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from The Roots of Slavic Magic by Patricia Robin Woodruff

Chapter 1
Why this book is different

Online, you will find the same information on the Slavic gods copied over and over again. It is important to understand where much of the information that currently exists on the Slavic religion came from. The pagans themselves had no written records. Most information on the Slavic religion has been drawn from the same sources, written records by the male monks and priests who came into the region around Middle Ages. So let’s take a look at that time…

It was around the year 988 CE that most Slavic countries were forced to convert to Byzantine Orthodox Christianity. For almost a thousand years before that, the Slavs had been communing with their pagan gods. Around the end of the early Middle Ages, Bulgaria was conquered by Basil II, a Byzantine emperor, whose realm covered the Balkans, Mesopotamia, Georgia and Armenia,(1) while Vladimir (or Volodymyr) Sviatoslavich had consolidated the Kievan Rus area which covered many Slavic countries ranging from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia to the Baltic Sea. Vladimir was originally a follower of the Slavic pagan faith. He had tried to consolidate the varied Slavic cultures under him, by erecting carved statues “And Vladimir began his reign in Kiev alone and erected idols on the hill outside his palace with porch: Perun of wood with a head of silver and mustache of gold and Hors Dažbog and Stribog and Simargl and Mokosh,"(2) on a hill by his palace in their honor (and Volos (Veles) down in the marketplace.) However, Vladimir attempted to assert the primacy of Perun, the sky god, by decorating him with a silver head and golden beard and putting him in the center of the ring of statues. Which was fine with the southern Slavs who worshipped Perun, but probably didn’t go over well with the northern Slavs because they held Veles in more reverence.(3)

So in 988,(4) Vladimir the Great converted to Christianity. Not particularly out of any great spiritual revelation but because he believed that the Orthodox religion would consolidate his varied lands as Christianity and Islam had done for his neighboring countries. It would be obvious to anyone that Islam would not work for the Slavs, for pork and alcoholic drink were a staple in their diet. When a convenient marital alliance with Basil II’s Christian Orthodox sister became a possibility, Vladimir converted, promptly causing a forced conversion of the lands under him.


Living in the capital city and living in the country are completely different. I have a deep understanding of this, because for many years I lived immersed in the woods, and my days were entirely dictated by the season and weather. This applies to the rural Slavic peasants whose lives were based on the cycle of the seasons and at the mercy of natural forces of snow, rain, hail, drought and thunderstorms. 

This beautiful description of the rural areas was recorded by W. F. Bailey about a hundred years ago:

“… the meadows of the Carpathians are incomparable. Immense seas of grassland, interwoven with brightest colour, interspersed with golden buttercups, cornflowers, scarlet poppies, scabins, ox-eyed daisies, and crimson clover, slope swiftly upwards towards the green foothills, towards the oak and birch and fir, and larch woods, on up to the dark frontier of the pines, and on past the gloomy ravines, right up to the great, savage, all-encircling mountain ranges, the crests of which look from the distance like the waves of an angry, storm-tossed ocean….The blood dances in one’s veins, and every sense becomes attuned with nature...”(5) But of course, nature could be unpredictable and violent as well. Winters were tough and storms could wipe out crops. Russell Zguta writes, “In an agricultural society the sun and the seasons are the focus of the economic, social, and spiritual life of the people. In spring they plant and sow; in summer they watch over and rejoice in their forthcoming harvest; in fall they reap; in winter they rest and await the return of the sun’s warming rays. With their very survival dependent on the beneficence of nature and the success of the harvest, nothing could be left to chance. A continuous cycle of rites and ceremonies had to be performed to placate and ward off malevolent spirits and to invoke the aid of benevolent ones.” (6)

The farmers (and their Pagan religion) were closely tied to the cycle of the seasons and these natural forces, unlike the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Christian faith which developed around the Mediterranean with its balmy climes and homogeneous weather. Vladimir lived in quite the different world than his subjects as well. He certainly wasn’t farming or herding, so it was easy for the nobility to be disconnected from the pagan religion of their subjects. This created a duel-belief in the country folk. Outwardly they went to the Orthodox church and paid reverence to the saints, but really they just replaced the Pagan representations of their gods on their home altar to a corresponding icon of a saint with the same qualities. The Russians call this “dvoeverie” or “double faith." (7)

It was recorded by W.F. Bailey, as recently as a century ago that the duel faith still was strong.

“…Church bells ringing for Benediction, warning the unwary to return from following after the strange gods before which these … pagans bow down and worship, and which, Christian though they be, the Slavs have never been able, and never will be able, to turn from as false and non-existing. For the Slavs love beauty and nature so passionately, so supremely, that they will not go through this world with their eyes shut and there senses held in bondage in the hope of reward in a life to come. And it was this extraordinary Slavonic adoration of the beautiful which made the task of their first Christian missionaries so difficult. The Gospel of Galilee was preached to them late, and by teachers who had already begun to reinterpret its meaning and spoil its beauty… the earliest Missioners to the Slavonic tribes had adopted the blighting Christian idea that all which pleased the senses savoured of evil and paganism and must, therefore, be suppressed… For long years the Northern Slav tribes not only rejected, but made war against the missionaries, and at last, only adopted Christianity under compulsion, their objection being that its laws made men “barbarous and cruel!” Their natures make it difficult if not impossible to eliminate the pagan spirit from the soul of the Slav… Truth to tell, they regretting parting from the old religion of their fathers, and when their pagan altars were destroyed at the instigation of the missionaries, they refused to throw down the foundations of those altars or the pedestals on which had been erected the images of their heathen gods. Though the Cross was raised on the ancient holy places, the people continued to ...

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