Slavic Articles

KatherineMilechkine's picture
Although the name Slavs appears to be all encompassing, it does little to give a person the full understanding of the vast area these people inhabit. Around 600 C.E., the slavs had divided into three distinguishable linguistic regions: East Slavs (who settled in present day Ukraine, Russia and Belarus), the West Slavs (who now occupy Poland, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic) and the South Slavs (who lends its ancestry to the Serbs, Bulgarians, Croatians and Macedonians).The languages, although similar, have two different alphabets. Depending upon influences from outside sources, either the Cyrillic or the Latin alphabet was incorporated. The Latin, or Roman, alphabet was introduced to the western Slavs whereas the eastern and most of the southern Slavs use the Cyrillic alphabet.Religiously, Christianity was accepted by the south Slavs first. This is mostly due to their having been influenced by the Mediterranean. The western and eastern Slavs retained their older pagan traditions longer.By the 10th century C.E., Christianity had openly replaced the older religions. But, the pagan ways continued on as folklore and in fairytales (although it is difficult to differentiate the actual tale from Christian influence in the latter).While I was perusing the history of Catherine the Great, I had come across an interesting account of one of the troubles she faced. According to this tale, Orthodoxy was the accepted religion, but the people were still practicing their "old ways" too. The people (especially the peasants) were still "superstitious" and afraid to let go of their pagan beliefs. This means the older religion was still openly being practiced in Russia late into the 18th century C.E. Great effort was made to erase the remaining elements of the old religion after that assessment. She felt that it was holding Russia back from being seen as a civilized place and a world power.It is unfortunate that most of the representations and icons of the older gods have been destroyed either by crusading religions or by nature. However, like most other pagan religions, you can still see traces and influences of them in the churches and records.One such practice, that is still practiced today, is the calling of your homes' Domovoy (Domovoi). A Domovoy is a household spirit. According to the Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend, "At the creation of the universe the Domovoy rebelled against Svarog. He drove them from his realm and they fell to earth, some to the land and some down stovepipes.". A Domovoy is seen neither as good or bad and can be mischievous or benevolent, depending upon its mood and the time of the year.It is said that on March 30th, the Domovoy becomes unsettled and malicious. It remains in this state from dawn until midnight. The exact reasons are unknown, but some surmise it is due to the fact he is shedding and "changing his coat" or, possibly, that he feels the urge to escape and marry a witch.It was not until the introduction of Christianity that a demonic nature was attached to the Domovoy's character. The features given to the Domovoy were less than attractive as the being was becoming demonized.The creature was described as short, all covered with hair (the exception being around his eyes and nose) and having hair even on the palms of his hands and soles of his feet. If he drug his hand across your face while you slept, a bristly and cold touch foretold of impending woes ahead. A warm and fuzzy touch meant good fortune would befall.Although mostly seen as a male figure, there are references to female Domovoys as well. The male would live in the stove of the house, while the female (wife) lived " the henhouse or the outbuildings".These spirits were thought to be ancestors of your paternal line. The Domovoy did not like to be seen so he was invisible. Reportedly, when you did sight a Domovoy, it took on the form of an ancestor or the past owner of your home. Sometimes, when the male of the household was away, a Domovoy would be seen in his form plowing the fields at night. If he were to be seen, it was usually to signify a malady was about to occur. Often times it meant the death of the head of the house would happen shortly thereafter or your house was in danger.In more modern times, the only time a Domovy can be seen is on the Thursday preceding Easter and on Easter Sunday itself. He is usually spotted sitting in a corner of his stall.Domovoys were treated with great respect. He is considered (and considers himself) the master of the house. Keeping the house clean for him, referring to him in a respectful manner and by not sleeping in what might be considered