Slavic Polytheism, Part 2: A Wider Pantheon

This is part 2 of my series on my personal Rodnovery (Slavic paganism, Slavic polytheism, Slavic native faith) practice and my relationship with the Slavic gods. For part 1, see here. For my earlier post about ways to delve deeper into Slavic mythology, see here. In part 2, I will share more of my notes about the Slavic pantheon, talking about deities other than the five idols mentioned in the Primary Chronicle‘s detailing of the Christianization of Kiev. Please keep in mind that these are the actual notes from my personal practice, written with only half a mind for an external audience. As such, they’re messy and fairly disorganized, but I still hope they can be of interest to anyone who is looking to start or strengthen a relationship with the Slavic gods.

Also, keep in mind, I’m not an expert. I’m not trying to claim any kind of expertise. I’m just a Pagan doing his own thing and trying to work with a pantheon that’s not terribly well-known in the west, and I hope that my stumbling attempts to build my own practice can prove helpful to anyone else who’s looking to do the same. If I misstep, I do apologize, and I welcome corrections; I’m still very much in the process of learning.

Other Gods

Veles:

Epithets I’ve written: Lord of the forest, master of beasts, king of the dead, merchant, master of magic.

Perun’s brother and sworn enemy. PERUN AND VELES MUST NEVER BE ON THE SAME ALTAR OR INVOKED AT THE SAME RITE. EVER. The story goes that Veles stole cattle from Perun, sparking a feud that has lasted to this day. (Because of this, Veles is a god of livestock and of animals more generally.) Thunderstorms are caused by Perun chasing Veles with his thunderbolt. In his attempts to escape Perun, Veles shapeshifts, taking on a number of forms including a bull, a bear, a wolf, and a dragon/serpent. These solidify his connection to wild animals, but also mark him as a trickster god and a magician. Veles lives in the underworld and therefore rules over the dead. Like other underworld gods (cf. Pluto) he is also associated with wealth; his idol was not placed atop a hill with the deities of the Kiev pantheon (due to his feud with Perun), but was instead placed in the center of the market in town. This shows him as a god of wealth and commerce, as well as a deity more closely accessible to the people. Talismans made of bear paws are hung up at the entrances to homes for protection; these are known as “Veles paws”. I’ve seen claims that Veles is syncretized with Saint Blaise of Sebastia, but I’ve also seen it said that he’s syncretized with Saint Nicholas (of Myra). I think considering Veles in conjunction with both saints can be helpful, although Nicholas is significantly more important in the Orthodox Church (particularly the Russian Orthodox). Here’s one prayer to Blaise and one to Nicholas:

As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles,
O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision.
Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth,
Thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood,
O Hieromartyr Blaise.
Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.

This could be amended to:

As a sharer of ways and a successor to the throne of the gods,
O inspired god, you found a means of divine ascent.
Wherefore, having taken from the heavens,
You did also contest with the gods even unto blood,
O mighty Veles.
Intercede on our behalf to protect us.

[I altered this one a little more than I have with others. The prayers to Blaise are written by a different group than the other ones I’ve found, and I find the language unpleasantly flowery.]

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a rule of faith,
An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence;
Your humility exalted you;
Your poverty enriched you.
Hierarch Father Nicholas,
Entreat Christ our God
That our souls may be saved.

This could be amended to:

In truth you were revealed to your flock as a god,
An image of strength and a teacher of knowledge;
Your strength exalted you;
Your wisdom enriched you.
O great Veles,
Watch over us
That our souls may be saved.

Blaise’s feast day is February 11th in the Julian calendar. Nicholas is venerated by the Orthodox Church on May 9th, July 29th, and December 6th of the Julian calendar. These prayers bring to the fore an image of Veles as a protector and a shepherd. The shepherd image connects him as a god of animals, but also as a protector of his worshippers.

I found a story somewhere (once again, unverifiable, but I like it) that Veles was responsible for initiating the first witch. The story goes that a woman was out collecting mushrooms when a cloudburst started. Not wanting to get her clothes wet, she stripped naked and put her clothes in her oilskin sack. When the rain stopped, she dressed again, and came across Veles, who was astounded that she was completely dry even though it had just rained. He asked her how she had managed that, and she promised to tell him if he taught her all his magic. Veles agreed, and taught her witchcraft; when she showed him how she had put her clothes in her sack, he was enraged at having been so easily tricked, but there was nothing he could do.

