Jarnik

Slovenian god of the young sun

Jarnik has been associated with a number of gods, that indicate renewal, springtime, sun. He has been linked with Jarevit in the north, with Vesnik, a male counterpart of Vesna, goddess of spring, with Russian Jarilo.

Jarovit, god of spring, is not just another “Slavic” god. His day in April signaled the beginning of spring pasture. In all ancient cultures, from herdsmen to agriculturalists, they celebrated the re-awakening of nature. They feasted the green nature and young sun, embodied by the figure of the god of spring, and the beginning of pasture of cattle and sheep.

The hebraic word pesach, arameic pascha, originally has the same meaning as Slovenian paša (pasture). The Jewish feast Paisokh, Israeli Pesach, later became the christian feast of Christ's resurrection - Easter, Paschae in Latin.

Since “paša” or Easter became a movable feast day, the ancient god of spring was identified with St. George (in Sl. Sveti Jurij) on 24th April. There are two names that relate to this saint, Jurij (or Yuri) and George. Each has its own historical genesis, each in its way testifies as to the ancient origin of the spirit of spring.

There is general agreement, that Jarnik or Jarevit was a Slavic god and that jar means: strong, hot, fiery. This points to the sun and the victory of the strong sun of spring over the weak winter sun.

He is an ancient god of herdsmen, his feast linked to the time of the year when cattle is taken to the summer pasture. His figure has survived mainly in the springtime customs and traditions, merging with the figure of the christian saint St. George, whom Slovenes call Sveti Jurij (pron. and written as Yuri by other Slavs). The figure of Sv. Jurij / St. George on the white horse, who kills the dragon with a spear, has become a symbol of victory of light over darkness.

The content of the message of Jurij in the west and in the east has been the same: greeting of the young sun, which re-awakens growth. The coming of the spring was celebrated with processions, walks around the village and song. This has been retained in Slovenia till today in the festivity known as jurjevanje / The Feast of Sveti Jurij.

In the East, at a time when it was at the centre of Roman empire, the figure of Jurij had merged with the figure of Christ, whose name meant sun, without whom there is no life. They identified Jurij with Christ, who became the protector of Byzantium, illustrating Christ's ascension and his victory over death. From this stems also the banner of the ascending Christ, red cross on a white field. Even today the banner is still carried by the Easter Christ statue: red colour of the cross, colour of blood indicates his suffering and white colour his victory over death.

In Slovenian lands the number of churches consecrated to Sv. Jurij is unusually high. The saint has altogether 70 churches, from these 35 are parish churches. For some of these, it appears almost certain that they are antiquity's heritage. For others it may be surmised, that they were established in places, where Jarnik had been worshipped long ago.

In the past Jurij has been linked to Christ and became a saint, but his feast has evolved very much in the direction of Jarnik, the ancient god of spring. His figure is revealed most distinctly in the famous custom of "jurjevanje", the Feast of Sveti Jurij, which represents the re-awakening of nature in spring. The celebration of the ancient feast of the young sun, that brings new green growth was focused on this day.
The custom of burying Sv. Jurij appears christian yet it it is pagan in essence. Šent Jurij who lies in the grave covered with pine branches is still the ancient Jarnik. The grave is not the holy sepulchre, but actually earth. Even today Jarnik still calls forth greenery from the earth, represented by the evergreen pine.


Translated by: Aleksandra L. Čeferin