What Exactly is Rodnovery – orr Slavic Neo-Paganism?

There are some neopagan faiths that get more exposure than others. The reconstructed Irish pagan ways are embedded so deeply into Wicca that they’re nearly inextricable. The Odinists are well known, partially because of the ripple effects of television shows like Vikings. Egyptian and Greco-Roman gods are all extremely well known, and their stories are readily available.

One of the robust neopagan movements that gets less currency, at least in the United States, is Rodnovery, or Slavic Neo-Paganism. Like most neo-pagan paths, Rodnovery is a syncretic tradition that was recreated from folkloric roots by intellectuals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Slavic tradition was given a boost by the energetically anti-religious Soviet regime that dominated the geographical region to which this faith is home. Despite the fact that Rodnovery is not well known outside of the Slavic regions, including the Balkans and places like Poland and the Czech Republic, it’s a lively and strong faith that deserves to be respected and explored.

Like Asatrú and other ethnic faiths, Rodnovery has sometimes been co-opted by nationalist and racist groups who choose to waive its banner as an excuse for their intolerance. This is a misinterpretation of what these ethnic faiths represent. Because the faiths are based in common ethnicity and folklore, there will always be a degree of clannishness involved, but this is not to say that every ethnic neo-pagan faith is dedicated to the anti-Semitism or anti-miscegenation of the worst elements of Asatrú and Rodnovery. Rather, these are faiths that are based upon pride in common roots, pride in history and in shared experience. It is possible to love your own ethnicity without hating others.

Rodnovery is more focused on the good of the collective than upon the good of the individual. This stands to reason if one remembers that the faith originates in small farming communities where every person needs to pull their weight as a collective for the community to survive. This is especially true in the Slavic areas, where winters are infamously harsh and the work of survival requires all hands on deck.

Like almost all neo-pagan religions, Rodnovery is tied to the cycles of the land and the rhythms of life, death and rebirth, specifically as experienced in agriculture. There is a heavy emphasis on fertility – without which the community would die – and on the turning of seasons and the weather.

Rituals involve honoring the powerful spirits who bring fertility and bring the sun back to the earth, and involve sacrifices (particularly in the form of libations) and dancing.

The faith takes its name from its god, Rod, who is the supreme god of the universe. He is the Ultimate, and the one deity that all other deities and spirits obey.  As a result of its focus on the one god above all others, Rodnovery tends toward patriarchalism, and its attitudes toward gender roles are very conservative. Women do women’s work and belong in the home. Men do men’s work and are allowed to go beyond the limits of the hearth. Everyone’s contributions are important, though, and both men and woman are valued equally, if separately.

In many areas across Eastern Europe, Rodnovery is practiced as dvoeverie, or “double belief”. It exists as a conscious preservation of pre-Christian belief alongside modern Christianity. It has been said that Russia is a country that was baptized but never Christianized, and that may be the reason for this double belief. Life in Eastern Europe is hard, and it never hurts to hedge one’s bets when coveting divine favor.

Rod is the highest of the high, and interpretations of his divinity are different depending upon the area of Eastern Europe where he is worshipped. It’s important to remember that the land mass that this faith covers is really vast. I would think that it would be impossible for any sort of thought to remain uniform over such huge swaths of land, and across the scattered populations that existed when this faith was just beginning to form in pre-Christian days.

The ancient practitioners of the faith were the volkhvy, or the witch-blooded, the natural sorcerers and wise women. They were persecuted in their time and driven underground much like the Druids of the Celtic world, and there is a detailed and colorful belief system involving witch blood and the people who maintain it. The Volkhvy deserve to be discussed in their own right in a different article – so watch this space.

Rod is worshipped as the head of the household, in a manner of speaking, with all of the lesser gods, nature spirits and ancestors as his siblings, children, nieces, nephews and cousins – the extended family structure with which farming communities are so familiar.

To the Baltic Slavs, Rod is seen as Belobog-Černobog (White God-Black God), a duality of fortune and misfortune, good and evil, positive and negative. Rod is both Belobog and Černobog at the same time, and at any given moment, his attitude can change, and with it the people’s fortunes. For some Eastern Slavs, he is Rod-Rodzanicy, the God and the Goddesses, where the supreme god is wed to all of the most powerful goddesses, and they serve him as his wives and the mothers of his children.

Other Eastern Slavs see him as Žibog and Živa, the supreme God/dess in duality, both male and female united into one mighty being. Among the Southern Slavs, he is Sud-Sudenicy, which means “in the court of Justice.” He is the supreme God and the ruler of all things, and his three goddess companions, the Sudenica, are similar to the Greek and Roman Fates.

Beneath Rod are the powerful gods and goddesses, some of whom have a surprising kinship with Ancient Rome. We’ll get to that in a minute. What follows is just a high-level overview of these deities and their spheres of influence.

Among the gods are Triglav, the three-headed god of the Northern Slavs, who represents the three worlds Prav (Heaven), Yav (Earth) and Nav (the Underworld). He also represents the triumvirate of air-soil-water. He is joined by Svarog, the son of Rod, who is literally Heaven.

His son is Perun, the Lord of Thunderbolts, who is the deity of fertility, weather, metallurgy and war. He rides in a chariot accompanied by the three goddesses light and beauty, Zorya Utrennyaya (Morning Star), Zorya Večernyaya (Evening Star) and Zorya Polunočnaya (Midnight Star).

Perun’s mother is Percunatele, a thunder goddess, and his sister is Ognyena Maria (“Fiery Maria”), a fire goddess who is also associated with rain or the sea. They accompany him on his travels through the sky.

