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Slavic mythology is the mythological aspect of the polytheistic religion that was practised by the Slavs before Christianisation. It possesses numerous common traits with other religions descended from the Proto-Indo-European religion.

There are no known written accounts of Slavic mythology predating the fragmentation of the Proto-Slavic people into Western Slavs (Czechs, Slovaks, Sorbs and Poles), Eastern Slavs (Russians, Belarussians and Ukrainians), and Southern Slavs (the modern Balkans). Actual historical data can be divided into three: archaeological, ethnographical, and written. The first two tend to have a role in reconstructing the rituals, with the latter -- predominantly the chronicles by Byzantine scholars and Ruthenian and German monks -- being the primary source of knowledge concerning the pantheon itself. As with Celtic Mythology, a lot of the written evidence suffers from having been Hijacked by Jesus before anyone thought to write them down.

Exactly what it looked like may be somewhat confusing. Overall, ancient Slavic religion seems to be fairly local and cultic in nature, with gods and beliefs varying from tribe to tribe. Historic sources show that each Slavic tribe worshipped its own gods, possibly even had its own pantheon. Some scholars believed that Slavs' religion actually was focused on daemons and spirits, with the organised pantheon appearing only under foreign pressure. However, through cultural comparisons, linguistic research, and critical analysis of the written sources, it is now assumed that there was a single Proto-Slavic pantheon from which pantheons of various Slavic tribes originated.

  • It appears that Slavic mythology was built upon the dualism personified by two gods, Perun and Veles. Perun was a "dry" sky god, commandeering fire, wind, and lightning (his name means simply "lightning" in Slavic languages). Veles was a serpentine, cthonic, "wet" ruler of earth and water. To whom the rain belonged was pretty much the "whose is the apple tree on the fence" problem. In some stories Perun creates the world and Veles accidentally helps him by trying to interfere. Whatever the reason, they constantly fight each other, lightning strikes marking Perun's attempts to kill his foe from the sky. However, despite the easy analogies, Veles was not really a bad guy, as he was also a patron of cattle.
    • In comparative mythology Perun is a descendant of proto-Indo-European Perkwunos and a brother to figures such as Thor (mighty bearded thunderer) or Zeus (supreme ruler of the sky). It also appears that the Nordic rulers of Novgorod and Kiev embraced Perun as an equivalent of Thor, or perhaps Odin.
  • Another important set of gods were Svarog, Svarozic ("little Svarog" or "son of Svarog") and Dazbog. The exact relation between the trio is unclear; Svarog might have been the father of the other two, and the trio might have been actually a duo, or even a single god. Whatever the case, their area of competence was the fire -- the one in the sky, and the one on the earth which made metalworking possible. Other possibilities are the domain over the Moon, or sunlit sky.
    • In comparisons, the relation to Hephaestus and mythical smiths is obvious. Svarog as the father and patron of sunlit sky has also been considered an offshoot of proto-Indo-European Dyaeus Pater, thus a brother of Zeus and Jove.
  • The Slavic patron of the harvest, vegetation and fertility was Yarilo (or Yarovit), while Mokosh or Mother Earth (Mat Zemlya) was the earth goddess herself (and possibly a borrowing; Mokosh might have also been a goddess of feminine labours like spinning and weaving). Slavs valued earth and the vegetation cycle; there was a plenty of taboos concerning the treatment of the earth before the wheat grew (so, during "pregnancy"), and the end of the winter was a big festival -- remnants of it have survived to this day. An interesting one is the tradition of burning or drowning (or both) an effigy of the winter and death goddess Morana on the first day of spring.
    • Mokosh/Mother Earth (if not a borrowing) and Yarilo can be compared to gods and goddesses of the harvest and/or fertility not unlike Freyja or Demeter, while Morana draws comparisons to Hekate. One might also say that Mokosh as feminine goddess shows some similarity to Hestia.
  • The four-faced patron of war (to be honest, almost every other one has been called a war god at a time), divination, fertility and abundance Svantevit is possibly the best-known Slavic deity, and interestingly he is the one whose status is hardly clear. While there are threads linking him to other regions, his worship is most strongly linked with the fabled Arkona on the Rügen Island, last vestige of Slavic paganism destroyed in 1168. Thus it is possible that he was a local deity, or a local variety of another god (presumably Perun).
  • Apart from Svantevit, the westernmost Slavdom is also responsible for plenty of other regional deities. If it is not Svantevit, a Slavic god a layman might mention (if not necessarily link him with Slavs) of is likely Chernobog, who is also known to have been worshipped in this area. On the other side of Slavic Europe, deities like Hors or Simargl make an appearance, though they are often thought to be borrowings from neighbouring Turkic and Iranic peoples.

