Do you believe in prophesy? Unfortunately, most of what what we know about the art is woefully informed by Christianity and things like the Book of Revelations. These are the Rapture-type apocalyptic tales of doom and gloom that we are constantly bombarded with in literature, television and film. The Germans had a name for this peculiar, morbid obsession with death and destruction – schadenfreude. This is what I am NOT going to engage in.
As noted in my previous post, traditional Slavonic ontology is non-linear as opposed to the Western world’s overemphasis on eschatology (the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind). Slavic religion and philosophy has always veered more toward imminent rather than transcendent metaphysics. What that means is we tend to view the external world as something that asserts itself upon the individual, as opposed to the individual asserting itself upon the external world.
The primacy of nature in our worldview makes Slavic people, and especially Slavic women, well disposed to prophesy. You have witnessed the Rusalje mediums of Dubocka, Serbia. We’ve discussed the Slavonic understanding of fate visa vis time. The Russian word for witch is vedma, literally means “seer”. Perhaps the most compelling contemporary example of this worldview in practice is the story of Baba Vanga, the blind Bulgarian prophetess who is purported to have predicted numerous historical events. Certainly, one has take some of these prophesies with a grain of salt – Not only are their discrepancies in what is said about her on the internet versus what is said about her by her closest confidants, there are also political considerations that can be leveraged by certain groups. So to avoid those pitfalls, I included a video featuring Baba Vanga that focuses on how she worked with her individual clients – the things she saw, how she communicated and the remedies she prescribed. That is what I think is most important here.
Not to forget, January 8th is Babin Dan in Serbia; a day early in the new year set aside to consult the hag healer in the village and, in general, pay respect to our grandmothers. This was very important – if slighted or neglected she could just as easily turn into Baba Yaga!
People the world over are trying to make sense of our time on Earth. The most knowledgeable among them seek to solve the mystery of time itself. Yet following the technological optimism that saw a man land on the moon and a personal computer in every home, a creeping despair has set in over the Western world. We’re beginning to wonder what all we left behind as we impulsively took our great leap forward.
Armed with all these new toys, we set out to reaffirm our individuality. No longer bound by geography, culture became viral, fueling our American Dreams. As that wore off, we pivoted toward aesthetics and personal development. We looked to the wellness practices and imaginative ephemera of cultures past, all in an effort to fill an ever growing void – the chasm born out of a life lived increasingly in virtual space. We see what we are becoming and, in a faint attempt to escape, we grasp onto the railing of ancient history’s spiral staircase.
Materialism has reached a dead end – Just ask the people at CERN. In a vain attempt to save the old world order, some truly horrifying ideas are being put forth by trans-humanists. Yet despite all this, now has never been a more exciting time for cognitive science and research into human consciousness. The singularity feels near. It’s as if the moment we rediscover our innate power has humans, the nuclear bombs will detonate. On nukes, a wise sage once said, “We have dreamed this as an escape from the contemplation of our individual deaths.” My advice: Get with your gods and make peace with the inevitable – you could just be saving the world.
The Gods never died.
Millenarianism is a diseased and ego-maniacal notion we inherited from our brutal christian colonization. When we lived in earth-based communities we carried no such weight on our shoulders. We understood every ending was a new beginning, just like the cycle of the year. Yet we diverged from epistemology to eschatology when we embraced the dogma of empiricism and linear time – a great illusion. What’s more, we internalized the messiah complex and projected it onto everything and everyone in Western culture; straddling us with paralyzing guilt that glorifies senseless martyrdom whilst diminishing the agency of other peoples and cultures.
In Serbian author Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars there is an “eyeless fish” deep in the Black Sea that swims in a circle – the timekeeper of the aeons. What happens when we catch this fish – Who blinks? Scaled to the modern world, perhaps that eyeless fish is swimming somewhere deep down in the black sea of our digital devices? What awesome power do we not know we hold? Could we not work Slavic traditional witchcraft using this as our bowl of living water?
We sense the imminence of history and the transcendence of tomorrow dancing upon the eye of a weaving woman’s needle. Far from any cybernetic form of magic, try spinning thread from pure wool; if you can, using a spindle and distaff. Then weave that thread into a garment for someone you love. More than mere textile, this craft once altered the fate of men and tipped the balance of power in war. From wikipedia…
Many aristocratic Viking women wanted to serve Freyja and represent her in Midgard. They married Viking warlords who had Odin as a role model, and they settled in great halls that were earthly representations of Valhalla. In these halls there were magnificent feasts with ritualized meals, and the visiting chieftains can be likened with the einherjar, the fallen warriors who fought bravely and were served drinks by Valkyries. However, the duties of the mistresses were not limited to serving mead to visiting guests, but they were also expected to take part in warfare by manipulating weaving tools magically when their spouses were out in battle. Scholars no longer believe that these women waited passively at home, and there is evidence for their magic activities both in archaeological finds and in Old Norse sources, such as the Darraðarljóð.
