Slavic Native Faith

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The Kolovrat, a commonly used symbol in Slavic Native Faith[1]
An outdoors Rodnover ritual in Russia around the year 2000

The Slavic Native Faith, Rodnovery[note 1], or Slavic Neopaganism is a modern Pagan religion. Classified as a new religious movement, its practitioners model their faith on the pre-Christian belief systems of the Slavic peoples of central and eastern Europe. "Rodnovery" is a widely accepted self-descriptor within the community, although some Rodnover groups also employ additional terminologies to define the religion: Orthodoxy (Pravoslavie) and Vedism.[4] Those who call themselves "Orthodox" (i.e. "believers in the right glory", the universal cosmic order), in perfect homonymy with Orthodox Christianity, hold that the term was usurpated by Christians.[5][6]

Rodnovers regard their religion as an as faithful as possible continuation of the indigenous Slavic religion, which they believe was never completely interrupted after the official adoption of Christianity by Slavic states between the 9th and the 12th centuries, as it was preserved in the so-called "double belief" (dvoeverie), that is the idea that the common people preserved the faith in the original gods behind Christianity. Aitamurto (2016) finds that such concept of "double belief" is embedded in Slavic identity, especially among Russians. It is popular in Russia the saying that "although Russia was baptised, it was never Christianised".[7]

Rodnover theology may be described as pantheism and polytheism—worship of the supreme God of the universe and of the multiple gods and ancestors of nature identified through Slavic culture. For their beliefs and practices, Rodnovers use surviving historical, archaeological, and folkloric evidence as a basis, although approaches to this material vary considerably. Some Rodnover groups also incorporate elements of Hinduism and the historical Vedic religion of India, of which they regard themselves as the heirs (whence the adoption of the term "Vedism").[4] Slavic Native Faith groups often characterise themselves as "ethnic religions" and emphasise a connection between the religion and Slavic ethnicity that often manifests as nationalism. Some—although not all—groups adopt far-right and ultra-nationalistic perspectives and espouse anti-democracy, anti-Western and anti-Semitic ideas. Attitudes towards sex and gender are typically conservative.

The contemporary organised Rodnovery movement arose from a multiplicity of sources and charismatic leaders just at the brink of the collapse of the Soviet Union,[8] and spread rapidly by the mid-1990s and the 2000s. Antecedants are to be found in late 18th- and 19th-century Slavic Romanticism, which glorified the pre-Christian beliefs of Slavic societies. Active religious practitioners devoted to establishing Slavic Native Faith appeared in Poland and Ukraine already in the 1930s and 1940s. Following the Second World War and the establishment of communist states throughout the Eastern Bloc, new variants were established by Slavic emigrants living in Western countries, being later introduced in Eastern European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent times, the movement has been increasingly studied in academic scholarship.


"The Celebration of Svantovit in Rujana: When Gods Are at War, Salvation is in the Art" (Slavnost Svantovítova: Když jsou bohové ve válce, pak je umění spásou)—Alphonse Mucha, 1912. Part of The Slav Epic.[note 2]

Scholars of religion regard Slavic Native Faith as a modern Pagan religion.[10] They also characterise it as a new religious movement.[11] The movement has no over-arching structure,[12] or accepted religious authority,[13] and contains much diversity in terms of belief and practice.[14] The sociologist of religion Kaarina Aitamurto suggests that Rodnovery is sufficiently heterogeneous that it could be regarded itself not as a singular religion but as "an umbrella term that gathers together various forms of religiosity."[14]

The scholar of religion Alexey Gaidukov described "Slavic Neopaganism" as a term pertaining to "all quasi-religious, political, ideological, and philosophical systems which are based on the reconstruction and construction of pre-Christian Slavic traditions".[12] The scholar of religion Adrian Ivakhiv describes the religion as a movement which "harkens back to the pre-Christian beliefs and practices of ancient Slavic peoples",[15] while according to the historian and ethnologist Victor A. Shnirelman, Rodnovers present themselves as "followers of some genuine pre-Christian Slavic, Russian or Slavic-Aryan Paganism".[16]

Shnirelman states that—contrary to the beliefs of Rodnovers themselves—their religion does not actually constitute the "restoration of any pre-Christian religion as such". Rather, he describes the movement as having been "built up artificially by urbanised intellectuals who use fragments of early pre-Christian local beliefs and rites in order to restore national spirituality".[17] In this way, Slavic Native Faith has been understood—at least in part—as an invented tradition.[18] Simpson (2013) notices, studying the specific context of Poland, that unlike the pre-Christian belief systems of Slavic Europe, which were fully integrated into the everyday fabric of their society, modern Slavic Native Faith believers have to develop new forms of social organisation which sets them apart from established society.[19] Textual evidence for these pre-Christian belief systems is scant, has been produced by Christian writers hostile to the systems being described, and is usually open to multiple interpretations.[20]

A different perspective is offered by Svetlana Chervonnaya (1998), who sees the return to folk beliefs among Slavs as part of a broader phenomenon that is happening to "the mass religious mind" not merely of Slavic or Eastern European peoples, but to peoples all over Asia, and that expresses itself in new mythologemes endorsed by national elites.[21] According to Shnirelman (2015), it was the Soviet Union's official "scientific" atheism combined with anti-Westernism, which severely weakened the infrastructure of universalist religions, that paved the way for the rise of Rodnovery and other modern Paganisms in Eastern Europe.[22] After the Soviet Union, the pursuit of Rodnovery matured into the spiritual cultivation of organic folk communities (ethnoi) in the face of what Rodnovers consider as the alien cosmopolitan forces which drive global assimilation, chiefly represented by the Abrahamic religions.[23]

Folk "double belief", ethnic religion and syncretism[edit]

"The Fiery Chariot of the Word", 19th-century Russian icon of the Theotokos as Ognyena Maria ("Fiery Mary"), fire goddess sister of Perun.[24] Belief in a great mother goddess as the receptacle of life, Mat Syra Zemlya ("Damp Mother Earth"), was preserved in Russian folk religion up to the 20th century, often disguised as the Virgin Mary of Christianity.[25] The fiery "six-petaled roses" that umbego the Ognyena Maria are one of the variants of the whirling symbol of the supreme God (Rod) and of its sons.[26]

In developing Slavic Native Faith, practitioners draw upon the primary sources informing on the pre-Christian belief systems of Slavic peoples, as well as elements drawn from later Slavic folklore, official and popular Christian belief, and from non-Slavic societies.[27] Among these foreign influences have been beliefs and practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism,[28] as well as ideas drawn from various forms of esotericism.[29] Other influences include documents like the Book of Veles, which claim to be genuine accounts of pre-Christian Slavic beliefs but which academics recognise as later compositions.[30] According to the folklorist Mariya Lesiv, through this syncretic process, "a new religion is being created on the basis of the synthesis of elements from various traditions".[31] Many practitioners do not acknowledge this practice of syncretism and instead profess an explicitly anti-syncretic attitude, emphasising the need to retain the "purity" of the religion and thus maintain its "authenticity".[32]

Practitioners legitimise the incorporation of elements from folk culture into Slavic Native Faith through the argument that Slavic folk practices have long reflected a "double belief" (dvoeverie) system that retained pre-Christian beliefs and practices alongside Christianity. This is a concept that was especially popular among nineteenth-century ethnographers who were influenced by Romanticism and retains widespread popularity across Eastern Europe, but has come under criticism in more recent times.[33] Although pre-Christian beliefs and practices influenced Christianity as it was established in the Middle Ages, folk practices have changed greatly over the intervening millennia.[34] Nevertheless, many scholars provide sturdy evidences in support of double belief. For instance, scholar Linda J. Ivanits reports ethnographic studies documenting that even in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Russia there were entire villages maintaining indigenous religious beliefs, whether in pure form or under the cover of a superficial Christianity.[35]

The concept of double belief is especially significant in Russia, and for the identity of the Russian Orthodox Church; it is popular the dictum that "although Russia was baptised, it was never Christianised".[7] Ivanits recognises an exceptionality of Russia compared to other European countries; "the Russian case is extreme", she says, because Russia — especially the vastity of rural Russia — neither lived the intellectual upheavals of the Renaissance, nor the Reformation,[36] nor the Age of Enlightenment, which severely weakened folk spirituality in the rest of Europe. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been a new wave of scholarly debate on the subject within Russia itself. A. E. Musin, an academic and deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church published an article about the "problem of double belief" as recently as 1991. In this article he divides scholars between those who say that Russian Orthodoxy adapted to entrenched indigenous faith, continuing the Soviet idea of an "undefeated paganism", and those who say that Russian Orthodoxy is an out-and-out syncretic religion.[37] Slavic Native Faith adherents, as far as they are concerned, believe that they can take traditional folk culture, remove the obviously Christian elements, and be left with something that authentically reflects the pre-Christian belief systems of the Slavic peoples.[33]

Some involved in the movement avoid calling their belief system either "paganism" or "religion".[16] Many Rodnovers refer to their belief system as an "ethnic religion",[38] and Rodnover groups were involved in establishing the World Congress of Ethnic Religions.[39] The usage of this term suggests that the religion is restricted to a particular ethnic group.[40] Some practitioners regard "ethnic religion" as a term synonymous with "Native Faith", but others perceive there as being a distinction between the two terms.[40]

The most commonly used religious symbol within Rodnovery is the kolovrat, a swastika-like (Sanskrit: "wellbeing", "wellness") symbol.[1] As such, it represents wholeness, the ultimate source of renewal, the cosmic order and the four directions.[41] According to the studies of Boris Rybakov, such whirl and wheel symbols, which also include patterns like the "six-petaled rose inside a circle" and the "thunder mark" (gromovoi znak), represent Rod, the supreme power of birth and reproduction, and its various forms (whether Svetovid, Perun or other gods) and were still carved in folk traditions of north Russia up to the ninteenth century.[42]


"Rodnovery" (Native Faith)[edit]

Russian Rodnovers in a wooden temple.

The majority of practitioners of modern Slavic Paganism call their religion "Native Faith".[43] This term appears in slightly different forms depending on the Slavic language in question: in Ukrainian, it is Ridnovirstvo or Ridnovirya, in Russian Rodnoverie, in Polish Rodzimowierstwo, and in Czech Rodnovĕří.[43] The term derives from the Proto-Slavic roots *rod (род), which means anything "indigenous", "ancestral" and "native", also "genus", "generation", "kin", "race" (cf. Russian родная rodnaya or родной rodnoy); and *vera, which means "faith", "religion".[2] Within the community, it has also been used to define an elective community, namely the community of Native Faith practitioners themselves.[44] The term has different histories and associations in each of these languages.[43] The suffix -ism is usually avoided in favour of others that describe the religion as if it were a practice or craft (which is the meaning of the Ukrainian and Russian suffix -stvo, thus translatable with the Western suffix "-ery, -ry").[45] Sometimes the term "Rodnovery" has also been interpreted as meaning "faith of Rod", a reference to an eponymous deity found in ancient Russian and Ukrainian sources.[46]

The earliest known usage of this term was by the Ukrainian émigré Lev Sylenko, who in 1964 established a mimeographed publication in Canada that was titled Ridna Vira ("Native Faith").[47] As an endonym, the term Ridnovir was in use among Ukrainians involved in the movement by at least 1995.[48] From Ukraine, the term began to spread throughout other Slavic countries.[48] In 1996, it was adopted by a Polish group, the "Association of Native Faith" (Zrzeszenie Rodzimej Wiary) and in 1997 by the Russian "Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities" (Союз Славянских Общин Славянской Родной Веры).[48] By the early 2000s, the term was widespread across Slavic language countries.[40] In 2002, six Russian Rodnover organisations issued the "Bittsa Agreement" (Bittsevskoe Obraschchenie), in which they expressed the view that "Rodnoverie" should be regarded as the foremost name of the religion.[49] The spread of the term reflected the degree of solidarity in establishing a broader brand and a sense of international movement despite the disagreements and power struggles that permeated the groups.[49] The term also came to be applied to the modern Pagan religions of non-Slavic groups; for instance, in the Polish language Lithuanian Romuva has been referred to as Rodzimowierstwo litewskie ("Lithuanian Native Faith") and Celtic Paganism has been referred to as Rodzimowierstwo celtyckie ("Celtic Native Faith").[49]

