Gerovit, Jarilo

Gerovit could be understood in two ways: as a war god or as a Sun god who, as Jarilo, stands for the one who bestows fertility. We will first examine Gerovit’s warrior nature.

Jarilo - Ana Milojković Omi
            On the island of Rujan there was a temple in which Gerovit’s statue with seven heads and eight swords took up the central position. The temple was built from wood and had only one room with four columns, while the walls were decorated with purple drapery. What did the seven heads of Gerovit (or Rudjevit, as he was called on the island of Rujan) symbolize? Some think that this god embodies all the seven gods of the Kiev pantheon, while others claim that the seven heads stand for the seven summer months during which Gerovit ruled. The same goes for the seven swords, while the eighth one, which Gerovit holds in his hand, is his own and therefore represents an attribute of a war god. There was also a shield covered with golden plates that was kept in the temple as a holy object and represented Gerovit himself. This shield was carried out among the people who bowed respectfully to the image of their god.
            As for the planetary connections, Alexander Asov links Jarilo with the warrior planet Mars. Many facts support this claim: Jarilo’s colour is red, while he himself is connected with the zodiac sign of Aries. The month of Belojar – the term is a compound containing Jarilo’s name - started on March 21st, the day when the Sun enters the Ram. Term “jare” (meaning kid) also survives in the expression used to denote this month, and lambs were in the old days sacrificed in Gerovit’s honour. We also have the noun “jarost” (frenzy) and the reflexive verb “razjariti se” (fly into a rage) that contain Jarilo’s name and so perfectly describe his warrior nature. After the Slavs converted to Christianity St George took over Gerovit’s role. St George is a warrior-saint fighting dark forces embodied in the form of a dragon. Some people claim that this dragon stands for pagan gods and forces that Christianity proclaimed to be demonic and St George by killing the “dragon” actually kills precisely those “demons”. But if we consider St George to be none other than Gerovit, this explanation becomes invalid and masks a much clearer mythical picture. If we go beyond the boundaries set by a religion, in this case by Christianity, we come to the image of a solar, just god, a god who abides by the law of Justice, who destroys the forces that try to get in the way of Light, forces that cause degeneration and ruin of all that is good, beautiful and just. Mars is the planet related to this kind of divine purification and destruction of what ought to be destroyed. Another fact supports Asov’s theory that Jarilo and planet Mars are interdependent. Greek Ares, equivalent of Roman Mars, is Aphrodite’s lover, and her Slavic equivalent is Lada. As we know, Gerovit and Lada are represented in Slavic mythology as a divine couple. This match can be interpreted in two ways: as a mixture of Love and Hate, or a connection between Love and War that can become Love’s other side, and vice versa. But it can also be interpreted quite differently: as a relationship and connection between a god and goddess of fertility. This brings us to the analysis of Gerovit’s other aspect, the study of Gerovit as a fertility god.
            We have already mentioned that Gerovit’s seven heads could symbolize the seven summer months of his reign. Opposed to him is Porevit, the ruler of the remaining five winter months. At the same time, he was Gerovit’s brother, and there was a temple on Rujan Island dedicated to him. Seen as a god of fertility, Gerovit stands for the Sun itself - abundant harvests depend upon it. As a protector-god he also protects the crops from hail that can destroy them. In rituals Gerovit was celebrated primarily as a fertility god. Festivities dedicated to him took place in the early summer, and their aim was to celebrate a new waking of the sun after a winter period. One Slavic ritual is very similar to the ritual the Celts used to perform to honour their fertility god – the Horn God. During the festivities dedicated to Jarilo boys would make a doll from straw and young twigs, and the doll represented Gerovit. The Slavs used to throw this doll in the water, hoping that it would bring a bumper harvest. As we know, the Celts used to burn the effigies made of wicker for the same reason, and they represented their Horn God as a green deity covered in leaves.


by Vesna Kakaševski

translation by Snježana Todorović