Perun the Slavonic thundergod

As the pagan revival continues at full speed, interest in the ancient European gods and nature beings is also growing in the eastern half of Europe. Folklorist W.R.S. Ralston left us interesting data in his book: The songs of the Russia people (1872), of which here we present the part that deals mainly with the thundergod Perkunas or Perun, one of the most important gods among the ancient Russians and Eastern Europeans.


Slavonic Gods of the ancient days


At some remote period, of which very little is known with certainty, but when, it may be supposed, what are now the various Slavonic peoples spoke the same tongue and worshipped the same gods, some kind of mythological system, in all probability, prevailed among them, of which only a few fragments have come down to the present day. Among these relics of an almost forgotten past, by no means the least important are the songs which have been preserved by the people in their different dialects, handed down as a precious heirloom from one generation to another, and watched over with a jealous care which has prevented them from entirely losing their original characteristics.


Slavonic complexity

In ancient times they seem to have belonged to some great mass of national poetry, some collection of Slavonic Vedas, in which the religious teaching of the day was embodied. Of it, as a whole, there can now be formed only a dim conception, but of several of its separate features it is possible to gain at least some idea by studying and piecing together the fragments of popular poetry which exist, more or less abundantly, in every land that is inhabited by a Slavonic population. Each land has its own songs now, but there is such a strong family likeness between all these memorials of old times as clearly points to a common origin, whether they come from the shores of the Baltic or of the Adriatic, whether they form the heritage of the “Orthodox” Russian or Servian, or of the “Catholic” Pole or Czekh.

It is mainly with the songs which are still current in modern Russia that it is proposed to deal at present, but almost every inference that may be deduced from their testimony, with reference to the old days of heathenism, can be supported also by that of their kin among the Slavonic brethren of the Russians, as well as among their Lettic cousins.

Before entering upon the subject of these songs it will be as well to say a few prefatory words about the mythological system which they illustrate–to attempt to sketch the principal features of the religious worship of the old Slavonians, and to convey some idea of the process by which the venerable deities whom they adored have, in the course of time, become transformed into the capricious and often grotesque beings with whom the superstition of the Russian peasant peoples the spiritual world. The task is not one which can be completed in a satisfactory manner, for there is a lack of precise information on the subject, and the writers who claim to pronounce upon it with authority not seldom differ among themselves. But it is to be hoped that the remarks which are about to be made here will, at least, help to render intelligible the fragmentary songs which are to follow them.

The Slavonians–says Solovief, in the introduction to his “History of Russia”–remember nothing about their arrival in Europe, though tradition still speaks–even if history be silent–of their early sojourn along the banks of the Danube, and of their being compelled to move thence, under the pressure of some hostile force, apparently towards the north-east. So thick are the clouds which hang over this period of their history, that it is difficult to obtain any thing like a clear view of what was happening before some of their number built Novgorod on the shores of Lake Ilmen, and others founded, near the conflux of the Dyesna and the Dnieper, what was to become the chief city of South Russia, and gave it the name of Kief.

About the time of the foundation of that city, the country adjacent to the Dnieper seems to have been inhabited chiefly by two great tribes, the Drevlyáne, or Foresters [Drevo = a tree], and the Polyáne, or Field-people [Pole = a field], of whom the latter were, as might be supposed from their name, the milder and more civilized. Of the Drevlyáne the old chroniclers have spoken with great harshness, but those writers may have been somewhat biassed by their theological hatred of stiff-necked idolators.

The religion of the Eastern Slavonians–among whom may fairly be included the ancestors of at least a great part of the present Russians–appears to have been founded, like that of all the other Aryan races, upon the reverence paid, on the one hand to the forces of nature, on the other to the spirits of the dead. They seem to have worshipped the sun, the moon, the stars, the elements, and the spirits whom they connected with the phenomena of the storm, personifying the powers of nature under various forms, and thus creating a certain number of deities, among whom the supremacy was, sooner or later, attributed to the Thunder-God, Perun.

