We cannot emphasize enough that telavic mythology has not been thoroughly explored. The major studies of sources have produced plenty of material but missed some items. Note that a lot of these items are not well known even in their respective countries of production. This can be said of the mentions of Slavic religious practices by:
- Saint Boniface in his letter to King Ethelbald of Mercia;
- William of Malmesbury (see also here) in his Chronicle of the Kings of England;
- Lucas of Great Kozmin (Łukasz of Wielki Koźmin) in his Pentacostal Postilla no. 2;
We were guided to yet another such find just recently. A scholar of the Jagiellonian University* from Kielce – Michał Łuczyński with a translation by Małgorzata Kruszelnicka – published an article in 2009 wherein he notes a reference to Slavic religion in Herberti turrium sardiniae archiepiscopal De miraculis libri tres (Herbert Archbishop of Torres in Sardinia – Of the Miracles in Three Books). The specific reference is to a confrontation between a Christian monk and a Slavic pagan “demon”.
[* Incidentally, it was also a scholar of the Jagiellonian University – Maria Kowalczyk (or Kowalczykówna) – who discovered the most ancient references to Polish Gods in in the sermons of Lucas of Great Kozmin (see “Wróżby, czary i zabobony w średniowiecznych rękopisach Biblioteki Jagiellońskiej,” 1979). Like Szacherska’s work, this was ignored until the Leszek Kolankiewicz’s (a theatrical scholar!) book “Dziady” brought it back to light in 1999. Łuczyński’s article came out in 2009 – ten years after Kolankiewicz’s book so it seems something is brought to light every ten years – we’ll take it.]
This story is only present in three manuscripts of the Miracles where (as Chapter 93) it is referred to as: Quomodo zabulus in scemate regio se ipsum ydalatris ostendebat or “How the devil revealed himself to idolaters in [some] unattractive country.” (elsewhere aka De converso, qui vidit ante conversionem dyabolum ydolatris se ostendere in scemate regio)
The same was previously also noted by a Danish writer in the 1930s (exact source now escapes memory), by Stella Maria Szacherska in 1968 in her work Rola klasztorów duńskich w ekspansji Danii na Pomorzu Zachodnim u schyłku XII wieku (“The role of Danish monasteries in Denmark’s expansion in Western Pomerania at the end of the 12th century”) and, more recently, in 2005 by Gabriela Kompatscher Gufler (Herbert von Clairvaux und sein Liber miraculorum: die Kurzversion). For other mentions of this work, you can see Łuczyński’s article in Mythologia Slavica, volume 16, 2013, page 69.
Note that the Miracles appear in Migne’s Patrologia Latina – volume 185 (starting on p. 1272) but do not contain the aforesaid adventure. This is because the Migne version used the most common manuscript version. Interestingly, even that version contains a reference to Slavs in Book Three, Chapter 36 (which corresponds to Chapter 94 of the version containing the Quomodo story) (though that story of the Slavs has been interpreted to refer to Prussia instead in Wiener’s work which was also accepted by Marian T.W. Łodyński). Because the Slav portion appears right after the Quomodo story we showcase both here (For the Quomodo story we use the Łuczyński/Kruszelnicka translation with some alterations – for example, scemate regio probably refers to an unattractive country not to “regal gowns”).
So who was Herbert? We are talking about Herbert of Clairvaux (circa 1130 – circa 1181) Monk at Clairvaux (1153–68/9), abbot of Mores in Champagne; but later also archbishop of Sassaria or Porto Torres, Sardinia (circa 1181). To be clear he did not perform the miracles in his “Miracles”. Rather his book is a composition of stories regarding others’ miracles put together by Herbert. In the case of the Quomodo story Herbert notes that it was relayed to him by Henry of Clairvaux but the name of the protagonist monk remains unknown.
How the devil revealed himself to idolaters in [some] unattractive country
“This is [the story] that the dignified-looking Henry, once a monk of Claraevallis, now an abbot residing in Denmark for many years, told us – [a story of] a noble monk from his abbey. The monk in question, now still wearing holy gowns, in his youthful years went to the pagan land mentioned above* for the purpose of [carrying on of] negotiations.”
