Museums around the world are filled with statues of gods and goddesses once worshipped by the ancient Greeks, Romans or Egyptians. But what about the Slavic mythology? We have already learned about Perun, the thunder god, Morena, the goddess of death, and let’s not forget the forefather of all Slavic gods, Rod… but have you heard of Veles, the mysterious King of the Slavic underworld?
All Saints Day, the Eastern and Central European version of Halloween, is upon us. The pagan ancestors of the modern Slavs who practised a native faith before their Christian conversion, believed that something truly extraordinary happens during this time. They believed that the veil that separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead thins and allows us to communicate with the departed souls of our loved ones.
This was a time of magic, so let us get acquainted with the Slavic god of magic and alchemy.
Meet Veles, the Slavic God of magic and alchemy
Veles was the king of departed souls and as such became naturally associated with supernatural powers, magic and communion with spirits. He was the god to whom the witches and sorcerers, shamans and magicians of the old world turned to. Veles was also worshipped as the patron and protector of livestock and shepherds.
Veles’ tool for connecting between worlds was music and song. He used mantras, chants and melodies, much like the shamans of today, to help guide willing souls to enter altered or trance-like states, so as to travel between worlds and see into other dimensions. By repeating these sacred songs, modern-day Slavs can continue to connect to the practices and wisdoms of their ancestors.
Veles was the king of departed souls and as such became naturally associated with supernatural powers, magic and communion with spirits.
But what about magic and sorcery?
Few realise that the English word sorcerer in fact originated from the word ‘source’, the term used to denote someone who understood the great universal force (i.e. spirit matter) and could manipulate it. The origins of the Slovak word chary, Polish czary, are still shrouded in mystery, but one theory bases it on the Slavic word for line – the lay lines of the earth that demark her electromagnetic currents.
Witches, sorcerers and healers, otherwise known as the priests and priestesses of the old world, were those who had a profound understanding of nature and the natural laws that govern the world. They were familiar with the elements, as well as the earth’s electromagnetic field and knew how to channel, harness and direct these subtle energies to achieve their desired outcome, some for good, some not.
Unfortunately, those who could see beyond the veil gained a bad reputation after the arrival of Christianity into the region. The old-world seers were often portrayed as sorcerers and witches – an extension of the Devil.
When Christianity arrived, the meaning of Veles was inverted. The Christian ideology had no room for the subtle meaning of natural chaos, and the role of death in transformation. The new monotheistic belief system saw any form of destruction as evil (i.e. anti-order) and so the god of the underworld became associated with the devil. It probably did not help that Veles was depicted as a rather menacing horned god…
His cult was eventually banned, and with time and over the centuries his symbolism, iconography and archetype was erased from public and private spaces alike.
By Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova and Dr Zuzana Palovic