Imagine that some man-made or a natural calamity had wiped out a large part of the human population. The remaining survivors were pushed back to the stone age. In a couple of generations, most of the memories of the “golden age” have already faded. After many centuries, new civilizations develop, and one such civilization discovers the painted walls of a Christian church. In marvel, they look at all those frescos representing different saints and angels. And they unmistakably conclude that this religion was polytheistic.
Sounds ridiculous, right? And yet, this is precisely the view that we have of the ancient religions.
Polytheism, or monotheism in disguise
The Vedic religion is probably the oldest religion that we know of. And already there, we see a clear definition of one God (with triple manifestation). And even though modern Hindusim probably has the largest number of deities known to men, this notion of one God behind all of them has never been forgotten.
Indeed, in Indo-European languages, the words for gods, “devas” in Sanskrit, and “deux” in Latin, are related to the number two. They imply dualism – an eternal battle between the opposites, of the lower realms than that unimaginable root where everything is one. And all Indo-European nations constructed their pantheons around this “lower” heaven – the realm of stars, constellations, planets, and Sun. Around the battle of good and evil, life and death, day and night.
Now, I am not implying that all ancient people were aware of this fact. In fact, it is quite likely that most of the ordinary people weren’t. They surely did not have access to the information that we have today. And their shorter life spans were occupied by the basic needs for survival. Therefore, it is not hard to imagine how these philosophical concepts were degraded to the level of superstition.
But what I am implying is that there were always those who knew. And the druids involved in the creation of the Slavic pantheon were not an exception.
Svarog – the sky god
The ancients understood that anything that moves is affected by time, and therefore not permanent. And the only immovable point in the sky was the Polar star. Hence, it was seen as the gateway to the absolute. In all Indo-European myths, the polar star was the peak of the cosmic mountain or the world tree.
The name of the Slavic god Svarog is related to the Sanskrit svarga, meaning “heaven”. His main symbol was made of two intertwined Swastikas. According to some modern theories, the shape of Swastika comes from the movement of the Ursa Minor constellation, where the Star Polars is located. The four different positions mark the four seasons and the passage of time. In this light, the swastika is an appropriate symbol for the god of heaven.
Modern scholars, however, do not consider Svarog as the chief god of Slavic pantheon, and he certainly wasn’t the Creator god. A 15th-century manuscript identifies him with Hephaestus. Hephaestus was a lame blacksmith god of Greek mythology. But besides this manuscript, no other parallels exist between Svarog and the blacksmiths. However, Wikipedia on Haphestus states: “In some myths, Hephaestus built himself a “wheeled chair” or chariot with which to move around, thus helping him overcome his lameness.” One must remember that Ursa Minor is often seen as a chariot in ancient mythology.
The twelve gods of the Slavic pantheon
Another commonplace in Indo-European mythology is the importance of number twelve. Many ancient nations had mythical twelve tribes, with Hebrews being the best-known example. The Greek pantheon had twelve Olympians, there were 12 labors of Heracles, and even Jesus had twelve apostles. Of course, number twelve primarily relates to the zodiac and twelve months of the year.
Applying the same principle on the Slavic pantheon, I came to some interesting conclusions. It is a unique and fresh view of the Slavic pagan pantheon. But before we get to the twelve minor deities, we must define the main protagonist that connects them all – the Sun.
Rod – Koleda – Sun
Due to the lack of written records, very little is known of the old Slavic pantheon. But Rod was, without doubt, one of the most important deities. In Slavic languages, the root “rod” appears in many words. Such examples are: “roditi”, to give birth, “roditelj”, parent, “porodica”, family, and perhaps even “priroda”, nature. But the scholars are still debating this etymology. Wikipedia adds:
Early sky-god of the Slavs was *Deiwos or *Div, later replaced by Rod. “Deiwos” is the same as PIE Dyeus, Sanskrit Deva, Latin Deus, Greek Zeus, Old High German Tiwaz…
In any case, based on the little evidence that we have, we can deduct that Rod was indeed one of the most important gods of Slavs. He was related to life, nature, harvest, and sky.
There are not many images of Rod, and the most popular one comes from the “L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures”, by Bernard de Montfaucon, 1722. Here, he was depicted as a man, standing on a fish, with the wheel in his hand. His name states “Chrodo”, which is another variant of his name.
Now, as someone who does a lot of research on the relationship between astronomy and Indo-European mythology, I immediately noticed something very interesting in this image. This is a nice representation of the Sun in Pisces. The fish, of course, stands for Pisces, while the wheel could symbolize the Sun.
Indeed, for the past two millennia, the beginning of the year, or spring equinox, started with the Sun in Pisces.