These Eastern Slavonians seem to have built no regular temples, and–in striking contrast with the Lithuanians, not to speak of some of the Western Slavonians–they appear not to have acknowledged any regular class of priests. Their sacrifices were offered up under a tree–generally an oak–or beside running water, and the sacred rites were performed by the Elders, or heads of family communities. The modern Russian word for “family,” Sem’ya–it should be observed–originally had the same meaning as Suprugi, man and wife. The word which supplied its place was Rod, which meant family in its widest sense, including the whole of a man’s relatives, his Clan, as it were, or Gens. The chief of the Rod exercised the functions of priest, king, and judge. Prophets seem to have existed in the persons of certain wizards–Volkhvui–of whom very little is known, but who probably resembled to a considerable degree the Finnish Conjurors.

The cultus of ancestors formed an important part of the religious system of the old Slavonians, who attributed to the souls of the dead passions and appetites like to those which sway the living, and who attached great importance to the manifestation of respect for the spirits of their forefathers, and especially for that of the original founder of the family. The worship of the Slavonic Lares and Penates, who were, as in other lands, intimately connected with the fire burning on the domestic hearth, retained a strong hold on the affections of the people, even after Christianity had driven out the great gods of old; but the spiritual beings to whom reverence was paid gradually lost their original dignity, until at last the majestic form of the household divinity became degraded into that of the Domovoy–the house-spirit in whom the Russian peasant still firmly believes, the Brownie, or Hobgoblin, who once haunted our own firesides.


Demonology and Devil-Lore 1


Svarog and Dazhbog

Such are the most salient points of the old Slavonic mythology. We will now examine it a little more in detail, commencing with the ideas attached by the early inhabitants of Russia to those solar gods who are supposed by many eminent scholars to have originally held higher rank than the wielder of the Thunderbolt, Perun.
The most ancient among these deities is said to have been Svarog, apparently the Slavonic counterpart of the Vedic Varuna and the Hellenic Ouranos. His name is deduced by Russian philologists from a root corresponding with the Sanskrit Sur–to shine, and is compared by some of them with the Vedic Svar, and the later word Svarga, heaven.

The Sun and the Fire are spoken of as his children; the former under the name of Dazhbog, the latter under that of Ogon’. According to an old saying, Svarog is given to repose, deputing to his children the work of creation and the task of ruling the universe.

That Dazhbog was the Sun seems clear, and it appears to be proved that he was identical with Khors, who is sometimes spoken of as a different personage. The word Dazh is said to be the adjectival form of Dag [Gothic, Dags, German, Tag], so that Dazhbog is equivalent to Day-God. That the word Bog stands for God is already well known, as also that it “reappears among us in the form of Puck, Bogy, and Bug.”

That Ogon’, Fire, [pronounced Agón, = Agni], was considered the son of Svarog, the Heaven, is supposed to be proved by the evidence of a thirteenth century writer, who says of the Slavonians, “They pray to Ogon’, whom they call Svarozhich,” or Svarog’s son–the “Zuarasici” mentioned by Dietmar. We shall see, a little farther on, how many traces still appear to exist, in the speech and the customs of the modern Russians, of the worship once paid to Ogon’, and on his account to the domestic hearth, or to the stove which eventually took its place–a worship which was closely connected with that of which the spirits of ancestors were the objects.


Perkunas, the Thunderer
Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1909) - Perun

Perkūnas or Perun, the thundergod by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1909)


We now come to the deity who ultimately became the supreme god of the Slavonians–Perun, the Thunderer. In dealing with him we shall by no means be treading upon certain ground, but we shall at least have escaped from the limbo to which the lapse of’ time has assigned the dimly-seen form of Svarog.

Russian mythologists identify the name of Perun with that of the Vedic Parjanya. Whether the latter was an independent deity, or whether his name was merely an epithet of Indra, does not appear to be certain, nor are philologists agreed as to whether Parjanya means “the rain” or “the thunderer;” but “it is very probable that our ancestors adored, previously to the separation of the Aryan race, a god called Parjana, or Pargana, the personification of the thundering cloud, whom they believed to rouse the thunder-storm, to be armed with the lightning, to send the rain, to be the procreator of plants, and the upholder of justice. Afterwards the Græco-Italian nation, bent on the adoration of Dyaus, forgot him entirely; the Aryans of India and the Teutonic tribes continued to worship him as a subordinate member of the family of the gods, but the Letto-Slavonians raised him to the dignity. of a supreme leader of all other deities.”