[* note – if above refers to the prior Chapter 92, that would be the same as Migne’s Book III, Chapter 35 in which indeed a “ad terram paganorum” does appear. Since nothing says that that is a Slavic country, It is also, therefore, possible that this story also does not have anything to do with Slavs though, given, the timing of composition, that is unlikely – given that in the 12th century the only openly pagan European countries would have been parts of Slavic lands and Baltic regions – but the Christianization of the Baltics did not start in earnest till the 13th century and also those lands were further from Denmark which is the residence of the abbot conveying the story]
“However, in that territory there is an unclean statue inhabited by a most frightening God, who answers many calls and who is worshipped by the local inhabitants solely out of fear. Sometimes he made himself visible and appeared as if a tyrant with a terrifying countenance and voice and he made these unhappiest people worship him by means of threats and beatings. Furthermore, on that God’s order, he frequently sent diseases, disasters, infertility and other plagues and aroused fear in the unfaithful.”
“[But] if it had ever appeared that he was giving up those criminal acts or that he was acting more gently, [then] he was regarded as the deliverer of blessings. Every year, on specified days they [these people] used to arrive festively at his temple from everywhere and they used to feast together although their participation was dishonorable [from a Christian view]. They used to set up a separate table and set it lavishly with delicious dishes, and all that used to be devoured in an invisible way by the gluttonous spirit. Then, when they [the people] saw everything had been eaten, they themselves ate joyfully because they thought the tipsy deity would be favourable to them.”
“One day, when they gathered in one place, the young Christian [I] mentioned before happened to be there. Suddenly, the well-known spirit appeared, decorated with royal ornamentation, sat down on his throne and spoke to them in a proud and contemptuous way. Yet, those lamentable people mocked at by that shameless deity stood terrified at the sight of him and worshipped him. When the young Christian saw it, he understood that it was the devil turned into an angel of light. He felt fear of Satan and, calling the name of Christ, he secretly made a sign of the cross . He did not dare, however, to make the sign of the cross openly on his forehead due to a great number of people being there. Having noticed what he did secretly, the wild deity spoke to him in his native language: ‘Hey, you deceitful Christian, tell me what you are plotting in secrecy. Hiding under the cloak, you have made the hateful sign of the cross on your chest. Are you also making an attempt to throw me out of my temple? I had left the place from which you came to [come to?] my land. I hid in the sea escaping from your cross and now that I have returned, you do not allow me to find shelter from your cross in my own temples. You have eaten my food, you have armed against me with your signs and once again you are expelling me against my will from my domicile like an ungodly traitor’.”
“When the pagans heard the demon’s voice, they hardly understood the conversation and they were very surprised at who participated in the conversation and what it was about. The alarmed young Christian who heard and who understood the speech, hid in the crowd because he was weak and inexperienced in his faith to such a degree that he was afraid he would be captured by the infidels and punished with death. However, once the demon disappeared, the crowd dispersed, the young man’s wonderment diminished and [instead] what he saw and heard helped him to deepen his Christian faith. Soon, when he returned to his native land, he went to the abbey mentioned above, where he [continued] in the service of God, and he revealed to the abbot and to the other monks what had happened to him, in order to strengthen them spiritually.”
“What else can be said: if the power of the Cross is so great that a Christian of small faith furtively and fearfully made the sign of cross [and that] caused the rulers of darkness to escape, what do you think [then] happens when men of virtue and missionaries strong in faith arrive with what is the word of God? How many piles of corpses they created, what great multitudes of pagans they gained [for the faith] in a short time, they discovered it [all] in the words of truth which are in the Psalm: ‘A thousand fall by your side, and ten thousand to your right. And in the Ministerial Book: Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred will chase ten thousand. God wishes this kind of [bountiful] harvest in order to send harvesters to reap. Harvest is plentiful, but [there are] very few harvesters. However, those very few harvesters who came from all over are blessed profusely and they reap the harvest of souls for God. As a result, thousands of pagans only just baptized, in a short time grow in number more and more to such a degree that the bishops and metropolitans are appointed in many cities and God’s grapevine is spread far and wide among barbaric people, who [previously] may have heard the name of wine but [until then] did not taste [that] wine.”
