Pan Slavic Traditions and Beliefs
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Myth*ing Links Search Engine
(Note: some of the themes dealt with on this page are also found elsewhere in Myth*ing Links, which is why I'm including the search engine here.)
Author's Note:The Slavic world is an endlesly fascinating, troubling, dramatic, and dynamic one. Slavic mythology has a strong focus on the sun, warmth, light, birds, fire (and firebirds), epic victories, and brightly painted cosmic bird-eggs. The opposing polarity, the dark, the dead, the cold, the gloomy forests, snakes, drowned spirits (usually female or children), and ruthless hags are feared, even demonized (especially under the influence of Christianity), yet many fairy tales indicate that if this darker world is treated with cautious respect, one will fare well. . . .
http://www.okana.net/page.html: [Link updated 7/28/01: use her search engine for my annotations of categories that no longer appear in her menu.]
"Slavic Pagan Beliefs" is an excellent, wide-ranging introductory essay by Ainsley Friedberg. She includes an overview of Slavic history, a good discussion of dualism in Slavic beliefs, a great creation myth, and an amusing tale on the first Slavic "witch." (Note: I also have a link to her fine pages on seasons and rituals below under "Seasonal Holidays & Celebrations.")
This is Okana's Web -- it's intelligent, thoughtful, reliably researched, and an obvious labor of love. Okana's focus is usually on beliefs and traditions in Poland, but much of her data applies to other Slavs as well (and sometimes also to the Balts). Her essays include Zaduszki (Polish Day of the Dead); Folk Customs (on the Yule season); Polish Wedding Customs (poignant and especially well done); Polish Paganism; and there's even a page on painted Easter eggs called "Pisanki: Icons of the Universe" (a beautiful title for a page that decodes the meaning of various designs). Under "Fairytales" is a handful of stories (including an unusual one about a Polish Sea-goddess and her amber boat). In addition, her section called "Slavic Runes" gives you access to an online oracular divination; her Bookstore offers a great selection of relevant books; and her Links are terrific. Finally, there's a section called "Bigos" where you'll find an eclectic collection of things ranging from Polish proverbs to an intriguing news item on the possible connection, linguistically, between the ancient Etruscans and the Slavs. Don't miss this one.
This site, Magickal Gateways, comes from "Frater Gwydion," a Slavic pagan living in Serbia. Once you disarm the Geocities pop-up ad, you'll find a beautiful opening graphic depicting Mater Slava, the double-headed she-eagle found so often in Slavic lands (if you scroll down, you'll find further data on her). In addition, the site offers a number of papers based on firsthand experience as well as good research: "Balkan Traditional Witchcraft," and "Rusallians -- Women's Trance Ritual"; still under construction are "Balkan Herbal Medicine," "South Slavic Native Religion," and "Who Were Bosnian Gnostics?" The site also offers a link to Leszi, an enjoyable Slavic Pagan discussion list.http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/anceur/eu-ggkn.htm: [Was broken autumn 2000, but found updated link 7/28/01]
"The Princess Libushe: A Czech Legend," re-told by Grace Green Knoche, was first published in Sunrise Magazine, August/September 1997 by the Theosophical University Press. It tells of a time when woman-rule by three wise sisters was questioned by their people. Saddened, the three found an alternative by turning power over to a mysterious peasant who became Princess Libushe's husband. Nothing was ever the same after that. Although the psychologically rich story is Czech, not Pan Slavic, it reads like something that could have taken place in many ancient Slavic realms.
Vasilisa, her magic doll, and the White Horseman of Dawn
(Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds)
This is a beautifully written Ph.D. dissertation abstract, "Doll Folktales of the East Slavs: Invocation of Women from the Boundary of Space and Time," by Philippa Rappoport, at the University of Virginia, 1997.
This is a fantastic resource -- the Slavic and East European Folklore Association, or SEEFA, at the University of Virginia. From their mission statement:SEEFA is a non-profit organization devoted to an exchange of knowledge among scholars interested in Slavic and East European folklore. It seeks to promote instruction, to organize panels at national and international conferences, to encourage the preparation of teaching materials and translations, and to foster exchanges, summer programs, and research in Slavic and East European Folklore and related fields such as anthropology, ethnic studies, history, literature, and musicology.There's much here but what I especially loved discovering was that their journal provides actual online articles, not just abstracts. I checked the Spring 1999 issue and immediately found two terrific articles in which I'm interested, one on nuptial hair-braiding and the wild-haired nature spirits called rusalka (see directly below); the other on Russian children's dark taunts. One can explore the journal issue by issue, but the contents are also broken down into folklore from Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, and the Ukraine.
