Tag Archives: Serbian Mythology

Three suns

There is a Serbian legend that says that once there were three suns, but dragon ate two. It would have eaten all three, if it wasn’t for a swallow who managed to hide the last, third one, under her wing.

This is why today we only have one sun.

Three suns rising over the snow covered land…

This phenomena is called “sun dogs” or “mock suns”, meteorological name parhelion (plural parhelia). This is an atmospheric phenomenon that consists of a bright spot to the left and/or right of the Sun. They often occur in pairs, one on each side of the Sun, mostly at sunrise or sunset. They can occur at any time during the year but are most prominent and striking during the winter. 

I would here want to give the analysis of this legend. 

Dragon eating two out of three suns

In Serbian folklore, snake and dragon are linked. Dragons are actually believed to be just very old very big snakes. They are both associated with the fire, the heat of the sun. This is because snakes only appear during the hottest part of the year, summer. If the appearance of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter, then the appearance of the snakes (dragons) marks the end of the three suns season. From that moment on it is most likely that only one sun will rise every morning, the one that the snake (dragon) didn’t manage to eat.

Swallow saving the last, third, sun

In my post “Leto” i talked about the link between the return of the migratory birds and the beginning of the summer. I proposed that the Slavic word for summer “leto” actually comes from the word “let” meaning “flight”. When I was a kid, it was the arrival of swallows, of all other migratory birds, that was the definite sign that the winter was over. If the appearance of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter, then the arrival of the swallows marks the end of the three suns season. From that moment on it is most likely that only one sun will rise every morning, the one hidden under the swallow’s wing. 

So far so good. 

But what about the the statement “once there were three suns”? Was there a time when three suns rising in the east was everyday occurrence? Well the rising of the three suns on the horizon is the most common and most striking during the winter. So there is a good chance then that the during the eternal winter of the last Ice Age, the three suns rising in the east was everyday occurrence. 

Then the climate changes. The sun regained it’s heat. The dragon, which is in Serbian folklore symbol of the sun’s fire, sun’s heat, returns, and eats two out of the three suns. The birds, including swallows return to the land which is now green again, saving the last, third sun, from the dragon…

So is it possible that this legend is actually talking about the Last Ice Age, when every morning “three suns rose in the east”? If so it can be dated to the end of the Younger Dryas period, which lasted between 10,800 and 9500 BC. Well, as I already wrote in my posts about Montenegrian tumuluses, we have archaeological proof that the Irish Annals preserved 5000 years old stories about the migration of the R1b beaker people into Ireland. Also as I already wrote in my post “Dreamtime” we have proof that some of the Australian Aboriginal stories are over 40,000 years old. So I believe that it is possible that this Serbian legend could be over 10,000 years old memory of the last Ice Age, the time when there were three suns, before the raging dragon ate two…

What do you think?

Leto

Serbian word “leto” means both “summer” and “year”. The word comes from Proto-Slavic *lěto, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *leh₁tom. Cognate with Ukrainian “літо” ‎(lito) meaning “summer”, Belarusian “слецiць” ‎(sljecicʹ) meaning “to warm” and “слетный” ‎(sljetnyj) meaning “warmish”, Bulgarian “лято” ‎(ljato) meaning “summer”, Russian “лето” (leto) meaning “summer, year”, Slovene “poletje” meaning “summer”, Czech “léto” meaning “summer”, Slovak “leto” meaning “summer”, Polish “lato” meaning “summer”, and Upper and Lower Sorbian “lěto” meaning “year”.

Possibly also cognate with Old Gutnish “ladigh” meaning “spring” and dialectal Swedish “låding, låing” meaning “spring”, and with Irish “lá” ‎meaning “day”.

The etymology of this word is unknown. So let me propose one. Is it possible that the word “leto” comes from the word “let” meaning “flight”? The word “let” comes from Proto Slavic verb “letěti” meaning “to fly”.  So why would you derive the word meaning “summer, year” from the verb “to fly”? Because of the migratory birds. Every year, starting from the second half of February, right after the climatic start of the spring, 4th of February,  migratory birds start arriving from their wintering sites. The bulk of the migratory birds return by the end of April, just before the climatic start of the summer, 6th of May.

So every year, during spring, which is in Serbian called “proleće”, which can mean both “before summer” and “flying by, migrating”, migratory birds arrive back home, signalling the end of the cold part of the year and the beginning of the warm part of the year. 

Equally the end of the warm period of the year, which normally coincides with the end of October, the end of the climatic end of autumn, is signaled by the flight of the migratory birds, this time in the opposite direction, flying away to their wintering sites.

In the old Celtic and Serbian calendar, year only had two parts: the warm, white part, summer (6th of May to 5th of November), and cold, dark part, winter (6th of November, 5th of May).

