The part 1 of this article is here.
Kostroma and Kostromo – Gemini
Slavic pantheon knows many twin-deities. But the four most important couples are Yarilo–Yarila, Kostromo-Kostroma, Lado-Lada, and Kupalo-Kupala. In astronomical terms, these four couples relate to the solstices and equinoxes, or the four seasons of the year. We have already seen the connections between Yarilo and the spring equinox. The next couple, Kostromo and Kostroma relate to the summer solstice and the constellation of Gemini.
According to the Wikipedia article, the etymology of these names comes from костёр (kostyor), the Russian word for “bonfire”. The bonfire is made of shives – kostra in the Russian language.
Now, the Gemini constellation comes from Greek and Roman mythology, and famous brothers Castor and Pollux. Sometimes, both of them were called Castores. Etruscans knew them as Kastur and Pultuce. They were the patrons of sailors, and also great healers.
The name Castor apparently comes from the Greek “kastor” – the beaver. (?) But here is the rest of the explanation:
It has been assumed that the hero’s name was given to the animal because Castor was a noted healer and the odorous reddish-brown secretions of the animal (Latin castoreum), were used medicinally in ancient times. But the animal did not live in Greece in classical times (the closest beavers were north of the Black Sea), and the name probably was borrowed from another language, perhaps influenced by the hero’s name.
Borrowed from the hero’s name that belongs to another language? Black sea? Hm… Anyhow, let us now see what is the connection between the Slavic Kostroma twins and the Gemini constellation.
First of all, the date of the celebration. It falls around the 29th of June or the Christian Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This date is just a week off from the current summer solstice (the 21st of June). But even more importantly, these two saints are in fact the same astrological myth in disguise. They represent the Gemini constellation, and Paul, Apollo is the same as Pollux.
In Slavic rites, jumping over the bonfires symbolized purification and cleansing from bad energies and disease. In an astronomical sense, the fire represents the Sun, which is at its highest point on the horizon. Slavs believed the sunrise of this day is special, as the Sun will dance and change colors.
Also, a village maiden representing the deity would be ritually bathed in a stream and then worshipped for an evening of feasting and dancing. In some cases, the maiden was substituted by a doll made of straw (kostra) who would then be ritually drowned. The celebrations of Kostroma are tightly related to Rusalka and Mavka, Slavic versions of water nymphs.
And finally, the rites were not only related to people. On the eve before this day Serbs make the special smudge sticks, known as lile. They are usually made from the birch or cherry tree. People gather around the large bonfire and take some of the flames. Then they wield them around, saying: “Wherever the lila goes, the cattle will follow”.
In short, all of these motifs clearly relate to the summer solstice in Gemini. The large bonfire represents the Sun. Kostroma twins are the Gemini. The association with the cattle comes from the Taurus, the previous constellation. And the association with the river and nymphs from the Milky Way, in which the Gemini twins are “standing”.
In fact, the Milky Way is probably one of the main reasons for their name. It is seen as “straw” in Slavic mythology. In Christian symbology too, Jesus was born in the hay, with the three wise men (Orion’s belt) and the bull (Taurus) surrounding him. However, this imagery does not relate to the solstice, it is a memory of an ancient image of the spring equinox in Taurus.
Based on all the evidence presented so far it is clear not only that the Kostroma twins represent Gemini, but also that the Greco-Roman name Castor probably comes from the Slavic etymology.
Kresnik and Trot – Slovenian version of Gemini
Slavic nations consist of numerous tribes and therefore the Slavic mythology is not unified. It is equally complex as that of Ancient Greece, or Egypt, although by far less studied, even by Slavs themselves.
Slavs around the Alps, nowadays mainly Slovenians, have their own divine twins. They are Kresnik and Trot. The highlighted Wikipedia article states:
Kresnik (Kersnik and Krsnik) is a Slavic god associated with fire, the summer solstice, and storms. His mythical home, a sacred mountain at the top of the world, represents the axis Mundi. The name of Kresnik has no clear etymology. Possible connections with Russian Khors and Indian Krishna. Perhaps a cognate with the Iranian *krs-/kars-, and Slavic *krst- »cross«. It could also come from Balto-Slavic: festival of Kresze is known among Balts and an old Slavic word *krěsδ has the meaning of »fire«.
