A Slavic dragon is any dragon in Slavic mythology, including the Russian zmei (or zmey; змей), known in Ukraine as zmiy (змій), and its counterparts in other Slavic cultures: the Bulgarian zmei (змей), the Polish żmij, the Serbian and Croatian zmaj (змај, zmaj)., the Macedonian zmey (змеј). The Romanian zmeu is also a Slavic dragon, but a non-cognate etymology has been proposed.
A zmei may be beast-like or human-like, sometimes wooing women, but often plays the role of chief antagonist in Russian literature. In the Balkans, the zmei type is overall regarded as benevolent, as opposed to malevolent dragons known variously as lamia, ala or hala, or aždaja.
The Polish smok (e.g. Wawel Dragon of Kraków) or the Ukrainian or Belarusian smok (смок), tsmok (цмок), can also be included. In some Slavic traditions smok is an ordinary snake which may turn into a dragon with age.
Some of the common motifs concerning Slavic dragons include their identification as masters of weather or water source; that they start life as snakes; and that both the male and female can be romantically involved with humans.
The forms and spellings are Russian: zmei or zmey змей (pl. zmei зме́и); Ukrainian: zmiy змій (pl. zmiyi змії); Bulgarian: zmei змей (pl. zmeiove змейове); Polish zmiy żmij(pl. żmije); Serbian zmaj змај (pl. зма̀јеви), Croatian zmȁj (pl. zmàjevi); Slovene zmaj zmáj or zmàj (pl. zmáji or zmáji).
Chudo-Yudo (or Chudo-Iudo, чудо-юдо; pl. Chuda-Yuda) is a multi-headed dragon, appearing in some wondertale variants. The Chudo-Iudo is considered to be water-dwelling. In some legends he is described as the brother of Koschey the Deathless, and thus the off-spring of Baba Yaga, and in others as personification of the witch in her foulest form. Chudo Yudo is one of the guardians of the Water of Life and Death, and his name traditionally was invoked in times of drought. He can apparently assume human-like forms, this being is able to ride a horse. He has the ability to grow up the missing heads.
The term may not be a name for a specific type of dragon at all, but rather a fanciful term for a generic "monster". According to this explanation, the term is to be understood as a poetic form of chudovishe (чудовище) meaning "monster", with a -iudo ending appended simply for the rhyme.
A three and six-headed zmei slain by the titular hero in "Ivan Popyalov" (Иван Попялов. "Ivan Cinders". Afanasyev's tale #135) are substituted with six-, nine-, and twelve-headed Chuda-Iuda in the cognate tale #137 "Ivan Bykovich" (Иван Быкович). The inference is that Chudo-Yudo must also be a dragon, despite the lack of the word serpent (zmei) explicitly appearing in the latter tale. The six-, nine-, and twelve-headed Chuda-Yuda that appear out of the Black Sea are explicitly described as zmei in yet another cognate tale, #136 "Storm-Bogatyr, Ivan the Cow's Son" (Буря-богатырь Иван коровий сын). The Storm-Bogatyr is in possession of a magic sword (Sword Kladenets) but uses his battle club (or mace) to attack it.
Chudo-Yudo's heads have remarkable healing property and even if severed, they can be picked up and reattached with a stroke of its fiery finger, according to one of these tales; this has been compared to the regenerative power of the Lernaean hydra that grows its head back.
The terms smok ("serpent") and tsmok ("sucker") can signify a dragon, but also just an ordinary snake. There are Slavic folk tales in which a smok, when it reaches a certain age, grows into a dragon (zmaj, etc.). Similar lore is widespread across Slavic countries, as described below.
Some common themes
Snake into dragons
In Bulgaria is a similar folk belief that the smok, which starts out as a non-venomous snake, grows to become a zmei dragon after living 40 years. Or, if the body of a decapitated snake (zmiya) was joined to an ox or buffalo horn, it grew into a lamia after just 40 days, according to Bulgarian folk tradition published by Racho Slaveykov in the 19th century.
There are also among the East Slavic folk the tradition that a viper transforms into a dragon. In Ukrainian folklore the viper needs 7 years to metamorphosize into a dragon, while in Belorussian folklore the requisite time is 100 years, according to one comparison.
The lamia and the hala (explained further below) are also generally perceived as weather dragons or demons.
