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Библиотека Авроры
Славянская мифология
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СообщениеДобавлено: Сб Мар 09, 2024 7:47 pm    Заголовок сообщения: Ответить с цитатой

Збручский идол и гипотеза о том, что это поздняя подделка:


Ставчанские скульптуры:

Село Ставчани належить до давніх поселень Подільського краю. Це підтверджують археологічні знахідки трипільської та черняхівської культур. Особливо привертає увагу кам῾яна скульптура ранньо-слов῾янського ідола ІІ-V ст. нашої ери виявлена в селі. Археолог І. С. Винокур датував знахідки часом черняхівської культури ІІ-V ст. н. е. Скульптура являє собою постать бородатого чоловіка у головному уборі конічної форми, добре модельовані спина і плечі. На нижній частині спини вибито силуетне зображення коня. З лицевого боку у руках чоловіка — зображення ритону. Висота скульптури 1,9 м. Крім ідола, на капищі виявлено також кам'яну стелу з солярним знаком. Навколо цих скульптур розчищено чотири вогнища, основа яких викладена камінням. Нині знахідка експонується в Камянець-Подільському історико-краєзнавчому музеї

Мой девиз: один против всех, и всем несдобровать...
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СообщениеДобавлено: Сб Мар 09, 2024 7:59 pm    Заголовок сообщения: Ответить с цитатой

Подделками являются так называемые идолы Ретры:

Мой девиз: один против всех, и всем несдобровать...
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Найден онлайн текст книги Felix Guirand, "Всемирная мифология" на английском языке:


We have very few precise data on the Slavonic world in the days of paganism. A few scraps of
information provided by Roman historians and Greek 'chroniclers', some vague observations on
the part of Arab geographers, and, above all, the frequently erroneous details appearing in the
chronicles of Orthodox monks: these are all the material documents which we have available to
reconstruct the history of the pagan Slavs and of their religious beliefs.
As, however, the material and spiritual evolution of the Slavs was much later and slower than that
of the Latin and Germanic peoples of Western Europe we sometimes find in the more recent
history of the Slavonic races vestiges and memories of bygone periods, a fact which allows us to
utilise the present in order to reconstruct the past.
The mythological background can still be discovered in folklore -in legends, tales, songs, proverbs
and, above all, in exorcisms. For in certain Slavonic countries exorcism of pagan origin is still
currently practised.
It was only in the sixth century A.D. that the Slavonic world began to emerge distinctly from the
varied and mobile ethnographic mass which peopled the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe.
Very probably it was from the Carpathians that the Slavonic tribes dispersed in various directions
to form the three great groups which still exist, namely the Southern Slavs, the Western Slavs and
those of the East.
The countries which the Slavs penetrated and colonised were almost everywhere characterised by
immense spaces covered with forests and cut up by marshes, lakes and rivers. They lived by
fishing and hunting, tended cattle in forest clearings and natural meadows, and planted a little
corn in the ground they cleared. The forest provided wood for the construction of their crude
Living in small groups of families, they would feel isolated and defenceless before the powerful
forces of nature, before the mystery of day and night, the change of the seasons, the storms and
tempests, the flooding rivers, and the irregular succession of good and bad crops.
To rid themselves of perpetual fear before the mysterious manifestations of nature the ancient
Slavs needed to find explanations. This imperious necessity to explain natural phenomena found
expression in their mythology which constituted their cosmogony and all their science in general.
The ancient Slav was physically incapable of fighting the forces of nature and could only aspire to
moderating the evil for which they were responsible. It was therefore necessary for him to find out
whom to address himself to. Compelled to submit himself to the domination of these mysterious
forces of nature, he submitted them, too, to the domination of other powers which were
personified by the numerous divinities with whom he peopled the clouds and the earth, the
forests and the rivers, his own field of corn, the stable where his cattle slept, and the house which
sheltered his family.
Thus little by little a mythology common to all the Slavonic tribes was formed, an extremely rustic
mythology, but perfectly adapted to the general conditions of primitive life. It was only in the
outposts of the Slavonic world - where they encountered other peoples - that more complex beliefs
were created and a less rustic mythology developed. Only at Kiev and on the littoral of the Baltic
Sea (in the island of Rugen) do we find among the Slavs traces of a more or less fixed hierarchy of
superior divinities, with a few crude idols, priests and rites.
In general, however, Slavonic mythology found no material expression definite enough to present
its divinities in precise form. It remained vague and amorphous like the landscape of most of the
countries inhabited by the Slavonic race.
Byelobog and Chernobog. (The White God and the Black God.) At the basis of Slavonic mythology
we find a primitive dualism which had its source in the opposition between light, the creative
force, and darkness, the destructive force. This elemental opposition gave birth to two divine
images which are found among the peoples of the Western branch of the Slavonic world: Byelobog
and Chernobog.
The composition of their names reveals their character. Byelobog is made up of the adjective
'byely' which means 'white', and the noun 'bog' which means 'god'. The adjective 'cherny' on the
other hand means 'black'. Thus there is a white god, god of light and day, and a black god, god of
the shadows and of night: a god of good and a god of evil, opposed one to the other.
The volkhvy, half priests, half sorcerers, of the pagan Slavs would say, according to certain written
testimony: 'There are two gods, one above and the other below.'
The Ukrainians still say: 'May the black god exterminate you!'
In White Russia they believed in the existence of Byelun (derived from 'byely' - 'white'). In popular
legends this divinity appeared as an old man with a white beard, dressed in white. He only
showed himself during the daytime. His actions were always benevolent:
he saved from harm those who had lost their way and helped unfortunate peasants with their
work in the fields.
The simple opposition of Byelobog and Chernobog being insufficient to explain the great variety
of natural phenomena, other visions began to take shape against the black-white background of
primitive mythology.
When the pagan Slav addressed his prayer to the sky and said: 'Sky, thou seest me! Sky, thou
hearest me!' he was not using a metaphorical expression. He thought of the sky as a god, as a
supreme being.
Later, when anthropomorphic elements had penetrated the primitive religion of the pagan Slavs,
they personified the sky as the god Svarog. The root of this name (svar means bright, clear) is
related to the Sanskrit.
The sky (Svarog) gave birth to two children: the Sun, called Dazhbog, and Fire, which was called
Svarogich, meaning 'son of Svarog'.
John Malala, a Byzantine chronicler, sums up the mythological cosmogony of the pagan Slavs in
these terms:
'After Svarog reigned his son, named Sun who was also called Dazhbog... The Sun is the king and
son of Svarog; he is named Dazhbog, for he was a mighty lord.'
The other son of Svarog, IFire (or ogon which can be compared to the Sanskrit agni) is mentioned
in the work of a very ancient author called 'Unknown Admirer of Christ' who said of the pagan
'They also address prayers to Fire, calling him Svarogich.'
Svarog (the Sky) is thus the father of all other gods.
According to an old Slavonic myth Svarog, after reigning over the universe, transmitted his
creative sovereign power to his children.
In many Slavonic countries rural folk still retain a mystic respect for fire, which has always had a
sacred character. The old forbade the young to swear or shout at the moment when the fire was
being lighted in the house.
Legends and folk stories still retain poetic traces of the ancient myths when they speak of the 'Fire
Serpent', a winged monster who breathed flames from his mouth.
