Crnobog, as his very name shows, is Slavic black god – god of night, chaos and evil. Slavs believed that all evil originated from this god, so Crnobog, above all other gods, was the least favourably disposed towards men. Most information about Crnobog we gather from Helmold. In one of his records he claims: “There is one curious custom among the Slavs. At their feasts they all drink from the same cup, and while doing that they utter certain words which, I daresay, do not have the purpose of a prayer, but rather a curse in the name of their gods - gods of good and evil. They believe that all good comes from the good god, and all evil from the evil one. And so they call that god Crnobog in their own language.” As we can see, our forefathers thought that the role of one of their gods was to bring misfortune, and from the example above it is clear that they themselves used that god to help them bring about bad luck (the cursing ritual). Misfortune could befall the Slavs in many different ways – through extreme cold, famine, poverty, illness, or simply through a combination of circumstances, and Crnobog was responsible for everything. Building around the fact that cold and darkness made their lives disagreeable, the Slavs postulated an entity that was related to these natural phenomena. Crnobog, Cernobog, or Cert thus became a winter deity and a god of darkness, a terrifying creature that shrouded the world in black. However, we should bear in mind that the Slavs considered Crnobog’s impact was necessary and that consequently Cernobog was respected as all the other gods. None of the sources relevant to Slavic mythology classifies Cert as a lower-rank deity and, regardless of being attributed the source of all misfortune, he was considered equal to other gods of the pantheon. All this means that our forefathers thought accidents were also caused by their gods, or that even extreme cold, famine, death and disease were of divine origin (coming from either Cert or Morana). And what was sent by the gods certainly had to be respected. This illustrates how pagan perception of the world is different to Christian, because Christianity puts earthly life in the so-called vale of tears, while to pagans life, happy and unhappy alike, is a divine bestowal.
Although old Slavic religion had no dualism characteristics, researchers of Slavic mythology put in opposition to Crnobog a deity of contrasting properties – Belobog. Belobog, as a principle of light and goodness, should have been a contrast to Crnobog, or the power that counterbalances his negative impact. To prove their theory that there was dualism in Slavic mythology the researches claimed that names of some places can be related to Belobog. Some of these places are Belbuch in Pomerania, Belobozice in Bohemia, as well as Bialoboze and Bialoboznica in Poland. However, as Louis Léger claims, the name Belobog cannot be found in any authentic written document concerning Slavic culture. Some Slavic myths, such as the myth of creation, feature Belobog, but we cannot be certain that this myth has its origins in the pre-Christian period. This myth tells that the world was created by Crnobog and Belobog who, through joint effort, brought their creation to perfection. Although during the process of world creation the gods came into conflict, precisely those actions they performed against each other caused the universe to look as it does. There was another dualistic concept that proclaimed Cernobog god of the dark half of the year, opposed by Belobog – the ruler of the sunny half. The rule of Belobog, according to this belief, started with the winter solstice, while Cert’s rule over nature started with the summer solstice. The winter solstice itself was the battle day of these two opposed powers, and on that day Belobog won a victory. This belief could have its roots in authentic Slavic faith since all the other pagan tribes understood that day in a similar way.
We have already mentioned that records on old Slavic religion give no information whatsoever on family relations between gods. However, Vladimir Aleksejevic Istarhov, the author of The Strike of the Russian Gods, says that Crnobog had a life companion, a she-goat Sedunja, with whom he had a son named Vij. Although Istarhov did not record the myth about this relation, we can conclude that this legend too dates from the period after conversion to Christianity, because Christianity associated horned animals, especially goats, with evil forces.
However we choose to understand Cernobog, we should remember that no pagan system, including the Slavic one, involves dualism. Polytheism, as a fundamental characteristic of pagan religions, could never contain teachings about one unique primordial cause, or two of them. Due to this fact, the Wicce system for example is a typical product of the new age, because this religion operates on two basic principles – male and female, that is God and Goddess. Slavic neo-paganism also postulates only one god (sometimes it is Rod, sometimes Dazbog) that represents the primeval principle of the universe. Such an idea of the universe did not exist in the authentic Slavic creed, neither did the division between a good and a bad deity. This split could only come through the influence of Christianity, which is based on dualism of good and evil embodied, on the highest level, in God and Satan, and in angels and demons on lower levels.
by Vesna Kakaševski
translation by Snježana Todorović