Slavic religion

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

Slavic religion is based on attempts to reconstruct the pre-Christian religion of eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechia, and many other countries). The Slavs are largely a modern linguistic construct, rather than a distinct ethnic group. Hence, despite a wide range of folk traditions among speakers, Slavs have never had a distinctive religious practice.[1]

Nonetheless there have been attempts to reconstruct a Slavic religion based on pre-Christian practices from central and eastern Europe. Unlike with some groups, there is no Slavic epic poetry or religious text that can be referred to, so any attempt at reconstructing a Slavic religion will involve a large amount of guesswork. Although Slavic religion is commonly related to either local nationalism or pan-Slavism, attempts typically involve copying from surrounding Indo-European people who may have worshipped similar gods. There has also been a certain amount of fraud and forgery.


Research into pre-Christian Slavic religious practices faces real problems. Slavs lack the ancient literary traditions of Greeks, Romans, or Norse, so attempts at reconstructing Slavic religion must draw on less informative sources: a small number of texts by both natives and visitors, folklore, archaeology, and toponyms. Most historical accounts of Slavic religion were written by Christians, so they may not be accurate or fair: notable examples include works by or about the 6th-century Byzantine Christian Procopius, the German Christian missionary Otto of Bamberg (circa 1060 – 1139), and the Christian convert Prince Vladimir the Great (circa 958 – 1015).[1] There have also been forgeries, such as the Book of VelesWikipedia.

The origins of Slavic religion may go back to an earlier Proto-Indo-European (PIE) religion, i.e. the cultural practices of the group with whom Indo-European languages originated, from which the Slavic languages (although not necessarily Slavic people) developed. Common elements taken from Indo-European religion seem to include a dualistic system involving a sky god and his adversary (Perun and Veles in Slavic myth), and worship of the sun and of fire and light. It is sometimes suggested that Slavic religion may also involve a non-Indo-European substrate with proto-feminist goddess worship, but this is controversial to say the least.[1]

By about 1000 CE the Slavs had converted to Christianity; subsequently elements of pagan ritual were probably incorporated into Christian practice and folklore. More recently there have been attempts to revive the old faiths.[2]


Slavs were great believers in spirits: in trees, springs, rivers, wells, hills, plateaus, and many other natural features. There seem to have been yearly rituals based around the agricultural calendar, and belief in a world-tree separated into sky or heavens (birds, celestial bodies), earth (us, bees), and underground (beavers and snakes).[1] Buildings were also believed to have different spirits: the domovoy in the house, the ovinnik in the drying-house, the gumenik in the storehouse; sacrifices to these were recorded in 19th century Russia.[3]

The Byzantine historian Procopius recorded that two Slavic tribes, the Sclavenian and Antes, worshiped primarily a thunder god (Perun) to whom they sacrificed cattle. They also made offerings to rivers and their spirits, and practiced divination.[4]

The tenth-century Prince Vladimir the Great (or Volodymyr) of Novgorod and Kiev is one of the most detailed sources; he reportedly worshipped a pantheon including Perun. Vladimir may have modernised the religion himself, and he later converted to Christianity, becoming a saint for (t)his (t)reason.[1][5] So it's not clear entirely how typical his practices were, or how accurate he was, but he is still widely cited.

A pantheon drawing largely on Vladimir includes:

  • Perun, head god, in charge of thunder, lightning, war, and law, copper-bearded ruler of the living world. He was linked with oak trees, as were many European gods such as Jupiter, Zeus, the Germanic Donar and Thor, and the old Indian Parjanya.[6] He seems to share a name with the Baltic Perkūnas/Pērkons, and may derive from a PIE Perkwunos. In later Christian traditions his characteristics may have been re-ascribed to Elijah the Thunderer or God himself.[7][8]
  • Veles/Volos, god of the underworld, horned animals, trickery, and wealth, who may have been Perun's adversary and contrary.[9]
  • Jarilo/Jarylo/Jaro, a vegetation god.
  • Mokosh, a fertility goddess.
  • Svarog/Svaroh, Dazhbog/Dazhboh, both sky or sun or similar, resembling other PIE gods.

Religious beliefs were not constant across all the traditionally Slavic lands. Other gods in some regions include another set of opposites: Bialybog "white-god" and Czarnebog "black-god", who seemingly presided over summer and winter respectively.



The revived religion is often called (in English) Rodnovery, from the Russian meaning "native faith". Similar forms exist derived from other Slavic languages. It is also sometimes called Vedism or Vedaism, from a Russian world meaning "know, understand, view".[10]

They commonly worship outdoors, sometimes in a sacred precinct containing enshrined gods. Perun is traditionally associated with oak groves and mountain tops, and archaeological evidence shows platforms with spaces for wooden or stone statues, often located on hills.[11]

Book of Veles[edit]

In the early 20th century, a text known as the Book of Veles circulated in Slavist circles. Written on wooden boards supposedly discovered in 1919 near Kharkiv, it described various religious practices and the history of the Slavic races who allegedly migrated from Syria to the Carpathian mountains. It is generally believed to be a forgery, written in an ungrammatical mish-mash of Slavic languages.[12]

Noted figures[edit]

In Poland Jan Stachniuk is one of the most important figures, publishing the magazine Zadruga ("Tribal Unit") from 1937, and attracting a wide range of people from humanists to native faith practitioners. He fought against the Nazis, but was jailed by the communists. The far-right Slavic-supremacist organisation Niklot, founded by Tomasz Szczepański, builds on Stachniuk's ethnic nationalism to less savory ends.[10][13]


There is a wide range of political beliefs among contemporary practitioners, ranging from environmentalists and pacifists to extreme right-wingers.[10] Slavic revivalists have also been active in the war in the Donbass on the Russian side.[10] But the revived religion has recently had some popularity in other parts of Ukraine. There has also been vandalism with a temple in Poltava desecrated in 2011 and a wooden idol of Perun destroyed in Kiev.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Slavic Religion, Adrian Ivankhir, Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature edited by Bron Taylor
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Rodoverie.
  3. Slavic Religion,
  4. Slavic Religion, Gimbutas, Marija, Encyclopedia of Religion, 2005
  5. See the Wikipedia article on Vladimir the Great.
  6. Frazer, The Golden Bough
  7. See the Wikipedia article on Perun.
  8. Word and Language, Roman Jakobson
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Veles (god).
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 See the Wikipedia article on Slavic neopaganism.
  11. Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, edited by Michael F. Strmiska, Michael Strmiska, p 213
  12. See the Wikipedia article on Book of Veles.
  13. See the Wikipedia article on Far-right politics in Poland.
  14. Ukrainian Idol to Perun Destroyed by Vandals, The Wild Hunt, November 14, 2012