to her and the merchant's wife was greatly rejoiced to find that the light in the skull did not go out as soon as it was brought in. "Maybe the witch's fire will stay," she said, and took the skull into the best room, set it on a candlestick and called her two daughters to admire it.

But the eyes of the skull suddenly began to glimmer and to glow like red coals, and wherever the three turned or ran the eyes followed them, growing larger and brighter till they flamed like furnaces, and hotter and hotter till the merchant's wife and her two wicked daughters took fire and were burned to ashes. Only Wassilissa the Beautiful was not touched.

In the morning Wassilissa dug a deep hole in the ground and buried the skull. Then she locked the house and set out to the village, where she went to live with an old woman who was poor and childless, and so she remained for many days, waiting for her father's return from the far-distant kingdom.

But, sitting lonely, time soon began to hang heavy on her hands. One day she said to the old woman: "It is dull for me, Grandmother, to sit idly hour by hour. My hands want work to do. Go, therefore, and buy me some flax, the best and finest to be found anywhere, and at least I can spin."

The old woman hastened and bought some flax of the best sort and Wassilissa sat down to work. So well did she spin that the thread came out as even and fine as a hair, and presently there was enough to begin to weave. But so fine was the thread that no frame could be found to weave it upon, nor would any weaver undertake to make one.

Then Wassilissa went into her closet, took the little doll from her pocket, set food and drink before it and asked its help. And after it had eaten a little and drunk a little, the doll became alive and said:

"Bring me an old frame and an old basket and some hairs from a horse's mane, and I will arrange everything for thee."

Wassilissa hastened to fetch all the doll had asked for and when evening came, said her prayers, went to sleep, and in the morning she found ready a frame, perfectly made, to weave her fine thread upon.

She wove one month, she wove two months--all the winter Wassilissa sat weaving, weaving her fine thread, till the whole piece of linen was done, of a texture so fine that it could be passed, like thread, through the eye of a needle. When the spring came she bleached it, so white that no snow could be compared with it. Then she said to the old woman: "Take thou the linen to the market, Grandmother, and sell it, and the money shall suffice to pay for my food and lodging." When the old woman examined the linen, however, she said: "Never will I sell such cloth in the market place; no one should wear it except it be the Tzar himself, and tomorrow I shall carry it to the Palace."

Next day, accordingly, the old woman went to the Tzar's splendid Palace and fell to walking up and down before the windows. The servants came to ask her her errand, but she answered them nothing, and kept walking up and down. At length the Tzar opened his window, and asked: "What dost thou want, old woman, that thou walkest here?"

"O Tzar's Majesty!" the old woman answered, "I have with me a marvelous piece of linen stuff, so wondrously woven that I will show it to none but thee."

The Tzar bade them bring her before him and when he saw the linen he was struck with astonishment at its fineness and beauty. "What wilt thou take for it, old woman?" he asked.

"There is no price that can buy it, Little Father Tzar," she answered; "but I have brought it to thee as a gift." The Tzar could not thank the old woman enough. He took the linen and sent her to her house with many rich presents.

Seamstresses were called to make shirts for him out of the cloth; but when it had been cut up, so fine was it that no one of them was deft and skillful enough to sew it. The best seamstresses in all the Tzardom were summoned, but none dared undertake it. So at last the Tzar sent for the old woman and said: "If thou didst know how to spin such thread and weave such linen, thou must also know how to sew me shirts from it."

And the old woman answered: "O Tzar's Majesty, it was not I who wove the linen; it is the work of my adopted daughter."

"Take it then," the Tzar said, "and bid her do it for me."

The old woman brought the linen home and told Wassilissa the Tzar's command: "Well I knew that the work would needs be done by my own hands," said Wassilissa, and, locking herself in her own room, began to make the shirts. So fast and well did she work that soon a dozen were ready. Then the old woman carried them to the Tzar, while Wassilissa washed her face, dressed her hair, put on her best gown and sat down at the window to see what would happen. And presently a servant in the livery of the Palace came to the house and entering, said: "The Tzar, our lord, desires himself to see the clever needlewoman who has made his shirts and to reward her with his own hands."

Wassilissa rose and went at once to the Palace, and as soon as the Tzar saw her, he fell in love with her with all his soul. He took her by her white hand and made her sit beside him. "Beautiful maiden," he said, "never will I part from thee and thou shalt be my wife."

So the Tzar and Wassilissa the Beautiful were married, and her father returned from the far-distant kingdom, and he and the old woman lived always with her in the splendid Palace, in all joy and contentment. And as for the little wooden doll, she carried it about with her in her pocket all her life long.


As Goddess

Early tapestries depict Baba Yaga as a goddess surrounded by the four elements or show her with horses on either side. She was said to keep a herd of mares and she rode one of them all around the world every day. She was called "mother of the winds." She could change the weather and she could make it rain. She had no consort.

She was also the guardian of the spring of the water of life. As the guardian of the life-force her triple aspect shows: fertility (hens and the mortar/pestle), rebirth (water of life), and death/transformation (oven).

Sometimes she was portrayed as a hag, other times as a beautiful young maiden, and in her triple aspect she is portrayed as three sisters. In some fairy tales, Baba Yaga is portrayed as a hag-mother with two daughters.

Her evolution into a demoness was, of course, an action brought about by the Christian church who was threatened by her very presence in the lives of the Russian peoples. Naturally, they were never able to completely eradicate her from peoples memories which is why she is coming out of the shadows today and being embraced by women, men, and witches of today.

There are even childrens' books being published that portray Baba Yaga as more of a nature spirit than an evil old witch. One example of this is in Patricia Polacco's Babushka Baba Yaga where Baba Yaga is a lonely old wild/nature spirit/grandmother. She is feared by her own people until she befriends a little boy and one day saves his life.


Baba Yaga is being embraced once again as a patron goddess of witches. By witches, it is meant by people who find truths in the mythologies of old and who take action in forming their own fates instead of leaving the matter entirely up to a father god.

Divinatory mirrors, rings, and balls of yarn are under her domain. Many of these types of divinations can be found in The Book of Hallowe'en by Ruth Edna Kelley (1919). (The entire text for this book can be found in the All Hallows section of this website.)

Additional Bibliography:

1. The Modern Encyclopedia of Religions in Russia and the Soviet Union. Vol. 3. Edited by Paul D. Steeves. Academic International Press. 1991.
2. Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture. By Joanna Hubbs. Indiana University Press. 1988.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

More on Slavic Pantheon


With the term "Slavic spirits" we conditionally name all supernatural creatures, for which Slavs believed to haunt the surrounding world. Slavs themselves usually called these creatures "bes, pl. besove" (fury), which in pre-Christian period designated absolutelly all spirits, demons etc., disregarding their functions and characters (whether good or evil). In the western literature and Internet the furies are wrongly called "gods", probably because of their non-human character and peculiar abilities. But not all of the miraculous mythological images can be identified with the the gods. The difference between them is simple end explicit - in short, the gods are almighty; they embody the essential characteristics of nature, humans and the social life so they can guide everithing and modify it in accordance with the vertical and the horizontal of the World tree - life, death, love, marriage, birth, illness, fertility, misery, strength, weakness, rains, drought, earthquakes, light, darkness, cold etc. Also thier deeds emanate concern about mankind and nature, regardless of the real concrete display of these deeds - as benefit or harm. Their concern is not necessarily favourable for the human, it is not pointed at his welfare but one way or another it has the purpose to sustain the basic universal principles. Much more elementary, lower and feeble are all the demons, spirits, souls and other supernatural creatures. It is true that they possess some magical abilities, but these abilitieas are limited to a small area and are used to achieve insignificant effect, which is more like a whim of the respective creature than a manifestation of purposefull striving. It must not be disregarded that these creatures themselves are subservient to the gods' will, even if slighter than the humans. They are not so vitally dependent upon the gods' benevolence but are forced to obey it, in order to escape from beeing "punished by the sky", and it is this punishability that draws the line between them and the gods' powers, which we regard as non-punishable. And if the gods are mostly objects of religious worship and believes, the rest of the supernatural creatures are burdened with mythological and supersticious belief. That's why the people are just affraid of them, as they are affraid of beasts and illnesses, while the gods are treated with awe, respect, even love.