Quomodo zabulus in scemate regio se ipsum ydalatris ostendebat
aka De converso, qui vidit ante conversionem dyabolum ydolatris se ostendere in scemate regio
Vir venerabilis Hainricus, quondam monachus Claraeuallis et nunc iam per annos plurimos abbatizans in regione Danensi, de quodam honesto monasterii sui converso tale aliquid nobis significavit. Predictus itaque frater dum adhuc secularem habitum gereret, in iuvenili aetate perrexit ad negociandum in supradictam terram paganorum. Est autem in illis locis symulacrum inmundum, in quo demon atrocissimus habitans et responsa plurima prestans pro solo timore ab illis incolis excolebatur. Siquidem interdum visibiliter seipsum ostendens, quasi tyrannus aliquis vultu et voce terribilis apparebat atque miserrimos homines illos minis ac verberibus illatis ad suam reverenciam imperiose cogebat. Preterea morbos, clades, sterilitates atque similia ex divina permissione inducens frequenter, terrorem suum super infidelibus populis incuciebat. Si quando vero ab huiusmodi malignacionibus cessare aut micius agere videbatur, magni beneficii largitor tenebatur. Statutis quoque diebus in anno soliti erant undique ad phanum ipsius sollempniter convenire et pollutis sacrificiis participando convirare. Aliam vero e regione mensam laucioribus epulis copiose refertam seorsum apponebant, que videlicet omnia spiritus ille gulosus plerumque adveniens avida voracitate invisibiliter absorbebat. Cumque universa consumpta conspicerent, tunc et ipsi letanter epulabantur, quia crapulanti numinis gratiam iam secure prestolabantur. Quadam itaque die, convenientibus in unum, contigit et interesse prefatum illum iuvenem christianum. Et ecce repente apparuit ibi notifer ille spiritus imperialibus ornamentis fantastice redimitus, qui residens in throno suo in superbia et in abusione concionabatur ad illos. Porro miserandi homines illi tanta demonis impudencia ludificati in aspectu eius obstupescebant et execrando prodigio divinitatis honorem impendebant. At vero iuvenis christianus cum talia cerneret, intelligens esse diabolum in angelum lucis transfiguratum, exhorruit a facie maligni et invocans nomen Christi adhibita pectori suo manu signum crucis latenter impressit. Neque enim audebat se propter gentilium multitudinem in fronte signare. Ferum tamten spiritus nequam quae facta fuerant in abscondito linceis oculis deprehendens materna iuvenis lingua allocutus est eum dicens: Eia, perfide christiane, decito mihi, quid est, quod in abscondito machinaris? Ut quid nunc in pectore tuo operiente te pallio crucem illam idibilem figurasti? Numquid etiam de phano meo eicere me queris? Ex quo venisti ad terram meam, ego inde exivi ac fugiendo crucem tuam usque nunc in pelago latitavi et nunc tandem sero reversus, ne pateris me a facie crucis tue saltem in delubris meis habere refugium? Nunc enim saturatus epulis meis armatus es contra me signaculis tuis iterumque me de statione mea tanquam proditor impius violenter expellis. Cum ergo barbari illi homines hanc vocem demonis audirent et minime loquelam intelligerent, satis superque mirabantur, quid diceret aut cui loqueretur. At vero iuvenis audiens et intelligens pavidus in turba latitabat, quia fragilis adhuc et fide tenellus teneri ab infidelibus atque ad supplicium protrahi metuebat. Disparente autem demone solutoque conventu cum grandi admiracione recessit et ex hiis, quae viderat et audierat, multum in fide christiana profecit. Postmodum autem cum ad natalem patriam repedasset, in supradicto monasterio se convertit, ubi religiose conversando domino militare curavit et ea, quae sibi acciderant, ad multorum edificacionem abbati et fratribus indicavit. Si quid nos ad ista dicemus: Si tanta est virtus et gloria crucifixi, ut ante pusillanimem et modice fidei christianum propter signum crucis et trepide et latenter inpressit, principes tenebrarum ita diffugerent, quid putamus fieret, si viri virtutum et fortes in fide predicatores cum gladio spiritus, quid est verbum Dei, accederent. Et quantas hostium strages darent, quantas gentilium turbas in brevi acquirerent, vere cito cognoscerent de verbo veritatis, quid legitur in psalmo: Cadent a latere tuo mille et d[ecem] m[ilia] a[d] d[exteris] tuis. Et in Levitico: Persequentur quinque de vobis – centum alienos, et centum ex vobis – decem milia. Pro huiusmodi ergo rogandus est dominus messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam. Messis est enim multa et operarii autem pauci. Verum tamen ipsi pauci, immo ut verius dicam, paucissimi, qui in partibus illis reperiuntur in missis undique; falcibus predicationis cum tanta benedictionis habundantia et animarum fruges Domino colligunt et ut nimia paganorum milia nuper in brevi tempore baptizata cottidie magis ac magis multiplicentur et adeo ut episcopi atque metropolitani in civitatibus plurimis nunc de novo creentur et vinea domini Sabbaoth in populis barbaris, qui vini forsitan nomen antea audierant, vinum tamen non biberant, hodie longe lateque propagetur.