a path of the Domovoy (ie.: in front of the stove, near the threshold of your home or in the center of the floor) were all ways to show respect.When a family moved from one house to another, they invited their Domovoy to go with them (or showed respect to the new one). To transfer a Domovoy to a new home, coals from the old stove were taken to light the fire in the new stove. The husband and wife of the house would stand outside of the new home and call to the Domovoy or the words "Welcome, Grandfather, to the new home!" were spoken.An offering was then made to the Domovoy of bread and salt set on a plate. The bread and salt were then left for the Domovoy in its new home (the stove) and the offering plate broken and buried outside the front door. This practice is supposed to relate to an earlier form of fire worship. The people of Galicia actually believe their hearths to be haunted by the spirits of the dead.If a new house was to be built, several assurances were incorporated to bring good luck to the home and to appease the Domovy. Apparently, a new home was a big deal for the Slavic people. Unlike today, we just buy a home and basically move in, the Slavs were much more concerned with who/what they were disturbing by building the home and then relocating the family.Russians believed that by building a new home, the head of the household was soon to die. Or, that the first person to enter the home would shortly die. In order to prevent this, a sacrifice (most commonly of a cock) would be offered up by cutting off the creature's head and burying it in the uppermost corner of the house or where the first stone or log was to be laid. There have been times when even human sacrifices were performed for this occasion. If no human could be found, an unsuspecting person's shadow would be measured and the string would then be buried in his/her stead. This is on the assumption that once the string was buried, the person would then fade to a shadow. These offerings are believed to be tied to an older form of Earth Goddess worship.Aside from simply being a spirit that followed a family from house to house, the Domovoy took on certain responsibilities for the family. It's duties include managing the house, protecting the family's livestock and grain and warning the family of trouble. The Domovoy is seen as a spirit that generally protects the family outside sources and from other spirits that may bring harm to them.Slavs (Russians especially) differentiate between Domovoys. Your neighbors Domovoy is seen as malevolent and your household Domovoy must protect you and yours from him. It was believed that your neighbor's Domovoy would try to steal your oats and livestock. Transversely, yours would try and steal your neighbor's possessions (that would be part of his mischievous behavior or a convenient excuse as to why you had your neighbors oats). He would not allow other spirits to play or enter your property.Household noises could been seen as indications of the Domovoy trying tell the family something. Creaks, groans, wailing and clattering of pans about the house were often seen as bad omens. While singing, dancing and laughing were all indicators of good omens.A Domovoy will also warn the family of upcoming misfortunes by riding your horses in the field until they are exhausted or by knocking on the walls. Collectively they will appear in the meadows surrounding a town and begin moaning and wailing if there is pestilence and war or fire on the way.Domovoys are very possessive and do not like other spirits. If another spirit is to be appeased the Domovy must be tricked into not knowing such an event took place.An example would be if a goose had been sacrificed as an offering to a water-spirit, the head would be hung in the poultry pen so when the Domovoy counted the flock that night, he would not notice one missing.If another Domovoy existed in the same house as yours, fights might ensue between the two of them. The spirits would go so far as to throw things around the house, bang pots and pans at each other and cause a general ruckus. When the owners had enough of this behavior, they would bang a broom against the walls and demand one of the spirits to leave. Quite often this would give the desire results and one of the Domovoys would depart.The Domovoy is a form ancestral worship and a form of early fire worship. The relationship held with the Domovoy can be likened to man's relationship with fire. Fire can be both constructive and destructive. As can a Domovoy.A Domovoy that has not been treated with the respect he feels he deserves can bring much misery and destruction into a household. Anything as simple as forgetting to keep his path clear to not putting