As explained by Kaarina Aitamurto (2007), in addition to being the most used term, it is appropriate because of its meanings.[50] Aside from its immediate acceptation, it has deeper senses related to its Slavic etymology that would be lost through translation, expressing the central concepts of the Slavic Native Faith.[50] In some Rodnover groups, Rod is the primordial god, the supreme ancestor of the universe, that begets all the gods and all beings and things,[50] and at the same time the kin (root or genus), the lineage or the ancestral bond that connects to the absolute source.[50] Rodna or rodnaya is itself a concept which can denote the "nearest and dearest", and such impersonal community as one's native home or land.[50]

"Orthodoxy", "Vedism" and other terms[edit]

The appropriate name of the religion is an acute topic of discussion among practitioners active on social media.[51] Many Rodnovers have adopted terms that are already used to refer to other religions, namely the historical Vedic religion and Orthodox Christianity.[4] For instance, the Saint Petersburg-based "Union of the Veneds" (Soyuz Venedov) is one of the major organisations of the branch of Rodnovery known as "Peterburgian Vedism".[52][53] They explain that "Vedism" derives from the word "to know" and implies that rather than dogmatically believing (verit), Vedists "know" (vedat) spiritual truths. The term was first employed by Yuri P. Mirolyubov—the writer or discoverer of the Book of Veles—in the mid-twentieth century, and later adopted by the founder of Peterburgian Vedism, Viktor Bezverkhy.[54]

In Ukraine and Russia many important Rodnover groups advocate the designation of "Orthodoxy" (Russian: Православие Pravoslaviye, Ukrainian: Православ'я Pravoslav'ya) for themselves,[4] often rendered in English as "Pravoslavy". They claim that the term, which refers to the universal order (Prav, cf. Vedic Rta), was usurpated by the Christians.[5][6] Another term employed by Rodnovers, but traditionally associated to the Orthodox Christian movement of the Old Believers, is "Starovery" (cf. Russian: Старове́ры Starovéry, "Old Faith").[53]

Rodnovers in Russia.

Some Slovenian practitioners use the Slovenian language term ajd, which is a loan-word of the Germanic-language heathen.[55] When using English language terms to describe their religion, some Rodnovers favour "Heathen", in part due to a perceived affinity with the contemporary Germanic Heathens who also commonly use that term.[56] Another term employed by some practitioners has been "practice of the Slavs", which appears especially in Polish (Słowiaństwo) and in Slovakian (Slovianstvo).[40] Some Russians refer to their religion as "Slavism" and claim that the word "Slav" originally meant "he who praises his gods".[52]

General descriptors: Western "pagan" and Slavic yazich[edit]

In Slavic languages the closest equivalent of "paganism" is poganstvo (taking for instance Russian; it itself deriving from Latin paganus), although Rodnovers widely reject this term due to its derogatory connotations.[57] Indeed, many Slavic languages have two terms that are conventionally rendered as "pagan" in Western languages: the aforementioned pogan and языч yazich. The latter, which is a derivation of the near-homophonous язык yazik, "tongue", is prevalent and has a less negative acceptation, literally meaning "pertaining to (our own) language".[4] It is often more accurately (though by no means thoroughly) translated as "Gentile" (i.e. pertaining "to the gens", "to the kin"), which in turn it itself renders in Slavic translations of the Bible.[56] Some Russian and Ukrainian Rodnovers employ, respectively, Yazychestvo and Yazychnytstvo (i.e. "our own language craft", "Gentility"), but it is infrequent.[58][57] Yazich has been adopted especially among Rodnovers speaking West Slavic languages, where it has not any connotations related to "paganism".[5] Thus, Czech Rodnover groups have coined Jazyčnictví and Slovak Rodnovers have coined Jazyčníctvo.[5]

By the mid-1930s, the term "Neopagan" had been applied to the Polish Zadruga group.[59] It was adopted among Rodnovers in the 1990s—when it appeared in such forms as the Russian Neoyazychestvo and the Polish Neopogaństwo—but had been eclipsed by "Slavic Native Faith" in the 2000s.[60] However, the prefix "neo-" within "Neopaganism" is a divisive issue among Rodnovers.[60] Some practitioners dislike it because it minimises the continuity of indigenous pre-Christian beliefs.[60] They regard themselves as restoring the original belief system rather than creating something new.[61] Others embrace the term as a means of emphasising what they regard as the reformed nature of the religion; the Polish Rodnover Maciej Czarnowski for instance encouraged the term because it distinguished his practices from those of the pre-Christian societies, which he regarded as being hindered by superstition and unnecessary practices like animal sacrifice.[60] Many Rodnovers straightforwardly reject the designator "paganism", whether "neo-", "modern", "contemporary" or without prefixes and further qualificators, asserting that these are "poorly defined" concepts whose use by scholars leads to a situation in which Rodnovery is lumped together with "all kinds of cults and religions" which have nothing to do with it.[62]



Monism and polytheism: Rod and deities[edit]

Icon of the highest Rod in human shape, in a Sylenkoite temple in Ukraine.

Prior to their Christianisation, the Slavic peoples were polytheistic, believing in a range of deities. Belief in these deities varied according to location and through time, with Slavs sometimes adopting the worship of deities from the pantheons of other, neighbouring linguistic groups.[20] Both in Russia and in Ukraine, Rodnovers are divided among those who are monotheists and those who are polytheists.[63] Some emphasise a unitary principle of divinity, while others put emphasis on distinct gods and goddesses.[64]

Some practitioners adopt a pantheistic view that is holistic in its understanding of the universe,[65] and some describe themselves as atheists.[65] For some, the deities are viewed not as literal entities but as symbols.[66] Many Rodnovers adopt a stance of monism, by which the many different gods (polytheism) are seen as manifestations of a single, universal God — generally identified by the concept of Rod,[14] also known as Sud ("Judge") and Prabog ("Pre-God", "First God") among South Slavs.[67] When emphasising this monism, Rodnovers may define themselves as rodnianin, "believers in God"[68] (or "in nativity", "in genuinity"). The pioneering Ukrainian practitioner Shaian argued that God manifested as various different deities, among them Svarog, Veles, and Dazhbog.[69]

One expression common among Slavic Native Faith practitioners is "we are not God's slaves, but God's sons".[70] Some Rodnover groups espouse the idea that specific Slavic populations are the sons of peculiar facets of God; for instance, groups who rely upon the tenth-century manuscript The Lay of Igor's Host may affirm the idea that Russians are the grandchildren of Dazhbog (the "Giving God", "Day God").[70] Among Russian and Ukrainian Rodnovers, the concept of Rod is central.[70][71] The term rod is attested in sources about pre-Christian religion referring to divinity and ancestrality.[70][72] Mathieu-Colas defines it as the "primordial God", but the term also literally means the generative power of families and kins, "birth", "origin" and "fate" as well.[67] Sometimes, the meaning of the word is left deliberately obscure among Rodnovers, allowing for a variety of different interpretations.[70] Cosmologically speaking, Rod is conceived as the spring of universal emanation, which articulates in a cosmic hierarchy of gods.[73]

Pantheons of deities are not unified among practitioners of Slavic Native Faith.[74] Different practitioners and Rodnover groups often have a preference for a particular deity over others.[64] The Union of Russian Rodnover Communities founded and led by Vadim Kazakov recognises a pantheon of over thirty deities emanated by the supreme Rod;[75] these include those from pre-Christian Slavic mythology (such as Perun and Svarog), Slavicised Hindu deities (such as Vyshen or Vishnu and Intra or Indra), Iranian deities (such as Simurgh and Khors), deities from the Book of Veles (like Pchelich), entities from Russian fairy tales (like the wizard Koschei), and some which they had invented (like Chislobog).[76] Another Russian Rodnover leader, Nikolai "Velimir" Speransky, emphasises a dualistic eternal struggle between good and evil; the former represented by Belobog ("White God"), who created the human soul, and the latter by Chernobog ("Black God"), who created the human body.[77] Some Slavic Native Faith practitioners also believe in land spirits which inhabit the local environment.[78]


In Ukraine, there has been a debate as to whether the religion should be monotheistic or polytheistic.[79] In keeping with the pre-Christian belief systems of the region, the groups who inherit Volodymyr Shaian's tradition, among others, espouse polytheism.[79] Conversely, Sylenko's Native Ukrainian National Faith (RUNVira for short, called "Sylenkoism" in some academic scholarship) regards itself as monotheistic and focuses its worship upon a single God who they identify with the name Dazhbog.[80] For members of this group, Dazhbog is regarded as the life-giving energy of the cosmos.[81]

Sylenko characterised Dazhbog as "light, endlessness, gravitation, eternity, movement, action, the energy of unconscious and conscious Being".[81] Based on this description, Ivakhiv argued that Sylenkoite theology might better be regarded as pantheistic or panentheistic rather than monotheistic.[81] Sylenko acknowledged that the ancient Ukrainian-Rus were polytheists but believed that a monotheistic view reflected an evolution in human spiritual development and thus should be adopted.[82] A similar view is adopted by Russian Ynglism (the "Ancient Russian Ynglist Church of the Orthodox Old Believers—Ynglings"; Древнерусская Инглиистическая Церковь Православных Староверов—Инглингов, Drevnerusskaya Ingliisticheskaya Tserkov' Pravoslavnykh Staroverov—Inglingov).[83] Lesiv recorded one RUNVira member who related that "we cannot believe in various forest, field and water spirits today. Yes, our ancestors believed in these things but we should not any longer."[84] For RUNVira members, polytheism is regarded as backward.[84] Some polytheist Rodnovers have regarded the approach adopted by Sylenko's followers as an inauthentic approach to the religion.[58]


Black and White. Suprematist CompositionKazimir Malevich, 1915. According to Miroslav Shkandrij, the Russian Suprematist artist was influenced by a dual cosmology found in various folk beliefs, including Belobog and Chernobog.[85]
Statue of Svetovid in Kiev. The "Worldseer" represents Rod incarnated as the interconnection of spatial and temporal dimensions.

Belobog and Chernobog[edit]

According to the Book of Veles, and in the doctrine accepted by many Rodnover organisations, the supreme Rod begets Prav (literally "Right" or "Order"; cf. Greek Orthotes, Sanskrit Rta) in primordial undeterminacy (chaos), giving rise to the circular pattern of Svarog ("Heaven", "Sky"), i.e. Svarga, which constantly multiplies generating new worlds (world-eggs). Prav works by means of a dual dynamism, represented by Belobog ("White God"[67]) and Chernobog ("Black God"[67]); they are two aspects of the same, appearing themselves in reality as the forces of waxing and waning, giving rise to polarities like up and down, light and dark, male and female, singular and plural. Man and woman are further symbolised by father Svarog itself and mother Lada.[73]

This supreme polarity is also represented by the relation between Rod and the Rodzanicy ("Generatrixes"), the three goddesses who interweave destiny, attested in the expression Rod-Rodzanicy ("God and the Goddesses"). Mathieu-Colas says that they may be aspects of a singular mother goddess, Rodzanica, counterpart of the supreme Rod. Among South Slavs, where Rod is known as Sud ("Judge"), the three goddesses of destiny are known as Sudenicy (singular Sudenica, literally "She who Judges").[67]

Triglav and Svetovid[edit]

In the duality, the supreme Rod's luminous aspect (Belobog) manifests ultimately as threefold, Triglav ("Three-Headed One"[67]). The first of the three persons is the aforementioned Svarog ("Heaven"), and the other two are Svarog's further expressions as Perun ("Thunder") and Svetovid (the "Worldseer", itself four-faced). They correspond to the three dimensions of the cosmos, and to the three qualities of soul, flesh and power. Svarog represents Prav itself and soul, Perun represents Yav and flesh, and Svetovit represents Nav and spiritual power.[86] According to Shnirelman (1998), this triune vision and associations were first codified by Yuri P. Mirolyubov and further elaborated by Valery Yemelyanov, both interpreters of the Book.[86] Other names of the two manifestations of Svarog are Dazhbog ("Giving God", "Day God") and Svarozhich (the god of fire, literally meaning "Son of Heaven").[67]

Svetovid ("Worldseer", or more accurately "Lord of Holiness"[67]) is the four-faced god of war, light and axiality. His four faces are the masculine Svarog ("Heaven", associated to the north direction and the colour white) and Perun ("Thunder", the west and red), and the feminine Mokosh ("Wetness", the east and green) and Lada ("Beauty", the south and black). The four directions and colours also represent the four Slavic lands of original sacred topography.[note 3] They also represent the spinning of the four seasons.[87]

Ultimately, Svetovid embodies in unity the supreme duality (Belobog and Chernobog) through which Rod manifests itself as Prav, and the axial interconnection of the three ecstasies of time with the four dimensions of present space (Nav), in flesh (Yav). In other words, he represents Prav spiritualising Yav as Nav; or the spirit of Svarog acting within Perun.

