After episode 3 of American Gods, you may be wondering about the mysterious Zorya sisters. Here’s some background on these Slavic stars.
In the first few episodes of American Gods, we meet three Slavic sisters. They’re Zorya Vechernyaya, Zorya Utrennyaya and Zorya Polunochnaya, the evening star, the morning star, and the midnight star.
Some of the deities of American Gods may be new to you, but some people still tell their stories. And then there are the Norse gods, who are just everywhere these days. Millions worship Thor, Loki and Odin via Marvel franchising. But among all the deities of American Gods, the Slavic ones are the most unfamiliar.
Ian McShane (Mr Wednesday), Cloris Leachman (Zorya Vechernyaya) – American Gods episode 103 (Official image ebbcc1ae-03ab-40f7-b679-d3f11e0c05c5 via Starz.jpeg via Starz)
Thrice dead gods
Why do we know so little about the Slavic gods? Christianity killed them first. Then Soviet cultural purges took care of the rest. Most of the population of Eastern Europe who believed in these gods couldn’t read or write, but unlike parts of Africa, they didn’t have official keepers of their oral history. So now it’s pretty much gone. And anyone who came to America before the USSR, carrying the stories with them, died decades ago. The stories and their gods died with them.
"Sometimes Zorya is described as two or even three beings, but other times she is just one female. She was also a beautiful double guardian goddess known as the Auroras. Zorya served the sun god Dazbog, and it is believed that he was Zorya’s father."
Here’s a bit more, from the Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth and Legend, by Mike Dixon-Kennedy.
"Zorya Utrennyaya (utro means “morning”) opens the gates to her father’s palace to that he can ride forth at the start of the sun’s journey. Her sister, the goddess of dusk, closes them again after Dazbog has returned home. There is sometimes a third sister, the goddess of midnight, who remains nameless."
Big bear, little bear
Klimczak also mentions the sisters’ heavenly guard duty:
"Legends said that the Auroras kept watch over the doomsday hound, Simargl. This hound is chained to the star Polaris in the constellation called ”the little bear” – Ursa Minor. They needed to ensure he didn’t break the chains because if that happened it was believed that the Universe would be destroyed."
In American Gods episode 3, Zorya Polunochnaya tells Shadow that she’s looking at Odin’s Wain through her telescope. She watches it because there’s a bad thing chained up in the stars. If it escapes, it will eat everything, and the world will end. Odin’s Wain is the Big Dipper, which is in the constellation Ursa Major.
Erika Kaar as Zorya Polunochnaya – American Gods episode 103 (Official image 83d6dd21-9f94-4b34-a7dc-b90875207b01 via Starz)
I have no idea which version is more correct. Big or Little Dipper? Little or Big Bear? I don’t know. But surely, if Neil heard both, he gravitated toward Odin’s wain. (Because of reasons that will become obvious if you don’t know them already.)
Because of the lack of information about them, Gaiman fleshed out their characters, giving them personalities. In American Gods, the evening sister always lies, and the morning sister always tells the truth. And the midnight sister’s prophecies are the best, because she is a virgin.
In a 2011 interview with Patton Oswalt, Neil Gaiman admits that he actually invented Zorya Polunochnaya. He named her “Sister Midnight” after an Iggy Pop song.
Here’s the second part of that interview if YouTube didn’t automatically play it for you.
My problem with this, even though I do trust Neil implicitly, is that American Gods came out in 2001. The Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth and Legend shows a publication date of 1998. If both are true, I figure that Neil read about the midnight sister a very long time ago. She burrowed into his subconscious, surfacing again when she was needed.
If you know more about the mysterious mystery of the Midnight Sister, hit me up in the comments. I would love to hear more stories.