BANNIK - a spirit, inhabitant of the bathroom; from Slavic "banya" (a bath).

BREGINI - from "breg" (a bank) - female spirits, dwellers of lake and riverbanks. Slavs believed they kiddnap children.

BLATNIK, BLATNOI - from "blato" (a swamp) - male spirit, inhabitant of swamps. If a man gets too close to a swamp, blatniks can suddenly jump out from the slime, drag him under the water and drown him.

VILLA, SAMOVILLA - beautiful female forest spirits with human outlook and big wings. Villas inhabit hard-to-reach mountain forests, where they take care of wild animals, trees, flowers and springs, guarding them against human damages. These beauties admire deers and are extremely malevolent to people. They try anyways to drive humans away from their forests and would even poison the springs to do this. Villas obtain great knowledge about nature and herbs. If a man succeed eavesdropping on them at their gatherings after sunset, he could learn how to heal with a herb or find out of a hidden treasure or other world secrets.

VODNIK, VODYANOI - from "voda" (water) - male spirit, master of rivers, springs and lakes. The Vodnik is lord of the Russalkas and often harms people.

DIVI LYUDE, GORSKI LYUDE - from "div" (wild) and "lyude" (people) - wild women or wild men; humanoid demons covered with dark fur, inhabiting deep mountain forests. If a man gets too close to the dens, where their children are hidden, Wild people would jump upon him and tear him to pieces.

DOMOVIK, DOMOVOI - home spirit of a deceased ancestor or forefather of the clan. This grandfather was so closely related to his family and house, that even after death his spirit stayed to inhabit the clan's istba (ancient Slavic cottage, half-dug into earth) and guard over the offspring. Domovik's main task is keeping the home-fire, so he was expected to hide around the hearth - in the oven or in the tile stoven. Slavs payed great honour to their domestic spirit - they put aside food from feasts and left it near the hearth, so he can eat too. Before each new initiative, families prepaired special "stopanova gostba" (landlord's dish), invited relatives and all together addressed questions and prayers to the ancestor's spirit. They believed that if Domovik's assistance was properly obtained, things should go well. When Slavs moved to a new house, clan's matron took living coals from the old hearth and put them into the new one, begging the home-spirit to settle there. Domovik either harms or helps people, depending on their attitude to him or to the house. It is very important that the housekeeper does her homework well and feeds the spirit regularly. When he wants food, he would knock around the rooms while people are sleeping. If they don't make light of him, he gives them up so misfortunes and diseases are on their way.

DOMNITSA, DOMOVITSA - from "dom" (a house) - female domestic spirit; partner of the Domovik. Other name - Kikimora.

DVORNIK, DVORNIY - from "dvor" (yard) - a spirit dwelling house's back-yard. He guards gardens, granaries, hen-coops, barns, lofts and all other farm buildings around the house.


ZHAR-PTITSA from "zhar" (glowing embers, living coals) and "ptitsa" (a bird); Slavic equivalent of the Phoenix bird - a fiery bird, nesting in the World Tree's crown; messanger of the gods.

ZHIVA-YUDA - yuda, samodiva, serving the goddess of creation and life, Zhiva, from where her name is derived. (in Veda Slovena)


KARAKONJUL - night spirit-creatures, typical for Bulgarian folklore, that ramble along the roads at night. They appear as short, bow-legged, big-nosed humanoids, with bulging eyes and fur all over their bodies. Karakonjuls often stand near crossroads and engage belated strangers in conversation, propounding them riddles or asking a favour. If a man applies with attention and well-meaning to them, these spirits might help him, or otherwise they would do harms. According to some beliefs, they stay at crossroads, as this is where gallows are usually erected, and karakonjuls have a task to guard the hanged-men's spirits from going out of the dead bodies.

KIKIMORA a domestic female spirit, often identified with Domovitsa - partner of the Domovik. Typically for the Slavic dualistic ideas, Kikimora helps and harms at the same time, but her behaviour depends mainly on people. If a housekeeper keeps her house in good condition, Kikimora would help in homework all night long and would inspire the children with contentment and sound sleep. And if a housekeeper is negligent and lazy, Kikimora would groan from dusk till dawn, would pull children's hair, wakening them at midnight and scaring them, would mess up, dirty around and do mischief, so even the little work done goes in vain.
Probably Kikimora's image had firstly appeared as an embodyment of a deceased foremother of the clan. Up to the IX-X cent. Slavs lived in strict patryarchal order, where smallest social cell is not the family, but the whole clan, which dwelled and worked alltogether. The clan was a kin union, in which all members had common blood relations and common grandfather and grandmother. And when the grandmother, the oldest housekeeper died, her heirs presumed that her spirit stayed at home. She was so devoted to the house and so closely related to the kin, that even after death she kept cariing her domestic obligations. Becoming a Kikimora, her spirit contunued watching over house order, and with moans and mischiefs forced the younger living housekeepers to do their work eagerly.
A good proof of this suggestion is the root "-mora" in the name, which refers to the Slavic word for a soul of deceased (mora).

KRAVESMURT - from "krava" (a cow) and "smurt" (death); another name is Cherna Nemosht (Black Infirmity). This is an evil spirit, which spreads murrain and other deadly diseases among the cattle. It often appears as a black cow and mingles with the herds to accomplish its infernal task. At night Kravesmurts ramble along the roads, turned into black cats or lame dogs, or even cow's skeleton. Slavs chased those malevolent spirits with a number of rituals, slaughtering the "suspicious" animals in the herds or burning them to death. To indicate a "suspicious" animal, Slavs had a special practice - at nightfall people penned up all their cattle in a single cowshed, guarded it there overnight and led it out at dawn. Then each villager picked up his own animals and those which stayed unpicked were recognised as Kravesmurts and were burnt.

KRUCHINA - from Old-Bulgarian "kronchina" - plague. Evil spirits, bearers of plague and other fatal illnesses. They appear as ordinary people, but their breath spreads infections and they spit into rivers, lakes and wells, infecting waters and causing mass epidemical outbreaks. As a result whole villages could perish.

KURDUSH - small demons - familiars, servents of sorcerers and witches. When such people were initiated, their initiators attached to them a kurdush - specially evoked spirits, subjugated to human will, which would assist magicians in their magical deeds. It is usually the kurdushes who collect bat wings, frog eyes, hanged-men's fingers, virgin's hair-tufts and all other types of components and ingredients, needed by their masters for doing magic.

LESNIK, LESIY - forest spirits, lords of woods. He is usually benevolent to people, if only they don't provoke him, braking the forest's peace or doing mischiefs. Most times Lesnik appears as an oldman with a long green beard. He would start a common conversation to verify if a stranger is kind enough and well behaved, if he has good intentions and praise the gods and spirits. While chatting Lesnik would uncover his nature, turning into a slim little old man with strange appearance and sly voice. At the end he would either give an advice for safe crossing the forest, or direct the stranger if he is lost, or mislead him if not doing greater harm to him, depending on the conversation. Sometimes Lesnik might show the wrong way and when he sees the traveller fully trusts him, following the wrong direction, the spirit would "correct" wood paths, so they all lead to the right location.

LESNITSA, LESOVITSA - the female partner of Lesnik. She is mentioned very rearly and probably had local character, being known to only few Slavic tribes.

LUGOVIK - from Old-Bulgarian "long" (meadow, glade) forest spirits, rambling around savage glades and clearings.