Prav, Yav and Nav—Heaven, Earth and humanity[edit]

According to the Book of Veles, reality has three dimensions, namely the aforementioned Prav, Yav and Nav.[88] Prav ("Right") itself is the level of the gods, who generate entities according to the supreme order of Rod; gods and the entities that they beget "make up" the great Rod. Yav ("actuality") is the level of matter and appearance, the here and now in which things appear in light, coalesce, but also dissolve in contingency; Nav ("probability") is the thin world of human ancestors, of spirit, consisting in the memory of the past and the projection of the future, that is to say the continuity of time.[73] Prav, the universal cosmic order otherwise described as the "Law of Heaven", permeates and regulates the other two hypostases.[89][64][90]

In her theological commentaries to the Book of Veles, Ukrainian Rodnover leader Halyna Lozko betones the cosmological unity of the three planes of Heaven, Earth and humanity between them. She gives a definition of Rodnover theology and cosmology as "geno-theism". God, hierarchically manifesting as different hypostases, a multiplicity of gods emerging from the all-pervading force Svarog, is genetically (rodovid) linked to humanity. On the human plane God is incarnated by the kin or lineage, in the Earth. Ethics and morality ultimately stem from this cosmology, as harmony with nature is possible only in the relationship between an ethnic group and its land.[91] This is also the meaning of the worship of human ancestors, whether the Slavs' general forefather Or or Oryi,[92] or local forefathers such as Dingling worshipped by Vladivostok Rodnovers.[93] Divine ancestors are the spirits that generate and hold together kins, they are the kins themselves. Russian volkhv Dobroslav emphasises the importance of blood heritage, since, according to him, the violation of kinship purity brings about the loss of the relationship with the kin's divine ancestor.[94] Ukrainian Rodnover and scholar Yuri Shylov has developed a theory of God as a spiral "information field" that expresses itself in self-conscious humanity, which comes to full manifestation in the Indo-European "Saviour" archetype.[91]

Morality and ethics[edit]

In Russia, Rodnovers discuss a range of ethical, social, and ecological issues.[16] Calls for social justice only apply to ethnic Russians.[95] Respect for the natural world is also a highly salient theme within the religion.[96] There have been difficulties with Rodnover involvement in the wider environmentalist movement as a result of many environmentalists' unease with the racial and anti-Christian themes that are prominent in the religion.[97] The Circle of Pagan Tradition has placed greater emphasis on environmentalist issues over nationalist ones, and has called on its members to vote for the Green Russia party.[98]

Within Rodnovery, gender roles are generally conservative.[53] Rodnovers generally subscribe to the view that men and women are fundamentally different and thus their tasks also differ.[53] On societal issues, Russian Rodnovers are not counter-cultural, but reinforce established conservative and patriarchal values.[99] In this, they seek to present themselves as a stabilizing and responsible social force.[99] Aitamurto and Gaidukov noted that "hardly any women" in Russian Rodnovery would call themselves feminists, partly due to Rodnover beliefs on gender and partly due to the negative associations that the word "feminism" has in Russian culture.[53] In adopting such a conservative stance to sexual ethics, practitioners of Rodnovery can adopt misognyistic and homophobic stances.[100] Aitamurto and Gaidukov noted that it would be "difficult to imagine that any Rodnover community would accept members who are openly homosexual."[53] Many groups in both Russia and Ukraine censure mixed-race marriage.[101]

The Russian-based Circle of Pagan Tradition holds that tolerance should be a key value within Slavic Native Faith.[102] To reflect this, it utilises the slogan "unity in diversity".[102]

Nationalism and ethnic identity[edit]

Map of countries in Central and Eastern Europe where Slavic languages predominate. Wood green represents East Slavic languages, pale green represents West Slavic languages, and sea green represents South Slavic languages.
Ukrainian Rodnovers worshiping a kapy (pole) of Perun, in Ternopil Oblast.

The notion that modern Rodnovery is closely tied to the pre-Christian belief systems of Slavic peoples is a very strong one among practitioners.[103] There is no evidence that the Slavs ever conceived of themselves as a unified ethno-cultural group.[104] There is an academic consensus that the Proto-Slavic language developed from about the second half of the first millennium BCE in an area of Central and Eastern Europe bordered by the Dnieper basin in the east, the Vistula basin to the west, the Carpathian Mountains to the south, and the forests beyond the Pripet basin to the north.[105] Over the course of several centuries, Slavic populations migrated in northern, eastern, and south-western directions.[105] In doing so, they branched out into three sub-linguistic families: the Eastern Slavs (Ukrainians, Belarussians, Russians), the Western Slavs (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks), and the Southern Slavs (Slovenes, Serbs, Croats, Macedonians, and Bulgarians).[105] The belief systems of these Slavic communities had many affinities with those of neighbouring linguistic populations, such as the Balts, Thracians, and Indo-Iranians.[105] Slavic Native Faith practitioners also adopt elements from later folk culture, including from the ethnographic record of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[106]

The scholar of religion Scott Simpson stated that Slavic Native Faith was "fundamentally concerned with questions of community and ethnic identity".[107] Shnirelman noted that the movement was "obsessed with the idea of origin."[108] Rodnovery typically displays greater concern for collective rights than individual rights.[109] Most Rodnover groups will permit only Slavs as members, although there are a few exceptions.[95]

Ethnic nationalism[edit]

The ethnic dimension emphasised by Rodnovers easily becomes a form of nationalism,[110] and has usually been characterised as a form of ethnic nationalism.[111] The views on ethnicity and nation typically espoused by Rodnover groups have strong parallels with those promoted by the French Nouvelle Droite movement.[112] In its founding statement from 1998, the Slavic Native Faith Association of Ukraine declared that many of the world's problems stem from the "mixing of ethnic cultures", something which it claims has resulted in the "ruination of the ethnosphere", which they regard as an integral part of the Earth's biosphere.[113] For instance, the Russian Rodnover A. Dobrovolsky, or "Dobroslav"—who holds a position of high respect in the country's Rodnover community—calls for a "Russian national socialism" and "Pagan socialism", entailing "harmony with Nature, a national sovereignty and a just social order".[114] Sylenko taught that humanity was naturally divided up into distinct ethno-cultural groups, each with its own life cycle, religiosity, language, and customs, all of which had to spiritually progress in their own way.[115] Many Ukrainian Rodnovers emphasise a need for ethnic purity and oppose what they regard as "culturally destructive" phenomena such as cosmopolitanism, liberalism, and globalisation,[58] as well as Americanisation and consumerism.[116] Many Russian Rodnover groups are strongly critical of democracy, which they see as a degenerate form of government that leads to racial "cosmopolitan chaos". Instead, they favour models of a centralised state led by a strong leader.[117] Ethnic purity is a central emphasis of groups like the Ancient Russian Ynglist Church of the Orthodox Old Believers—Ynglings,[118] which promotes racial segregation.[119] Various practitioners have demanded a prohibition on mixed-race marriages.[95]

Aitamurto suggested that Russian Rodnovers' conceptions of nationalism encompass three main themes: that "the Russian or Slavic people are a distinct group", that they "have—or their heritage has—some superior qualities", and that "this unique heritage or the existence of this ethnic group is now threatened, and, therefore, it is of vital importance to fight for it."[120] There are Russian Rodnovers who promote both of the common views in Russian nationalism: some seek an imperialist policy that expands Russia's territory across Europe and Asia, while others seek to reduce the area controlled by the Russian Federation to only those areas with an ethnic Russian majority.[121] The place of nationalism, and of ethnic Russians' relationship to other ethnic groups inhabiting the Russian Federation, has been a key issue of discussion among Russian Rodnovers.[122] Some express xenophobic views and encourage the removal of those regarded as "aliens" from Russia, namely those who are Jewish or have ethnic origins in the Caucasus.[121] For these practitioners, ethnic minorities are viewed as the cause of social justice in Russia.[95] Given that around 20% of the Russian Federation is not ethnically Russian, the ideas of ethnic homogeneity embraced by many Russian Rodnovers could only be achieved through ethnic cleansing.[95] Shnirelman fails to consider that the territorial release of several of the majority non-Russian republics of Russia and autonomous okrugs of Russia would result in the same reduction of ethnic minorities in Russia without any need for violence whatsoever, which is the approach called for by peaceful Russian Rodnovers.[121]

Ukrainian Rodnovers wearing traditional costume for their ceremonies.

Various Russian practitioners are openly anti-Semitic,[123] and express anti-Semitic conspiracy theories claiming that Jews control Russia's economic and political elite.[121] For example, the Ukrainian Rodnover Halyna Lozko produced a prayer manual titled Pravoslav in which "Don't get involved with Jews!" was listed as the last of ten "Pagan commandments".[124] Extreme right-wing nationalists are also present within the Polish Native Faith community.[125]

Shnirelman observed that Russian practitioners usually deny or downplay the racist and Nazi elements within their community.[126] There are various Rodnover groups in Russia which are openly inspired by Nazi Germany.[127] Among those groups that are ideologically akin to Neo-Nazism, the term "Nazi" is rarely embraced, in part due to the prominent role that the Soviet Union played in the defeat of Nazi Germany.[128] Some Rodnovers claim that those who adopt such extreme right-wing perspectives are not "true Pagans" because their interests in the movement are primarily political rather than religious.[126] As noted by Shnirelman, there remains a loose boundary between the explicitly politicised nationalists and the less politicised wing of the Russian Rodnovery movement.[109] He added that ethnic nationalist and racist views were present even in those Rodnovers who did not identify as explicitly political.[108] According to Pilkington and Popov (2009), Cossack Native Faith believers generally eschew Nazism and racial interpretations of the Aryan theory.[129]

It is possible that the de-politicisation of the Russian Native Faith community was influenced by the introduction of anti-extremist legislation,[130] and the lack of any significant political opposition to the United Russia government of Vladimir Putin.[109] Simpson noted that in Poland, there had been an increasing trend to separate the religion from explicitly political activities and ideas during the 2010s.[131] The Russian Circle of Pagan Tradition (Круг Языческой Традиции; CPT for short) recognises Russia as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state, and has developed links with other religious communities in the country, such as practitioners of Mari Native Faith.[102] Members of the CPT prefer to characterise themselves as "patriots" rather than "nationalists" and seek to avoid any association with the idea of "Russia for the Russians".[98] Aitarmurto suggested that the different wings of the Rodnover movement "attract different kinds of people approaching Paganism from quite diverging points of departure".[132] She and Shizhenskii suggested that expressions of ultra-nationalism were considered socially unacceptable at the largest Rodnover event in Russia, the Kupala festival outside Maloyaroslavets.[133]

Rodnover ideas and symbols have also been adopted by many Russian nationalists—including in the Russian skinhead movement[134]—not all of whom embrace Rodnovery as a religion.[135] Some of these far-right groups merge Rodnover elements with others adopted from Germanic Heathenry and from Russian Orthodox Christianity.[136] A number of young practitioners of Slavic Native Faith have been detained on terrorism charged in Russia;[108] in 2008-09, teenaged Rodnovers forming a group called the Slavic Separatists conducted at least ten murders and planted bombs across Moscow targeting Muslims and non-ethnic Russians.[137]

Views on Slavic and Indo-European history[edit]

Mazovian Temple (Polish: Chram Mazowiecki) of the Native Polish Church.

