Slavic Creation Myth: Translated from “Songs of the Bird Gamayun”

September 12, 2008

Finally, after weeks of searching, reading all different documents in English and in Russian, I’ve managed to come up with another article on Slavic Mythology.  This has been difficult because 1) there is so little information on Slavic Mythology and 2) What information there is, is replete with contradictions and ambiguity. Slavic Mythology is full of ties to its original Indo-European roots, as well as Finno-Urgic, Iranian and others.  This might be part of why it is so hard to track. It must be noted, that unlike the Greeks, for instance, the Slavs didn’t have a writing system to record these oral traditions.  Only through Christianity did the Slavs get a writing system, and by then paganism had been outlawed and mingled with Christian beliefs.

Little scholarly research has been done in Russian, let alone in English.  In doing my research I realized just how little information there is out there in English, and so I decided I would post what I have learned, however meager and inadequate it may be.

My previous post on Slavic Mythology and Etymology http://russophilia.wordpress.com/2007/11/15/etymology-and-slavic-mythology/ gives some more information and I hope to keep these coming.  I thought, however, that the creation myth, although it varies from Slavic tribe to tribe, is a good place to start.

The white bird, Gamayun, is a prophetic bird of wisdom

The white bird, Gamayun, is a prophetic bird of wisdom. This is the audio version of the book.

The Slavic Creation Myth, is the most elusive of them all.  I couldn’t find anything in English.  So I decided to buckle down and just start translating what I could find.  The following is predominantly for a book called  ПесниптицыГамаюн, or Songs of the Bird Gamayun, a book about the mythological creation and saga of the Slavs.  As far as I can understand, the book’s author is unknown, and it is told in the style of children’s bedtime stories.  This book is among the required repertoire studied in 6th grade literature in Russia.  So I felt it was a valid enough source to quote.

Like many other Indo-European mythology, Slavic mythology contains a story about a golden egg.  There are several famous fairy tales about this Golden Egg, but as far as it playing a huge role in the creation, I couldn’t find any evidence.  In the above mentioned book, the creation begins with a golden egg in which is the supreme god Rod.  It was Rod he would be in charge of creating the visible earth.  As is reflected in the words родить, родитель, природаRod was the parent of life on earth.

The quotes are from the book, Songs of the Bird Gamayun.  The rest is a summary of the story of this book mixed with other information that I’ve gathered.  I couldn’t find any English translation of this, so you’ll have to forgive me for my amateur translations.

“There once was a Golden egg wrapped in dark nothingness and in that egg was the father of all mankind, Rod.  Rod breaks out of the Golden Egg, and immediately creates himself a helpmeet-this is Mother Lada, goddess of love.  And with this love he breaks through the darkness. He cuts his umbilical cord with a rainbow and straight away gets to work separating the oceans and seas from the skies.”

Following that he separates light from darkness and truth from deceit.  He divides the world into 3 parts: Правь, Prav’, which is the place for gods.  As the name indicates it is a place for truth and right.  (Pravda-truth)  The visible world he called Явь, Yav’, that is, that which является(Yavlyat’sya-to be, appear).  The lower world was the underworld called навь, Nav’.  This was the place for the deceased.

“Next, Rod bore Mother Earth, who immediately disappears into the depths of the ocean where she is kept for a while.

And the sun was made from [Rod’s] face-from the heavenly god! The father of the gods!

And the shining moon from his chest…

The dense stars from his eyes…

The bright sunrise from his eyebrows…

The dark nights from his thoughts…

Powerful winds from his breath…

Rain and snow and hail from his tears…

And his voice became thunder and lightning…”

Rod then creates a son and breathes life into him.

