Slavs Searching for their Gods
According to a recent Newsweek story, Russian soldiers and athletes are turning to “pagan” traditions to seek meaning in their lives and to connect to their ancient religion.
A formal revival of Slavic deities, under the name Rodnovery (invoking Rod, a name for God) is underway in Eastern Europe. But it is not only the Slavs who wish to connect to the past and it includes the Mari, who speak a Finno-Ugric language and other people.
Many followers of Rodnoverie prefer the name Vedic Faith (vedizm, vedicheskaia vera). Mirroring Sanatana Dharma, they speak of spirituality (dukhovnost’), wisdom (mudrost’), or philosophy and worldview (mirovozzrenie).
Not many know that the Eastern Slavs were Christianized rather violently only about a thousand years ago, and the process in the countryside was completed only in the seventeenth century.
In the 12th-century, the German missionary Helmold of Bosau wrote in Chronica Slavorum that the Slavs believed in an impersonal God, quite like the Vedic Brahman. Around the same time, the Kyiv Chronicle (Povest vremennykh let) speaks of the following principal Slavic deities Perun, Volos, Khors, Dazhbog, Stribog, Simargl and Mokosh. The generic name for God in the Slavic world is Bog, or भग.
Other ancient deities, whose worship was widespread and known from even earlier documents, are Svarog and the trinity of Triglav (like Trimūrti) as a fusion of Svarog, Perun, and Dazhbog. There is also another four-headed divinity (like Brahmā) named Svetovid and a deity named Živa.
Scholars know that Slavic Gods are no other than Vedic Gods, although they see the historical relationship between the two variously. The connection shouldn’t be surprising since the Slavs are the immediate neighbors of the Śaka or the Scythians who lived just northwest of India (across from the Himalayas in a region called Uttara Kuru) in the wide expanse of Central Asia and beyond.
Although the earliest Vedic texts do not appear to know a region beyond the Sapta Sindhu, by the time of the later texts Uttara Kuru was recognized as a frontier land of the Vedic world. Aitareya Brāhmaṇa ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण, which belongs to a class of texts that were written in 2nd millennium BCE, makes a reference to this region. The Rājasūya Sacrifice performed by King Yudhiṣṭhira was attended by kings from Uttara Kuru.
The plains of Central Asia have had many shifts in demography and we are informed by the recently excavated Rabatak Inscription of Emperor Kanishka, that the language of his ancestors in Central Asia was what he calls Aryan (or Sanskritic), even though the later Chinese chronicles call them as the Yuezhi, scholars now accept the Kushans were Indo-Iranian Śaka.
The astronomical references in the earliest Vedic texts take us to at least the 3rd millennium BCE. At the same time, new research indicates that European languages are rather late arrivals in Europe, and may be as late as 2500 BCE.
It becomes important, therefore, to note the genetic relationship between the Vedic tradition and the remembered Slavic gods. Here I am only going to touch upon the deities mentioned in the Kyiv Chronicle.
Rod, the Faith, from “rodno” meaning “of birth” (родит — to birth), which means the native (natal/birth) faith. A more estoric connection is to Rudra, which is from the root rud रुद् meaning “to cry” or “lament” (as the new-born baby does) that alludes to how normal consciousness is of helplessness unless countered by grace from Śiva.
Bog, Skt.Bhaga भग or भगवान्
Perun, Skt. Parjanya पर्जन्य
áchā vada tavásaṃ gīrbhír ābhí stuhí parjányaṃ námasâ vivāsa
kánikradad vṛṣabhó jīrádānū réto dadhāty óṣadhīṣu gárbham
Sing with these songs thy welcome to the Mighty, with adoration praise and call Parjanya.
The Bull, loud roaring, swift to send his lays in the plants the seed for germination. (tr. R.T.H. Griffith)
Two important symbols of the tradition are kolovrat, the wheel (चक्रवत्) and swastika, sun symbol (स्वस्तिक).
Volos, Skt. Vala, वल
Somewhat like Vṛtra, Vala is a stone cave, split by Indra (strengthened by Soma, identified with Brhaspati in 4.50 and 10.68 or Trita in 1.52, aided by the Angirasas in 2.11), to liberate the cows and Ushas, hidden there by the Panis.
Khors, Sun, Skt. Surya, सूर्य, स्वर् and from the latter comes Persian Khor as in Khorshid, or Khar as name of lord.
Dazhbog, Skt. दक्ष-भग
Stribog, Wind-god, Skt. स्तृत-भग
Simargl, Skt. श्येन मृग, śyena-bird, from which comes Persian Simurgh سيمرغ.
For those who know Vedic ritual, the great altar was built in the form of the falcon, śyena.
Mokosh, Goddess, Skt. मोक्ष
Svarog, Goddess, Skt. स्वर्ग
It seems reasonable to see the Slavic religion as part of the Vedic tradition, to be viewed here as a universal way of spiritual knowledge, or Sanātana Dharma सनातन धर्म.
Christianity was imposed on the Slavs against their will, but it still was forced to make concessions to people who remained devoted to old practices. In Christianity ritual movement is withershins, that is against the movement of the sun as in Roman religion, but eventually Slavic Christianity adopted sunwise movement (that is clockwise, प्रदक्षिणा, which is the way of the Vedic tradition). Slavic festivals are a continuation of their old festivals that were assimilated into Christianity.
Acccording to Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1160–1220), Slavic temples displayed three-, four- or many-headed images, which were wooden or carved in stone, or covered in metal, that were decorated with solar symbols. As an additional parallel with India, the temples were built on upraised platforms, on hills, and at the confluences of rivers. The Slavs saw the temples as the houses of gods, continae, or kṣiti क्षिति. They were wooden buildings with the god’s image in the sanctum sanctorum गर्भगृह.
Ritual banquets were known variously in Russia as bratchina (from brat, भ्रातृ), mol’ba (entreaty, manman मन्मन्) and kanun (religious service, from Greek kanōn, “rule” कानून ); in Serbia as slava (glorification, śravas श्रवस् ); and in Bulgaria as sobor (assembly, sabhā सभा ) and kurban (sacrifice, karman, कर्मन्, or Arabic kurban).
Christianity assimilated the Vedic deities as saints. Scholars accept that Indra was transformed into St. Andrew and Mitra became St. Demetrius. In the Balkans, the day of St. Demetrius on November 8 is still called Mitrovdan, or Mitra’s Day, and it marks the beginning of winter. In the शतपथब्राह्मण Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa, Mitra is the eleventh of the twelve Ādityás that are the names of the solar months, and it is removed six places from Varuṇa, which marks the beginning of summer.
Second Part: Is Recent Slavic History a Replay of the Past