As attested, the Slavic pantheon is rather well-populated. However, many of its numerous members are known only by their names mentioned in passing in one or two medieval documents. Among those barely attested Slavic deities, there are a few whose very existence may be doubted. This does not deter some scholars from articulating rather elaborate theories about Slavic mythology and cosmology.
The article discusses two obscure Slavic deities, “Black God” and “White God,” and, in particular, reexamines the extant primary sources on them. It is argued that “Black God” worship was limited to the Slavic North-West, and “White God” never existed.
A discussion of Slavic mythology and pantheons is always a difficult, risky, and thankless business. There is no dearth of gods to talk about. In the literature they are discussed with confidence and, at times, some bold conclusions about Slavic cosmology are made, based on the sheer fact of the existence of a particular deity. In reality, however, many of the “known” Slavic gods are not much more than a bare theonym mentioned once or twice in what often is a late, unreliable, or poorly interpretable document. The available evidence is undeniably scanty and the dots to be connected are spaced far apart. Naturally, many Slavic mythologists have succumbed to an understandable urge to supply the missing fragments by “reconstructing” them. As a result, rather elaborate theories have been postulated based on a very slender empirical basis. These reconstructions and theories have then been used as a foundation upon which to build further, even more elaborate edifices.
By now, the profusion of speculative proposals and ingenuous claims, some of them quite florid, have reached staggering heights, and the body of “knowledge” keeps growing. This calls for a “back-to-basics” approach, that is to say, back to the stark reality of the barren landscape of Slavic mythology as it is actually attested in the primary sources. The object of this discussion is thus not to refute or refine any current claims and hypotheses about the native Slavic religion. The goal is more modest. It is to revisit and reexamine some of the empirical foundations of the existing theories—their “building blocks,” as it were. On occasion, one cannot help but wonder whether those foundations adequately support the structures above them.
The present study focuses on Black God and White God. It was conceived as the first of two publications on Slavic mythology. The next study will discuss Velesъ and the “primary (or “fundamental”) myth” (Russ. osnovnoj mif).
I State of Attestation. Northwestern Slavic Pantheon
Unlike some other, more fortunate, native traditions, the Slavic “folk” religion and mythology were only minimally documented before being obliterated by an imported universal religion. The same fate later befell the native West and East Baltic mythological traditions. A theoretical chance to record pre-Christian Slavic beliefs and practices, describe the deities and their functions, etc., presented itself with the arrival of literacy, which was brought by Christianization around the turn of the second millennium. 1 However, the art of writing was introduced by proponents of a competing religion, and they set out promptly to eradicate and replace the native Slavic model of the Cosmos. Pagan priesthood was outlawed (although not immediately eliminated 2 ), pagan rituals and other practices were banned, the traditional Slavic gods were demoted to the status of demons or else identified with various Christian figures, and the system of native beliefs and mythological motifs was fragmented into a set of disjointed folktale narratives. We thus have only a very exiguous notion of Slavic paganism, as compared to the Greek, Roman, Vedic or Hittite native religions.
The earliest of the existing accounts of Slavic paganism are embedded in external, non-Slavic sources—Byzantine (e.g., Procopius of Caesarea, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, etc.), Arabic (e.g., al-Masudi), Persian (Ahmad ibn Rustah), German (e.g., Thietmar of Merseburg, Adam of Bremen, Helmold of Bosau, Herbord, Ebbo), Danish (Saxo Grammaticus), etc. Later, as various Slavic populations are Christianized, native accounts of Slavic paganism begin to trickle in, sparse and scanty as they may be. They come in the form of clerical denunciations of remnants of pagan worship; chronicle entries dealing with the semi-legendary heathen past or contemporary pagan holdovers and revivals; pagan oaths accompanying peace treaties, etc. The information gleaned from these accounts is patchy and vague, since none of the writers set out to address Slavic heathendom per se. The disparate facts and sketchy discussions of Slavic pagan beliefs and practices, which these sources offer, are always subsidiary to, or represent short digressions from, larger political, historical, geographic, diplomatic or polemic narratives. Procopius’s famous excursus into the religion of the Sclaveni and Antae (sixth cen. a.d.) provides a good illustration of this point. The passage alludes to rituals involving sacrifices and divinations without ever providing any specifics, and refers to the Slavic storm god without ever divulging his name ( Perunъ ):
- (1) …They believe that one god, the maker of lightning , is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims; but as for fate, they neither know it nor do they in any wise admit that it has any power among men… They reverence, however, both rivers and nymphs and some other spirits, and they sacrifice to all these also, and they make their divinations in connection with these sacrifices. 3
Similarly, ibn Rustah (Aḥmad ebn Roste Eṣfahānī) in volume 7 of his Book of Precious Records (Kitab al-Aʾlak an-Nafisa, 930’s a.d.) describes briefly the lifestyle and several customs of the East Slavs, 4 but he never mentions any gods by name or function, limiting himself to the observation that “all Slavs are idol-worshippers.” 5
But even when an excursus into Slavic polytheism does provide some theonyms, it is never the intention of its author to catalogue the pantheon exhaustively. Only a few principal divinities are usually listed, while their “duties and responsibilities,” to the extent that they are at all addressed, are dealt with in a more than cursory manner. Thus, in the early eleventh century, Thietmar of Merseburg names only one of the gods worshipped by the Redarii of Mecklenburg, namely *S(ъ)varožicь, the supreme deity of the local pantheon ( dii quorum primus Zuarasici dicitur). 6 None of the other gods and goddesses at the shrine at Riedegost is identified by name or function. The reader is only given to understand that the idols housed in the shrine were multiple:
- (2) In the region of the Redarii, there is a burg called Riedegost, which has three corners and three doors. It is surrounded everywhere by a great forest, which the inhabitants hold to be inviolable and holy. […] In the burg, there is nothing other than a skillfully made wooden shrine supported on a foundation composed of the horns of different types of animals. Marvelous sculpted images of gods and goddesses adorn its outer walls… Inside, stand gods made by human hands, each with a name inscribed and frightfully clothed with helmets and armour. Among them, Zuarasici occupies the first place and all the heathens honour and worship him above the others. 7
Later, in the 1160’s, Helmold of Bosau lists six gods worshipped by the Slavs of Mecklenburg and Pomerania, but he elects to define them by the locations of their cults rather than by their functions, the sole exception being Čьrnobogъ , who is described as an evil god (malus deus) and a devil (diabol):
(Svantevit, i.e., *Svętovitъ or *Svętovidъ), the god of the land of the Rugii,
Redegast , Radigast (i.e., * Svarožicь), the god of the land of the Obodrites, 8
Prove , Proven , the god of the Aldenburg (Pol. Stargard) country in Vagria,
Podaga , the god or goddess of the town of Plune (Plön),
Siwa (*Živa?), the goddess of the Polabians, and
Zcerneboch (*Čьrnobogъ), i.e., the ‘black god.’ 9
*Čьrnobogъ and his presumed beneficent counterpart, the ‘good god’ are the principal subjects of the remainder of this study.
In the most celebrated passage of Chronica Slavorum (I.52), Helmold wrote:
- (4) Also, the Slavs have a strange delusion. At their feasts and carousals, they pass about a bowl over which they utter words, I should not say of consecration but of execration, in the name of [two] gods—of the good one, as well as of the bad one—professing that all propitious fortune is arranged by the good god, adverse, by the bad god. Hence, also, in their language they call the bad god Diabol, or Zcerneboch , that is, the black god . 10
Three centuries later, Onomasticum mundi generale (ca. 1530) 11 bore testimony to the tenacity of the *Čьrnobog cult among a different West Slavic group, the Sorbs of Lusatia.
Or did it?
The work is a massive compilation by a certain Johannes Lindner, a Dominican monk from Saxony, often referred to, in early German sources, simply as the monk of Pirna (Monachus Pirnensis). He was something of a Herodotus figure with a taste for anecdotal matter. Despite the fact that he lived in or near a Sorbian-speaking area (Pirna, USorb. Pěrno), it appears that he culled his information solely from written sources and monastic tales, rather than from field work. His evidence was dismissed as unreliable already by the next generation of scholars, in particular by Georg Fabricius and Petrus Albinus. The latter wrote, rather caustically, that Lindner lacked in judgement and, on occasion, could have used more care, diligence, and heed (“…es woll diesem Autori offtmals am iudicio gemangelt, auch bisweilen ein fleiß vnd auffachtsamkeit zu requiriren…”). 12 Both Fabricius and Albinus agreed that while Lindner’s sources are admirably many and various, he used them very uncritically. 13 The two scholars commend him for producing a wealth of information, which “one would not find in other historians,” 14 but the latter circumstance might not be such a good sign. Other readers of Lindner’s Onomasticum have found that it is marred by multiple factual mistakes and contains “absurd monastic fables.” 15
It is not unlikely, then, that Lindner inaccurately and anachronstically ascribed to the Sorbs a non-Sorbian—and by then surely long-defunct—cult from a more northerly, Lechitic area: something he had read about in an old record of Slavic idolatry as practiced in the north, in Mecklenburg and Pomerania. Such a misattribution of a cult by an avid but rather slipshod collector of engaging stories and factoids, would not be surprising. Lindner might in fact have been prompted by the existence of a mountain in eastern Lusatia called ‘Black God’—Mt. Czorneboh (USorb. Čornobóh ), some 38 miles north-east of his native Pirna, in the vicinity of Bautzen (Budyšin). If Lindner was aware of that oronym, which is very likely given his interest in onomastics, he might have taken it as an indication of *Čьrnobogъ worship having once extended south to his native Lusatia (Lausitz, Łužica). One is reminded of several episodes in Herodotus which were invented in order to explain a given fact. The story of Sesostris is especially pertinent. Upon encountering Luwian reliefs and hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions in Syria and Ionia, Herodotus decided that he had seen Egyptian monuments and set out to devise a story which would explain their presence in such unexpected places so far away from Egypt. He tells his reader of an Egyptian pharaoh Sesostris who led his armies on wide-ranging campaigns in Colchis, Western Anatolia, and even as far as the Balkans, leaving behind monuments to mark his victories. To achieve higher credibility, Herodotus then attributes this story to Egyptian priests. 16
The existence of Mt. Čornobóh in the Lusatian Highlands is usually adduced in support of the veracity of Lindner’s testimony, but the mountain’s name could in fact have played the same role for Lindner as the hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions for Herodotus: awakening the instinct to explain. In short, we may be confronted here with a Herodotus-style exercise in dot-connecting.
De diis Soraborum by Michael Abraham Frentzel (late seventeenth cen.) merits only a brief mention here. Frentzel gives a list of traditional Sorbian gods and includes Czernebog among them. One has to bear in mind, however, that this work was written very late, later even than Lindner’s Onomasticum, and cannot pretend to be a first-hand witness of any pagan belief in Lusatia. But what ultimately disqualifies it, is its absolutely indiscriminate use of sources. Upon examination, roughly a half of Frentzel’s “Sorbian pantheon” has turned out to be Prussian (West Baltic) in origin. 17
The list of our written sources on *Čьrnobogъ is therewith exhausted (with two exceptions which will be discussed in Section iii). In addition, there are two more potentially relevant pieces of written evidence, which I will address here in this section.