The Russian savant Afanasiev says of Svarog's other son, Dazhbog, the sun:
'Svarog, as a personification of the sky, sometimes lighted by the sun's rays, sometimes covered
with clouds and brilliant with lightning, was considered to be the father of the Sun and of Fire. In
the shadows of the clouds he would kindle the lightning's flame and thus he appeared as the
creator of celestial fire. As for terrestrial fire, it was a divine gift brought to earth in the form of
lightning. Hence it will be understood why the Slav worshipped Fire as a son of Svarog.
Afterwards, splitting the clouds with flashing arrows, Svarog would cause the sun to appear, or,
in the metaphorical language of antiquity, he would light the torch of the sun which had been
extinguished by demons of the shadows. This noetic
conception was also applied to the morning sun emerging from the veils of night. With the sunrise
and the renewal of its flame the idea of its rebirth was connected. Svarog was thus a divinity who
gave life to the Sun and birth to Dazhbog.'
According to Slavonic myths and legends the Sun lived in the East, in a land of eternal summer
and abundance. There he had his golden palace from which he emerged every morning in his
luminous chariot, drawn by white horses who breathed fire, to cross the celestial vault.
In a popular Polish tale the sun rode in a two-wheeled diamond chariot harnessed to twelve white
horses with golden manes.
In another legend the sun lived in a golden palace in the East. He made his journey in a car drawn
by three horses, one silver, one golden and the third diamond.
Among the Serbs the Sun was a young and handsome king. He lived in a kingdom of light and sat
on a throne of gold and purple. At his side stood two beautiful virgins, Aurora of the Morning and
Aurora of the Evening, seven judges (the planets) and seven 'messengers' who flew across the
universe in the guise of 'stars with tails' (comets). Also present was the Sun's 'bald uncle, old
Myesyats' (or the moon).
In Russian folklore the Sun possessed twelve kingdoms - the twelve months or signs of the Zodiac.
He lived in the solar disk and his children on the stars. They were served by the 'solar daughters'
who bathed them, looked after them and sang to them.
The daily movement of the Sun across the celestial sphere was represented in certain Slavonic
myths as a change in his age: the Sun was bom every morning, appeared as a handsome child,
reached maturity towards midday and died in the evening as an old man. The annual movement
of the Sun was explained in an analogous fashirvn
Certain Slavonic myths and legends give an anthropomorphic interpretation to the relationship
between the Sun and the Moon. Though the name of the Moon - Myesyats - is masculine many
legends represent Myesyats as a young beauty whom the Sun marries at the beginning of summer,
abandons in winter, and returns to in spring.
The divine couple of the Sun and the Moon gave birth to the stars. When the pair were in a bad
mood and not getting on well together an earthquake would result.
In other myths Myesyats is, on the contrary, the husband, and the Sun is his wife. A Ukrainian
song speaks of the heavenly vault, 'the great palace whose lord is bright Myesyats with his wife
the bright Sun and their children the bright Stars.'
Even to-day certain Slavonic exorcisms are addressed to 'pretty little moon' and beseech her to
cure illness etc. The hero of a Ukrainian song-legend speaks to 'little Sun: God, help me, man!'
The Sun-god Dazhbog, great divinity of day and the light of day, conqueror of the shadows, of
cold and of misery became synonymous with happiness. Men's destiny depended on him. He was
just. He punished the wicked and rewarded the virtuous.
The Slav of Galicia still says, when he wishes ill to a person: 'May the Sun make you perish!' And
the Croatian peasant says: 'May the Sun avenge me on you!'
We have referred above to a legend according to which the two 'solar daughters', the Auroras,
stood at the Sun's side. The dawn -in Slavonic Zorya or Zarya - was also believed to be a divinity.
Aurora of the Morning (Zorya Utrennyaya - utro meaning 'morning') opened the gates of the
celestial palace when the Sun set forth on his daily journey across the heavens. Aurora of the
Evening (Zorya Vechernyaya - vecher meaning 'evening') closed them again when the Sun came
A myth of a later period attributes a special mission to the Zorya. 'There are in the sky,' it says,
'three little sisters, three little Zorya: she of the Evening, she of Midnight, and she of Morning.
Their duty is to guard a dog which is tied by an iron chain to the constellation of the Little Bear.
When the chain breaks it will be the end of the world.'
The three little Zorya are thus the great protectresses of the entire universe.
In some myths the two sister Auroras (Zorya) are accompanied by two sister Stars, the morning
star Zvezda Dennitsa and the evening star Vechernyaya Zvezda. They share the work of the Zorya
and tend the Sun's white horses.
One of them, Dennitsa, in some legends replaces the Sun as wife of Myesyats (the male Moon). In
a Serbian song-legend Myesyats reproaches Dennitsa: 'Where hast thou been, star Dennitsa, where
hast thou been? Where hast thou wasted thy days? Where hast thou wasted thy days, three bright
In an old Russian exorcism Dennitsa appears as a divinity almost equal to the greatest of the gods.
'In the morning let us arise and pray to God and Dennitsa,' says this exorcism.
In another exorcism the Evening Star is addressed: 'My mother, Vechernyaya Zvezda, to Thee I
complain of twelve daughters, twelve wicked girls.' i.e. fevers.
Pagan Slavs also believed in the god or the gods of the winds. A trace of this belief survives in a
curious exorcism: 'On the sea, the ocean, on the isle of Buyan, live three brothers, the Winds: one is
of the North, the second of the East, the third of the West. Blow, ye Winds, blow unbearable
sadness to ... (such and such a girl) so that she cannot live a single day, a single hour without
thinking of me!'
The West Wind, soft and caressing, was named Dogoda.
In certain legends there were as many as seven Winds.
Among several Slavonic tribes we find the worship of a god of the Winds named Stribog. They
also spoke of a Wind-god named Varpulis who formed part of the retinue of the god Perun and
caused the noise of the storm. Erisvorsh was the god of the holy tempest. But the sound of these
last names suggests a Lithuanian or Teutonic origin.
The pagan Slavs worshipped the Earth as a special divinity, but we have little information about
either her appearance or her cult. We only know that among the Russians she was called Mati-
Syra-Zemlya which means 'Moist Mother Earth'.
Mythological and ritual memories of belief in the Moist-Mother-Earth can be found in various
customs and practices of the Slav peasants.
In certain regions in the month of August the peasants arrive in the fields at dawn with jars filled
with hemp oil. Turning towards the east they say: 'Moist Mother Earth, subdue every evil and
unclean being so that he may not cast a spell on us nor do us any harm.' While they pronounce
this prayer they pour the oil on the ground. Then they turn towards the west and say: 'Moist
Mother Earth, engulf the unclean power in thy boiling pits, in thy burning fires.' Turning to the
south they pronounce these words: 'Moist Mother Earth, calm the Winds coming from the South
and all bad weather. Calm the moving sands and whirlwinds.' And finally turning towards the
north they say: 'Moist Mother Earth, calm the North Winds and the clouds, subdue the
snowstorms and the cold.' After each invocation oil is poured out and finally the jar which
contained it is thrown to the ground.
The Earth was a supreme being, sentient and just. She could predict the future if one knew how to
understand her mysterious language. In certain parts of Russia the peasant would dig in the earth
with a stock or simply with his fingers, apply his ear to the hole and listen to what the Earth said.