Kresnik is described as having golden hair and golden hands or arms. He was born either with horse earlaps, horse hooves, or a birthmark shaped like hooves, and he frequently is said to be able to take the form of a horse. Castor and Pollux are usually associated with horses. Also, just like in the case of Kostroma, the bonfires are lit with the same idea of cleansing.
The Wikipedia article tries to connect Kresnik with several other deities of the Slavic pantheon but without success. It seems that the connection with the Gemini constellation has not been established by the scholars, so I decided to share it here. It seems pretty obvious?
Also, Kreshnik’s connections with Vedic Krishna are extremely interesting. We will get back to that a bit later.
Veles – Hydra (and Cancer)
Veles was a Slavic chthonic god shaped like a dragon or a giant snake. He ruled the earth, water, and the underworld. His attributes are wet, wooly, hairy (bearded), dark, He is associated with cattle, the harvest, wealth, music, magic, and trickery. His cult is recorded in all Slavic nations and numerous toponyms testify of his importance.
The etymology of its name is hard to determine, as there is more than one logical choice. Firstly, it could relate to the Proto-Indo-European root *welg- also meaning “humid, wet”. As Wikipedia states – nothing is more connected with Veles than humidity and wetness. Secondly, it could relate to cattle, “вол/vol/wół” in Slavic languages. His cult was closely related to cattle.
And finally, scholars have already noticed the similarity with the Vedic god Vala. Apparently, this Sanskrit word means “enclosure”, as Vala is blocking the access to water. Indra has to slay him to release “the seven rivers”. Rigveda mentions him 23 times. In most of these cases, he is also associated with cows. “Lord of the thunder (Indra), thou didst burst the cave of Vala, rich in cows.” R.V. 1.11.5
Numerous Indo-European myths share this theme. However, in the case of the Hercules myth, we can clearly see that Veles can be identified with Hydra. Hydra is a seven-headed snake (dragon) whose name means “water”. In ancient myths, it usually took place of the far insignificant Cancer constellation. Perhaps these two constellations should be joined together, with the stars of Cancer representing the rest of the Hydra’s heads.
The association of this cosmic snake with the water is due to its proximity to the Milky Way.
Simargl – Leo constellation
Simargl (Semargl) is a winged lion (or dog) deity of East Slavic mythology. His wife is the goddess of night Kupalnitsa, his children Kupalo and Kostroma. Simargl is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor. If he breaks free, the world will end. Simargl is also the father of Skif and the founder of Cythia. It may be the equivalent of Simurgh in Persian mythology, a griffin with a dog body.
It is quite obvious that Simargl, the winged lion, relates to the constellation of Leo. The fact that it is chained to the constellation Ursa Minor only confirms this notion. However, I haven’t seen even a Russian text that makes such a connection. Scholars most commonly relate Simargl to Persian Simurgh. But this is a false etymology, an error caused by the similar-sounding names. The Persian Simurgh is clearly a bird.
Russian Wikipedia on Simargl mentions an interesting fact. The name Simargl was first mentioned in Nestor’s chronicles of the XII century. However, another XIV century text on Slavic paganism states: “They believe in Sima and Ergla” ( «веруют… и в Сима и в Рьгла (Ерьгла)» )
Russian scholar, А. С. Фаминцын assumed that Cyrylic letters «ь» and «г» were wrongly copied instead of the original “ы” letter. Therefore, the text should state: “They believe in Sima and Erila”. Here, Erilo would be none other than the spring god Yarilo – a theory which I also find extremely plausible.
However, this same scholar explained the word Sim as a Sabynian word for “genie”, “half-god”. I don’t agree with this view. In my opinion, this word is related to Sanskrit “siṃhá” and means simply “the lion”. (also the name of Leo constellation in Sanskrit)
By the way, the Sanskrit word is a softened version of “siṅgh”, still present in Hindi. Singidunum, the most ancient name of Belgrade, Serbia probably meant “lion-hill”, and Singidava was an important city of Dacia, modern-day Romania.
Lada – Virgo
The goddess Lada and her counterpart Lado are another important set of twin deities in Slavic mythology. They were gods of fertility, planting/harvesting/grain, beauty, and weddings. From Wikipedia:
By the eighteenth century, Lada assumed the role of a mother goddess, with Lado (Dido or Dida) as her son or consort. Boris Rybakov proposed that Lada, spring goddess, was a Slavic version of the Greek Leto. David Leeming writes that Lada, like Iarilo, is a dying-and-rising deity. Serbs call her ‘Fiery Mary’, and consider her the sister of Elijah the Thunderer, that is the Slavic thunder god Perun.