One is a discussion of a certain Tjarnaglófi in an Old Norse text. It is a hapax legomenon and appears in a single source, the Knýtlinga Saga (ca. 1265), 18 in Chapter 122, which deals with the Christianization of the island of Rügen. 19 A recently published encyclopedia translates this theonym, somewhat fancifully, as ‘Black Head,’ ‘Black Mind’ or ‘Black Brain.’ 20 It has been widely held that Tjarnaglófi ‘Black Head’ is none other than *Čьrnobogъ ‘Black God’ under a different name. Among others, this idea has been articulated by such highly visible scholars as Ivanov, Toporov, and Łowmiański. 21
Tjarnaglófi is listed in a set of five local deities worshipped at Asund and at the cultic center of Karenz (Charenza of Saxo Grammaticus). The five gods are Rinvit, Turupið, Puruvit, Pizamar, and Tjarnaglófi.
- (5) On the next morning they [and their] king rode to the place called Karenz, and there he ordered three idols to be cut down, who were called thus: Rinvit , Turupið , and Puruvit . […] On the day when those idols were burned, they (the Danes of king Valdimar—Y.G.) baptized nine hundred [men] and consecrated eleven churchyards. They took much property from those gods, both gold and silver, silk and other precious fabrics—pell and guðvef (lit., ‘god’s weave’—Y.G.), helmets and swords, coats of mail and all manner of weaponry. Then, a fifth god was called Pizamar (fifth, if counting Svantaviz , i.e., *Svętovitъ, who was mentioned in the text earlier—Y.G.). He was in Asund, which is the name of a place; he was also burned. Then there also was one called Tjarnaglófi , he was their god of victory and he went with them on their military campaigns. He had a moustache of silver and held out longer than the others, but they managed to capture him three years later. All in all, on that campaign they converted five thousand [men] in that land. After that, king Valdimar rode home, and [so did] Bishop Absalon, and all the troops. 22 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
Brückner viewed Tjarnaglófi as a corruption of Lechitic *Triglovъ (Pol. Trzygłów), the putative three-headed god of the Slavic pantheon. 23 However, it is impossible to disagree with the majority opinion, which interprets tjarna- + glóf- as ‘black’ + ‘head.’ It is striking how patently Lechitic the phonological shape of the source form is:
*ьr > ar,
*To RT > TR oT
Thus PSl. *čьrno-golv- > Lech. *čarno-glov-. In short, there is no reason to see in Tjarnaglóf- anything other than an almost perfectly rendered Lechitic form *čarnoglov- (or even, perhaps, *čarnoglōv-?). I therefore side with the majority view, but at the same time propose a slight modification. What is always overlooked, is that the Old Norse form conspicuously ends in -i, as if it were the nominative of a “weak” (n-stem) masculine noun. However, Slavic masculine o-stem nouns such as Lechitic *Čarnoglovъ are not expected to be reflected in Old Norse in this way. As a rule, Slavic male names in Old Norse sagas are declined according to the productive masculine a-stem class, and, consequently, their nominative singular form ends in -r:
Borislav-ъ→Búrizláf-r or Búrizleif-r,
Jaroslav-ъ→Jarizláf-r or Jarizleif-r,
Volodiměr-ъ→Valdimar-r or Valdamar-r,
A Lechitic noun *Čarnoglov-ъ would therefore be expected to give an ON *Tjarnaglóf-r.
The ending -i in the actual ON form Tjarnaglóf-i receives a natural explanation if we assume that the source form was a masculine long adjective in -yjь. ONTjarnaglófi thus reflects exactly a Lech. *čarnoglovyjь (Pol. czarnogłowy) < PSl. *čьrnogolvъ-jь, i.e., a definite bahuvrihi adjective ‘the black-headed one,’ and not a noun *Čarnoglovъ (Pol. Czarnogłów) ‘Black Head,’ pace Gil’ferding 1855 and Brückner 1980. 24 We are thus looking at an attribute, and Gil’ferding was undoubtedly right, when he suggested that the original Slavic term reflected in Tjarnaglófi simply referred to a physical property of the idol. 25 An attribute of the statue was thus misconstrued by a non-Slavic observer as the name of the divinity.
Is *Čarnoglovyjь of the Rugii the same figure as *Čarnobogъ of the continental West Lechitic and Pomeranian tribes? I find it highly unlikely. Tjarnaglófi’s role in the Rügen pantheon is defined straightforwardly as “their god of victory” (hann var sigrgoð þeirra), and the Rugii are said to have taken their *čarnoglovyjь idol with them on military campaigns (ok fór hann í herfarar með þeim). The black-headed god—whatever his real identity may have been—was a run-of-the-mill Mars figure representing war and victory, i.e., either *Jarovitъ or Perunъ. The former is equated with Mars by German authors. 26 The latter was the tutelary deity of the warrior caste in pre-Christian Rus’, and his idol in Kiev featured a moustache of gold. *Čьrnobogъ, on the other hand, is the presumed personification of the world’s evil, the Angra Mainyu figure of the allegedly “dualistic universe” of the pre-Christian Slavs. 27
The other potential source on *Čьrnobogъ is The Meadows of Gold by al-Masudi (mid-tenth cen.). 28 It has been surmised that a Slavic temple described in it might reflect the *Čьrnobogъ cult among either the Northwestern Slavs or the East Slavs. 29 Chapter 66 titled “Description of Structures which the Slavs Venerate” discusses three Slavic temples. In particular, it gives a tantalizing and enigmatic report of an unnamed idol in a temple (or sacred enclosure) atop a black mountain. The pedestal of the idol features (carvings of?) black animals and black-skinned people:
- (8) §1387. [There also is] another building (?), 30 which one of their kings built on top of the black mountain. 31 It is surrounded by wondrous waters of many colors and flavors, which possess all manner of healing powers. In that [building], they had a giant idol in the shape of a leaning man, 32 who is depicted as an old person. He has a staff in his hand, with which he stirs the bones of the dead in coffins. Under his right foot are depictions of [various] kinds of ants, under his other [foot] are very black ravens in the shape of enormous ġudāf-ravens and other [varieties of raven], as well as strange depictions of Abyssinians (Ḥabashī) and East Africans (Zanjī). 33
It is difficult to be optimistic about the historical worth of this account. On the one hand, it is true that al-Masudi traveled extensively for most of his life, and that many of his stories came from personal observations or were acquired through personal contacts made during those travels. 34 On the other hand, it is unlikely, that he ever visited the Rus’ Khaganate (or any Slavic land, for that matter). Mišin shows that the way al-Masudi discusses the Saqaliba (the Slavs) firmly places his work among secondary, rather than primary, sources: like many other Arab geographers and historians, he did not travel to Eastern or Central Europe, but used accounts left by other travelers and writers. 35 That al-Masudi did not possess first-hand knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe is plain from the fact that, on occasion, he is obviously confused and misinterprets the information related in his sources. He does not distinguish between the Slavs (Saqaliba) and the Germans (Sasin ‘Saxons’), he endows the Don River with aspects of the Dnieper river, and confuses the Bulgarians with the Volga Bulgars and even the Hungarians. 36
Is al-Masudi’s testimony reliable? Might his sources have included an account of specific Slavic sanctuaries (temple buildings) composed by an actual witness? The answer is, plainly, no. As Matveev has demonstrated, al-Masudi’s “information” has every appearance of al-ʿajāʾib (‘wonders [of the world]’), a popular genre in Arab literature, which was just then beginning to take shape and which was to flourish in Islamic literature for five more centuries. 37 It is a genre of marvelous travels and strange and uncanny encounters, to which the captivating stories of the Arabian Nights also belong. “This genre of the marvelous also permeates of the accounts of Arab geographers when it comes to the descriptions of [the] boundaries [of the world]. It is a genre of finding oneself in unexpected places.” 38
Some of the generic features of al-ʿajāʾib narratives include:
descriptions of wondrous and uncanny events, animals, and objects, especially ancient and mythical structures, e.g., the legendary wall (barrier) which Alexander the Great built in the mountains at the end of the earth to keep out the hordes of Yaʾjūj and Maʾjūj;
extensive use of hyperboles and colorful details to strike the reader’s imagination;
stereotypical themes and topoi, such as hyperbolized quantities of gold and precious stones or references to Jabal Qāf—the farthest and the highest point of the earth (also conceptualized as a circular mountain range around the perimeter of the world);
three items are used to exemplify the type of the described phenomenon (such as pagan sanctuaries, etc.). 39
All of the constituent features of al-ʿajāʾib listed above obtain in al-Masudi’s description of the Slavic shrines. They are uncanny structures (see especially al-Masudi’s description of the first shrine). They are three in number (al-Masudi also discusses three Greek temples and three Roman temples). The structures and the idols inside them are adorned with, or built out of, copious amounts of gold and gems (see al-Masudi’s discussion of the first and the third shrine). They are located in a mountain range, which obviously is a part of Jabal Qāf (the Slavs are said in Arab geographical literature to live in the northern section of Jabal Qāf). One of the temples is located on top of one of the tallest mountains in the world and houses a giant idol. 40
In addition, several “facts” in al-Masudi’s discussion of the second Slavic shrine were borrowed from the Arab astrological tradition. 41 Thus, the north was viewed by the Arabs as a realm under the influence of the planet Saturn (see fn. 32 above). As an astrological deity, Saturn also held sway over all things black, hence the presence of fantastic depictions of black ants, black ravens, and Abyssinians and East Africans at the foot of the giant idol. 42 Elsewhere in the book (III.172) al-Masudi quotes the following astrological poem:
Their elder, lofty Saturn, a great elder, a mighty king,
His nature is blackness and cold, black [is] the color of an anguished soul;
His influence [is] upon black people (Zanj), black slaves (ʿabīd), as well as lead and iron. 43
The presence of black ants may also be attributed to Arab legends of giant ants who inhabit the coast of the Sea of Darkness (al-Bahr al-Zulimat) and attack and devour travelers. 44 The Sea of Darkness of medieval Arab geography usually refers to the Atlantic Ocean, but it can also be the mythical Encircling Ocean (al-Bahr al-Muhit). Clearly, as in the case of Jabal Qāf, we are dealing with the purely literary topos of the world’s outer rim.
The presence in the decription of the first temple of “written characters foretelling the future,” which were engraved on precious stones, 45 also makes the whole episode suspect. No reliable evidence exists that the Slavs might have had any sort of writing system before Christianization.
In sum, once the cultural context and the genre conventions of al-Masudi’s “tale of shrines” are given proper consideration, it becomes plain that nothing in it reflects pre-Christian Slavic cultural realia of the eighth or ninth century. The three shrines which al-Masudi discusses are thus not specific historical structures, ever to have existed at specific geographic locations. An attempt to extract from al-Masudi’s discussion any insights into the *Čьrnobogъ cult or even just a general sense of Slavic places of worship, as some scholars have attempted to do, is an exercise in futility. 46 Already Šafárik was disinclined to take seriously the descriptions of Slavic lands by al-Masudi and other Islamic writers, which to him looked suspiciously fabulous. 47
The same disappointment awaits us when we turn to Slavic oral lore. *Čьrnobogъ’s presence in traditional folktales is as impalpable and elusive as it is in the historical record. In fact, *Čьrnobogъ has left an even lighter imprint on folklore than he did on written history. Nowhere in Slavic folklore does one encounter a black god or a black demon by that, or similar, name. The single example is the nineteenth cen. Ukrainian curse formula ščob tebe čornyj boh vbyv ‘may the black god kill you.’ 48 The curse is, however, suspect of being a fabrication.