Balkan Slavic dragons
A favorite topic of folk songs was the male zmey-lover who may marry a woman and carry her to the underworld, or a female zmeitsa (zmeitza) who falls in love with a shepherd. When a zmei falls in love with a woman, she may "pine, languish, become pale, neglect herself.. and generally act strangely", and the victim stricken with the condition could only be cured by bathing in infusions of certain herbs, according to superstition.
In Serbia, there is the example of the epic song Carica Milica i zmaj od Jastreptsa (Serbian: Царица Милица и змај од Јастрепца) and its folktale version translated as "The Tsarina Militza and the Zmay of Yastrebatz".
Zmey of Macedonian fairy tales
In most Macedonian tales and folk songs they are described as extremely intelligent, having hypnotizing eyes. However, sometimes Zmey's could be men who would astrally project into the sky when there is a storm to battle the Lamia, a female evil version that wants to destroy the wheat. They were also known as guardians of the territory, and would even protect the people in it. Hostile behaviour was shown if another zmey comes into his territory. They could change their appearance in the form of a smoke, strong spark, fire bird, snake, cloud but almost afterwards he would gain the form of a handsome man and enter the chambers of a young maiden. They fell in love with women who were conceived on the same night as them, or born in the same day as them. He usually guards the girl from a small age and his love lasts forever. Some girls get sick by loving a zmey, and symptoms include paleness, shyness, antisocial behaviour, watery eyes, quietness and hallucinations. They didn't live a long life, because it resulted in suicide. Zmeys would kidnap girls and lead them into their mountain caves where she would serve him.
Benevolent zmei of the Balkans
There is a pan-Balkan notion that the zmei (known by various cognates) is a sort of "guardian-spirit dragon" against the "evil" types of dragon, given below. One explanation is that the Balkan zmej symbolized the patriotic dragon fighting the Turkish dragon, a way to vent the local population's frustration at not being able to overthrow the long-time Turkish rule.
Zmaj of Serbian fairy tales
The zmaj dragon in Serbian fairy tales are nevertheless have sinister roles in a number of instances. In the well-known tale "A Pavilion Neither in the Sky nor on the Earth" the youngest prince succeeds in killing the dragon (zmaj) that guards the three princesses held captive.
Vuk Karadžić's collection of folktales have other examples. In "The Golden Apple-tree and the Nine Peahens", the dragon carries away the peahen maiden who is the hero's lover. In "Baš Čelik" the hero must contend with a dragon-king.
The lamia or lamya (Bulgarian: ламя), derived from the Greek lamia, is also seen as a dragon-like creature in Bulgarian ethnic population, currently inhabiting Bulgaria, with equivalents in Macedonia (lamja, lamna; ламја), and South-East Serbian areas (lamnia ламња).
The Bulgarian lamia is described as reptile- or lizard-like and covered with scales, with 3–9 heads which are like dog's heads with sharp teeth. It may also have sharp claws, webbed wings, and the scales may be yellow color.
The Bulgarian lamia dwells in the bottoms of the seas and lakes, or sometimes mountainous caverns, or tree holes and can stop the supply of water to the human population, demanding sacrificial offerings to undo its deed. The lamia, bringer of drought, was considered the adversary of St. Ilya (Elijah) or a benevolent zmei.
In the Bulgarian version of Saint George and the Dragon, the dragon was a lamia. Bulgarian legends tell of how a hero (actually a double of St. George, denoted as "George of the Flowers", Cveten Gǝorgi, Bulgarian: цветен Гьорги) cuts off the heads of the three- or multi-headed Lamia, and when the hero accomplishes its destruction and sever all its heads, "rivers of fertility" are said to flow. This song about St. George's fight with the lamia occurs in ritual spiritual verse supposed to be sung around St. George's day,
One of the versions collected by ethnologist Dimitar Marinov begins: "Тръгнал ми е цветен Гьорги/Да обиди нивен сънор/На път среща сура ламя.. (George of the Flowers fared out / Going around his congregation /On the road he met the tawny/fallow lamia..)". Another version collected by Marinov substitutes "Yuda-Samodiva" in the place of the lamia. Three rivers gush out of the dragons head-stumps: typically one of corn, one of red wine, and one of milk and honey. These benefitted the crop-growers, vineyard growers (winemakers), and the beekeepers and shepherds, respectively.