out food can be reason for the Domovoy to misbehave.However, having a Domovoy as part of your home can also be rewarding and give a sense of security. It can easily be adapted to fit into today's lifestyle.Calling to your family's Domovoy to enter into your home is not only a way to reconnect with your ancestors, but will also ensure you try to keep your house a little tidier. Just remember to be respectful, leave bread, cookies or porridge by the stove and do not block his path. Go ahead and call to your family's Domovoy. It's a wonderful hearth practice and way to reconnect with your past.Finally, just some basic notes to remember. If you do decide to call on your family's Domovoy, always treat him with the greatest respect. Remember he probably is connected to your ancestors and cares just as much for you as you should for him. If you do your job he will do his and help to keep your house and family safe.Don't forget to leave him offerings of bread and salt and to thank him for his help (if you are celebrating a holiday, he should get to celebrate, too). Heed the warnings and omens given, they are for your benefit.Do not forget him if you move. This could prove to be disastrous for the new inhabitants of your home (chances are the new owners have never even heard of a Domovoy).Don't be afraid to call on him, but be certain you are ready for the responsibility of caring for this entity and never abandon him. He would never willingly abandon you.Good luck to you and your Domovoy.Other names by which Domovoys are known: Domovoi (Russia) Domowije (Poland) Stopan (Bulgaria) Dedek or Djadek (Czech) Tomte (Scandinavia) Haltari (Finland) Brownie (Great Britain)
none's picture
The following pages are about Slavic gods and spirits:DomovoyOld Eastern Religions
AnthonyRThompson's picture
(The following is a short paper I wrote as an undergraduate on the topic of the Slavic Paganism. Specifically, it focuses on one author and his application of linguistics and comparative mythology to the question of an "Old East Slavic Pantheon". There are therefore many references to the specific author, Roman Jakobson, which might be distracting to some readers. Howver, on the whole I thought the article might be useful for the sake of both Jakobson's end analyses of Old East Slavic Paganism and his use of a comparative methodology.)The bulk of the work of Roman Jakobson seems to be of a linguistic nature. However, he has written a small number of pieces concerning comparative mythology, specifically on Slavic pagan mythology. His research seems to be extremely extensive, drawing upon a variety of historical documents as well as nearly exhaustive linguistic analyses. Some of the historical documents include the Primary Russian Chronicle, the First Novgorod Chronicle, the Igor Tale, and a number of documents relating to German crusades.The linguistic comparisons with various Slavic languages include Iranian, Indian, Lithuanian, Norse, Albanian, Czechoslovakian, Gaulic, Anatolian, Latvian, and Celtic. Roman Jakobson's work in this area uses these sources as tools in reconstructing the Old Slavic pantheon, by which is meant the religion(s) of the Slavic peoples before, and to a certain extent during, the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of parts of the Slavic world. His theories on this topic will be collated and presented here to as great a degree as possible, beginning first with his comparative analyses and continuing onto the conclusions he drew from them.Comparative Mythological AnalysesRoman Jakobson was quite adamant about the usefulness and necessity of the comparative method, especially in a linguistic sense, as demonstrated in the following excerpt from the beginning of an article entitled Linguistic Evidence in Comparative Mythology:"... there continue to appear influential works on the mythology of diverse Indo-European peoples that deliberately reject the comparative method and the use of linguistic comparison and reconstruction in the study of ancient religions. As a result, the facts under study are forcibly taken out of context and thus become meaningless. The historical perspective disappears, and the image of the whole is lost behind the scattered and isolated fragments" (Rudy 12).He reasons that the use of linguistic analysis, in particular "the etymological method", is essential to the study of mythology, pointing out a number of examples in which the names associated with particular deities are integrally related to both other religious and even geographic terminology, and similar but importantly different "tabooed" forms. An example of the former is given as the pre-Christian Church Slavonic term for priest, which literally meant "sacrificer" (13). Some examples of the latter are referenced from H.L. Mencken's The American Language and E.C. Hills' Exclamations in American English, including "gosh" from "god" and "golly" from "holy" (13). Jakobson's point about context appears substantial also, for no deity exists in a religious vacuum and by studying any as such, important information concerning those deities and their relations with other elements of their pantheon and culture may not be revealed.Slavic and Indo-Iranian Religious LinksThroughout Jakobson's mythological analyses, it appears that one oft-appearing thread is that of a link between Slavic and Iranian pantheons and practices. According to Jakobson, "[t]he proximity in the religious pattern and terminology finds its expression both in the features which they preserved jointly from the Indo-European heritage or which they modified in one and the same way. In some cases where we are authorized to presume a direct borrowing, the direction is from Iranian to Slavic" (4).In both Iranian and Slavic religious terminology, the Indo-European name for the worshipped sky is substituted with the name of the cloud, the derivative used to signify gods is converted to the term for "hostile demonic being", a word formerly denoting wealth and its giver is converted to the general usage as "god", and the Indo-European term for "human being" (associated with the term for earth) was removed from both (4-5, 15).Words that are identical or similar in both religious systems include the words for holy, divination, proclamation, drawing, chastising, fearing, protecting, "word" and deed, fire, chalice, burial mound, cure, healthy, sick, evil, shame, guilt, sinister, and paradise (5). The words "consist partly of direct borrowings and partly of primordial Indo-European words that underwent an Iranian modification in their meanings" (14). Jakobson summarizes by saying that, "[t]he closeness of the religious vocabulary to the Iranian, exposing the communality of both faith and ritual, also finds a striking parallel in the names and functions of individual gods" (15). It is to these individual gods that our focus now shifts, where linguistic analyses indicate links with Iranian and many other religions.Perun: The ThundererPerun is one of the deities in the Slavic pantheon to whom Jakobson devotes considerable analysis. This is most likely for two reasons. The first is that Perun is frequently mentioned in the historical documents in which the Slavic pantheon makes an appearance. A well-known example is found in the first Novgorod Chronicle in which Vladimir, formerly of pagan religion, converts to Greek Orthodox Christianity and casts down idols overlooking a river in the capital Kiev, and chief among those idols is Perusice (17). Secondly, there are a large number of linguistic variants for Perun, found throughout the Indo-European world.Jakobson notes similar deities and words related to Perun in the Slavic Perperuna, Preperuna, and pergynja, the Russian Pereplut, the Lithuanian and Common BalticPerkúnas, the Norse Fjorgynn, the Albanian Perëndi and Perudi, the Slovak Peron, the Albanian Perperona, the Arumanian Pirpirúna, the Dalmatian Prporusa, the Greek Keraunós, the Celtic-Latin Hercynia, the Hittite Peruna, the Old Church Slavonic prêgynja, the Old Russian peregynja, the Polabian peründan, the Polish przeginia and piorun, the Bulgarian perusan, the Serbo-Croatian prpor, and the Vedic Parjánya (6-7, 16-24).Other aspects associated with the worship of Perun or one of his variants that seem to be common in the Indo-European world are those of the oak tree and the rain dance. Jakobson refers to linguistic similarities between Perun and his variants, and "the splintering thunder and the splintered oak... The names of wooded hills, especially heights, covered with forests of oak, are associated with the name of the thunder-god and with the oak as an inseparable part of his worship" (20-21).This may be due to the fact that oak trees are not infrequent targets of lightning strikes during storms. Regarding rituals devoted to the thunder god in supplication for rain, especially those rituals involving dance, Roman Jakobson cites a number of Indo-European examples. These include South Slavic, Balkan, Bulgarian, Serbian, Indian, Macedonian, Greek, Armenian, and Rumanian rituals (21-24). Common elements of these rituals include a central role enacted by a young child, a pre-pubescent girl or boy, who invokes Perun or takes his place respectively, and whirling dancing by everyone (6).Veles: God of CattleAt the commencement of an article entitled "The Slavic God Veles", Roman Jakobson cites as one piece of evidence concerning the nature of the god in