Lada and Lado

Lada or Lado is a fakeloric Slavic pagan deity of harmony, merriment, youth, love and beauty which almost certainly never existed in the ancient Slavic pantheon. It is perhaps the finest example of misconception, confusion or pure invention caused by romanticised or neopagan attempts at reconstruction of old Slavic mythology through unskilled or uncritical interpretations of Slavic folklore.


The deity Lada was mostly an invention of the Renaissance, when many Slavic humanists and historians, following the trend started by their Italian, French and English colleagues, became increasingly interested in ancient mythologies. Many of them, most notably Polish and Czech writers, even attempted to reconstruct the forgotten Slavic pantheon. Even though their basic idea - to look for forgotten pre-Christian elements in folk songs and customs - did have some merit, most of their results were simply disastrous. For instance, both the early medieval Czech historian Cosmas of Prague and the 15th century Polish historian Jan Długosz came to the conclusion that the pagan Slavs worshipped Jupiter, Mars and a number of other obviously Latin gods. In some cases, when nothing outstandingly non-Christian could be found in surviving folklore, old Slavic gods were invented to fill the gapsFact|date=February 2007. This practice of Slavic fakelore continued well into the 20th century.


In the early 15th century, the Statute of Kraków forbid the singing of certain "pagan songs", which were heard at folk summer festivities, because they mentioned the name of an idol "Lado". By the end of the century, previously mentioned Jan Długosz, a cannon of Kraków, concluded that this Lado must be the Roman god Mars. Maciej Miechowski in his "Chronica Polonorum", written in 1521, identified "Lada" (which he derived as a feminine form of neutral Lado) with "Leda", mother of Castor and Pollux in Greek mythology. This assumption was pushed further in 1582 by Maciej Stryjkowski, another Polish historian.

In 17th century, the idea of Lado spread to other Slavic countries. No-one even doubted that such a deity was truly worshipped by pagan Slavs: the question only remained whether it was a god (as Dlugsoz concluded) or a goddess (as Miechowski and Stryjkowski proposed). In 18th century, Russian historian Vasily Tatischev, wrote about Lado as a kind of Slavic Cupid, generating the idea that it was a deity who represented love. Croatian humanists Pavao Ritter Vitezovic, and later Matija Petar Katancic, both "found" Lado in contemporary 18th century Croatian folk songs, sung during mid-summer night festivals. An 18th century Croatian monk, Josip Bedekovic, recorded perhaps the most famous Lado song, which was sung, he stated, by an "assembly of folk girls [dancing] in a circle around a bonfire" during the summer solstice:

"Lepi Ive trga rože,"
"Tebi Lado sveti Bože:"
"Lado slušaj nas Lado."

which translates as:

"Pretty John picks flowers"
"To you Lado holy God:"
"Lado, listen to us, Lado."

In 1981, Soviet archeologist Boris Rybakov used this as the crowning evidence for the existence of the summer and love goddess Lada. In his zeal to prove such a goddess existed, Rybakov, deliberately or by accident, misinterpreted Bedekovic's text when translating it into Russian. The original Croatian "Bože" (God; in vocative) Rybakov translated into Russian as "bozhestvo" (deity), thus altering the meaning of the verses in favour of his hypothesis about the existence of the feminine deity Lada. Thus, to this day, there persists a belief that the ancient Slavs worshipped some deity of love. This idea is given credit not only by Slavic neo-pagans and romantics with limited knowledge of Slavic mythology, but by some scholars as well: even though the name itself wasn't recorded until 15th century.

A theory of Vitomir Belaj

The word 'Lado' does indeed appear in many Slavic and Baltic wedding and folk songs, particularly those sung during Ivan Kupala and other summer festivals. Its meaning, if indeed it has any, is unclear; it appears to be a mere exclamation. While many of the folk songs containing such an exclamation actually do have some elements from the pre-Christian celebrations of summer solstice, they are not addressed to any god or goddess Lado.

This was explained in detail by Croatian ethnologist Vitomir Belaj, who studied a great number of songs of summer festivities from various Slavic nations. While not all of them contain Lado-exclamations, all of them do include a central character named Ivan or Ivo, meaning John, which is loosely associated with St. John the Baptist, whose feast day occurs in summer. However, the Ivan of these songs has almost no resemblance to the Christian saint: he is described as a young and handsome man, courting with young girls, and in one particular song he even explicitly refuses to baptise a young child presented before him, explaining he cannot do so because he himself is not a Christian. Belaj concluded that in these songs the name of Ivan stands in place of the name of an older Slavic god who was venerated at summer festival which later, after the arrival of Christianity, became the festival of St. John the Baptist. Belaj identified this lost god as Jarilo, a major Slavic deity of vegetation, harvest and fertility. Thus, in the above Bedekovic's record of Lado-song, the "holy god" mentioned in the verses indeed does refer to a forgotten pagan deity, though not to Lado, but rather to Ive or Ivan, who is actually Jarilo.

The same can be said for the following Serbian Lado-song recorded in Nikola Begović's "Srpske narodne pjesme iz Like i Banije", which was likewise sung by young girls standing in circles.

;Lado! Vid slept in a meadow : Lado is beautiful!;Lado! fair elf-maids were waking him::Lado is beautiful!;Lado! Stand up young Vid!: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! your house is on sale;:Lado is beautiful!;Lado! your mother is dying;: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! your lover serves another.: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! Then answers young Vid:: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! you are lying fair elf-maids;: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! neither is my mother dying;: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! neither is my house on sale;: Lado is beautiful!;Lado! but my lover serves another.: Lado is beautiful!

Here it is perhaps most obvious that Lado is not the name of any deity, but merely an exclamation. However, the main character of this song does not bear the name Ivan, but rather Vid, in which one can easily recognise the name of Svetovid, a major Slavic god of war, prophecies and harvest. According to the contemporary sources of Christian missionaries of the early Middle Ages, particularly of Saxo Grammaticus who gave a detailed account of Svetovid's great temple on the island of Rügen, the pagan Slavs held a great festival each summer in honor of Svetovid. Some customs or songs from such pagan ceremonies survived well into Christian times under the guise of folklore, but their original meaning was completely forgotten over the centuries. The names of old gods were mixed with names of new Christian saints, the verses were corrupted, parts were lost, and a lot of nonsense or meaningless words entered the texts, "Lado" apparently being one of them.


* V. Belaj "Hod kroz godinu, mitska pozadina hrvatskih narodnih vjerovanja i obicaja", Golden Marketing, Zagreb 1998., ISBN 953-6168-43-X

External links

* [ Conversation with Lada] — Lada in ancient Russia.

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