Demonology and Devil-Lore 2


In the hymns addressed to Parjanya in the Rig Veda he is called “the thunderer, the showerer, the bountiful, who impregnates the plants with rain,” and it is said that “Earth becomes (fit) for all creatures when Parjanya fertilizes the soil with showers.” Sometimes “he strikes down the trees” and destroys “the wicked (clouds),” at others he “speaks a wonderful gleam-accompanied word which brings refreshment,” and gives birth “to plants for man’s enjoyment.”

The description of Parjanya is in all respects applicable to the deity worshipped by the different branches of the Slavo-Lettic family under various names, such as the Lithuanian Perkunas, the Lettish Perkons, the Old Prussian Perkunos, the Polish Piorun, the Bohemian Peraun, and the Russian Perun.

According to a Lithuanian legend, known also to other Indo-European nations, the Thunder-God created the universe by the action of warmth–Perkunas wis iszperieje. The verb perieti (present form periu) means to produce by means of warmth, to hatch, to bear, being akin to the Latin pario, and the Russian parit’ .

In Lithuania Perkunas, as the God of Thunder, was worshipped with great reverence. His statue is said to have held in its hand “a precious stone like fire,” shaped “in the image of the lightning,” and before it constantly burnt an oak-wood fire. If the fire by any chance went out, it was rekindled by means of sparks struck from the stone. His name is not yet forgotten by the people, who say, when the thunder rolls, Perkúns grumena, and who still sing dainos in which he is mentioned. In one of those a girl who is mourning for the loss of her flowers is asked,–

Did the north wind blow,
Or did Perkunas thunder or send lightnings?

In another it is told how when

The Morning Star held a wedding-feast,
Perkunas rode through the doorway,
Struck down the green oak.

And in a third the following myth is related about the marriage of the Moon, a male deity in the Slavo-Lettic languages:–

The Moon wedded the Sun
In the first spring.
The Sun arose early
The Moon departed from her.
The Moon wandered alone,
Courted the Morning Star.
Perkunas greatly wroth
Cleft him with a sword.
“Wherefore dost thou depart from the Sun?
Wandering by night alone?
Courting the Morning Star?”
Full of sorrow [was his] heart.

Among the kindred Livonians a feast used to be celebrated at the beginning of Spring, during which the following prayer is said to have been uttered by the officiating priest:–

Perkons! father! thy children lead this faultless victim to thy altar. Bestow, O father, thy blessing on the plough and on the corn. May golden straw with great well-filled ears rise abundantly as rushes. Drive away all black haily clouds to the great moors, forests, and large deserts, where they will not frighten mankind; and give sunshine and rain, gentle falling rain, in order that the crops may thrive!

Among many of the Western Slavonians the name of this thunder-god is still preserved under various forms in the speech of the people. The White-Russian peasant to this day uses such expressions in his wrath as “Perun smite thee!” and the Slovaks have retained a curse, “May Parom show thee his teeth!” that is to say, “May the lightning strike thee!”

In a most valuable collection of Lettish songs, recently published at Wilna, in Lett and Russian, there occur several allusions to Perkons, either regarded as the thunder-god or as the thunder itself. In one we are told that–

Father Perkons
Has nine Sons:
Three strike, three thunder,
Three lighten.

Another states that–

Perkons drove across the sea,
In order to marry beyond the sea:
Him the Sun followed with a dowry
Bestowing gifts on all the woods:
To the Oak a golden girdle,
To the Maple motley gloves.

And a third addresses the Thunderer as follows:–

Strike, O Perkons, the spring
To the very depths–
In it the Sun’s daughter yesterday was drowned
While washing golden goblets.