I have always found it very suspicious that this Ukrainian curse is always cited in mythological literature with reference to one and the same work—the first volume of Afanas’ev’s influential Poètičeskija vozzrěnija, the chapter on light and darkness. 49 Other than Afanas’ev 1865, no other sources are ever cited in the literature, and no geographic or dialectal attribution of the curse is ever given. It means, quite plainly, that this curse has not been reported by any folklorist working in the field—ever—since 1865. One is reminded of Gogol’s Vij, whose folklore prototype has never been identified anywhere in the Ukrainian, or wider Slavic, folk tradition, despite numerous attempts to do so since the publication of Mirgorod in 1835. It has been observed by multiple Gogol scholars, that the early Gogol derived as much inspiration from contemporary European Romanticism as from Ukrainian folklore. The incongruity of Gogol’s depictions of “Ukrainian” village life and the actual socio-economic and cultural realia of the rural Ukraine of the time was pointed out already in the nineteenth century, e.g., by Kuliš. 50 It is the communis opinio now that the creature Vij is to a large degree the product of Gogol’s own imagination rather than, as he would have us believe, “a colossal creation of popular fancy” reproduced in his book “in its almost untouched, pristine simplicity.” 51
I submit that a similar story lies behind the (allegedly authentic) Ukrainian čornyj boh saying. It is a small-scale hoax launched and perpetuated in the framework of Polish and Russian Romantic nationalism and Slavophilism.
Afanas’ev’s source was a collection of Ukrainian sayings and proverbs published in Saint-Petersburg by Markovyč and Nomys just a year before his celebrated Poètičeskija vozzrěnija came out. 52 It is important to note right away that Markovyč had not collected the curse formula in the field. He had come across it in a book by the Polish publisher, writer, historian, and folklorist Kazimierz Władysław Wóycicki, a rather typical figure of early Polish Romanticism with its emotionalism, idealization and glorification of the medieval past, interest in discovering and publishing medieval literary compositions and historical documents, and preoccupation with folklore. Markovyč and Nomys cite Wóycicki’s work without identifying it by its title. They only give the name of the author and the year of publication. The latter they accidentally or deliberately misquote as “1833 and 1834” (hence, a two-part oeuvre?). I have not been able to find any work published by Wóycicki in 1833. In that year, he still lived in emigration—a consequence of having participated in the unsuccessful November uprising of 1830. In 1834, upon his return to the Russian Empire, Wóycicki published the first volume of his historical novel Kurpie, but the Ukrainian curse formula is not in it. I have been able to trace it back to Wóycicki’s earlier publication, the three-volume Przysłowia narodowe (Traditional Proverbs), which came out in 1830. 53
Wóycicki was fascinated by Slavic antiquities, in particular Slavic paganism. Incidentally, the chapter of Przysłowia narodowe which quotes the Ukrainian curse is devoted specifically to the imprint which Slavic paganism has left on the modern Slavic languages. It is titled Ato Dziwo! (i.e., a to dziwo! ‘isn’t that an odd thing!’)—a Polish saying, which in itself is supposedly a “holdover from a distant Slavic past” (zabytek odległej słowiańszczyzny). Wóycicki, following Rakowiecki, sees in it a relic of great antiquity, originally a reference to the malevolent supernatural being Divъ , and surmises that Polish ey! do pioruna! ‘by thunder!’ is likewise a reference to a pagan deity (rather than just the lightning), namely, to the Slavic thunder god Perunъ. 54
Unlike Markovyč and Nomys, Wóycicki actually went to the field for data collection. When gathering material for his Przysłowia narodowe, he spent three years doing field work throughout Poland, Belorussia, and the Ukraine, studying local customs and documenting local history and oral lore. However, not all of his data came from field notes. Some parts of his book were taken wholesale from secondary scholarly literature. In fact, Ato Dziwo! is nothing more than a summary of a few select ideas drawn from Ignacy Rakowiecki’s prefatory volume to the Polish edition of Pravda Rusьskaja 55 (Wóycicki only supplemented it with a brief discussion of several Old Russian sayings extracted from Nestor’s Tale of By-Gone Years). In particular, the idea that the pre-Christian demon Divъ is behind the Polish saying a to dziwo! belongs to Rakowiecki. 56
The Ukrainian curse ščob tebe čornyj boh vbyv 57 likewise was borrowed from Rakowiecki’s 1820 work, as were all the other Ukrainian sayings featured in Wóycicki’s chapter:
boh mene ubij ‘may God kill me,’
ščob na tebe pryjšla čorna hodyna ‘may the dark hour come upon you,’ 59 and
ščob na tebe Dyv pryjšov ‘may Div(ъ) come to get you.’ 60
Three out of the four sayings extracted from Rakowiecki later found their way into Markovyč and Nomys’s 1864 collection of Ukrainian proverbs, which then served as Afanas’ev’s only source of the Ukrainian čornyj boh curse.
Ignacy Rakowiecki is an interesting phenomenon in the cultural landscape of nineteenth cen. Poland. It is usually said that the great introducer of Romanticism into Poland was Adam Mickiewicz, and that Polish Romanticism was ushered in with the publication of Mickiewicz’s first poems (1822). Any exact date is, of course, a mere convention. Rakowiecki was an equally influential figure of Polish Romantic nationalism, albeit in a different field—history of law. 61 One could even say that it was rather Rakowiecki’s 1820–1822 edition of Pravda Rusьskaja that heralded the arrival of Polish Romanticism and pan-Slavic nationalism. At the very least, that would be an equally legitimate proposition. Rakowiecki was part of a wider Polish Slavophile and Russophile circle, a surprisingly strong current in Polish political thought of the early nineteenth century, which operated with a notion of Russian cultural and spiritual superiority. In fact, he was one of the main ideologists of that intellectual movement. He held the opinion that Catholicism was not an organic “fit” with the Slavic psyche (Volksgeist, duch ludowy). “Before the November uprising, the main ideologists of Polish Slavophilism, Ignacy Benedykt Rakowiecki and Zorian Dołęga-Chodakowski, maintained that the Polish people had become polluted by the Latinism of the Polish clergy and nobility, that only Russia had remained faithful to the truly Slavonic culture.” 62
It is against this background that Rakowiecki’s interest in language is to be considered. In Part i, Chapter iv of the first volume of Prawda Ruska, 63 Rakowiecki discusses at length the umejętności (faculties and skills) of pre-Christian Slavs: arithmetics (counting), calendar, language, and even literacy (very reminiscent of a similar chapter in Karamzin’s Istorija gosudarstva Rossijskago, 1818). 64 Umejętności is a Romanticist apology of pagan Slavdom, which, according to Rakowiecki, could not have been quite as barbarous and savage as described by early Slavic chroniclers, including Nestor, 65 and by foreign observers, including Latin clergy invited to West Slavic lands after Christianization. Those early observers portrayed heathen Slavs in an unduly negative light owing to their Christian biases, in some cases compounded with their West European sense of superiority. 66 The views of the haughty onlookers are plainly contradicted by the intricate nature of the early Slavic language, of which one can gain insights through comparative linguistic research, as well as through studying the earliest—Moravian—translations of Holy Writ. And as one does so, it becomes obvious that Early Slavic was a language of an advanced and sophisticated pre-Christian culture, which had produced a lexically rich language capable of carrying any philosophical and religious meaning of the Christian texts. 67 Why, the pre-Christian Slavs might even have developed their own, native writing system. 68
As a Romantic, Rakowiecki idealized the times when Slavic culture was still supposedly pristine, untouched by foreign influences. He enjoyed identifying some lingering echoes of the pagan past in contemporary language usages, such as Pol. ładny ‘nice, pleasant,’ which, he thought, was derived from the name of the Slavic divinity Lado . 69
Such was Rakowiecki’s mindset when he turned to modern proverbs and sayings:
- (12) The Rusian (i.e., Ukrainian—Y.G.) language has retained a somewhat larger amount of expressions connected to paganism than our [Polish] language. A swearing Rusin says, Boh mene ubij. This expression has to do with the deities Perun or Černoboh , who always punished human transgressions. When cursing someone, a Rusin sometimes says, Ščob tebe čornyj boh vbyv —ščob na tebe pryjšla čorna hodyna—ščob na tebe Div (sic!) pryjšov. Div, in Polish dziw, dziwo, was a punishing and persecuting deity, cf. [Pol.] Dziwo [‘wonder’], dziwić się [‘marvel, be perplexed’], dziwowisko [‘something rare and marvelous’]. 70 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
The provenance of these “Rusian” phrases is left unidentified and their authenticity is questionable for more than one reason. At least in its origin, Ukrainian boh is a high-register word borrowed from Church Slavonic. The phonologically regular native Ukrainian reflex of PSl. *bogъ is bih, and one wonders whether this (arguably unmarked) low-register variant would have been used more widely in the nineteenth cen. Ukrainian vernacular than the rather bookish variant boh, especially with reference to low-tier demons of popular rural culture. One would furthermore expect the stylistically marked, high-register variant boh to have been reserved for Christian God. If so, *čornyj bih would have a more authentic look than čornyj boh.
The above is a speculation on my part. I have not studied the distribution of boh and bih in nineteenth cen. Ukrainian literature and folklore. There is, however, a solid—and telling—fact about another Ukrainian saying in Rakowiecki’s set, the one that involves Div. The word divъ is attested only in three medieval Slavic compositions, most famously in the Old Russian Tale of Igor’s Campaign (written shortly after 1185), where the word occurs twice. Neither passage gives the reader a clear idea of what sort of creature the divъ might have been. There are more theories about who the divъ was than one would care to list. One cannot even be certain whether it was a malevolent mythological being, i.e., some kind of a demon, as has been assumed by many, or something as mundane as a bird, e.g., the hoopoe, as has been suggested by some. After all, the hoopoe lives in trees, as does the divъ in Igor’s Tale, and, in moments of danger, it throws itself on the ground, which is precisely the way the divъ behaves when it sees Russian warriors. 71 It is remarkable that as obscure and old a word as this should surface in nineteenth cen. Ukrainian folklore. It is even more remarkable, that, again—as in the case of čornyj boh—no folklorist in the field has ever recorded this word after 1820. When quoting this saying, Slavic mythologists invariably cite Markovyč and Nomys, who cite Wóycicki, who cites Rakowiecki, who cites nobody and who was not a linguist, not a philologist, and not an ethnographer.