The Third Argument – a graphic novel by Milorad Pavic
The fate of war is won with swords and axes insofar as man is only a material being. Yet man is more than just meat and bones. The women who weave know that the fabric of time and space plays an equal role. If you frequent the likes of this heathen boudoir, you no doubt experienced the weird and nebulous nature of non-ordinary space/time; whether through the medium of ritual, magic or entheogenic substance. Perhaps our bodies are equally nebulous. Indeed, when compared to other mammals, we are but frail babes in the arms of our arachnid mother. The one who is also a mother cow – nurturing us with the milk of ancestral memory before sending us off into the forest to meet our grandmother [Baba Yaga] who feeds on the bloodletting of forgetfulness.
Now Consider that it wasn’t always this way. Perhaps there was a time where we never forgot who we were – OR – alternatively, never needed to remember. Today the masses, deprived of their birthright, grovel in ignorance, slaves of spiritual impostors. After three thousand years of colonization, we are charting our return to the first principles of our pagan heritage. No longer will we be slaves to Babylonian sorcerers and priestly Manichaeisms. Remember, the weaver’s three fingers dance with the threads of time itself, not with the hands of clockmakers.
Yet the thread itself is NOT where the magic lies. It is the space between strands – in the quantum vacuum – which holds the most awesome of all natural power. Perhaps it is the same form of power that captured the imagination of Nikola Tesla – the idea of zero point energy. Getting back to the science of first principles is a winding road filed with permutations and the reflective nature required to make that journey isn’t going to be easy. We have limited ourselves to one half of the laws of physics. So the process of return is akin to rewriting the DNA of European civilization. It is from here, that ambiguous idea of Fate can be observed. It is deterministic in its rhythm, yet subject to the cadence of our intention. Let’s try to make our intention as positive as we can make it given the current level of uncertainty.
I posit that Fate is in our DNA. Fate has an organ. It is a transmitter; a Tesla coil working in a gift economy of phosphates, sugars and nitrogens – the Three Sisters. Despite decades of reckless experimentation by the biotech corporations altering the genetic code of plants and animals – like Dr Moreau splicing here and recombining there – the science of epigenetics (changes in an organism caused by modification of genetic expression / as opposed to alterations in code) might be Mother Nature’s greatest coup.
Now consider that the bifurcation that has been pulling apart East from West for over a thousand years since the Great Schism and First Crusade, is, by the grace of our pagan hearts, being reconfigured following a process similar in scope to the one that underwrites and overwrites DNA during replication and transcription. Until now, the Western and Byzantine worlds have been moving in opposite directions. This created a knotting tension that has caused the balance of European civilization to turn in on itself. Now, with globalization there is no where else to go. We are forced to look back at one another. This is fake news calling fake news fake. It is the hypocrite staring itself in the mirror. It is the rise of the entertainment industrial complex – of the pantomime culture. It is the unchained prisoner of history walking through the fire, and out of Plato’s Cave. It explains how an internet meme killed Socrates.
The enzyme topoisomerase is interesting here because it participates in the untangling of DNA – It suggests that nature has a built-in mechanism to solve these messy situations. In other words, what is happening now might be the tough, yet necessary, medicine needed to solve the planet’s most pressing problems.
The Slavic people have a unique role to play in events to come. If you think 2016 was just an anomaly, I suggest you watch this for greater context. Be sure to watch until the end though, or else you’ll miss the part detailing how the Slavonic ontological worldview comes into play. Here I am reminded of the words of another sage: “It’s all in your head – you just have no idea how big your head is.” Perhaps we are seeing the emergence of the Sobornost? One can only hope – the alternative means yet another episode of mysticism vs dualism; ie more conflict.
Finally, if you are having trouble understanding where all this is coming from, I leave you again with this Croatian folktale that helped form my identity and was the impetus for me starting this blog over three years ago. Even if you don’t agree with how I interpret recents between the Old Country and the West, perhaps you might continue to empathize nevertheless. After all, you are the ones who helped free me.
THERE was an enchanted mill, so that no one could stay there, because a she-wolf always haunted it. A soldier went once into the mill to sleep. He made a fire in the parlour, went up into the garret above, bored a hole with an auger in the floor, and peeped down into the parlour. A she-wolf came in and looked about the mill to see whether she could find anything to eat. She found nothing, and then went to the fire, and said: ‘Skin down! skin down! skin down!’ She raised herself upon her hind-legs, and her skin fell down. She took the skin, and hung it on a peg, and out of the wolf came a damsel. The damsel went to the fire, and fell asleep there. He came down from the garret, took the skin, nailed it fast to the mill-wheel, then came into the mill, shouted over her, and said: ‘Good-morning, damsel! how do you do?’ She began to scream: ‘Skin on me! skin on me! skin on me!’ But the skin could not come down, for it was fast nailed. The pair married, and had two children. As soon as the elder son got to know that his mother was a wolf, he said to her: ‘Mamma! mamma! I have heard that you are a wolf.’ His mother replied: ‘What nonsense you are talking! How can you say that I am a wolf?’ The father of the two children went one day into the field to plough, and his son said: ‘Papa, let me, too, go with you.’ His father said: ‘Come.’ When they had come to the field, the son asked his father: ‘Papa, is it true that our mother is a wolf?’ His father said: ‘It is.’ The son inquired: ‘And where is her skin?’ His father said: ‘There it is, on the mill-wheel.’ No sooner had the son got home, than he said at once to his mother: ‘Mamma! mamma! you are a wolf! I know where your skin is.’ His mother asked him: ‘Where is my skin?’ He said: ‘There, on the mill-wheel.’ His mother said to him: ‘Thank you, sonny, for rescuing me.’ Then she went away, and was never heard of more.