MORA-YUDA - yuda, samodiva, serving the goddess of destruction and death, Mora, from where her name is derived. (in Veda Slovena)

MORI - plural from Slavic "mor" (death, disease, mass perishing) - unholy, evil deadmen; undead. Generally all the malevolent deadmen's spirits. When people die of unnatural death, of murder, suicide, accident, or if they have commited crimes during lifetime and bare heavy sins, their souls are not allowed into the underworld Nav and are left in Yav (our world). Here the souls suffer constantly and turn into evil spirits - vampires, werewolves, etc. - which walk out at night and worry, harass and kill people. Some mori carry their heads under their arms, stay at houses' windows and call the occupants' names. If somebody in his sleep answers such a call, then he will die soon.

MUSAIL - the supreme forest spirit - chief of Lesniks and master of all forest creatures and spirits.


OPOITSA - from "opoiti" (drink up, drain off) - an evil bloodsucking spirit, appearing as a leech and sucking man's blood. Opoitsas bare rabies and can possess people, whos blood they have sucked up.

POLEVIK, POLEVOI - field spirits, sometimes disturbing field work, sometimes helping harvesters. Slavs respected them, because poleviks would scream, whistle and hiss when they feel the deadly female spirit Poludnitsa passing around. Thus people working on the field get warned and more cautious.

POLUDNITSA - a mean field spirit appearing as a beautiful young black-haired woman, dressed in pure white linen riza (a common Slavic chemise). A pure white dress among Slavs was symbol of mourning and death. The name Poludnitsa comes from Slavic "polu" (half, middle) and "den" (day), as this spirit appears only at midday, which time was as misfortunate as midnight. Those two moments were called "razputno vreme" (evil hours when roads mess up and lead to nowhere). At this hours people stood at home, to not be befelled by black spells, evil eyes or unholy forces, because exactly at the razputno vreme all demons and curses got active. Such a powerful demon was the Poludnitsa together with her sister - Polunoshtnitsa.

POLUNOSHTNITSA, PALNOCHNITSA - a mean female spirit appearing as a fierce old lady in a pure white dress; sister of the Poludnitsa. Polunoshtnitsa rambles at the "razputno vreme" (from midnight till dawn), when all evil forces walks out and roads spin and change their usual direction, leading nowhere. This spirit often stays at crossroads together with karakonjuls and if a man goes by, it harms him anyway.


RAROG - an evil invisible spirit, fliing together with wings. When a whirl comes up, rarogs disperse with the wind evil spells, diseases, quarrels, hatred and suffering.

RUSSALKI (pl. from rusalka) - female river spirits, standing at riverbanks. Breaking their hairs causes floods. If a russalka gets her skin dry, she would die forever. The russalki are spirits of girls that drowned themselves, were killed and thrown into a river or dragged under water by the spirit Vodnik. He is russalki's lord but they secretly hate him and sometimes help people to mess up his malevolent plans.

SAMODIVI - beautiful female spirits with pure human appearance, relative to villas. Every night they gather at the same glade (called horishte) deep in the forest, where they barefoot dance fortnight a magical horo (ritual Slavic rounded chain dance). They are dressed in long white linen riza (Slavic female chemise). During their dance the samodivi tenderly touch the ground with their feet and the herbs they stamp spread healing fragrance. This is why ill people, being bold enough, went to sleep near a forest horishte and samodivi looked unusually favourably on them. In most other cases these spirits are malevolent to people and do them any harm. Bare to the skin samodivi often ride huge deers with golden horns, which are their favourit pets. If a hunting man kills such a deer, its mistress would take cruel vengeance on him - blinds him or brings him terrible illness, followed by sure death. Nobody could help such an ill person and if he dares to appear on a horishte, the samodivi would recognise him and murder him with deadly screams. Samodivi can hardly resist beautiful young men and help them any way they can - turning into white horses and carriing them everywhere they want or even giving them three white horse hairs. After time, if the man falls in trouble, he can burn the hairs and the samodiva would appear to help him. Sun light is what samodivi mostly fear and this is why they all flee the horishte at dawn, hiding in deepest forest shades. Thus there is no risk of unpleasant meetings with samodivi in the day.

SIMARGAL - a griffin-like dog with big golden wings. In Russian knyaz Vladimir's pantheon from 980, Simargal is represented as one of the six superior deities. He is connected to the solar cult, to soil, farming and fertility - guards the farms and watches over wheats. In his protective role, Simargal is also accepted to be a warden of law, barer of nemesis and punishment. It is very possible that Slavs percepted Simargal from outside, as a replacement of another older Slavic god. This, however, is one of the most uncertain Slavic mythological images and was probably taken from the North-Iranic Sarmatian tribes, which praised a powerful spirit Simurgh - assistent of Sun and guardian of harvest.

TALASUM - evil spirit typical for Bulgarian folklore, dweller of houses and deserted buildings. During the day talasum hides in lofts, cellars or farm buildings. In many regions it is considered to be a spirit of an "undead" (a deadman, risen from the grave). Wandering spirits seek peace, shelter and when they find comfortable home it is hard for anybody to drive them away. Even the oposite, talasums make "their best" to chase away the occupants in whos house they have settled. According to Bulgarian superstition, to get a talasum away, the landlord should invite him on a banquet and lie that they celebrate a wedding. After some time standing at the table, the man should say it is time for them to go to the big celebrations and then lead the spirit to a distant hut in woods. When they get to the hut, the man opens the door, invites the talasum inside, leaves some food and entangled yarn and says: "Now, wait for me here, I will go find the wedding-guests and bring them", then bolt the door from outside. It is believed that talasums are good housekeepers and can't stand incomplete handiwork around them - anything scattered or tangled they try to fix it, so a knotty ball would take lots of their attention. It is dangerous, though, if a man wanders in the woods to enter unknown huts, as there could be left a talasum.


YUDA, YUDA-SAMOVILA - mean female spirit with a human appearance, relative to the villas and samodivas. They were very popular among Bulgarian Slavs and inhabited forests and mountains. Yudas have great witchcraft abilities, and are skilled herbalists and poisoners. Sometimes they would emerge before young men, charming them with beauty and persuading them to marry. If a man marry a yuda, she adopts his soul into the Underworld and his body decomposes.

YURATA - a female water spirit, inhabiting sea coast and shallow.

YAVINA - an evil spirit, relative vampire. It rises from the blood of a murdered man, forty days after the murder; rambles around at night for all the years that the victim should have normally lived. Wandering, the Yavina shouts, rattles, crashes, causing great cacophony, in which it calls the names of relatives, acquaintants or even his murderers. If somebody hears his name and answer it, the Yavina kills him at once or destines him evil faith and forthcoming death. A man can safeguard himslef from the spirit with fire and water.

Witch People

We use here the term "witch people" to point to certain types of humanoid creatures with extraordinary abilities. They accuired such abilities through their close contact with unmaterial forces, i.e. "witch people" are usually persons who are obsessed by spirits.

BABA YAGA (Grandma Yaga) - a cumulative image of The Witch in general. This is one of the many overexployted characters, burdened with many untrue characteristics. They speak about Baba Yaga as for goddess Mora; as if she is a certain divine force with the typical for deities pantehism, i.e. as if she sees everything and obsesses everywhere. But actually Yaga is just a mythological, a fairy-tale name, just like Spot or Tom who are not deffinite dog or cat, but every dog and cat. The same way Yaga is each misanthropic sorcerer, inhabiting each isolated hut standing on a hen's leg, situated in each dark forest. Because of this and because of her basic everyday humanoid features it is stupid that she be "deified" and even worshipped.
Otherwise, as we already said, Baba Yaga is an old woman involved in suspicious activities with unholy forces. If a man, lost deep in forests, accidentally falls in with her, Yaga would ask him pointless riddles and would demand reasonable answers. Depending on the way the man replies, the witch would either misguide him or kill, roast and eat him. She would sometimes even help the man in his journey if this is in her direct interest. Surely Baba Yaga relinquishes harming and eating people guarded by a deity or another powerful force, which is a good reason for people to beg championship from a god or a spirit, before taking the road. It is especially adequate for woodland transitions to ask the Lesnik spirits for help and protection.