Furthermore, had PSl. *divъ come down into Ukrainian via the known sound changes, it would have given Ukr. *dyv rather than div. Note that Rakowiecki is otherwise quite careful with the i/y distinction in his spelling of Ukrainian examples. Alas, he wrote in the 1810’s when nobody was aware of exceptionless sound laws. His div in a Ukrainian proverb looks is if it was taken mechanically from the just published Tale of Igor’s Campaign, 72 in other words, he did not care to adjust the spelling for the word to look properly Ukrainian. Wóycicki repeats Rakowiecki’s mistake, but Markovyč and Nomys fix this oversight and spell the word as dyv. 73
If Rakowiecki’s div is a mini-hoax perpetrated by a Slavophile intellectual who got slightly carried away (which seems more than likely), could then Rakowiecki’s čornyj boh also be a mini-hoax? I have very little doubt in my mind that this is exactly the case. As noted above, since 1820 no folklorist has ever reported čornyj boh. And Rakowiecki almost certainly counterfeited at least one other Ukrainian preverb in his “data set.”
I therefore submit that both div and čornyj boh are as much an expression of Romanticist fancy as Gogol’s Vij or Macpherson’s Ossian. A careful scholar would be well-advised to leave Ukr. div (dyv) and čornyj boh out of any discussion of Slavic mythology. They are what a philologist would call “ghost forms.”
To finish with *Čьrnobog, let us briefly examine his “signature” on toponymy. The pickings are slim. Apart from Mt. Čornobóh in Lusatia, Pogodin managed to produce only two more place names related to *Čьrnobogъ in all of the Slavic-speaking world: 74 the villages Černobož’e 75 in the region of Pskov in north-west Russia and Černobožna in Bukovina, now the Ukraine. Afanas’ev added to these two a “ Černobožskij Gorodok” (sic) in Serbia, but the latter toponym looks odd phonologically and may be Afanas’ev’s own invention. 76 Indeed, the town has proved impossible to locate. The Russian adjective чepнoбoжcкий corresponds phonologically to Serbian цpнoбoшки. A Google search of Цpнoбoшки Гpaдић or just Цpнoбoшки has returned three results, of which two are translations into Serbian of Afanas’ev’s chapter on light and darkness, and one is a discussion of Slavic paganism and Crnobog in particular. A Google search of Crnoboški in Romanized spelling has returned no hits.
* * *
Let us take stock of what we have learned about *Čьrnobogъ and his attestation in written sources, oral lore, and toponymy.
The only reliable piece of written evidence that we have seen on *Čьrnobogъ is Helmold’s brief mention of the Zcerneboch cult among the Baltic Slavs. But all we learn from it is that *Čьrnobogъ was a deity capable of causing individuals trouble if he so pleased. There are the Lusatian chroniclers Lindner and Frentzel, but their communications are late and highly unreliable. As for al-Masudi, his Black Mountain sanctuary is a piece of literary fiction (recall especially fig. (9) above).
Two more pertinent documents have not been discussed yet. They will be addressed at length in Section iii. One is the 1602 Pommersches Chronicon by Cramer, who had at his disposal some authentic twelfth cen. documents from a monastery near Treptow, Pomerania. However, Cramer only alluded to a local Black God cult as a fact of life in twelfth cen. Pomerania without giving us any tangible information (see fig. (17) in Section iii and the immediately preceding discussion). The other piece is Kantzow’s 1538 Chronik von Pommern, which makes an explicit claim that *Čьrnobogъ was assuaged with human sacrifices (see fig. (15)). This information is reasonably plausible but it obtaines in a veritably late source.
Tjarnaglófi is an interesting special case, most likely a different deity altogether, a god of war and victory. As discussed above, he was probably an idol of *Jarovitъ or Perunъ.
*Čьrnobogъ does not have much of a presence on the geographical map. There are exactly three place names throughout the entire Slavic-speaking realm, which he might have been linked to: Mt. Čornobóh in Lusatia, Germany, the village Černobož’e in Russia, and the village Černobožna in the Ukraine. These toponyms may or may not indicate the presence of prehistoric cult centers at those locations. Their existence sheds no light on the extent and distribution of *Čьrnobogъ worship among the early medieval Slavs.
Finally, it has to be stated that *Čьrnobogъ’ has left no trace in folklore anywhere. Afanas’ev’s only example, Ukr. čornyj boh, is very widely cited, but this evidence is of inferior value. It goes back to a single source, Rakowiecki, and Rakowiecki was never engaged in any ethnographic field research. He was a historian of Slavic law with a Romanticist Slavophile agenda. It is, of course, possible, that *Čьrnobogъ might have survived at different locations and at different times under different names and guises. Traditional Slavic fairy tales present multiple candidates for the role of a major demon or a former chthonic/evil god devolved into a bogeyman, e.g., Russ. Koščej, Blud, the chthonic Vij-like “old man” of Afanas’ev’s fairy tales, 77 etc. Indeed, Belkin 1997 argues that the “old man” is precisely the East Slavic incarnation of *Čьrnobogъ. All such identifications will always remain unsupported speculations, however.
Closer to *Čьrnobogъ’s home in Mecklenburg and Pomerania, legends and superstitions involving the black god surely must have lingered on for some time after Christianization, but they were never documented. As will be discussed below, Daniel Cramer, the author of Das Grosse Pommerische Kirchen-Chronicon (1628), may have heard some legend(s) of Black God in Farther Pomerania (Ger. Hinterpommern), but all he gives us is a single statement acknowledging the former existence of the black god cult at the cite of Belbuck Abbey (see fig. (17) in Section iii).
In sum, we are in a situation of an almost complete absence of positive empirical evidence. Based on the meager shreds of information available to us, we cannot claim to know anything about *Čьrnobogъ apart from what Helmold tells us in the famous passage in Chronica Slavorum (see fig. (4) above). The more than perfunctory mention of *Čьrnobogъ’s role as a god does not conceivably warrant any notion that he personified an ultimate cosmic principle—the spirit of ultimate evil, co-equal and co-eternal with, and antagonistic to, the spirit of ultimate good (bonus deus). In other words, to read into Helmold’s passage a classical “ditheist” perspective on the Universe would be a serious stretch. The only certain thing that emerges from Helmold’s description is that some West Lechitic and Pomeranian Slavs considered their personal misfortunes to be the workings of an evil supernatural being.
Nor can we, based on the available evidence, grant or deny *Čьrnobogъ a pan-Slavic status on par with, e.g., Perunъ, S(ъ)varogъ, or Velesъ. Given his complete absence from folklore anywhere, the default position to assume should be that *Čьrnobogъ was a local deity, whose cult did not extend beyond Mecklenburg and Pomerania.
Lastly, we cannot maintain or deny that *Čьrnobogъ’s cult reached back into Proto-Slavic antiquity. Whether *Čьrnobogъ might have been a stage in the evolution of a common Slavic god (inherited by the Baltic Slavs together with other members a common Slavic pantheon), or whether he might represent a borrowing of a local (autochthonous, pre-Slavic) cult, will always remain purely theoretical possibilities.
III *Bělъ Bogъ
By antithesis with a maleficent god, a beneficent god is implied, and, indeed, *Čьrnobogъ’s opposite number, an unnamed ‘good god’ (bonus deus), does make an appearance in the same passage (see fig. (4) above). The name of the benevolent counterpart of Black God has been routinely conjectured as *Bělobogъ or *Bělъ Bogъ , i.e., ‘White God,’ an idea which draws some support from several (mostly West Slavic) toponyms. These include:
) in the Lusatian Highlands (recall Mt. Čornobóh in the same area);
b.the village Bělbožice in Czech Republic near Kralovice (< *bělъ-bož-it’-i ‘descendants of *Bělъ Bogъ’);
c.the village Białoboże in southern Poland near Kraków (< *bělo-bož-ьje ‘White God’s precinct’; for the morphology of this place name see fn. 75 above);
d.Two sites in the Moscow region, Russia (north of Radonež), both known locally as Belye bogi (‘white gods’); one is speculated to have originally been a pagan cult structure; 78
e.das Kloster Belbuck (which would have been *B’albug in local Lechitic, *Białbóg in Polish, cf. its older spellings Bealbug, Belbuc, Belbog)—a medieval Roman Catholic abbey near the town of Treptow (Pol. Trzebiatów) in Farther Pomerania, founded in 1163 by a group of Norbertine monks 79 from Lund, Sweden.
As regards Belbuck Abbey, the usual line repeated from writer to writer runs as follows: the name of the monastery translates as ‘White God,’ therefore, on the hilltop where the monastery was later built, there must have been a sanctuary of a local god of light, a *B’ałbug. 80 This line is a sheer speculation. It is not supported by a single historical document. We know exactly nothing of any local pre-Christian cults in the area, which Duke of Pomerania Casimir i, the official founder of Belbuck, had picked for his new abbey.
Until recently, it was believed that the first written source to have introduced *Běl(ъ)bogъ to the field of Slavic mythological studies was the anonymous Historia episcopatus Caminensis composed in the first half of the seventeenth cen. The book relates the history of the Catholic diocese of Cammin (Pol. Kamień Pomorski) in Farther Pomerania, which existed from 1140 to 1544 and was centered on the area between the estuary of the Oder and Kolberg (Pol. Kołobrzeg). Incidentally, this is precisely the area where above-mentioned Belbuck Abbey was located, until it was closed in 1523 by the local duke, a devout Catholic, displeased with Belbuck’s strong Lutheran leanings.
The author of Historia Caminensis rephrases and expands Helmold’s Zcerneboch passage as follows:
- (14) Also, the Vandals (sic) have a conspicuous (sic) delusion. At their feasts and carousals… etc. etc. […] The evil god, the devil, they called in their language Černebog, i.e., Black God, and the good one they called Belbog , i.e., White God , according to the error of the Manichaeans. 81 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
Nehring demonstrated that the theonym *Běl(ъ)bogъ is conspicuously absent in all earlier treatments of local history. 82 He furthermore surveyed the sources of Historia Caminensis and found that none of them mentioned *Běl(ъ)bogъ, either. He concluded that the theonym *Běl(ъ)bogъ was a forgery by the anonymous author of Historia Caminensis. 83
At the end of the twentieth century, two additional sources for *Běl(ъ)bogъ came to light, both originating from the mid-sixteenth century, i.e., they both pre-date Historia Caminensis. These are T. Kantzow’s Chronik von Pommern in niederdeutscher Mundart (ms. ca. 1538, first publ. 1835) and S. Münster’s Cosmographiae universalis (ms. 1550, publ. 1554).
In the chapter titled Vom glauben der alten Pomern und Rhugianer (“About the Faith of Ancient Pomeranians and Rugians”) Kantzow writes:
- (15) I have heretofore related all manner of faithlessness and idolatry, in which they had engaged before the time of the German Empire. Earlier yet, their ways are said to have been even more pagan. They placed their kings and lords, who ruled well, above the gods and honored the said men [as gods] after their death. In addition, they worshipped the sun and the moon and, lastly, two gods whom they venerated above all other gods. One [of them] they called Bialbug , that is the white god; him they held for a good god. The other one [they called] Zernebug , that is the black god; him they held for a god who did harm. Therefore, they honored Bialbug , because he did them good and so that he might [continue to] do them good. Zernebug , on the other hand, they honored so that he should not harm them. And they appeased the said Zernebug by sacrificing people, for they believed that there was no better way of assuaging him than with human blood, which is actually true, if only they had seen it in the right light: that Zernebug seeks nothing other than the death of Man’s body and soul. 84 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
In Münster’s Cosmographiae one finds a description of an annual harvest rite associated with the worship of Svantevit, which ends in the following statement:
- (16) In general they (the Rugians—Y.G.) worshipped two gods, namely Belbuck and Zernebuck , as if a white [god] and a black god, a good [genius] and an evil genius, God and Satan, as the source of good and evil, according to the error of the Manichaeans. 85 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
The discovery of Kantzow’s Chronik and Münster’s Cosmographiae exonerates the “anonymous author” of Historia Caminensis (Jürgen von Winther?) of fabricating a ‘White God’ in order to supply a tangible counterpart to ‘Black God.’ The fabrication had taken place before his time. It also emerges that von Winther had in his possession, and used in his work, a copy of Münster’s Cosmographiae, which, unlike Kantzow’s Chronik, had already been puiblished by then. Both Münster and von Winther liken the Slavic dichotomy of a good and an evil god to the “error of the Manichaeans,” and they use the same Latin expression to do so (cf. fig. (14) and fig. (16)).