Koleda beckons. The grandchildren of Stribog howl and Morena bites your bottom lip after a slow kiss goodnight. So the wheel turns over on a most sordid year, a bad seed. A year that will live on in the darkest corner of our collective imagination. Now a new one is being born from the forge of Svarog – but what will it be? What will it look like? Who will it call mother?
We no longer live in a world that pretends to love us. We live in a world that has declared war on us. Us? – Those who keep the flame of the Old Ways. Those who keep the flame to light the way for the ancestors. May they continue to visit our steads this winter. We need them now more than ever if we are to remember ourselves in the new world. We are no longer separated by First, Second or Third Worlds. We are the Fourth World. The oligarchs of consciousness plot their grand stage left exit and will take the First World with them. The forces of Chernabog lurk behind the black mirror as I type. Eh… nothing a crash course in cyber security and a VPN with rotating IPs can’t solve.
On the surface the unremitting dance of the seasons twirls along like a Bolshoi ballerina – The Slavic people make prayers to Mother Earth crawling on her back – “Be still” she whispers ”A new sun will be born”. I’ve discussed here how my patrilineal and matrilineal ancestral lines have worked their trans-generational magic on me. The Kokić, from Serbo-Croatian “kokot” the rooster, a universal harbinger of the raising sun; and Vuković, from Serbo-Croatian “vuk”, the wolf that seeks to devour it. How does one reconcile the duality within themselves in world whose institutions of finance, government, culture, science and technology refuse reconciliation as a possibility? Moreover, is it possible that Perun may yet yield to the calls for peace, or that Veles might cease all provocation?
If our ancestors knew such a time, we no longer remember it. So call them now, summon the oldest of the lot. Only they know for sure what is what anymore. On this winter solstice do something unpredictable – decorate your tree/log with decaying forests stuffs instead of plastic nothings. Go to The Nutcracker and count the nuts in the audience. Listen to Wagner’s The Ring Cycle backwards. Bake bread in the oven of your heart. The days are young, so keep vigil for the sun as the twilight creeps. Embrace your family and friends – hold that embrace a little longer than would be considered polite. Eat until it hurts. Laugh until it hurts worse. Share a portion of it all with your gods.
If you frequent this site or have listened to any of my talks, you may recall me extolling the virtues of “living water”, a staple element of Slavic religious rituals and craft rites. Today I’ll share a bit more information about its mythical concept and why it is so fundamental to Slavic tradition, especially during this time of year.
It begins with one of the oldest Slavic Goddesses - Mokoša (Old Russian Мокошь) who is the protector of women’s work and destiny. She may have been an an outgrowth of the ancient earth goddess Mat Zemjla. Others argue that she is one of the three Slavic Fates called Rozhanitsy. Her name is derived from mohkri, the Slavic word for moisture. However, this was a specific type of moisture – the clean, pure water that sprang from deep within the earth; this being separate from “dead” water that had accumulated debris and bacteria on the surface, namely ponds, bogs and ditches. Not only was living water seen as a miracle of nature, it was a substance believed to contain magical and medicinal properties; whereas standing water, the result of chthonic forces or manmade alteration, had a destructive power. This is why Mokoša, the mother of living water, was worshiped by placing offerings on stones that resembled female breasts. The bosom is the part of a woman’s body that yields life-sustaining milk for the newborn babe.
So you see, reconstructing Rodnovery is quite intuitive actually. Our ancestors had a keen eye for analogy. Not unlike the hermetic axiom As above, So below, the Slavic axiom might be better phrased As within, So without. This living water was analogous to newborn life – a clean slate that could be used by the priest or wise woman to impart magical intent, just like how a parent imparts his/her character traits on to their child, thereby shaping destiny in a co-creative way. Just as the act of sacred weaving possessed the power to alter fate, so too did living water, which was used in countless rituals, spells and potions. Naturally it was deployed in rituals to consecrate newlyweds…
“In the Ukraine the ceremony involves the entire wedding party on the day following the wedding, after the couple have slept together. The couple wash together in a river or spring and water is often poured over them, especially over the bride’s breasts. The young bride then carries water into their home. In northern climates the ritual is performed in a bath house. Elsa Mahler records the Russian tradition in which the mother of the groom pours cold water over the bride in the bathhouse, encouraging the young bride to fear her as she fears the cold water.
