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from The Roots of Slavic Magic by Patricia Robin Woodruff

Chapter 3
Looking at it in a new light

We’ve been drawing from the commonalities of the Slavic culture from Poland to Kazakhstan and up into Russia, what if we go back further to see *their* influences? Around the center of the Slavic areas we have the Neolithic Trypillian culture going back to about 4,800 BCE and existing for almost 3,000 years, into the Bronze Age. From archeological statues we can tell they undoubtedly worshipped a mother goddess. The evidence shows they were very egalitarian: there was almost no social hierarchy, a subsistence or gift economy, very little violence, and they were supported by farming and herding. Their huge settlements spanned areas in Moldova, into Romania, Transylvania, Ukraine and even a bit of Russia. This peaceful culture with a balanced male/female dynamic and fertile Mother Goddess undoubtedly influenced the early beliefs.

The Slavic lands were a mixing cauldron of beliefs; swirling down from the North were the beliefs of the of Celts, Norse, Finns, Scythians and Sarmatians, swirling up from the South were Egyptian, Indian, Iranian beliefs that influenced the whole Indo-European culture. Marija Gimbutas shows where early migrations around 6,000 years ago brought ancient beliefs from India and Iran’s culture into areas around the Slavs. The exchange of beliefs were a mutual blending, with Slavic beliefs influencing the other cultures as well.

Toward the end of the Bronze age “an ecological crisis that arose in the greater part of the steppe and led, as many Ukrainian scholars suggest, to mass migration…” (34) There are two major forces from the North that affected the religious beliefs of the Slavic areas that haven’t really been fully explored; the Celts and the Scythians/Sarmatians. New discoveries on both of these fronts are changing how we see the origins of Slavic beliefs. There is also the Indian connection that has been so deeply buried that it can be hard to recognize. 

The Silk Road traveled through the Slavic lands and that pathway gives us a clue as to the common byways. “The important gateways into Inner Eurasia were through the northern and northwestern borders of China; across the Central Asian borders with Iran and Afghanistan, and through the passes of the Caucasus; and through the passage between the Black Sea and the Carpathians that leads from the Balkans… channelling particular Outer Eurasian influences to particular regions of Inner Eurasia.” (35)

We see the influence of the Scythians around 600 BCE and later the Sarmatians who had been mainly roaming around Russia. (36) Around this same time we are seeing the development of land ownership and agriculture. In the Balkans, existed the Blagotin culture, a highly developed grain farming culture, which was part of the early Starcevo culture. Goran, a researcher of this area, mentions that there are indications that this was a direct precursor of the Vinca culture, who had advanced grain farming, bread ovens, as well as metallurgy. There are huge changes going on in the cultures as they develop stronger weapons and deeper roots to one place. This puts pressure on a community to develop a concept of “ownership” of the land and a greater emphasis on brute force to protect this particular plot of ground. 

We have the meeting of two different view of the seasons too. The nomadic herders have a dualistic view of Summer and Winter that came from ancient Egypt.(37) The “light” Summer time of the year is the time to herd, battle, roam around and the “dark” Winter is the time to hunker down in a home village. This mixed in with the new agricultural viewpoint of the four seasons marked off in Equinoxes and Solstices.

By looking at the physical evidence left behind in Scythian burial mounds, and Neolithic petroglyphs (because, again, there were no written records) we can see the origins of the underlying Deities and magic. So I will be listing some of the archeological evidence that I have drawn from my studies to support some of my conclusions on magical tools and reevaluating our relationships with some of the gods and goddesses.

Recent linguistic studies back up the Scythian and Slavic connection. Alexander Shaposhnikov with the Institute of Russian Language shows many examples of this connection including the Scythian word for water “auunda” (which led to the names of the rivers Avunda and Aunda-uzen) which is pronounced like the Slavic word for water, which is “voda.” Also the Scythian Baba shows up in slightly different variations in Lithuanian, Latvian, and the Common Slavic, baba for “old woman”, “wife” or “grandmother.” (38) There is a commonality in the words used in Scythian, Lithuanian and Common Slavic meaning “divine” or “wood spirit.” The same goes for the word they used for “gods.” The commonality of words (especially words for spirituality: god, the afterlife, ancestors, graves, burial mound, spirits and words in nature: rocks, stream, meandering river, woods, field, bog, pond, water, path, kindling, cold wind, trees, beehive, horned, pregnant female animal, light, sun) leads me to conclude that they shared much of the same spirituality.