Many practitioners of Slavic Native Faith legitimise their practices by highlighting and magnifying their Slavic ancestors by according them great cultural achievements.[138] Aitamurto stated that one of Rodnovery's "most characteristic features" was its "extremely imaginative and exaggerated descriptions of Russia's history".[139] Similarly, Dulov noted that the "interpretations of history" articulated by Bulgarian practitioners are "rather fantastic".[140] However, Aitamurto and Gaidukov later noted that the "wildly imaginative" ideas typical of the 1980s were in decline, and that—within Russia at least—"a more realistic attitude" to the past was "gaining ground" in the 21st century.[141] Some Rodnovers openly combat documents like the Vseyasvetnaya gramota, pejoratively referring to them as "New Age" and claiming that they serve to discredit the movement.[142] In Ukraine, Slavic Native Faith groups and RUNVira express different views of the past.[143] The latter consciously seek to modify ancient beliefs and update them, while the former emphasise the need for direct emulation of the pre-Christian peoples, regarding this as a source of authenticity.[143]

Many practitioners of Slavic Native Faith regard the Book of Veles as a holy text,[144] and as a genuine pre-Christian document.[145] Its composition is attributed by Rodnovers to ninth- or early tenth-century Slavic priests who wrote it in Polesia or the Volyn region of modern north-west Ukraine. Russian interpreters, however, locate this event much further east and north. The Book contains hymns and prayers, sermons, mythological, theological and political tracts, and historical narrative. It tells the wandering, over about one thousand and five hundred years of the ancestors of the Rus', identified as the Oryans (the book's version of the word "Aryan"), between the Indian subcontinent and the Carpathian Mountains, with modern Ukraine ultimately becoming their main homeland. Ivakhiv (2005) says that this territorial expansiveness is the main issue that makes historians wary of the Book.[146] Aitamurto described the work as a "Romantic description" of a "Pagan Golden Age".[139]

The fact that many scholars outspokenly reject the Book as a modern, twentieth-century composition has added to the allure that the text has for many Slavic Native Faith practitioners. According to them, such criticism is an attempt to "suppress knowledge" carried forward either by Soviet-style scientism or by "Judaic cosmopolitan" forces. A number of Ukrainian scholars defend the truthfulness of the Book, including literary historian Borys Yatsenko, archaeologist Yuri Shylov, and writers Valery Shevchuk, Serhy Plachynda, Ivan Bilyk, and Yuri Kanyhin. These scholars claim that criticism of the Book primarily comes from Russians interested in promoting a Russocentric view of history which sets the origin of all East Slavs in the north, while the Book shows that southern Rus' civilisation is much older, and nearer to Ukrainians themselves, West Slavs, South Slavs and the eastern Indo-European composers of the Vedas, than to Russians.[146] For many Ukrainian Rodnovers, the Book provides them with a cosmology, ethical system, and ritual practices that they can follow, and confirms their belief that the ancient Ukrainians had a literate and advanced civilisation prior to the arrival of Christianity.[144] Other modern literary works that have influenced the movement, albeit on a smaller scale, include The Songs of the Bird Gamayon, Koliada's Book of Stars, The Song of the Victory on the Jewish Khazaria of Sviatoslav the Brave or The Rigveda of Kiev.[147]

Worship ceremony led by the priests of the General Fire of Slavic Native Faith.

Some Rodnovers believe that Slavic people constitute a distinct race, whose origins are distinct from those of other ethnic groups.[120] According to them, Slavs are the directest descendants of ancient Aryans, who they equate with the Proto-Indo-Europeans.[30] Some Rodnovers espouse esoteric teachings which hold that these Aryans have spiritual origins linked to astral patterns of the north celestial pole (cf. circumpolar stars), around the pole star, such as the Great Bear, or otherwise to the Orion constellation.[120] According to further teachings the Aryans originally dwelt at the geographic North Pole, where they lived until the weather became too cold.[148] Others believe that the Aryans germinated in Russia's southern steppes.[149] In claiming an Aryan ancestry, Slavic Native Faith practitioners can legitimise their cultural borrowing from other ethno-cultural groups who they claim are also Aryan descendants, such as the Germanic peoples or those of the Indian subcontinent.[150] Another belief adopted by some practitioners of the movement is that many ancient societies—including those of the Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, and Etruscans—were in reality Slavic but that this has been concealed by Western scholars eager to deny the Slavic peoples knowledge of their true history.[149]

Some Russian Rodnovers believe that Russia has a messianic role to play in human history and eschatology, which is destined to be the final battleground between good and evil or the centre of post-apocalyptic civilisation which will survive the demise of the Western world.[116] At this point—some of them believe—the entire Russian nation will embrace the Slavic Native Faith.[151] Russian Rodnover leader Aleksandr Asov believes that the Book of Veles will be the "geopolitical weapon of the next millennium" through which an imperial, Eurasianist Russia will take over the spiritual and political leadership of the world from the degenerated West.[146] Others believe that the new spiritual geopolitical centre will be Ukraine.[152] In 2006, a conference of the European New Right was held in Moscow under the title "The Future of the White World", with participants including Rodnover leaders such as Ukraine's Halyna Lozko and Russia's Pavel Tulaev. The conference focused on ideas for the establishment in Russia of a political entity that would function as a new epicentre of white race and civilisation, enshrining the "religion, philosophy, science and art" that emanate from the "Aryan soul",[153]:90-91 either taking the form of Guillaume Faye's "Euro-Siberia", Aleksandr Dugin's "Eurasia", or Pavel Tulaev's "Euro-Russia".[153]:84-85 According to Tulaev, Russia enshrines in its own name the essence of the Aryans, one of the etymologies of Rus being from a root that means "bright", whence "white" in mind and body.[153]:86 Such eschatological and racial beliefs are explicitly rejected by other Rodnovers, like the Russian Circle of Pagan Tradition.[98]

Although their understanding of the past is typically rooted in spiritual conviction rather than in arguments that would be acceptable within contemporary scientific paradigms, many Rodnovers seek to promote their beliefs about the past within the academia.[141] In Poland, archaeologists and historians have been hesitant about any contribution that Slavic Native Faith practitioners can make to understandings of the past.[96] Similarly, in Russia, many of the larger and more notable universities refuse to give a platform to Rodnover views, but smaller, provincial institutions have sometimes done so.[141] Within Russia, there are academic circles in which a "very vivid trend of alternative history" is promoted; these circles share many of the views of Slavic Native Faith practitioners, particularly regarding the existence of an advanced, ancient Aryan race from whom ethnic Russians are descended.[154]

Views on Christianity[edit]

Painting of bishop Absalon toppling the statue of the god Svetovid at ArkonaLaurits Tuxen, late 19th century.

Many Slavic Native Faith practitioners consciously reject Christianity or adopt anti-Christian views.[155] Some also take a hostile stance toward Judaism, which they regard as having spawned Christianity.[58] For many practitioners, Christianity is regarded as a foreign force that is destroying Slavic culture,[156] or as a force that has left Russia under the control of Jews.[149] Abrahamic religions in general are considered as forces which lead to the destruction of organic peoples.[23] Christianity is also criticised as being anthropocentric, and thus responsible for ecological destruction.[64] In Russia, Rodnovers often criticise Christianity for its claim to have a monopoly on truth; they regard it as a "mono-ideology", and compare it to Soviet Marxism.[102] Even capitalism is considered a product of Abrahamic religions; Russian Rodnover leader Dobroslav declared that "nature-swallowing capitalism is an ugly child of the Judeo-Christian civilisation", and that "the only way out is to go back ... from the cult of profit to the cult of life", back to indigenous religions.[157]

The folklorist Mariya Lesiv observed Rodnovers marching in Kiev in 2006 chanting "Out with Jehovah! Glory to Dazhboh!"[158] Simpson noted that in Poland, several practitioners launched a poster campaign against Valentines Day, which they regarded as not being an authentically Polish celebration.[96] In Russia, Slavic Native Faith practitioners have been responsible for the vandalism and arson attacks carried out on various churches.[159]

Slavic Native Faith practitioners often reject Christian ideas of humility, regarding them as antithetical to a Rodnover emphasis on courage and fighting spirit.[160] In general, Christianity is regarded as a religion of servility (rab) and obligation, and obedience to the priests, while Rodnovery is regarded as freedom of choice and faith in Rod, the principle from whom everything emanates. Pilkington and Popov (2009) report the definition given by Koldun—a Rodnover priest from Krasnodar—of Rodnovery not as "religion" but as "faith". In his view, "religion", in the sense of universalist mass-religions, is a reduction of individuals to amorphous throngs, in which individual identity is lost. Contrariwise, "faith", like in Rodnovery, is true knowledge (znat' pravdu), which has to be acquired by individuals through conscious effort.[161]

Christians have also been responsible for opposition to Slavic Native Faith, for instance through the establishment of social media groups like "No to Paganism in Holy Rus!!!" and "No to Neopaganism".[162] The Russian Orthodox Church has expressed opposition to the growth and spread of Slavic Native Faith across Russia on various occasions.[163] In the 2000 edition of his book Sektovedeniye, Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Dvorkin recognised that "in today's Russia, neopagan nativistic sects are mushrooming" and that "altogether they represent a notable phenomenon of post-Soviet Russian religious life".[164] In 2009 there was a well-known public debate between Orthodox Christians and Rodnovers in Kaluga; the former were led by priest Daniel Sysoev and the latter by Vadim Kazakov, head of the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities.[75] More recently, in November 2014 Patriarch Kirill himself expressed concerns about "attempts to construct a pseudo-Russian neopagan belief" and the well-known priest Vsevolod Chaplin called for Rodnovery's outright ban "on the level of law".[164] In early 2015, the official journal of the Ascension Cathedral of Astrakhan published a polemical piece entitled Adversus paganos in which church authorities complained about the growth of Rodnovery and the fact that "representatives of government and public organisations" spoke of a need to revive "Orthodoxy and the religion of ancient Slavs", leading many young people to join the movement.[75]

In early 2016, at the "International Educational Christmas Readings" in Moscow, Merya ethnofuturistic religious revivals and the spread of Rodnovery among the Russian Armed Forces were discussed as issues of particular concern. A conference explicitly dedicated to counteract the spread of Rodnovery was held in March 2016 at the Magnitogorsk State Technical University; on this occasion, bishop Innokenty of Magnitogorsk and Vekrhneuralsk said that Slavic Native Faith constitutes "a greater threat to the Church than atheism". Vladimir Legoyda, succeeding Vsevolod Chaplin as president of the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry, said that the spread of Slavic Native Faith among the military constitutes "a direct challenge to the Church".[163]

According to Pavel Skrylnikov of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Russian Orthodox Church is uneasy about the growth of Slavic Native Faith because Rodnover communities "are far better consolidated than parishioners of Orthodox churches" because their activities are not reduced to one routine rite, but what they offer is a whole community lifestyle that goes from game and sports competitions to workshops and festivals, all complemented by worship services to the gods. Moreover, Slavic Native Faith "offers an alternative version of national and religious identity" that is not perceived as having originated abroad, and therefore fulfils "patriotic religious needs" better than Christianity.[163]

Some Russian Rodnovers have however attempted to improve relations with the Orthodox Church, arguing that Russian Orthodoxy had adopted many elements of pre-Christian belief and rites.[165] In this way they argue that Russian Orthodoxy is distinct from other forms of Christianity,[64] and seek to portray it as the "younger brother" of Slavic Native Faith.[166]

Outgang from Christianity[edit]

A Rodnover initiation in Russia.