VAMPIR, KRUVNIK - (from ancient Slavic term "onpir" - the universal evil spirit; in its later forms - "vonpir", "vompir", "vampir"; "kruvnik" is from "kruv" - blood, i.e. "blood-sucker") an evil resurected bloodsucking deadman. If the deceased were not properly lamented and buried, or if they died in a disgraceful, unnatural way, or if they have done too many evil things lifetime, gods do not let them pass in the Underworld to find peace. Thus deadmen's souls are left in the world of living, where they roam and suffer until they turn into evil spirits. Those spirits might move back in their dead bodies or obsess others' corpses and raise from the grave, becoming Vampir (a vampire). They would go out in the night to torture people, to plait their hair, to drink their blood, to suffocate them in their sleep, to knead their food with faeces, to bring them nightmares and harm them any other way, even causing death. Ancient Slavs had great fear from vampires and we can tell this by the cruel methods they invented to disable vampirised bodies: they cut their head and put it between their legs, so they cant find it; cut their feet or their hands, so they can not walk or do harms; tied up the dead bodies all around or pressed them down under a huge millstone; drove in their heart a stick of aspen or of cornell-tree, or a glowing spit, or a nail, or a raven's claw behind their right ear. Some vampires were believed to divert rivers or cause draught and spread epidemics - people splashed their graves with water or directly urinated on them; they also exhumed the suspected body and threw it in a swamp. For protection against vampires Slavs also pronounced a prayer towards god Troyan: "Sohrani nam ot ruki, ot moru, i ot veshtitsu, i vapiru, i ot pleadnitsu..." or a prayer to goddess Lada: "Da zaklopit vilam chelyust; zaklopi i vampiram chelyusti, verzi i v more klokoteshte i kipeshte tamo da prebivayut do skonchanie veka". Other vampires turned back to their families and tried to continue their previous way of life, as if they never died. One of those vampires once left the grave and came back to his wife to copulate with her. As a result she gave birth to a child that could turn in a vampire and could see, find and identify other vampires, chasing and killing them. Another type of vampires would spend daytime transformed in animals - dogs, wolves, cats, owlets and black cocks. It was believed that if a vampire marries a living woman and if she loves him for three years, he would become a living man again.

VEDMAK - a bloodsucking witch-man that turns into a vampire after his death and tortures people. In accordance with the controversial Slavic dualism, the vedmak feeds on human blood but does many good deeds. If a man treats him well, the vedmak seeks ways to be helpful. Also the vedmak is in enmity with female witches and prevents their charms; keeps the "evil deadmen" off rising from their graves and drifts away storm clouds and heils.

VEDUN - (from Old-Bulgarian "ved" - knowledge, wisdom) a wiseman, familiar with witchcraft.

VEYNITSA - (from Old-Bulgarian "veya" - a twig, a bush) a medicine-woman, a sorceress who is familiar to herbs and knows the magical days for gathering, i.e. the days when herbs have greatest healing power. The veynitsas prepare special infusions and heal with them. (from Veda Slovena)

VESHTER - (from Old-Bulgarian "vesht" - wise, proficient, skillful) a sorcerer, a witch-man; this man masters low-level magic (witchcraft), charming, herbalism and shamanism.

VESHTITSA - (from Old-Bulgarian "vesht" - wise, proficient, skillful) a witch, a sorceress; a woman who gathers herbs, produces infusions, elixirs and makes charms.

VLUHVA - (from Old-Bulgarian "vluhv" - a priest, a wizard) Slavic priest, a good wizard, a diviner, a medicine-man. Vluhvas were ancient Slavic priests, who not only served gods, but also practiced witchcraft in tribe's favour and for supporting natural balance. In general they were instrument of the gods and assisted in observing the divine law.

VULKOLAK, VURKOLAK - (from Bulgarian "vulk" - a wolf) a werewolf; an evil resurected deadman or a human obsessed by evil spirits, who turns into a wolf and eats corpses at full moon. If a man infuriates a lesnik, the litter might transform him in a werewolf. Vulkolaks live in deserted watermills, inns, barns and around crossroads, away from villages and towns. When somebody passes near such a dwelling, the vulkolak would attack him, strangle him and drink his blood or eat him up. Werewolves can also tempt and seduce women. After having sex with vulkolak the woman would give birth to a child with no nasal cartilage, who can see evil spirits and have supernatural abilities. Bulgarians and Serbs believed that werewolves cause solar and lunar eclipses, biting off parts of the heavenly body.

DRUDA - women, fated not to mary, but to serve gods - a kind of Slavic priestesses, soothsayers. They lived deep in oak forests, where they probably maintained pagan sanctuaries, oracles and fetishes. (from Veda Slovena)

ZHABALAKA - (from "zhaba" - a frog) a human obsessed by evil spirits, who can transform into a frog.

ZHITOMAMNITSA - (from "zhito" - wheat; and "mamiti" - to allure, to entice) - a sorceress who casts spells over people's cornfields, so the harvest dissapears and reapears in her own field. A typical character for the mythology of Bulgarian Slavs.

KLIKUSHES, sg. Klikush - wretches, that are obsessed by evil spirits and as a result suffer from hydrophobia or expirience epileptic fits. The unholy forces eat into their internal organs and this is the cause of their collapses and disease outbursts. During the fits, the klikushes produce terrible screams and bestial roar, and shout obscene words, i.e. they are "klikush"-ing. To klikushes normal people are extremely careful and polite, treating them like ill persons - keep them away of hard work and give them the best food.

KOLDUN - a wizard, a sorcerer, a witch-man.

KOTOLIK - (from "kot" - a cat; and "lik" - face, image); an evil deadman, an undead who appears as a cat and harms the living.

NAV - a man after his death (from Old-Bulgarian "nav" - a deadman, a corpse). According to Slavs the spirits of the dead continue existing in the underworld - the so called "Dolna zemya" (Under-land) or "Krayna zemya" (Edge-land). Through death human spirits free from the material, from the corporal and can develop their supernatural abilities, but afterlife also gives them additional magical powers and knowledge. Thus navs can help or harm the living people, sometimes succeeding to pass from the Underworld in the Upperworld. A passage between the two realms opens at certain holidays - for example on the so called "Mrusni dni" (Dirty days): 25 studen (december) - 06 prosinets (january), or on 01 treven (march).

NARECHNITSA - (from "rechti", "narechti" - to tell, to foretell, to set aside) a fate; a sorceress who appears around newly born children and foretells their fate. An often met character in Bulgarian (South-Slavic) folklore, especially in the Bulgarian "Yunashki epos" (Heroic epos) - the legends about Krali Marko, despot Vulkashin, Momchil Yunak, etc.)

NAUZNIK - a medicine-man, a healer, a sorcerer who creates magic amulet for protection against evil forces and wild beasts. The same as "Obavnik".

OBAVNIK - a sorcerer, a wizard who casts spells through loud shouts and cries (from Old-Bulgarian "obava" - a chant, an incantation; and "obavati" - to pronounce, to shout an incantation). The obavniks were similar to what shamans is in other pagan religions. They also manufactured magic amulets for protection against evil forces and wild beasts.

PORTEZHNIK - a herbalist - poisoner.