The chronology of Kantzow’s and Münster’s works and the content of the relevant passages (the different preferred spellings of the gods’ names, etc.) suggest that the two pieces are original compositions written independently from each other. At the same time, both authors appear to have had access to a source or a pool of sources, written and oral, other than Helmold. 86 According to Znayenko, one such shared cluster of written sources might have been the archive of Belbuck Abbey shortly before it burned in 1560. 87
We will never know what was forever lost to history in that fire, but we may safely assume—in fact, we may be positive—that among those documents there were annals of Belbuck’s history, which began with the year of its foundation by the Norbertine monks (ca. 1163). In that early entry of the Belbuck annals, there was a story explaning how the abbey got its Lechitic name, *B’albug. Daniel Cramer, a Lutheran theologian, professor, and archdeacon from Stettin (Szczecin), Pomerania, held in his hands a copy of that Belbuck chronicle entry—or saw a quote from it—some time in the late 16th c. when he was working on the first volume of his Pommerisches Kirchen-Chronicon. Cramer paraphrases the document he had in front of him as follows:
- (17) To this monastery they (the founding monks—Y.G.) gave the name Belbug , [more] correctly Bialbuck , which in the Wendish tongue means literally ‘the white god,’ thus to give [the Slavs] to understand that, unlike their (the Slavs’) heathen ancestors, the Christians did not know of any black god (did not recognize any black god—Y.G.). The name [ Belbug ] also well befits the clothes of the Premonstratensians, who [always] went dressed in white. 88 The foundation of the monastery took place anno 1163. 89 (English translation mine—Y.G.)
What Cramer is in effect saying is that the abbey’s Lechitic name, *B’albug, was not taken from a pre-existing local nomenclature. He states quite plainly that the name was coined by the abbey’s foreign founders, and that by naming the abbey in this way, the founding monks wanted to produce a sense of a break with the local Black God tradition and stress a contrast between the new Christian God, who is light, and some major old god, who is darkness. The Norbertines’ white habits served as an additional factor in the naming decision.
The “white god” of Belbuck was thus the Christian God, rather than some putative local pagan god of light, whose name is otherwise not attested anywhere (apart from a few place names in other parts of the Slavic world, but these count for nothing). The bogus White God entered the scene later. He was an honest mistake by a German historian of Pomerania and/or of the bishopric of Cammin, of which Belbuck Abbey was a part. Any historian of Mecklenburg and Pomerania would have been familiar with Helmond’s testimony of a Slavic black god. Any reader of Helmond’s testimony would have wondered about Black God’s anonymous vis-à-vis, bonus deus. Anyone taking interest in the history of the bishopric of Cammin and Belbuck Abbey would have known that Belbuck meant ‘white god’ in the local Slavic dialect. It would have been hard not to see in Belbuck the missing name of the good god of Helmond’s passage… Thus, unbeknownst to themselves, the Swedish founders and namers of Belbuck Abbey contributed to the invention of a Slavic benevolent god of light, *Běl(ъ)bogъ.
The rest is history. Conjectured in a sixteenth century study-room in North-East Germany, *Běl(ъ)bogъ has proven irrepressible, and has been copied from one treatise to the next ever since.
Philipp von Zesen included Belbog in his 1688 catalogue of the world’s pagan deities (Die Schlaven Buch, die auch sonst ihren guhten Gott
, das ist den weissen Bok… den boͤsen aber
, das ist den schwartzen oder zornigen Bok, hiessen)—notice the pun: Zerne- ‘black’ / zornig ‘wrathful’;
Tatiščev (1768, 15), like earlier Kantzow and Münster, confidently supplied the missing White God in his paraphrase of Helmold (у ниxъ жe были бѣлъ бoгъ злый, чepный бoгъ – дoбpый “they also had White God , an evil one, and Black God, a good one” (sic)); 91
Karamzin must have learned about White God from Tatiščev; 92
Rakowiecki and Kostomarov took White God from Karamzin; 93
Afanas’ev eagerly appropriated White God into his discussion of light and darkness and, in particular, saw Slavic *Běl(ъ)bogъ behind Bělun (actual pronunciation Bjalun), the Belorussian mythical giver of wealth and good crops; 94
The Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890–1907), the authoritative 86-volume encyclopedia published in Imperial Russia, devoted to White God a separate exposition (the article Bělbogъ by Ivan Ljudvigovič Los’, i.e., Jan Łoś).
*Běl(ъ)bogъ became truly unstoppable once he had found his way into the two easily most influential books of nineteenth century Russia—Karamzin’s 1818 Istorija gosudarstva Rossijskago and Afanas’ev’s 1865 Poètičeskija vozzrěnija. Thence began White God’s victorious march through the field of Slavic mythological studies. To this day, a discussion of White God is an indispensable item in any reference work on Slavic mythology 95
If *Bělobogъ is a “study-room invention,” who was bonus deus of Helmold I.52? The benevolent deity has to have been * Svętovitъ / Svantevit. Already Gil’ferding doubted that Helmold would have simply forgotten to identify the “good god” next to the “evil good.” Helmold actually never meant to say that bonus deus was a separate divinity, a seventh item on his god list. He identified bonus deus as Svantevit immediately after introducing Zcerneboch, literally in the next sentence:
- (19) Unde etiam malum deum lingua sua Diabol sive Zcerneboch , id est nigrum deum, appellant. Inter multiformia autem Slavorum numina praepollet Zuantevith , deus terrae Rugianorum, utpote efficacior in responsis… etc. (for a translation, see fig. (20b.) below). 96
What is more, Helmold unequivocally placed Svantevit at the head of the Northwestern Slavic pantheon:
This superstition took on such a force among the Rugii that
, the god of the Land of the Rugii, obtained most sway among the other [gods] of the Slavs, [being] clearer in victories and more efficient in auguries. (
b. Among the multiform Slavic gods, the one with most sway is Svantevit , the god of the land of the Rugii, for He is the one who is more efficient in auguries. In comparison with Him, the others are considered to be demigods. ( I.52)
c.They have no doubt that among the multiform deities, to whom they attribute fields, forests, sadness and bliss, there is One God in heaven to rule over [all] the others, Most Powerful, concerned only with heavenly matters, whereas the others, obediently fulfilling tasks assigned them, come from His blood, and their greatness stands in proportion to their proximity to that God of gods . (I.84) 97
Finally, as Helmold and Saxo Grammaticus both tell us, Svantevit was venerated by multiple, if not all, Northwestern Slavic tribes. 98
Other scholars have identified the “God of gods” of Helmold I.84 with *S(ъ)varogъ rather than * Svętovitъ , 99 but this notion is contradicted by Helmold I.52 and Helmold II.12.
As mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this study, earlier, in the eleventh century, Thietmar of Merseburg (VI.23–25) placed *S(ъ)varožicь at the head of the pantheon of the Redarii in Mecklenburg ( dii quorum primus Zuarasici dicitur). For many scholars this has been an argument—one of several, to be sure—for the identification of *S(ъ)varožicь- Radogost with the supreme deity of the Northwestern Slavs, * Svętovitъ . 100
* * *
Unlike *Čьrnobogъ, of whom we at least know that he has existed and could on occasion be mean to the regular Slav, *Běl(ъ)bogъ is an invented entity, a scholarly fiction. He has every sign of being a paper-and-pencil discovery, a product of what in Russian is called kabinetnaja mifologija (“study-room mythology”): his ethnographic record is non-existent and his earliest mentions (starting in ca. 1538 with Kantzow’s Chronik) are separated by centuries from the last gasps of paganism in Mecklenburg and Pomerania.
The earliest attestations of *Běl(ъ)bogъ are all linked to Belbuck Abbey, whose well-intended name appears to have launched this wildly successful, even if, ironically, accidental fib.
The benevolent counterpart of *Čьrnobogъ in the Northwestern Slavic pantheon, the bonus deus of Helmold, was * Svętovitъ-S(ъ)varožicь , the lofty Supreme Deity of the Baltic Slavs, to whom *Čьrnobogъ was no equal.
We have seen the following:
- 1. *Čьrnobogъ is a real entity, despite the possibility that he was worshipped in a relatively circumscribed area. His existence is supported by the testimonies of Helmold and Cramer, at the very least.
- 2. The geographic extent of *Čьrnobogъ’s worship hardly stretched beyond the boundaries of Mecklenburg and Pomerania—the areas settled by the West Lechitic and Pomeranian tribes. The single trace of *Čьrnobogъ outside of that area—Ukrainian čorny boh—is a Romaniticist hoax.
- 3. *Čьrnobogъ was a malevolent deity, he caused misfortunes, he might have required human sacrifices, but beyond those few and vague points, it is difficult to say anything with certainty. To elevate *Čьrnobogъ to the status of the single personification of Cosmic Evil, the Slavic analogue of Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu, is not warranted by the extant evidence.
- 4. *Čьrnobogъ’s common Slavic “ancestor” or “predecessor” (if he indeed was a development of a common Slavic deity) cannot be established.
- 5. The central claim of this paper is that *Bělъ Bogъ, unlike *Čьrnobogъ, is fictitious. He owes his existence in scholarly literature to a misinterpreted passage in Helmold and to a suggestive name on the map of Pomerania, Belbuck Abbey, which caused an unknown German historian (probably Kantzow) to jump to conclusions. The real “opposite number” of *Čьrnobogъ in the Northwestern Slavic pantheon was * Svętovitъ-S(ъ)varožicь , as was seen clearly by a number of scholars already in the nineteenth century.
- 6. The evidence available to us on *Čьrnobogъ and his beneficent vis-à-vis, * Svętovitъ, is too tenuous to bear out far-reaching claims about a pervasive dualism of the native Slavic worldview and mythology. There is no strongly compelling reason to entertain external comparisons with radical dualist systems farther afield, such as Iranian Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism or some forms of Gnosticism and its later incarnation, Bogomilism. On the contrary, there are indications that various Slavic groups tended to elevate a single divinity to the position of a Supreme Deity unrivaled by any other god. For the Sclaveni and Antae of the sixth century, as well as for the East Slavs four centuries later, it was the very involved thunder god, Perunъ (recall Procopius, see fig. (1); see also the early entries of Nestor’s Tale of By-Gone Years). For the Northwestern Slavs it was the distant and indifferent heaven-dweller *Svętovitъ (recall Helmold, see fig. (20)).