Maria Percunatele

According to a Polish tradition, the mother of the thunder is called Percunatele, a name which is applied in part of Russian Lithuania as an epithet of the Virgin Mary, who is called Panna [Lady] Maria Percunatele. In the Government of Vilna the second of February is devoted to the Presvyataya Mariya Gromnitsa, the Very Holy Mary the Thunderer, and during service on that day the faithful stand in church holding lighted tapers, the remains of which they keep by them during the rest of the year, lighting them before their holy pictures from time to time when storms impend.

In “Great-Russia,” or Russia proper, the name of Perun has disappeared from the memory of the common people, and it has left scarcely any traces behind. Only two Russian localities, says Schöpping, bear names which seem to be derived from his, and one of them is in Kief, and the other in the Government of Novgorod, both places directly under Varangian influence–his theory being that the Scandinavian rulers of Russia were the chief promoters of the worship of Perun. In their treaties with the Greeks they swore by Perun and Volos, and some commentators have supposed that the former was the peculiar deity of the Scandinavian rulers, and the latter that of their Slavonic subjects. At all events, Volos has retained his hold on the memory of the Russian peasants, while Perun has become forgotten, and his attributes have been transferred to the Prophet Elijah and various Christian Saints.

The descriptions we have of the appearance presented by the statues of Perun all come from the west and south-west. In Kief, it is said, he had a statue of which the trunk was of wood, while the head was of silver, with moustaches of gold, but little more is known about it, except that it bore among its weapons a mace. White-Russian traditions, says Afanasief, describe Perun as tall and well-shaped, with black hair, and a long golden beard. He rides in a flaming car, grasping in his left hand a quiver full of arrows, and in his right a fiery bow. Sometimes he flies abroad on a great millstone, which is supported by the mountain-spirits who are in subjection to him, and who, by their flight, give rise to storms. Perun, in many respects, corresponds with Thor, and one of the points of similarity is the mace which he bears, answering to Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, the name of which may be compared with the Russian words for a hammer and for lightning, molot and molniya. Ukko, also, the Finnish Thunder-God, has his hammer, and the Lithuanians used to pay special honour to a great hammer with which a certain giant–perhaps Perkunas–had freed the Sun from imprisonment.


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In the Spring, according to a White-Russian tradition, Perun goes forth in his fiery car, and crushes with his blazing darts the demons, from whose wounds the blood is sometimes described as streaming forth. That is to say, the lightning pierces the clouds at that season of the year, and causes them to pour forth rain.

The myth is one which the Slavonians doubtless brought with them from some such climes as those in which “anxious multitudes watch the gradual gathering of the sky, as day by day the long array of clouds enlarges; but there is no rain until a rattling thunderstorm charges through their ranks, and the battered clouds are forced to let loose their impetuous showers. ‘This,’ says the Veda, ‘is Indra, who comes loud shouting in his car, and hurls his thunderbolt at the demon Vritra.'”

After Perun’s statue at Kief had been flung into the Dnieper by St. Vladimir, and that at Novgorod had been cast into the Volkhof, and the people who used to worship him had accepted just so much of Christianity as left them what the chronicler called “two-faithed,” then his attributes were transferred to a number of the personages whom the new religion brought into honour. In the minds of most of the people he became changed into the Prophet Ilya, or Elijah, from whose fiery chariot the lightnings flashed and the thunders pealed as they had done in days of yore from that of Perun. The fame of his battles with the demons survived. in the legends about the Archangel Michael, the conqueror of the powers of darkness, and other traditions relating to him may be traced in stories told about the Apostle Peter, or about Yury the Brave, our own St. George.

Perun’s bow is sometimes identified with the rainbow, an idea which is known also to the Finns. From it, according to the White-Russians, are shot burning arrows, which set on fire all things that they touch. In many parts of Russia (as well as of Germany) it is supposed that these bolts sink deep into the soil, but that at the end of three or seven years they return to the surface in the shape of longish stones of a black or dark grey colour–probably belemnites, or masses of fused sand–which are called thunderbolts, and considered as excellent preservatives against lightning and conflagrations. The Finns call them Ukonkiwi–the stone of the thunder-god Ukko, and in Courland their name is Perkuhnsteine, which explains itself.

