Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Slavic Mythology

Dedicated to my Gods, the guides and ancestors of my spirit. I have delayed devotion for too long.

Ivan and the Firebird

I have always been drawn to Russia. From the folkloric tales of Ivan and the Firebird and I Go I Know Not Whither to Fetch I Know Not What, which I ravenously devoured as a child, to the stories of Anastasia and Rasputin and Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, which have molded my inner realms as they grew and bloomed, I have always been enchanted by the dark whimsy that is Russian fantasy and faery tale, legend and mythos.

Vasilisa the Brave

Slavic pagan beliefs are ancient. The Old Faith of the ancient Slavs, their Gods, holy days and folklore, is most commonly called Native Faith or Rodnoverie by its Russian practitioners in its country of origin. Witchcraft, and its practices regarding healing and magick, has also survived through the ages to the present day. Although still decidedly Heathen, the Craft has adopted many Christian traditions and customs and prayers in order to ensure the survival of its practitioners as well.

One of the more common name for Witch in Slavic languages such as Russian is Ved'ma. Traditional Slavic Witches are either born as Witches or they inherit their powers from existing practitioners. Slavic witchcraft, its faith and its mythology, is a living tradition that is still very much a part of Slavic culture today. The Slavic peoples are not a race. Like the Romance and Germanic peoples, they are related by area and culture, not by blood.

The God-brothers Bialybog, "white god", Ruler of the Sky and Czarnebog, "black god", Ruler of the Underworld

The origins of Slavic beliefs like the rest of the world's, reside in animism and ancestral worship. The first spirits to emerge were called the Beregyni, female spirits that bring life, and are the predecessors of the Rusalki and the Upyr, spirits that bring death, and are the predecessors to our modern Vampire.

From this original dualism sprang belief in all of the nature spirits, and the Rod and Rozhenitsa, the God and the Goddess who imbue a newborn child with a soul and his or her fate. Although nearly all deities were ancestral, Rod and Rozhenitsa eventually pulled the slavic mind out of animistic, ancestral thinking.

Dualism permeates all of Slavic Pagan spirituality, and actually seems to be the basis for most of it. This is a theme of complimenting opposites such as darkness and light, female and male, winter and summer, death and life more similar to yin and yang, than it is to human constructs such as good and evil.

Poludnitsa, the Spirit of Noon, a frightening time

The God-brothers Bialybog, "white god" who ruled the sky and Czarnebog, "black god" who ruled the underworld, are illustrations of this polarity. Bialybog and Czarnebog are not actually the names of deity, but Taboo names used to describe the Gods of Earth and Sky in order to avoid accidentally invoking, harming or insulting them if their actual names were to be spoken out loud.

Other examples of dualism in the myths of the ancient Slavs are the two Rozhinitsy, the mother and daughter fates who visit the newborn to decide their destiny, the spirits of midnight, Polunocnitsa and noon, Poludnitsa, both times equally as frightening, and the Zorya - Goddesses of Dusk and Dawn.

Rusalki and Vodanoi, spirits who ruled most bodies of water

The ancient Slavs had a deep reverence for the four elements. Fire and Water were seen as sacred duality on the earthly plane. Often pots of water were offered to the stove and bonfires ritually set up near areas of water, one as a sacrifice to the other. Earth and Sky were seen as a more spiritual plane of duality. High places such as mountaintops or treetops, especially birch, linden and oak, became the sacred meeting places of the Sky Father and the Earth Mother. Where they met they would join their procreative forces, usually in a flash of lightning or a clap of thunder.

The winds were seen as the grandchildren of the God, Stribog. Rivers were treated with respect lest they should drown you when next you visit. There are records of sacrifices being made to rivers such as Dneiper and the Volga. Although many bodies of water had their own deities, most of them were ruled by spirits known as the Rusalki and Vodanoi, sometimes even the Water Tsar himself. Fire was personified by the god Ogon Svarozhich and it was considered a spiritual crime to spit into a flame. Mat' Syra Zemlja, Moist Mother Earth however, seems to be given, by far, the greatest amount of respect and reverence. As her devotee this thrills and delights me. The moist, mother Earth is sacred. My personal Patroness deity, whom I call Matka in affection, is worthy of worship and love.

Weles, the God of Cattle and Wealth

No one was allowed to strike Mat' Syra Zemlja with a hoe until the Spring Equinox, Maslenica, as she was considered pregnant until then. Earth was considered so sacred that oaths were sworn while holding a piece of her, sometimes in the mouth. Ancient wedding vows were taken while swallowing a clump of earth or holding it on the head. The custom of asking the Earth's forgiveness before death was still being observed far into the 20th century and it was considered appropriate to confess sins to the earth.

In a variation to the pairings of water and fire, earth and air, water was also seen as a gateway to the underworld, especially wells, and fire was seen as a child of the sky god, a Svarozhich, a "son of Svaroh". One could use water to enter the world of Nav, the underworld, or fire to contact the world of Prav, the laws of the Gods. Both of these paths were equally purifying, frightening and dangerous. By taking the live coals of three separate and separately gathered woods and adding them to the ritually gathered waters of three separate springs, one could go full circle and create a powerful and magickal agent called the "Water of Life", the most integral and magickal element in Slavic fairytales and traditional healing.

The Water Tsar, ruler of many bodies of water

Like the native Americans, it seems like each Slavic tribe had a totem animal that the clan was named after. It was considered taboo to kill or eat this animal except for in specific religious rituals. Each member of the tribe was thought to have an animal twin, and the death of that twin could cause the death of the tribe member. Wolves have always been a big part of Slavic folklore and custom. The name of the Pagan Priests, the Volkhvy, comes from the word for wolf, Vielk. All the people of Russia have the ability to turn into wolves. Wolf is my totem animal and spirit guide.

Svarozhich, a child of the Sky God, a Son of Svaroh

The Slavs believed that the world tree was divided into three parts; The roots existed in the realm of the underworld, "Nav", and were where the Zaltys, the world serpent, lived. The trunk existed in the mundane world and the uppermost branches reached into the land of the Sky Gods. A magickal bird, the fire bird, or phoenix, was said to live in the branches.

Some Slavs believed that the Earth was an Island floating in water that the sun was immersed in every evening. At the center of this island stood the world tree or mountain. The roots of this tree extended deep into the underworld and the branches reached high up into the realm of the Sky Gods, Irij. No one knows what kind of tree it is supposed to be. Some believe it to be the original tree from whence all other trees were created.

Nav was the underworld, the realm of the dead, from whence it got its name. Weles/Wolos, the god of cattle and wealth and Lada, Goddess of Springtime were also said to reside here. It is from the Underworld that Lada would return every spring.

The God, Svarog, Ruler of all Creation

According to the "Book of Veles", the progenitor, Rod, floated in the abyss trapped in a primordial egg. Lada or the personification of Love, was the first of the Gods created, and with her help, Rod was able to break out of his prison. Rod then began to create all of the universe and the Gods and Goddesses by pulling from himself, his eyes, his mouth, his brow ... until he finally seemed to dissipate and left the running of all his creation to the God, Svarog. In none of the native creation myths of the Slavic people, does God create the universe without help.

Brightly-spun breezes,
Faemore Lorei.

Lada, Goddess of Springtime and the Personification of Love