Many Rodnover groups organise formal ceremonies of renunciation of Christianity (raskrestitsia, literally "de-Christianisation") and initiation into the community of Slavic Native Faith. Central to the conversion is the "renaming", that is to say the adoption of a new Slavic name. Generally speaking, raskrestitsia ceremonies symbolise the death and rebirth of the convert in the new community. Some groups, especially male brotherhoods, practise the cutting of a second "life line" on the palm of the hand of converts, symbolising the new "blood bond" that is formed with other members.[167]

Rites and practices[edit]

A building of the Slavic Kremlin "Sundakova" of the "Yarga" Rodnover religious society in Podolsky District, Moscow Oblast. Yarga is a network of Rodnover villages and temples.

Some practitioners of Slavic Native Faith choose to follow their religion alone.[168] These solitaries are however in a minority, and most practitioners decide to join Rodnover groups and participate in communal religious activities.[168] In Russia, rituals are often held in the evenings, at weekends, or on public holidays, thus enabling the many adherents who work on weekdays to attend.[169] Sometimes, Slavic Native Faith groups send guests to the religious meetings of other groups, including those in other countries.[170]

Most Slavic Native Faith groups strongly emphasise the commemoration of ancestors in their religious practices.[171] For many practitioners, greater importance is given to creating what they perceive as "genuine" Slavic rituals rather than those which will be psychologically empowering.[108] A basic ritual is the kolo (literally "circle"), which involves gathering in circle and pouring libations to the gods.[172]

The "Association of Sons and Daughters of Ukraine of the Native Ukrainian National Faith" (OSIDU RUNVira for short, which is one of the churches belonging to the Sylenkoite branch of Rodnovery) holds a weekly "Holy Hour of Self-Realisation", in which practitioners read from Sylenko's Maha Vira, sermons are given, the ancestors are commemorated, and prayers and hymns are given. The meeting ends with the singing of "Shche ne vmerla Ukraina", the national anthem of Ukraine.[173] The rival and near homonymous "Association of Sons and Daughters of the Native Ukrainian National Faith" (OSID RUNVira), also conducts weekly Holy Hours, but incorporates a wider selection of sources—such as readings from the Book of Veles or the poetry of Taras Shevchenko—into the proceedings.[171] The structure of these rites are modelled on those of the Eastern Orthodox Church.[27]

Adherents of Slavic Native Faith sometimes adopt elements from recorded folk culture and incorporate them into their religious practices. Lesiv described this process as one of "Paganisation", whereby Christian or otherwise non-Pagan elements were deliberately given a new Pagan meaning and purpose.[174] In turn, some of these Paganised folk practices have been transmitted through the wider population, who have regarded them as authentic traditional practices.[175] Slavic Native Faith practitioners sometimes also adopt non-Slavic elements in order to incorporate them into their religious practices.[176] For instance, Polish practitioners incorporated the use of fire poi at their Midsummer festivities, a practice that originally developed in Pacific regions during the mid-20th century.[177] The Ukrainian group Ancestral Fire promotes a healing technique called Zhyva that has close similarities to the Japanese practice of reiki.[71] In another instance, Lesiv observed a Ukrainian Rodnover who legitimised their practice of yoga by claiming that this spiritual tradition had originally been developed by the ancestors of modern-day Ukrainians.[138] Groups affiliated with Peterburgian Vedism incorporate Ivanovite healing techniques.[54]

Communities, citadels and temples[edit]

Priests officiating at a simple temple (kapishche) in Kaluga, Kaluga Oblast, Russia.

Rodnover organisations have inherited ideas of commonality and social governance from Slavic and Russian history. They recover the pre-Christian social institution of the veche (folk assembly), which they also see as reflecting the concept of sobornost formulated in 20th-century Russian philosophy.[178]

A form of organisation of Rodnover communities consists in the establishment of places for common living, such as fortresses (kremlin) or citadels (gorodok), in which temples are umbegone by buildings for various social uses. The Slavic Kremlin "Sundakova" (Славянский Кремль Сундакова) is one of such centres, located in the Podolsky District of Moscow Oblast and belonging to the "Yarga" Rodnover network. Another project of this type is the Centre of the "Rodunitsa" Rodnover Communities of Krasnoyarsk (Общины Родноверов Красноярья "Родуница"), known by the acronym ORKxoll (ОРКхолл, i.e. "ORK-centre"), a citadel expected to be complete in coming years. It will include a temple, a longhouse for common activities, a wedding hall, living quarters for the clergy, and other facilities.[179] Some Rodnover networks have established through villages all over Russia; this is the case, among other examples, of those Rodnovers who are part of the Ringing Cedars' movement.[178]

Rituals and religious meetings are often performed in rural settings, such as clearings in woodland.[177] The basic structure of a temple of the Slavic Native Faith (капище, kapishche; or храм, khram) is constituted by a sacred precinct at the centre of which are placed poles with carved images of the gods enshrined (капий, kapy). There are many such basic temples throughout Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. A large, elaborate of such temples is projected to be built in Khabarovsk.[180] In 2015, the Temple of the Fire of Svarozich (Храм Огня Сварожича), in the form of a simple wooden architecture, was opened by the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities in Krasotynka, Kaluga.[181] Rodnovers erected a statue of Perun in a park near Kupchino in Saint Petersburg, although did not obtain official permission first. The statue remained in place for some time until being removed by the authorities in 2007 when a decision was made to construct a church nearby.[182]


Slavic priests, called volkhv or mages (which are synonyms in Slavic languages; volkhv is also translatable as "wizard" or "wiseman"), or zhrets (literally "priests", i.e. "elders"),[183] are those responsible for holding rites for worshipping the gods and leading religious festivals. In 2012, a number of Rodnover organisations in Russia made an agreement for the mutual recognition of their priesthood and for the uniformisation of ordination policies.[163] Pilkington and Popov (2009) document that in modern Rodnovery volkhv and zhrets represent two levels of the sacerdotal hierarchy, with the former having the higher position.[183]


Russian Rodnovers celebrating the Kupala Night festival.
Ukrainian Rodnovers worshipping a goddess' pole on Vodokreš holiday in the countryside.

The rituals of Native Faith have been described as following "the cycles of nature".[66] They usually take place in parks or rural areas.[66] Some of the festivals celebrated by Slavic Native Faith practitioners are Christian ones that have been "Paganised".[175] An example of this is the Kupala Night celebrations adopted by many practitioners.[175] Shizhenskii and Aitamurto described one such Kupala festival, held over the course of three days outside Maloyaroslavets in Russia.[13] At this event, weddings, purification rituals, and name-giving ceremonies took place.[13] Musical performances, martial arts, and folkloric plays were put on, while a market sold traditional handicrafts.[13] The event attracted many interested persons as well as practising Pagans.[13] Other festivals that are celebrated by Rodnovers are Koliada[184] and Maslenitsa.[185]

The calendar of one of the organisations of the Native Ukrainian National Faith includes feast days that have been de-Christianised, such as a Christmas of Dazhboh's Light and an Easter of the Eternal Resurrection.[171] It also observes feast days devoted to Ukrainian national heroes such as Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and Hryhory Skovoroda, as well as those devoted to more abstract concepts such as "Ukrainian Ancient Literature" and "New Ukrainian Literature".[186]

Slavic martial arts[edit]

Various styles of Slavic martial arts are directly linked to Rodnovery. The movement known as "Slavic-hill wrestling" (Славяно-горицкая борьба, Slavyano-goritskaya bor'ba), present almost exclusively in Russia, was first organised in 1990 when Rodnover believer Aleksandr Belov founded a federation unifying more than fifty centres located in various Russian cities, the "National Club of Ancient Russian Martial Art". The aim of the organisation is to restore Russia's militaristic traditions. In 2009, Roman Zentsov founded "Resistance", another martial arts organisation aligned with the right-wing political scene.[187][188] Other martial arts styles that are popular among Rodnovers are "bench wrestling" (lavochki) and "wall against wall" (stenka na stenku).[72]

Rodnover festivals and rituals often include various martial arts displays. They may be symbolic of seasonal change, for example the victory of spring over winter, but they are also considered as magical means of worship and physical and mental discipline, exhibiting bravery, strength and honesty, qualities that reevoke ancestral kings and gods.[189]


The origins of Slavic Native Faith have been traced to the Romantic movement of late eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe, which was a reaction against rationalism and the Age of Enlightenment.[190] This was accompanied by a growth in nationalism across Europe, as intellectuals began to assert their own national heritage.[190] Whereas calls to re-establish pre-Christian belief systems existed within the German and Austrian far-right nationalist movements during the early twentieth century, the same did not happen in its Russian counterpart.[145]

"Future times will reveal this truth, that when it [Christianity] overwhelmed us, it washed away all our early characteristic qualities; our independent spirit was undermined in many sites of our land. And while we were shaped with foreign models, we became at the end strangers to ourselves."

— Zorian Dołęga-Chodakowski[191]

In 1818, the Polish ethnographer Zorian Dołęga-Chodakowski (Adam Czarnocki) in the work O Sławiańszczyźnie przed chrześcijaństwem ("About Slavs before Christianity") declared himself a "pagan" and stated that the Christianisation of the Slavic peoples had been a mistake.[192] Thus he became a precursor of return to Slavic religion in Poland and all Slavic countries.[193]

Similarly, the Polish philosopher Bronisław Trentowski saw the ancient pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavic peoples as a true path to understanding the divine creator, arguing that Christianity failed to do so.[194] It was this Romantic rediscovery and revaluing of pre-Christian belief systems that prepared the way for the later emergence of Slavic Native Faith.[195]

1930s–1940s: Early developments[edit]

Illustration of the Book of Veles.

