Svarog, God of the Sky in Slavic Mythology

God Svarog
God Svarog, 1990s. Artist: Korolkov, Viktor Anatolievich (1958-2006).

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In pre-Christian Slavic mythology, Svarog was a creator god who ruled the sky and fathered the gods of fire and sun, before retiring to indolence and turning the ruling of the universe over to his two sons. 

Key Takeaways: Svarog

  • Alternate Names: Swaróg (Polish)
  • Equivalents: Hephaistos (Greek), Svantovit (Baltic), Dyaus (Vedic), Ouranos or Uranos (Greek)
  • Culture/Country: Pre-Christian Slavic
  • Primary Sources: John Malalas, Helmold of Bosau
  • Realms and Powers: Creator God of the Sky
  • Family: Father of Dazhbog (god of the sun) and Svarozhich (god of fire)

Svarog in Slavic Mythology 

There are very few traces of pre-Christian Slavic mythology which have survived to present day, but apparently Svarog's name is derived from Sanskrit ("Sur" or "shine") and Vedic "Svar," which means "shines" or "gleams" and "svarg" which means "heaven." It may have been an Iranian loan word, rather than direct from India. 

Svarog was apparently a passive sky god, which echoes a fairly widely represented Indo-European tradition, including the Greek god Uranos, who became incapacitated after the world was created. According to writer Mike Dixon-Kennedy, there were a number of temples dedicated to Svarog, where armies would lay their standards after battles, and where animals and perhaps humans were sacrificed in Svarog's name.

Textual Sources

The earliest reference to Svarog is in the Hypatian Codex, a 15th-century Russian collection of earlier documents that included a translation of the Byzantine cleric and chronicler John Malalas (491–578). In his work "Chronographia," Malalas wrote of tales of the Greek gods of Hephaistos and Helios and the time they spent ruling Egypt; the Russian translator replaced the name "Hephaistos" with "Svarog" and the name "Helios" with "Dazhbog."

"After [Hermes], Hephaistos reigned over the Egyptians for 1,680 days, ...they called Hephaistos a god, for he was a fighting man with mystic knowledge (who) through a mystic prayer received tongs from the air for the manufacture of implements of iron... After the death of Hephaistos, his son Helios reigned over the Egyptians for 12 years and 97 days..."

Malalas is not considered a particularly good scholar, and the sources he accessed were not terribly reliable. However, he was popular at the time, and was writing for a popular audience. Further, it is difficult to say what his Russian translator knew, and it seems unlikely that he was matching Slavic stories to Malalas'. But it does make some sense that, aware of the existing Slavic mythology, he introduced two existing Slavonic deities associated with fire, rather than inventing two on the spot.

Possible Evidence 

The evidence for Svarog as a real pre-Christian Slavic god is slim—historians Judith Kalik and Alexander Uchitel claim he is a "shadow god," created in the medieval period as an object lesson of the backwardness of the Slavic people. At best, as historian W.R.S. Ralson describes Svarog, he is a "dimly seen form."

One of those medieval reports is that of the 12th-century German clergyman, Helmold of Bosau (1120–after 1177), who in "Chronica Slavorum" ("Chronicle of the Slavs") said there was a cult of Svarozhich in eastern Germany (at the time inhabited by Slavs). In the Russian language, the name Svarozhich means "son of Svarog." Svarog in Helmod's report is Svarozhich's passive and otiose father.

There are many city and town names throughout the region that use versions of Svarog. 

Svarog in Modern Culture

According to the Russian historian Victor A. Schnirelman, there are currently increasing numbers of neo-pagan groups in Russia who are attempting to restore Old Slavic beliefs and rituals in a "pure" form, while distancing themselves from other religions. All of them are male-dominant and polytheistic, all of them reject Christianity and include Norse as a Northern homeland: and some reference the notorious Aryan Myth.

Different neo-pagan groups have chosen different gods to represent the supreme being: some have chosen Svarog, but others have picked Rod, Veles, Yarila, or Perun. 

Sources

  • Dixon-Kennedy, Mike. "Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend." Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Print.
  • Dragnea, Mihai. "Slavic and Greek-Roman Mythology, Comparative Mythology." Brukenthalia: Romanian Cultural History Review 3 (2007): 20–27. Print.
  • Kalik, Judith, and Alexander Uchitel. "Slavic Gods and Heroes." London: Routledge, 2019. Print.
  • Laruelle, Marlène. "Alternative Identity, Alternative Religion? Neo-Paganism and the Aryan Myth in Contemporary Russia." Nations and Nationalism 14.2 (2008): 283–301. Print.
  • Lurker, Manfred. "A Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Devils, and Demons." London: Routledge, 1987. 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.
  • Shnirelman, Victor A. "Perun, Svarog and Others: Russian Neo-Paganism in Search of Itself." Cambridge Anthropology 21.3 (1999): 18–36. Print.
  • Zaroff, Roman. "Organized Pagan Cult in Kievan Rus’. The Invention of Foreign Elite or Evolution of Local Tradition?" Studia Mythologica Slavica (1999). Print.