The Slavic religion had semi-nomadic steppe origins, where each geographical direction had a color of its own. Thus, Belarus actually means "the Western Rus", because the West was linked to the color white. (Compare to Byelobog, "the white god", and Belgrade, "the white city".)

The Other Wiki has a List of Slavic deities for your perusal. See also Slavic Mythology, from which some of this article has been cribbed.

See also Russian Mythology and Tales, the eastern branch (well, an evolved form of the eastern branch) of this.

Tropes:

  • An Axe to Grind -- apparently a weapon of Perun.
  • Ascended Extra -- when most of the other gods were nigh-forgotten, the minor god Chernobog was expanded into a powerful God of Evil.
  • The Blacksmith -- Svarog, the fire (and possibly sun) god. Also possibly non-Time Travel-related My Own Grandpa, due to the confusion over the whole Svarog/Svarozic affair.
  • Canon Immigrant -- there are traces of cultural exchange with the Turkic and Iranic peoples of the steppes, with whom proto-Slavs had ancient contact, and some Slavic gods may have begun as the result of that.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment -- the veelas (Slavic fairies), when they were feeling nasty, could kill a man by dancing him to death. Or even better: tickling him until he died from laughter.
  • Dark Is Not Evil -- Possibly Czernobog, who isn't the Satan analogue that he is generally depicted as nowadays.
    • The Triglav (the "holy trinity" of Dazbog, Svarog and Perun) was often represented as a black horse by the worshippers, but wasn't by any means considered evil by them.
  • Hijacked by Jesus -- as many others, Slavic mythology was a big victim of the hijack; for example, Perun the sky god and Veles the earth and water god were assimilated into respectively God and Satan.
    • Belobog and Czernobog would be a similar example - German scholars deduced that, since Czernobog literally translates to `Black God`, he must have been an all-purpose evil deity similar to Satan, and that he must have had a counterpart similar to the Christian God (when in reality Belobog almost certainly did not exist in Slavic mythology).
    • Interestingly enough, the Renaissance-era written sources, fittingly for a period infatuated with Classical antiquity, have done what was called interpretatio Romana, or "Roman interpretation" of the Slavic mythology. That means that we have to deal with not only the Christian hijacking, but Roman-fanboy hijacking too.
  • Horned Humanoid -- Veles is often portrayed as this.
  • Made of Iron -- Koschei the Deathless, one of the major inspiration for the Liches of modern fantasy. He is functionally immortal - because his soul is separated from his body inside a needle (a phylactery), which is inside an egg, which is itself inside a rabbit, who is inside an iron chest, buried beneath an oak tree on an island. While Koschei is primarily a Russian myth, similar figures exist in the mythologies and folk tales of certain other Slavic peoples, such as Bash Chelik (in Serbian mythology).
  • Multiple Head Case -- Triglav has three heads, one atop the other - for sky, for earth, and for the underworld. Also Svantevit has four faces (one for each direction of the world).
  • Our Monsters Are Different
    • Our Dragons Are Different -- most prominently Zmey ("the Wyrm" tends to be considered the English equivalent of this name). Although they breathed fire and were capable of speech like their western counterparts, they were also famous for being shapeshifters (usually into human form) and for abducting beautiful women to be their brides.
    • Our Dwarves Are All the Same / Our Gnomes Are Weirder -- There's a great variety of house-spirits, diminutive red cap-wearing bearded humanoids, and similar creatures, possibly later contaminated with German (-ic) folk beliefs. The closest Slavic equivalent to fantasy dwarves were more like house-spirits or gnomes. The confusion is occasionally worsened by linguistics. [1]
    • Our Mermaids Are Different: A "rusalka" is what people called a mermaid. Well, sort of. The difference is that rusalki did not have a fish tail and looked like regular human women, mainly because they were thought to be physical manifestations of the spirits of young women who drowned (or were killed violently near a lake, river or sea). Another difference is that they were usually hostile and would come out mostly at night, because if the sun dried their skin completely, they would die (again).
    • Our Vampires Are Different -- the Slavic vampires were the basis for the modern idea of a vampire. They were notably different to the Dracula kind of modern vampires, however.
  • The Power of the Sun/Light Is Not Good -- the Poludnitsa (Noon Maiden/Lady Midday), a personification of sunstroke. Often depicted as a woman in white, holding a sickle.
    • The deities Svarog, Dazbog and Hors are also associated with the Sun, although whether their solar attributes were present in the original mythology or were added afterwards is unknown. The (possibly made up by later writers) deities Radegast and Belobog are also associated with light.
  • Shock and Awe -- Perun, the lightning god and the generally highest god of the Slavic pantheon.
  • Top God -- it is thought that Perun was a henotheistic top god of the Slavs. Veles was Perun's opposite, but apparently wasn't regarded as equally top.
  • Upgrade Artifact -- the fern flower, which blooms only during the night of summer solstice (particularly as Real Life ferns don't have flowers) and grants various powers to its finder. It may also have been a sex metaphor.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye -- though the Slavs are a pretty numerous people, their late appearance on the scene of history left us with few written accounts of their pre-Christian beliefs.

