“Beware The Man Of One Book” – A Case-Study In Slavic Secondary Source Over-Reliance


[Disclaimer: We’re fully aware that there are a range of sources utilized in the reconstruction of Slavic Indo-European religion; and that there is, indeed, occasionally quite capacious use to be made in such endeavours from the writings of ‘outsiders’ to the traditions in question, and preservations embedded in later texts.

The following is presented as-is, unaltered, as my own case-study demonstration of why it’s not a great idea to *over-rely* upon such materials; and why making use of them *without* a strong weight of primary source materials can lead to some …. odd outcomes.
As applies Svarog, and other such matters in Slavic mythography and religious reconstructionism, I have my own thoughts as to how a meaningful ‘re-connection’ between the relatively limited datapoints that we *do* have, and what we can definitively state about comparable elements in ‘better-preserved’ and ‘still-living’ Indo-European mythoreligious corpuses. But that, as they say, Is A Story For Another Time. [-C.A.R.] ]
“extract from a rant I was having about taking *too* seriously ‘secondary sources’ for mythology in a bid to try and make up for lacking primary texts and living traditions [or, at least reasonably well preserved ones…] :
“to give a further example of why I am circumspect about secondary sources sans primary evidence to work with …
… one of the ‘major’ texts detailing some pretty key stuff in what’s today ‘cornerstone’ Slavic ‘paganism’ ….
… is a book from the 1400s, compiling material from several previous books that’re about 2 centuries older … which themselves include somewhat fragmentary translation of writings by a Greek Christian writing almost a thousand years before said final text … who was writing a more generalized history of what i suppose you might call the ‘Classical World’, coz running up to the Byzantines.
Now, that’s … well, you can see how that’d get pretty problematic to *start* with. But it gets worse.
See, the bits that’re cited for “Slavic paganism” …. are actually bits which broadly fit into the category of “Egyptian Mythology But Also History” from the early bits [chronologically speaking] of the Greek writer’s account. Except it’s Egyptian Mythology as done ‘once over lightly’ by a Greek, who’s somehow transformed all the Egyptian [pre-Alexander, too] deities and such to Greek-named ones, and is running additionally on an understanding of Greek mythology that’s uh …. well, let me put it this way – the Greeks weren’t great at their own mythology, following several hundred years of slippage, even at the height of Athens, like *eight hundred years* before. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that a Christian writer reinterpreting Egyptian not-even-really-either-mythology-OR-history through an allegedly Classical Greek set of lenses slash tie-in-namings … doesn’t do a great job at it.
Now it gets *further* worse.
Because what happened is at some point, several centuries after the Greek chap, some Slavic compiler basically attempted to take these not-even-really-Egyptian personages with the slapped on Greek names … and rename them to names that would be more familiar to a Slavic readership, and assumedly, therefore, with characterizations for the Slavic names that matched either the characterization of the figures in the text he was translating and/or the characterization of the Greek deities he was renaming. Except he wasn’t great with Greek mythology *either*, and the whole thing’s seriously skin deep anyway.
And that’s *before* you take into consideration that the Slavic writer likely wasn’t that familiar with his own ancestral religion(s), and was writing in a Christianized period; and hte possibility that he may not even have been intending to replace this or that Greek or “Egyptian” figure with a particularly similar “Slavic” one.
So what does this mean?
On the strength of .. well … the above, we get people going around saying “the chief deity of the Slavic pantheon was a smith god, like Hephaestus”; when really, the only thing we can likely defintiively say, is that there was a Slavic deity called “Svarog”, because it’s a name that’s attested elsewhere [and also has logical *linguistic* cognate-potential in some other IE languages] ; I mean, even if the hammer bit’s ‘broadly’ right, there’s several other explanations which immediately suggest themselves; and you can instantly see how much really vitally important theological and mythographical ‘nuance’ is lost if a whole swathe of things from ‘Sky’ to ‘Sun’ to ‘Fire’ to ‘Lightning’ get bowdlerizedly not-even-replaced with “Hephaestus’ forge has fire.” [although there’s an interesting side-point I won’t go into here around Sun/Lightning/Fire as a Vedic-attested trinity, three deities and three ‘forms of energy’ in order of radiation from source in the high-heavens down through the mid-atmosphere, to here on Earth]
… and which , well, proper linguistic analysis actually suggests that other material contained in that particular source *might* be back to front anyway – like, for instance, there’s a male solar deity [also] mentioned. Ok, cool. “Helios” is the Greek name … which isthen “translated” to Dazhbog by th Slavic writer …
except that Dazhbog means something somewhat different [long story], and it actually seems plausible that the Slavic peoples may have had a Solar *Goddess* instead [on the basis of linguistic analysis, but also comparative analysis with other IE cultures – again, long story]
The end result of all of this, at present, is you wind up with people going around going “I have conducted a comparative analysis with the Vedas … and we have determined that the Vedas are actually Slavic, and check out this expansive library of “Slavic Vedas” and other such sources which we have compiled, containing the authentic mythology of the Slavs!”
To be fair, it’s rather more … complex than all of that. But the fact is, precisely because we’re flying so blind due to the paucity of primary accounts from the Slavs, speaking in their own languages, about their own practices and beliefs, while they were still believing in them … we don’t even know how potentialy off-target many of the secondary sources that’re penned initially by Christian writers, compiled and edited post-facto, potentially ofr propagandtastic purposes by Christian monks or whatever, *actually are* in terms of what they thought they were seeing.
And even such ‘comparative reconstructionist’ efforts as may be undertaken, are *already* strongly influenced by the other ‘lenses of perspective’ [like, in this case, in-name-only recalled Greek “mythology”] so as to introduce artificial biases and potentially-false confirmations right the way down.
And that’s *before* we get into the underlying agendas of a few Slavic ‘pagan revivalist’ types …”

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