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Myth Madness: Chernobog

If the song “Night on Bald Mountain” started playing in your head just now, then you’re already a smidge familiar with today’s subject.

While not exactly a creature, Chernobog is still monstrous enough to discuss here. After all, his name does translate to mean “black god”. How much more evil could you get?

Chernobog is known primarily as the Lord of Darkness, Chaos, and Misfortune, bringing all three everywhere he treads. Due to the lack of details surrounding his appearance, many people imagine or portray him as a hideous demonic figure, draped in shadows and fearful of the light of day.

Oddly enough, very little is certifiably known about Chernobog, though he has been speculated on to an immense degree. One of the oldest references to this Slavic deity comes from the 12th century book the Chronica Slavorum, penned by a German priest named Helmod who observed the pagan practices, customs, and beliefs of several different tribes in Russia. At many of their ceremonies and feasts, he witnessed the people passing around a goblet or a bowl to spit and swear into, in order to keep Chernobog at bay.

Chernobog is assumed to be the dark opposing force to Belobog, the so-called “white god”. Many speculate that the pagan religions that worshiped and feared these two gods viewed them as a sort of yin-yang collaboration, forever locked in an eternal battle of good and evil. While some religious theologists doubt the idea of this dualistic system being the basis of pagan religions, several other countries with similar beliefs of two gods (each representing the polar opposites on the moral spectrum) share similar names for them. For example, in what is now the Czech Republic, Bělbožice was their benevolent god’s name, while the Satan of their religion was known as Černíkovice. Similar deistic pairings pop up in surrounding countries, such as Czorneboh and Bilbeh in Sorbia. However, due to a lack of concrete evidence documenting this theory, it remains on shaky ground.

Perhaps the most popular portrayal of Chernobog is, as you probably guessed, in Walt Disney’s film Fantasia, during the “Night on Bald Mountain / Ave Maria” animated sequence, as seen here. That scene is meant to occur on Walpurgisnacht, or the Witch’s Sabbath, when they climb the highest mountain to revel with and celebrate the power of their darkest gods. The scene opens on ‘Bald Mountain’, (here represented by Mount Triglaf, a mountain in southern Russia), where Chernobog emerges and summons forth his minions to dance about him in mad revelry. They are eventually driven back to the fiery pits they emerged from by the dawn of the first day of May, church bells pealing in the distance, and the nearby Catholic monks singing a chorus of “Ave Maria”.  The entire scene with Chernobog was animated by Vladimir Tytla, one of the first, and, indeed, premier animators for Walt Disney Animation who was also known for his work in animating and bringing to life Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio, and Dumbo. He was the son of Ukranian immigrants, who might have helped to inspire Chernobog with stories from their home country; however, this is only supposition.

Chernobog is also featured in Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods, portrayed as the twin brother of Belobog. They switch out as day and night change, ruling over each equally.

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This entry was posted on 10/09/2014 by in Myth Madness and tagged , , , , .
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