Svarog:

Epithets I’ve written: First of the gods, grandfather of men, blacksmith, craftsman, he who made the universe in his forge

Syncretized with Hephaestus and possibly Odin. In the Hypatian Codex, the name Hephaestus is translated as Svarog, so this is clearly a god of smithing and fire. I extend that and associate him with craftsmanship, carpentry, and making things in general (probably with some weird gendered underpinnings of “masculine” crafts to contrast Mokosh’s “feminine” ones). One source names the Slavic people as “grandsons of Svarog”. I’ve seen a couple of people say that Svarog is Mokosh’s consort, and while I can’t find a source for that, it makes sense to me. Similarly, I’ve seen people talk about Svarog as the creator of the universe, a sort of all-father Odin type, even though Perun is typically venerated as the chieftain of the gods. Once again, I can’t find a source, but I like the story and choose to work with it. I can’t find a saint with whom Svarog is syncretized.

Svarožic:

Epithets I’ve written: The little god, keeper of the sacrificial flame

This name is a diminutive, and literally means “little Svarog”. It seems that everyone identifies Svarožic as a god (and embodiment) of fire, much like Agni. Because fire is an essential component of Rodnover ritual and sacred space, I choose to view Svarožic as a gatekeeper, someone to invoke at the beginning of every ritual, who tends the fire sacred to the gods. (This bears some resemblance to Agni, but primarily to Hestia.) I have no basis for this; it’s just my gut intuition. I can’t find a saint associated with Svarožic.

Svetovid:

Epithets I’ve written: All-seer, lord of prophecy, hunter of the silver bow, warrior, keeper of the horn of plenty.

Svetovid had a more localized cult than the deities listed up to this point. I don’t work much with him. He was depicted with four heads, looking in the four cardinal directions; I’ve seen some people claim that he’s a four-in-one amalgamation of other deities in the pantheon (i.e. that each of his heads represents another Slavic god), but I personally dislike that idea and don’t use it. His idol held a silver bow in one hand and a horn of mead in the other; the priesthood of Svetovid had to ensure that the horn was always kept full, or else the harvest would suffer. Svetovid was a god of prophecy and of war (although he seems to be a tribal protector more than an aggressor). He’s syncretized with Saint Vitus in the Orthodox church. I can’t find any prayers to Vitus online. Vitus’s feast day is June 15th in the Julian calendar.

Triglav:

Epithets I’ve written: Three-headed, thrice-blind lord of mercy, god of justice, he who turns his face from the evils of the world.

The name Triglav literally means “three heads”. Like Svetovid, his cult was localized rather than widespread; once again, I’ve seen people claim that his three heads are three gods brought together in one (usually Svarog, Perun, and Veles as rulers of the cosmos, sky, and underworld), but that doesn’t really work for me. Each of Triglav’s heads wore a blindfold, and for some reason I have it in my head that the blindfolds are made of gold. The idea is that Triglav was a god who presided over justice and punishment, but he loved humanity so much that he couldn’t bear to punish them, so he blinded himself in order not to see the crimes they committed. I can’t find a saint associated with him, and I don’t personally work with him all that much, but he would probably be a good god to petition for legal troubles.

Jarilo:

Epithets I’ve written: Shining one upon a white horse, bringer-in of spring, bearer of seven swords, lord of youth

The evidence we have for Jarilo’s existence comes primarily from a springtime festival of the same name. Jarilo is a god of springtime, who heralds the arrival of the light half of the year by riding in on a white horse; during the festival, a young man is appointed “Jarilo” for the occasion to reenact his arrival. His name varies regionally, and he is also known as Jarovit and Gerowit. He seems to be a twofold god, associated with agriculture and with war; particularly under the name Jarovit, he’s syncretized with Mars. Jarovit is typically depicted with seven heads and holding seven swords; these symbolize the seven summer months he rules over. (This seems to be a regional idiosyncrasy. Another god, Porevit, is five-headed and rules over the winter months, although I don’t work with him. It seems that Jarovit and Porevit were a localized twin-god myth.)