If he heard a sound which reminded him of the sound made by a well-filled sleigh gliding over
the snow his crop would be good. If, on the contrary, the sound was that of an empty sleigh his
crop would be bad.
The Earth was just and one must not deceive her. For centuries Slav peasants settled legal disputes
relating to landed property by calling on the Earth as a witness. If someone swore an oath while
placing a clod of earth on his head the oath was considered binding and incontestable.
Traces of the ancient worship of the Earth could still be found in Russia on the eve of the first
world war in an odd rite to which the peasants had recourse when they wished to preserve their
village against an epidemic of plague or cholera. At midnight the old women would perambulate
the village, secretly summoning the other women so that the men knew nothing about it. They
would choose nine virgins and three widows who would be led out of the village. There they
would all undress down to their shifts. The virgins would let down their hair, the widows would
cover their heads with white shawls. They would then hitch one of the widows to a plough which
was driven by another widow. The nine virgins would seize scythes while the other women
grasped various objects of terrifying appearance including the skulls of animals. The procession
would then march around the village, howling and shrieking, while they ploughed a furrow to
permit the powerful spirits of the Earth to emerge, and so to annihilate the germs of evil. Any man
who had the bad luck to meet the procession was felled without mercy.
Christianity attacked pagan Slavonic mythology before it had completely bloomed. It was nipped,
as it were, in the bud.
With the victory of Christianity the great divinities vanished. But the dii minores, the little
divinities, were able to escape the massacre. The Slavs, though Christians, preserved many pagan
beliefs well into the twentieth century and peopled their material and spiritual world with a
countless crowd of little gods and goddesses, of spirits good and evil.
Domovoi. The Domovoi - derived from the word dom meaning 'house' - was the divinity or spirit
of the-house. From superstition the Slav peasant avoided calling him by his official name: some
designated him by the word 'grandfather' or 'master of the house' while others spoke of'him' or
The outward aspect of the Domovoi was vague. Usually he was a being in human shape, but
hairy; he was covered with silky fur even to the palms of his hands which, otherwise, resembled a
man's. Sometimes he had horns and a tail. On occasion he had the aspect of a domestic animal or
even of an ordinary bundle of hay.
It was difficult, not to say dangerous, for a person actually to see the Domovoi. His voice,
however, was often heard and his groans and stifled sobs; his speech, while ordinarily soft and
caressing, could also be abrupt or gloomy.
This is how they explained the origin of the Domovoi and certain other little divinities: when the
supreme god created heaven and earth one party of the spirits who surrounded him revolted. He
drove these rebellious spirits from the sky and cast them to earth. Some fell onto the roofs of
people's houses or into their yards. Unlike others who fell into the water or forests and remained
wicked, these, through their association with men, became benevolent.
The Domovoi would become so much at home in the house where he lived that he would be
reluctant to leave it. When a Russian peasant built a new izba, his wife, before moving in, would
cut a slice of bread and put it under the stove in order to attract the Domovoi to the new house.
The Domovoi loved to live near the stove or under the threshold of the front door. As for his wife,
called Do-mania or Domovikha, she preferred to live in the cellar.
The Domovoi forewarned the inhabitants of the house of the troubles which threatened them.
Before the death of someone in the family he wept. He would pull the wife's hair to warn her that
her husband was going to beat her.
The Domovoi appeared among the Slavs only after the family group became distinct from the
tribal group. Previously there had been a spirit of the tribe itself, called Rod or Chur, terms which
are impossible to translate but which signified ancestor or forefather.
In the neighbourhood of the Domovoi there were other spirits who may be considered as his near
Such were, for example, the Dvorovoi (from the word dvor or yard) who was the spirit of the
yard; the Bannik (from the word banya or bath) who was the spirit of the baths and who lived in
the little outhouse situated beside the izba, where the peasants took their baths; the Ovinnik (from
the word ovin or barn) who was the spirit of the barn.
A little farther removed from human company than the Domovoi, they were less friendly than he,
without, however, being as fierce as the forest and water spirits.
The Dvorovoi particularly detested all animals with white fur, such as white cats, dogs or horses.
Only white chickens had no fear of the Dvorovoi because they were protected by a special
divinity, the god of the chickens who was represented by a round stone with a hole in it which is
sometimes found in the fields.
To appease a Dvorovoi one could put a little sheep's wool in the stable, some small glittering
objects and a slice of bread. When making this offering one had to say: 'Tsar Dvorovoi, master,
friendly little neighbour, I offer thee this gift in sign of gratitude. Be kind to the cattle, look after
them and feed them well.' If the Dvorovoi behaved too badly one could punish him by sticking a
pitchfork into the wooden fence around the yard, or by beating the demon with a whip in which
must be woven a thread drawn from a winding-sheet. The Dvorovoi also dreaded the dead body
of a magpie hung up in the yard.
Sometimes the Dvorovoi would fall in love with a woman. One of them conceived a passion for a
girl and lived with her for several years. He plaited her hair and forbade her to unplait it. When
she was thirty-five years old she decided to marry a man and on the even of her wedding she
combed out her hair. Next morning she was found dead; she had been strangled in her bed by the
The Bannik lived in the washhouse. He would permit three groups of bathers to enter, but the
fourth turn was his. He would invite devils and forest-spirits to visit him. If he were disturbed
while he himself was washing he would pour boiling water over the intruder and sometimes even
strangle him. When leaving the bath it was necessary to leave a little water behind for the Bannik.
The Bannik could be interrogated about the future. To do this you put your naked back through
the half-open door of the wash-house and waited patiently. If the Bannik struck you with his
claws it was a bad omen; if he caressed your back tenderly with the soft palm of his hand then the
future was rosy.
The Ovinnik (spirit of the barns) lived habitually in a corner of the barn. He generally had the
aspect of a large dishevelled black cat. He could bark like a dog and laugh his head off. His eyes
shone like burning coals. He was so ill-behaved that he was capable of setting the barn on fire.
Only one domestic spirit was feminine. This was Kikimora who,
in some regions, passed for the Domovoi's wife. The numerous myths, tales and legends about the
Kikimora give no precise picture of her. Sometimes her sole duty was to look after the poultry;
sometimes she took part in all household tasks, though only if the mistress of the house was
herself diligent and hardworking. If she was lazy, the Kikimora gave her much trouble and tickled
the children during the night. The only way to make friends with the Kikimora again was to go
into the forest, gather ferns and prepare a fern-tea with which all the pots and pans in the kitchen
must then be washed.
The belief, still living, in all these domestic spirits is no more than a survival of the cult which the
primitive Slavs rendered to divinities who protected their homes.
We shall limit ourselves to listing in addition: Peseias and Krukis who protected the domestic
animals (Krukis was also the patron of blacksmiths); Ratainitsa who watched over the stables; Prigirstitis
whose hearing was so acute that he distinguished the faintest murmurs and loathed
shouting; Giwoitis who could be recognised in the shape of a lizard and who was given milk to
drink. Among feminine divinities there were: Matergabia who directed the housekeeping and to
whom one offered the first piece of bread from the kneading trough; Dugnai who prevented the
dough from spoiling; Krimba, a goddess of the house who was worshipped principally in
Bohemia. These names again sound Lithuanian, Scandinavian and Germanic.