PREVITA - supreme wisemen and wizards, keeping the knowledge about each single thing around the three worlds - Prav, Yav and Nav. (from Veda Slovena)

SDUHACH - (from "duhati" - to blow) a sleep-walker, a somnambulist; a man whos spirit slips out of his body while sleeping, and roams around the village. It blows, whines, brings winds, disperses and drives clouds and fog, chases or invites hails, fights other sduhaches. Every sduhach guards his village from natural disasters, keeping its luck and harvest. After their death sduhaches often turn into werewolves.

TREVNITSA - (from "treva" - grass) similar to Veynitsa - a female herbalist, a sorceress; woman who knows herbs, their qualities and ways of usage whether for healing or poisoning. "Trevnitsa" brings negative meaning, equivalent to "poisoner", unlike "veynitsa" who is a healer.

TREVOVED - (from "treva" - grass, herbs; and "vedati" - to know) - similar to "trevnitsa" but male - herbalist, medicine-man, poisoner.

CHARODEY - a wizard, a male sorcerer (from Old-Bulgarian "char" - charm, magic; and "deati" - to do, to make); female - charodeytsa. Charodey is the most common Slavic word for "wizard", widely spread among all Slavs. "Charodeys" were all people who used unusual, extraordinary magical abilities and were involved in paranormal activities - fortune-telling, charming, prophesy, evil eye, bewitching, cursing, poisoning, chasing and evoking spirits, etc, etc. Those sorcerers were not certainly good or evil - they helped their clans and friends, and harmed their foes. In general they had good reputation, unlike the veshtitsa and vedmak.

SHEPTUN - a male sorcerer; a wizard who whispers his spells (from Old-Bulgarian "shepteti" - to whisper); everybody who pronounced magical formulas in a silent, unclear voice.

YUNAK - (from "yunii" - young; i.e. "big youngman") a legendary character, typical for the Bulgarian (Southern) Slavs. In common the Yunak was a burly and stout young man, with unhuman strength and extraordinary abilities. Bulgarian heroic epos names some of the most famous among the mythological yunaks: Krali Marko, Vulkashin, Momchil, Dete Dukadinche. Specific for yunaks is that they don't love each other and are always at enmity, fighting for superiority. Right after their birth, Yunaks are visited by the three fortellers and never escape from the fortold fate: they fight against evil and iniquity, against tyrants and oppressors; they oppose with charodeys, samodivas and zmeys, always defeating and bringing them under their sway.

World Tree

Slavs imagined that Universe is a huge oak tree, we call today "World tree". In its crown was layed the nest of magic phenix-bird Zhar-ptitsa, which was the mediator between divine and human worlds and messenger of gods. At the roots of the tree lived the universal serpentine, which travelled between the worlds of living and dead people.
On the vertical line of the World tree are situated the three universal realities - Prav, Yav and Nav.
Prav (rightous, justful) is in the tree crown; it is the upper world, the cellestial plains, inhabited by gods. Its name is associated to "pravda" (truth, justice), "pravo" (right, just, law), "pravilno" (right, true, proper), i.e. this is the world of supreme Truth and absolute justice. Prav is inhabited by Gods, who obey the essential cosmic principles, the universal order and divine hierarchy - all set by the universal ancestor - god Rod (rod = kin; roditi = to give birth). Among the deities in the skies, first is god Svarog - the celestial master, father of gods. He rules over Prav, keeps up the Universal fire - one of the 4 basic ellements - and never cares of the terrestrial people's world Yav.
The visible world of people is called Yav (yave = visible; yavlyati = to appear, to show up) and is the trunk of the World Tree. Yav is everything around us, the material reality in which we live. Here the typical for Slavic way of thinking opposing dualism is clearly seen; here chalange each other life and death, good and evil, happiness and suffering, day and night, light and dark, health and illness, warm and cold. This chalenging characterises Yav as a transitional world, mediator between extreme realities Prav and Nav. Over people's world rules god Perun - master of thunder and nemesis; the one we call The Almighty. He controls the implementation of divine law among humans and if somebody violates it, Perun brings him punishment. And to those who obey the Law, who worship their gods, respect them and follow their wisdom, Perun brings welfare.
At the roots of World Tree is Nav - the underworld of death and evil. There live spirits of the deceased (navi), zmey-s and other malefactious monsters, and above all rules the god of evil and darkness - Chernobog (Black-god), accompanied by his overaged companion - goddess of winter and death Mora. Nav is the absolute opposition of Prav, but in the typical dualistic sense, in Nav is situated the evergreen, warm and shiny garden Ray, where rightous people find last peace after their death. In Ray lives Veles - the god of knowledge, magic, welth and stock. Around him pious souls are sitted and have long conversations. Those souls obtain great magical abbilities and can help their living relatives in hard times.
Over the three universal worlds keeps and eye god Troyan. We call him The All-seeing. With his three heads he sees and knows everything in Prav, Yav and Nav; he watches for observing the Universal Law Pravda and if it gets violated, he restores the cosmic order immediately. Precisely the absolute balance is of basic concern for Troyan; not beneficence, not imposing light and good over dark and evil, but harmony, equilibrium between energies and powers.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Slavic Pantheon

Slavic pantheon contains all supernatural powers, that have characteristics of gods in its real sense. It is not proper for the Pantheon to include different spirits or demons, anthropomorphe natural objects, fairy creatures and personifications.
Slavic pantheon also doesn't include archaic Indo - European, Balto - Slavic and proto Slavic cult images, representative of the evolved animistic and totemistic pre-religious beliefs.
In other words, pantheon, the so called by ancient Slavs "svarga" (skies), represents a congregation of philosophically improved, complex, personified, extraordinary forces, typical for the heathen religious concepts of the Slavs till their baptising.


According to Slavs, deities were superior forces, which know, can and have much more than humans. Because of these qualities they could control and change material world, direct people's existence and shape its circumstances. Thus, if a man respected gods, praising them the proper way, followinf their orders, they would protect and help him. Otherwise they obstructed him in any way, doing him many harms. Because of this belief, Slavs accepted all misfortunes as a warning that deities are angry. On the contrary - if the clan thrives, if harvest was rich and no troubles emerged, people were sure they live in harmony with the divine law and with nature.

Slavic deities appear bellow with a number of names each, since every Slavic nation and language had their local version of divine names. For example goddess Dolya is represented with "DOLYA, SRETYA, SRECHA" which respectively are her Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian names.

For non-Slavic speakers we also included original pronounciation code after each name. Basic rule in reading Slavic names is that sounds do not change according to their possition in words or sentences. For example "g" is always read like in "ghost, gum, go" and never like in "George"; "e" is read like in "red, bet" and never like "Pete", etc.

(bel-oh-bog | byal-bog | bel-oon ) from "bel/byal" = white; and bog = god; meaning WhiteGod. One of the archaic gods. He is master of light, source of good, happiness and luck; absolute antagonist of dark, evil, of all negative emotions and activities. Probably Belobog was at first god of highest priority, associated to ancient Slavic cosmogony, as one of the universal demiurgs. With the later development of pagan beliefs he gradually lost his importance, although people's respect towards him never died out. In the advanced Slavic cult, Belobog is one of solar god Dazhdbog's companions, personifiing sunshine, warmth and life at all. Peasants believed that Belobog secretly keeps an eye on their wheat and if they praised him, he even helped them in farming, especially in harvest-time.