"If It Dries Out, It's No Good: Women, Hair and Rusalki Beliefs" is an exciting and beautifully written academic paper by Philippa Rappoport (see above) at the University of Virginia; it comes from the SEEFA Journal, vol.4, no.1 Spring 1999 pp. 55-64 (this is double-listed on my Nature Spirits of the World page). She first looks at East Slavic brides and wedding customs and then turns to the nature spirits, the rusalka:http://metalab.unc.edu/sergei/Zaroff/...The loose hair of the bride at this point [prior to the wedding ceremony] may be a remnant of a former, pre-monogamous society and symbolic of the bride's sexual fertility, and of her freedom, which she is about to relinquish upon partaking in the church service....It is probably no coincidence that the bride, who is valued for her reproductive ability, is considered to be sold to her husband under the symbolism of selling her braid....The paper has detailed footnotes. The insight in one footnote in particular struck me:
In contrast to the bride, there is a female folk figure in traditional East Slavic lore whose hair is permanently loose and uncontrolled; she is the rusalka. The rusalka of traditional beliefs is a powerful and enticing figure. She is described as a pale, lithe, often beautiful female spirit who lives in the water, forests and fields. She sits with other water spirits on the shore, yelling and laughing, or dancing and singing in the moonlight of clear, summer nights. She is known to swing on tree branches, waiting to entice an unsuspecting male passer-by, whom she often attacks and (perhaps inadvertently) tickles to death. The rusalka's characteristic physical attributes are her long, light-brown, blond, or green, loose hair, her blazing eyes, and her magnificent breasts. She is noted for her beautiful voice and melodious laugh. On the rare occasions when the rusalka is dressed, she wears white. In addition, some sources report that if the rusalka, and especially her hair, ever dries out, she will perish....33. These grooming lines recall for me lines on clay figurines from the East Slavic areas, dating back to 6500-3500 BC. The figurines are generally considered to be female talismans, or fertility cult objects. Perhaps the combing lines in the hair and the incised lines on the figurines may be likened in some distant way to the gardener's grooming lines in Mat' syra zemlia (Mother Moist Earth), another numen, in addition to the rusalka, associated with dampness and fertility. In The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe... Marija Gimbutas writes that parallel lines symbolize streams and mythical creatures considered to be the source of water (112-151). Perhaps they are very distant relatives of the rusalka, the East Slavic goddess who bring moisture to the fields....
This is Roman Zaroff's "Organized Pagan Cult in Kievan Rus': The Invention of Foreign Elite or Evolution of Local Tradition?" It is a lengthy (about 24 pages) paper using comparative Indo-European linguistics and Indology to argue for a very ancient Slavic/Northern Iranian religion that was little influenced by Scandinavian and other elements (despite claims to the contrary by German and even some Russian scholars). He writes:Zaroff looks in detail at attributes and etymologies connected with eight Slavic gods: Svarog, Dazhbog, Svarozhits, Perun, Veles/Volos, Stribog, Khors, and Simargl; he also looks briefly at one goddess, Mokosh ("Mother Moist Earth"), and concludes that almost anything written about her is necessarily speculative since so little is actually known (see P. Rappoport's rusalka paper above). This is a fine piece of serious scholarship. ...the native Eastern Slavic religion was assumed to be a collection of some animistic beliefs with an inpersonalised "Mother Moist Earth" as a dominant, agricultural deity.
Such an assumption is a consequence of the paucity of knowledge about Slavic mythology. This is so for a number of reasons. First, in the English speaking world as far as now, no one really attempted to research pre-Christian Slavic religion....This is a surprising situation considering the fact that the Slavs are the largest linguistic sub-family in Europe, numbering close to 300 million people. Secondly, many publications do not go beyond various accepted ideas that originated in the German school of the 1930's and early 1940's...[where it was] claimed that without outside help the Slavs were incapable of developing any complex beliefs beyond animism.... Thirdly, a number of Russian and Soviet scholars, more or less, accepted these notions. It may well be that those Russians in the West, who were recruited predominantly from post-revolution emigres, were in general deeply religious and conservative. Hence, their views were biased against any pagan beliefs. Meanwhile, many historians in the Soviet Union generally treated any religion as a collection of ancient superstitions not worth investigating....
