Since the dawn of time, people invented stories that described the reality around them. These stories, coupled with the human imagination, were the basis for most of the myths and legends that we know about today.
Our ancestors’ rich imagination has brought to life mythical lands, mythical countries, mythical cities, and mythical kingdoms of glorious kings and queens as well as mystical places and lost cities like El Dorado (City of Gold) and Arcadia…
The list of mythological places in the world is endless.
We’ve all heard about the Mount Olympus or Elysian fields (from Greek mythology). We’ve read the stories about King Arthur, about the lost continent of Atlantis, or about Asgard (the dwelling place of gods in Norse mythology).
These mythical places from history are one of the pillars of the world of literature and storytelling. Each nation and every culture has its own realm of imagination and imagery which undoubtedly affected the creation and authenticity of cultural works.
Names of mythical places from Norse mythology (or Greek mythology) are well-known to most of us, but what about the mythical places from Slavic mythology?
That is precisely what this article is going to be about. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy reading about the most wonderful places in Slavic mythology!
Mythical Places in Slavic Mythology
The oral tradition of the Slavic folklore and the historical records of mythological elements in what is known as Slavic mythology, reveals wonderful imagery full of peculiar fantastic characters, stories, and places.
Each story is related to a mythical place built in the magical mythological worlds.
According to folklorists and historians, the mythical places in Slavic mythology are secret, mysterious, and sometimes hard to find, enveloped in the uncertainty of time and space, created for the wanderers who seek to find them.
The list of mythical places known in Slavic culture is long.
In this article, we are going to focus on the most remarkable mythical places that still inspire modern folklore researchers and writers.
1. The Mysterious Buyan Island
In the medieval Russian books, as well as in the popular “Book of Dove” (a spiritual verse), there is a description of the Buyan Island (also known as Bujan), which is described as an island in the ocean that consecutively appears and disappears with the tides.
This island is a dwelling place of three brothers who are actually the Northern, Western, and Eastern Winds.
They live on this mystical piece of land together with the Zorya (the solar goddesses who are daughters and servants of Dazhbog, the god of the Sun).
The Island Created in Heaven
The mythic place of Buyan is also mentioned in numerous myths such as the one of Koschei the Deathless, who is a typical male antagonist in Russian folklore .
In this myth, he hides his spirit (or immortality) on this island, inside a needle within an egg that’s inside of a mystical oak tree (not that complicated, right?).
There are also legends who call this island “the island of all-weather” created in heaven and then sent into the earthly world by the god of the sky, Perun.
This legendary place is also mentioned in an opera based on a poem of the great Russian writer Alexander Pushkin – The Tale of Tsar Saltan .
In addition, this myth includes a stone (with healing and magical powers) known as Alatyr. This stone is guarded by the magical bird Gagana and the serpent Garafena.
2. Kingdom of Opona
The Kingdom of Opona is a mythical kingdom in Russian folklore.
Ancient Russians believed that this imaginary place existed at the edge of the Earth which they imagined as a flat plane.
This kingdom was also known as the Land of Chud, Golden Land, and Belovodye.
It was believed that in this kingdom lived Russian peasants who are free and happy, instead of being subordinates to the state or the gentry.
The kingdom of Opona was ruled by the White Tsar who was true and just in his actions and deeds (he is kind of similar to King Arthur).
The Wanderers in the Earthly Paradise
This utopian myth is similar to other Slavic myths of “earthly paradise” which are presented as being out of sight and accessible only to the curious, courageous explorers (like Shambhala in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for example).
It is said that, in the past, groups of peasants were taking up expeditions to the northernmost regions of Russia in order to find this mythical utopia (spoiler alert, they found nothing!).
These were called “wanderers” as they spent their lifetimes searching for a hidden paradise.
3. Vitor Mountain
The mystical mountain of Vitor is again, a hidden and unknown place. According to the legend, it is built in heaven. It’s hard to find because it changes its location as soon as the wind blows in a different direction (so, just like every politician’s ideology :)).
The Home of the Dragons
The mythical creatures who lived on Vitor were, dragons. According to the Slavic tradition, a real hero is the one who can prove to be a descendant of dragons, therefore, this mountain is often referred to as “the home of dragons”.
It was believed that Vitor could be found only if you were lucky enough but even then, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you would never get to experience again.
Vyraj, also known as Vyriy, or Irij is a mythical place in the mythology of Slavic people which is described as the source of spring and a place where birds find their retreat in the winter.
It is regarded as a resting place of the souls and spirits. So, in other words, Vyraj is a synonym for paradise in Slavic folklore.
Historically, the early ancient Slavs believed in the place called Vyraj. It was related to the deity known as Rod, the supreme god of the pre-Christian Slavic religion. They imagined this place to be somewhere beyond the sea, or at the end of the Milky Way.
Vyraj and the Soul Birds
Some tales describe it as a heavenly garden beyond an iron gate that is opened only for the dead and is placed in the heart of the cosmic tree (axis mundi).
Human souls are transformed into birds that nest in the branches of this tree and according to the folklore tales, the god Veles is the one that stood at the gates of Vyraj.