(vel-es | vol-os | vlas) etymology - uncertain (as in most cases); his name is being related to "vlas" - a hair, fur, i.e. "dressed in furs; stock-breeder". Scholars derive it from "vlast" - authority, power and "vlasti" - to rule, to own.
Vlas is god of whisdom, magic, knowledge, stock - breeding, protector of herds and logycally - of welafair (the bigger your herd - the greater your wealth!).
Vlas inhabits the Underworld and in this connection is also god of deceised, but he symbolises more philosophical aspects of Death - in its property of a reincarnation step, a result of the life cycle's movement. Surely "reincarnation" here means universal transcendental tresspassing from one spiritual condition into another, as a development in linear, not cyclic direction.
Vlas can be in some way associated to the Kemetic god of Death, reincarnation and renovation, Osiris. This association should be limited, ofcourse, as greater part of Osiris characteristics are closer to Slavic solar god of fertility Yarilo, than to Vlas.
Vlas is not winter and death goddess Mora's partner, but more like her alternative or even commander. Probably it is exactly Vlas' domain what Slavs called "Ray" (Eden) - a term known far before baptising, represented by the idea of evergreen, rich, fertile garden of warmth and peace.

(dash-tbog | dash-bog | die-bog) the splendid god of sun, which gives celestial light and warmth and donates life and fertility. In this logics his name is derived - from Old-Bulgarian "dati" - to give, to donate, to give birth and its imperative form "dazhd!" - give! donate! and "bog" - god; i.e. "Giving/Donating god" or "Give god!". According to some authors his name can be related to ancient Iranic "dagi" - burn, scorch.
Dazhdbog is represented as a beautiful young gold-headed man with short beard, who rides his heavenly 12-horse chariot every day and shines above the world with his golden round shield (symbol of the solar disc).
In later Slavic mythology, when Belobog and Chernobog had lost their religious significance, Belobog - embodiment of solar benifaction = good = joy - is considered to be follower of Dazhdbog. Probably Dazhdbog, Belobog and Hors formed a solar trinity.
Dazhdbog is son of the ancient universal master - fiery Svarog, which is the reason to be often called in legends Dazhdbog Svarozhich = Dazhdbog, Svarog's son. In this logic, Dazhdbog should be a brother of the terrestrial fire - god Svarozhich and to the thunder - god Perun.
Ancient Russians were devoted worshippers of Dazhdbog, calling themselves "Dazhdbog's grandsons".
Dazhdbog's important place in Russian tradition is confirmed by the fact that he is one of 6 supreme deities, announced by Kievan Rus' knyaz Vladimir.

(daa-nya | daa-na) goddess of water and by association - patron of life, fertility and plenty. Especially worshipped inside the cult towards summer god Kupalo - they praised her mainly during the summer solstice's Kupalo - festivals.

(deed | deet | dyet) son of Lada; her constant companion; wearing a wreath of spring flowers. He is a summer god - source of joy, happiness, shared love, light, warmth; protector of mariage. People pray to him for keeping their marriages, for reinforcing family understanding, for blessing the family with many children.

(doh-go-daa) the winged young god of Western, autumnal winter. Son of the winds and air god Stribog.

(doh-doh-la | do-do-lya | dee-dee-lya) goddess of rain, wife of the supreme god - thunderbolt Perun. Slavs believed that when Dodola milks her heavenly cows, the clouds, it rains on earth. This is why in times of droughts Bulgarian Slavs organised the Dodo-le (or Peperuna) festival, where they worshipped the goddess and prayed to her for rain. Each spring Dodola flies over woods and fields, and spreads vernal greenery, decorating the trees with blossom. Probably Dododla is just the other name of Peperuna.

(doh-lya | sret-yah | srech-ah) goddess of good fortune and luck, bringer of joy and happyness, assistant of the household and welfare goddess Makosh. Sryashta is represented as a gold-curled maiden, who, just like Makosh, often spins golden yarn. Inside it she weaves people's fate or better - the good parts of their fate. Often Sryashta travells around the world and can appear before everybody - once as a girl, once as a boy. She would request a small favour, ask this or that and, if the man is good, helpful and respectful, she gives him good luck. If the man is peppery, unobliging or say bad words for gods, Sryashta turns her face off him and happiness hever comes to such person. Dolya is the East-Slavic variant of South-Slavic Sryashta.

(zhar-o-veet | yar-o-veet) in Veda Slovena - "Zharno/Zharnu"; god of wars, battles, weapons, bravery, anger and revenge. He brings lethal summer heat, droughts, field and wood fires, as he is subordinated to his fiery character, represented by his very name - zhar= fire, glowing embers. Zharovit was especially worshipped among the West-Slavs who built for him a great temple in the medieval Slavic city of Volgast. There Slavs kept a huge relique shield of the god, which was decorated with pure gold and was considered sacred. When people engaged into battle, they brought the sacred shield, believing that thus no enemy can cruch them, as Zharovit protects them.

(zhee-vah | dee-vah | see-vah) from Slavic "zhiv" = alive; "zhivot" = life. Goddess of life, birth, spring, fertility and love. She embodies the universal vital powers, brings live-giving forces. Thus Zhiva appears to be the absolute antagonist of death - goddess Mora. Zhiva is wife of the universal demiurg, the creation - god Rod.

(zoh-ree) from Slavic "zora" = dawn, plural - "zori". These are the two female personifications of the planet Venera, called Vechernitsa (from "vecher" = evening; i.e. Evening star) and Zornica (Dawn star; also called Dnevnitsa - Day star). They are daughters of the sun-god Dazhdbog and patrons of morn and eve. Thus Zornitsa is goddess of day-break, of overcoming and superior light, so she brings extremely positive forces and features. But Vechernitsa is goddess of dusk, of declining, diing light, so she has negative character. Yet both of the Zori were equally feared by Slavs, as both of them are involved in some way with the Razputno vreme - the hours between midnight and day-break, when evil forces wander around the earth.

(call-led-ah | call-yad-ah | bo-zheek) the infant-sun, the winter sun, god of winter solstice. Slavs prayed to him to grow faster and turn again into the splendid spring sun Yarilo, so it can bring new life after the devastating winter. God Koleda is praised in the period 25 studen (december) - 06 prosinets (january). People worship him as bringer of hope, joy and feasts. In his honour they sing conjuring christmas carols, boding welfare and fortune of the clan (Slavic "rod") and the house.

(cup-al-o | coo-pal-o) god of the summer solstice. Kupalo is the mature, the aging Yarilo. Yarilo comes into human world Yav every spring to bring new life, fertility and rich harvest. In the summer he turns into Kupalo. His life on the world gradually moves to its end. He has accomplished his mission in our world and sets off for the Underworld, so he can return again next summer. This is why the Kupalo festival (summer solstice) is actually bidding farewell to the old-aged Yarilo - a preparation for his later ritual burial. During the celebrations, for the last time people express their joy of god Yarilo's visit in their world, the happiness he had brought; they sing incantations and prayers to the fertile god to come again next year. Right after the Kupalo festival starts mourning over god Kupalo. The year is half-way through, last fruitful months are elapsing and then winter will come - the time of death goddess Mora, time of darkness, cold, misery, illness and death.

(laa-daa) goddess of beauty, love, marriage, family life;protector of people and especialy women. She is the one to whom people should address prayers for personal protection, for maternal protection over her children. Being extremely praised by old Slavs, Lada combines Hellenic Hera and Aphrodita or Germanic Freya and Frigg. Such combination between sexual attraction, lust, sex and marital virtue is comparatively rare in other pagan mythologies. It witnesses the certain patriarchal society's attitude to love and marriage.
In every patriarchal society, it is parents (fathers) who have the last word about marriage. They judge and define whom will their heirs commit to. In most nations' traditions, in taking that serious decisions, they didn't need bridegrooms' consent, but it is not like that among Slavs. Naturally, it is again fathers, clan's elders who choose the proper partner, but it is not so unscrupulous, tyranical decision and is more like a compromise. Young people gave a sign for their love and elders had it on mind and tried to grant their desire. Thus attraction, true love evolved trough wedding ceremony into a higher-grade engagement, into life-long mutual respect. Thisway there is no need one goddess to patronise love and other to protect marriage, as two separated social phenomena.
Only in this context we can understand Byzantine hostorian Pseudomauricius' report: "Their (Slavs') women are virtuous more than human nature assumes; thus most of them consider husband's death to be their own death and choke themselves voluntarily, not taking widowhood for a way of living". Such custom would have hardly been possible if Slavic women were forced to marry men they didn't love.