question the fact that in Old Russian texts,"[t]he expression skotii bog with the unambiguously possessive form of its adjective can mean nothing else than 'the cattle god'. According to the treaty of 907, as cited by the Primary Chronicle, the representatives of Rus' who took their oath po ruskomu zakonu swore 'both by Perun, their own god (Perun'm' bog'm' svoim'), and by Volos, the god of cattle (Volos'm', skot'em' bog'm')'" (34-35).This excerpt reveals a few attributes of Volos, but the most apparent is simply that he is a god of animals, specifically of cattle.Jakobson points out that a similar form of Volos, namely Veles, is found also in Czech curses, wherein Veles is used as a demonic name (25). A quotation from the fifteenth-century Czech novel Tkadlecek reads as the following in translation: "What devil or what veles or what dragon incited you against me?" (37). Jakobson interprets this quite logically by commenting that the "text indicates that together with the devil and the fabulous dragon of Czech folklore, Veles also belongs to the gang of traditional evil spirits", and he refers to several similar uses (i.e., referencing demons or spirits) of Veles or its variants in Hussite, Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian, and Slovakian (36-38).Similar to the linguistic analysis of Perun, the thunderer, so too is that of Veles as extensive. Jakobson finds a great number of linguistic parallels by decomposing "Veles" into two parts, namely "vel-" (or "wel-") and "-es" (or "-esu") and citing examples of each throughout the Indo-European world (25). Examples of the former include the Norse Ullr (god of well-being), the Czech Velesu, the Hussite Velesa, the Lithuanian Velinas, the Latvian Veli, the Vedic Varuna, the Celtic Veleda, the Old Irish fili, the Gaulish , and the Anatolian Walis- (25, 36-40, 43-44). Examples of the latter include the Celtic Esus, the Latin erus, the Iranian ahu-, the Avestan ahura-, the Old Indic asura-, the Greek εν&sigmaf, and the Hittite assus (25, 42).In the article "Linguistic Evidence in Comparative Mythology", Jakobson's brief mention of Veles contains the mention that, "[i]n referring to the seer Bojan, who combines the features of poet and guslar-player with those of magician and predictor of the future, the Igor Tale calls him Velesov' vnuce 'grandson of Veles'" (24). It is interesting that in Old Russian, the term for cattle (skot) denoted wealth in general as well, and that cattle were "under the protection of the clairvoyant Volos" (25).Furthermore, in another article there are mentioned "the 'huge eyes' (dideles akys) and the piercing look of the hunter Velinas, who beholds all flesh as well as the netherworld behind 'the little gate of Veles' (Veliu varteliai)" and finally the Vedic Varuna who "is depicted repeatedly as farsighted, all-seeing, clairvoyant, thousand-eyed, he never closes his eyes and watchfully surveys the realms of life and death which he governs with the assistance of undeceived thousand-eyed spies-messengers who look across the whole world so that nothing in the universe, no action, no thought, and no device, remains invisible to the omniscient deity; no sin can be kept hidden from him" (39-40).It thus seems that Veles is not only a cattle god, but also has magical attributes, particularly those concerned with magical sight. Additionally, the fact that where both deities are referenced, Perun and Veles/Volos are always found adjacent to one another leads Jakobson to hypothesize that the former is distinctly associated with the human world and the latter with the animal world (34-35).Svarog: God of FireThe Slavic god Svarog has a number of attributes, many of which appear to be related to creation in some form or another, though others are associated with destruction. For instance, Kievan bookmen identified him with the fire god Hephaestus and name him as the "first to forge weapons... and [call] the kingly sun 'Svarog's son'" (26).Jakobson cites Czech and Slovak beliefs concerning a related demonic being, saying that "it is at once generous and vindictive, an unusually mobile spirit who assumes the shape of birds, animals, and dragons, and who is closely linked to the fire on the hearth; its body sparkles, its hair blazes, a radiance emerges from its mouth. It flies through the chimney and is carried off by the night in a fiery swirl or is transformed into a whirlwind" (27). He also draws strong parallels with the Iranian Varagna and its variants, listing further associations with the "wind, gold-horned aurochs, horse, boar-as well as his close ties with fire and smithery... [and] virility." (7).As with Perun and Veles, Jakobson lists many Indo-European linguistic relatives