Zhiva: the Slavic Goddess of Life4 min read
Zhiva, Dziwa, Zywa, Siwa, or Sewa are all names for the Slavic Goddess of Life.
Words that derive from here name are zhizn/zycie/zhyttya, meaning life, zhivotnoye/zywiola, meaning animal/animals, zhivnost – critters, zhivot – stomach, and zhivitsa, meaning tree pitch.
Zhiva is an all-Slavic Goddess of life and fertility, although Her cult is more noticeable among Western and Southern Slavs that know her as Vida.
Medieval Polish sources mention Her as a daughter of Sventovit and Noncena, respectively deities of day and night, while late Polish sources call Her Dzidzilia (Great) and Krasopani (Beautiful Lady), that is also an ancient Slavic name for planet Venus.
The chief holy place of goddess was in the city Ratibor (Ratzenburg), south of Lubice (later Lübeck, Germany), where her idol stood adorned with gold and silver. The city is situated on the island of a sizable lake. On the island a powerful stream gushes to the surface, named Aqua Siwa and today there is a spa on this spot.
Most popular images portray the Goddes as a nude woman holding grapes, fruits, and flowers. Her hair is adorned with myrtle and red roses, and her waist is belted with a seven-colored rainbow.
She travels in a magical carriage that is drawn by two doves and two swans.
Presence of three Graces (Sensuality, Charm, and Love) around her must reflect influence of Greek mythology on the image of Zhiva, while her connection with love and beauty make her image similar to the one of another Slavic Goddess, Lada, Goddess of love, beauty, hearth, and family happiness.
Krasopani as the Giver of Life is portrayed holding an apple in one hand and an Earth globe in another.
In Western Slavic mythology, Zhiva’s brother and husband is Chambog, a mediator between His two brothers Czarny Bog and Bialy Bog, deities of Dark and Light, while some ancient authors also mention their children: Perun, Wodan, and Peklenec.
According to modern Eastern Slavs, Zhiva is a wife of Dazhbog. One belief says that Zhiva makes it so that all Slavic girls look like Her, while all the boys resemble Her husband and, interestingly, this is what makes all Slavs look alike.
According to beliefs of Western Slavs, Zhiva and Her son Peklenec are the ones that meet a soul after death.
A truly kind-natured soul would be heading with Zhiva to Heaven, while most souls head to Peklo, the Slavic modern idea of Hell, for the painful process of re-forging, that becomes worse in accordance with misdeeds that the soul’s owner had done while alive. After re-forging, the newly cleansed soul becomes a spark of Life and heads up to Heaven to meet Zhiva once again, so that she’d plant that spark in an unborn baby’s body.
This is how souls are re-born once again.
In modern view, Zhiva is the Goddess of Life and Summer.
Cuckoo is her sacred bird, the keeper of keys to Irium, a place where all birds migrate to and all snakes go while hibernating in the cold season. When willing to know how long one had left to live, all he or she had to do is ask the cuckoo.
The number of his calls that followed the question would be the number of years one had left to live and this curious custom is still today widely spread across Eastern Slavic lands. If the number of years left to live was too low, one could call upon Zhiva and ask for Her protection, as she could overrule the God and Fate.
In Ukrainian lore, Zhiva is a twin sister of Morana, her “flip-side”, as neither one can exist without the other, and her sacred flower is periwinkle, symbol of everlasting life.
Zhiva’s Day is traditionally celebrated in early May when the cuckoo starts calling in the forests and groves.
The celebration is preceded by cleaning of the house and the yard. Sometimes, on the Eve of Zhiva’s Day or on Zhiva’s Day itself, masters walked around their field in a circle, thus enclosing it in a protective circle. Fires were lit in the corners of the field to protect the sprouts from evil spirits and, in the evening, bonfires were lit on hilltops and riverbanks.
Many jumped over the bonfire to following the popular belief that “whoever jumps high bids an early death goodbye”.
The bonfires were lit until next morning.
Nowadays, many traditions of Zhiva’s Day are forgotten, yet still as the days become warm, many head out in nature where they rest or tend their own garden, enjoying the sunshine and fresh greenery after cold winter days.
Images from web – Google Research