A to Z: Chernobog

Published April 3, 2018 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, sure, I should have gone with Cabracan for this one, but somehow I just couldn’t resist posting about Chernobog instead.

Image copyright Atlus. Provided by the MegaTen Wiki. Click for link.

I don’t know why they went with the grim-reaper-growing-mushrooms motif for his revised character design; back in the Super Nintendo era, he was a purple dude with a red cape and a scythe.  (Not that I’ve played any of the games in which he looks like that.  They’re not even available in English.)  I have two versions of his compendium entries.

From Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker and Shin Megami Tensei IV/Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse:

The god of night, evil, and death in Slavic lore.  His name means “black god.”

Like many other gods of the dead, he is said to live below the earth.  His counterpart is Belobog, the “white god.”  Despite being feared, he was also worshipped.  The curse, “May the black god kill you,” is still used in Ukraine.

Interesting point about Belobog:  his name is etymologically linked to Baldr’s.

And from Persona Q, the shorter entry:

A cursed god of the darkness in Slavic myth, his name means “Black God”.  He is the counterpart of the “White God”, Belobog.

(Persona Q has less room (or patience?) for compendium text than most games in the series.)

So that’s the game’s version.  What’s the real one?

Well, it’s both more and less complicated than you’d think from the game’s text.

Chernobog is, as the game said, a Slavic name meaning “black god.”  And as you might expect, it can be spelled a lot of different ways (Wikipedia provided eight other versions and said there were more), and as with most other deities from European cultures that the Romans didn’t conquer, we don’t have any texts that reference him that were written before Christianity arrived in the area and displaced the native religions.  Thus, mentions of Chernobog don’t start until the 12th century.  The Wikipedia article talks about and quotes one of these:

One historic source on Slavic mythology mentioning this god is the 12th-century Chronica Slavorum, a work written by German priest Helmold which describes customs and beliefs of several Wendish and Polabian tribes who were still pagans. Helmold wrote that:

The Slavs, too, have a strange delusion. At their feasts and carousals they pass about a bowl over which they utter words — I should not say of consecration but of execration — in the name of the gods—of the good one, as well as of the bad one—professing that all propitious fortune is arranged by the good god, adverse, by the bad god. Hence, also, in their language they call the bad god Diabol, or Zcerneboch, that is, the Black God.[1]

Latin original

Est autem Slavorum mirabilis error; nam in conviviis et compotacionibus suis pateram circumferunt, in quam conferunt, non dicam consecracionis, sed execracionis verba sub nomine deorum, boni scilicet atque mali, omnem prosperam fortunam a bono deo, adversam a malo dirigi profitentes. Unde etiam malum deum lingua sua Diabol sive Zcerneboch, id est nigrum deum, appellant.[2]

On the basis of this inscription, many modern mythographers[who?] assumed that, if the evil god was Chernobog, the black god, then the good god should be Belobog or the white god. However, the name of Belobog is not mentioned by Helmold anywhere in his Chronica, nor is it ever mentioned in any of the historic sources that describe the deities of any Slavic tribe or nation. Svetovid may serve as the opposite deity.[original research?]

And that, I might add, is most of the Wikipedia article on Chernobog.  Because we don’t know much more than that.  The article on Belobog goes further, adding that the expectation of a dualistic good/light vs. evil/dark dichotomy is a very Christian idea.  In fact, it speculates that Chernobog and Belobog (on which several place names seem to have been based) may have been more epithets for other, less simply-themed, gods.

That total lack of knowledge about him, of course, has not stopped Chernobog from becoming a very popular figure in popular perception of pre-Christian religions.  Largely because of this guy:

Image copyright Walt Disney Production, provided by Monster Wiki. Click for link.

Because Fantasia was an amazing visual experience, and he was super-impressive.  (BTW, am I the only one who just turns it off once it leaves “Night on Bald Mountain” and goes into “Ave Maria”?)  And those wings are really cool, especially with the way they fold up around him.  Coincidentally (or not), Shin Megami Tensei has someone with wings like those, but it’s not Chernobog…

Yup, it’s Loki again!  (Though he doesn’t always look like this.  Sometimes he’s a naked, blue-skinned guy in a cape.)

Don’t worry:  I promise tomorrow’s post will not include a picture of Loki in any way, shape or form.  Honest.

4 comments on “A to Z: Chernobog

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