In another wedding ritual the mother of the groom wears a fur coat inside out and sits astride a rake or large fork and rides three times around a baking pan on which a loaf of bread lays. As she goes she spreads seeds of grain and water is poured over the fork from a jar. Both the jar and the fork are later broken and discarded… The destruction by man of the jar and the fork, the fur of an animal turned inside out, and the fork itself, an instrument which slices into the earth, can be associated with destruction at the hand of man. Water poured over a ring of strewn seed, centered around a loaf of bread, the product of the growth which the water will bring forth from the seed, can be related to the recognition of the life-giving properties of water. “
Historians and ethnologists generally agree that Mokoša’s lore was absorbed into the cult of St. Petka Paraschkeva observed in the Eastern Orthodox traditions of the Balkans. Petka comes from the Serbian word for “Friday” - Petak. Her feast day is October 14th. Also on this day, is the feast of the Intersession of Virgin Mary called Pokrov, meaning “veil” or “covering”, which takes place mainly in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Together we can see how the goddess Mokoš may have been honored on Friday and/or believed to wear a protective veil. I would conjecture that water could be viewed as a veil – a shroud covering Mother Earth. The significance of Friday is important too. The Russian word for Friday is pyatnitsa, a matronymic word meaning “fifth day”. This day marked the end of the work week and was likely set aside as a time for ritual bathing. Our ancient ancestors naturally preferred to bathe in hot springs and those places teaming with fresh, living water.
In the Balkans, living water is defined as any water that comes from a spring or stream that is not used for drinking and goes through no metal pipes. A majority of the spells featured in Radomir Ristic’s Balkan Traditional Witchcraft involve the use of a brass or copper bowl filled with living water. This is the canvass par excellence upon which magic becomes art. Whereas the bowl of water no doubt symbolizes the womb, the specially made black-handled Kostura knife represents the phallus. Like the artist’s paint brush, the witch uses the knife to cut the water three times thereby making space to plant his/her seed of intent. In this way, the water goddess Mokoša and the blacksmith god Svarog (Dabog) are still being honored, her cooling waters make solid the scalding ore forged by his hammer. The wise woman who makes magic in this way is reenacting, in erotic fashion, their sacred marriage rite. The occult symbolism is clear, even if the person performing the working professes to be a Christian, secular, or whatever else.
The rites of the Slavic witch that prescribe living water connect directly to the ancient fertility cults that inform the modern practice of Rodnovery. The agrarian Slavic societies worshiped the forces of earth, sky and underworld. The pantheon is made up of a complex, and highly morphological corpus of gods and spirits, whose dynamic symbolism and imagery explain the mysteries of reality – with deities who move vertically between the three worlds, horizontally through the five elements, and diagonally across the kolo’s eightfold cycle of the year. Mokoš (or Živa in some west Slavic traditions) is the water that returns to the earth from the sky to nurture the grain crop; fore during the dry summer months she was the cloud goddess Perunica (Dodole), wife of the thunder god, viewed as a divine cow whose utters held rain. Linen and flax were particularly sacred to her since these were woven by women to make garments for the winter. They were harvested at Dozinky in mid September, dried, threshed and spun over the course of month culminating in her mid October veneration. This took place on a Friday eve. All weaving was prohibited and all fiber was put up lest the goddess arrive and spin an unfortunate fate for the household. This was undoubtedly thought of as a time when the water goddess was moving from the earth to the underworld. This is the opposite of Semik, when the goddess was seen traveling from the underworld to earth as enacted by her hypostasis Jarila (Lada), queen of the Rusalki…
“… a Ukrainian folksong in which Kupala [Jarila/Lada], the plant spirit, spends the winter in springs of water and the summer in the wheat. Pavel Sejn notes that in Bobrujskij Uyesd peasants believe that the water nymphs, the rusalki, spend the winter in the rivers and on about Trinity Day leave the rivers to spend the summer on land. This concept is portrayed in the Russian folk tradition in which a selected young woman from the village plays the role of a water nymph, is taken out of the village and into the fields. There she is abandoned, and after remaining for a period of time she returns secretly to the village. He relates this directly to supplying the fields with the necessary moisture for plant growth.”
Last week was a little hectic for me but this Friday I am honoring Mokoša’s transit to the underworld by fetching some living water from the forest – half of it will be set aside for Craft stuffs and the other half to make some apple cider chai. I’ll bring home a fresh bushel, grain seeds, a ball of twine, an apple and some cottage cheese for the Goddess – maybe even a little hemp! I will begin the internal work of separating the wheat from the chaff in my personal life, so I go into Božič feeling light – ready to take on another year. Can you believe I made my first sacrifice to Mokoš three years ago when I launched this little site? Now we see about 500-600 unique views a day – three times as many as last year! This validates what I believed in my heart all along; that Slavic people the world over are coming together to meet the challenges of a new century and the gods are gathering to prepare us for the role we will play in the world to come.
So be sure to honor your mother Mokoš before November arrives and it’s too late. Be sure to bless your home with some living water using a stalk of fresh basil after you do – you’ll thank me later! Even if you live in an urban area, you can start your relationship with living water by visiting a fresh water spring near you.
