The sky was still the colour of a thick ink stain when Dazhbog emerged from Nav at the root of the World Tree. He clasped his large fists at the nape of his head, stretched and yawned making a sound that a herd of Perun’s cattle couldn’t surpass. He brushed his steeds, whose fur sparkled gold and silver in his light. Caressing their sturdy flanks and sinuous necks, he harnessed them to his golden chariot. The horses snorted and patted the ground impatiently, their shiny hooves clicking and clacking, flames dancing around their dilated nostrils. Dazhbog pulled the reins slightly, and looked at the unmoving gates of Iriy.
‘Zorya!’ he shouted. Birds scattered from a nearby tree in a gust of protesting chirps. The horses pricked up their ears. Silence thickened again.
Dazhbog pulled a sharp breath.
‘Zorya!’ he spat out, more vehemently this time.
Patter of fast approaching footsteps responded. A bush shook violently, and out of it burst a young woman. Her long pale grey gossamer dress got caught in the branches. She gave it a swift tug, which almost made her lose balance, and set herself free.
‘I am sorry, Father,’ she said as she bustled with the many latches on the gate, her lithe, ghostly figure in stark contrast with the massive, heavily wrought rails.
‘I had to check on Simargl’s chains.’ She smiled to herself and added, ‘It seems that all my duties have to do with chains, locks, and bolts.’ But Dazhbog remained silent. Focused on polishing his breastplate, he seemed oblivious of her.
Zorya unfastened the last bolt and stepped aside. The gates of Iriy swung open sending a mighty whisper of wind that rustled the shrubbery and sent the hem of Zorya’s delicate dress into a silent frenzy. She clasped her hands and looked down at the place where tips of her shoes cast a slight shadow on the flagstones.
Paying her no heed, Dazhbog nudged his horses into a trot and left Iriy to illuminate the skies.
Zorya lingered at the gate’s gaping mouth for a while, looking at the changing celestial colours. She could hear Simargl’s snarling, a distant echo of rage and misery. A wish wormed its way into her mind: to set him free and let the darkness swallow the stars, the skies, the mountains, the seas, everything. A bird chirped and snatched the worm away. Zorya smiled and retreated into the folds of Iriy.
Who is Dazhbog?
Dazhbog is an ancient Slavic solar deity, parallel to Helios, Ra, and Sol in Greek, Egyptian, and Roman mythologies respectively. He is the son of Svarog, the god of fire, life, earth, and war. After his father, Dazhbog is considered the most supreme deity, and Slavic people are often referred to as the ‘grandchildren of Dazhbog.’ He is mentioned in all writings on ancient Slavs by Roman, Greek, and Russian chroniclers as the god that gives and provides (with the light of the Sun) the foundation for all life on Earth.
As the god of sun and rain, Dazhbog is worshipped as the protector of harvest and the giver of heat and food. He had a very strong cult among Slavs before the arrival of Christianity; however, afterwards he was severely demonized, most probably so as to reduce the sway that the belief in him used to have.
Who are the Zorya?
Zorya Utrennyaya, the goddess of dawn, is Dazhbog’s daughter. She is sometimes claimed to be Perun’s wife and she accompanies him when he rides out to do battle. It is said that, in the heat of the battle, she lets down her veil and protects the warriors whom she favours from death.
Every morning, Zorya Utrennyaya opens the gates to Dazhbog’s palace for the departure of the sun chariot. At dusk, Zorya Vechernyaya closes the gates upon her father’s return.
Zorya Vechernyaya is the goddess of dusk and Zorya Utrennyaya’s sister. Sometimes there is reference to a third sister, the nameless goddess of midnight who presides over the darkness of the night. The sisters watch over the winged doomsday hound, Simargl, making sure that his chains to the star Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor remain unbroken, otherwise he would devour the constellation and end the universe.
How is Dazhbog represented in nature?
In nature, Dazhbog represents the Sun itself. In a household, he represents the whimsical hearth – the source of life in the cold Slavic winters. However, the fire is not an easygoing servant, and if it turns against you, it becomes a fierce enemy that can take you and your entire household to the underworld.
On earth, he is represented as an old man, wrapped in a bearskin cloak and followed by a wolf, another of Dazhbog’s incarnations, yet, just like Helios, he is the personification of the Sun and from dawn till dusk he rides in his chariot drawn by a pair of fire-breathing white horses across the skies, only to go to Nav, the underworld, during the night.
Ancient Slavs believe that Dazhbog rules over the twelve kingdoms of zodiac, and that beside the Zorya, he is also served by the seven planets and that the comets are his messengers.
Eclipsis as an Ill Omen
The disappearance of Dazhbog is always feared. It is believed that eclipses occur when Dazhbog is devoured by wolves, and these events are interpreted as omens of terrible times to come such as famine, disease, and war.
© 2019 Erna Grcic
Čajkanović, Veselin. O srpskom vrhovnom bogu. Posebna izdanja, Srpska Kraljevska Akademija, vol. 132. Belgrade, 1941.
Jakobson, Roman. “Slavic Mythology.” Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (1949–1950), edited by Maria Leach, vol. 2, pp. 1025–1028. Reprint, 2 vols. in 1, New York, 1972.
Shaparova, N. S. Kratkaya enciklopedija slavyanskoj mifologii [A short dictionary of Slavic mythology]. Moskva, Astrelj, 2001.