Ènciklopedija “Slova o polku Igoreve” v 5 tomax. Redakcionnaja kollegija: L.A. Dmitriev, D.S. Lixačev, S.A. Semjačko, O.V. Tvorogov. ran, Institut russkoj literatury (Puškinskij dom). Sankt-Peterburg: Bulanin. 1995.
Mify narodov mira: ènciklopedija . Glavnyj redaktor: S.A. Tokarev. Moskva: Sovetskaja Ènciklopedija. 1980.
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions. Consulting editor: W. Doniger. Springfield, ma: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1999.
Mifologičeskij slovar’. Glavnyj redaktor: Eleazar Moiseevič Meletinskij. Moskva: Sovetskaja Ènciklopedija. 1991.
Materialy dlja slovarja drevne-russkago jazyka po pis’mennym pamjatnikam. Trud I.I. Sreznevskago. Sankt-Peterburg: Tipografija Imperatorskoj Akademii nauk. 1893–1912.
Slavjanskaja mifologija. Ènciklopedičeskij slovar’. Izdanie 2-e ispravlennoe i dopolnennoe. Otvetstvennyj redaktor: S.M. Tolstaja. Moskva: Meždunarodnye otnošenija. 2002.
Slovar’-spravočnik “Slova o polku Igoreve” v 6 vypuskax. Redaktory: B.L. Bogorodskij, D.S. Lixačev, O.V. Tvorogov. AN sssr, Institut russkoj literatury (Puškinskij dom), Institut russkogo jazyka. Leningrad: Nauka. 1965–1984.
The conversion of the Slavs was not a single event. It happened in several waves between the eighth and twelfth cen. a.d. The earliest documented endeavor to convert the Slavs was the Carinthian mission to the north-west Balkans organized by St. Vergilius (Feirgil), bishop of Salzburg (it took place in the 760’s or 770’s). All earlier missions to the Balkan Slavs are semi-legendary and, in any event, did not have a lasting effect. These include the conversion of the Serbs by “elders from Rome,” the baptism of duke Porga’s Croats by “priests from Rome” (both events are reported in De Administrando Imperio, Chs. 31 and 32), the “first Carinthian mission” at the turn of the seventh cen. a.d., etc. The last Slavic regions to be Christianized were Mecklenburg and Pomerania on the Baltic coast (in a series of attempts throughout the tenth-twelfth cen.).
Old Russian chronicles contain multiple episodes involving pagan priests (vъlsvi) who would appear in major towns at times of trouble, such as crop failure, social unrest, etc. Vъlsvi obviously viewed such times as opportune moments to persuade common folk to return to the old gods. Some of these episodes are reported decades or even centuries after Christianization. The last public appearance of vъlsvi took place in 1227 in Novgorod during a famine. Four vъlsvi practiced magic and were seized and burned at the place of popular assembly (věče).
The Wars of JustinianVII.14.22-30. In: Procopius in Seven Volumes, with an English transl. by H.B. Dewing, vol. 4 (London and New York: W. Heinemann, 1924), 269–273.
Including a trizna-like funeral feast and, interestingly, a ritual which looks like the Hindu sahamarana rite (‘dying in company with’): a custom whereby a/the widow of a deceased man ritually kills herself (or is killed) at her husband’s funeral and thereby becomes satī. In ibn Rustah’s account, the East Slavic satī used the hanging as her suicide method, upon which her body was burned on the pyre.
Avraam Jakovlevič Garkavi [Harkavy], Skazanija musul’manskix pisatelej o slavjanax i russkix (s poloviny vii věka do konca X věka po R.X.) (Sankt-Peterburg: Tipografija Imperatorskoj Akademii nauk, 1870), 264–267.
Chronicon Thietmari Merseburgensis VI .23–25.
Ottonian Germany. The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg, translated and annotated by David A. Warner (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2001), 253.
The German missionary Bruno von Querfurt encountered the cult of *Svarožicь even farther east, while on his mission to north-eastern Poland and Prussia. In his 1008 letter to the Holy Roman Emperor Henry ii, Bruno refers to ‘Svarožicь, or a devil’: Que comparatio luci ad tenebras? Quomodo conveniunt Zuarasiz vel diabolus et dux sanctorum vester et noster Mauritius? “What relationship does light have with darkness? How do *Svarožicь , i.e., a devil, and the duke of saints, your and our Maurice, convene?” (English translation mine—Y.G.). See Bruno of Querfurt, “List Brunona do Henryka ii, ok. 1008.” In: Monumenta Poloniae Historica, Tom I (Lwów: Nakładem Własnym, 1864).
Chronica SlavorumI.2, I.21, I.52, I.69, I.83, II.12 – see The Chronicle of the Slavs by Helmold, Priest of Bosau. Transl. Francis J. Tschan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935).
Est autem Slavorum mirabilis error; nam in conviviis et compotationibus suis pateram circumferunt, in quam conferunt, non dicam consecrationis, sed execrationis verba sub nomine deorum, boni scilicet atque mali, omnem prosperam fortunam a bono deo, adversam a malo dirigi profitentes. Unde etiam malum deum lingua sua Diabol sive Zcerneboch, id est nigrum deum, appellant. (Helmoldi Presbyteri Chronica Slavorum, lib. i, c. 52, Pertz, M.G.H. Ss. vol. xxi, 52, English translation The Chronicle of the Slavs by Helmold, Priest of Bosau, 159.).
Excerpta Saxonica, Misnica et Thuringiaca ex Monachi Pirnensis seu, vero nomine, Johannis Lindneri sive Tillani onomastico autographo. In: Johann B. Mencke, Scriptores rerum Germanicarum. Tomus 2. Leipzig 1728.
Petrus Albinus, Meißnische Land- und Berg-Chronica, in welcher ein vollnstendige description des Landes, so zwischen der Elbe, Sala und Südodischen Behmischen gebirgen gelegen (Dresden: bey Gimel Bergen, 1589), 344.
K.E. Hermann Müller, Das Onomasticum mundi generale des Dominikanermönches Johannes Lindner zu Pirna und seine Quellen. Ein Beitrag zur Historiographie des Reformationszeitalters. In: Ermisch, Hubert (Hrsg.), Neues Archiv für Sächsische Geschichte und Altertumskunde 24 (1903), 217.
Op. cit., 217f.
Nikolaj A. Mixajlov, “Baltijskie bogi v serbo-lužickom panteone A. Frencelja.” In: Balto-slavjanskie issledovanija 1997 (Moskva: Indrik, 1998), 392–399.
Bjarni Guðnason (ed.), Danakonunga sögur. Íslenzk fornrit 35 (Reykjavik: n.p., 1982).
Carl af Petersens and Emil Olson (eds.), Sögur Danakonunga, 1: Sögubrot af Fornkonungum, 2: Knýtlinga Saga, stuagnl 46 (Copenhagen, 1919–1925).
Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions ( mwewr ), Consulting editor: W. Doniger (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1999), 1016.
Vjačeslav Vsevolodovič Ivanov and Vladimir Nikolaevič Toporov, Slavjanskie jazykovye modelirujuščie semiotičeskie sistemy (Drevnij period) (Moskva: Nauka, 1965); Henryk Łowmiański, Religia słowian i jej upadek (w. vi–xii) (Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1979) [cited here from the Russian translation: Religija slavjan i ee upadok (vi–xii vv.) (Sankt-Peterburg: Akademičeskij proekt, 2003), 159]; see also Slavjanskaja mifologija. Ènciklopedičeskij slovar’. Izdanie 2-e ispravlennoe i dopolnennoe; otvetstvennyj redaktor: S.M. Tolstaja (Moskva: Meždunarodnye otnošenija, 2002), 484.
En um morgininn eptir fóru þeir konungr til þess staðar, er Karenz heitir, ok lét hann þar höggva niðr þrjú skurðgoð, er svá hétu: Rinvit , Turupið ok Puruvit . […] En þann dag, er þessi skurðgoð váru brend, þá kristnuðu þeir ix hundruð ok vígðu xi kirkjugarða. Þar tóku þeir mikit fé af goðunum, bæði gull ok silfr, silki ok pell ok guðvef, hjálma ok sverð, brynjur ok allskonar vápn. Et fimmta goð hét Pizamarr ; hann var á Ásund, svá heitir einn staðr; hann var ok brendr. Þá hét ok Tjarnaglófi , hann var sigrgoð þeirra, ok fór hann í herfarar með þeim; hann hafði kanpa af silfri; hann helz lengst við, en þó fengu þeir hann á þriðja vetri þar eptir; en þeir kristnuðu alls á landinu V þúsundir í þeirri ferð. Eptir þat fór Valdimarr konungr heim ok Absalón biskup ok allr herrinn.
Aleksander Brückner, Mitologia słowiańska (Warszawa: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1980 [second edition]), 45, 109, 193f.
Aleksandr Fedorovič Gil’ferding, Istorija baltijskix slavjan. Tom 1 (Moskva: Tipografija V. Got’e, 1855), 248; Brückner, Mitologia słowiańska, loc. cit.; see also mwewr , 1016.
Gil’ferding, Istorija baltijskix slavjan, loc. cit.
“…Deo suo Gerovito, qui lingua latina Mars dicitur” (Herbord iii, 6; in: Rudolf Köpke (Hrsg.), Herbordi Dialogus de vita Ottonis episcopi Babenbergensis. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Bd. 33 (Hannover 1868)). “…Gerovito, qui deus militiae eorum fuit…” (Ebbo iii, 8; in: Rudolf Köpke (Hrsg.), Vita Ottonis episcopi Babenbergensis. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Bd. 12 (Hannover 1856), 822–883).
For a discussion of Slavic dualism see, e.g., Aleksander Gieysztor, Mitologia słowian (Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2006 [second edition]), Ch. vi, 156–166.
Abu al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī al-Masʿūdī, Murūj aḍ-ḍahab wa-maʿādin al-jawhar. Ivan Belkin, “Kak vygljadel Černyj Bog? (čast’ 2).” Mify i magija indoevropejcev 5 (Moskva: Menedžer, 1997), 54–70.
Belkin, op. cit.
Arab. bayt, a term standardly used by al-Masudi to refer to any kind of pagan sanctuary or shrine. When a temple sensu stricto is meant, al-Masudi uses the term haykal (Aleksandr Sergeevič Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī o slavjanskix svjatiliščax: perevod i interpretacija.” Vestnik Sankt-peterburgskogo universiteta 13/2 (2009): 89, 96).
According to Matveev, the phrase ‘black mountain’ in the original is definite (al-jabal al-aswad?), whereas all other mountains mentioned in the chapter are indefinite. It is therefore either a known mountain, i.e., ‘the black mountain’ (it might have been previously mentioned in a larger discourse, but the chapter was at some later point abridged), or else it is a place name, i.e., ‘Black Mountain’ (Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 89).
Arab. rajul ‘man’; variant: zuḥal ‘the planet Saturn’ (Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 89).
This is my translation of Matveev’s translation into Russian (Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 88).