I found some interesting first person accounts of witches, shamans and wise women of the Carpathian region. There are some nice nuggets here for those interested in Slavic Craft as it is practiced in Southern Poland, Southwestern Belarus, Western Ukraine and Eastern Slovakia.
Babka Yanina, Belarus Whisperer: “My uncle taught me to whisper. He was a powerful sorcerer. He knew words that you could say to paralyse a snake. I am able to heal tumours, fears, nerves and stammering. I attained my gift when I became blind.”
Babka Nadzeja, Belarus Whisperer: “My mother’s gift was feared because of the times she lived in: the Soviet government did not recognise anything holy. During the war I fought as a partisan against the Nazis, and then worked in the school. People would laugh at me when they found out about my gift but when they asked for help I could not refuse them. Sadly, I could not help my family, Whispers only can help strangers in our family tradition.”
Babka Stasia, Belarus Whisperer: “My Catholic family was very religious, but I lost my mother when I was three and my father when I was seven, and I became an orphan. Most whisperers are Orthodox not Catholic. When I was older my mother-in-law and two old women in my village taught me to whisper, and how to burn threads and use smoke (smudge) to heal people.“
Babka Fiadora, Belarus Whisperer: “I never went to school, not even once. When I was young times were hard, and children had to work. For 12 years I looked after cows in return for food. It was my grandmother who showed me how to use herbs and taught me to whisper. It was all word of mouth, because I can’t read. I only treat people when I know I will be able to help them.”
Babka Katia, Belarus Whisperer: “There was a communist in our village called Misha. One day he mowed the grass near the river and he was bitten by a snake. He became really ill and was close to death. He sent his wife to me, to ask for help. I was scared because he was a Communist. They disliked us believers so much; they mocked us, closed churches and sent priests to Siberia. But I could not say no, so I whispered in the water and he drank it and he got better. I don’t know if Misha ever believed in God but he knew the power of the word.”
Recognizing the extraordinary power the digital imaginarium has to communicate to a new generation the Old Ways and the message of the Old Gods, I (at Veles’ behest) started an Instagram and Twitter account. I’ll use this to facilitate my work and the work of so many others looking to revive and reconstruct Slavic polytheism and witchcraft traditions.
No longer can we assume an idle posture, content with individual academic study and private practice. If Rodnovery is to be religion recognized on the world stage – If it is to be a neo-pagan movement on par with the Wiccan communities and Asatru congregations throughout the world – we need to shift how we view ourselves and our gods. We must begin to consider new methods of outreach, yes. But first we must consider our own perception of Slavic identity as Westerners largely alienated from the Old Country. If we only view ourselves from this isolated perspective we will remain just that – isolated. We will never have our local sabors and the small spark Svarožič gave us years ago will run the risk of being snuffed out with the frigid ease of a Russian blizzard.
So here is what you can do to keep that from happening
Affirm for yourself a Slavic and Rodnover identity
Make your national identity subordinate to your Slavic and Rodnover one (sectarianism has derailed Slavic people from achieving global unity [a la Jewish culture] for centuries).
Connect with other Slavs and Rodnovers in the Old Country to broaden your knowledge and reach (with social media and translation tools this isn’t as hard as it sounds)
Confront the politics of monotheist belief systems without disrespecting its believers (Catholicism, Orthodoxy & Islam have been used to suppress Native Slavic culture and colonize Slavic people for easy exploitation, but who remembers that? – You do.)
Be unafraid to discuss your faith and practice with those who are curious to know more (move yourself from the shadows of Marena into the light of Dazhbog)
When you meet another Slav greet them as you would a brother or sister (show them the type of hospitality that would make your Babushka proud)
Demonstrate the fullness of Slavic identity by just being you (Proselytizing the virtues of the Gods or the power of traditional craft will spook anyone who views themselves as an ordinary Western secularist or devout Christian. Your job is to guide them on their own journey, to gently nudge, until they realize Slavic identity for themselves)
Organize! Organize! Organize! (social outings, supper clubs, folk dances, craft seminars, festivals, study groups, hikes, rituals, retreats, ect.)
Find me @SlavicSorceress on Instagram and @SlavicPriestess on Twitter
One of my fav’s from the Old Country – Plug (Cro. Plow). The title translates as “At the Door of the Temple of Wisdom”. Classic Balkan stings set the stage for syncopated flute notes that tug at your weary heart, reawakening the ancestor spirits and reinvigorating the body for one last kolo in the meadow before harvest.
As Dazhbog makes his decent to Navi, the black sun of the autumnal equinox stands as a threshold. Our shadow is the doorway, behind which lies the inner temple. Go there. Make praise and sacrifice to Svarog for another year. Pour libations to Mokoš in gratitude for your bounty. Aid in the healing Mother Zemlja – for her labor has born you a priceless gift. Dožinky is near… So like the beard of Veles, trim from your life that which you no longer wish to carry with you into light of the newborn sun – Because Božić will be here before you know it!