The Introduction of the Christian faith in Slavonia, demons scatter from it with horrible noise, as if defeated in battle by an army, and they are routed and put to flight
Chapter 94 (also Migne, Book 3, Chapter 36)
“In the country of Slavonia, the greater part of which has only recently been converted to Christianity, many Cistercian monasteries have already been founded. Furthermore, the monks who toil daily there for the Lord on converting the heathens received the power to baptize [them] from the Supreme Pontiff.”
“It happened that some of these brothers, who were invited from certain of the faithful, one day came to one of the neighboring villages, baptizing a multitude of pagans in it, [a village] which had recently received the faith and which and which required a regeneration of grace.”
“And the prior night, before they reached this [village], there is a huge noise to be heard from [that place] and a great roar, as if [made] by a great army resonating during the entire night time in the streets and squares of that town; seemingly, as if another army made a powerful assault and finally defeated [the first] from the back and left in a great upheaval. Moreover, the locals fleeing heard the noise and flights sounds [but] not seeing anyone became dismayed and greatly frightened not knowing what this new thing was or what malice [?] it portended.”
“The next day the monks who arrived at the village baptized there throngs [of people] of [men and women]. But at this time it was made known to the faithful that the noises of the prior night were nothing other than legions of demons complaining and fleeing the Lord for they were not able to withstand the angels and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Truly many are consoled in the presence of the Lord and especially so the newly-baptized who were saved from eternal damnation.”
Christiana fide in Sclavoniam inducta, diffugiunt ex ea daemones cum horrendo strepitu, velut exercitus praelio victi, et fusi ac fugati
In regione Sclavoniae, quae noviter est ad fidem Christianam conversa magna ex parte, plurima jam Cisterciensis Ordinis monasteria constat esse fundata. Porro monachi illi qui ibidem Domino serviunt, ob quotidianam conversionem gentilium baptizandi potestatem a sumno pontifice acceperunt. Factum est autem ut aliqui. de fratribus illis, a quibusdam fidelibus invitati, statuta die venirent ad unam de proximis viltis, paganorum multitudinem in ea baptizaturi, quae nuper fide recepta regenerationis gratiam flagitabat. Praecedenti ita que nocte, antequam illuc pervenissent, auditus est ibi sonus et fremitus ingens, quasi exercitus grandis, toto tempore noctis per vicos et plateas ejusdem villae perstrepentis, qui velut ab alio exercitu forteter impugnatus, tandemque superatus, terga vertere, atque cum magna turbulentia exire videbatur. Porro homines loci, recedentium strepitum et fugam communiter audientes, et personam aliquam non videntes, stupebant ac metuebant, nimirum ignorantes quae ista novitas esset aut quid boni malive portenderet. In crastinum autem venientes monachi ad eamdem villam, baptizaverunt ibi promiscui sexus turbam copiosam. Tunc vero cunctis fidelibus manifeste innotuit quod tumultus ille nocturnus nihil aliud exstitit, nisi daemonum legiones, ab obsessis hominibus increpante Domino fugientes; qui beatorum angelorum praesentiam, et sancti Spiritus adventum sustinere non poterant. De qua videlicet re multum in Domino consolatu sunt universi, praecipue vero neophyti illi qui ab immunda damnatione fuerant liberati.
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