The lands which the ancient Slavs colonised and peopled were densely wooded. The colonisers
had to cut their way across enormous forests, filled with dangers and the unexpected. It was
natural that they should have run into the Leshy. Leshy, whose name is derived from the word
les, the forest, was the spirit of the forest.
Popular legends ascribed a human aspect to Leshy, but his cheeks were of a bluish hue because his
blood was blue. His green eyes often popped out of their sockets, his eyebrows were tufted and he
wore a long green beard. His hair was like a priest's. Sometimes popular imagination dressed him
in a special costume: he wore a red sash and his left shoe on his right foot. He also buttoned his
'kaftan' the wrong way round. The Leshy threw no shadow. Even his stature was unstable; when
he walked in the depths of the forest his head reached the tops of the tallest trees. When he walked
on the forest's edge, through small bushes and grass, he turned into a tiny dwarf and could hide
himself under a leaf.
He avoided trespassing on his neighbour's land, but he jealously guarded his own kingdom.
When a solitary traveller crossed the forest, or a peasant came to gather mushrooms or berries, or
a hunter ventured too deep into the woods, then the Leshy would not fail to lead him astray, to
make him blunder in every direction through the undergrowth, only to bring him back to the
same spot again.
He was, however, good-natured and almost always ended by releasing his victim, especially if the
victim knew how to escape his spells. In order to do this, the wanderer must sit down under a
tree-trunk, remove his clothes and put them on again backwards. Nor must he forget to put his
left shoe on his right foot.
The Leshy was not mortal although, according to certain legends, he was the offspring of a demon
and a mortal woman.
On the other hand 'Leshies' had at the beginning of every October to disappear or temporarily die
- until the following spring. In spring they were wild and particularly dangerous. Full of anger
and anguish - no doubt at the thought of their next disappearance -they would range the forest,
whistling and shouting, imitating the strident laughter of over-excited women, sobbing in a
human voice, and crying out like birds of prey and savage beasts.
Some legends say that the Leshy had family instincts and give him a wife, the Leshachikha, and
children, the Leshonki. They lived in the depths of the woods and committed their misdeeds in
If every forest was inhabited by a Leshy every field was ruled by a Polevoi or Polevik. Pole meant
The outward appearance of the Polevik varied according to region. Sometimes he was simply
someone 'dressed in white". Sometimes the Polevik had a body as black as earth and two eyes of
different colours. Instead of hair, long green grass grew on his head. At times he would appear in
the guise of a deformed dwarf who spoke a human language.
The Polevik liked to amuse himself in the same fashion as the Leshy by misguiding belated
travellers. It could happen that he would strangle a drunkard who had gone to sleep in his field
instead of working in it. When this occurred the Polevik was often helped by his children who
would run along the furrows, catching birds, which they would give to their parents to eat.
To earn the good will of the Polevik one could make him an offering by placing in a ditch two
eggs and an elderly cockerel who could no longer crow. But this must be done so that no one was
present at the sacrifice.
In the north of Russia the Polevik was sometimes replaced by the Poludnitsa (Poluden or polden
means noon.) She was a beautiful girl, tall in stature and dressed entirely in white. In summer, at
harvest time, she would walk in the fields and if she found a man or a woman working at midday
she would seize him by the hair and pull it mercilessly. She would lure little children into the
fields of corn and lose them.
Other rustic divinities did not survive the victory of Christianity. We shall limit ourselves to
mentioning only a few of them.
Among the Poles the prosperity of the fields was the business of the gods Datan, Tawals,
Lawkapatim, who especially presided over tilling the soil, and of the goddess Marzanna who
fostered the growth of fruit. Modeina and Siliniets were gods of the forest. Cattle were placed
under the protection of Walgino. Kurwaichin was especially responsible for lambs and Kremara
for pigs. He was offered beer, poured into the fireplace. Priparchis weaned sucking pigs from their
Among other Slavs, divinities like Kricco were honoured. He protected the fruits of the field.
Kirnis saw that the cherries ripened successfully. Mokosh was the god of small domestic animals
and had an altar at Kiev. Zosim was the tutelary god of bees. Zuttibur was god of the forest. Sicksa
was a forest sprite, a teasing, mischievous genie who could assume any form.
The Vodyanoi was a water sprite, as his name suggests; for it comes from the word voda which
means water.
He was a malevolent and dangerous divinity who inhabited lakes, pools, streams and rivers. His
favourite haunt was in the neighbourhood of mill-dams. Under the great mill-wheel many
Vodyanoi would sometimes forgather.
In appearance the Vodyany-ye were extremely varied.
Some had a human face, but were furnished with outlandish big toes, paws instead of hands, long
horns, a tail and eyes like burning coals.
Others resembled men of vast stature and were covered with grass and moss. They could be quite
black with enormous red eyes and a nose as long as a fisherman's boot. Often the Vodyanoi had
the aspect of an old man with green hair and beard, but the beard changed colour and became
white when the moon was waning.
The Vodyanoi could also sometimes appear in the guise of a naked woman sitting in the water on
the roots of a tree while she combed the streaming water from her hair.
The Vodyanoi was also seen in the aspect of a huge fish covered with moss and again as an
ordinary tree-trunk furnished with little wings and flying along the surface of the water.
The Vodyanoi were immortal, but they grew younger or older with the phases of the moon.
The Vodyanoi did not like human beings and lay in wait for the imprudent in order to drag them
into the water. The drowned who fell into their deep and watery kingdom became their slaves.
They lived in a crystal palace, ornamented with gold and silver which came from boats which had
sunk, and lighted by a magic stone which shone more brightly than the sun.
During the day a Vodyanoi would take his rest in the depths of his palace. In the evening he
would come out and amuse himself by striking the water with his paws, making a noise which
could be heard at a great distance. If he caught men or women bathing after sunset he would seize
Whenever he approached the dam of a mill he would try to destroy it in order to let the water flow
freely. In Russia not many decades ago millers, hoping to win the good will of the Vodyanoi, went
so far as to push a belated passer-by into the millrace.
In a lake in the region of Olonets in north Russia there lived a Vodyanoi who had a large family.
To feed his many relations he required the corpses of animals and men, but the folk who lived
around the lake were much too prudent to fetch water from it or bathe in it. The Vodyanoi at last
fled to another lake by way of a river.
When a maiden drowned - either by accident or on purpose -she became a Rusalka. This belief
was common to all Slavonic
peoples. But the image of this water-divinity was not everywhere the same. One could say that she
varied according to climate and the colour of the sky and the waters.
Among the Slavs of the 'blue' Danube the Rusalka - who in this case was called Vila - was a
gracious being who retained some of her maidenly charm. Among the northern Russians the
gracious, gay and charming Rusalki (plural of Rusalka) of the Danube and the Dnieper were
transformed into wicked girls, of unattractive appearance, with uncombed and dishevelled hair.
The facial pallor of the southern Rusalka resembled moonlight. Her northern sisters were wan and
cadaverous, like the bodies of the drowned, and their eyes shone with an evil green fire. The
Rusalki of the south often appeared in light robes of mist; those of the north were always crudely
naked. The Rusalki of the Danube and the Dnieper sang delicious songs which were unknown to
their sisters of the northern lakes and rivers. The southern Rusalki bewitched the passers-by with
their beauty and their sweet voices. Those of the north thought only of brutally seizing the
imprudent man or woman who late at night chanced to walk along the water's edge, to push him
in and drown him. Death in the arms of a Rusalka from the land of sunshine and blue sky was
almost agreeable, a kind of euthanasia. The Rusalki of the northern lands, on the contrary,
submitted their victims to cruel and refined tortures.
