They are our neighbors, our teachers, our politicians, and our grocers. They are the lonely howl in the middle of an autumn night or a contented purr from a friendly stray. They are shape-shifters. They are the Children of Jarilo.
The Children of Jarilo series is based upon a unique twist on the traditional werewolf myth. In my world, shape-shifters are not cursed humans who turn into mindless c3reatures during the full moon. They are not truly lycanthropes at all. Instead, my shifters believe they are the direct descendants of an ancient god of fertility, harvest, and the moon – the Proto-Slavic god, Jarilo.
He is a little known god with even less documentation, yet his festivals stretch across Russia, Belarus, and down to Serbia. Folklore names Jarilo as the missing tenth son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, who was born on the last night of February. On the same night, however, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead. There, he was adopted and raised by Veles (Perun’s enemy), the Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The young Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather in the land across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter.
With the spring, Jarilo returned from the otherworld, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Upon his return, he met, fell in love with, and married, Morana, a goddess of death and nature, and also a daughter of Perun and Jarilo’s twin-sister. Since his life is tied to the spring, he is killed by his wife/sister at the beginning of fall and his body is used to replenish the land. With her husband/brother gone, Morana falls into despair, turning into a withered old hag signifying the winter until Jarilo is reborn in the spring.
In short, a typical, seasonal birth-death-rebirth god. So what does he have to do with shifters?
Some folklore accounts associate Jarilo with the moon, citing him as a mischievous god whose temperament changes with the phases of the moon. But the key to my adaptation of this ancient god comes from the folk songs concerning him.
In the songs, Jarilo is always walking as he returns from the underworld, yet he is also described as coming on a horse. Several songs are studied and most of them emphasize the presence of the horse as well as how sore Jarilo’s feet are from the walking. This makes one think he had a very short horse, extremely long legs, or perhaps – just maybe – he was the horse. Whether they conceived of their god as being horse-like, such as a centaur; a shapeshifter, such as Loki or Proteus; or simply a humanoid with a horse’s head, the direct tie of this obscure, ancient god to shifters was enough for me to build my world’s mythos around him. As a god, I thought it wasn’t too much of a stretch that he would be able to take any form he wished, frollicking about with human maidens as gods are wont to do, and creating an entire race of shifters who keep his name alive.
The Children of Jarilo are shifters of every imaginable species – from predator to prey – who struggle to remain hidden in an increasingly invasive world. They attempt to avoid invasive medical procedures that could spot an anomaly in their DNA as well as the plethora of video cameras that litter businesses, street corners, and a growing percentage of the human population. They defend their homes and their loved ones against other non-humans: vampires, spellcasters, and even other shifters. They also face trouble from within as ferals, crazed shifters who lose their humanity to their inner animal and go mad, threaten their safety by shifting in public, attacking humans, or forcing the change on their unwilling victims.