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Europa - Stories and Myths

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About Europa - Stories and Myths

The Tree of the World - an ancient Croatian myth about the structure of the universe

The old Croatian mythology is a unique combination of Slavic beliefs that were assimilated with the indigenous Roman and pre-Roman peoples in this area. Our ancestors believed the universe around them was divided into two basic elements, according to which they divided everything that exists into heaven and earth. Up and down. Light and darkness.

What connected the heaven and the earth was the vast "Tree of the World" as the axis that held everything together; stars, planets, clouds and winds, but also everything underground in the underbelly of the world. The tree most often mentioned as the tree of the world is a giant oak, which was the most valued tree in this area.

Heavenly creatures and gods sit on the branches of the "Tree of the World", and at the very top the highest ancient god Perun, lord of lightning and time. He was an ancient righteous god to whom all the birds, the stars, the sky, and all the air belonged. He often appeared in the form of a great eagle or hawk, and his kingdom at the top of the Tree of the World is called Prav. On the other hand, the roots of the "Tree of the World" go deep into the underworld, where it holds the earth together, but also the water hidden under its roots, which keeps it alive. There at the bottom reigns the dark Lord of the underworld and water: Veles - Perun's brother. He rules the world of the dead, spirits and darkness, but also three kinds of treasure. The worldly treasure - money,treasure in the form of cattle, but also treasure in the form of wisdom and knowledge. He is often described as a horned dragon or a bear. His underground kingdom is called Viraj.

And although in ancient myth the two of them are often in divine feud and rivalry, opposing their powers and strength over one another, all living things growing on the surface and under the canopy of the Tree of the World, including us humans, depend on both of them and their balance. The world of people and animals at the foot of the trunk was called Jav. The sun, which is the third element of life in this ancient image of the universe, orbits the Tree of the World throughout the year, staying for six months in the canopy with Perun, and then descends and passes through the underworld of Volos in the second half of the year, where it is purified in its water so that in the spring it can be born again new and renewed. In this way, this ancient myth describes the cycles of the seasons through one solar year.

Zdenko Bašić
multimedia artist, author and illustrator
from Zagreb