He appears to have visited the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Armenia, Persia and Tabaristan, Khazaria, India, Egypt, Abyssinia (Al-Habash), and the Swahili Coast of Africa (Zanj). He may also have traveled to Byzantium, Central Asia (Transoxiana), the Maghreb, and Spain (Garkavi, Skazaija musul’manskix pisatelej, 117f., 120; Dmitrij Valentinovič Mikul’skij, “«Zolotye kopi…» al-Masʿudi i ix mesto v arabo-musul’manskoj slovesnosti,” In: Abu-l-Xasan ‘Ali ibn al-Xusajn ibn ‘Ali al-Masudi. Zolotye kopi i rossypi samocvetov. (Istorija Abbasidskoj dinastii 749–947 gg.). Perevod s arabskogo, predislovie, kommentarii i ukazateli D.V. Mikul’skogo (Moskva: Natalis, 2002), 7.
Dmitrij Evgen’evič Mišin, Saqaliba (slavjane) v islamskom mire v srednevekov’e (Moskva: Institut vostokovedenija ran – «Kraft + », 2002), 62–74.
Mišin, Saqaliba, 64f., 69–74. Among al-Masudi’s sources on the East Slavs and the Scandinavian Rus’ may have been the works of Muslim al-Garmi (Garkavi, Skazaija musul’manskix pisatelej, 121, 161). His sources on the West Slavs—and Central Europe in general—may have emanated from Western Europe, quite possibly Al-Andalus, i.e., Islamic Spain (Mišin, Saqaliba, 67, 68, Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 94). Some information on the Saqaliba and the realia of their world may have been acquired from personal conversations with East Slavs, whom al-Masudi would have surely encountered in Khazaria. In his description of Khazaria and its capital, the Slavs figure prominently, as do the Scandinavian Rus’. The latter lived among the Slavs and mixed with them freely along the entire length of the Austrvegr. Undoubtedly, they would have possessed much information about their Slavic neighbors.
Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 93; Stefania Pandolfo, Impasse of the Angels: Scenes from a Moroccan Space of Memory (Chicago, London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 23.
Pandolfo, Impasse of the Angels, loc. cit.
Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 92–94.
Al-Masudi mentions that in his work he would have consulted Kitāb al-Ulūf fī Buyūt al-ʿIbādāt “The Book of the Houses of Worship [Built Every] Millennium” (also known as The Book of Thousands). It was written by the famous astrologer Abu Maʿshar al-Balkhi. Kovalevskij has investigated potential connections between al-Masudi’s Meadows of Gold and al-Balkhi’s Book of Thousands and came to the conclusion that much of al-Masudi’s discussion in the relevant section indeed draws on al-Balkhi’s material (Andrej Petrovič Kovalevskij, “Al-Masudi o slavjanskix jazyčeskix xramax. Sbornik statej.” In: V.D. Koroljuk (ed.), Voprosy istoriografii i istočnikovedenija slavjano-germanskix otnošenij (Moskva: Nauka, 1973), 82–86).
Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 94.
This is my translation of Matveev’s Russian translation (op. cit., 95).
Kovalevskij, “Al-Masudi,” 83.
“§1386. […] Regarding that building, an account of its design exists… [in particular] of precious stones placed in it, of engraved characters which predict the future, and of events of which those precious stones forewarn before they happen…” (Matveev., op. cit., 88; English translation mine—Y.G.).
Belkin has directly equated al-Masudi’s giant idol with *Čьrnobogъ (Belkin, “Kak vygljadel Černyj Bog?”). Kovalevskij has identified the black mountain with Čorna hora ‘Black Mountain’ (also known as Pop Ivan) in the Ukrainian Carpathians (Kovalevskij, “Al-Masudi,” 84, 86). Even Matveev, who has so masterfully debunked the notion that al-Masudi’s “tale of temples and shrines” should be viewed as a piece of historical writing, has fallen prey to the temptation to extract some historical nuggets from it (Matveev, “Soobščenie al-Masʿūdī,” 97f.).
Pavel Iosif Šafarik, Slavjanskija drevnosti. Čast’ istoričeskaja, Tom I, kniga I, izdanie vtoroe, ispravlennoe. Perevod s češskago O. Bodjanskago (Moskva: Universitetskaja tipografija, 1847), 23; see also Garkavi, Skazaija musul’manskix pisatelej, 170f.
I give this saying in modern standard Ukrainian spelling.
Aleksandr Nikolaevič Afanas’ev, Poètičeskija vozzrěnija slavjan na prirodu. Opyt sravnitel’nogo izučenija slavjanskix predanij i věrovanij, v svjazi s mifičeskimi skazanijami drugix rodstvennyx narodov. (Moskva: Tipografija Gračeva, 1865), 56ff.; the Ukrainian curse formula appears on p. 93.
Elena Evgenievna Levkievskaja, “K voprosu ob odnoj mistifikacii ili gogolevskij Vij pri svete ukrainskoj mifologii.” Studia mythologica Slavica 1 (1998), 312.
Vij 153. In: Nikolaj Vasil’evič Gogol’, Sobranie sočinenij v šesti tomax. Tom 2. Mirgorod (Moskva: Xudožestvennaja literatura, 1952), 153–192.
Opanas Vasyl’jovyč Markovyč and Matvij Terentijovyč Nomys, Ukraïns’ki prykazky, prysliv’ja i take inše. Zbirnyky O.V. Markovyča i Druhyx (Sankt-Peterburg: Thiéblin, 1864), 73.
Kazimierz Władysław Wóycicki, Przysłowia narodowe: z wyiaśnieniem zrzódła początku, oraz sposobu ich użycia, okazuiące charakter, zwyczaie, i obyczaie, przesądy, starożytności, i wspomnienia oyczyste, Tom 1 (Warszawa: Hugues et Kermen, 1830).
Wóycicki, Przysłowia narodowe, 73.
Russian Justice, the oldest Russian penal code (largely based on customary law), which was compiled and put in writing in ca. 1017 under Jaroslav i the Wise and then edited and expanded in ca. 1054 under Jaroslav’s sons.
Ignacy Benedykt Rakowiecki, Prawda Ruska czyli prawa wielkiego xięcia Jarosława Władymirowicza. Tudzież traktaty Olga y Igora ww. xx. kiiowskich z cezarzami greckimi y Mścisława Dawidowicza x. smoleńskiego z Rygą zawarte. Tom I. Rys historyczny zwyczaiów, obyczaiów, religiy, praw y języka dawnych słowiańskich y słowiańsko-ruskich narodów (Warszawa: Drukarnia XX Piiarów, 1820), 75f., fn. 93.
In Wóycicki’s spelling: szczob tebe Czorny-boh ubił.
Boh mene ubiy.
Szczob na tebe przyszła Czorna hodyna.
Szczob na tebe Diw przyszoł.
Rakowiecki’s role in Polish legal studies has been described as the liberator of Polish scholarship from the “hypnotic superiority” of the Germanic legal tradition over the Slavic one, and from the theory of the Norman origin of Polish law and laws of other Slavic peoples (Stanisław Salmonowicz, “Oratio pro domo sua, czyli kilka uwag o nauce historii prawa w Polsce.” Miscellanea Historico-Iuridica 10 (2011), 26, fn. 12).
Andrzej Walicki, “Adam Gurowski: Polish Nationalism, Russian Panslavism, and American Manifest Destiny.” Russian Review 38/1 (Jan., 1979), 6. After the November uprising, similar ideas were being developed in the writings of Wacław Aleksander Maciejowski, who, interestingly, likewise was a historian of law. Nineteenth-century Poland even witnessed conversions into Orthodoxy as “the natural religion of all Slavs” (such was, e.g., the conversion of Prince Swiatopełk-Mirski in 1843). For a discussion of nineteenth cen. Slavophiles and Russophiles in Poland see Walicki, “Adam Gurowski,” 5–7. An interesting treatment of Poland’s “Romantic school” of law history is Salmonowicz, “Oratio pro domo sua.”
Rakowiecki, Prawda Ruska, 55.
Nikolaj Mixajlovič Karamzin, Istorija gosudarstva Rossijskago. Izdanije vtoroe, ispravlennoe. Tom I (Sankt-Peterburg: P. Greč, 1818).
Rakowiecki recalls in particular the description of the pagan tribes of Derevljane, Sěverjane, and Radimiči in the Old Russian Tale of By-Gone Years, who are described as having “lived in bestial fashion,” “known no marriage,” “spoken obscenely in the presence of their women,” and “eaten every filthy thing.”
Rakowiecki, Prawda Ruska, 58, 75, 77.
Op. cit., 57.
Op. cit., 64.
Op. cit., 38f, fn. 44.
W mowie Ruskiéy nieco więcéy niżeli u nas pozostało wyrażeń stósownych do paganizmu. Zaklinaiący się Rusin mówi “Boh mene ubiy.” Wyrażanie to stósuie się do bóstwa Peruna lub Czerno-boha , które w każdym razie występki ludzkie karały. Przeklinaiąc kogo mówi także niekiedy Rusin, Szczob tebie czorny boh ubił—szczob na tebe pryszła czorna hodyna—szczob na tebe Diw pryyszow.— Diw po Polsku dziw, dziwo, było bóstwo karzące i prześladuiące, cf. Dziwo, dziwić sie, dziwowisko (op. cit., 75, fn. 93).
Slovar’-spravočnik «Slova o polku Igoreve» v 6 vypuskax. Redaktory: B.L. Bogorodskij, D.S. Lixačev, O.V. Tvorogov, ANsssr, Institut russkoj literatury (Puškinskij dom), Institut russkogo jazyka (Leningrad: Nauka. 1965–1984), vyp. 2: 30f.; Ènciklopedija “Slova o polku Igoreve” v 5 tomax. Redakcionnaja kollegija: L.A. Dmitriev, D.S. Lixačev, S.A. Semjačko, O.V. Tvorogov. ran, Institut russkoj literatury (Puškinskij dom), (Sankt-Peterburg: Bulanin. 1995), t. 2: 111. Apart from the Tale of Igor’s Campaign, the other two Old Russian texts where divъ occurs are the Old Russian translations of the Life of Blessed Andrew of Constantinople and the Life of St. Blaise of Sebaste. In the latter text ORuss. divъ translates Gk. gryphon (Materialy dlja slovarja drevne-russkago jazyka po pis’mennym pamjatnikam, trud I.I. Sreznevskago (Sankt-Peterburg: Tipografija Imperatorskoj Akademii nauk. 1893–1912), t. 1, 664). Sreznevskij, who discovered this fact, thought that ‘griffin’ was also the meaning of divъ in Igor’s Tale. However, there was another—homophonous—word in Old Russian, which meant ‘something unusual and wondrous’: it is ORuss. divъ (2) related to bcs dȉv ‘a giant; an unusually tall person’ (recall also Pol. dziw, dziwo, dziwić się, dziwowisko). It is more likely that ORuss. divъ (2) rather than divъ (1) was used to translate ‘griffin’ (a case of semantic extension for want of a better semantic match in the native lexicon). In the Life of Andrew, ORuss. divъ translates Gk. ekstasis. This looks to me like another case of semantic extension of the same word, divъ (2), cf. its adjectival derivative divijь ‘violent, untamed, wild.’ In short, the word divъ (1) in Igor’s Tale is not the same as divъ (2) in the Vitae of the two saints.