Slavonic legends attribute to the Rusalki a double existence, aquatic and silvan. Until the
beginning of summer - until, in fact, 'Rusalki Week' - they lived in the water. During Rusalki Week
they emerged from the water and went into the forest. They would choose a weeping willow or a
birch with long slim branches which leaned over the river and climb up into it. At night in the
moonlight they would swing in the branches, call out to each other, slip down from the trees and
dance in the clearings. The southern Slavs believed that where the Rusalki trod when dancing,
there the grass grew thicker and the wheat more abundant.
But their behaviour could also be harmful. When they frolicked in the water they would climb
onto the millwheel and stop it, they would break millstones, damage dikes and tear fishermen's
nets. They could also send storms and torrential rains down on the fields, steal linen and thread
from sleeping women. Luckily there was a sure method for thwarting the wickedness of the
Rusalki: one need only hold in one's hand a leaf of absinth, 'the accursed herb'.
Myths concerning the Rusalki reflect the general beliefs of the Slavs on the subject of death and the
dead. Green trees, according to these beliefs, were the abode of the dead. When the sun had not
yet 'entered the road of summer' the Rusalki, souls of the dead, could remain in the dark and
chilly waters. But when these waters were warmed by the rays of the life-giving sun the Rusalki
could no longer stay there. And they returned to the trees, the abode of the dead.

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We have already seen that on the edges of the Slavonic world where the Slavs came in contact
with other peoples, such as the Germans and the Scandinavians, their mythology lost its primitive
and rustic character, found fresh inspiration and took on new and less naive forms.
Certain Russian scholars are even inclined to distinguish two mythologies - and almost two
religions - among the pagan Slavs: the one that we have just described, which was common to the
great masses composed of peasants, hunters, and fishermen and a second which was the
mythology of the upper classes, of town dwellers and those who lived in fortified castles.
In any case it is certain that the Slavs of the Baltic coast and those of Kiev had a more highly
developed mythology than that which was based on the mere worship of elemental forces and the
phenomena of nature.
The Baltic Slavs - those of the Isle of Riigen, the mouth of the Elbe, etc. - worshipped a divinity
named Svantovit. Some of the old chroniclers - Helmgolf, Saxo Grammaticus, etc. - have left us
almost contemporary descriptions of Svantovit. In addition a statue of Svantovit was discovered
in 1857 in Galicia on the banks of the river Zbruch. It was a crude and simplified copy of the statue
which once occupied his principal temple at Arcona.
The statue of Svantovit at Arcona, placed in a richly ornamented temple, was of great size. It had
four heads facing in four directions.
Svantovit held in his right hand a bull's horn filled with wine. Beside him hung an enormous
sword, a saddle and bridle. In the temple there was a white horse.
Each year the high priest would solemnly examine the contents of the bull's horn which Svantovit
held in his hand; if much wine remained in it, that was a good omen - the year would be fruitful
and happy. But if the quantity of wine in the horn had considerably diminished a year of famine
and trouble must be expected.
The white horse of Svantovit, maintained at the expense of the temple and venerated like its
divine master, also served to reveal the future. The priests would fix in the ground several rows of
spears and drive the horse of Svantovit through them. If it made the course smoothly without
catching any of the spears with its hooves the future promised well.
A flag - a war banner - was kept in the temple. The priests would show it to Svantovit's
worshippers before they went to war. Besides the priests, an armed detachment of three hundred
men was assigned to the temple of Svantovit.
As well as Svantovit, the old chroniclers mention, among the peoples of the western branch of the
Slavonic world, certain other divinities whose attributes were warlike: Rugievit, who was armed
with eight swords, seven hanging from his girdle and the eighth in his right hand: Yarovit, who
had a great golden shield which was venerated as a holy object. He also had his own banners, and
the faithful would carry them and the shield when they went into battle.
Then there was Radigast, who grasped in his hand a double-edged axe. On his chest he wore a
bull's head and on his curly head a swan with outstretched wings. He was a sure counsellor, god
of strength and honour.
It is difficult to say if these gods were identical with Svantovit or if they were distinct and
individual divinities. All at least had traits in common from which arose their character of gods of
warfare and the city.
According to the testimony of an old chronicler, Svantovit was considered to be the 'god of gods'
and beside him all others were no more than demi-gods. Like Svarog he was the father of the sun
and of fire. At the same time - as can be seen by his emblem, the bull's horn filled with wine - he
was the god of plenty. Above all, however, he was a warrior and in war he always had his share of
the booty.
At the opposite end of the Slavonic world we find a divinity analogous to Svantovit, namely the
god Pyerun. The origin of this name goes back to remotest Aryan times. Among the Hindus the
god Indra was surnamed Parjanya, a word which has the same root as Pyerun. The word Pyerun
is known in many Slavonic languages: Pyerun in Russian, Piorun in Polish, Perun in Czech, Peron
in Slovak. Among the Lithuanians we often find the name Perkaunas. In the Mater Verborum
(1202) the name Pyerun is translated by the name Jupiter.
In the popular language of Poland we discover not only the semantic origin of the name Pyerun
but also an explanation of his mythological character. For in Polish piorun means 'thunder'.
Neither history nor tradition has preserved anything exact on the subject of Pyerun's divine
image. We only know that there was in Kiev until the end of the tenth century a wooden idol of
Pyerun. He was incontestably the god of war. For not only was the thunderbolt considered by the
pagan Slavs to be the most redoubtable divine weapon but old Russian chronicles explicitly state
that there was a direct connection between war and Pyerun. When the first princes of Kiev
brought a war with the Greeks to a conclusion by an honourable peace their troops pledged their
word by their weapons and invoked the name of Pyerun.
We read in an old chronicle that Olga, one of the first sovereigns of Kiev, 'led her warriors into
batlle; and according to the Russian law they swore by their arms and invoked Pyerun. Igor,
prince of Kiev, climbed the hill where the image of Pyerun stood and there placed his arms, his
shield and his god
In Procopius, the sixth century Greek historian, we find a curious detail about Slavonic religion; it
probably refers to Pyerun and permits us to place his position among the other gods.
'He is the god who wields the thunderbolt and they, the Slavs, recognise him as the sole lord of the
This warlike mythology in which foreign elements were mingled -for we must not forget that the
'principality' of Kiev had been founded by Varyags, or Scandinavian warriors - was not without its
influence on the rustic mythology from which originally it profoundly differed.
As an example of this influence the god Volos or Vyelyes may be cited. Volos, 'god of cattle', who
was of rustic origin and character, was afterwards associated with Pyerun's warlike exploits. The
monk Nestor, author of the celebrated Chronicle, relates how the warriors of the Princess Olga
'swore by their arms and invoked their god Pyerun and Volos, god of the beasts'. In a treaty
concluded between the Greeks, and Prince Svyatoslav, the prince and his fighting men declared:
'Let us be bound by our oath before the god in whom we believe - Pyerun - and before Volos, god
of the beasts.'