In Ukraine, the first practitioners of Slavic Native Faith appeared in the 1930s.[196] One of the most influential Ukrainian Rodnover ideologues was Volodymyr Shayan, a linguist and philologist who worked at Lviv University.[196] He claimed that in 1934 he underwent a spiritual revelation atop Mount Grekhit in the Carpathian Mountains.[196] Particularly interested in the ideas of an ancient Aryan race that were popular at the time,[197] he subsequently began promoting what he called a "pan-Aryan renaissance".[196] He turned to recorded Ukrainian folklore to find what he regarded as the survivals of ancient pre-Christian belief.[197] In 1944, he fled the Soviet government and travelled to refugee camps in Germany and Austria. There, he established the "Order of the Knights of the Solar God" (Orden Lytsariv Boha Sontsia), a religio-political group that he hoped would affiliate itself to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army.[198]

In Poland, Jan Stachniuk established the Zadruga magazine in 1937;[199] the term "Zadruga" itself was a reference to a South Slavic tribal unit.[200] Continuing on from Dołęga-Chodakowski, Stachniuk's own work criticised Catholicism in Poland, arguing that it had had a negative effect on the country's national character.[201] He did not develop his ideas into a religion, and those who shared his views remained "a very loose and diverse intellectual clique".[19] The magazine and its associated group embraced members with a wide variety of viewpoints, ranging from secularly humanistic to religiously Slavic Native Faith stances.[202] He was nevertheless labelled a neopoganin ("Neopagan") by the Polish popular press, a term that he embraced as a self-descriptor in later life.[203]

Władysław Kołodziej later claimed to have established a pre-war "Holy Circle of the Worshippers of Svetovid" (Święte Koło Czcicieli Światowida), although there is no evidence that they conducted regular meetings until many years later.[19] During the Second World War, Stefan Potrzuski led a unit in the Peasant Battalion which battled the Nazi German occupation forces. His unit had a shrine to the god Svetovid in their secret forest base and held group rites in which they toasted a wooden image of the deity with mead.[19] Stachniuk fought against the Nazi occupation during the Warsaw Uprising. Following the end of the war and the incorporation of Poland under a Stalinist regime, both Stachniuk and Kołodziej were arrested, preventing the establishment of a Slavic Native Faith community.[199] In 1954, a student group known as Klan Ausran was established at the University of Łódź; officially dedicated to a study of Indo-European society, its members provided hymns and prayers.[204]

1960s–1980s: Soviet Union and Slavic diaspora in the West[edit]

One of those who joined Shayan's group was Lev Sylenko.[205] He subsequently left Europe and moved first to Canada and then the United States. It was in Chicago that he established the earliest groups of the Native Ukrainian National Faith (RUNVira) in 1966.[205] Sylenko presented himself as a prophet of Dazhbog who had been sent to the Ukrainian people.[33] In his view, the Ukrainians were the superior manifestation of the European peoples,[69] and Kyiv the oldest city of the "white race".[69] Sylenko was a charismatic leader, whose followers praised his talents and oratorical skills.[206] In 1979 he published Maha Vira, a book which he claimed chronicled the ancient history of the Ukrainian people.[205] The system of Slavic Native Faith that he developed was influenced by deism and Theosophy.[81] A RUNVira centre, the Temple of Mother Ukraine, was established in Spring Glen, New York.[207] RUNVira congregations were established among Ukrainian émigré communities in other parts of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Germany.[208]

The Temple of Mother Ukraine (Oriyana) in Spring Glen, New York, USA.

During the Stalin era in the Soviet Union, research into prehistoric societies was encouraged, with some scholars arguing that pre-Christian society reflected a form of communitarianism that was damaged by Christianity's promotion of entrenched class divisions. In doing so, pre-Christian belief systems underwent a rehabilitation.[209] Russian Native Faith originated in the Soviet dissidents' circles of the 1970s.[122] An intellectual circle that cultivated themes of Slavic Paganism formed as a wing of the predominantly Orthodox Christian samizdat nationalist journal Veche (1971–1974). Such group included Anatoly Ivanov, the artist Konstantin Vasilyev (1942–1974), and Nikolai Bogdanov, among others. Vasilyev's art is widely celebrated within the Rodnover community. Ivanov, who declared himself a Zarathustrian and subscribed to "Arism" or "Slavism", published a fervently anti-Christian pamphlet entitled "The Christian Plague" (Khristianskaya chuma). Throughout the 1970s, the nationalist dissident movement split into two branches, an Orthodox Christian one and another one that developed National Bolshevism, which eventually continued to harbour Pagan traditionalists.[210]

In the Soviet Union, Slavic Native Faith groups had to operate in secret, although a few small groups were known to exist in Moscow and Leningrad.[211] These groups were closely linked to the nationalistic circles operating during the 1980s.[211] In Moscow, an occult circle was established by Yevgeny Golovin and Yuri Mamleyev; although not explicitly Pagan, they were influenced by occult Pagan thinkers like Guido von List and sought a return to a pre-Christian Aryan world.[212] In the early 1980s, the "Pamyat" movement was established by figures active at the Metropolitan Moscow Palace of Culture, which similarly looked with fondness on ancient Aryan culture.[212] Several Russian nationalists also began to state that pre-Christian belief systems were the true religion of the Russian people; Apollon Kuzmin did so in his 1988 book Padenie Peruna ("The Fall of Perun").[213] In 1986, Viktor Bezverkhy established the Leningrad (Saint Petersburg)-based "Society of the Mages" (Obshchestvo Volkhvov), an explicitly white supremacist and anti-Semitic organisation; it was followed by the Union of the Veneds, founded in 1990.[214] These organisations gave rise to the stream of Rodnovery known as "Peterburgian Vedism".[54]

A key influence on the movement at this time was the circulation of the Book of Veles among Russian and Ukrainian émigrés.[215] This text was brought to the public by Yuri Mirolyubov, who claimed that it had been discovered by a friend of his, F. A. Izenbek, while serving as a White Army officer during the Russian Civil War. Mirolyubov alleged that the original text had been etched on wooden boards, but that these had been lost during the Second World War, leaving only his own copies.[145] It is probable that the Book of Veles was a literary composition produced by Mirolyubov himself.[145] By the 1970s the work was causing a sensation,[216] with many émigrés regarding it as a genuine tenth century text.[145] Other influential texts on the burgeoning movement were Emel'anov's Desionizatsiya and later Istarkhov's Udar russkikh bogov ("The Strike of Russian Gods").[139]

1990s–2000s: Post-Soviet growth[edit]

Ukrainian Rodnovers engaged in public worship.

After Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet government introduced the policy of perestroika in the 1980s, Slavic Native Faith groups established themselves in Ukraine.[217] The collapse of the Soviet Union and its official policy of state atheism resulted in a resurgence of open religious adherence across the region.[218] Many individuals arrived at Slavic Native Faith after exploring a range of different alternative spiritualities, with Asian religious influences being particularly apparent within Slavic Native Faith at that time.[219]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent republic, with many Ukrainians turning to strongly nationalistic agendas; among those to have done so are pseudo-archaeologists like Yuri Shylov, who posits Ukraine as the "cradle of civilisation".[220] It is within this broader milieu of cultural nationalism and interest in alternative spiritualities that Slavic Native Faith re-emerged in Ukraine.[58] The United States-based group RUNVira established itself in Ukraine soon after independence, with the first RUNVira congregation in Ukraine gaining official recognition in Kiev in 1991.[221] There had been schisms in the international RUNVira organisation.[81] A number of senior followers broke with Sylenko during the 1980s, rejecting the idea that he should be the ultimate authority in the religion; they formed the "Association of Sons and Daughters of the Native Ukrainian National Faith" (Об'єднання Синів і Дочок—РУНВіра; OSID RUNVira) and secured legal control of the temple in Spring Glen.[222] A second group, the "Association of Sons and Daughters of Ukraine of the Native Ukrainian National Faith" (Об'єднання Синів і Дочок України—РУНВіра; OSIDU RUNVira), maintained links with Sylenko himself, whom it regards as a prophet, and adopted his Maha Vira as a sacred text.[81] Despite the animosity that existed between these rival Ukrainian groups, there was some collaboration between them.[218] In 2003, the First Forum of Rodnovers was held in the country, resulting in two public proclamations: the first urged the country's government to protect what the Rodnovers regarded as sacred sites and objects, and the second called on the government not to go ahead with the proposed privatisation of agricultural land.[218] That same year, a group called "Ancestral Fire of the Native Orthodox Faith" (Родового Вогнища Рідної Православної Віри) was established; in contrast to the anti-Russian slant taken by Sylenko, it embraced a Pan-Slavic perspective.[223]

The social context of Slavic Native Faith's growth in Russia differed from that in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe.[99] Russian nationalists had welcomed the collapse of the Soviet system but were disappointed with the arrival of capitalism and the dramatic economic downturn that Russia faced in that decade.[224] Large numbers became unemployed, and many turned to the past, including in ethnic terms.[225] In this context, the growth of Rodnovery can be seen as a nationalistic project to regain national pride.[99] Many leaders of early post-Soviet Rodnovery were intellectuals that were already practising members of the movement in late Soviet times, for instance, Grigory Yakutovsky (Vseslav Svyatozar), Aleksei Dobrovolsky (Dobroslav), and Viktor Bezverkhy.[226] Other leaders that emerged in this period were Aleksandr Asov, publisher of numerous versions of the Book of Veles, and Aleksei Belov, founder of the martial arts style known as "Slavic-hill wrestling".[227]

Russian Rodnovers started to organise by the mid-1990s; in 1994 the "Moscow Slavic Community" was the first Rodnover group to be registered by the government. Concerted efforts by the communities of Moscow and Kaluga led to the establishment of the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities in 1997. The communities of Moscow and Obninsk later left the organisation for ideological differences. Another organisation, the "Circle of Veles", which is one of the largest and administers communities also located in the territory of Ukraine, was founded in 1999. Also, the Ynglist Church was formally established in the early 1990s.[163] In 2002, the same year of the "Bittsa Agreement", the Circle of Pagan Tradition was established in Moscow.[228] Its purpose was to bring together Russian Rodnovers who did not share the extreme right-wing views then dominant in much of the community.[229] In 2009, the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities and the Circle of Pagan Tradition issued a joint statement against Ynglism, disapproving what they reck as Ynglists' "pseudo-pagan teachings, pseudo-linguistics, pseudo-science and outright fiction".[163]

Polish Rodnovers worshipping in the woods.

In Poland, the Wrocław-based publishing house Toporzeł has reissued Stachniuk's works and those of his disciple Antoni Wacyk.[230] Zadruga also inspired the registered religious "Association of Native Faith" (Zrzeszenie Rodzimej Wiary; now called "Rodzima Wiara" [RW], or "Native Faith"),[231] whose founder Stanisław Potrzebowski wrote his doctoral thesis on pre-war Zadruga in German (Zadruga - eine völkische Bewegung in Polen).[232] Another Slavic Native Faith group registered with the Polish authorities in 1995 is the Native Polish Church (Rodzimy Kościół Polski), which represents a tradition that goes back to Władysław Kołodziej's Holy Circle of the Worshippers of Svetovid.[233] In 1998, a Czech Native Faith group called Rahoŝť was founded by an Italian-born academic specialist in Slavic studies, Giuseppe Maiello.[234] In 2000 this group merged with the extreme-right nationalist "National Front of the Pures" (Národní Fronta Kastitů) to form the Rodná Víra group.[234] This organisation subsequently nurtured strong links with Rodnover groups in Slovakia, Poland, and Russia.[235] The group broke apart following a schism in 2005.[235]

In Slovenia, a group called the "Svetovid Parish of the Old Belief" (Staroverska Župa Svetovid) was established around 2005 through a union of an older group, Ajda, with the followers of military historian Matjaž Vratislav Anžur.[236] As of 2013, it had between ten and fifteen members.[110] The group organised an "All-Slavic Council" for August 2009, which was held at Struga Castle.[110] During the 1990s and 2000s, a number of groups were established in Bulgaria, namely the "Dulo Alliance", the "Warriors of Tangra", and the "Bulgarian Horde 1938".[237] These groups had strong political motivations, being extremely nationalistic, anti-Western, and anti-Semitic.[140] Rodnover figures and groups played a prominent role in the 2002 establishment of Ongal, a Bulgarian far-right umbrella organisation.[238]

The Internet helped to bring about the growing uniformisation of ritual practices across the Slavic Native Faith movement.[219] The first Rodnover website on Runet—the Russian language Internet—was established by a Moscow-based believer in 1996.[239] Many Rodnovers made use of Russian Wikipedia to promote their religion, although many found the process difficult and switched focus to promulgating Slavic Native Faith through LiveJournal and, through which they could express their own views more directly.[240] From the mid-2000s, Slavic Native Faith practitioners made increasing use of social media to communicate with other members of their community.[241] Russian Rodnovery also attracted the attention of academics, many of whom focused on the political dimensions of the movement, thus neglecting other aspects of the community.[242] Aitamurto later criticised some of this Russian-language material for reflecting scholars' own religious biases against Rodnovery, over-reliance on the published texts of prominent figure, or for sensationalising the subject to shock or impress their audience.[242] This generated some mutual hostility between academics and practitioners, rendering subsequent scholarly fieldwork more difficult.[242]

Rodnover themes have also been employed in the heavy metal subculture, particularly in bands like Sokyra Perun ("Perun's Axe"), "Whites Load", and Komu Vnyz ("Who Will Go Down").[58] In Poland, Rodnovery has influenced various forms of folk and popular music.[243]

2010s: Consolidation and War in Donbass[edit]

Priests of the "Skhoron Ezh Slaven" Rodnover organisation, with Russian army personnel behind them.

