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The origin of the world according to the myths of the ancient Croats

The origin of the world is a story that can be found in the mythologies of people from all over the world, and the Croats are no exception. Old Croatian mythology, we must note, is part of Old Slavic mythology, considering that Croats belong to the group of Slavic nations. The story of the origin of the world in Croats can be compared to many myths of other nations even continents away from Croatia. 

The origin of the world

Given that Croats today are predominantly a Christian Catholic nation united by faith in one God, we will notice that former beliefs have similarities with today’s religion.

The origin of the world

Namely, the book Croatian National Mythology: Pearls of the Magic Kingdom of Ancient Times is the source we turned to with confidence in order to discover how the ancient Croats saw the creation of the world. The book mentions the existence of an all-powerful spirit of eternity who ruled the infinite universe. In the beginning, there was neither light nor darkness – only the abyss. At the bottom of that “nothingness” there was a menacing “black force of darkness” which they called the great dark. The aforementioned spirit of eternity was considered the progenitor of all creation, similar to today’s belief in God as the creator of the world.

According to tradition, the spirit of eternity created light and darkness and matter and mist with a flash, from which the soil, water and rivers that filled the abyss were formed. This is how seas and lakes were created, and the seeds of various living creatures were sown on the ground.

Rivers filled the Abyss
Rivers filled the Abyss

Here we come to one of the more interesting parts of Old Croatian mythology; that which was beyond the reach of the “creation” that the forefather initiated remained in the dominion of the half-light and darkness which marked the primordial beginning of warfare between the forces of light and darkness. The ancient Slavs probably understood the war of light and darkness quite literally, while today we would interpret this myth metaphorically, understanding it as a warning of the universal truth that reads: Where there is good, there is also evil as its counterweight. These two forces are in constant conflict, and good people must work hard every day so that the light can defeat the darkness.

Golden Prajaje and Svarog in the story of the origin of the world

According to myths of the origin of the world, the Golden Prajaje (Ancient Egg) was the place where the father of the gods, heaven and earth rested. The life forces affected the Prajaje which burst and created light. That light was considered the prime creator of the sky from which Svarog, the supreme deity of the ancient Slavs, arose. Svarog was also called the Supreme Creator or the Supreme God and was considered to be above the concept of good and evil.

Svarog
Svarog
Source: Wikipedia, Art by Andrey Shishkin

Another version of Slavic mythology tells the story of the inconceivable and abstract deity Rod, who gave birth to the world they knew then. Rod, allegedly, created a love of his own accord, which he named Lada, and the two of them together broke through the shell of the golden Prajaje and in this way created the universe and with it the Spirit of God, the mother Sve and the father Svarog. Here again we can notice the similarity with today’s Christian Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity.

The next deities that are mentioned are the Bjelobog and the Crnobog who, according to the myth, arose from Svarog’s shadow. The lower shell of the cracked Egg created dwarves, giants and other magical creatures, the upper shell created the World Tree that separates heaven from earth. If you know Viking mythology, you will remember that they believed in the existence of the World Tree (Igdrasil), which was located in the center of the universe and represented the backbone of the world. All the gods lived in the crown of the World Tree, in the highest, seventh heaven.

The origin of the world - The origin of the world
World Tree

The most intriguing creatures created by Svarog

The most intriguing of all the creatures that Svarog created are probably the fairies, those beautiful and fragile creatures that have tickled the imagination of people for centuries. According to tradition, Svarog created them from butterflies (this probably explains their wings) to perform the work of earthly mediators between gods and people. These fantastic creatures were usually depicted dancing in carts, riding horses and deer, and going hunting. Fairies are almost always female beings, so it is not surprising that there are many stories about their love for brave young men and Slavic heroes whom they helped with their advice and deeds. Sometimes, these relationships were not romantic but friendly and sisterly.

Fairies were depicted as enchanting young ladies
Fairies were depicted as enchanting young ladies

They are imagined as great beauties with golden hair and wings on their backs. They wear long robes that cover their delicate bodies, but don’t let that fool you – they always carry arrows. Fairies are spread all over the world, so they are divided into planinkinje and zagorkinje who live in the mountains far from human eyes, vodarkinje who hide in rivers and lakes, and oblakinje who spend their days playing among the clouds.

People have always been enchanted by stories about beautiful fairies, so it used to happen that enchanted young men thought they had seen them. Of course, it was most likely they just stumbled upon pretty human girls.

How did Svarog create men?

The mythology of the Old Croats also has its own version of the origin of the first humans: the god Svarog split into two (male and female) and thus the first human couple was created. However, these first people were actually giants, a giant and a giantess. Svarog wrapped the giant in oak leaves, and the woman in linden leaves.

It is interesting to note that the mythology of the ancient Slavs (including the Croats) has many similarities with the mythologies of people from all over the world. Although the names and stories differ in many details, we cannot escape the impression that all these stories are actually one story told in a thousand different ways. It’s really fascinating to think that people who probably never met or had contact with each other came up with similar ways of explaining the origin of the world. Of course, it is quite clear that with time and migrations, peoples began to merge, and thus their mythologies also merged, which then created new myths. In any case, apart from the text, we wanted to bring you closer to the former beliefs of people from these areas, and if this is something that amused you and you want to know more – write to us in the comments.

Your CTC Team, A. M. 

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