Tomorrow morning I will be fielding a presentation entitled Slavic Folk Belief and the Rebirth of Rodnovery at the Many God’s West conference, an annual event dedicated to polytheist theology, theory and practice. It was founded two years ago by Nikki Whiting and Rhyd Wildermuth following an expressed demand within the broader pagan community to create space for self-identifying polytheists to gather, share ideas and practice ritual devotion to our respective gods. The event’s theme is “Many Gods, Many People”, which sums up well its commitment to inclusion and diversity.
A more subtle theme permeating the zeitgeist of last years event, which I attended, was “Many Gods, No Masters”, a play on the slogan “No Gods, No Masters”, used by the labor movement of the early twentieth century. This carried with it some political overtones that left some feeling uneasy. As a pan-Slavic democratic socialist, this didn’t bother me much. Though I’m not inclined to view monotheists in antagonistic terms (since many of my Slavic brothers and sisters are still monotheists), I think the idea of polytheist inspired anarchism is quite novel and worthwhile simply because I support most anything that confronts neo-liberalism and American cultural hegemony. That said, I had a wonderful experience – taking part in a number of breakout sessions on topics such as Regional Cultus, the Feri Tradition, Norse Polytheism. I also partook in a number of rituals including a rite of possession in honor of the Gaulo-Roman Matronnae, as well as a wine-infused Bacchanal in honor of Dionysus.
Though polytheism is the central focus, there are a number of presenters from across the pagan spectrum, including pantheists, monists, and animists. If you just so happen to be in the Greater Seattle area, Many Gods West is now under way at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia, WA. My ninety minute presentation beings tomorrow at 11 am. If you wish to receive a copy of the power-point, drop me a note with your email and I will send it to you next week.
“Love is eternal, and is often stronger even than truth.”
A humble birdcatcher is enlisted/extorted by the Sultan of Bosnia to capture the ‘Mother of Birds’ – a beautiful and reclusive woman believed to have a divine connection to carrion birds. This tale goes back to a time when the ancient Slavs revered a bird goddess. Remnants of her rites are observable in the Spring traditions of Slavic people who made special pastries and fashioned clay larks adorned with flowers and tinsel to invite the return of birds, thereby hastening the arrival of spring. This ritual usually occurred in the beginning of March, and in the Balkans it is associated with St. Evdokia’s Day – a day according to Rodomir Ristic, “only observed by witches”.
Marija Gimbutas, the archaeologist who unearthed the massive Neolithic settlements of the Vinča Culture, which cover much of modern Serbia and Bosnia, found thousands of female form figurines with bird shaped heads. She used this physical evidence along with extant local myths like the one produced here, to conclude that the avian goddess was worshiped in this region for some ten thousand years! Regardless of whether or not you ascribe to such a sweeping theory, certainly the sacred image of a magical female bird played an important role in Slavic religion – We have the old Russian Firebird lore which stems from worship of the god Simargl, a Scytho-Sarmatian deity, the tales of the Alknost that originate from the Greek Kingfisher Alcyone, as well as the Vilas and Vesnas, sylph-like spirits who’s magical songs could alter the weather and and reek havoc on travelers.
Readers should take note of the four main characters here: The Birdcatcher, The Crow, The Emperor and the Mother of Birds. Near the end, our old Birdcatcher miraculously survives a trail by fire in which he crosses through the flames “five and six times” returning as a handsome youth. What might this story have to say about the Slavic Mythic Cycle and the gods of fertility? Could our Birdcatcher’s trial by fire reveal a possible meaning behind the ritual fire jumping that occurs during the modern Rodnover solstice celebrations of Koleda and Kupala?
NEAR Constantinople there lived a man who knew no other occupation but that of catching birds; his neighbours called him the birdcatcher. Some he used to sell, others served him for food, and thus he maintained himself. One day he caught a crow, and wanted to let it go, but then he had nothing to take home. ‘If I can’t catch anything to-day, I’ll take my children the crow, that they may amuse themselves; and they have no other birds at hand.’ So he intended, and so he did. His wife, on seeing the crow, said: ‘What mischief have you brought me? Wring the worthless thing’s neck!’ The crow, on hearing that sentence, besought the birdcatcher to let her go, and promised to be always at his service. ‘I will bring birds to you; through me you will become prosperous.’ ‘Even if you’re lying, it’s no great loss,’ said the birdcatcher to himself, and set the crow at liberty.
On the morrow the birdcatcher went out birdcatching as usual, and the crow kept her word; she brought him two nightingales; he caught them both, and took them home. The nightingales were not long with the birdcatcher, for the grand vizier heard of them, sent for the birdcatcher, took the two nightingales from him, and placed them in the new mosque. The nightingales were able to sing sweetly and agreeably; the people collected in front of the mosque and listened to their beautiful singing; and the wonder came to the ears of the emperor. The emperor summoned the grand vizier, took the birds from him, and inquired whence he had got them. When the emperor had thought the matter over, he sent his cavasses, and they summoned the birdcatcher. ‘It’s no joke to go before the emperor! I know why he summons me; no half torture will be mine. I am guilty of nothing, I owe nothing; but the emperor’s will, that’s my crime!’ said the birdcatcher, and went into the emperor’s presence all pale with fear. ‘Birdcatcher, sirrah! are you the catcher of those nightingales which were at the new mosque.’ ‘Padishah! both father and mother! where your slipper is, there is my face!–I am.’ ‘Sirrah!’ again said the emperor, ‘I wish you to find their mother; doubtless your reward will be forthcoming. But do you hear? You may be quite sure of it; if you don’t, there will be no head on your shoulders. I’m not joking.’