Veles often disguised himself as rarog, a fire demon, holding the keys of the underworlds in his hand.
Pagan Beliefs and the Myth of Vyraj
The pagan Slavic belief related to the myth of Vyraj was that birds would fly there for the winter and then return in the spring when they would transform back into human souls.
Some folk tales depicted this belief by presenting the human soul as a spirit that departs the Earth and moves to Vyraj when the dead body is cremated, but does not stay in paradise forever and later returns to the womb of a pregnant woman carried by a stork or nightjar (a nocturnal bird).
The First Tale of Vyraj
After the introduction of Christianity, the idea of Vyraj was eventually divided into two separate interpretations; the first tale was similar to the original version and in it, Vyraj was a place in heaven where birds would go in the winter.
The Second Tale of Vyraj
The second tale of Vyraj presented this mythic place as the underground world full of dragons and snakes which was analogous to Christian hell.
One of the main reasons for the latter interpretation was that during the Christianization of Kievan Rus and the Baptism of Poland, people could imagine and divide the concepts of Heaven and Hell only according to the idea of Vyraj.
5. Nav – the Slavic Underworld
In Slavic mythology, the place named Nav (also known as Nawia, Navje, Mavka, or Nyavka) is a mysterious place for the souls of the dead, more specifically, the underworld ruled by the god Veles.
Nav is often interpreted as another version of the imaginary place Vyraj which was the mythical heaven or paradise.
Etymologically, the word “nawia” or “nav” and its variants derive from the Proto-Slavic word which means “corpse” or “deceased”.
Nawki of the Underworld
The souls of the dead were called “nawie” or “nawki” but according to some folklorist interpretations, this word was the common word for demons for whom it was believed to arise from tragic and premature deaths-the murdered, the assassins, the drowned souls, and warlocks.
It was believed that these were poor and embittered human souls who were jealous of living humans and were, therefore, vengeful and hostile toward them.
Nawki in Bulgarian Folklore
In the Bulgarian folklore, these are represented as spirits who suck the blood out of women who give birth, whereas in the “Ruthenian Primary Chronicle” they are demonic spirits who bring the deadly plague.
In addition, it was believed that the Nav is the underworld ruled by the god Veles which was deep underground and out of reach to mortals.
Nawki in Ruthenian Folklore
In the Ruthenian folklore, this version of the myth presented Veles in the center of nav, living in a swamp, sitting on a golden throne with a sword, at the very base of the cosmic tree.
Veles would guide the souls in the Nav and at its entrance, they would meet Zmey-a dragon.
6. The Sacred Forest of Zutibor
In Slavic folklore, Zutibor is mentioned as a mysterious sacred forest that is the home of an unknown golden goddess.
According to some theories, the goddess is either Lada or Vesna, goddesses of spring, fertility, and beauty. Presumably, the forest of worship of Lada was found on the territory of today’s Ukraine where the Lyutic tribe lived.
The Lyutics worshiped three idols- Lada, Boda, and Lyela and had a temple built in their honor.
The temple was erected on a mountain and surrounded by a stone wall that kept it protected from unwanted visitors. People gathered for an annual ceremony at the beginning of May and brought flags that had the face of Lada.
7. The City of Kitezh
The City of Kitezh is a mysterious city which, according to its legend, was located under the Lake Svetloyar in the Voskrenesky District of the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in central Russia .
The first mention of this mythological place was in the “Kitezh Chronicle”, an anonymous book from the late 18th century that probably originated in the so-called Old Believers circles.
The Old Believers, also known as Old Ritualists, are Eastern Orthodox Christians who preserved the ritual and liturgical practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church as they were in the time before the reform of the Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (1652-1666) .
The Grand Prince of Vladimir and his Town
According to the myth of Kitezh, Georgy II, the Grand Prince of Vladimir built a small town, known as “Maly Kitezh” on the Volga river (today’s Krasny Kholm).
Then, the prince discovered the marvelous shore of Lake Svetloyar where he decided to build the town of Bolshoy Kitezh or Big Kitezh.
According to the folklorists, the city’s name was derived from the royal residence of Kideksha that was ransacked by the Mongols at the beginning of the 13th century.
The story further tells us that after the famous Batu Khan had conquered some of Russia’s lands, he ordered his army to capture Maly Kitezh which they soon after did.
Georgy retreated into the woods toward Bolshoy Kitezh but one of the prisoners revealed the secret paths to Lake Svetloyar to the Mongols.
When the army reached the city, they were surprised to find no fortifications but saw the citizens praying and asking for God’s help. When the Mongols intended to attack, they saw big fountains that began to sprinkle an enormous amount of water all around.
The attackers fell back and watched how the City of Kitezh submerged into a lake. The legend says that the last thing that they saw was a glaring dome of a cathedral with a cross on the top.
The main interpretation of the legend of the City of Kitezh says that those who are pure of heart will find their way to the city of Kitezh.
Today, Lake Svetloyar is often referred to as the “Russian Atlantis” and it is believed that the souls of the people under the water can be heard singing in calm weather.