The Old Gods in American Gods have roots in the past and in mythology. While we might know the ins and outs of the New Gods, like Media and Technical Boy, there’s probably a lot we can still learn about their predecessors. For those of you hoping to get a better understanding of these characters before you continue on with American Gods, we have you covered. Get to know the history that inspires the characters in our American Gods History Primer series.
Czernobog, a.k.a. Chernobog, Chernabog, Tchernobog, or Black God
In the Series
The Slavic deity we meet in American Gods has experienced better times. In that way, he's in the same boat as most of the Old Gods we'll encounter as Shadow and Mr. Wednesday drive around America. To pay the bills and to exercise his ferocious hammer, Czernobog took a day job. He worked at a slaughterhouse, taking cows to their deaths as quickly as possible with one powerful blow to their heads.
But even there, his work and meaning was devalued by the arrival of new technology. A change to the kill process didn't require any finesse or skill. Czernobog could no longer take pride in his work, and you can tell pride is of the utmost importance to him. This Old God who was already scrapping to survive via belief can't seem to catch a break.
As I mentioned, Czernobog has roots in Slavic mythology. As the black god, he was assumed to be the bad god, with the white god Belobog theoretically occupying the role of good god. Chronica Slavorum, a medieval chronicle by historian and Saxon priest Helmold, was written in the twelfth century and has information from Slavic tribes. It mentions Czernobog as Zcerneboch, the Black God:
"The Slavs, too, have a strange delusion. At their feasts and carousals they pass about a 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 — professing that all propitious fortune is arranged by the good god, adverse, by the bad god. Hence, also, in their language they call the bad god Diabol, or Zcerneboch, that is, the Black God." - Translated in Reading the Middle Ages: Sources from Europe, Byzantium, and the Islamic World
The idea of light and darkness is a common theme in Slavic mytholog--well, in many mythologies and religions, to be honest. They're usually in conflict with each other or on opposite sides rather than balanced in harmony. Thus Chernobog claims the dark half of the year, winter, while Belobog has the summer.
Chernobog is known for being the god of misfortune and bad luck; the god of death, darkness, and destruction. He was said to be intentionally malicious and corruptor of everything pleasant. He's the type of guy who would knock the ice cream off the cone in your hands. So, he's not exactly a cheerful kind of god--which suits the man we meet in American Gods. Czernobog comes across as gruff and dangerous, but I don't read him as an outright villain... which also plays into the mythology of Chernobog. There's not a ton known about Chernobog--the historical sources are Christian ones, so not people who actually believed in him, therefore it's entirely possible he wasn't actually the worst of the worst.
In Other Stories
I'm not always going to point out other pop culture references to the Old Gods, but with Czernobog, I think a couple are particularly notable. You know Chernabog, the massive winged gargoyle-like creature in Disney's Fantasia? Yep, he's a nod to Chernobog. Also, the Pacific Rim Jaeger called Cherno Alpha was named for Chernobog.
Did we churn up an interest in learning more? Let us know in comments!
Images: Starz, Legendary