Astonishing Names From History: Slavonic

Astonishing Names From History: Slavonic
"To prevent evil spirits from harming crops, bury a black cat in the fields at the sowing of the first seed..." - Folk superstition of Bohemia, Poland, and Transylvania

To be honest, the Slavonic myths aren't really known for examples of cat fancying. Of course, much later, Russian fairy tales were filled with wise and magical cats, but you won't find many of the critters in the stories of the ancient Slavs. Still, theirs was a unique culture, filled with mythological deities exhibiting unmistakably feline tendencies. So who were the Slavs? Actually, they're the folks that influenced much of Eastern Europe including those areas we now call Poland, Romania (with that enigmatic region called Transylvania), Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Moldavia, the Ukraine, and Russia. It is believed that these people originated from the Carpathian Mountains, developing a distinct ethnicity approximately 3000 to 4000 years ago. However, the Slavs didn't become identifiable as a unique and distinguishable culture until around the 6th Century A.D. By then Slavic clans had spread as far as Greece and Constantinople. They were primarily a tribal people, living in small groups of hunters and fishermen. Some clans practiced animal husbandry while others took to agriculture. Over the centuries the Slavs diversified quite appreciably. Some tribes developed hostilities toward one another, as in the Serbs and Croats. The Slavonic line continues to this day in the people we now call Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Macedonians and Ukrainians, just to name a few. Like the myths of Nordic culture, what we know of Slavonic mythology has been handed down through the medieval scholarship of Christian monks. The Slavic tales and beliefs may seem unfamiliar to us today but among the many supernatural beings populating their stories, two should be instantly recognizable to any fan of horror films. They are the "upir" or vampire, and the "vlkodlak", also known as the werewolf. Sorry, but no werecats.

BANNIK (BAN-ihk; Male): Most cats hate being bathed, but a rare few actually enjoy the experience. If you have such a cat, you might name him after the Slavic god of bathing, Bannik. He is said to be a shriveled little old man with a lengthy white beard and radically out of control hair. Bannik occupied the domestic bath-houses; (called Banyas) which were structures kept separate from the Izba - the primary domicile. Anyone using the bath-house was expected to leave an offering of water to show their appreciation. One odd twist to Slavic bath-house etiquette was the observation of a fourfold bathing cycle, with every fourth bath-time reserved for Bannik and his otherworldly spirit friends. This meant that the banya could be used three times in a row, but whoever happened to be the fourth person wishing to use it would just have to wait. It was believed that anyone disrespectful enough to ignore this custom by entering the bath-house before the god was finished would be beaten or perhaps even killed by Bannik or one of the other lounging entities. How you were supposed to know when the spirits were done is anyone's guess. There is another, more cat-like characteristic attributed to this god. Apparently Bannik could tell fortunes by scratching your back. You were supposed to sit in the doorway of the bath-house with your back facing the interior. You then asked your question. If the answer was "yes" then Bannik would softly caress your back, but if the answer was "no" then he'd use you like a flesh covered scratching post. Obviously this would be an inappropriate name for a cat that's been declawed. On the other hand, if your cat loves to shred...

DAZHBOG (DAHSH-bog; Male): Got a spoiled cat living the life of Riley? Name him after the Slavic sun god, Dazhbog. Dazhbog had it made. He lived in a palace of gold located in an eastern province that enjoyed a perpetual summer. He drove a diamond chariot, had two beautiful women (Dawn and Evening) that lived with him in the palace, had access to any material treasure that could be imagined, and had his youth restored each and every morning. All celestial bodies were at his service-the moon was his wisest advisor, the planets acted as his attendants, and comets were his personal messengers. Some tales have the moon as his wife, the countless stars their children. Dazhbog didn't have a care in the world, which is just as it should be for the god that rules happiness and rewards.