The early 2010s saw a strengthening of relations between Rodnover groups. In 2012, in Russia, representatives of the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities, the Circle of Pagan Tradition and the Circle of Veles, signed an "Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Priests" that defined the criteria for the ordination of those wishing to become Slavic priests. On the same occasion, they once again expressed disapproval for some authors and movements, including the large "Skhoron Ezh Slaven", which is also present in Belarus and Ukraine. In 2014, the Russian government officially registered the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities as an interregional public organisation for the promotion of Slavic culture.[163]

In late 2011, in Bosnia and Herzegovina a Rodnover association named "Circle of Svarog" (Svaroži Krug) formed, as a part of the Pan-Slavic Praskozorje movement.[244] In 2011, in the Serbian village of Mokra, a group of enthusiasts, led by journalist Dragan Jovanović, erected a wooden statue of Svetovid.[245]

Rodnovery has a significant role in the War in Donbass, with many Rodnovers forming or joining armed forces. Some of them—for example those of the Svarozich Battalion—have been fighting in favour of Russia; other Rodnovers—such as those of the Azov Battalion—have taken the side of Ukraine.[163] The war divided opinion among Ukrainian practitioners; many in RUNVira viewed Russia as the aggressor, while adherents of Ancestral Fire more commonly saw Russians and Ukrainians as brothers and believed that the conflict was caused by the machinations of the United States.[246]

In August 2015, during the III Polish Nationwide Rodnover Congress, the "Rodnover Confederation" (Konfederacja Rodzimowiercza) was formally established. Among the members are eleven organisations including "Gontyna" Association, "Żertwa" Association, "Pomeranian Rodnovers" (Rodzimowiercy Pomorscy), "Drzewo Przodków Association", "Circle of Radegast" (Krąg Radogost), "Kałdus" Association, "Swarga" Group (Gromada "Swarga"), "WiD Group", "ZW Rodzima Wiara" and the "Watra" Rodnover Community (Wspólnota Rodzimowierców "Watra").[247] In June 2017, during the celebrations of nationwide holiday called Stado, was created new religious organisation: Religious Organisation of Polish Rodnovers "Kin" (Związek Wyznaniowy Rodzimowierców Polskich "Ród").[248]

Branches and interwoven movements[edit]

There are Rodnover groups who develop theories and practices which differ significantly from those of common Rodnovery, represented by the theology and cosmology contained in the Book of Veles and Slavic folklore. Some of them have developed into religions that may or may not be regarded as Rodnovery (this is the case of Ynglism, which is not recognised as true Slavic Native Faith by the major Rodnover organisations of Russia,[249] and of Yagnovery, Ladovery and Sylenkoism, which some Rodnovers opine not to be classifiable as branches of Slavic Native Faith[250]). Some other Rodnover groups interweave themselves with movements that only partially overlap with Rodnovery, having originated outside of it (this is the case of Ivanovism, Rerikhism, and especially the Ringing Cedars).[251]

Other movements include the devotees of Berehynia in Ukraine, the Pan-Slavic "Khara-Khors" Slavic-Vedic movement, "Koliada Viatichei", the "Russian Religious Church" of Viktor Kandyba, the "Satya-Veda" Aryan Gentile Community of Ilya Cherkasov (volkhv Veleslav), the "Tezaurus" Spiritual Union, amongst others.[91][252]:1186–1187


Assianism (Russian: Ассианство) is essentially Scythian Rodnovery. It is present in Russia and Ukraine, especially, but not exclusively, among Cossacks who claim a Scythian identity to distinguish themselves from Slavs.[253] An organised renewal of Scythian religion started in the 1980s building upon the folk religious beliefs of the Ossetians, who are modern linguistic descendants of the Scythians. They endonymously call the religion Uatsdin (Ossetian Cyrillic: Уацдин, literally "True Faith"), and have embraced it in large numbers.[254] The "North Caucasian Scythian Regional Fire" is a Scythian Rodnover organisation in the North Caucasus region of Russia and eastern Ukraine that operates under the aegis of the Ancestral Fire of the Native Orthodox Faith.[255] Assianism has a distinctive theology and cosmology centred on Xwytsau ("Heaven") and its Uas (the "good-spell") that incarnates among humanity as Uastyrdzhi.

The major organisation among Ossetians is the Atsætæ Church (Ossetian: Ацæтæ; Russian: Асата, Asata) led by Daurbek Makeyev, based in North Ossetia–Alania. Some Russians have embraced Assianism by virtue of the fact that most of the ancient Scythians were assimilated by the East Slavs, and therefore modern Russians may reclaim Scythian culture. Such idea that Russians may derive, at least in part, from Scythians is popular in many Rodnover circles.[256] Makeyev himself, in a 2007 publication entitled "Assianism and world culture" (Assianstvo i mirovaya kul'tura), presented the religion as a worldwide spiritual heritage.[257] In 2009, on the occasion of a conference specifically dedicated to the subject held at the Moscow State University, philosopher Alexander Dugin praised the renewal of Scythian culture among Ossetians as an inspiration that will be beneficial to all Indo-Europeans and to the whole world.[258]

Ivanovism, Rerikhism, Peterburgian Vedism[edit]

Guests from Overseas—Nicholas Roerich, 1901. The painting represents the coming of Varangian Rosses from Scandinavia to the heart of the Eurasian continent.
Sacred Spring—Nicholas Roerich, 1910.

Ivanovism (Russian: Ивановизм) and Rerikhism (Рерихиа́нство) are spiritual movements linked with Russian cosmism, a holistic philosophy emphasising the centrality of the human being within a living environment and the idea of "God-building". It originated in the early 20th century and experienced a revival after the collapse of the Soviet Union, relying upon the Russian philosophical tradition, especially that represented by Vladimir Vernadsky and Pavel Florensky.[251]

Rerikhism originates from the teachings of Helena and Nicholas Roerich, it inherits elements of Theosophy and revolves around the practice of Agni Yoga, the union with Agni, the fire enliving the universe. Ivakhiv (2005) classifies Rerikhians and others movements of Theosophical imprint, such as the "Ukrainian Spiritual Republic" (Ukrainska Dukhovna Respublika), together with the broader "Vedic" movement.[259]

Ivanovism is a spiritual discipline based on the teachings of the mystic Porfiry Ivanov, based on the Detka healing system and religious hymns. The movement has its headquarters in eastern Ukraine,[260] the region of origin of Ivanov himself, and it is widespread in Russia. Ivanovite teachings are incorporated by Peterburgian Vedism, the Rodnover movement started by Viktor Bezverkhy and primarily represented by the Society of the Mages founded in 1986 and the Union of the Veneds founded in 1990, and their offshoots.[54]

Meryan Rodnovery[edit]

Meryan Rodnovery or Meryan Native Faith is an ethnoreligious movement present in the regions of Ivanovo, Kostroma, Moscow, Vladimir, Vologda, Tver, and Yaroslavl. It consists in the establishment of an ethnoreligious identity among those Russians who have Meryan ancestry; Merya are Volga Finns fully assimilated by East Slavs in the historical process of formation of the Russian ethnicity. It is primarily a urban phenomenon and its adherents are Russian-speakers.[261]

Various organisations have been established in the late 2000s and 2010s, including "Merjamaa" and "Merya mir" (Меря мир). In 2012 they presented their official flag. Skrylnikov notes that a salient feature of the movement is what he defines "ethnofuturism", that is to say, conscious adaptation of Merya heritage to the forms of modernity, in a process of distinction and interaction with Russian Native Faith. He says that Meryan Native Faith is mostly Slavic Native Faith whose concepts, names and iconoraphy are Finnicised. Meryan Rodnovers also rely upon the uninterrupted traditions of Mari Native Faith; on 27 September 2015, they organised a joint Mari-Merya prayer in the Moscow region. The cult of a Meryan mother goddess is being built upon the festival of the female saint Paraskevi of Iconium, on November 10. Also, Saint Leontius of Rostov is appropriated as a native god.[261]

Ringing Cedars of Russia[edit]

The "Ringing Cedars of Russia" or Anastasianism is a spiritual movement that overlaps with Rodnovery, but is not thoroughly part of it. Many Anastasians are Rodnovers, whilst others are not. The Ringing Cedars' movement arises from the writings of Vladimir Megre (Puzakov), related to a Siberian wise woman known as Anastasiya, who teaches techniques of natural and healthy living.[262]

Anastasians have established rural villages all over Russia, "kinship homesteads" (родовое поместье, rodovoye pomest'ye), where they conduct a harmonious life in at least a hectare of land. Anastasians believe that the Siberian cedar tree has various spiritual qualities. In his writings, Megre uses the word "Vedic" referring to the ideal society that the Ringing Cedars' movement aims at establishing, and many of his teachings are identical to those of Rodnovers.[263]


Sylenkoism is the branch of Rodnovery represented by the churches of the Native Ukrainian National Faith established by Lev Sylenko in the 1960s in the Ukrainian diaspora, and introduced in Ukraine only after the fall of the Soviet Union. There are at least four such churches: the Association of Sons and Daughters of Ukraine of the Native Ukrainian National Faith (OSIDU RUNVira), the Association of Sons and Daughters of the Native Ukrainian National Faith (OSID RUNVira), the fellowship established by Volodymyr Chornyi centred in Lviv, and the more independent Union of the Native Ukrainian Faith (Sobor Ridnoy Ukrainskoy Viry, SRUV for short).[264] According to the definition of Sylenko himself, his doctrine is that of a solar "absolute monotheism", in which the single God is Dazhbog,[69] that is to say the sky, the Sun, and the self-giving of the world itself.

Sylenko proclaimed himself a prophet, bringing to the Slavs a new understanding of God that, according to him, corresponds to their own and original understanding of God. By his own words: "God's grace came upon me, and following the will of God I have proclaimed a new understanding of God". According to believers, he acquired this knowledge through "breath of his ancestors" being united with them "by divine holiness".[33] The Federation of Ukrainian Rodnovers (Объединение Родноверов Украины), which directly inherits Volodymyr Shaian's Orthodoxy, in the person of its leader Halyna Lozko has advanced vehement critiques of Sylenkoism, calling Lev Sylenko a "false prophet" and accusing him of trying to lead Ukrainians in the "quagmire of cosmopolitan monotheism", the "fruit of Judaic religions which aim for global world domination".[265]

Yagnovery, Ladovery and Orantism[edit]

Yagnovery (Ukrainian: Ягновіра), Ladovery (Ладовіра) and Orantism (Орантизм) are branches of Rodnovery that are present in Ukraine.[266][267] Ladovery is a doctrine articulated by Oleksander Shokalo and other personalities in the magazine Ukrainsky svit ("Ukrainian World").[268] Orantism is a movement centred around the cult of Berehynia, linked to Ukrainian national identity, non-violence and resistance to global assimilation.[269]


An edition of Ynglists' Slavo-Aryan Vedas.