Another no less curious example is the transformation undergone by the image of the Zorya
(Aurora) whom we have already mentioned. As long as she remained beside the Sun, god of light,
she was only a simple guardian of the gates of his golden palace. But when she was found with
Pyerun, god of war, the gentle Zorya assumed the aspect of a well-armed virgin warrior,
patroness of warriors whom she protected with her long veil. When asking for her protection one
repeated an exorcism which was still used in the nineteenth century:
'Unsheath, O Virgin, the sacred sword of thy father, take up the breastplate of thy ancestors, thy
doughty helmet, bring out thy black horse. Fly to the open field. In the open field there is a mighty
host with numberless weapons. Cover me, O Virgin, with thy veil and protect me against the
power of the enemy, against blunderbuss
and arrow, against all adversaries and all arms, against weapons of wood, of bone, of iron, of steel,
of copper.'
In the same way the winds - 'grandchildren of Stribog, god of winds' - took on a warlike character
and 'from the direction of the sea let arrows fly'.
The Slavs of certain countries such as Lusatia, Bohemia and Poland - in other words the Slavs who
were in contact with Teutonic races - did not confine themselves to peopling their forests with
Leshye and Rusalki. They created a goddess of the hunt. Young and fair, mounted on a swift steed
and accompanied by a pack of hounds, she galloped through the forests of the Elbe and the
Carpathians, weapon in hand. Even her name - Diiwica among the Serbians of Lusatia, Devana
among the Czechs, Dziewona among the Poles - connects her with Diana.
It may be pointed out that although Svantovit had a temple and priests at Arcona the Slavs of
other lands knew neither temples nor a priestly caste. At Kiev the idol of Pyerun was erected on a
hill, under the open sky, and the functions of the priest were performed by the Kniaz, or prince,
military chieftain of the 'city'. And it sufficed that the prince changed his religion for all his
officials and soldiers, and all the ruling class of the city, to feel obliged to imitate his example.
When in 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to become converted to Byzantine Orthodoxy he
ordered all his soldiers to be baptised. Pyerun's idol was torn down and thrown into the Dnieper
and history has retained not so much as a hint of any kind of effort on the part of Pyerun's
worshippers to defend their god. This can have only one explanation: the divinity and his cult
formed no part of popular belief, but only that of the dominant military group. When this group
renounced its faith there was no one left to defend it.
In the rare cases when the rural population retained a vague memory of the warrior and city
dweller's mythology it was touched up to suit peasant taste. The White Russians left Pyerun his
weapon, the bow, but instead of a war chariot they gave him a simple millstone on which he
roamed the sky.
As for Volos, 'god of the beasts', when he left Kiev, now under triumphant Christian occupation,
he returned to his rural habitat, stripped of his military functions and attributes. And even when
Christianity invaded the Slavonic countryside Volos was able to retain the sympathy of the
peasantry. In the nineteenth century Russian peasants still kept the custom of 'curling Volos' hair'.
During the harvest they would leave one sheaf of corn in the field and 'curl' its ears - undoubtedly
the survival of a pagan sacrifice.
Little by little, deprived of his warlike accessories, Volos again became a simple shepherd, who
watched faithfully over the flocks. And if Pyerun himself was remembered by the Slavs long after
the days of the Principality of Kiev he was venerated as a divine and mighty labourer tracing
furrows in a copper sky with his miraculous plough.
In addition to the divinities already described, Slavonic mythology offers a pair of extremely
interesting and picturesque gods who might be called gods of joy. Their names were Yarilo and
The origin of the name Yarilo, transcribed as Erilo, may - it has been suggested - be found in the
Greek Eros. If this explanation were plausible it would considerably simplify mythological
research; for Yarilo was a god of carnal love. But Yarilo probably derives from the adjective yary,
which means 'ardent, passionate, uncontrolled'. On the other hand the word yarovoi is used in
speaking of corn sown in springtime as against ozimoi which signifies that which is sown in the
Thus in the name Yarilo we find linked the idea of spring regeneration and that of sexual passion.
The cult of Yarilo was so widespread and deeply rooted among certain Slavonic peoples that even
as late as the eighteenth century the orthodox bishop of Voronezh had to take very strict measures
against the people of his diocese who were given to it. From his sermons we learn that the pagan
Slavs venerated an ancient idol, Yarilo; and in his honour they organised festivities and 'satanic
games' which went on for days.
Popular legends from White Russia have preserved a curious description of the outward
appearance of the god Yarilo. He was
young and fair. He rode a white horse and was dressed in a white cloak. On his head he wore a
crown of wild flowers. In his left hand he held a bunch of wheat ears. His feet were bare.
Two elements entered into the pagan rites consecrated to Yarilo, and also into the popular festivals
which were in Christian times celebrated in his honour. As a god of springtime and fecundity he
was honoured in certain Slavonic countries in spring, during the days of the first sowing. In White
Russia in the nineteenth century the village maidens would get together and elect the most
beautiful of their number who would be dressed in the white garments of Yarilo, crowned with
flowers and mounted on a white horse. Around her gathered a khorovod (a curious Slavonic
derivative of the antique Greek 'chorus'). This was a long circle of dancing girls crowned with
freshly gathered flowers. The festival was celebrated on the newly sown fields in the presence of
the old men and women of the village. The khorovod would chant a song which glorified the
blessings of the god.
'Where he sets his foot, The corn grows in mountains; Wherever he glances, The grain flourishes.'
In summer they celebrated the 'funeral' rites of Yarilo. This solemnity was very widespread among
Slavs of the east and west alike and for centuries resisted all assaults by Christian preachers -
above all in Russia.
During these festivals the men, women and girls would gather together to eat, drink and dance. At
sunset a straw idol of Yarilo would be brought to the place where the festival was being held. It
was the image of the dead god. The women, intoxicated with drink and dancing, would approach
the idol and sob: 'He's dead, he's dead!' The men would come running and seize the idol. Shaking
it they would cry: 'Yes, the women do not lie. They know him well, they know that he is sweeter
than honey.' Lamentations
and prayers would continue, after which the idol, accompanied by the women, would be carried
to his place of burial. They would then all begin to eat, drink and dance again.
Like Yarilo Kupala was also a divinity of joy.
The name Kupala has the same root as the verb kupati which means to bathe. This is explained by
the fact that during the festivals of Kupala, which were celebrated in June, they bathed in the
rivers and washed themselves with the 'dew of Kupala', dew which was gathered during the night
of the festival. The worship of water and the belief in its mystic powers were one of the elements
which composed the cult of Kupala.
This belief was very general among pagan Slavs. Their folk tales often speak of 'dead water' and
'live water', each of which had its miraculous power. When a legendary hero perished by the
sword of his enemy and his body lay stretched on the ground, cut to pieces, the fairy sprinkled it
with 'dead water' which allowed the severed members to come together again. Then she sprinkled
it with 'live water' and the hero was resuscitated.
The ancient Slavs venerated sacred springs, near which were often found places of prayer and
sacrifice. Some countries retained until the end of the nineteenth century the odd custom of
'begging the water's pardon'. In order to cure sickness the person begging the water's pardon
would throw a piece of bread into the water, greet the water and three times pronounce this
ancient exorcism:
'I come to thee, little water-mother, with head bowed and repentant. Forgive me, pardon me - and
ye, too, ancestors and forefathers of the water.'
