The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Slavic Mythology

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Slavic Mythology
Edition of 1920. See also Slavic mythology on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SLAVIC MYTHOLOGY. Of Slavic mythology we cannot obtain a distinct picture, owing to very defective traditions among the peoples of Slav race and perhaps still more because of a great scarcity of records. The early history of this whole race is, in fact, shrouded in darkness, and we do not even definitely know the time of the first arrival of Slavic tribes in Europe. We do know, it is true, that some of them were heard of as early as the 1st or 2d century of the Christian era, but of their manners and customs, their vernacular and, above all, their creed and worship we know next to nothing at that early time. In some regions of Europe they appear to have preceded the Teutons and to have taken possession of the land, while in others they followed Teutonic tribes, such as the Marcomanni in what is now Bohemia, the Vandals on the Baltic, the Goths and Gepidæ after these had started off on their conquering migrations toward the West and South which were at last to end in the destruction of the Roman Empire. So far as indications go, the bulk of the progenitors of the Slavic populations of to-day seem to have reached and in a manner settled on European soil by the 5th and 6th centuries of our era. But in their shifting occupation of districts and lands, but vague recollections of the mythology of their race have remained. Of the Southern Slavs (Serbians, Bulgarians, Croatians), the Poles and the Czechs we do not even possess the names of their early gods. Generally speaking, the Slavic creed consisted in a worship of the forces of nature. We find dim reminiscences of a “heaven-god,” Svarog (the Vedic Varuna), who apparently was acknowledged more or less by all Slavs. We encounter in the scant records a solar deity, Dazhbog, paid honors to by other tribes under the name of Khors. Fire was worshipped as Ogon (Vedic Agni) and the wind-god as Stribog. With the Northeastern Slavs the chief deity was Perun*, the god of thunder and lightning, the Vedic Parjayna, the Teutonic Donar or Thor. The Western Slavs again along the Baltic coast, such as the Obotriti, the Vinds or Wends, etc., paid homage to a god Radegast or Radegost, also named Sviatovit or Svantevit, the three-headed and trebly-gifted god Triglaff, of whose images and devotional service detailed descriptions have been given by ancient writers. These Western Slavs, too, had temples and sacrificial altars, as well as priests, but this does not seem to have been the case with the Slavs of the East. Of inferior gods, on the other hand, or semi-divine beings there still linger memories among all Slavs, such as of the Rusalkas and Vilas (Volos, Veles), wood nymphs and spirits haunting the forests, springs, pastures and lakes, of Kupalo and Garilo, fertilizers of the earth, representatives of the summer sun. The Western Slavs first accepted Christianity through the Greek monks Cyril and Methodius. Some writers tell of a species of dualism, of a ceaseless struggle between darkness and light, in which the Slavs put faith. But this legend seems to have been more owing to Christian influences. Of the “white” and “black” god, Bjelbog and Czernebog, said to have been believed in by the Slavs inhabiting the tract between Oder and Elbe, we know nothing reliable. But that nearly all Slavs put faith in the field and house spirits, including also the Royeniczas and Soyeniczas (goddesses of birth and fate), the Domowyje and Leshiye, the Babayaga of the Russian, is attested sufficiently.

Bibliography. — Afanasieff, A. P., ‘Poet. Naturansch. der Slawen’ (3 vols., Moscow 1865-69); Jagich, W., ‘Archiv für slaw. Philologie’ (Vol. IV, Vienna); Hanusz, V., ‘Die Wissenschaft des slav. Mythus’ (Lemberg 1842); Krek, X. F., ‘Einleitung in die slavische Literaturgesch.’ (2d ed., Graz 1887); Palacky, F., ‘Geschichte von Böhmen’ (3d ed., 5 vols., Prague 1876-78).

Wolf von Schierbrand,
Formerly Secretary to American Minister at Teheran, Persia.