Eve and Adam
(Courtesy of Tradestone International)
This is a translation, rich in folkloric motifs, of a fascinating Slavonic text on Genesis, Adam and Eve, their children, the Serpent, and the Fall. It ends with the deaths and burials of the two primal parents.
From Slavica Publishers at Indiana University comes this huge list of books on Slavic literature and folklore -- each book is linked to descriptive material. There are some real treasures here for students of Slavic literature, poetry, music, folklore, history, biography, and literary criticism. For example, Jan L. Perkowski's The Darkling: A Treatise on Slavic Vampirism: http://www.slavica.com/litfolk/lf53.htm: [dead link 7/01 -- see above]. Or Adele Marie Barker's book on strong mothers with weak sons: The Mother Syndrome in the Russian Folk Imagination: http://www.slavica.com/litfolk/lf09.htm: [dead link 7/01 -- see above] There are countless more "finds," depending upon your interests.
The Firebird and Ivan in the Garden of Golden Apples
(From the village of Kholuy -- courtesy of Russian Sunbirds)
This is a brief but great little site on the Firebird by Cyril Korolev. I found it especially intriguing that in addition to its other magical qualities, and its nocturnal diet of immortal sunset apples, the Firebird's chant healed the sick and the blind. For two versions of a tale about the Firebird, "Prince Ivan, the Fire Bird, and the Grey Wolf," here is a link to Russian Sunbird's version: http://www.sunbirds.com/lacquer/readings/1004: [updated 10/13/00]http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Agora/8933/bov.html
and here is Tradestone International's: http://www.lacquerbox.com/wolf.htm
Both versions are excellent and complement each other.
This page, "About the Book of Veles & Bird-Goddess Slava," comes from several posts to the Slavic Pagan list that were compiled and given a webpage by "Frater Gwydion" in Serbia. The posts look at controversies concerning the authenticity of the Book of Veles,which some say dates from the 9th or 11th centuries, while others claim it's a modern hoax. (For a link to a great image of Mater Slava, see Gwydion's site in my "General Reference Section," above.)
From Russia comes "Ancient Slavic Gods," an essay by G. Galkina on Slavic deities of "good" and "evil": There are three stages in Slavic beliefs development:
1.Primary. They made a sacrifice to two types of superstitious creatures: Upyr [a type of vampire] and Bereginya.
2.Then people changed their idols to another couple with offerings and sacrifice as major features again.
3.The last one. Peroon became a major god among wide pantheon.
The author uses sources well (these are noted at the end) and writes with refreshing and unexpected humor -- also with a naive charm. For example: ...Next one is...Yarila, the god of fertility and physical love. He appeared like a strong young man. Guess everything else about him.
Zmey (Snake) is Peroon's protagonist. He is pure Chaos, wild creature. Something between Freud's Id and Jung's Shadow (Max). According to the legends, he looked like a dragon that breezes out fire. He also loved milk a lot.
Slavic god of sacred bears, domestic animals,
the Underworld, and oath-taking
http://www.homagetochyort.com/pagan/slavic.html: [Link updated 7/31/01]
From Okana's Web comes a lengthy page, "Gods & Goddesses, Faeries & Spirits of the Polish Realm." Despite her title, she also includes lore, ritual, some history, folk customs, and sacred animal meanings along with her data on Polish deities; where appropriate, she places her material in a comparative context with other Slavic peoples as well as with the neighboring Baltic peoples. Although there are similarities in names, the customs connected with these Polish deities often differ from those in Russia (and elsewhere) and I found it fascinating to compare her list with some of the more Russian-focused lists (see below).
From "Chy," a Russian linguist, comes this alphabetized inventory of Slavic gods. The data is solid and more detailed and generous than most such Russian-oriented lists. (I include the others too, however [see below], because there's always that odd little snippet from an otherwise scanty site that might make all the difference to a particular line of research.)http://clover.slavic.pitt.edu/~tales/pagan.html
This is "Russian Pagan Gods," an alphabetized inventory of deities taken from Linda Ivanits' Russian Folk Belief (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1989). The descriptive material is minimal but page references are given in case you wish to follow up with Ivanits' book.