Other evil Balkan dragons
There is some overlap or conflation of the lamia and the hala (or halla), although the latter is usually conceived of as a "whirlwind". Or it might be described as regional differences. The lamia in Eastern Bulgaria is the adversary of the benevolent zmei, and the hala or ala takes its place in Western Bulgaria.
This motif of hero against the evil dragon (lamia, ala/hala, or aždaja) is found more generally throughout the Balkan Slavic region. Sometimes this hero is a saint (usually St. George). And after the hero severs all its (three) heads, "three rivers of wheat, milk, and wine" flow out of the stumps.
The demon or creature known as hala (or ala), whose name derived from the Greek word for "hail" took the appearance of a dense mist or fog, or a black cloud. Hala was believed to be the cause of strong winds and whirlwind in Eastern Bulgaria, while the lamya was blamed as the perpetrator in Southwestern Bulgarian lore. In Western Bulgarian tradition, the halla itself was regarded as the whirlwind, which guarded clouds and contained the rain, but was also regarded as a type of dragon, alongside the folklore that the "grass snake" (smok) was a crag-dwelling whirlwind.
The demon (h)ala was also called by other names regionally, in some parts of Bulgaria they were known as aždarha (Bulgarian: аждарха) or ažder (аждер), in Macedonian as aždaja or ažder (аждаја, аждер), in Serbian as aždaja (аждаја).
The word aždaja or aždaha is borrowed from Persian azdahā (اژدها), and has its origins in the Indo-Iranian mythology surrounding the dragon azidahā. As an example, in some local Croatian icons, St. George is represented as slaying the aždaja and not a zmaj.
A pozoj is a dragon of legends in Croatia. In Međimurje County, the Čakovec pozoj was said to dwell beneath the city, with its head under the church and tail under the town square, or vice versa, and it could only be gotten rid of by a grabancijaš (a "wandering scholar", glossed as a "black [magic] student").
The pozoj is also known in Slovenia, and according to legend there is one living underneath Zagreb, causing an earthquake whenever it shrugs. Poet Matija Valjavec (1866) has published some tales concerning the pozoj in the Slovenski glasnik magazine, which also connected the creature to the črne škole dijak ("black school student"), which other Slovene sources call črnošolec ("sorcerer's apprentice"), and which some equate with a grabancijaš dijak
There are natural and man-made structures that have dragon lore attached to them. There are also representations in sculpture and painting. In iconography, Saint George and the Dragon is prominent in Slavic areas. The dragon is a common motif in heraldry, and the coat of arms of a number of cities or families depict dragons.
The Dragon Bridge (Slovene: Zmajski most) in Ljubljana, Slovenia depicts dragons associated with the city or said to be the city's guardians, and the city's coat of arms features a dragon (representing the one slain by Kresnik).
- Chuvash dragon
- Smok Wawelski – dragon of Kraków
- Zahhak (or Aži Dahāka) – Iranian dragon
- Zilant – dragon of Kazan
- Zirnitra – Wendish dragon and god of sorcery
- Dobrynya Nikitich and Zmey Gorynych (2006 animated feature film)
- Mavrud wine - story of a lion or lamya defeated by hero
- Coats of arms of Ljubljana
- As Popova (1987), p. 56 points out, the tradition that an ancient snake becomes a dragon is also found in China, recorded for example in the Shuyiji or "Accounts of Strange Things", but in the Chinese version, the snake requires 500 years times 3 for it to evolve into a full dragon. Citation is given to Clébert, Jean Paul (1971) Bestiaire fabuleux, p. 157
- Also improperly spelt "ismeju" in this context.
- Kremenliev groups the zmei with the nymphs samodivi and samovili, which he says are winged serpents.
- This tale was set down in writing by Prince Michael Obrenović III based on a childhood tale he heard, and submitted to the folklore collector Vuk Karadžić
- To hide from St. Ilya (Elijah)
- Marinov's example collected from Veslov was being sung around Christmas but the informant stated that it is supposed be sung on St. George's Day.
- The adjective sura (сура) has been translated fauve in French by Auguste Dozon, which is probably closer to "tawny" color, but Oxenford, following Dozon, gives the color of the lamia as "fallow".
- As "rivers of fertility" flows from the slain dragon in the Bulgarian version, as already noted.
- Or aždraja (аждраја).
- Vatroslav Jagić for one seemed to equate pazoj with lintvern.
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Russian Wikisource has original text related to this article: Иван Быкович
Russian Wikisource has original text related to this article: Буря-богатырь Иван коровий сын
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