Chernobog (from Proto-Slavic *čĭrnŭ ‘black’ and *bogŭ “god”) – also spelled as Chernevog, Czernobog, Chornoboh, Crnobog, Tchernobog and Zcerneboch among many other variants – is a Slavic deity whose name means “black god”, about whom much has been speculated but little is attested and known definitively.
The only known historical sources for this god are a 12th-century Christian chronicle and the 13th-century Icelandic legend Knýtlinga saga, which describe him as a dark, accursed deity.
Although the ancient Slavic religion was chiefly polytheistic with a wide pantheon of gods, he has been historically assumed to be the dualistic counterpart or contrasting aspect of the “good” deity, Belobog (the “white god”). This dualism is a common theme amongst Eurasian religions. In modern depictions, such as video games and film, Chernobog is generally portrayed as a demon or monster with a grotesque or frightening appearance, often linked to darkness and death.
A longstanding historic source on Slavic mythology mentioning Chernobog is the 12th century Chronica Slavorum, a work written by the German priest-scribe Helmold which describes customs and beliefs of several Wendish and Polabian tribes, who were mostly still pagans at the time. He wrote thus in Medieval Latin:
The Slavs, too, have a strange conviction: At their feasts and carousals they pass about a libation bowl over which they utter words — I should not say of consecration but of execration — in the name of the gods. Of the good one, as well as of the bad one, they profess that all propitious fortune is arranged by the good god, and all adverse by the bad god. Hence, also, in their language they call the bad god Diabol, or Zcerneboch, that is, the “Black God”.
— Helmold of Bosau, Chronica Slavorum
This passage has been the cornerstone for defenders of the thesis that Chernobog was an evil god part of a Slavic dualism, at least in that distinction.
The name of Chernobog, or more accurately the meaning of his name, is preserved in several curses in Slavic languages.
A veneration of this deity perhaps survived in the folklore of several Slavic nations. In some South Slavic vernaculars, there exists the phrase do zla boga (meaning “to [the] evil god”, or perhaps “to [the] evil [of] god”), used as an attribute to express something which is exceedingly negative.
In popular culture
An early appearance of Chernobog in popular culture is in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia as Chernabog, a great and powerful night demon who awakes and summons evil spirits; the scene occurs in the form of an animation accompanying Modest Mussorgsky’s piece Night on Bald Mountain.
Since the 1990s, Chernobog has appeared in a number of video games:
His Fantasia incarnation is referenced in the 1993 MS-DOS video game Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness, in which the Dark One, Avoozl, emerges from a mountain in a manner akin to Chernobog awakening during the Night on Bald Mountain sequence, and appears as a mountainous, bat-winged, demonic monster.
In multiple entries of the Shin Megami Tensei series of JRPGs, he is a summonable monster, appearing usually as a bald, purple humanoid cloaked in a red scarf and holding a large scythe.
In the 1997 first-person shooter Blood, Tchernobog is the primary antagonist, being depicted as a “bloodied, horned Dark God of monstrous appearance”, who controls the cult known as “the Cabal”.
Chernobog appears as an antagonist in the Heirs of Alexandria series.
He is one of the numerous playable deities in the popular MOBA game Smite, under the Hunter class.
In the Crusader Kings 2 expansion Monks and Mystics, Chernobog is a “satanic” god around whom the “Cold Bloods” sect revolves when a Slavic pagan ruler is played.
The Fantasia incarnation appears as a boss in the Disney-inspired videogame Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, one of its sequels.
Literary appearances include the 2001 novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, in which Czernobog is featured as a recurring character, and Naomi Novik’s 2018 fantasy novel, Spinning Silver, which is inspired by Eastern European mythology.
In television, he is played by Peter Stormare in the series American Gods.
Chernobog appears in Marvel Comics’s universe as the deity of darkness, chaos and night.