HINT: I think our Birdcatcher is Svantevid, later reborn as Jarilo. His wife, who is beaten to death, is analogous to Morena. The Emperor, who dies in the flames, is the old sun deity Svarog/Dabog. The Mother of Birds is Lada or Ziva and The Crow, who’s loyal service routinely saves our hero, is analogous to Veles.
Today we return to our informal Rodnover Book Club with our first entry featuring The Slavs by the late Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who’s work left an indelible mark on the neo-pagan movement of the 1970′s and 80′s. Here I will cover, in brief, some of the key points offered by Gimbutas regarding the development of early Slavic culture and civilization.
Origins: The name Slav first appears in the historical record in the writings of Roman historian Jordanes. He mentions one Sclavini tribe in 551, locating them between the Carpathian and the Vistula river. Sklavenoi were mentioned by the Byzantine historian Procupius in his 562 account of the Gothic Wars of 536-37. He placed them in the lower Danube region. Origins of the word ‘Slav’ proposed by Gimbutas include: From Latin sclavi, ‘slaves’, Proto-Slavic slava, ‘glory’, or slovo ’word’, ‘speech’. Gimbutas argues that the name Slovene is the true name of the entire Proto-Slavic community before its dispersion, connecting it with Polish slowien, Slovak slovien, Ukranian slovin meaning ‘flax’, the main cash crop of the ancient Scythian Ploughmen.
Ethnogenesis: Slavs are bound by early language commonalities. Proto-Slavic words for trees seem to suggest their ethnogenesis occurred in the temperate climate of the North Carpathian region; as southern and western species like beech, lark and yew do not have common Slavic names. This suggests the Proto-Slavic homeland originated in the northeast.
The North Carpathian region, or “Forest Steppe Culture” as Gimbutas puts it, is the site of Slavic ethnogenesis. For two millennia there can be traced a cultural continuity in burial rites, farming, economy, habitation pattern, architecture and artifacts. The Slavs were at the center of land bordered on all sides by Germans in the west, Balts in the North, Iranians in the southeast, Thracians in the south and Illyrians in the south-west.
Lifestyle: According to Gimbutas’ view of the archaeological data, very few weapons are found prior to the Scythian invasion of the upper Dnieper in 700 BC. Before this, iron had yet to be introduced in this part of the world. This may account for the Slavs slower technological development visa vi their Germanic and Scythian neighbors. The Chernoles culture corresponds to the ”Scythian Ploughmen” mentioned by Herodotus in his History Book IV (5th Century BC). Gimbutas believes these Scythian Ploughmen of the Forrest Steppe are the Proto-Slavs. The agrarian lifestyle of the Chernoles culture differed greatly from their nomadic Scythian rulers and Gimbutas concludes the two probably did not mix much for the first few hundred years of contact.
Several Byzantine sources, including Procopius in the 5th century AD, say that the ‘Sclavini’ fought with no armor, using heavy shields spears, bows and poisoned arrows. They preferred to fight at night and in the forests or along narrow river bends. During this same time the Early Slavs are mentioned by Pseudo-Mauricius as operating near small forested rivers possessing large numbers of cattle, stores of wheat and millet. Archaeological digs at Volyntsevo and Romny dated to this period show the Slavic inhabitants raised cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and goats. They also fished in nearby rivers.
Slavs colonizing Bulgaria and elsewhere continue the trend of settling along small rivers, as evidenced by the diffusion of Slavic and Thracian river names there: The vast majority of large rivers appear under Thracian names, while the vast majority of small rivers appear under Slavic names.
Social Structure: Gimbutas’ fieldwork in the rural Yugoslavia gave her a glimpse of the old Slavonic social structure. Central to Slavic social organization was the zadruga or ‘community’ headed up by a house father and house mother who lived in the communal long house that is the center of the clan, or rodu. Here a central fire burns day and night, meals are had and family affairs are discussed. Smaller sleeping quarters for immediate family units were built around it.
Land, stock and tools were all owned collectively. The land was worked by the entire extended family. The zadruga itself had one patronymic name, usually named after its founder. The house father was the head of the hierarchy, but he cannot administer without the counsel and consent of the other adult members, though more important problems were often kept between him and his sons. The house father was master of the zadruga’s moral and economic welfare and it was his duty to maintain good relations with the rest of the village, church and state, even acting as judge during familial disputes. The Primary Chronicle suggests that polygamy was practiced in pre-christian times.
The house mother, usually the wife of the house father, supervised women’s work. She was in charge of the food, clothing, weaving, spinning and livestock. Though some zadruga’s elected the house mother, the vast majority were wives of the father or grandfather. Thus she derived her power from him and relinquished it when he died The house mother served as a mediator between the house father and the rest of the family. She never inherited property following her husband’s death, though she was allowed to stay in the house and was provided food, clothing and burial.