KIKIMORA (kee-kee-MORE-ah; Female): Kikimora, goddess of home and hearth-her domain brings to mind the image of a plump, matronly cat, sleeping soundly by a warm fireplace, content and assured of her household territory. Is this an accurate image? Yes and no. It's true that Kikimora was the goddess of domestic affairs, always ready to lend a hand when it came to housecleaning. This seems to go well with the description of that comfy house cat. But behavioral characteristics are one thing, physical appearances quite another. In this regard, all feline comparisons go right out the window. You see, Kikimora had the legs of a giant hen and a face complimented by a chicken's beak. This makes sense when you consider the importance of poultry in maintaining a well fed household. As helpful as this goddess was to diligent homemakers, she could also be a terrible nuisance to slothful housekeepers. She was known to break glasses, hide cooking utensils, ruin food, and generally make a big mess of laziness even bigger until someone finally got down to putting the house in order.

KUPALA (koo-PAH-lah; Female): Like many ancient cultures, the Slavs recognized a mystic relationship between fire and water with each possessing similar purifying capabilities. Other cultures believed that water and fire contained magical properties that, when unified, became the very source of life. Perhaps the Slavs believed this as well, since their water and fire rituals were associated with the magic of herbs and plant life. Bringing all these ideas together was Kupala, the goddess of water. Being the ruler of water linked her with the powers of fire which in turn bound her to the world of herbal magic. To the Slavs there was an herb for everything-one to uncover gold, one to win the attentions of women, one to bestow powers of precognition. Of all the herbs none were as potent as the humble fern. The Slavs took all this very seriously. Gathering herbs was no simple matter-it was a task preceded by ritualistic ordeals of the most intense physical and spiritual nature, all designed to force one to confront their deepest fears, insecurities, and misconceptions. No wonder Kupala was such an important goddess. The name should go to any cat bent on chewing houseplants, grass, or any other herbal substance including that perennial feline favorite, Nepeta cataria, otherwise known as catnip.

LESHY (LEH-shee; Male): On the one hand you might give this name to a cat of the breed called Russian Blue since Leshy was said to have blue blood which gave his skin a distinctive blue tint. Leshy was also said to have green hair and beard. This brings to mind the strange case of the green kitten discovered in Denmark back in October of 1995. From head to toe this odd kitty's fur was light green in color. Dyed fur was quickly ruled out. The only reasonable explanation for this mystery was that the kitten had accumulated an unusual amount of copper in its blood due to drinking water from eroding copper pipes. Leshy was the god of the forests and wild places. He enjoyed perplexing humanity, but not in a mean spirited manner. If you don't happen to have a blue or green cat, then this name might well suit an adventurous, outdoorsy cat.

POLEVIK (POH-leh-vick; Male): If your cat tends to be violently territorial, he may have much in common with Polevik, the god of the fields. So vicious was he in guarding his land that unfortunate humans who happened to doze off in the fields were very often killed by this jealous god.

RUSALKA (roo-SAHL-kha; Female): This was the name given to a group of dangerous river goddesses whose main objective was to drown men. The legend tells of a young maiden by the name of Rusalka who suffered a watery death. Since then, girls meeting a similar fate were transformed into the Rusalki; treacherous entities that inhabit rivers and lakes. The name has a nice ring to cats, don't you think?

VOLOS (VOH-lohs; Male): An all purpose name for any cat since Volos was the god of animals. He was mainly concerned with beasts of burden, creatures of the field, horned quadrupeds with cloven hoofs and such, but so what? A god of animals is a god of animals, so don't hesitate to christen your feline beast after this ancient god.

YARILO (yah-RILL-oh; Male): This Slavic god of carnality was a lot like Eros of the Greeks. In fact the name Yarilo comes from a word suggesting uncontrollable desire - a trait often associated with Yarilo's Greek counterpart. Since he was the god of love and procreation, he was also connected to agricultural cycles. Each summer there was a celebration observing his symbolic "death" manifested by the annual harvest. Add this one to the list of horny cat names.

ZORYA (ZOR-yah; Female): The Zorya are actually three very important goddesses who are nothing less than the guardians of the universe. Recognized as Morning, Evening, and Midnight, it is their job to insure that a monstrous dog of destruction remains shackled to the group of stars identified as "Little Bear." This tidbit of information should please cats everywhere, but one day this terrible dog will break free despite the mighty Zorya. When that happens the world will come to an end (and all because a mean dog got loose in the celestial neighborhood). If your cat is the strong protective type she might be deserving of this special name.