We may remark in passing that the great rivers which watered Slavonic lands - the Danube, the
Dnieper, the Don, the Volga -were glorified, personified and almost deified in the Russian byliny
(or epic poems) under the aspect of legendary heroes, half men, half gods.
The veneration of water was closely connected with the cult of Kupala: bathing, ablutions, and
throwing floral crowns into the water, constituted an important part of the ritual.
No less important was the part played by the worship of fire. The holy fires of the holy night of
Kupala possessed a purificatory virtue. Kupala's worshippers formed khorovods around these
fires and jumped over them.
After the official end of paganism we still find the straw idol of Kupala, dressed in a woman's
gown, adorned with ribbons, women's necklaces, etc. In places the straw idol was supplied with
wooden arms from which hung floral garlands and various feminine ornaments.
At sunset the idol was carried in procession to the river where it was drowned, or else to the holy
fire where it was burned. Among the pagan Serbs the idol was not drowned, but only bathed in
the water.
An essential element in the cult of Kupala was the worship of trees, herbs and flowers.
During the festival the idol was placed under a tree which had been cut and fixed in the ground.
Among the Baltic Slavs the sacred tree was the birch. Women, harnessed to a wagon, would go in
procession into the forest and choose a birch which would be transported solemnly to the festive
place. The tree was stripped of all but the upper branches which formed a kind of crown around
the top. With equal solemnity it was then fixed into the ground and hung with garlands of
flowers. All these operations were performed exclusively by women. Men must not touch the
sacred tree.
Before this sacred tree sacrifices were made and a cock's throat was cut.
But the more picturesque and mysterious side of the cult of Kupala was undoubtedly the search
made for sacred and magic herbs and flowers.
At dawn on the morning of the festival one had to find the plakune-trava, that is 'the tear-weed'
(purple loose-strife). Its root had the power to tame impure demons. The sorcerer who possessed it
had only to recite this exorcism:
'Tear-weed, tear-weed, thou hast wept much and for a long time, but thou hast gained little. May
thy tears not flow in the open field, and thy sobs not sound over the blue sea. Frighten wicked
demons, demi-demons and old witches. If they do not submit to thee then drown them in thy
tears. If they flee from thy glance engulf them in precipices and pits. May my speech be firm and
strong for centuries and centuries!'
The razryv-trava or 'herb which breaks' (saxifrage) must be gathered during the daytime. It
possessed the virtue of breaking iron, gold, silver and copper into tiny crumbs, simply by its
touch. When the scythe encountered this herb it broke. In this case one had to take all that had
been mown down and throw it into the water; that which floated on the surface was 'the herb that
Another herb, which was 'nameless', had an even more mysterious power; the man who carried it
on his person could read the thoughts of every other man.
But the chief sacred herb of Kupala was the fern: for, according to popular belief, it only flowered -
and produced, moreover, a single flower - once a year, during Kupala's night. This flower
possessed unlimited power. It dominated demons. It knew where treasure was buried. It gave one
access to everything, to riches, to the most beautiful women. Before him who had the luck to have
gathered this flower kings and potentates bowed their heads.
But the 'fire-flower' of the fern, the flower of Kupala, was jealously guarded by demons. To gather
it one had to go into the forest before midnight, the hour when the magic flower appeared. The
flower bud would climb up the length of the plant like a living thing; it ripened and, exactly at
midnight, it exploded with a bang, forming a bloom of fire so luminous and bright that the eye
could not support its brilliance. The brave man who wished to seize the flower must trace a magic
circle around it. He must keep within this circle and not look at the monsters, whose guise the
demons assumed in order to terrify him, nor must he reply to the voices which addressed him. If
he did he was lost.
During Kupala's night trees had the power to leave the ground, to move about and speak among
themselves in a mysterious tongue. Only the fortunate possessor of the fire-flower of Kupala could
understand their language.
In the course of our study we have many times noted powerful survivals and pagan memories
among the Christianised Slavs. Pagan mythology though vanquished by Christianity in its
principal stronghold - the domain of the city and war gods - was deeply and very widely
embedded in the hearts of the vast rural population. A sort of symbiosis, a co-existence of
paganism and Christianity, took place, especially among Orthodox Slavs and, more especially, in
Russia where the country clergy itself was not unwilling to tolerate this religious symbiosis, the
A rich source for the study of these curious pagan survivals among Christian Slavs is supplied by
the celebrated byliny (plural ofbylina, derived from the word byl, which means 'that which has
been'), the epic and heroic poems of the Russian people.
The byliny are divided into two cycles: one concerned with the bogatyri or 'elder valiant
champions', and the other with the younger heroes. The first cycle is the older in origin and is full
of mythological elements.
The poem about the bogatyr Svyatogor describes him as being so strong that he supported his
own strength 'like a heavy burden'. In his pride he declared that if he could find the place where
all the weight of the earth was concentrated he would lift up the earth itself. On the steppe he
found a small bag. He touched it with his staff; it did not budge. He touched it with his finger; it
did not move. Without getting off his horse he seized the bag in his hand; he could not lift it.
'Many years have I travelled the world (he says) But never yet have I met with a miracle like this.
A little bag Which will not stir or move or be lifted.'
Svyatogor descended from his good steed. He seized the bag in both hands and raised it as high as
his knees. But he himself had sunk knee-deep into the earth! It was not tears which rolled down
his face, but blood. He was unable to raise himself from the hole into which he had sunk. And
such was the end of Svyatogor.
The mysterious and divine power of the Moist-Mother-Earth is well depicted in this poem. In
another we meet a miraculous labourer, the bogatyr Mikula, whose 'little wooden plough' was so
heavy that a whole troop of bogatyri could not lift it, whereas
Mikula lifted it with one hand. Mikula's little horse was swifter than the finest chargers, because
'Mikula was loved by the Moist-Mother-Earth'.
The poem of the bogatyr Volkh or Volga depicts him as a mythical being, able to turn himself into
a bright falcon, a grey wolf, a white bull with golden horns and into a tiny ant. This by Una is
remarkable for the name of its hero: Volkh is certainly a deformation of the word Volkhv which
among pagan Slavs signified 'priest" and 'sorcerer'.
All these figures are obviously mythical in character, but pagan mythology is mingled with
Christian ingredients.
'Svyatogor', the bylina concludes, 'had indeed found the weight of the earth, but God punished
him for his pride'.
Mikula, the miraculous labourer, himself says 'that he needs God's aid to till the soil and
accomplish his peasant's work'.
And even Volkh, who has all the traits of a werewolf and can 'make sorcery', employs his
mysterious gifts to defend Kiev, the orthodox city, against the perfidious 'Indian Tsar' who wishes
to 'send up the churches of God in smoke'.
This mixture of pagan and Christian elements is no less striking in the poems about the younger
bogatyri. Among these the most popular was Ilya-Muromyets, the 'peasant's son'. The numerous
byliny which are devoted to him portray him with features which give him a resemblance to the
god of lightning, Pyerun.
Ilya-Muromyets' horse did not run over the earth, but flew through the air, 'above the motionless
forest and a little below the clouds scudding across the sky'. The arrow which Ilya-Muromyets
shot from his miraculous bow resembled that which flew from the divine bow of Pyerun: it
brought down church cupolas and split robust oaks into thin slivers.
