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Multi-Headed Slavic Deities

            Slavic mythology is specific in many ways. It is characterised by a division into a great number of pantheons that are related to a certain geographical area, and by a system of values that is rarely met in other peoples' mythologies and religions. However, the most distinctive characteristic of the old Slavic religion is the fact that a great number of Slavic gods was represented as having more than one head. This tendency was particularly characteristic of the Baltic and the Plab Slavs. Let us just mention the statues of Svetovid, Rudjevid, Porevid, Radgost and Porenucije, as well as the statues of Triglav, the three-headed god that was worshipped by the ancestors of the today's Poles. The cult of a three-headed god was also cherished among the Southern Slavs, and the name of this entity was Trojan. Simargal was also represented with a number of heads – statues of him featured a terrifying seven-headed god having conspicuous warrior characteristics.
Text Box:              If we carefully examine the phenomenon of the multi-headed Slavic deities, we will notice that none of them was represented as having an arbitrarily chosen number of heads. Svetovid was always represented as four-headed, Triglav as three-headed, Simargal as seven-headed, etc. What is the meaning of these numbers? It is usually thought that Svetovid's four heads stand for the four sides of the world that this all-seeing god is looking at. The five heads of Porevid are perceived as the five winter months, whereas the seven heads of Rudjevid represent the seven months of the summer season. Speaking about Simargal, we have pointed out that his name was related to number seven, and this can be brought into relation with his seven heads. As for Triglav, the number of his heads can be connected with the concept of the holy trinity that existed in the religion that preceded Slavic paganism. It was, of course, the ancient Aryan religion Vedantism, and the same concept would later become a characteristic of Christianity, that remained the official religion of the Slavic peoples to this day. The Book of Veles also mentions triple deities that are referred to as the Triglavs. We can rightfully conclude that the concept of a holy divine trinity had always existed among the Slavs. The question why the statue of Porenucije had five heads remains unanswered, as does the question what the four heads of the Zbruc idol stand for. It is possible that this is just another statue of Svetovid, but it could also be that it features four different deities – two male and two female. The phenomenon of the two-headed god Radgost we will analyse in greater detail somewhat later in the text.
            We will try to explain the phenomenon of the multi-headed Slavic gods from a philosophic and psychological standpoint. Our analysis of this phenomenon will be based on the philosophy Friedrich Schelling, a German philosopher who lived in the eighteenth and the nineteenth century. His interpretation of entire mythology was based on a key that we will adopt here for the needs of this analysis in order to, if but vaguely, throw light on the dark corners of Slavic mythological system. Schelling's entire philosophy of mythology is based on the idea that the mythology of one people is the reflection of its theological consciousness that, at the moment of creation of that mythology, was at a certain level of development. The theological, or the mythological, consciousness will be defined as the consciousness of a people that implies a certain attitude towards the divine, regardless of whether the divine consists of a number of gods or just one object of worshipping – God or Nature. The lowest level of mythological consciousness, according to Schelling, is related to the period of animism, when no deity was particularly important, but rather, through the belief in natural spirits, the entire Nature was worshipped. On the other hand, the highest level of mythological consciousness was reached in the time of ancient Greece, when all the deities were separate as individuals, with their roles clearly defined and their personalities fully developed. If we choose to interpret Slavic mythology according to this key, we will come to the conclusion that the consciousness of the Slavic tribes, at the time when their mythology was being created, was at a level between animism and a fully formed mythological system such as, for example, the one of the Greek mythology was. The Slavs' mythology was, naturally, closer to a systematised mythology than animism, since its concept clearly shows the tendency to organise the mythological content according to a system. The final impression is that Slavic mythology was only one step away from complete systematisation, so the highest level of mythological consciousness was never reached.
Text Box:              The fact that Slavic gods were represented as multiple-headed creatures will serve as a proof of Schelling's thesis that every people had reached a certain level of theological, or mythological, consciousness. From such perceptions of deities we can conclude that in Slavic consciousness those deities were not completely individualised, but were rather seen as unified in a way. This is particularly true of the gods of the Polab and Baltic Slavs that were represented as multi-headed, but it is also true of the gods of other Slavic pantheons whose roles were not clearly defined but were interwoven with the roles of the other gods. Based on Schelling's theory of mythology, we can conclude that every Slavic deity that was represented as having more than one head actually symbolised a small pantheon. According to this interpretation, the five heads of Porevid stand for five different gods, and the seven heads of his brother Rudjevid stand for the seven gods of the Kiev pantheon. Triglav and Trojan could therefore represent three different gods, or three different aspects of one and the same god. As for Svetovid, he was one particular god whose multiple nature was only accentuated by his representation as a four-headed being. Unfortunately, this cannot be applied to the entity represented in the Zbrucki idol that, apart from four different deities, also features three different spheres of the Universe: heavenly, human, and the underworld. From everything mentioned above we can conclude that the Old Slavs were not very precise in expressing their understanding of their gods, and for that reason, instead of a number of gods, they used to represent only one.
            What is interesting is that this key could be used to interpret some other phenomena of Slavic mythology, such as the fact that some deities could have animal form. As we know, Dazbog and Hors were wolves by nature, Radgost was connected to the tiger, etc. This phenomenon can de interpreted as the influence of shamanism upon Slavic mythology, and it was a manifestation of an idea that preceded paganism as the level of theological consciousness that the Slavs functioned at. By examining this phenomenon, we can see how mythological consciousness of the old Slavs was gradually developing from animism, going through the stages of shamanism and totemism, finally to reach the level at which the gods were perceived as individual and almost fully differentiated entities. For that particular reason Radgost was not represented as a clearly defined god, but the idea of him was rather lodged in Slavic consciousness as inseparable from his animal form – the tiger.

by Vesna Kakasevski
translated by Snježana Todorović