Appearances in popular culture:

  • Lots of authors from Slavic regions, naturally, use Slavic mythology to various degrees, especially in fantasy books. Most of them never get translated to English, probably due to the material's lack of familiarity to non-Slavic readers. They're frequently translated between Slavic languages, though.
    • The Witcher is a good example of this as it uses at least some Slavic material, but for once was translated into English.
  • Czernobog, Bielobog, and the three Zorya appear in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Czernobog/Bielobog display confusion over whether they're the same person or not, in a nod to the ambiguity in the records.
  • The Veela of Harry Potter are based on the Slavic version of The Fair Folk. They quite fittingly appear as Bulgarian national magical creature, although the quarter-Veelas who receive screen-time are for some reason French.
  • Baba Yaga makes an appearance in Shrek Forever After.
  • Czernobog appears prominently on the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of Fantasia.
  • There is a character named Baba in Dragonball Z.
  • The bad guys - I mean, the opponents - in Blood are the Cult of Tchernobog, although the god in question doesn't appear to be too close to his Slavic roots.
  • Chernovog (her spelling) is the title of the second of C. J. Cherryh's Russian trilogy, along with Rusalka and Yvginie, and is a player in the book.
  • Magic: The Gathering's Ravnica setting takes some inspiration, including a cycle of rusalka (one per colour) and a card called Drekavac.
  • While the first Quest for Glory game is set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Germany and Switzerland, Baba Yaga is the Big Bad.
  • Veles is one of the psychopomps in Gunnerkrigg Court. He's that horned snakeman guy.
  • The ship in Call of Duty Black Ops which houses General Dragovich's numbers station is called the Rusalka.
  • Barrayarans tell tales of Baba Yaga and Father Frost and other figures of slavic mythology in Vorkosigan Saga.
  • Koschei (here spelled Katschei) shows up in the first of the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms books, the third book is based largely off Russian mythology and contains Baba Yaga, a number of rusalkas, and others.

Notes

  1. In Polish krasnal or krasnoludek is the lawn gnome/SnowWhite-type. Karzeł ("midget" or "dwarf") is the Norse Mythology dwarf, pre-fantasy or in separation from fantasy, as well as the word for real life "little people". The fantasy dwarf, meanwhile, is a krasnolud - an augmentative of krasnoludek, a neologism created by the default translation of Lord of the Rings which has been followed ever since; although another translator attempted to change that, his translations are disliked, so it didn't stick.
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