Ynglism, institutionally the "Ancient Russian Ynglist Church of the Orthodox Old Believers—Ynglings", was established in the early 1990s by the charismatic leader Aleksandr Khinevich from Omsk, in Siberia. According to the movement, which presents itself as the true, Orthodox, olden religion of the Russians, Yngly is the primordial God and at the same time the fire that enlivens the universe. They believe that Yngling, a name that identifies the earliest royal dynasties of Scandinavia, means "son(s) of Yngly", and that the historical Ynglings migrated to Scandinavia from the region of Omsk, which was a spiritual centre of the early Indo-Europeans. They hold that the Ynglinga saga of the Edda (itself composed by Snorri Sturluson on the basis of an older Ynglingatal), proves their ideas about the origins of the Ynglings in Omsk and is ultimately a more recent version of texts contained in their own sacred books, the Slavo-Aryan Vedas.[270]

The spiritual academy of the Ynglist Church teaches their version of the Vedas, "Aryan mathematics" and ancient grammar, and health techniques. The church is known for its intensive proselytism,[271] carried out through a "massive selling" of books, journals and other media. Ynglists organise yearly gatherings (veche) in summer.[249]

The Ynglist Church has been prosecuted various times for inciting ethnic hatred. In 2009 it was banned by Omsk authorities,[249] although the ban was later lifted. Ynglism meets widespread disapproval within mainstream Rodnovery, and the international veche has declared it a false religion. Nevertheless, according to Aitamurto (2016), on the basis of the amount of literature that Ynglists publish and the presence of their representatives at various Rodnover conferences, is clear that Ynglism has a "substantial number of followers".[249]


Eastern Slavic nations[edit]


Group of Russian Rodnovers on Ringing Cedars' festival, in Belgorod Oblast.

Writing in 2000, Shnirelman noted that modern Paganism was "growing rapidly" within the Russian Federation.[16] In 2016, Aitamurto noted that there was "no reliable information" on the number of Rodnovers in Russia, but that it was "plausible" that there were "several tens of thousands" of practitioners active in the country.[272] This was partly because there were several Rodnover groups active on the social network VK which had over 10,000 members.[272] She observed that a "substantial number" of adherents—and in particular those who had been among the earliest—belonged to the "technical intelligentsia".[169] Similarly, Shnirelman noted that the founders of Russian Rodnovery were "well-educated urbanized intellectuals" who had become frustrated with "cosmopolitan urban culture".[29] Physicists were particularly well represented; in this Aitamurto drew comparisons to the high number of computer professionals who were present in the Pagan communities of Western countries.[169] The movement also involved a significant number of people who had a background in the Soviet or Russian Army,[273] or in policing and security.[160] The "vast majority" of Russian Rodnovers were young and there were a greater proportion of men than women.[169] A questionnaire distributed at the Kupala festival in Maloyaroslavets suggested that Native Faith practitioners typically had above-average levels of education, with a substantial portion working as business owners or managers.[274] A high proportion were also involved in specialist professions such as engineering, academia, or information technology, and the majority lived in cities.[275]

A 2012 survey of religion in Russia estimated that there were 1,700,000 practitioners of "traditional religions of gods and ancestors" in the federation as of that year.[276] Of them, 44% were ethnic Russians and Roman Lunkin, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences (IERAS)' Institute of Europe, who was among the surveyors, recognised the growing presence of Native Faiths among them.[277] The historian Marlene Laruelle (2008) suggested that Rodnovery was likely to remain a marginalised religion in comparison to Russian Orthodoxy, but that its main significance for Russian society had been by diffusing "historical themes"—particularly regarding an ancient Aryan race—to a far wider audience, including many who were Orthodox or non-religious.[278] Rodnovery has been spreading rapidly in the North Caucasus region of Russia, especially among communities of Cossacks and in the Stavropol region, where in some areas it already has a dominant position. It has been reported that even former priests of the Russian Orthodox Church have joined their ranks.[164]

Shnirelman (2013) informs that Rodnovery in Russia is embraced by many politically engaged philosophers, both of the right- and the left-wing. The former group is represented by Vladimir Andeyev, Anatoly Ivanov, Pavel Tulaev (members of the Moscow Slavic Community and founders of the New Right journal Ateney), Aleksei Trekhlebov from Krasnodar, Valery Demin from Omsk, and the Saint Petersburg journalists Oleg Gusev and Roman Perin, among others.[136] Ivakhiv (2005) reports that they have a "surprisingly extensive" influence.[279] The well-known Rodnover leader Velimir (Nikolai Speransky), who is the founder of the politically neutral federation Circle of Pagan Tradition, classifies Valery Yemelyanov, volkhv Dobroslav (Aleksei Dobrovolsky), Vladimir Istarkhov and Igor Sinyavin as representatives of right-wing Rodnovery; according to him, the Union of Slavic Rodnover Communities founded by Vadim Kazakov and the "Church of Nav" (Це́рковь На́ви, Tsérkov' Návi) generally lean towards the right-wing. The left-wing of the spectrum would be represented, instead, by Anton Platov, Aleksandr Asov and Aleksandr Khinevich (founder of Ynglism), though they keep most of their religious activities outside of politics.[280] Since the 1990s, Traditionalist School thinkers—chiefly René Guénon and the Italian Pagan philosopher Julius Evola—have been translated and introduced in the very mainstream of Russian thought by the philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, who has an influential position at the heart of contemporary Russian academic and political life.[281]

In its polemical piece Adversus paganos, the journal of the Ascension Cathedral of Astrakhan cites sociological data saying that Native Faiths are already formally embraced by "more than 2 million Russians", while the number of people affected by Rodnover ideas is several times larger. This is based on data provided in 2012 by Igor Zadorin, the director of the research institute "Tsirkon", who said that in Russia the proportions of atheists, Orthodox Christians and "pagans" are of comparable sizes and their populations overlap: Orthodox Christians are 30% of the total population; people who have some sort of "pagan", non-Christian spirituality, are 40% of the population, while the remaining population is composed of a 20% who are atheists, and a 10% who are believers of other religions (4-7% ethnic minorities professing Islam).[75]

A number of youth subcultures have been identified as introducing people to Rodnovery, among them heavy metal, historical re-enactment, and the admirers of J. R. R. Tolkien.[282] Rodnovery is also spread through a variety of newspapers and journals.[136] Also popular with Russian Rodnovers has been the martial arts movement known as Slavyano-goritskaya bor'ba.[283] A number of popular celebrities, including singer Maria Arkhipova and professional boxer Aleksandr Povetkin,[163] have publicly embraced Rodnovery.


People gathered for worship at a RUNVira temple in Ukraine.

In 2005, Ivakhiv noted that there were likely between 5000 and 10,000 practitioners in Ukraine.[207] He also observed that it had undergone dramatic growth in the country since the early and mid 1990s.[15] Other sociologists estimated that in the same years Ukrainian Rodnovers were more than 90,000 (0.2% of the total population).[252]:1189 Ivakhiv noted that the average age of Ukrainian practitioners was older than the average age in the Western Pagan community,[207] and also noted that the religion's "main base" was "nationally oriented ethnic Ukrainians of higher-than-average educational levels".[207] He observed that there was overlap between the Rodnover communities and other sectors of Ukrainian society, such as the folk and traditional music revival groups, Cossack associations, traditional martial arts groups, and nationalist and ultra-nationalist organisations.[124] He added that Rodnovery remains "a relatively small niche in Ukrainian religious culture",[284] and that it faces a mixed reception in the country.[285] Established Ukrainian Orthodox and Roman Catholic groups have viewed Slavic Native Faith with alarm and hostility,[124] while the country's educated and intellectual classes tend to view it as a fringe part of the ultra-conservative movement which was tinged with anti-Semitism and xenophobia.[124]

In the global Ukrainian diaspora, there has been a "great decline" in the numbers practising the Sylenkoite branch of Rodnovery.[286] This has been due to RUNVira's inability to attract sufficient numbers of youth in this community.[287] Alternately, the Ukrainian group Ancestral Fire of the Native Orthodox Faith has established groups in both Moldova and Germany.[288] In Ukraine, much like in Russia, Rodnovery is very popular among Cossacks, and the variety that they embrace is linked to a rediscovery of Scythian identity. Pilkington and Popov report one Russian Cossack saying that in Ukraine it is easier to meet Rodnover Cossacks than Christian Cossacks.[289]

Belarus and Baltic states' Slavic minorities[edit]

Slavic Native Faith groups are also active in Belarus,[290] the most numerous being the "Commonweath of Rodoviches (Rodnovers)", who fully align with Slavic traditions, and the organisation "Radzimas", aligning with Baltic traditions instead.[163] Rodnovery in Belarus is popular among some intellectuals active in the pro-Russian political scene, for instance Rodnover leader Uladzimir Sacevič.[291]

There are also practising Rodnovers among Lithuania's[292] and Estonia's ethnically Russian minorities. Russians in Estonia have established their own religious organisation, the "Fellowship of the Russian People's Faith in Estonia" (Содруга Русской Народной Веры в Эстонии, Sodruga Russkoy Narodnoy Very v Estonii; Estonian: Vene Rahvausu Kogudus Eestis), registered in Tartu in 2010.[293]

Southern and Western Slavic nations[edit]

As of 2013, Pagan groups in Bulgaria were described as having few members and little influence.[294] That same year, Simpson noted that Slavic Native Faith remains a "very small religion" in Poland, which is otherwise dominated by Roman Catholicism.[96] He suggested that there were under 900 regularly active members of the main four registered Polish Native Faith organisations,[295] and around as many adherents belonging to smaller, unregistered groups.[107] In 2017, he stated that between 2000 and 2500 "actively engaged and regular participants" were likely active in the country.[296] He observed that in the country, Slavic Native Faith's adherents were "still relatively young",[297] and saw an overlap with the community of historical re-enactors.[107] In Poland, the practitioners of Slavic Native Faith outnumber other Pagan groups, although both are represented in the Pagan Federation International's Polish branch.[298]

Anna-Marie Dostálová stated that the entire Pagan community in the Czech Republic—which includes Heathens, Wiccans, and Druids as well as Slavic Rodnovers—was of a "small size".[299]

Rodnover fine arts[edit]

The rise of Rodnovery, and its rapid growth as a multidimensional phenomenon, has brought to the establishment of an artistic scene as part of such multidimensionality. Many professional artists, many of whom are outspokenly Rodnover themselves—some even priests, have emerged with works discussing themes of history, mythology and everyday life. Their works are highly appreciated and celebrated within the Rodnover community. Studies on Rodnover art have found that Svyatoslav I of Kiev is one of the preferred subjects among other historical themes, epic heroes and other human prototypes (even including the appropriation of saints of the Russian Orthodox Church).[300]

Russian artists of Rodnover themes include Aleksandr Borisovich Uglanov, Andrey Alekseyevich Shishkin, Andrey Guselnikov, Andrey Klimenko, Boris Olshansky, Igor Ozhiganov, Leo Khao, Maksim Kuleshov, Maksim Sukharev, Maximilian Presnyakov, Nella Genkina, Nikolay Speransky, Radomir Semochkin, Viktor Korolkov, Vladimir Pingachov, Vsevolod Ivanov.[300] Other artists include Russian Konstantin Vasilyev (1942–1976) and Serbian Dragoš Kalajić (1943–2005), known for his "Hyperborean realism".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The term derives from the Proto-Slavic roots *rod (род), which means anything "indigenous", "ancestral" and "native", also "genus", "generation", "kin", "race" (cf. Russian родная rodnaya or родной rodnoy), and is also the name of the universe's supreme god according to Slavic knowledge; and *vera, which means "faith", "religion".[2] The term has many emic variations, all compounds, in different Slavic languages, including: From some variations of the term, the English adaptations "Rodnovery" and its adjective "Rodnover(s)" have taken foothold in English-language literature, supported and used by Rodnovers themselves.[3]
  2. ^ Though not a "pagan", Czech artist Alphonse Mucha was influenced by his Pan-Slavism. The theme of a non-Christian Slavic religiosity is identifiable in The Celebration of Svantovit, which represents Slavs in war (preparing for war with Germans, who are depicted on the far left of the painting) and peace, worshipping Svetovid. Anna Dvořák, in the upper right section of The Celebration of Svantovit, identifies a group of priests. The figure of a priest with his arms stretched out prays for the future of the Slavs, both in times of peace (represented by the young man to his left) and in times of war (the man with a sword to the priest's right).[9]
  3. ^ The four faces of Svetovid, the four colours and four directions, also correspond to the four Russias of folk cosmology: White Russia, Red Ruthenia, the Black Sea regions and Green Ukraine. See: Svetovid in the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1987.



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