The Slavic Star Goddess Zorya, Guardian of the Doomsday Hound and Servant of the Sun God
Slavic mythology is one of the less appreciated of all the ancient folklore traditions. The myths grew in the hearts of the tribes of a great civilization, and in the minds of people whose lives were full of struggles and dreams for a better future. The goddess who guarded their lives was named Zorya.
The main problem with researching Slavic gods and goddess is that there are no first-hand records related to them. This is the most important reason why Slavic gods are less popular than Egyptian, Indian, Roman, Greek, Chinese, and others.
Slavic mythology was recovered after many centuries. The first writings appeared after the arrival of Saints Methodius and Cyril to the Slavic lands in 862. Before this, the Slavic people were illiterate, and thus they were unable to record anything related to their culture or religion. However, the Christians were not very interested in recording the tribes’ mythology, so the traditions, rituals and beliefs had to wait even longer to finally become a subject for written texts.
‘Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom’ (1876) by Ilya Yefimovich Repin. ( Public Domain ) Many generations of Slavic artists were inspired by their national folklore.
Much of the priceless knowledge was forgotten over the centuries, and when Christianity began to take hold, most of the resources related to the ancient ways had disappeared. While scant, the earliest details about Slavic religion were written by Christian missionaries. However, for science the most important resources for knowledge about the old myths are archaeological sites, which still contain many shrines and symbols of an ancient culture.
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The Morning Star
The goddess Zorya is also known as Zorja, Zarja, Zora, and Zorza. Sometimes Zorya is described as two or even three beings, but other times she is just one female. She was also a beautiful double guardian goddess known as the Auroras. Zorya served the sun god Dazbog, and it is believed that he was Zorya's father.
Dažbog. ( Max presnyakov/CC BY SA 3.0 )
Legends said that the Auroras kept watch over the doomsday hound, Simargl. This hound is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation called ''the little bear'' – Ursa Minor. They needed to ensure he didn’t break the chains because if that happened it was believed that the Universe would be destroyed.
Zorya lived on Bouyan Island. This was a legendary paradise where the winds of the North, East, and West met and the location where the Sun lived. However, no human could ever enter the space. The Zorya were very beautiful, but out of the reach of living men.
‘Zorya’. ( The Zorya )
Zorya was also represented by two stars: the morning and the evening ones. A cult for the stars shows the strong interest in rituals related to the powers of nature. It seems that the Slavic religion was even more focused on a connection with nature than many other ancient religions.
Zorja Utrennjaja was the Morning Star. This star was thought to open the gates of Dazbog. This version of her name comes from Russian, in which ''utro'' means ''morning''. However, this star has its own name in every Slavic language. It's known as Gwiazda Poranna, Zvezda Dennitsa, Rannia Zoria, Zornica, Zvijezda Danica and by many other names.
The Morning Star was linked to protection, horses, light, and exorcism. It was believed that it took care of spiritual cleaning and brought good emotions. Zorya was also connected to the planet Venus, and some of her attributes were similar to the Roman Venus and Greek Aphrodite. Slavic tribes worshiped her every morning, when the sun was rising and bringing new day, new hope, and new possibilities to accomplish their goals.
‘The Morning Star.’ ( Public Domain )
In some legends, Zorya is described as the god Perun’s wife. She accompanied her husband during battles. Her role was to protect the warriors - shielding them from death with her veil. She also brought hope and light if they were losing a battle. Other legends show her as the wife of Myesyats, the god of the moon, and as the mother of the stars. Sometimes the Evening Star is also described as Myesyats’ wife.
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The Evening Star
Zorya Vechernjaja was the evening star, which was responsible for closing the gates of Dazbog's palace. Her other names were Gwiazda Wieczorna, Večernja Zvijezda, Zwezda Wieczoniaia, Vechirnia Zoria, Večernica, and Večernjača. She was associated with Mercury. According to the legends, she was the one who protected lost travelers who needed to find the right way to travel straight to their destinations. She was also Myesyats’ wife, and the mother of the stars, which acted like guiding lights.
‘The Evening Star’ John Simmons (British, 1823-1876). ( Sofi/Creative Commons )
There may have been an afternoon star as well, but if there was, she has been forgotten. There are no records which could be useful to describe it. Likewise, some researchers suggest that Zorya was a virgin goddess, strongly related to Venus. It is unknown however, what could have been the relation between these goddesses as no writings from ancient times have been found to describe it either.
Forgotten Slavic Gods
Nowadays, the Slavic deities have mostly been forgotten. Nevertheless, their names became a part of the Slavic languages. For example, Zorza means dawn in Polish. The story of the goddess Zorya is only a small fragment of the old mythology and beliefs of the Slavs, which has become a more popular topic for modern pagan festivals.
The spring fertility festival of Maslenitsa in Melbourne, Australia. ( Public Domain ) This festival is rooted in pagan beliefs and involves the burning of a straw effigy.
Modern pagans are the ones who try to bring these gods back to life. Zorya appears in many novels, including a series of fantasy books by Kevin Hearne ''The Iron Druid Chronicles''. The Zorya Vechernyaya is also a sextet for bassoon, oboe, and string quartet created by Julian Cochran from Australia. After many centuries, people of these lands have started to create songs, stories, and folk dances to make the ancient beliefs stronger once again.
Top Image: ‘The Morning Star’ John Simmons (1823-1876). Source: Sofi/Creative Commons
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Sekalski, A.J., Old Polish Legends, 1997
Rybakov, B., Ancient Slavic Paganism, 1981.
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