Now, all of these concepts clearly relate to the Virgo constellation. Virgo is a goddess of beauty, a mother goddess. She holds the shaft of grain in her hands, as the rising of the Virgo constellation marked the harvest season.”Dying and rising” obviously relates to the constellation’s appearance on the night sky. Virgo’s counterpart in Christianity is the Virgin Mary. And just like Virgin Mary conceived by the holy spirit, the Greek Leto had conceived by Zeus, in the form of a swan.
The etymological similarities between Slavic Lada and Ancient Greek Leto are obvious, and we need to ask ourselves how could they happen.
The constellation Virgo lies directly opposite to Orion and Taurus. When the Sun is in Taurus, Virgo dominates the night sky, when the Sun is in Virgo, the opposite happens. This is why Serbs saw Virgo as the sister of Perun (Orion). This is also why Lada is sometimes seen as the spring goddess, although her season is actually the autumn harvest.
But there is more:
The seventeenth-century text names Lada as the mother of Lel and Polel, the Slavic equivalent of the twin brothers Castor and Pollux, and the sons of Greek Leda. In Polish myth, the twin brothers are Zizilia and Didilia, also associated with love and fertility.
Here again, we see the clear identification between Lada and Leto. But we also see something much more interesting. I identified the Gemini constellation as the Slavic god Kreshnik, whom some scholars relate to Krishna based on similar-sounding names. In Hinduism, Krishna’s counterpart is Radha. The name Radha sounds like the original name of Lada, before the rhotacism change, from R to L sound.
And while the Slavic etymology of Lada is uncertain, the Sanskrit term Rādhā (Sanskrit: राधा) means “prosperity, success” – an appropriate name for the goddess of harvest and weddings.
Now, the connection between Krishna and Kreshnik alone may sound dubious. But adding the Radha – Lada connection leaves no doubt that the Slavic pantheon is closely related to the Vedic / Hindu one. In the following image from Slavic folklore, we see the goddess Lada shielding her twins, Kostroma/Kreshnik. And just like Krishna in Hindu art, one of them is playing the flute.
Sud and Sudenicy – Libra
Sud means “Judge”. His consort (or daughter) is Sudenica – “She who Judges”. She is a triple goddess who determines the fate of men at their birth.
From the astrological aspect, the idea of “judge” inlines perfectly with the symbol of the scales of the Libra. Across Libra, lies the Orion constellation, whose belt has the three prominent stars. These are the three Sudenicy who determine the fate of men at birth. In Christian symbolic, they are the three wise men.
This idea of a “Judge”, represented by Libra, is closely related to the Slavic idea of “justice” – Pravda. Both Slavic and English words are related to the “just” – even scales. Hence, the heavenly world and the cosmic law of Slavs is Prav.
Triglav – Scorpio
Triglav literally means “three-headed”. Not much is known about him, although numerous toponyms, such as mount Triglav in Slovenia confirm that he was worshiped. Scholars usually assume that he was a fusion of three major Slavic gods, or that he represented the three main realms: the world of the living, dead, and the cosmic order: Prav, Yav, and Nav.
However, I have a different opinion. Triglav is sometimes represented as a man with three goat heads. According to my previous research, the constellation of Scorpio, with its three most prominent stars, and the Lupus (the wolf) constellation bellow, was often seen as a three-headed animal. This is especially valid for those nations that did not have scorpions in their Inhabitat.
Here is an image from my other article. The best-known representation of a three-headed animal is the Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld, or the darker half of the year. He is the same as Egyptian Toth, who holds the scales of justice. (Libra). By this analogy, Triglav could be a Slavic equivalent of the Egyptian god Toth. Moreover, the three-goat heads of Triglav match perfectly with the “griffin” image of the Harrapan civilization.
And to put it in a clearer perspective:
Svetovid – Capricorn
The name Svetovid is a compound, made out of the words “vid” – to see, to know, and “svet” which could mean both “world” and “bright, holy”. In South Slavic countries he was known simply as Vid. He was the protector of the knights (vitez), and became St. Vitus with Christianity.
Svetovid is a god of war and divination with two heads looking forward and two back. Sometimes each one looks in a separate direction, as the four directions of the compass, and also perhaps the four seasons of the year. He holds a horn of abundance, filled with fresh mead each year by his priests.