The origin of Ilya's strength was mythical. He was sickly when born and for thirty-three years 'he
remained sitting' unable to rise. One day two passing vagabond minstrels gave him a 'honey
draught' to drink, and in him he felt the upsurge of mighty strength.
But the bogatyr was a good Christian. His exploits of prowess were only accomplished after he
had been blessed by his elderly parents. He defended the faith of Christ against the infidels. And
when the time came for him to die he built a cathedral at Kiev. After this final act Ilya died and
turned to stone and his body 'has remained intact until now'.
In the poem of the bogatyr Potok-Mikhailo-Ivanovich we find vestiges of pagan funeral rites.
According to certain evidence the wife of a pagan Slav would voluntarily follow her husband to
death. The poem relates that when the bogatyr Potok-Mikhailo-Ivanovich was married he and his
bride took an oath that whichever survived the other should voluntarily commit suicide. Now
Potok's young wife died a year and a half after the wedding. Potok had a grave dug, 'deep and
big', summoned 'priests with their deacons' and, having buried his wife, descended himself into
the tomb, fully armed and on horseback. 'Overhead had been built a ceiling in oak and yellow
sand; room had been left only for a rope which was attached to the cathedral bell.' Above, a
wooden cross was placed. The bogatyr Potok- remained in the tomb with his brave steed from
noon to midnight and, 'to give himself courage he lighted wax candles'. At midnight all the
monster reptiles gathered round him and then came the great Serpent who burned with a flame of
fire. With his 'sharp sabre' Potok killed the Serpent, cut off his head and 'with this Serpent's head
he anointed the body of his wife' - who immediately came to life again. Then Potok pulled the
rope and set the cathedral bell ringing. They were freed, he and his wife. The priests sprinkled
them with holy water 'and ordered them to live as formerly'. Potok lived to a great age but died
before his wife who 'was buried alive with him in the dank earth'.
In other poems dealing with the younger bogatyri we find personifications - under the aspect of
legendary heroes - of the great Slavonic rivers, the Danube, Dnieper and Don.
The epics we have mentioned speak of the bogatyri of Kiev. Those which concern the heroes of
Novgorod also contain many pagan and mythological elements mingled with Christian ideas.
Such are the byliny about the bogatyr Sadko, the Rich Merchant. Sadko, with his ships, was sailing
the blue sea.
Suddenly his ship stopped in the middle of the sea and refused to advance. Sadko remembered
that he had sailed the blue sea for twelve years, but never paid tribute to the Tsar of the Sea. He
filled a great cup with pure silver, another with red gold and a third with
rare pearls. He placed the cups on a small plank and cast the plank into the blue sea. But the small
plank did not sink and floated like a duck. Sadko interpreted this as meaning that the Tsar of the
Sea did not want money, but that he demanded the head of a man. They drew lots and it was
Sadko who had to descend to the sea lord's abode. With him he took an icon of Saint Nicholas and
his gusli - a stringed musical instrument. Then he climbed out of his ship and on to the small
plank. There he fell asleep to wake up again in a white stone palace. He played his gusli before the
Tsar of the Sea and the Tsar began to dance. He danced so furiously that he caused a tempest and
innocent sailors perished on the sea. In order to stop the dancing - and the attendant hurricane -
Sadko broke the strings of his gusli.
After his fortunate and miraculous return to land Sadko sailed a further twelve years on the river
Volga. When he wished to return to Novgorod he cut a huge slice of bread, put salt on it and put it
on the waves of the Volga. To thank him for his kindness the Volga spoke to him in human
language and asked him to go and give his regards to his brother, the Lake of Ilmen. In
recompense the Lake told Sadko to cast into its waters three great nets which were at once filled
with fish. When the fish were taken to Sadko's warehouses they were miraculously transformed
into silver.
The end of the heroes was also mystical. It is recounted in a bylina entitled: Why there are no more
bogatyri in Holy Russia.
After a successful battle, one of the bogatyri had in his pride the imprudence to say: 'If we were to
face an army from "over yonder" we would beat it, too!' Immediately two unknown warriors
appeared and challenged the bogatyri to combat. A bogatyr struck them with his sword and sliced
each of them in two. But instead of two unknown opponents there were now four! When attacked,
the four became eight, all very much alive. Then sixteen and so on, without end. 'For three days,
three hours and three brief minutes' the bogatyri fought against the army from 'over yonder'
whose numbers kept doubling. The mighty bogatyri were seized with fear. They fled to the stony
mountains and took refuge in dark caves. And there every one of them was turned to stone. 'And
since that time there have been no more bogatyri in Holy Russia.'
We have already said that many of the traits of Pyerun, the god of lightning, were handed down
to the bogatyr Ilya-Muromyets. But among the Orthodox Slavs it was above all the prophet Elijah
(Saint Ilya) who inherited Pyerun's attributes. When a Slav peasant hears thunder he says that it is
the Prophet Elijah rolling across the sky in his fiery chariot.
As for Volos, god of the beasts, he has transferred his function and attributes to Saint Vlas (or
Vlassy: Blaise). The day of Saint Vlas, the eleventh of March, 'the cow begins to rewarm her flanks'
in the sunshine. A prayer is addressed to Saint Vlas which strangely resembles an ancient
exorcism: 'Saint Vlas, give us good luck, so that our heifers shall be sleek and our oxen fat.'
In Russia, during outbreaks of disease among cattle, an icon of Saint Vlas was carried - without the
priest's assistance - to the sick animal. A ewe, a sheep, a horse and a cow would be tied together
by the tail and pushed into a ravine and there stoned to death -in memory, says Maximov, of
pagan rites. During this sacrifice they would chant: 'We kill thee with stones, we bury thee in the
ground, O death of cows, we push thee into the depths. Thou shall not come again to our village.'
Finally they would cover the bodies of the sacrificed animals with straw and wood and burn them
It is interesting to note that churches dedicated to Saint Vlas are always situated on the edge of
former pasture lands.
Many pagan customs have become an integral part of the religious ceremonial of Christian Slavs.
For example, after an interment, the friends of the deceased are invited to a funeral repast in the
cemetery itself during which they eat and drink copiously. It is a vestige of the former trizna, a
feast dedicated to the spirit of the dead man, which was customary among pagan Slavs.
In Easter week, in many Slavonic countries, orthodox families go to the cemetery to eat and drink
on the graves of their kinsmen and forefathers. What remains of the drink is poured over the
Often pagan superstitions penetrate even the church itself. For example, the exorcism recited by
the fortunate possessor of the 'tear-weed', picked on Kupala's Day, had to be recited inside a
church before the icons.
Similar examples are countless. It is characteristic that the date of the festival of Kupala, preserved
with the majority of its pagan details, was after the introduction of Christianity altered to the
twenty-first of June, the summer solstice, not far from the feast of Saint John the Baptist. Now
John, in many Slavonic languages, is Ivan; and, quite naturally, the festival of the pagan god
Kupala . became in many Slav countries that of Ivan-Kupala. This extraordinary association of the
mythical name of a pagan divinity with that of a great Christian saint is a perfect example of the
naive and simple manner in which paganism survived into Christian times, and of how the two
religions managed to co-exist among the masses of the Slavonic world.

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