Iroičeskaja pěsn’ o poxodě na polovcov uděl’nago knjazja Novagoroda-Sěverskago Igorja Svjatoslaviča, pisannaja starinnym russkim jazykom v isxodě xii stolětija s pereloženiem na upotrebljaemoe nyně narěčie. (Moskva: Senatskaja tipografija. 1800).
Markovyč and Nomys, Ukraïns’ki prykazky, 73.
Mixail Petrovič Pogodin, Izslědovanija, zaměčanija i lekcii M. Pogodina o russkoj istorii, Tom ii. Proisxoždenie Varjagov-Rusi. O Slavjanax (Moskva: Universitetskaja tipografija, 1846), 413.
PSl. *čьrno-bož-ьje ‘Black God’s precinct.’ This is a productive compound in -ьje with locatival semantics, which has exactly the same morphology as, e.g., Pol. Pomorze, Russ. Pomor’e, and bcs Pomorje < *po-mor-ьje ‘land along the sea, coastlands, a maritime province,’ Russ. Primor’e < *pri-mor-ьje ‘a province by the sea,’ Priural’e ‘areas adjacent to the Ural Mts.,’ Zaural’e ‘areas beyond the Urals,’ etc.
Afanas’ev, Poètičeskija vozzrěnija, 93.
See, e.g., Afanas’ev №137, the tale of Ivan the Bull’s Son (Ivan Bykovič), whom the old witch kidnaps and drags underground. There, Ivan meets her husband, who appears to be the master of the Netherworld. It has been observed by many that the figure of the witch’s husband is quite reminiscent of Gogol’s Vij and Irish Balor. He lies on an iron bed, unable to open his eyelids. In order to be able to look at Ivan Bykovič, he summons twelve mighty warriors, who lift his eyebrows and eyelashes with iron pitchforks (Vladimir Jakovlevič Propp, Narodnye russkie skazki A.N. Afanas’eva v trex tomax. Podgotovka teksta, predislovie i primečanija V. Ja. Proppa (Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo xudožestvennoj literatury, 1957), 278–286). In Afanas’ev’s version of the story the creature is referred to simply as the “old man.” In a very similar Belorussian fairytale he is called Czar Kokot’ (i.e., Kogot’ ‘claw’ (?); Vij’s iron finger comes to mind). A comparable figure in West Ukrainian folklore is Solodyvyj Bunjak, whose eyes wreak destruction when opened. His eyelids are so heavy, however, that his servants have to lift them with forks.
Sergej Zaremovič Černov, “Rasskazy «Žitija Sergija Radonežskogo» o ego otročestve i junosti v kontekstax ustnoj istorii,” 9f., 14f. In: A.G. Mel’nik, S.V. Sazonov (eds.), Prepodobnyj Sergij, «rodom rostovec…». Materialy konferencii (Rostov, 2014), 7–42.
The Norbertines, more widely known as the Premonstratensians, was a Roman Catholic order founded at Prémontré, France by St. Norbert of Xanten. In Britain and Ireland, the Norbertines were known as the ‘White Canons’ (from the color of their habits).
Franz Winter, Die Prämonstratenser des 12. Jahrhunderts und ihre Bedeutung für das nordöstliche Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Christianisierung und Germanisierung des Wendenlandes (Berlin: C. Schweigger’sche Hofbuchhandlung, 1865), 215; Karl Dorenwell and August Hummel, Charakterbilder aus deutschen Gauen, Städten und Stätten: Land & Leute in Nord-Deutschland, 1. Abteilung. Bilder aus den deutschen Küstenländern (Hannover: Norddeutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1885), 100.
Est autem Wandalorum (sic) insignis (sic) error; nam in conviviis et compotationibus suis… etc. etc. […] Unde etiam malum deum, diabol, et eorum lingua Zernebog, i.e. nigrum deum, appellabant, bonum vero Belbog , i.e. album deum apellabant iuxta Manichaeorum errorem (cf. fig. (4) above). Quoted from: Władysław Nehring, “Der Name Bêlbog in der slawischen Mythologie,” Archiv für slavische philologie xxv (1903), 69.
Such as, e.g., Albert Krantz’s Wandalia (1519) and Saxonia (1520), Ernst Brotuff’s Geschichte von Merseburg (1580), and Petrus Albinus’ Meissnische Land- und Bergchronik (1589).
Nehring, “Der Name Bêlbog,” 69. I have not been able to establish with certainty, which anonymous work Nehring referred to in his article. There are two compositions from the seventeenth century under very similar names, and neither one is anonymous: Historia episcopatus Caminensis in Pomerania ab origine annoque 1124 ad annum 1618 by Georg (Jürgen) Valentin von Winther, and Historia episcopatus Caminensis, ab originibus ad praesentem usque statum repetita respondens Andreas Juris by Michael Zulichius (Zülich). The latter opus came out in 1677, which makes von Winther’s Historia Caminensis the likelier candidate.
Ich hab hiezuvor mannigerley unglawben und abgoͤtterey angezeigt, so sie bei Zeiten des Teutzschen keiserthumbs gehapt. Aber zuvor seint sie noch viele heidnischer gewest, haben yre khonige und hern, so wol geregiret, vor Goͤtter aufgeworffen, und dieselbigen nach yrem totte geehret. Darneben haben sie Sonne und Mon angebetet, und zu letzst zween Goͤtter, die uͤber alle ander Goͤtter wehren, gemacht. Einen, den sie Bialbug , das ist den weissen Got, genennet; den hielten sie vor einen gutten Got; den andern Zernebug , das ist der schwartze Got, den sie vor einen Got hielten, der schaden tette. Darumb ehreten sie Bialbug deshalben, das er ynen guts tette und thun solte; Zernebug aber ehreten sie darum, das er nicht schaden solte. Und demselbigen Zernebug pflagen sie offt menschen zuslachten; dan sie meinten, er wurde nyrgentz durch besser gestillet, wan durch menschenblut; welchs dan zwar wahr ist, wan sie es nhur recht verstanden hetten; dan Zernebug sucht nicht anders, dan des Menschen tot an leib und sele (Thomas Kantzow, Chronik von Pommern in niederdeutscher Mundart, sammt einer Auswahl aus den übrigen ungedruckten Schriften desselben. Nach des Verfassers eigener Handschrift herausgegeben, und mit Einleitung, Glossar und einigen anderen Zugaben versehen durch Wilhelm Böhmer, Professor am Gymnasium zu Stettin, Mitglied der Gesellschalt für Pommerscht Geschichte und Alterthumskunde (Stettin: F.H. Morin, 1835), 283).
Vulgo autem duos deos coluerunt, nempe Belbuck & Zernebuck , quasi album & nigrum deum, bonum & malum genium, deum & satanam, quasi boni & mali authores, iuxta Manichaeorum errorem. Quoted from: Myroslava Znayenko, “On the Concept of Chernebog and Bielbog in Slavic Mythology.” Acta Slavica Iaponica 11 (1993), 180 – citing Sebastian Münster, Cosmographiae universalis (Basileae, apud Henrichum Petri, 1554), p. 772.
Znayenko, “On the Concept of Chernebog and Bielbog,” 179.
Op. cit., 181.
See also fn. 79.
Diesem Kloster haben sie den Namen Belbug gegeben, so viel als Bialbuck welches in seiner Wendischen Sprach soviel heist als den Weissen Gott , damit zu verstehen zu geben, daß die Christen von keinem schwarzen Gott wie ihre heidnische Vorfahrn wusten. Welcher Nahm sich dann zu der Praemonstratenser Kleidung, welch in Weiß gekleidet giengen, wol schicket. Diese fundation des Klosters Belbuck ist geschehen Anno 1163 (Daniel Cramer, Pommersche Chronica, das ist, Beschreibung un außfuͤrlicher Bericht, wie anfenglich durch Bischoff Otto von Bamberg die Pommern auß heidnischer Blindheit zum Christenthumb bekehret und folgents darbey bißauff den heutigen Tag erhalten worden sind: Sampt klärlicher Vermeldung vieler heidnischer und abgöttischer Gebräuchen auch allerhand geistlichen und weltlichen Sachen Band i (Gedruckt zu Franckfurt am Mayn: durch und in Verlegung Johann Spiessen und Romani Beati Erben, 1602), 115).
Philipp von Zesen, Der erdichteten heidnischen Gottheiten wie auch Als- und Halb-Gottheiten Herkunft und Begäbnisse, 1688. In: van Ingen, Ferdinand, et al. (eds.), Philipp von Zesen. Sämtliche Werke. Band 17/1. Heidnische Gottheiten. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. 1998.
Vasilij Nikitič Tatiščev, Istorija Rossijskaja s samyx drevnějšix vremen, neusypnymi trudami čerez tritcat’ lět sobrannaja i opisannaja pokojnym Tajnym Sovětnikom i Astraxanskim Gubernatorom Vasil’em Nikitičem Tatiščevym. Kniga 1. Čast’ 1 (Moskva: Imperatorskij Moskovskij Universitet, 1768), 15.
Karamzin, Istorija gosudarstva Rossijskago, 89.
Rakowiecki, Prawda Ruska, 24; Nikolaj Ivanovič Kostomarov, Slavjanskaja mifologija (Kiev: I. Val’ner, 1847), 22.
Afanas’ev, Poètičeskija vozzrěnija, 93.
See Slavjanskaja mifologija by Ivanov and Toporov in mnmè (1980, 450–456); Mifologičeskij slovar’; Slavjanskaja mifologija; “Slavic Religion” in mwewr , 1016.
Gil’ferding, Istorija baltijskix slavjan, 232; Kostomarov, Slavjanskaja mifologija, 22; Afanas’ev, Poètičeskija vozzrěnija, 95.
Adeo autem hec superstitio apud Ranos invaluit, ut Zvantevit deus terrae Rugianorum inter omnia numina Sclavorum primatum obtinuerit, clarior in victoriis, efficacior in responsis (II.12). Inter multiformia autem Slavorum numina praepollet Zuantevith , deus terrae Rugianorum, utpote efficacior in responsis, cuius intuitu ceteros quasi semideos estimabant. (I.52). Inter multiformia vero deorum numina, quibus arva, silvas, tristicias atque voluptates attribuunt, non diffitentur unum deum in celis ceteris imperitantem, illum prepotentem celestia tantum curare, hos vero distributis officiis obsequentes de sanguine eius processisse et unumquemque eo prestantiorem, quo proximiorem illi deo deorum (I.84).
Helmold: …Simulachrum illud antiquissimum Zuantevith, quod colebatur ab omni natione Sclavorum (II.12) “…Certain very ancient statue of Svantevit , which was worshipped by all the Slavic peoples.” Saxo Grammaticus: Hanc… statuam, totius Sclaviae pensionibus cultam… (Gesta Danorum, XIV.39.8) “This… statue, to which all Slavs gave tributes…”.
See, e.g., George Vernadsky, The Origins of Russia (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 111, 120f., Łowmiański, Religija slavjan, 150–152.
See, e.g., Kostomarov, Slavjanskaja mifologija, 6f., 14–16, Gil’ferding, Istorija baltijskix slavjan, 223–226, Brückner, Mitologia słowiańska, 122f.