The two pairs of heads, looking forward and back, remind of the Roman god Janus who had two heads looking left and right. But even in the case of the four directions, relating to the four seasons, the symbolism is the same. It relates to the winter solstice, between December and January, or Capricorn and Aquarius in astronomical terms.
The symbol of the “horn of plenty” clearly relates to the horns of the Capricorn. Namely, I have already shown in a previous article that one of the labors of Heracles, relates to the same constellation. Here is that image again.
The symbolism is the same. The “refilling” of the horn of plenty just reinforces the notion that we are dealing with the New Year cycle. In fact, taking into consideration the mead, the feasting and the horn of plenty symbolic, the name of Radegast and hospitality seems more appropriate here. Perhaps the myths have changed with time, adapting to the new astronomical cycles.
Vid was especially revered amongst Serbs, as the most epic battle in Serbian history, the battle of Kosovo, took place on his day. This date is the 28th of June or six months before the winter solstice. As in June, the Sun stays in the Leo constellation, the Capricornus dominates the night sky.
Kupala – Aquarius
God of the summer solstice, joy, and water. On Kupala Night there are rituals of purification through water and fire. The name Kupala / Kupalo comes from the verb kupati, “to bath”. The cult was Christianised as that of John the Baptist.
The new Sun is “born” on the winter solstice, as that is the shortest day of the year. Days become longer after that, and the Sun is reborn or “resurrected”. As Aquarius is the first constellation after the winter solstice, it is not surprising that it matches perfectly the Christian symbolics of baptism. But when Sun is in Aquarius, this constellation is invisible, as it travels across the sky during the daytime. It is best seen during the summer solstice when Sun is on the opposite side. Hence, Kupala is a summer solstice celebration.
Wrapping it up
There are many challenges in reconstructing the original Slavic pantheon.
First, just like in any other large nation, there were numerous tribes, sharing common ideas, but also developing their own, unique local deities. Take for example Greek mythology. The Sun’s travel through constellations is described through numerous myths. For example, the labors of Heracles, Jason’s voyage, the twelve Olympians, the stories of Theseus and Dyonisus, and probably even the Illyiad and Oddisee…
Although all of the gods listed here are Slavic, that does not mean that there are no other versions of the same gods, who would fit the story equally well. I have used only the best-known ones to prove a point.
The second challenge is the fact that the stars are moving, and the myths were being adjusted accordingly. The first task is to understand the meaning of the symbols and the second to sort them according to their time periods.
And the third challenge is that so much knowledge has been lost to time. Christianity had played an important role in this process, even though many pagan gods were demoted to saints and apostles, to fit the new narrative. And reading modern scholars can often be more confusing than productive as they too often neglect the astronomical aspects, making absurd connections between different gods.
However, I think that the point is proven. The Slavic pantheon belongs to the same language of the myth that existed all over the Indo-European areal. And it is also one of the oldest, numerous connections with Vedic culture prove that. No other European culture can compare to that.
And finally, not all of the deities were connected to the stars. We will deal with them in some of the future articles.
What happened to Sagittarius
Good question. To my knowledge, there are no prominent deities in Slavic mythology that could be associated with archery, and it would be hard to guess what other figure the Slavs might have seen in that part of the night sky. In short, I am afraid I don’t have the answer (yet).
Zanimljiv tekst i odlicno istrazivanje.
Samo mislim da Hidra nije Veles.
Naime, Perun i Veles su protivnici, kada jedan vlada drugi se povlaci.
Prakticno Perun bi predstavljao 6 letnjih-toplih, a Veles 6 zimskih-hladnih meseci.
Tako bi Perun bio sazvezdje Orion, onaj sa maljem, cekicem, dok bi na drugom kraju neba Veles bio sazvezdje Zmijonosa. Stari mit o skorpiji i Orionu kaze: kada skorpija izadje na nebu Orion bezi sa neba. Zmijonosa je pored skorpije, a iznad je sazvezdje Severna kruna sa sedam zvezda-glava zmije.
Postoji jos jedna mogucnost.
Mozda je sazvezdje bik-vol Veles, gde su sedam Plejada-zmajevi-zmije u slovenskoj predaji, dok je Perun sazvezdje Strelac iznad koga je sazvezdje Orao, koji po mitu nosi strele Zevsu-Perunu.