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Slavic Mermaids and Water Spirits

Many years ago I began reading about and studying the folklore, deities and overall mythology of the Slavic culture mainly after discovering I have some Slavic lineage. What I quickly learned was how much I enjoy it and even to this day still am always on thew lookout for books regarding this subject. In particular, as I am all about anything with water, I especially enjoy learning about Beings that reside in or around the water of Slavic folklore and even Kupala who is the Slavic goddess of joy and water. If you enjoy Slavic folklore as much as I do then I hope you will enjoy this blog post I thoroughly enjoyed putting together for my readers.

The Rusalki, by Jane L. Mickelson

Beautiful, mysterious, deadly: mermaids of Russian folklore

They meet by moonlight, rising out of lakes and ponds or drifting down from the branches of birch trees, hair drip-ping with dew. Their corpse-pale skin reveals their inhuman nature. Their watery essence links them to ancient, elemental forces. In Russian and Ukrainian tradition they are called the rusalki, and they belong to the spiritual world of women, as the mythology surrounding them testifies. For not only do they bring the fertilizing spring rains when invoked by village maidens, but they also punish any man who chances upon them, using as a weapon the very element that the women so longingly call forth: they lure the interloper into the water and drown him.

In some versions of tales about them, the rusalki are portrayed as shape-shifters, most frequently appearing as unearthly and beautiful young women, but also as birds, particularly water birds such as swans or ducks. This aspect of their nature as a mixture of animal and human relates them to other female water-beings found throughout mythology and folklore around the world, from the sirens that tempted sailors to their doom in the Odyssey to the mermaids that continue to appear in popular modern films and literature. Joanna Hubbs, who has traced the lineage of the rusalki in her book Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, views them as the descendants of an earlier Slavic water elemental, a character part woman and part beast, “the beregina, [which] assumed in folk art the form of the half-woman and half-bird or fish-siren.”1 Hubbs states that the name of the rusalki’s ancestor finds its source in the word “bereg,” which may be translated as “shore.” Continue reading HERE.

Vodyanoy – Water Spirit/The Spirit of the Lake

Also known as Vodnik, the Water Spirit of Dvořák’s opera is better known in folklore as Vodyanoy (amongst other names, such as Wassermann or Nix). Dvořák appeared to be particularly fond of this Water Goblin, writing a separate symphonic tone poem titled Vodník.

Hailing from Slavic, German and Czech’s shared folklore, Vodyanoys were often depicted as humanoids with toad-like features, such as gills, webbed fingers, a greenish hue and anuran features. Usually found riding along the river on a half-sunk log, the Vodyanoy were generally viewed as elderly old men, in stark contrast to the youthful feminine Rusalkas.

Whilst not necessarily viewed as malevolent, Vodyanoy (along with Rusalki) were often blamed for drownings, with the Vodyanoy storing the souls of the drowned in teapots. Usually thought to be pretty lazy, they pass the time by playing cards, smoking pipes, and watching the water pass by. SOURCE

Дженеев Иван Алексеевич, Water Depths. Whirlpool, 1907

Waters and Sacred Spaces

We know from the accounts of chroniclers that pagan temples at Radegast (Rethra) and Wolin, both in modern Poland, were surrounded by bodies of water: swamps, moats and lakes [2]. Chroniclers tell of local beliefs about spirits in these waters, and we can speculate about their use in ritual: bathing and sacrificing in these waters during holy times of the year.

Veneration of springs is a well known in Slavic cultures and persists even to this day, in the form of cults of Christian saints, in many rural areas. But this practice is certainly ancient; aside from the desire for the health benefits of mineral water, springs were either the object of worship or accompanying shrines to gods among Slavic pagan tribes living near the Elbe river.

The Głomacze tribe’s spring was famed for its fortune-telling: it was coated with acorns, oats or wheat to predict peace, and ash or blood to predict war [3]. Acorns covering these waters meant nearby oaks to drop them: oak being a sacred symbol of the thunder god, Perun. Similarly, in Szczecin, a fountain at the base of a large oak tree was venerated as a shrine, to which god the chronicler does not name, but we might speculate it to be the thunderer [2]. Continue reading HERE.

“Ilya Muromets” by Nikolay Roerich

Surprisingly, the Slavs imagined their own Styx, a border river between life and the underworld, and in Russia, this river was called Smorodina, which translates quite clearly as “The Stinky One.”

The river is “stinky,” because it is made of constantly burning and fuming fire. Smorodina is the border between our world and the afterlife that a man’s soul needs to cross to get to the land of plenty (probably The Three Nines Kingdom).