Vasnetsov's painting of Svarog

Vasnetsov’s painting of Svarog

This is Svarog, who will be in charge of the rest of the details of earth’s creation.  To make him best suited for the job he gives him four heads so that he can see all ends of the earth.  He is the mighty кузнец, or god of the forge, the blacksmith of earth’s existence.  First and foremost, he paves a specific path for the sun to follow around the earth, thus creating night and day.  The alternation of the sun with the moon gets the ocean making waves and foam, and, feeling satisfied with his organizational skills, realizes something’s missing…Mother Earth!

In the distance he notices a little grey duck swimming above a dark hole in the water.  He asks the duck if she has seen Mother Earth.  The duck says that she’s down at the bottom of the ocean.  Svarog asks the duck to go get her.  The duck disappears and returns a year later saying that it couldn’t hold it’s breath any longer and asks for help in retrieving Mother Earth from the ocean’s abyss.  So Svarog calls for Rod’s help, who then blows a mighty wind, stirring up the ocean, and the duck dives back down.  2 years pass and the duck returns saying, “I got closer this time but still ran out of breath.”  So Svarog calls upon Rod, who brings a storm upon the ocean and shoots lightning into the duck.  The duck dives down and is gone for 3 years.  After 3 years the duck returns with a branch in her mouth.  Svarog takes the branch, rubbing it in his palms begins to command the forces of the world:  “Make warmth, Sun! Light up, Moon! Blow, Wind!  We must save Mother Earth, our nurturer.”  All the elements come together, the wind blew the branch from Svarog’s hands.  As it fell into the ocean, the sun shone, heating the ocean, as the water evaporated the Moist Mother Earth appeared at the surface, and the moon quickly cooled her down.

Now that the earth had risen to the surface, Svarog creates 3 underworld kingdoms.  So that the earth doesn’t fall back in the deep ocean, Svarog creates a great and mighty snake, Юша, Yusha, whose fate is to hold Mother Earth above water.  If the snake moves the earth will quake.

You can find the Russian text of Песни птицы Гамаюн here: http://www.dazzle.ru/spec/ppg/ppg.shtml

More to come…that is, if I can find more.

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16 Responses to “Slavic Creation Myth: Translated from “Songs of the Bird Gamayun””

  1. morgandempsey said

    Thank you for commenting on my blog, and for linking me to yours! This was a wonderful post, and I look forward to more translations from you :)

    Also, this makes me think I should look to buckle down and learn Polish :)

  2. clementine said

    does the Russian god”svarog” have another name
    that is “rod” ?

  3. caroline said

    hello, i have to do a project on russian creation myths …does anyone have a wedsite i could vivist
    thanks for the help
    xox

  4. mary said

    lovely, send me your email by hitting my website and i will send you one of my videos i made translating my slavic understandings of mythology into mythos into the real.

  5. Hi,
    your translation help me to do my presentation very much
    but i just want to know how about mankind, Who create them?
    or could u please tell me more after Svarog didcover the Mother Earth?

  6. Atmarama dasa said

    sounds similar to the Vedic creation story of Bhagavan and Brahma. Brahma the creator of the universe who has four heads and Bhagavan the Supreme God who created Brahma.

  7. Congratulations for such an interesting blog! I’m a spanish student of History of Art and was searching on the internet about Viktor Vasnetsov when I found your post. If you don’t know him I recommend you it absolutely. He reflects the romantic folklore or Russia. See you!

  8. This is SO interesting. I really needed this for a homework assignment. Is it Russian>

  9. Chessah said

    Janey, thank you for all of this work, I this myth for my 7th grade mythology project.

  10. Seria said

    Thank you for the translation! I had to look up some indigenous culture and creation myths and wanted something interesting and fun for my IB art project and this is the one I used :) Thanks again!

  11. Jack Rusin said

    Your article was great. To put these ideas into a broader, more universal context, check out “The Sacred and the Profane,” by Mircea Eliade.

  12. Tiffany said

    Oh all the people who’ve posted things this is by far the most detailed post. Thanks a lot! I as well am doing a paper on the creation myths and chose Russia. You’re super helpful!

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