This page from Ainsley Friedberg on Slavic Gods & Goddesses is divided into "Minor Deities" and "Greater Pantheon." The alphabetized data is quite interesting (although sources aren't noted).
http://www.thorshof.org/thunder3.htm: [Link updated 10/13/00]
Perun, the Thunder God,
by Polish artist, Zofia Stryjenska
(Used with the kind permission of Dr. Piotr Wiench at
Neopaganism in Central-Eastern Europe:
Dr. Wiench negativized the image on his page; I've inverted it back to its original colors.)
This is the Summer 1997 issue of a non-academic, online journal, Thunder, "dedicated to the thunder gods of Northern Europe." Among the articles are two on Perun. Especially good is "Perkunas/Perun: Thunder God of the Balts and Slavs," a summary of a paper by Marija Gimbutas. Other papers include one on Thor and another on Latvian Summer Solstice traditions. The journal's quality is uneven but generally useful.http://www.4link.net/~ingram/slav.htm: [Was broken 10/13/00; found this updated link 7/28/01]
"Slavonic Cat Names" comes from Dominic Marks and April Ingram. It's really an engaging little page on ten Slavic deities with traits that might lend themselves to a cat's name. You don't have to own a cat, however, to enjoy this useful & well written page. (If you do have a cat, you might wish to click on the home page link to discover why naming a cat after a deity is so appropriate.)MythingLinks Autumn Equinox
This link to my 1999 autumn page will take you to Sandra Stanton's large, stunning painting of an ancient Slavic goddess, "Samovila with the Spirits of the Forest." (Included at the bottom of the page are the artist's notes on the artifacts in the painting.)
SEASONAL HOLIDAYS & CELEBRATIONS
Khorovod, or roundelay, a spring festival (1975)
(Courtesy of Russian Sunbirds)
This is Ainsley Friedberg's "Slavic Pagan Holidays." She covers wonderful lore, traditions, lyrics to songs, and rituals -- see, for example, her contemporary spring Rusal'naia, based on ancient rituals celebrated in honor of the Rusalki spirits: http://members.aol.com/Frankcis/rusaln.html
Note: also check my Wheel of the Year, Eastern & Western European Nature-Based Ways (Wicca), and my Search Engine (see top of this page for link) for other seasonal Slavic celebrations.
Young Maiden lost in Baba Yaga's Forest
[Courtesy of Tradestone International]
Also see my Baba Yaga page
This is the first in a series of three lengthy essays, "From Slavic Mysteries to Contemporary PSI Research & Back" by Larissa Vilenskaya. Her scholarship is careful, sound, and well documented. Part One is entitled "The Light of Knowledge: Healing and Divination in Slavic Wisdom Teachings and Practices." She looks at Slavic beliefs and lore in the context of shamanism and her knowledge of current psi research.http://www.resonateview.org/places/writings/larissa/sciwi.htm: [Link updated 10/13/00]
This is Vilenskaya's Part Two, "The Science of Wisdom and the Wisdom of Science: Notes on PSI Research in the Former Soviet Union" (note: some of her firsthand reports on studies done on animals are disturbing).http://www.resonateview.org/places/writings/larissa/myth.htm: [Link updated 10/13/00]
And this is Part Three, "Where Myth Merges with Reality: Slavic Mysteries." Here Vilenskaya looks specifically at Baba Yaga's role in initiations as well as at the mushroom connection in Slavic shamanism (she mentions, by the way, that Marija Gimbutas also supported such mushroom data). (Flaw: this third paper, probably the best of the three, is formatted so that a reader must continually scroll back and forth to read the extra long lines of text. This unfortunately makes it difficult to stay focused on the text's continuity. I would gently complain to the sponsoring organization but it provides no address or e-mail link.)
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Copyrighted © 1999-2006 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
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Page created 7-10 October 1999;
published 10 October 1999.
10/13/00 (checked & updated all links);
28 July 2001 (Ned3.0 + checked all links);
7/31/01: updated a broken link -- all links should now work.