Image - Pagan feasts depicted on an illumination from the Rus' Chronicle.

Mythology. A body of myths or stories dealing with the gods, demigods, and heroes of a given people. The earliest historical record of pre-Christian religious beliefs in Ukrainian territory belongs to the 6th-century Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea. According to him the Sclaveni and Antes were monotheist. They believed in a god of lightning and thunder and sacrificed cattle and other animals to him. Procopius does not give the god's name. Mykhailo Hrushevsky and other scholars assumed it was Svaroh. These peoples also venerated rivers, water nymphs, and other spirits, offered sacrifices to them, and foretold the future from the offerings.

Two periods are distinguished in the evolution of eastern Slavic mythology: an earlier one, marked by Svaroh's supremacy, and a later one, dominated by Perun. The legends about the Scythians as having originated from one father and three sons and about the founding of Kyiv by the three brothers Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, as well as 12th-century data on the pagan pantheon of Kyivan Rus’, suggest that the chief god of the Sclaveni and Antes was named Troian, which in Ukrainian suggests ‘father of three sons.’ A reference to the deity in Slovo o polku Ihorevi has led some scholars to the conclusion that Troian was at one time the ruling god of Rus’. In the 12th-century apocryphal work ‘Khozhdeniie Bohorodytsi po mukakh’ (The Mother of God's Journey through the Agony) Troian is listed first among the deities and is followed by Khors, Veles, and Perun. The grouping of father and three sons was observed in the pantheon of Volodymyr the Great, in which Perun was elevated to first place and was followed by Khors, Dazhboh, and Stryboh. By function and importance Svaroh or Troian corresponds to Sviatovyt (Svitovyt), the god of the sun and later of war and plenty in the western Slavic pantheon.

The main deities of the early period of Kyivan Rus’ were Perun, the god of rain, lightning, and thunder, and Veles (Volos), the god of livestock. As the tribal society evolved into a more organized state, the functions of both deities expanded: Perun became the god of war, and Veles, the god of prosperity and commerce, and they were adopted by the prince as the official gods of the state. At first Volodymyr the Great tried to create a unified state religion by incorporating all common and tribal deities of his realm into one pantheon. According to the Primary Chronicle (for 980 AD) Volodymyr set up idols of Perun, Khors, Dazhboh, Stryboh, Symarhl, and Mokosh outside the palace at Berestove. The chief god in this pantheon was Perun. Khors, a sun god borrowed from the Persians, was second in rank. Dazhboh's functions were similar to Khors's. Some scholars held that the two names referred to the same god. Next in rank was Stryboh, the god of wind and water. The nature of Symarhl has been the subject of much speculation. Some scholars identify Mokosh with Marena, the Slavic goddess of spring and water; others define her as a goddess of birth. Volodymyr's pantheon was short-lived; in 988 Christianity became the state religion (see Christianization of Ukraine).

The cults of Kupalo (see Kupalo festival), Koliada (see Koliada), Tur, Yarylo, Kostrub, Lada, and Marena of the early Slavic period and Princely era survived for several centuries after the introduction of Christianity and then were absorbed into Christian folk customs and rites. Their memory lingers in popular superstition and folklore. Mythological figures such as Lado, Lel, Polel, and Podaha, who appear in 16th- and 17th-century monuments and later literature, are mostly of literary origin.

The mythological figures of Rod and the rozhanytsi, who are mentioned in many literary monuments, date back to prehistoric times. The rozhanytsi are similar in function to the Roman Parcae, whose name is derived from the Latin parcere ‘to give birth.’ The names Rod and rozhanytsia are related to the Ukrainian (and Slavic) words ridclan,’ narod ‘people,’ rodyty ‘to give birth,’ and pryroda ‘nature.’ The belief in Rod and the rozhanytsi influenced folk ideas of death, the dead, and the afterworld and folk wedding and birth rituals. The church struggled for many centuries against the cults of these deities.

During Christian times the ancient mythology of Ukraine's inhabitants survived to some extent in the folklore and demonology of the Ukrainian people. Many elements of ancient religious belief were absorbed also by church rites and ritual.

Léger, L. La Mythologie slave (Paris 1901)
Niederle, L. Život starých Slovanů, 2 (Prague 1916; 2nd edn 1924)
Mansikka, V. Die Religionen der Ostslaven (Helsinki 1922)
Hrushevs’kyi, M. Z istoriï relihiinoï dumky na Ukraïni (Lviv 1925; 2nd edn, Munich 1962)
Rybakov, B. Iazychestvo drevnei Rusi (Moscow 1987)
Plachynda, S. Slovnyk ukraïns’koï mifolohiï (Kyiv 1993)
Mify i lehendy davn'oï Ukraïny (Kyiv 1997)

 Bohdan Kravtsiw, Bohdan Medwidsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

List of related links from Encyclopedia of Ukraine pointing to Mythology entry:

A referral to this page is found in 28 entries.

Click Home to get to the IEU Home page; to contact the IEU editors click Contact.
To learn more about IEU click About IEU and to view the list of donors and to become an IEU supporter click Donors.  

©2001 All Rights Reserved. Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.