Veles ( Research/concept/final design)

by chung swiatkowska

In my previous post I said I was scrapping the initial focus of my FMP (that being Rodnovery) due to the rampant unapologetic Nazism issues I had with modern Rodnover communities. Despite that, I still firmly hold the belief that this religion in its roots was not a bigoted one, and so I kept aspects of what I originally planned. My favored deity of the native Slavic pantheon was Veles, and so naturally I started practicing concept work on him.

My research was mostly online, due to the fact that you can’t really find much on ancient Slavic faith in the average library; scouring various blogs, forums and so on on Slavic paganism, combined with what little knowledge I already had. Veles is the god of the underworld and Perun’s enemy, but he is not considered an evil god; the battle between him and Veles is less one of good and evil and more one of opposing forces of nature; both necessary. His aspects seemed to mostly focus around ‘dark’, and ‘woolly’ or ‘hairy’; as he is often depicted as a snake or dragon, I found it odd that he was associated with more mammalian traits. I did some practice, getting familiar with various animalistic forms; snakes, deer, goats, and various types of horns, as well as tusked, deformed giants based off the giants featured in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I’m a little bored of every design of Veles looking more or less exactly the same – a large, old, white, generic man with a long beard and round horns. So I’d already decided to scrap the humanoid designs early on; I was torn between the goat and the serpent. By this point I wasn’t only looking directly at Rodnovery; I also considered Shub-Niggurath of Lovecraftian mythos, or The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, as well as common depictions of the Christian devil as a black ram or goat. Another one to consider was the Forest Spirit of Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, which, while seriously unnerved me the first time I saw it, drew several comparisons to Veles in my mind. Miyazaki’s Forest Spirit was neither a goat nor a snake, but something resembling a deer – its most striking aspects being its large size and many horns (antlers?). At the same time, I had also been toying with the idea of tree branches as antlers, flowering and wilting with the passing of the seasons; it’s a concept I’ve been fond of since I was young, a hybrid or unity of flora and fauna, and seemed right at home with the concept of a forest God. While antlers aren’t technically horns, I decided it was close enough, because I really, really wanted to use that idea.

But despite all that, he’s still primarily represented as a snake, not a mammal – here I had also started looking into Rodnover cosmology, and the idea of the world being represented as a tree (with Perun as a falcon in the branches (heaven) and Veles as a serpent on the roots (underworld)). That sounded familiar to me when I read about it, and sure enough it was because I’d read a book on Norse mythology way, way back when I was a kid. Some embarrassingly obtuse Google searches later, I found out that concept in Norse mythology was called Yggdrasil (I’m so glad I don’t have to say that out loud); a mythical tree that connected the various realms. Norse mythology wasn’t my focus here so I stayed right away from delving into that, but I did remember that there was a serpentine creature in Norse legend encircling the world tree (Yggdrasil). More research and I found out that was Níðhöggr (again, I’m so glad) and it was a dragon eating at the roots of the tree, representing destruction and punishment. Then there was Ouroboros; another serpentine mythical creature.

I figured that because of how strongly Veles seems to be tied to the ‘hairy/woolly’ concept, I couldn’t cut that out – but I’d already decided he had to be a dragon of some sort. So there you have the world’s first hairy snake. With legs. I’m running out of time I’ll edit this later