(laa-doh | laa-doon-o) partner of the love goddess Lada. According to some authors Lado is equal to the god of sexuality and fertility Yarilo, as they both have similar characteristics in different Slavic beliefs. It is more probably, though, that these two are separate gods, regarding the substantial differences in their attitude to war and peace. If there was a certain Slavic god of peace this should have been Lado, who guards human life and happiness, in whom creative essence is clearly represented, contradicting Yarilo's military aspects. Lado evokes the loving principle in male character, the family devotion, the selflessness, the protective feelings, the responsibility for bringing up children and clan's welfare.

LEL, LYAL son of goddess Lada; god of marriage and domestic happiness. Probably this is another name of Did.

(lel-yah | lyal-yah) daughter of goddes Lada; twin-sister of god Lel; goddess of marriage and domestic happiness.

(maa-tee zem-lya) Mother Earth; everywhere she is mentioned together with deities, but she is more likely to be one of the essential elements - earth. Different deities are personifications of its states and functions - like goddess Makosh is mistress of moist soil and respectively of agricultural abundace. People payed great honour to Mati Zemlya, because of her vital significance for the ancient agriculturing Slavic communities. Harvest was up to her, so food and survival denepended on her too. Earth also provides eternal asylum for the mortal remains of people. I.e. man was directly dependent on Mati Zemlya through all his life and beyond the death, as the material state of the dead body affects the state of the deceased soul.
There are obvious paralles between Slavic Mother-Earth and the Hellenic Geya or Nordic Jord (read Yiord), both whos names mean "Earth".
Mati Zemlya is wife of the progenitor god, Svarog. This is Slavic equivalent of the wide spread in many mythologies heathen idea for sacral divine marriage between Earth and Sky. We find the very same idea among ancient Greeks - between Geya (Earth) and Uranos (Sky); in Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) mythology - between the earth Gheb (male personification) and the sky Nut (female personification); and even among the native tribes of the far East, of Middle and Eastern Siberia.

(mess-eh-cheena | mess-ets | mess-yats) Goddess of the moon. Sister of the splendid solar god Dazhdbog.

(mo-kosh | maa-kosh) goddess of plenty, fertility and domestic wealth. She guards barns, cowsheds, sheeppens and stables, and gives the food and the clothes of family; takes care for the family's welfare, provides for the house and its occupants. Makosh has been represented as long-haired young woman with a horn in her right hand, which is an obvious parallel of the pan-Aryan idea about "the Horn of plenty". This goddess' name is of extremely disputable etymology and scholars give essentially different meanings. Because Makosh's name is so close to Slavic "mekost" (softness) or "mokrost" (dampness), many authors consider her a goddess of earth moisture or even water (which is hardly the situation). It is true, though, that Makosh's name is mentioned in combination with "Mati Sira Zemlya" (Mother Moist-Earth). I.e. exists a relation to the moist earth which is connected to soil's fertility; moist earth = fertile soil = plentiful harvest and the opposite - dry earth = sterile soil = poor harvest.

MORA, MARA, MORENA, MARZENA goddess of harsh winters, cold, suffering, death and all corresponding emotions. Her name is obviously derived from common Slavic root "mor" (death, deadly illness) or from verb "moriti" (to murder, to kill). Another relation can be made to pan-Slavic word "morz" (frost, cold). Mora inhabits the Underworld and controls the souls of deceased which are also called "mora".
Mora can easily be identified with ancient Germanic Hell, whos name in Germanic languages later started meaning Christian "Underworld". Just like Nordic deadmen's mistress, Mora can bring death, rule the deceased and decide who shall enter the Nav and who shall not.
Such relation doesn't exist between Slavic Mora and Hellenic Persepho, who was kidnapped by Hades into the Underworld but never really belonged there. Certain parallels, though, can be made with ancient Greek Hecate who also inhabits hell and sometimes brings death, leading the deceased souls in Hades' estates.

(ned-o-lyah | ness-ret-yah | nes-rech-ah) goddess of misfortune, miscarriage, evil spells and bad luck; antagonist of the goddess of happiness and good luck Dolya. Just like her, Nedolya spins and weaves misfortunes into peoples fate. Serbs say "Nesrecha tanko prede" (Nesrecha spins thinly).

(peh-peh-roon-ah | peh-roon-it-sah) wife of Perun the Thunderer. She is often mentioned in Slavic pagan conjuring songs and prayers for rain, mainly at the Bulgarian rain-begging ritual "peperuna". Peperuna is goddess of rain, rainclouds and storms. Probably another name for Dodola.

(peh-roon) one of the mightiest Slavic gods, creator of thunder and lightning, bringer of storms and rains, protector of warriors and leader of military detachments. Almost everywhere Perun is considered the supreme god. His name is derived from Indo - European root "perk", "parg" (hit, strike) which developed into pan-Slavic "pierun", "perun" - a thunder, a lightning.
In ancient times universal master and supreme god was Svarog - god of skyes and archetypal fire. He was a peaceful god - father and creator - and had 3 sons: 1) Dazhdbog, the good golden-faced god of sun, warmth, light and life, protector and donator to people; 2)Svarozhich - the furious god of terrestrial fire, whos name should never be pronounced; 3)Perun - fearful and cruel god of thunderbolts, storms, hurricanes, hails and wars, requitor and punisher of people, guardian of world order. When Slavs started their migrations in IV-V cent., they confronted with many foreign tribes and their life turned into a sturggle for survival, because of which they started paying greater honour to warlike Perun, than to peaceful Svarog. Thus Perun became a supreme overlord, displacing his father Svarog.
Besides being thunderer and punisher, Perun is also a benefactor - rain, caused by him, bring life and fertility to earth; to encourage pious people, Perun assists them and rewards them for their good deeds, but His cruelty and stringency enforce and strengthen order among people. If there was nobody to control them, they would have exterminated each other and obliterated the whole mankind.

(poh-go-daa) god of the tender southern wind; son of air and wind god Stribog. Pogoda brings good weather. His idol represented a young man with a pointed helmet with bull horns. In his left hand he holds the horn of plenty. Pogoda is also connected to the Fire-cult and hence - to god Dazhdbog.


(poh-rev-it | por-vat) god of fertility, male fecundative power and sexual potential; symbol of the male element in conceiving new life; protector of male semen and by analogy - of plant seeds. His name might be translated as "Prolific", "Rich in semen". Porevit had five faces, representing the five winter months when he guards the earth and seeds developing inside it. In antiquity Slavic solar calendar splited into five winter (non-farming, non-working) months and seven summer (farming, working) months.

(ra-dig-ost | ra-deg-ast) god - protector of travellers, traders, foreigners; patron of hospitality. If a householder does not take good care of his guests, if he drives off people seeking shelter or harms peacefully passing foreigners and salesmen, then god Radigost punishes him. To good hosts Radigost gives a bless and as they are compassionate to strangers, thus they always find hospitality and accomodation when travelling. Radigost's name can be derived from Old-Bulgarian raditi - take care, look after, consider; and gost - a guest, a stranger, a foreigner.

ROD, DIV, DIY in Veda Slovena - "Diy/Dia". The initial original god - progenitor of deities, creator of the Universe and its manager. Rod is the supreme universal principle, which established the divine law Pravda. He is a protector of blood-ties and clan relations, a patron of kinship and clan unions. At the beginning of Time, at the very beginning of Cosmos, only god Rod existed and there was nothing around him. Later he created the Universe and the three worlds Prav (heavens), Yav (earth) and Nav (underworld) and arranged everything inside them. Rod also introduced the superior principle of balance between elements and enforced the highest law Pravda, which every creature and power (physical or metaphysical, material or energy) should obay.