As Pisces constellation is just one of the twelve zodiac signs, this made me think that Rod is in fact related to Sun, and represented here by a wheel. And indeed, one of the most common Indo-European words for the wheel is *Hróth₂os. (Celtic and Greek *rotos, Britonic *rodd)
Now, Hrothos and Chrodo do sound very close, don’t they? Also, many Indo-European myths really do connect the Sun with the wheel or a chariot. But there is much, much more…
As we saw in the examples above, this word for wheel sounds Germanic above all. The true Slavic cognate was “kolo“. It means: “a circular object, a wheel, a chariot”
And this is particularly important because Koleda (Koliada) was a Slavic pagan equivalent of Christmas, the birth of the new Sun. There is not enough space in this article to go into more detail, but you can refer to the highlighted Wikipedia article. Moreover, there is a Slavic Deity Koliada, which clearly symbolized the new-born Sun. And finally, kolo is an archaic circular dance of the South Slavs. Its original meaning was probably to imitate the rotation of the zodiac.
Therefore, I present you with a unique and fresh perspective: Rod is a northern variant of the original name Koliada, kolo, referring to the Sun “wheel”. The association with “birth” could have been a later folk etymology, but also in line with the main purpose of the Solar deity.
Rodzanica (Rozanica) – Moon
The god Rod had a female counterpart known as Rodzanica. She is described as “young lady”, “beautiful lady” and “old lady” (baba). Based on these epithets scholars see her as an aspect of a triple goddess of birth and fate. However, in the light of the above identification with Rod with the Sun, she could easily be the Moon goddess. The different epithets could, therefore, reflect the different phases of the Moon.
Morana (Marzanna) – Pisces
There are two reasons to start the circle of the zodiac with the Pisces. Firstly, because as I already mentioned, for the past 2000 years, the spring equinox was in Pisces. And the spring equinox marked the beginning of the New Year to the ancients. Secondly, because upon seeing the above image of Rod, I realized the connection between Morana and the Pisces.
Namely, the large fish that Rod is standing on, looks like Beluga (sturgeon), or Moruna in the language of South Slavs. Reaching the size of more than seven meters, it is the largest freshwater fish in the world. Beluga can live in both, fresh and salty water. The Black Sea beluga lives on the sea bed but goes into to fresh Danube river to spawn. The main spawning place and Beluga’s last stop on the Danube is next to the Iron Gate, modern-day Serbia. The famous Mesolithic civilization of Lepenski Vir was located there, and there indications that this fish had played an important role in their diet and their beliefs.
Now, Beluga has two spawning periods, one in spring and one in autumn. They are perfectly inlined with the appearance of Pisces in the sky. In March, Sun rises in Pisces. Six months later, the Sun rises on the other side of the zodiac, making the Pisces visible on the night sky. Moreover, the constellation that comes before Pisces is Aquarius. This could represent the sea from which they came, while the two-fish symbol of the Pisces could relate to their spawning cycle. Therefore, Beluga is really a perfect fish to represent this constellation.
As for the Slavic goddess Morana, traditional etymologies relate her name to the words signifying “death” or “water”. But in South Slavic languages, the linguistic similarity between Moruna, the fish, and Morana, the goddess is quite obvious. And there is more. According to Wikipedia:
Marzanna is associated with the idea of death and rebirth of nature. In Slavic rites, the death of the Goddess Marzanna at the end winter becomes the rebirth of spring…
And a bit later, a description of the rite of “drowning” the figure of Marzanna:
…a figure of a woman made from rags and clothes is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring. On the way to the river, she is dipped into every puddle and pond …
From what we see, it is clear that the Slavic goddess represents the last month of the winter and the first day of the spring. And the constellation of Pisces relates to the months of February and March. Moreover, the connection to the rivers and the bodies of water is quite evident. The Marzanna doll is sometimes burned instead of drowned (or both). The fire could represent the passage of the Sun through the zodiac. When we add the similarity of the names on top of that, I believe that the connection between Morana / Moruna (Beluga) and Pisces becomes quite evident.
Jarilo (Yarilo) – Aries
For the last two millennia, the spring equinox happens in Pisces. But for the two millennia before that, it was the Aries marked the beginning of spring. Indeed, all Slavic traditions connect Jarilo to the beginning of spring. And just like in the case of Morana, the straw figurines are made. From Wikipedia:
A male doll made of straw, adorned with green branches, or a girl dressed like a man, riding on a horse. Songs were sung and their subject was Juraj/Jarilo’s return from a distant land across the sea, the return of spring into the world…
Obviously this is a very ancient tradition but still celebrated today, together with the more appropriate Morana rites. However, the link to the constellation has never been truly forgotten. Namely, even though the rites are related to spring, they usually happen in early May. This is roughly where the Aries constellation is now.
As a spring god, mounted on a horse, Jarilo was a god of vegetation and fertility, but also a god of war. Throughout history, spring has been the most preferred time to start campaigns, and even more so in the case of nomadic, horse-riding nations.
The name Jarilo can be etymologically connected to the constellation Aries together with Ares, the Greek god of war. Another connection comes from the word “jar” (yar) – heat, summer. But as the year began in spring, the Germanic “Jahr” and “Year” are also possible connections, as well as the medieval title “earl”, warlord.
The cult of the horse riding Jarilo is closely related to Thracian Heros, and together, they influenced the Christian tradition of Saint George. The iconography is virtually identical in all cases and relates to astronomy. But their roots definitely come from the Sarmatian steppes.