In some cases the flaming dart of Perun became, in the imagination of the people, a golden key. With it he unlocked the earth, and brought to light its concealed treasures, its restrained waters, its captive founts of light. With it also he locked away in safety fugitives who wished to be put out of the power of malignant conjurors, and performed various other good offices. Appeals to him to exercise these functions still exist in the spells used by the peasants, but his name has given way to that of some. Christian personage. In one of them, for instance, the Archangel Michael is called upon to secure the invoker behind an iron door fastened by twenty-seven locks, the keys of which are given to the angels to be carried to heaven. In another, John the Baptist is represented as standing upon a stone in the Holy Sea [i. e. in heaven], resting upon an iron crook or staff, and is called upon to stay the flow of blood from a wound, locking the invoker’s veins “with his heavenly key.” In this case the myth has passed into a rite. In order to stay a violent bleeding from the nose, a locked padlock is brought, and the blood is allowed to drop through its aperture, or the sufferer grasps a key in each hand, either plan being expected to prove efficacious. As far as the key is concerned, the belief seems to be still maintained among ourselves.

According to the mythologists, Perun’s golden key is the lightning with which in spring he rends the winter-bound earth and lets loose the frozen streams–offices more usually performed by the sun–or pierces the clouds, and frees the rains which are imprisoned in those airy castles. These spring rains have always been looked upon as specially health-giving, and from that idea, as some commentators suppose, arose the myth of the Water of Life which figures in the folk-lore of so many different races.

The Slavonic tales, like those with which we are more familiar, abound in accounts of how a dead hero is restored to life by means of this precious liquid, which is sometimes brought by the Whirlwind, the Thunder, and the Hail, sometimes by their types the Raven, the Hawk, the Eagle, and the Dove. But they differ from most of the similar stories in this respect. They have two species of what is called the “strong” or the “heroic” water. The one is called “the dead water” (mertvaya voda); the other the “living [or vivifying] water” (zhivaya voda). When the “dead water” is applied to the wounds of a corpse it heals them, but before the dead body can be brought to life, it is necessary to sprinkle it with the “living water.” When that has been done, the corpse first shudders and then sits up, usually remarking “How long I have been asleep!”

In other stories the representative of Perun recovers gems or treasures which evil spirits have hidden away within mountains or under deep waters–[that is to say, he brings out the lights of heaven from behind the dark veil of winter, or from out of the depths of the cloud-sea?] Sometimes, however, it is Perun who dies, and then remains lying veiled in a shroud [of fog?] or floating over dark waters in a coffin [of cloud, until the spring recalls him to life?].


Sacred oaks and ferns

As among other peoples, so among the Slavonians, the oak was a sacred tree, and was closely connected with the worship of the thunder-god. The name dub, which is now confined to the oak, originally (like the Greek drus) meant a tree or wood, as may be seen in such words as dubina, a cudgel. Afterwards it was used to designate the hardest and most long-lived among trees, and that which was consecrated to the Thunderer, the oak. Its name in Servian is grm, or grmov, a form which is evidently akin to the Russian onomatopœic word grom, the thunder. As has already been stated, the fire which burnt before the statue of Perkunas was fed with oak-wood, and so profoundly did the old Lithuanians respect their sacred oaks, which they carefully hedged around, that, when they accepted Christianity, they protested against those trees being hewn down, even when they consented to their idols being overthrown.

The ideas which were associated with the fern in other lands are current also in Russia. At certain periods of the year it bursts into golden or fiery blossoms, but they disappear almost instantaneously, for evil spirits swarm thickly around them, and carry them off. Whoever can gather these flowers will be able to read the secrets of the earth, and no treasures can be concealed from him. But to obtain them is a difficult task. The best way is to take a cloth on which an Easter cake has been blessed, and the knife with which the cake has been cut, and then go into the forest on Easter Eve, trace a circle with the knife around the fern, spread out the cloth, and sit down within the circle, with eyes steadily fixed upon the plant. Just at the moment when the words “Christ is arisen!” are sung in the churches, the fern will blossom. The watcher should then seize it and run home, having covered himself with the cloth, and taking care not to look behind him. When he has reached home he should cut his hand with the knife and insert the plant into the wound. Then all secret things will become visible to him.