Recent linguistic studies back this up; using sophisticated mathematical analysis I WILL EXPAND ON THIS

The Columbia Encyclopedia states, “It is generally thought that the earliest Slavic religious beliefs were based on the principle that the whole natural world is inhabited and directed by spirits or mysterious forces.” It then goes on to say that these forces were then anthropomorphized into a pantheon. New archeological research from 2016 adds new levels to this observation. Studies of petroglyphs by Esther Jacobson-Tepfer combined with new archeological excavation of burial mounds totally changes what we thought we knew of much of that area’s religious beliefs.

Again and again the image of an antlered animal shows up in burial mounds scattered in Ukraine on up into Russia. These are joined with the famous “deer stones;” monoliths carved with deer sporting fantastical curling antlers that seem to gallop into the sky. There are even tattooed deer images preserved on the frozen 2,500 year old remains of a Scythian Priestess found on the edge of Russia, that are identical to deer images found almost 3,000 miles away in Ukraine. And just as Slavic covers many countries, the Scythian culture and style can be seen not only in the area named Scythia, but in many early nomadic tribes such as the Tagar, Pazyryk, and Sarmatians. All were excellent horsemen (although perhaps we should use the term “equestrians” because there were many skilled women riders as well.) The ancient historian, Diordorus states that there was “a period… in which the sovereigns were women endowed with exceptional valour. For among these peoples the women train for war just as do the men and in acts of manly valour are in no wise inferior to the men.” (39)

In the burials of these men and women, Jacobson-Tepfer notes, “… the art of all the Scytho-Siberian groups was founded upon a particular style and upon a particular zoomorphic vocabulary which affirm a certain commonality of taste and of mythic traditions.”(40) Although they are described as nomadic, they would have had relatively stable settlements that they stayed at in the winter and then would move their herds into the mountains. 

By observing the weathering of the rock carvings combined with the scraping of glaciers over some, and then the figures carved over top it is possible to estimate the relative ages of the different stone petroglyphs. Jacobson-Tepfer describes her analysis of the recurring “female and deer-like” figures pecked into the rock: “[The oldest versions] took the form of a monumental and unantlered elk (New World moose.) Over centuries and even millennia, this representational form shifted to an antlered animal and then to an antlered but thoroughly syncretic form, until finally her animal aspect was eclipsed in the last centuries before our era. Where the deer had once been the source of life and death, there emerged a female figure, enthroned and honored…”(41)

In keeping with women having a much higher status in the early Scythian culture, there have been burial mounds found that contain family groupings, as well as “a number of females suggestive of a particular group of priestesses.” (42) The custom seeming to be that the burial mounds would be kept generally accessible with burials being added over time until they were finally covered over. This is similar to the pagan burial practices of the Slavs. They used barrows and the “Slavs put a corpse with the head at the western end of the grave (with the face to the east).”(43)

I would also point to the extraordinary excavation of a frozen mummy of an elaborately tattooed and finely dressed Pazyryk woman found in 1993. I first became aware of her in a NOVA video called,“Ice Mummies: Siberian Ice Maiden” that aired in 1998. Although she’s been referred to as the “Ice Maiden” and the “Altai Princess” I knew that she had to be a priestess. Not only was she buried with six valuable horses and plenty of gold, but that the logs for her burial mound had to be transported from many miles away to the tree-less Altai plains where she was found. Then there was her coffin carved out of a single massive larch log, big enough to fit the body *and* a 3 foot tall ceremonial headdress. The burial mound was dated around 450 BCE.(44)

The archaeologist that discovered the burial was Dr. Natalia Polosmak. She explained, “The larch tree was considered a sacred tree similar to the tree of life. Many believed that when they placed a body in a coffin it was a return to the source of life, like returning to Mother Earth to be reborn.” (45) The coffin was also decorated with leather appliqués of deer figures.

Polosmak pointed out that this must have been a powerful woman since she was buried alone. The Nova narrator explained, “For her af...

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