Nav (Slavic folklore)

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Cross with a chapel at the crossroads.
(Isaak Levitan. Vladimirka. 1892 г.)

Nav (Croatian, Czech, Slovak: Nav, Polish: Nawia, Russian: Навь, Serbian: Нав, Slovene: Navje, Ukrainian: Мавка, Mavka or Нявка, Nyavka)[a] is a phrase used to denote the souls of the dead in Slavic mythology.[3] The singular form (Nav or Nawia)[what language is this?] is also used as a name for an underworld, over which Veles exercises custody—it is often interpreted as another name for the underground variant of the Vyraj (heaven or paradise).[3]


The words nawia, nav and its other variants are most likely derived from the Proto-Slavic *navь-, meaning "corpse", "deceased".[4] Cognates in other Indo-European languages include Latvian nāve ("death"), Lithuanian nõvis (“death”), Old Prussian nowis (“body, flesh”), Old Russian навь (navʹ) (“corpse, dead body”) and Gothic 𐌽𐌰𐌿𐍃 (naus, “dead body, corpse”).[5]

Nyavka could be cognate with the Sanskrit word Naraka, referring to the concept of hell in Hinduism.[citation needed]

As souls or spirits[edit]

The nawie, nawki, sometimes also referred to as lalki[3] (all plural forms)[what language is this?] was used as a name for the souls of the dead. According to some scholars (namely Stanisław Urbańczyk, among others), this word was a general name for demons arising out of the souls of tragic and premature deaths, killers, warlocks, the murdered and the Drowned Dead.[6] They were said to be hostile and unfavourable towards humans, being jealous of life.[6] In Bulgarian folklore there exists the character of 12 navias that sucked the blood out of women giving birth, whereas in the Ruthenian Primary Chronicle the navias are presented as a demonic personification of the 1092 plague in Polotsk.[4] According to folk tales, the nawie[what language is this?] usually took the form of birds.[3]

As an underworld[edit]

The phrase Nawia (Polish) or Nav (used across Slavic tongues) was also utilised as a name for the Slavonic underworld, ruled by the god Veles, enclosed away from the world either by a living sea or river, according to some beliefs located deep underground.[3] According to Ruthenian folklore, Veles lived on a swamp in the centre of Nav, where he sat on a golden throne at the base of the Cosmic Tree, wielding a sword.[3] Symbolically, the Nav has also been described as a huge green plain—pasture, onto which Veles guides souls.[3] The entrance to Nav was guarded by a Zmey.[3] It was believed the souls would later be reborn on earth.[7] It is highly likely that these folk beliefs were the inspiration behind the neopagan idea of Jav, Prav and Nav in the literary forgery known as the Book of Veles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ A figure named Nāves māte ("Mother Death") exists in Latvian mythology, as one of the Mahtes, a designation for several female deities.[1] The connection with Slovenian navje was already seen by scholar Nikolai Mikhailov.[2]


  1. ^ Mottz, Lotte. The Faces of the Goddess. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1997. pp. 221-222 (footnote nr. 27). ISBN 0-19-508967-7
  2. ^ Konickaja, Jelena. "Николай Михайлов: славист, словенист, балтист (11.06.1967–25.05.2010)". In: SLAVISTICA VILNENSIS 2010 Kalbotyra 55 (2). p. 174.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Szyjewski, Andrzej (2004). Religia Słowian [Religion of the Slavs] (in Polish). Kraków: Wydawnictwo WAM. ISBN 83-7318-205-5.
  4. ^ a b Kempiński, Andrzej (2001). Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich [Encyclopedia of mythology of Indo-European peoples] (in Polish). Warszawa: Iskry. ISBN 83-207-1629-2.
  5. ^ Razauskas, Dainius (2011). “Ryba - mifologičeskij Proobraz lodki" [The Fish As a Mythological Prototype of the Boat]. In: Studia Mythologica Slavica 14 (October). Ljubljana, Slovenija, 296, 303.
  6. ^ a b Strzelczyk, Jerzy (2007). Mity, podania i wierzenia dawnych Słowian [Myths, legends, and beliefs of the early Slavs] (in Polish). Poznań: Rebis. ISBN 978-83-7301-973-7.
  7. ^ Nikolay Shevchenko: Where did ancient Slavs go after death?, Russia Beyond the Headlines, 9 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kajkowski, Kamil. 2015. “Slavic Journeys to the Otherworld. Remarks on the Eschatology of Early Medieval Pomeranians" [Słowiańskie wędrówki W zaświaty. Kilka Uwag Na Temat Eschatologii wczesnośredniowiecznych Pomorzan]. Studia Mythologica Slavica 18 (July). Ljubljana, Slovenija: 15-34.