The fern-gatherer must remain in the magic circle until he has secured the flowers, otherwise the demons will pull him to pieces. They do all they can to prevent his obtaining the fiery blossoms, attempting to overcome him by a magic sleep, and causing the earth to rock, lightning to flash, thunder to roar, flames to surround the intruder, so that success is rare. These magic blossoms, which appear on St. John’s day at Midsummer, as well as on Easter-day, are called among the Croats, says Afanasief, by the name of Perenovo Tsvetje, or Perun’s Flower.

The lightning was endowed by ancient fancy with the faculty of sight, and the flash of the summer lightning, when it gleams for a moment across the heavens, and then hides itself behind the dark clouds, is still associated by the people in many places with the winking of an eye. Thus the Little-Russians call the summer lightning Morgavka [morgat’ = to wink], and say as they look at it, “Morgni, Morgni, Morgavko!” “Wink, wink, Morgavko!” The stories of the Bohemians and Slovaks tell of a giant named Swifteye, whose ardent glances set on fire all that they regard, so that he is compelled to wear a bandage over his eyes; and the Russian stories describe a wondrous Ancient with huge eyebrows and enormously long eyelashes. So abnormal has been their growth, that they have darkened his vision, and when he wishes to gaze upon “God’s world,” he is obliged to call for a number of powerful assistants, who lift up his eyebrows and eyelashes with iron pitchforks. In Servia he appears in the form of the Vii, a mysterious being, whose glance reduces not only men, but even whole cities, to ashes. Nothing can be concealed from his eyes when they are open, but they are almost always covered by their closely adhering lids, and by his bushy brows. When his eyelids have been lifted by the aid of pitchforks, his stare is as fatal as was that of Medusa. This wielder of baleful regards is supposed to have been one of the many forms under which the popular fancy personified the lightning–his basilisk glance, so rarely seen, being the flash which remains bidden by the clouds, till the time comes for it to make manifest its terrible strength.

There is a well-known Lithuanian story, in which Perun occupies an intermediate place between that of a deity and of a demon. According to it a young Carpenter once went roaming about the world with Perkun and the Devil. Perkun thundered and flashed lightnings, so as to keep off beasts of prey, the Devil hunted, and the Carpenter cooked. After a time they built a hut, and lived in it, and began to till the land and to grow vegetables. All went well for a while, but at last a thief took to stealing their turnips. The Devil and Perkun successively tried to catch the thief, but only got well thrashed for their pains. Then the Carpenter undertook the task, providing himself beforehand with a fiddle. The music he drew from this instrument greatly pleased the thief, who appeared in the form of a Laume, or supernatural hag, and besought a music-lesson. The Carpenter, under the pretence of making her fingers more fit for fiddling, induced her to place them in a split tree-stump, from which he knocked out a wedge, and so captured her. Before he let her go he made her promise not to return, and took away her iron waggon, and the whip with which she had belaboured his comrades.

Time passed by and the three companions agreed to separate, but could not decide who should occupy the hut. At last they settled that it should belong to that one of their number who succeeded in frightening the two others. First, the Devil tried his hand, and raised such a storm that he drove Perkun out of the house. But the Carpenter held out bravely, praying and singing psalms all night. Next Perkun put forth all his terrors, and frightened the Devil horribly by his thunder and lightning, but the Carpenter still held his own. Last of all the Carpenter set to work. In the middle of the night up he drove in the Laume’s waggon, cracking her whip, and uttering the words he had heard her use while she was stealing turnips.. Immediately away flew both the Devil and Perkun, and the Carpenter was left in possession of the house.