Dažbog is another solar deity, this time worshiped by the East Slavs, who is also known as the “giving god’ or the “day god”. He rides a chariot across the sky, not too unlike Apollo, and changes from a youth in the morning to an old man at night. He is accompanied by his two daughters, both named Zvezda (morning star and evening star) and followed by his bald brother, Jutřbog, who is the face of the moon.

Among the goddesses of Rodnovery are Devana, the goddess of hunting and the forests, who seems to have a common origin as Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt.

The wife of Perun is Dodola, the goddess of rain, who is also known by two different names when she attends to her special concerns of weddings and infancy (Dzydzielya) and love and fertility (Didilia).

Three names, one goddess, which is not too unusual for those of us who are familiar with the Triple Goddess as She is worshipped in Wicca and Celtic neo-paganism. The sun is normally male, but when the face of the sun is at its brightest on the summer solstice, the sun is female – Kupala, the goddess of joy and water, who is honored on Kupala Night with rituals of purification and fire.

If Rod and Perun are the mightiest gods, then the greatest goddess of all is Lada, the great goddess of earth, harmony, joy, youth, spring, beauty, fertility and love. In a wintery climate like Eastern Europe, spring cannot be too well celebrated, and Lada is joined by another goddess of spring, Marzanna, who is specifically tasked with growing sprouts. She is the warmer aspect of the goddess Morana, who is winter, cold and death – another echo of the maiden/mother/crone triple goddess we know.

It’s interesting to me how very many times the goddess is understood to be triune in nature. It’s seen frequently enough that I almost consider it a universal constant.

Another form of Morana is famous in Russian folklore as the witch goddess Baba Yaga, a goddess of death who lives in a rotating house that walks on chicken feet. Baba Yaga is closely associated with birds and snakes, both symbols of life, death and rebirth.

The last great goddess of the Slavs is Mokoš, the goddess of weaving and the harvest, moisture and grain. Her skin is black, like fertile and moist soil, and she has been syncretized with the Black Madonna who regularly appears in Russian Orthodox iconography – another example of double belief.

Sometimes multiple gods are combined into one great amalgamation. The Baltic Slavs have Svetovid, a four-headed god of light, power, war, strength and holiness. Svetovid is in fact a combination of four different deities, each looking in a different direction and assigned a different color.

The two male heads of Svetovid are Svarog (white, looking northward) and Perun (red, looking to the west). Two female heads are Lada (black, looking south) and Mokoš (green, looking east).  Statutes of Svetovid are frequently found, painted and carved with a face in every direction, keeping steady watch and protection over humanity.

There are dozens more gods and goddesses, some of them uniquely Slavic in nature. There are the Česlobog, or Number Goddesses, who are responsible for calculations and the lunar month.

There is Karna, the goddess of funerals, who personifies tears. The twin gods Kostroma, goddess of spring and fertility, and Kostromo, her brother, the god of grain, are worshipped as well. There are goddesses of mercy (Leila), the hearth (Matergabia), the echo and the human voice (Ozwiena), and ploughed land and agriculture (Uroda).

The god of the moon, Jutřbog, is accompanied by the moon goddess Ursula. Velima is the goddess of death and the warden of the souls of the ancestors, but the god who guides souls to the underworld on her behalf is Ny.  Zimcerla is the goddess of the Northern Lights, and the Zoryas, Perun’s starry daughters, do double duty as goddesses of war.

Flins is the god of death, and is represented by his three symbols, the lion, the skull and the stone. Kresnik is a god of fire, specifically the fire caused by sparks created when stones are split.

Pekelny Bog is the god of the underworld and subterranean fire and water, and he is closely associated with snakes and earthquakes. Porevit, the god of power, has five heads – one facing in each direction and one head in the middle of his chest.

Simargl is the god of fortune and drinking, abundance and vegetation, and is also known as the black dragon of magic. Stribog is the Wealth Dispenser and is the god of winds and storms. Veles is an ancient god of cattle, the forest, wild animals and commerce. The Baltic Slavs also worship Pripegala, who is the Roman god Priapus, and Julius, the deified Julius Caesar, whose cult center was in Wolin, Poland.  (Lest we forget, the Romans did extend their empire into Balkan and Slavic lands.)

In addition to deities, there are nature spirits and fairies, some more kindly disposed toward humanity than others. The Narečnice are fairies who gather at the crib side of newborn babies to foretell their fates, not too unlike the fairy godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.  The domovoi are household protector spirits, and they defend the family, hearth and home against attacks from outside. The Boginka are sister water goddesses, mercurial and mischievous, who are related to the Rusalka, who will happily drown the unwary. Lešy is the spirit of the forest, and Polevik is the spirit of the field.

Skarbnik is a benevolent demon, neither god nor fairy, but he has taken it upon himself to live in mines where he protects miners as they seek for the gems, crystals and precious metals that are his possessions. He is always willing to share, and he’s been known to help lost miners find their way back home when they get turned around in their tunnels. He also leads them to veins of precious ore. Not very demonic, I would say!

The last set of deities that I’m going to name are the ones that I find most charming. They have very specific and some would say tiny domains.  There are two gods to protect pets – Krugis and Pesseias. Krugis is also the god of blacksmiths. Kirnis is the god of cherries, Kremara the goddess of pigs, Kurwaichin the god of lambs, and Ratainica is the goddess of horses. Last but not least, and someone to whom we might consider making a few additional offerings these days, given the state of apiaries worldwide, is Zosim, the god of bees.

I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of the richness and color that is Rodnovery, and I’m curious enough to start studying the faith more in-depth. It has an elegance and a vibrancy that I quite enjoy, and I look forward to learning more about it in the days ahead. Perhaps you’ll all come along with me on that journey.

Until then, be well, be blessed and be safe.

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