The image of Jarilo is the first one that I have discovered in the stars and to this day one of my favorites. In short, the constellation Perseus represents Jarilo, with his spear facing Coetus constellation – the dragon of Babylonian mythology. Aries constellation is in between, representing the front part of the horse.
Obviously, the name Yarilo is the oldest form of this hero. Softened “Y” sound gave Thracian Heros (Egyptian Horus), Greek Ares, and finally, English “hero”.
Perun – Orion (and Taurus)
Most of the scholars consider Perun as one of the most important gods of Slavic pantheon. In the 6th century, an Eastern Roman historian Procopius described the beliefs of a certain South Slavic tribe as follows:
“They acknowledge that one god, creator of lightning, is the only lord of all: to him do they sacrifice an ox and all sacrificial animals”.
Modern scholars agree that he was the god of the sky, thunder, lightning, storms, rain, law, war, fertility and oak trees. His weapons are bow and arrow, a hammer and the Perun’s axe. As you can see in the highlighted article, this ax is a direct counterpart to Thor’s Mjölnir. However, the Slavic myth must be older, as even the Wiktionary lists this etymology as Slavic, from molnya – lighting. In Nordic languages, this word has no meaning. In ancient art these axes are identical.
As for the etymology of the name Perun, Wikipedia states:
Perun is the near-identical of Perkūnas from Baltic mythology, suggesting either a common derivative. The root *perkwu probably meant oak, but in Proto-Slavic this evolved into per- meaning “to strike, to slay”. The Lithuanian word “Perkūnas” means both “thunder” and the name of the thunder god.
However, I am pretty sure that this etymology is incorrect. Slavic Perun is directly related to Vedic Parjanya, another god of thunder, rain, and lightning. And just like Perun, Parjanya is associated with oxen. And finally, Wikipedia article on Parjanya gives us the true etymology. It means “rain/raincloud” in Vedic Sanskrit.
The description of Parjana fits perfectly that of Perun:
It is a Vedic deity of rain, thunder, lightning, and fertility. The Atharvanic poet claims Parjanya and Prithvi, father and mother of all beings. His other wives are Bhūmi and the sacred cow Vasa. It is assumed Parjanya is the udder and lightning is the teats of the rain-cow, the rain representing her milk. He is sometimes seen as a rain-bull of the superior god Indra. The thunder is his roar.
And a Vedic chant describes him in a quite Dyonisian fashion:
Sing with these songs thy welcome to the Mighty, with adoration praise and call Parjanya.
The Bull, loud roaring, swift to send his lays in the plants the seed for germination.
Moreover, Perun had a wife Perperuna. She was a goddess of rain, often identified with other Slavic rain goddesses, such as Dodola.
Now, in Indo-European mythology, the constellations of Orion, the hunter, and Taurus the bull are always closely related. Such examples are many and I will surely forget some. For example, Shiva and Nandi, Ymir and Auðumbla, Zeus and his white bull, or Hurrian storm Teshub, standing on a bull, holding an ax and lightning. On the side note, the Hattic counterpart of Teshub was god Tari, whose other names were Tarhun / Tarhunt / Tarhuwant/ Tarhunta. Scandinavian Thor is his direct descendent.
In all these cases, the association with bulls, rain, thunder, and lightning comes from astronomy. The bull is, of course, the Taurus constellation, while the storm god with his raised hand, holding a hammer, ax or a bow, is nothing but the representation of Orion.
Indeed, the Wikipedia article on Perun mentions an old Serbian folk song from Montenegro:
“…He grabbed three golden apples and threw them high into the sky…
…Three lightning bolts burst from the sky…
Taking the poem literally, they explain that these “apples” are a poetic way to describe lightning. However, in the light of what we have seen here, I believe that these apples relate to the three prominent stars of Orion’s belt.
Now, the reason that Orion and bull are related to rain, lightning, and fertility is the same as in the case of the two previous constellations. They date to the time when spring equinox was in Taurus when the appearance of Orion marked the rainy seasons of spring and autumn. The best time to see these constellations is during the winter. They disappear in spring and reappear in autumn. As their disappearance and reappearance relate to the stormy season, it is not hard to imagine how the ancients created the myth.
Orion is also one of the largest constellations in the sky, and one of a few that has a human form. It is not an overstatement to say that it was one of the most important sky-images in Indo-European mythology. This fact explains the significance of Slavic Perun, but that fact alone still does not make him a “chief” god, or a Creator.
In fact, the Indo-European Orion myths show him in a “hero on a quest” role, sometimes a tragic hero, a quite often as the guide of the souls. Namely, the Milky Way usually represents the river or a bridge that carries the souls to the underworld. And Orion “stands” next to the Milky Way.
Unfortunately, Slavic scholars seem completely oblivious to these connections. But we can see the clear image of Orion – Perun, even on the medieval tombstones of the Balkans (Stecak)
The bull worship cults are Neolithic, and the proofs for this claim lie both in astronomy and archaeology. This was one of the most important periods of human history, so it is not surprising that some of the main symbols remained encoded to this day.
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