of Svarog. These include the Rumanian sfaróg, Czech and Slovak Rarog, Rarach, and Jarog, the Indic Vrtrahan, the Armenian Vahagn, the Croatian rarov, the Lithuanian ràragas or vanagas. In particular, he notes that, "[t]o all appearances svarog' originates from the same Middle Iranian form varhagn. It is significant that precisely the seventh of the nine metamorphoses of the god-like Vereθraγna was his transformation into the mighty, fast-flying falcon vareγna... In all likelihood, besides the direct name of the Iranian hero (varhaγn), his similar-sounding, figurative appellation (varhaγn) in turn influenced the Slavic transmission" (28). Thus, whereas Perun and Veles seemed to reflect a more common Indo-European linguistic root, Svarog seems to be from a more clearly Iranian source.Other Deities: Dazbog and Stribog, Rod/Rozanica, MokosJakobson mentions a few other Slavic deities as well, though because he spends considerably less time discussing them, their analysis will be summarized here. The god Dazbog (fully, Daz'bog' X'rs') appears to be the son of Svarog, and is additionally associated with the sun, fire, and wealth (8, 29). Often coupled with Dazbog is the god Stribog, and where the former was called the "giver of riches" the latter was called the "disperser, apportioner of riches" and was associated with the winds (8, 30).Linguistic variants of the Slavic Dazbog include the Polish Dadzbog, the Serbian Hrs, the Iranian Xursid, and variants of Stribog include the Czech strieti and the Russan sterlisja (8, 30). Another deity Jakobson refers to is Rod', a god of cultivation (literally, "kin") having linguistic relations with the Celtic Teutates, the Latin Quirinus, the Umbrian Vofionus, feminine forms in the Serbocroatian Rodjenica and Slovenian Rojenica (8, 31).Finally, "[t]he only goddess of the Kievan official pantheon, Mokos', literally "moist", and represented by some vestiges in Russian folklore and in Slavic toponymy, is probably nothing but another name for the slightly personified 'Mother moist earth' (Mati syra zemlja), still adored in female deities in Baltic, Phyrgian, and Indo-European mythology. The Iranian Ardvi ("moist") Sura Anahita is particularly close to Mokos': both of them protect semen, child-bearing, and sheep-breeding" (8-9). It thus seems that like Perun and Veles, Mokos' may have similarities with other Indo-European gods and hence a common Indo-European root, but the most definite evidence indicates that like Svarog, there is a definite relationship with Iranian variants in some fashion.ConclusionsRoman Jakobson concludes that, "[t]he relative linguistic unity and negligible dialectal differentiation of the Slavic world until the end of the first millennium A.D., and particularly the considerable lexical uniformity of Slavic pre-Christian beliefs, corroborate the supposition of a substantial unity for the cult of the Primitive Slavs" (4). One attribute of this cult is that of sacrifice, evinced by the pre-Christian Church Slavonic term for priest (literally "sacrificer") as well as a "series of [other] terms relating to a highly developed sacrificial worship" and even geographic survivals such as a natural boundary name related to that of sacrifice near the mountain Perun in Istria (13, 16).Jakobson refutes theories set forth by German writers during the second World War that proposed a "civilizing" influence of German religious beliefs and practices upon an existing Slavic "primitive demonology" by pointing out that, "[w]ere the beliefs of the Slavs to have undergone a Germanic influence this would naturally be reflected in the religious vocabulary of Slavic paganism as well. Yet, whereas the material culture of the Slavs absorbed numerous lexical Germanisms, such phenomena are totally absent from the language of the primitive Slavs' spiritual culture" (14). In refuting those German theories, Jakobson also makes reference to the evidence already reviewed here concerning a number of Slavic deities and their attributes, indicating quite strongly that there was certainly not a mere "primitive demonology" in the Slavic paganism.The overall conclusion one might draw from Roman Jakobson's extensive analyses showing a great amount of linguistic relations between Slavic religious terminology and that of other Indo-European cultures is that the pagan religion of the Slavs was not isolated from the rest of the Indo-European world (especially Iran). In fact, it was quite related to the rest of the Indo-European world, and even appears to share common Indo-European roots, particularly in the cases of Perun and Veles.Works CitedStephen Rudy, Ed. Roman Jakobson Selected Writings. Volume VII. Mouton Publishers: New York, 1985.