Next in my (long overdue) aesthetics series is a bit of a more…”problematic” goddess, one could say. Because there’s a lot of interesting things at play here. So next up: Devana.
The Slavic Diana
First up, the kind of sketchy, amorphous ideas of what she looks like, is attributed to, and connections. Which this is a whole trouble in and of itself.
Solely because: there is 1 source that mentions her. So there’s a whole lot of trouble here and literally no information that can be independently verified during the time period. Which I kind of enjoy, and it’s a fun puzzle.
Jan Długosz was a 15th C Polish historian, and he wrote about Devana (Dziewanna) in his Annales seu cronici incliti regni Poloniae (History of Poland). That is our sole source about her as ag oddess and about her being worshiped by pre-Christian Slavs.
The name is…obviously super close to Diana, as in the Roman Diana – and that’s another point. It’s kind of hard to take the often touted argument that she is not Diana seriously, considering the name similarity.
But the argument would be that the name Dziewanna comes from some root word for “maiden” or “virgin”. That’s what most people say when they try to say she is not cognate or direct copy of the Roman Diana.
Who knows if that’s legitimately her name’s meaning? There’s no way to tell, not anymore. However, most modern scholars don’t think that Długosz is a reliable reporter of actual Slavic beliefs. It’s most likely that he made her up, or at least massively exaggerated her importance or existence. So admittedly, it’s entirely likely that Devana never existed as a goddess in the Slavic pantheon.
And given that there’s so little actual historical knowledge — it’s interesting for what she’s connected with:
Which are remarkably familiar for anyone who knows anything about Artemis/Diana.
And pair that with the name–it’s all rather…eh, almost suspicious.
Because what is Artemis or Diana? The virgin goddess of the hunt, dweller in the forests, protector of woodland creatures and/or works with them.
All of this is exceptionally familiar with how people portray Devana. One interesting detail I remember reading about: a Dziewanna-like figure traveling with greyhounds, some type of folklore in Lusatia. That’s very similar to western mythology about Diana or Artemis.
Given that there’s a pretty good parallel there, it’s obvious that a lot of people consider her this. There’s the name to start, then the associations that are identical down to almost the smallest of ideas and points. Even back to Długosz, Devana was noted for hunting and the like.
A virgin goddess of the hunt.
And I know, logically, that the similarity of portrayal stems from the cultural awareness that oftentimes Devana gets described as Diana…but it’s remarkably striking to constantly see similar portrayals across the board. There’s a lot to be said for how blatantly identical she is with Diana…regardless of cultural differences.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of some of the…blind ignoring of created deities within my particular brand of polytheism within the community. How people will claim Romantic-created gods are real and ancient annoys me.
Here’s the thing: Devana is probably a created deity by Długosz in the 15th C. And that’s something that everyone has to accept. It doesn’t bother me. Because there is nothing inherently bad about a created deity–so long as we admit how they came about. Just because she was probably not a pre-Christian creation by the Slavic people does not mean that her adoption by the majority of Slavic practitioners has not made her valid, as a more modern, created deity.
So with that, what exactly do I see as symbols for her?
First off, I’m not even going to pretend that the whole Diana-connection has not influenced this. It has. It’s totally a big deal here. But that’s just how this works.
The animal I most connect with her is a deer. This is obviously the low-hanging fruit, but it just kind of clicks. I kind of picture a Fallow Deer— but that’s my inherent bias that they’re pretty, and I just kind of feel like the coat patterns make sense with Devana. It’s pretty but not overwhelming.
It’s suiting though; because to my understanding and with my UPG, Devana likes beauty even if she is a huntress and practical above all other things. Speaking of practical, I see her using the bow and arrow as weapons. For hunting in the forest, this is the obvious choice. But I have the idea that obvious or not, a goddess of the hunt is not going to worry about anything more than practicality when it comes to a survival art like that. So bow and arrow it is, to my understanding. Not as a primary attribute, but certainly a strong one to consider.
Secondarily I can see her connected to a wolf-pack. This one…I’m not sure why. There’s no real logic behind it, I think. But it just kind of strikes me that perhaps this is another connection to look at.
Unlike other gods and goddesses, I don’t see any real other attributes. I can’t jump in and say that I think she likes the color blue or black or whatever. And I can’t say what foods I think she might like. Though, as with most gods, good meat or good solid food are always options. And for a goddess of the hunt, well obviously any kind of hunted meat is going to be a good offering. For myself, given that I’m a staunch vegetarian, I would never feel comfortable offering meat. So I’m not sure personally what I would offer to her. As I’ve mentioned before though, vodka is always a good offering as far as my UPG goes.
What does she look like?
Which I think is always the important question.
But really…how do you even begin going about this, when nothing is contemporary to the ancient people? Well, lots of UPG. I see her very similar as the portrait by Ozhiganov earlier in this article. Definitely dressed up for cold, snowy winters in furs and warm layers. Wearing nice, decorated clothing that still allows her to do all things necessary to hunt–so no ridiculous gowns or anything like that.
I do see her as young, probably early twenties. Not a teenager, but just into her twenties. A “young adult” (which is just freaking weird to write, since that makes her my age), to use the phrase. Dark haired, dark eyed, cheerful and just generally good-humored. Which is perhaps a bit stereotypical, but that’s the impressions I get.
At the end, she might be a more modern goddess, but I could see how she fits into the worldview of the old Slavic people, and she makes sense to worship. Definitely an interesting look and a curious goddess to consider.∗