Zorya, Slavic Goddess of Light

Modern day Zorya: Three generations of women represent past, present and future.
Modern day Zorya: Three generations of women represent past, present and future. David Pereiras / EyeEm / Getty Images

In Slavic mythology, Zorya (pronounced ZOR-yah and spelled in myriad ways, Zaryi, Zoria, Zorza, Zory, Zore) is the Goddess of the Dawn and the daughter of the sun god Dazbog. In different tales, Zorya has between one and three different aspects, appearing at different times of the day. She is Zorya Utrennyaya (Dawn, the Goddess of the Morning Star) in the morning, Zorya Vechernyaya (Dusk, the Goddess of the Evening Star) at evening, and the otherwise unnamed Zorya (the Goddess of Midnight). 

Key Takeaways: Zorya

  • Alternate Names: The Auroras, Zora, Zaria, Zarya, Zory, Zore
  • Rough Equivalents: Aurora (Roman), Titan Eos (Greek)
  • Epithets: The Dawn, the Spring-tide Sun, or Thunder-goddess, The Three Sisters
  • Culture/Country: Slavic 
  • Realms and Powers: Control over dusk, dawn; protectors of warriors; responsible for keeping the lion-dog god Simargl in chains
  • Family: Daughter of Dzbog, the wife of Perun, or the wife of Myesyats; sister(s) to the Zvezdy

Zorya in Slavic Mythology

The dawn goddess Zorya ("Light") lives in Buyan, a legendary paradisiacal island east of the sunrise. She is the daughter of Dazbog, the god of the sun. Her main responsibility is to open the gates of her father's palace in the morning, to let him create dawn and travel through the skies, then to close the gates after him at dusk. 

Zorya is also the wife of Perun, the Slavic god of thunder (generally equivalent to Thor). In this role Zorya dresses in long veils, and rides into battle with Perun, letting down her veil to protect her favorites among the warriors. In Serbian tales, she is the wife of the moon (Myesyats). 

Aspects of Zorya

Depending on the version of the tale, Zorya is one goddess with two (or three) aspects or instead is two (or three) separate goddesses. When she is two goddesses, she is sometimes illustrated as standing on both sides of her father's throne. 

In her dawn aspect, she is called the Morning Star (Zorya Utrennyaya), and she is a lusty maiden, full of energy. In her dusk aspect, the Evening Star (Zorya Vechernyaya), she is more sedate but still seductive. Some tales include her third aspect in which she has no other name, referred to as simply Midnight (Zorya Polunochnaya as translated by writer Neil Gaiman), a shadowy indistinct figure that rules over the darkest part of the night. 

Keeping the World Together

Together the two or three sisters guard a deity who is sometimes unnamed and referred to as a hound or a bear, and sometimes named as the winged lion deity Simargl. Whoever he is, the deity is chained to Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, and it wishes to eat the constellation. If it breaks loose, the world will end. 

Three Sisters 

Scholars such as Barbara Walker note that the Zoryas are an example of a common feature of many different mythologies: the Three Sisters. These three women are often aspects of time (past, present, future) or age (virgin, mother, crone), or life itself (creator, preserver, destroyer). 

Examples of the three sisters can be found in several legends like Slavic, in that they derive from Indo-European languages. They include Irish tales of the Morrigan and in Briton tales of the Triple Guinevere or Brigit of the Britons. Greek mythology has three Gorgons and three Harpies, among others. The Hittites and Greeks both had versions of three Fates (the Moirai). Shakespeare used three weird sisters to warn Macbeth of his fate, and, perhaps more to the point, Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) used Three Sisters (Olga, Masha, and Irina Prozorov) to illustrate what he saw of the past, present, and future of Russia.

Zorya in Modern Culture 

Renewed interest in Slavic mythology was brought to the west by the work of British writer Neil Gaiman, whose novel "American Gods" features many Slavic gods, including the Zoryas. In the book and television series, the Zoryas live in a brownstone in New York with the god Czernobog. 

Zorya Utrennyaya is an old woman (Cloris Leachman in the series); she is not a good liar and a poor fortune teller. Zorya Vechernyaya (Martha Kelly) is middle-aged, and tells fortunes in the twilight and evening; and Zorya Polunochnaya (Erika Kaar) is the youngest, who tells no lies at all and keeps watch on the sky through a telescope. 

Sources 

  • Dixon-Kennedy, Mike. "Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend." Santa Barbara CA: ABC-CLIO, 1998. Print.
  • Monaghan, Patricia. "Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines, Volume 1 and 2." Santa Barbara: Greenwood ABC CLIO, 2010.
  • Ralston, W.R.S. "The Songs of the Russian People, as Illustrative of Slavonic Mythology and Russian Social Life." London: Ellis & Green, 1872. Print.
  • Walker, Barbara. "The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets." San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983. Print.