Lela as a deity is not mentioned in Russian sources on old Slavic religion, nor in the sources on the religion of the Polab-Baltic and the Western Slavs in general. Serbian lyric songs, however, are full of invocations of Lela, whereas in Serbian epic poems this character also appears, admittedly, masked behind the name of Jelena or Jelica. We can therefore rightfully conclude that Lela might have been worshipped on Serbia's territory or even beyond.
Judging by the roles associated with this goddess, we can think of Lela as a very old deity. In the Southern Slavs' religion she has the role of the Forest Mother whose cult is connected to the period of matriarchy. Lela is most similar to Greek Artemis, since both are associated with wild female sexuality in the period when women had not yet been made inferior. She was the goddess of the forest, taking care of the forest creatures and the people who sought shelter in the woods. Aleksandra Bajic thinks that Lela is the protector of women still invoked by Serbian and Vlach women who face serious problems. We can see from all this that Lela is the most similar to Devana due to her unrestrained femininity. On the other hand, differences between Devana and Lela are considerable. Devana is, above all, a goddess of marked lunar characteristics, unlike Lela, who is represented as the goddess of summer and the bride of the Sun. In this way, Lela stands for that part in woman which slowly is submitting to male dominance and which gives in only to the one who is as divine as she. Her companion is the Sun himself, of whom Lela is eternal bride. In lyric folk songs she is also referred to as the Sun's little sister. By analysing the myths about Lela we can see how a supreme female deity was dethroned and made to share her divine features with her male counterpart. The goddess of matriarchy was losing her power more and more until the point when she was finally deprived of her divine status in Christianity, which mentions no female deity.
What can we learn about Lela from Serbian lyric poems? They represent her as the daughter of Lada, the goddess of love. In some poems these two goddesses are perceived as one: "Lejla, Ljejla / Hey Poljelja, Ljelja / Liljana Lada" .* Ljelj was thought to be her father, and her brother was Poljelj, as can be seen from the following lines: "…that beautiful dance of Lada, / both of Lada and of Ljelj, / and of their son Poljelj, / and of their daughter Poljelja".* In the songs of this type there frequently occurs an exclamation – "le" – which is considered to be a short form derived from Lela's name. The exclamation "le" is in Serbian and Macedonian songs associated with expressing sadness and sorrow, and consequently, in the group of Southern Slavic languages the term used for keening is "lelek". Here is an example of "lelek": in Macedonian poem "Zajdi, zajdi"a young man complains to the forest about his transience addressing her as "you forest, lo, my sister", uttering his grief in that way. The exclamation "le", thus connected to the forest, supports the theory that Lela was the goddess of the forest. Lela also appears in lyric poems in disguise – as a wild forest girl wooed by many men, none of whom is destined to have her. When this girl is taken away by the suitors representing the emperor of Turkey, the skies vent their rage by sending thunder and lightning down on them. They are punished for being impertinent enough to kidnap the Sun's sister, the cousin of the Moon and the mistress of the forest. Epic poems feature a girl named Jelica, who is frequently the companion to the heroes representing solar deities. One of those heroes is, for example, duke Prijezda, who jumps into an abyss with his wife to avoid being captured by the Turks. Natko Nodilo thinks that duke Prijezda and his brother Pojezda are Slavic version of the Asvins, Hindu heroes that are considered to be the descendants of the sun. According to Aleksandra Bajic, Jelica that appears in this epic poem ("The Death of Duke Prijezda") is, like many other Jelicas, none other than Lela, the powerful goddess of the forest and the bride of the Sun.
by Vesna Kakasevski
translated by Snježana Todorović
*taken from: SVEVLAD