“The melting river is ferocious, a fierce river, the angriest one of all. Its first trickle is like a fire, another one is a spark falling, and because of the third one, the smoke is coming down in columns,” an old Russian bylina (oral epic tale) “Dobrynya and The Serpent” relates. Continue reading HERE.

Russian sauna water spirit B’annik

It was also believed that in ba’nyas (Russian saunas) lived the water spirit named B’annik. He might do various evil things: to scare you while washing, throw stones from the oven or even to raw. He always washed after all the humans at night accompanied with demons, L’eshijs, mermaids & other minor spirits. To please Bannik people left a broom, a bar of soap & some water in a bathing barrel. Besides it was forbidden to build a house on the sauna’s place. This area was considered to be cursed. SOURCE

Another spooky story from SVP! We spoke of what happens when people are so bad, even hell spits them back out, but that isn’t the case with the Rusalka. The Rusalka are women who met untimely deaths at the bottom of the river, but return to lure more victims to a watery grave. Are they spirits seeking justice? Or vengeance? We don’t advise getting close enough to find out.
Vodyanoy Concept and Story Art. Story references inspired by: Nenad Gajic’s book “Slovenska mitologija” and Louis Leger’s book “La Mythologie Slave”

Further Resources

Slavic Folk

Slavic Mermaids: Water Ghosts and Goblins

Rusalka

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Slavic Paganism: An Introduction

Much like with Norse Paganism (Asatru), Slavic Paganism often in modern times gets a negative reputation by some mainstream sources and organizations as a result of a minority demographic that utilizes such spiritual beliefs for their own malicious intentions. However the more ancient native beliefs throughout the Slavic countries which can be in general described as Slavic Paganism has a rich history of traditions, ritual holidays and their Gods and Goddesses. Being that I myself have Slavic blood running through my veins I have been fascinated and studied this subject for years and even in my own crafts pay homage to Slavic Paganism and their Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. In fact eventually on this Blog I plan to feature each Slavic God and Goddess in their own post.

I also with my personal practice of Galdur and Seiðr (Nordic Magic) have studied in some extent the practices of Slavic Witchcraft. Two books I have in my library were written by Author Natasha Helvin and her books I highly recommend. The two books I have she wrote are Russian Black Magic: The Beliefs and Practices of Heretics and Blasphemers and Slavic Witchcraft: Old World Conjuring Spells &Folklore. So with that said let us now dive into the amazing world of Slavic Paganism.

Yes, Slavic paganism is a reconstruction of the pre-Christian and pre-Islamic religion of Slavic peoples. Reconstructionism “…is a methodology used to build a cohesive belief system revolving around certain/specific ethno-cultural peoples, located in a specific era of time…” This methodology includes close study of primary sources about Slavic paganism: medieval chronicles, epic poetry, etc. But it also emphasizes Christian folklore (often a thinly veiled retelling of pagan oral tradition), linguistic analysis and comparison to other mythologies. Altogether, these different approaches compose a reconstructionist method which we employ to revive the Slavic pagan religion.

The use of this methodology in contemporary paganism is not new. It has proven its worth through the compelling reconstructions of the paganisms of other ethno-cultural groups, such as the Gauls, Anglo-Saxons, Greco-Egyptians and Norse, among others.

Slavic reconstructionist paganism includes three main objects of worship: the gods (Russian: Bogi), the spirits (Russian: Dushi), and the ancestors (Russian: Predki). We believe in multiple, distinct gods who are both immanent (appearing in the world) and transcendent (not limited to the material world). We believe that every building, every forest, every river or lake, the landscape itself is populated by countless spirits. We believe that our ancestors watch over and protect us throughout our life. SOURCE

Slavic Pantheon

The following list gives some of the more important Slavic deities known from older sources. Almost all of these are easily identifiable as Slavic cognates of other Proto-Indo-European Goddesses and Gods. The names used here are just some of the forms of the names which vary widely because of dialect differences in the Slavic languages as well as differences in the alphabets and the manner of their transcription from the Cyrillic alphabet. The element -bog seen in several of these names means ‘a god’ in various Slavic languages. The earliest references to specific deities are to Vladimir’s pantheon, the Gods and one Goddess worshiped by Prince Vladimir in about 980 CE before his conversion to Christianity. Most of the earliest references are from Christian sources and do not give much information, and even that is suspect. However many of these deities continue to be worshiped in the dual religion of the country people, and so they are well known from folk traditions.