So the period between these two “let” (flights) of migratory birds, between their arrival and their departure, is “leto” (summer). This beginning of the new “summer” is the beginning of the new period of vegetative growth and abundance, the “important” part of the year. I believe that this is why Serbian word for “summer” and “year” is the same: “leto”…

I was just made aware of the existence of a Macedonian folk festival called Letnik. The following is excerpt translated from Makedonians in Albania by Dragoslav Budimovski. Original title: “Будимовски К, Драгослав. „Македонците во Албанија“. Студентски збор, Скопје, 1983. стр. 151”:

Letnik, which is celebrated every year on March 1 in the old calendar and is associated with the return of migratory birds from southern regions to Macedonia. The return of the migratory birds is celebrated as the beginning of spring or summer, the period of growth and the beginning of agricultural work. Therefore this feast is often considered to be a celebration of the beginning of the year in terms of the active period of the year. 

Holiday is mostly celebrated in Western Macedonia, in Galichnik, Golo Brdo, Pustec, Debar, Prespa, Ohrid and Struga. That this celebration has ancient pagan roots can be seen by the fact that in the areas where we have mixed population Orthodox and Muslim, like in Golo Brdo and Reka area, Letnik is celebrated by both Orthodox Christians and Muslims. However in mixed Macedonian Albanian areas only Macedonians celebrate Letnik. 

According to the testimonies of the local people, Letnik celebrations start in the early morning of the 1st of March. The first thing everyone does in the morning when they wake up is to look for a chicken (bird) so that you can be as light as a bird all year round. My comment: Originally people probably looked for return of migratory birds in flight. Then people look into their pockets so that they will have money and success (prosperity) all year round. People then go out in the forests and mountains and from there they bring home boughs made from blossoming cornel branches and they would put them over the fireplace. Alternately they would bring a cornel branch with which they would touch verige (the chain holding the cauldron over the fireplace), and then they would eat cornel blossom, so that they are healthy as cornel and as solid and strong as iron. My comment: Cornel is probably chosen because it has bright yellow flowers, like the summer sun everyone is awaiting…

Young children would pick dry branches and would go from house to house throwing them into house fires saying: How many sparks so many children (similar to Christmas Eve ceremony my comment: ceremony which is related to rekindling of the sun’s fire). During Letnik day it was mandatory to bring a branch of cornel if you visited anyone’s house, and in return the hosts would give the guests nuts, boiled grain and sweet. If the year turns out to be good for the host, the person who entered the house on first on Letnik morning is asked to do the same next year as he is believed to have brought luck to the family. my comment: Similar to the Christmas Položajnik (first footer) ceremony

This pretty much confirms my theory that the word leto comes from let. But there is more. 

In Slavic mythology, Jarilo was the son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born during Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. We don’t really know what the “Great Night” means, but I believe that this Great Night was originally the night before the beginning of winter which in the Irish calendar is marked by Samhain, the 31st of October, and in the Serbian calendar by St Mitar day (Mitrovdan) the 8th of November. I believe that this night was originally the night of the 5th of November, the mid point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. 

I also believe that the expression Great Night was also an euphemism for Winter, the time of cold and death. Right in the middle of the winter is the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which is also the middle of the winter, the middle of the darkest part of the year. This is the night when new fires are rekindled, to symbolize rekindling of sun’s fire, the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This new sun is Jarilo, whose name means the young one, but also the hot one.

However, on the same night when he was born, according to the Slavic tradition, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, where he was adopted and raised by Veles, Perun’s enemy, Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The Slavs believed the underworld to be an ever-green world of eternal spring and wet, grassy plains, where Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather. In the mythical geography of ancient Slavs, the land of the dead was assumed to lie across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter. This land of the dead was by Slavs known as Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий). And when do the migrating birds leave the land of the living? By the beginning of the winter, which is marked by Samhain (Mitrovdan).

With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Spring festivals, actually more precisely summer festivals of Jurjevo/Jarilo, St Georges day,  that survived in the Slavic folklore celebrate Jarilo’s return, the return of the summer heat. This is also the time when in Irish folklore we find Beltane, the day of bonfires…

And when does Jarilo return from the land of the dead? When the migratory birds return from Irij, the land of the dead where they spend winter, the period between Samhain (Mitrovdan) and Beltane (Djurdjevdan)…So again we have the link between the migrating birds and the beginning and the end of the year…

And there is more:

Remember my post about Radegast – Welcome guest?

In it I talked about a group of bronze idols which was discovered in mid 18th century in the lake Tollensesee near Prillwitz in Mecklenburg, South Baltic. Many of them bear Slavic inscriptions in runic letters. A significant number of the figures shows the characters with lion heads and lush manes. 

Baltic Slavs who lived in Pomerania, Pomorje, Fomorie and other Western Slavs had a god called Radegast of which we have many medieval records but of which we know very little. What is interesting is that the lion headed idol with the duck on his head from the Prillwickie idols group has inscription on identifying it as Radegast. 

Radegast, who has a lion’s head, has bull’s head on his chest. Why? Summer, starts in Bull (Taurus) and ends in Lion (Leo). The Lion headed figure has bull on his chest because the Leo sun, the old sun at the end of the summer contains Taurus sun, the young sun at the beginning of the summer. The old Sun is the young sun at heart 🙂 

Slavs also had god Belbog of whom we know even less. I would like to propose that Radegast and Belbog are one and the same deity and they were represented as the man with the lion’s head. 