(rozh-den-it-see | rozh-en-it-see) (sg. Rozhdenitsa) daughters of god Rod and goddess Zhiva; goddesses of creation and procreation. During the spring the Rozhdenitsi escort their mother Zhiva and help her in awakening the nature for new life, spreading greenery, flowers and blossom around the world. The Rozhdenitsi watch over birth and delivery among humans and animals.

(roo-eh-veet | roo-jeh-veet | roog-yeh-veet) in Veda Slovena - "Rue/Ruyu"; god of sun, light and warmth, protector of farming, guardian of abundance and harvest. Having a gurading role, he also wares millitary characterostics. West - Slavic idols represent him with seven heads, seven swards stuck on his belt and eighth sward - in his hand. It is considered that Ruevit's seven faces are personifications of the seven summer months and watch over land - cultivating and growing harvest in this period. This idea is inherited from ancient annual calendar division into five winter and seven summer months. Among Southern Slavs Rue also shares features with Thracian god Dyonis (known with his Latin name Bacchus) - protector of vine, vineyards and wine; master and patron of wine-producing art.

(svar-rogue) supreme heavenly god, master of divine kingdom Prav; lord and parent of deities; creator and bringer of fire. Svarog is one of the first deities, created by the great progentior god Rod. Svarog's wife is the earth and life goddess Mati Zemlya (Mother Earth) and their marriage brought to life younger gods Dazhdbog, Perun, Svarozhich, Lada, etc.
In antiquity Svarog was the superior lord, but after a time his son Perun the Thunderer displaced him and occupied the power over people and earth. Since then Svarog looks after observing the universal law Pravda on heaven, among gods, and cares only about celestial deeds.

(svar-rozh-itch | svar-rozh-eats) son of the heavenly lord and guardian of cosmic fire, Svarog. Svarozhich is master of terrestrial fire, flames, fireside. He has a highly contrasting, contradictive nature - he protects life, provides warmth and light and dirves away wild animals, but can also turn into a disaster, into destroyer, exterminator and murderer. He is represented as a warlike god, which is typical for all Aryan nations - solar (resp. fiery) deities always have expressive military features, as they are considered to be fighters against darkness, evil and dark powers. Svarozhich is a major object of the wide spread fire-cult. His idol made of gold was kept in the Rhetra temple. This god also entered the Fiery Tetrinity, together with his father Svarog and his brothers Dazhdbog and Perun.

(svant-o-veet | svet-o-veet | svyat-o-veed) fourfold male deity - world arbiter, master of world directions, bringer of warmth, light and fertility. His name probably means "holy, sacred, filled with sanctity" (from Old-Slavic "sventu") and not "light, bright" (from "sveatu"). Svetovit is a supreme god. Among Western Slavs he was probably worshipped on equal terms with Perun and Svarog, but his warlike solar features bring him closer to Dazhdbog. Svetovit was surely considered a master of justice and fertility. In his left hand he holds a huge bull's horn, filled up with wine, and in his right hand - a sward. I.e. with one hand he endows abundance and with the other he punishes and defends - typical superior gods' characteristics. Svetovid had four separate - necked heads, looking towards the four world directions, i.e. he sees everything, so he can bring justice to everybody and guard against evil forces. In medieval Slavic town of Arcona, on the Baltic island Ruegen, there was a splendid temple of Svetovit, where Slavs kept sacred white horses. People believed that Svetovit rode a horse at night and fought enemy tribes.

(snig-nah | krach-oon) winter god, master of snow and cold. Snigna's name is derived from "sniag" (snow). The other name - Krachun - is related to the root "kratuk" (short, biref), as in wintertime (when Krachun rules over the world) days are too short. Some Slavs used "Krachun" as a name of the winter solstice which is exactly the shortest day of the whole year.

(stree-bog) god of air, weather, climate; master of winds and their grandfather. In the Old-Russian chronicle "Slovo o polku Igoreve" (Saga about Igor's regiment) is written: "Vot vetri, Stribozhi vnuki veyut s morya..." (There - the winds, Stribog's grandsons, blow from the sea..." Stribog is a mature man, blowing his battle horn, which summons the winds. In association with this, Stribog is compared to a military commander, to a knyaz (Slavic chief; later - a duke), so Slavic rulers worshipped him as a patron of the supreme authority. This is why Stribog was represented even in the "Greater pantheon", established by Kievan knyaz Vladimir in 980 AD, together with gods Perun, Hors, Dazhdbog, Simargal and Makosh. Old-Russian chronicle "Povest vremennih let" (History of the times) says: "knyazha v Kieve i postavi kumir na holme vne dvora teremnogo Peruna derevenna, a glava emu srebrena, a us zlat, i Horsa boga, i Dazhdbu boga, Striba boga, i Simargla, i Makosh" (the knyaz in Kiev put idols on the hill out of the palace's yard: Perun - wooden, and his head - of silver, and his mouth - of gold, and Hors god, and Dazhdbog god, Stribog god, and Simargal, and Makosh".

(tro-yan | trig-lav | tzhig-lov) Troyan means "Triple", i.e. somebody with three parts or three heads as his other name confirms - Triglav from "tri" (three) and "glava" (head). Troyan is a trinity - god; observer of world order and guardian of the divine law Pravda. With his three heads this god looks toward each of the three worlds of the World Tree - Prav (heaven), Yav (earth) and Nav (underworld). He watches at gods, humans and navs (souls), so he knows everything they do and is their judge. If somebody brakes the Order, the Justice, Troyan is resolute to bring punishment to everybody. He was especially worshipped by Western Slavs in medieval town of Stetin (today's Polish Shchechin), where they had built his temple. Troyan's idol had three heads, but his eyes and mouth were tied up in golden veil. Hoping to propitiate him, Slavs symbolically hid his eyeside, so he can not see their sinns and tied his mouth, so he can not pronounce too cruel sentences.

HURS, KHORS Hors is god of the winter sun - the old sun, which goes smaller (days get shorter) and on 22 studen (december) dies, defeated by the dark and evil powers of Chernobog. But on 23 studen (december) Hors resurects, regenerated into the new sun Koleda. In association to this, Slavs worshipped Hors as god of healing, of recovering, of survival, of triumph of health over illness; as master of herbs, medicine-man and man of knowledge. In this role Hors is associated to ancient Hellenic Esculap, Roman Asclaepius, Egyptian Apis, Scandinavian Balder.

(cher-no-bog | chrn-bog) in Veda Slovena - "Zlita Boga" (Evil God); god of darkness, master of evil and death, bringer of suffering, pain and grief, ruler over the dead in the Underworld. His name is derived from "cherno" (black) and "bog" (god), i.e. "BlackGod" - absolute antagonist of bright Belobog (WhiteGod). Chernobog is represented as a brutal young warrior with horrifiing appearance. He always wares a black armour and carries a magical spear in his hand, ready to strike. Where he strikes, fear and sorrow appear there. In Chernobog's footprints creep all kinds of evil creatures and powers. He always fight for dominance with luminous Belobog - god of good, bringer of light, joy and happiness. To get into Chernobog's mercy, Slavs sacrificed horses and captive people to him.

(yar-ill-o | yar-ill-ah) in Veda Slovena - "Yara"; god of spring, youth, fertility, lust and sexual love. Partner of goddess Lada. Slavs often attributed adulterial features to him. Associated to this, Old-Russian tales describe him as anual inseminator of Mati Zemlya - wife of Svarog. Yarilo is represented as a young beardless gold-haired man, dressed in unusual for male dressing long (female?) shirt. He wares a green wreath on his head and bunch of wheat ears in his left hand. In his right hand he carries a horn or budding tree-wand (symbol of male sexual power) or even a sward (associated to the male sexual organ).