The statue of Perun, at Kief, stood upon a piece of rising ground, on which were set up also the images of several other gods-Khors, Dazhbog, Stribog, Simargla, and Mokosh. Of these Khors and Dazhbog are supposed, as has already been observed, to have been two forms of one deity, the Sun-god, and Stribog was the God of Winds. Of the others very little indeed is known. Simargla is generally taken to be a corruption of Sim and Regl, the names of two deities who are so shrouded in obscurity that one commentator–in default of all trustworthy evidence–has had recourse to a somewhat rash comparison of their names with those of the Assyrian gods mentioned in the Second Book of Kings [ch. xvii. ver. 30]: “And the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima.” In pursuance of a similar idea Mokosh has been taken to be a female deity, and has been likened to Astarte. But these are the wildest of conjectures. The name of Stribog, the God of the Winds, is derived from a word Stri (= the air, or a certain state of the atmosphere), and may still be recognized in various geographical designations, such as Stribog’s Lake (Stribozhe Ozero), etc.


Belobog and Chernobog

The Grand Grimore or Imperial Ritual of Magic

On the other deities known to the Western Slavonians there is no occasion to dwell at present, for they do not figure in the popular prose or poetry of Russia. Some of their names are probably synonyms, and it will be sufficient to say of such forms as Svyatovit, Radigast, and Yarovit that Professor Sreznyevsky considers them as different appellations of the Sun-god, preserved by various Slavonic races. The belief attributed to the Western Slavonians in the warring principles of good and evil, in Byelbog, the White God, the representative of light–and in Chernobog, the Black God, the representative of darkness–is supposed by some writers to have once been common to the whole Slavonic family, the Russians included, for geography has preserved the names of the antagonistic deities in divers places. In Russia, for instance, there are the Byeluie Bogi, near Moscow, the Troitsko-Byelbozhsky Monastery in the diocese of Kostroma, and Chernobozh’e, in the Porkhof district. Among the White-Russians the memory of Byelbog is still preserved in the traditions about Byelun. That mythical personage is represented as an old man with a long white beard, dressed in white, and carrying a staff in his hand, who appears only by day, and who assists travellers to find their way out of the dark forests.

He is the bestower of wealth and fertility, and at harvest time he often appears in the corn-fields, and assists the reapers. The adjective byeloi or byely [from a root byel or bil] which now means white, originally meant bright, as appears from such expressions as byely svyet, or byely den, the white (i.e. bright) light or day. In the same sense of the word the moon is often spoken of as “white,” and the horses are “white” which draw the chariot of the sun. The intimate connexion between Byelbog and the Light-god Bäldäg [Baldur, etc.] has been pointed out by Jacob Grimm (Deutsche Mythologie, p. 203).

In the Russian songs several other mythological names occur, but many of them are supposed to be merely special designations either of Perun or of Dazhbog–of the thunder or of the sun–such as Tur, Ovsen’, Yarilo, etc. These may be left to be dealt with as they occur, but there are two names which are very often mentioned, and about which some discussion has arisen–those of Lado and Lada. Of these it may be as well to say a few words.

One writer has gone so far as to maintain that Lado and Lada are merely two of the meaningless refrains that occur in Russian songs. But the generally received idea is that Lado was a name for the Sun-god, answering to Freyr, and that Lada was the Slavonic counterpart of Freyja, the goddess of the spring and of love. In Lithuanian songs Lada is addressed as “Lada, Lada, dido musu deve!” “Lada, Lada, our great goddess!” And the epithet dido, or great, may account for the form Did-Lado, which frequently occurs in the Russian songs. One Lithuanian song distinctly couples the name of Lado with that of the sun. A shepherd sings, “I fear thee not, O wolf! The god with the sunny curls will not let thee approach. Lade, O Sun-Lado!” In one of the old chronicles Lado is mentioned as “The God of marriage, of mirth, of pleasure, and of general happiness,” to whom those who were about to marry offered sacrifices, in order to secure a fortunate union. And nearly the same words are used about Lada, on the authority of an old tradition. In the songs of the Russian people the words lado and lada, are constantly used as equivalents, in the one case for lover, bride groom, or husband, and in the other for mistress bride, or wife. Lad means peace, union, harmony, as in the proverb, “When a husband and wife have lad, they don’t require also klad (a treasure).” After the introduction of Christianity the reverence that was originally paid to Lada became transferred to the Virgin Mary. On that account it is that the Servians call her “Fiery Mary,” and speak of her in their songs as the sister of Elijah the Thunderer, that is Perun.


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