At core of ancient Slovak belief is the World Tree. The mythological symbol of the World Tree is a very strong one, and survived throughout Slavic folklore for many centuries after Christianization. Three levels of the universe are located on the tree. They are called Parv, Iav and Nav. The crown represents the heavenly deities, the trunk is the realm of mortals, and the roots of the tree stretch into the underworld.
In the crown of the tree is where the God of Fire - Svarog rules.
Below is the world Iav – the world of living creatures, the visible world. There rules the God of lightning and thunders – Perun.
In the roots of the tree exists the world Nav – the realm of the spirits, the dead - the realm of the God Veles. As opposed to many other cultures, the underworld of Slavic mythology was not a world of fire and judgment, but of eternal spring.
Here's the story of Jarilo
and Morena: In Slovakian folklore, Jarilo is the god of war, vegetation, fertility,
spring, and the harvest. Morena is the goddess of the harvest,
witchcraft, winter, and death. Jarilo is associated with the moon and Morena is considered a daughter of the sun. Both of them are children of
Perun (the god of thunder and lightning). They are born on the night of the new year, but Jarilo is snatched from the cradle and taken to the underworld,
where Veles (god of the underworld) raises him as his own. At the spring festival, Jarilo returns from
the world of the dead,
bringing springtime from the ever-green underworld into the realm of the living. He
meets his sister Morena and courts her. At the beginning of summer, they are married. This sacred union between
brother and sister (children of the supreme god) brings fertility and abundance
to earth, ensuring a bountiful harvest. And, since Jarilo was raised by Veles and his wife is the daughter of Perun, their marriage brings peace between
two great gods and ensures there will be no storms to damage the harvest. After
the harvest, however, Jarilo makes a bad choice. He is unfaithful to his wife, and Morena vengefully
slays him. His death returns him to the underworld. Without her husband, Morena — and
all of nature with her — withers and freezes in the upcoming winter. She turns
into a terrible, old, and dangerous goddess of darkness and frost, and
eventually dies by the end of the year. The whole story repeats itself anew each year. There is always a fresh springtime, followed by summer, autumn, and winter.
Here’s the cover I illustrated for a Slovakian publication.
(Click for larger image)
Mikulás is sort of like the Slovakian version of Saint Nicholas. On the night of December 5th, children in Slovakia traditionally place a boot on their windowsill for Mikulás to fill with treats. The boots must be polished, because he won’t fill boots that are not shiny and clean. While “good” children receive gifts such as fruits, candies, nut and toys, “bad” children can expect nothing more than a wooden spoon, an onion, a lump of coal, or a willow switch. But, with the implication that no person is either completely good or entirely bad, most children get both sweets and a switch.
As you see here, Mikuláš is often accompanied by an Angel and a Devil. On December 6th, the older boys of a village might dress up as St. Mikuláš, accompanied by his angel and devil. The boys dressed as angels wear long white shirts, while the devils wear long black coats and paint their faces black, chains and bells tied around their waist. They roam about, visiting families with small children. If the kids improvise a poem, a song or a prayer, they might receive additional gifts. Those who misbehave can expect coal, rocks, or perhaps a raw potato. Yay!
This is a series of illustrations I did for the winter issue of a Slovakian heritage publication. They accompany an article written by my cousin that describes Christmas customs in Slovakia. One of these traditions consists of gathering around friends and family on cold, dark evenings with tales of Slovakian folklore. Gods, Goddesses, tricksters, serpents, revenge, love, birth, death, and rebirth - there’s nothing like a good story to pass the time and warm the blood on a long winter night.
I'll follow up tomorrow with a description of each one. I think the stories behind the illustrations are pretty fascinating!
Here are two cards I worked on from a Christmas series for American Greetings. They have little yarn loops at the top, so you can use them as ornaments! The rest of the series includes a snow globe, stocking, and three wise men.