There’s a story I love about Jarilo, for which I can’t confirm a source but which I have 100% adopted into my practice. The story goes that Jarilo and his twin sister Morena (see following) were the children of Perun and Mokosh. (Another version says that Jarilo was a child of the Moon and Morena was a child of the Sun.) They were born on the last night of winter (roughly at the end of February). On the night of their birth, Veles kidnapped Jarilo and took him to the underworld to raise him as his own son. When Jarilo had fully grown, he returned to the overworld, where he met and fell in love with his sister Morena. His arrival and their subsequent love heralded the start of spring. They were married at the summer solstice, and the union of Perun’s daughter with Veles’s adoptive son brought peace between Perun and Veles, ending the summer thunderstorms. However, Jarilo was unfaithful to Morena. When she discovered his infidelity, she killed him, and he returned to the underworld. In her sorrow, she became cold and bitter, and turned into the goddess of winter (not only that, but winter in Russia). She turned into an old crone and became angrier and bitterer until eventually she killed herself (either by drowning or burning). At this point, she was reborn, Jarilo returned to the overworld again, the reborn Morena forgave him for his betrayal, and the cycle began anew. From this story, I get a clear sense of Jarilo as a James Frazer-type dying-and-resurrecting agricultural deity.

Jarilo is syncretized with Saint George in the Orthodox church. Orthodox prayers to George:

You were bound for good deeds, O martyr of Christ: George;
By faith you conquered the torturer’s godlessness.
You were offered as a sacrifice pleasing to God;
Thus you received the crown of victory.
Through your intercessions, forgiveness of sins is granted to all.

This could be amended to:

You were bound for your deeds, O god of spring: Jarilo;
By love you conquered death.
You were offered as a sacrifice;
Thus you received the crown of the underworld.
Through your intercessions, the earth is reborn.

God raised you as his own gardener, O George,
For you have gathered for yourself the sheaves of virtue.
Having sown in tears, you now reap with joy;
You shed your blood in combat and won Christ as your crown.
Through your intercessions, forgiveness of sins is granted to all.

This could be amended to:

The gods raised you as their own gardener, Jarilo
For you have gathered for yourself the sheaves of grain.
Having sown in tears, you now reap with joy;
Your blood is shed in love and death is your crown.
Through your intercessions, the earth is reborn.

George’s feast day is April 23rd in the Julian calendar.

Morena:

Epithets I’ve written: Queen of winter, the unforgiving one, eternally reborn from bitterness, greatest of the witches

Across Eastern Europe, there are festivals where Morena is ritually killed (drowned or burned in effigy) to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In Poland, she is known as Marzanna; elsewhere, her festival is called Maslenica. It usually occurs on or around the spring equinox. In some versions of the story I’ve seen, she is two-aspected: Morena is the name of the winter hag, and the spring maiden is called Vesna. I don’t know of any saints associated with her. The association of Morena with witchcraft is UPG on my part, although I’ve seen other people say something similar about her; I can’t find a source for it, but it just makes sense to me.

There are other gods than the ones I’ve listed here, but these are the ones that I have either worked with in the past or anticipate potentially working with in the future. These are also the gods I’ve had the easiest time finding information about. Also, keep in mind that some alleged gods of the Slavic pantheon are modern fabrications, and are not historically evidenced. (These include figures like Devana, Lada, Lel, and Polel.) That’s not to say that working with these figures is wrong or illegitimate, but it’s not rooted in what we know about historical Slavic polytheism, and I personally don’t touch them. 

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5 thoughts on “Slavic Polytheism, Part 2: A Wider Pantheon

  1. > but was instead placed in the center of the market in town. This shows him as a god of wealth and commerce, as well as a deity more closely accessible to the people.

    Isn’t it interesting how that works? Reminds me of how the veneration of Santa Muerte is reportedly more common among the less wealth and the less fortunate, because death — and thus, the gods associated with death — is more frequently present. So the logic goes, it’s a good idea to worship, placate, or learn how to work with the gods already closest to you and more involved in your daily life than the gods which are more removed from one’s reality.

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  2. I did not know that St. Nicholas was venerated on July 29th. That….actually explains a lot in my practices and in regards to Veles in my life and his connection to St. Nicholas. But the notes you have about never working with Veles and Perun together–that’s the one thing that I seem to have absolutely in opposition to everyone else. I work with them together and have never had a problem. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

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    1. Yeah, I realize that my boldface and caps lock may have been excessive (and may have given the impression that I was trying to make a universal pronouncement rather than express my personal research and experience). I doi work with both gods; Veles is far too important for me to leave him out completely. I just never invoke them at the same time. If I’m going to be working with Veles, I will remove the representation of Perun from my shrine until I’m done. Totally just my way of doing things, though.

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