Introduction by Patricia Robin Woodruff
My maternal ancestry is a small cultural group identified as Lemko, or under the umbrella term of Ruthenian, Galician, Carpatho-Rusyn (26) or “White Russian.” The Lemko people live in the Carpathian Mountains gathered in a few towns that have their own distinct culture. Over the centuries, their towns were taken over by one country and then another. When my ancestors came to the US, they were recorded as coming from Galicia, Austria, they considered themselves Ukrainian, but their homelands are now located in the southern end of Poland because of the reorganization of borders after World War I. When my ancestors came to the United States, they wanted to blend in and become American. My great-grandfather, Damian, became known as Dominic and my great-grandmother, Xenia, went by the prosaic name of Sadie. Traditions were lost. The only tradition that continued down the generations was the art of decorating ornate Easter eggs with layers of beeswax and dye, called pysanky.
My great-grandmother was married in the Ukrainian Catholic Church (sometimes referred to as Greek Catholic.) Their church service closely resembles the Eastern Orthodox church, but falls under the authority of the Pope in Rome. I, however, was raised Roman Catholic, although it never stuck. At five years old, in Sunday school I found myself questioning the teachings and the answer to “take it on faith” I interpreted this statement as, “I have no clue, so stop asking questions I can’t answer.” However, I felt a very spiritual calling, wanting to be close to God, and so I kept on trying by joining the choir and reading scripture at the front of the church during mass. It still felt very hollow, so I finally gave up and started searching for a belief system that matched my spirit. I stopped using the word “God” with a capital “G” because all it called to mind was a judgmental, controlling Father Figure, which didn’t match my concept of an renewing, accepting, non-patriarchal Spirit that I saw woven into Nature.
When I was in my early 20’s, I experienced a transcendent moment where I was in complete and total union with an Infinite Loving Divine All. (Many folks will immediately think “drugs,” but I’ve never tried anything “mind altering” until I was 50 years old, when I participated in the sacred plant medicine of ayahuasca, also known as “vine of the soul.” It was in a ceremony with a shaman in Peru, and the reason I did that is *because* of my mystical experiences in my 20’s, not the other way around. You can read more about that in my book, The Call of the Spectacled Owl.) But after experiencing this Divine connection in my 20’s, just about the time I was starting to think that I had imagined it, I had another experience like the first. Between those two experiences, it has completely altered my relationship with Spirit. In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James says, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.” (27) I was in a state of “knowing.” I experienced this to my absolute core, but I struggled to fit that into the belief systems that surrounded me.
I am an avid reader, so when I have a question I “hit the books.” I read all that I could on transcendental experiences and visited different churches, read about different religions and went to their source by reading their holy books: the Bible, the original Jewish books of the Bible, the Koran, Sufi writings, the Hindu Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, writings of the Buddha, and Confucius, etc.
After many years of study and search, I found myself drawn to the outdoor church of Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary of Earth Religions. Its main sacred space is a circle of Standing Stones near Artemas, PA. A place that encompasses many different earth religions treating them all with respect, from Norse Heathenism, thru Pennsylvania Dutch Hoodoo, the Catholic/Afro-Carribean mix of Santeria, the Italian Stregheria, Celtic Druidism, etc. While respecting each tradition, Four Quarters usually uses the common structure of ritual that has been developed in modern day Wicca, as a sort of magical “lingua franca.”
The song, “At the Center of Four Quarters” by Kailin StoneSinger, has lyrics that state, “This is space where you can walk the Path to what you’re meant to be.” It is a place that is inclusive of differences of religion, race, sexuality and focused on the balance of nature. So when a Wiccan group formed at Four Quarters, the Gardnerian basis of male and female duality transformed in the 4QF atmosphere of acceptance and became the worship of Deity in its form as Male, Female, Both and Neither. A few other things modified and changed and the Stone Circle Tradition of Wicca was born in 1999. After belonging to Four Quarters for at least fifteen years and feeling the call to develop a closer relationship to Deity, in 2015, I began my official year-and-a-day of study to become a Priestess of Stone Circle Wicca. As part of our class, we were urged to study the religions of our ancestors and see what spoke to us. I thought of my mother’s mother’s mother and the land that she came from. What ancestral religion *did* the Lemko people follow?
I could easily see the pagan roots in my family tradition of pysanky. These decorated Easter eggs had symbolism that obviously went back much further that Christianity. But who would be the Ukrainian or Polish goddess of Spring? How was she known? Thus began my in-depth study into what is now known as Rodnovery or “Native Faith” in Slavic countries.
This book will draw from many different ethnicities and there are always going to be some cultural differences or variations, but by studying the variations we can find the commonalities and what resonates with you. Reference .com defines the Slavic countries as: “Czech Republic, Bosnia, Serbia, Poland, Slovakia, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro.” Encyclopedia Britannica defines the Slavic peoples as: Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Wends, Sorbs, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Macedonians, Montenegrins and Bulgarians.(28) However, there can be found common spiritual beliefs in Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Transylvania, the Balkans, Finland, and other lands where traditions and lore may have been carried by ancient Sarmatian and Scythian nomadic horsemen mixed with ancient traditions carried up from India, Egypt and Greece, with a lot of Celtic cross-over. (As unlikely a mix as that may seem, recent genetic...