Lada, Slavik Goddess of Spring and Love

Russian painter Maximilian Presnyakov's (b. 1968) depiction of Lada, part of his Slavic cycle.
Russian painter Maximilian Presnyakov's (b. 1968) depiction of Lada, part of his Slavic cycle.

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 

Lada, the Slavic goddess of spring, was worshipped at the end of winter. She is similar to the Norse Freyja and the Greek Aphrodite, but some modern scholars think she was an invention of anti-pagan clerics in the 15th century.  

Key Takeaways: Lada

  • Alternate Names: Lelja, Ladona
  • Equivalent: Freyja (Norse), Aphrodite (Greek), Venus (Roman)
  • Epithets: Goddess of Spring, or Goddess of the End of Winter
  • Culture/Country: Pre-Christian Slavic (not all scholars agree)
  • Primary Sources: Medieval and later anti-pagan writings
  • Realms and Powers: Spring, fertility, love and desire, harvests, women, children
  • Family: Husband/twin brother Lado

Lada in Slavic Mythology

In Slavic mythology, Lada is the counterpart of the Scandinavian goddess Freyja and the Greek Aphrodite, the goddess of spring (and the end of winter) and of human desire and eroticism. She is paired with Lado, her twin brother, and said to be a mother goddess to some Slavic groups. Her worship is said to have been transferred to the virgin Mary after the Kievan Rus converted to Christianity. 

However, recent scholarship suggests Lada was not a pre-Christian Slavic goddess at all, but rather a construct of anti-pagan clerics in the 15th and 16th centuries, who based their tales on Byzantine, Greek, or Egyptian stories and intended to denigrate cultural aspects of the pagan culture.  

Appearance and Reputation 

The Slavic goddess Lada, by Russian sculptor Sergey Timofeyevich Konenkov (1874–1971).
The Slavic goddess Lada, by Russian sculptor Sergey Timofeyevich Konenkov (1874–1971). Wikipedia / Shakko / CC BY-SA 4.0

Lada doesn't appear in pre-Christian texts—but there are very few that survive. In the 15th and 16th century records where she first appears, Lada is the vernal goddess of love and fertility, overseer of the harvests, protector of lovers, couples, marriage and family, women and children. She is illustrated as a voluptuous woman in the prime of life, full-bodied, mature, and a symbol of motherhood. 

The word form "Lad" means "harmony, understanding, order" in Czech, and "order, beautiful, cute" in Polish. Lada appears in Russian folk songs and is described as a tall woman with a wave of golden hair wreathed as a crown on her head. She is the embodiment of divine beauty and eternal youth. 

18th Century Tale of Lada

Pioneering Russian novelist Michail Čulkov (1743–1792) used Lada in one of his tales, based in part on Slavic mythology. "Slavenskie skazki" ("Tales of Desire and Discontent") includes a story in which the hero Siloslav seeks his beloved Prelepa, who has been abducted by an evil spirit. Siloslav reaches a palace in which he finds Prelesta lying naked in a seashell filled with foam as if she were the goddess of love. Cupids hold a book over her head with the inscription "Wish and it shall be" on it. Prelesta explains that her kingdom is solely occupied by women and so here he may find the unlimited satisfaction of all his sexual desires. Eventually, he arrives at the palace of the goddess Lada herself, who chooses him to be her lover and invites him into her bedroom where she fulfills her own desires and those of the gods.

Siloslav discovers that the reason the kingdom has no men is that Prelesta committed adultery with the evil spirit Vlegon, causing the deaths of all of the men in the kingdom, including her husband Roksolan. Siloslav turns down Prelesta's offer, and instead defeats Vlegon, procuring the resurrection of Roksolan and his men. At last, Siloslav finds his Prelepa and kisses her only to discover she is Vlegon in disguise. Further, he soon finds that the goddess Lada is not herself either, but a hideous old witch who has taken on the appearance of the goddess.

Was There a Slavic Goddess Lada? 

In their 2019 book, "Slavic Gods and Heroes," historians Judith Kalik and Alexander Uchitel argue that Lada is one of several "phantom gods," added into the Slavic pantheon by anti-pagan clerics during the medieval and late modern period. These myths were often based on Byzantine prototypes, and the names of Slavic gods appear as translations of the names of Greek or Egyptian gods. Other versions are taken from modern Slavic folklore, which Kalik and Uchitel suggest have no clear signs of origin date. 

Kalik and Uchitel argue that the name "Lada" derives from a meaningless refrain "lado, lada" that appears in Slavic folk songs, and was cobbled into a paired set of gods. In 2006, Lithuanian historian Rokas Balsys commented that the question of authenticity of the goddess is unresolved, that although there is no doubt that many investigators have assumed she existed based solely on 15th-21st century sources, there are some rituals in the Baltic states that seem to be adoration of a winter goddess named Lada, during the "ledu dienos" (days of hail and ice): those are the rituals which include the "Lado, Lada" refrain. 

Sources

  • Balsys, Rokas. "Lada (Didis Lado) in Baltic and Slavic Written Sources." Acta Baltico-Slavica 30 (2006): 597–609. Print.
  • Dragnea, Mihai. "Slavic and Greek-Roman Mythology, Comparative Mythology." Brukenthalia: Romanian Cultural History Review 3 (2007): 20–27. Print.
  • Fraanje, Maarten. "Michail Culkov's Slavenskie Skazki as Tales of Desire and Discontent." Russian Literature 52.1 (2002): 229–42. Print.
  • Kalik, Judith, and Alexander Uchitel. "Slavic Gods and Heroes." London: Routledge, 2019. Print.
  • Marjanic, Suzana. "The Dyadic Goddess and Duotheism in Nodilo’s the Ancient Faith of the Serbs and the Croats." Studia Mythologica Slavica 6 (2003): 181–204. Print.
  • Ralston, W.R.S. "The Songs of the Russian People, as Illustrative of Slavonic Mythology and Russian Social Life." London: Ellis & Green, 1872. Print.