Belbog means white god. This god is the equivalent of the Celtic god Belenos and Welsh god Beli. This is the god of day, summer, light. The white part of the year and the white part of the day. The name of the Celtic god Belenos comes form bel + nos. In Slavic languages bel, beli, beo means white, and nos means carries, brings. So belenos = bel + nos = white + brings = the bringer of the white. Belbog comes from bel + bog = white + god.

Why is this god represented as a man with the lion’s head? This is a representation of an anthropomorphic sun. Sun is the strongest in the middle of Leo. And the middle of Leo is also the middle of the white part of the year, which as I said, in Serbian and Celtic calendar starts on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and ends on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin’s day). This is the day of Thundering sun, Grom Div, Crom Dubh, Hromi Daba.

You can read more about this calendar in my post “Two crosses“.

And what is the duck doing on Belbog’s head. He has a duck on his head, as ducks, and other migratory birds return by the end of April just before Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day), announcing the beginning of the summer, the white (bel) part of the year. It is the duck who is the “welcome guest” = Rad Gost, Radegos. Radegast. This is basically an euphemism for the long awaited beginning of the new summer…The beginning of the new Leto.

I wish it was summer now…I hope the welcome guests start arriving soon 🙂

Cockerel and Lion

Cockerel standing on (or above) a lion. Painting on wood. Kirovsky Regional Museum, from ethnographic material collected in Vologda region.

Middle of Leo, 2nd of August, is when Slavs used to celebrate the day of Perun, the the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The sacred bird of Perun, the storm god, was the fire cockerel. When Christianity replaced the old Slavic pagan religion, in Serbia Perun was replaced with Sveti Ilija Gromovnik (St Ilios the Thunderer, the Thundering Sun) and the cockerel became associated with this “Thundering” saint. The cockerel, the sacred bird of the thunder god is slaughtered, cooked and eaten on the day of St Ilios the Thunderer “so that the sun would not burn the grain”. This is a clear sacrifice to the Storm god for rain…Interestingly it has to be “the oldest” cockerel. Remember Perun is the the old sky god, old sun, the old head of Triglav, two other heads being Jarilo (young sky god, young sun) and Svetovid (adult sky god, adult sun)…This again confirms the link between the cockerel and Perun.

I believe that the fact that cockerel is the sacred bird of Perun, the Storm god, is why the weather-vanes placed on top of churches are in the shape of a cockerel. Weather-vanes like this one from 19th century Russia:

However the official theory is that cockerel shaped weather-vanes or weathercocks are placed on top of church steeples because of St Peter. 

In “Encyclopedia of Religions” by John G. R. Forlong we read that  “Pope Gregory I in the 6th century said that ‘the cock (rooster) was the most suitable emblem of Christianity, being the emblem of St Peter‘” Some say that it was as a result of this that the cock began gradually to be used as a weather vane on church steeples. Pope Leo IV had a figure of a cockerel placed on the Old St. Peter’s Basilica. And in the 9th century Pope Nicholas I ordered the figure of a cockerel to be placed on every church steeple, as a symbol of Jesus’ prophecy of Peter’s betrayal (Luke 22:34), that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed on the morning following the Last Supper.

So it seems that the placing of the cockerel weather-vanes on Christian church steeples has nothing to do with Perun and everything to do with St Peter. However in Slavic folk tradition St Peter seems to have acquired a lot of characteristics of Perun. He is the Saint who Eastern Slavs pray to for rain, as we can read in the “Songs of the Russian People” by W. R. S. Ralston. 

In “Slovenska mitologija – enciklopedijski recnik” by Svetlana M. Tolstoj, Ljubinko Radenkovic we can read that Bulgarians and Russians considered 29th of Jun, Petrovdan, the day of St Peter, to be the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Just like Serbs considered 2nd of August, Ilindan, the day of St Ilija the Thunderer, the Thundering Sun, old Perundan, the day of Perun,  to be the end of summer and the beginning of Autumn. In “Перуника – цвет небеског или хтонског света?” by Ljubinko Radenkovic we read that in Dubrovnik region people used to celebrate St Petar Bogišar (St Peter of the Iris flower). Iris is in the Balkans known as Perunika, Perun’s flower. I wrote about the link between Iris and Perun in my post about Ognjena Marija

So it seems that both St Ilija (mainly) and St Petar became replacement for Perun. 

If so, is the cockerel standing on top of church steeples symbol of St Peter, there to remind people of St Peter’ betrayal of Jesus? Or is the cockerel standing on top of church steeples symbol of Perun, there to protect the church from the wrath of the storm god???

And did cockerel jump onto church steeples directly out of Slavic mythology, or did Goths, who before their migration westward lived for centuries mixed with eastern Slavs, act as intermediaries?

This is very interesting indeed, don’t you think?