Belbog, with the element bel- meaning ‘bright, white.’ This deity is known from early Christian sources.
Bereginya, mentioned in old sources, the bereginyi (plural) receive offerings among the folk, and there are folk stories told about them. Bereginya dolls are still made by Russians.
Dazhbog, a ‘Day God’ known from Vladimir’s pantheon and other early sources. In myths, he is the father of the morning and evening stars and of the Zoryi.
Khors, known from Vladimir’s pantheon, but little else is known about this God.
Koliada, the Goddess associated with the winter solstice and possibly a personification of it. There are many songs and dances known for her.
Kupalo/Kupala, a deity associated with the summer solstice. Kupalo, a masculine form, appears in early Christian references, while Kupala, a feminine form, appears in more recent folklore sources.

Lado/Lada. Lado, a masculine form, appears in early sources and is identified with Pluto and was the God invited to any occasion of merriment including weddings. Lada, a feminine form, appears in many folklore sources and is the Goddess associated with the May Day festival. There are many songs for her which people still sing. Although the linguistic relationship is uncertain, she appears to be the Slavic version of the Proto-Indo-European Goddess *Pleto.
Leshii, a personification of the forest fires which were a big concern for people who lived and worked in the northern forests.
Marzanna, a Grain Goddess known from early references and later folklore
Mesyats, a personification of the Moon, Mesyats appears in folk tales, where he or she marries Dazhbog, and they have lots of little baby stars together.

Mokosha, a Goddess from Vladimir’s pantheon, she remained important to people and is associated with water.
Perun, known from Vladimir’s pantheon, he is the Slavic version of the Proto-Indo-European God *Perkunos, a Storm God.
Poxvizd, Pogwizd are Wind Gods.
Priye and Porevit are Slavic versions of the Proto-Indo-European Goddess *Pria, Goddess of spring flowers.
Radigast at Rethra, known originally from Christian sources, the name Radigast is not well understood, but Rethra, the site of a temple appears to be the Slavic form of a standard Proto-Indo-European Goddess or God. The site of the temple described in old records is not certain, but it is probably south of the Tollense Sea (lake), where a wooden idol with two heads was found in 1968.

Rugavit, known from a confused description by the Christian Saxo Grammaticus, Rugavit was said to be a God of War. In later Slavic folklore she appears as Baba Rugen and similar names, meaning Rye Mother among the country people.
Simargl, mentioned in connection with Vladimir’s pantheon, the Simargl was often pictured in folk art as a supernatural bird with a long or braided tail. Various etymologies have been offered, but it may be borrowed from a Zoroastrian/Persian source. The Simargl was also borrowed into Islam and can be found as far afield as Indonesia where it is known as the Simurgh.
Stribog, a Wind God in Vladimir’s pantheon, also mentioned in the Lay of Igor.
Svantovit, is mentioned by Saxo Grammaticus but may be borrowed from Zoroastrian as one of the Amesha Spentas. It’s not clear because the name has been interpreted and reinterpreted in various languages, including as St. Vitus in Latin. The archaeological site for a major temple of Svantovit has been found at Arkona on the island of Rugen along the Baltic Sea. A proper dig was done by Schuchhardt starting in 1922.
Svarog, a God of the Sun or of the Forge in early sources.

Svarozhich, a son of Svarog, another name for a forge or smithy, also known from early sources.
Volos/Veles, though not specifically mentioned in Vladimir’s pantheon, it is known that warriors at that time (10th century) swore oaths by Veles and their swords. Veles is more widely known as the protector of cattle though he seems to take the form of a wolf.
Yarovit, one of the faces of Svantovit, and a deity of summer. Yaro means ‘summer.’
Zhiva is a Grain Goddess, and the Slavic version of the Proto-Indo-European Goddess *Devi.
Zoryi/Zorya, the Zoryi (plural) were personified forms of the sun at sunrise (dawn) and sunset and their names are cognate with other Indo-European names for the Sun, such as Surya. There is a third sister called Black Zorya who represents Night in folklore, or as some say, the Northern Lights. The three are the daughters of Dazhbog. They sometimes appear as knights on horseback as in the tale of Vasilisa and the Baba Yaga.
SOURCE

This symbol represents the Hands of Gods that reach out to everything and everyone,  including our whole world, our galaxy and all universes.
It contains  all elements of life: Svarog – the heavenly smith, the creator of mankind (bottom right field), Mother Earth (bottom left field), the Sun and its life-giving force (upper left field) and Perun, the patron of mankind (upper right field).”

Further Resources:

Slavic Paganism

Slavic Paganism Posts from Elder Mountain Dreaming

Ancient Beliefs Among Ukrainian People From Slavic Paganism To Orthodoxy

Slavic Pagan Festivals

Resources about Polish and West Slavic mythology and paganism

Slavic Paganism: History and Rituals