The Gods Behind the Church
Slovenian Christmas songs, remembering the Sun and the Water, and holding on to old traditions.
From Vid Avdič Batista
Before World War II, in some families, old habits and traditions were still alive. One of those was the celebration of the Winter Solstice. As my grandfather told me, they went to Church every Sunday, and for Christmas too, but at home Christmas had a different meaning. They put a big piece of wood on the home fire, gave food and drink (I don't know what kind of food and drink but I think it was something with honey) and the adults stayed awake all night to keep the fire burning, because the fire would help the sun to rise again. As the day lasts longer in this period, it was believed that the sun was born again, and the goddess of death Morana, and the winter demons and spirits start to lose power. The name of the Young Sun changed from region to region. In south west Slovenia, it was called Koled or, as my grandfather told me, Svarožič, the son of Svarog (in some regions the main god), and Vida (goddess of marriage and love).
The derivation of the name could be from Hinduism Svarga- kind of a transition between death and reincarnation, because we refer to the sun with this name only in the moment of its birth on the day of Solstice.
On Christmas Eve, children went around houses to sing a song. Usually three or more girls singing and a boy with a double flute. They were singing in two groups, in turns, when the first group finished the phrase of the song, to breathe, the second group already starts to sing, so there is no place for silence. The lyrics of the song are kind of good wishes for the new year (The lyrics on the record are referring to Jesus because they changed it, but the way of double singing is still the same as it was).
Next morning, people went out before first light to wait for the sunrise and to help him rise.
As many other Pagan festivities, this one was taken and transformed by Christians too, so it would be easier to baptize the pagans. Many churches were built on the places of sanctuaries, so today there are just few left, most of them in some caves in the forests far from the villages.
Another God that I was introduced to by my grandfather is Vodan. Actually, he is not really a god, more a kind of demon. He lives in lakes or Ponor (where the water disappears into the ground- typical for Karst region) and often you can find him in springs. When I was a kid, me and my sisters used to put some gifts for him into the hole of a small waterfall near my City.
My grandfather told me a story about a poor guy who went in the forest with his old axe in search for wood for the incoming winter. After a while, he stopped near a spring to take water. His axe fell into the water, he was desperate, he needed the wood to survive the winter and he didn't have money for another axe. So he called Vodan, the demon of water for help, and he appeared. He looked like a huge frog with the swimming skin between the fingers, and with a big mouth, so he can eat you in one piece. He appeared in front of the guy with a golden axe and asked him if he was looking for that axe. The guy said that his axe is just a normal one, no gold, just an old axe. The demon went back into the water and came back with both axes, the golden and the old one, and gave them to the him because he was a good man.
The guy returned home and told what happened to his neighbour. Next day, the neighbour tried to do the same, he put his axe into the spring and asked Vodan for help. But the demon grabbed him and took him under the water.
Voda in Slovenian means water, and Vodan is like water; good, the source of life, but you can't fool him, he is unstoppable when he gets angry.
Vid Avdič Batista
Author: Vid Avdič Batista 1989 Koper Slovenija
and more important, my grand father who told me the stories: Alojz Slavo Vekoslav Batista 1927 Zarečica, Slovenija.