Male children worked as shepherds from age 10-16, after which they began work in the field. Once out of the exclusive care of their mothers, children were disciplined by the house father and house mother. The duties of son toward father outweighed the obligations of father to son. Traditions of blood revenge are known from the Russkaya Pravda, or Common Law of Kievan Rus, in which a man could avenge the death of either his own, or his brother or sister’s son.
Gimbutas suggests that Byzantine, Turkish and Tartar influence served to strengthen the zadruga making it more patriarchal than was likely to have been the case in the Proto-Slavic model of the Forrest Steppe culture.
The zadruga was united to the pleme (tribe) and its local territory called the župa. This was ruled by a mayor called the župan or ban. Other titles known from Jordanes include the Russian and Serbo-Croatian knez (king) – as well as the Serbian vladika and the Indo-Iranian derived Croatian word kralj, both of which mean king. The Polabian Slavs had a class of horse-riding, military aristocracy called the vitiez. According to Gimbutas, this originates from the word ‘viking’ or ‘hvitingr’. The Slavic družina was a counsel of noblemen known to early history going back to Scythian times and, according to Procopius, the Early Slavs were ruled not by a single individual but by a democracy. Among the Polabian and East Slavs were a class of free tillers of the soil called smerdy, for which the word serf was later derived. There were also slaves and prisoners of war collectively called xolpu.
Habitation: Hill-forts situated within the bend of a small river or confluence of two rivers are observable in the Proto-Slavic Chernoles complex (1025-700 BC). This constitutes the first Proto-Slavic habitation type, according to Gimbutas. Some hill-forts included defensive ramparts and ditches that surrounded the complex on all sides, save on the river access. These may have served as tribal headquarters. Houses were small, rectangular, partially sunken or wholly subterranean, built with wood, wattle and daub, and arranged in groups in a circular fashion around ascending terraces.
By the 5th century AD, riverside hill-forts re-emerge as preferred habitation following Gothic domination. Sites at Zhitomir and Pankovka feature a series of open settlements with small, semi-subterranean dwellings with flat roofs no more than 3-5 meters wide. Interiors often included a clay or stone oven placed in one one corner of the home. Separate lodgings for workshops and animals distinguish Slavic from German “long-house” settlements.
Around the 8th century AD there appear the massive hill-forts of Stare Mesto, Pohansko and Mikulcice in Moravia, which housed as many as five thousand inhabitants rivaling the large Russian settlements of the time. This would become the empire of ‘Great Moravia’, the first Slavic state to come into existence. It was here that we find the first stone palaces, churches and castles built by Slavs. Moravia provides a classic example of the transition from Slavic tribal society to a centralized monarchy.
Crafts: Brown and gray pottery of the Chernoles culture was handmade and practical, if not crude in design, characterized by wide mouths and no decoration. This holds true even after the Proto-Slavs are introduced to ornate Greek and Thracian pottery in the 4th Century BC. Gimbutas argues that the rigors of agrarian life in the Forest Steppe left little time for specialization and craftsmanship.
In the Early Slavic period (5 -10 Century AD) wheel pottery appears. Called the “Prague Type” by archaeologists, it is believed to be an indicator of Early Slavic culture. Ornaments and jewelry were influenced by Gothic art; star, bean and s-shaped shaped earrings have been unearthed along with Byzantine dishes and pendants from of silver or gold wire.
Early Slavic jewelry is characterized by bow-fibulae and mask-foot forms, as well as trapezoidal, lozenge and heart shaped ornaments with pointille decoration around the edges.
in Lupka, Slovakia around 250 pots marked with crosses, wheels, swastikas, concentric circles, rectangles and other designs were found dating to the 8th and 9th centuries AD. These belong to the period of the Moravian Empire. Iron bars of an elongated ax shape were uncovered here was well. These may have been used as currency.
Burial: The Late Bronze Age period introduced flat “ash pit” graves to the Chernoles culture. These replaced the circular and semi-circular mound graves of the Early Bronze Age, in which bodies were buried in cist-like stone or timber structures, or in grave pits covered by timber roofs. The head of the skeleton is found almost always facing east in the SW or NW position. Throughout these periods barrow cemeteries were located next to settlements and along river banks. Burials included bronze ornaments and tools, but very few weapons. For instance, in the the tumuli of Kochanovka dead were buried with a pot, a battle ax, flint celt or scrapper. These tools may have been representative of the four elements (pot = water, ax = air, flint = fire, celt/scrapper = earth).Inhumation graves were replaced by on large by cremation pit graves in the Gothic period.
Cremation pit graves remained in fashion after up to 7th Century AD, during the Early Slavic period. At Zhitmoir and Penkovka, 37 urns were recovered from 14 separate burial grounds. At Volyntsevo and Romny cremation graves contained accessory vases, including glass and paste beads, bracelets, iron knives and rings. In Chernagov two crematorium fenced in by thick wooden logs were uncovered. Preference for inhumation returned in the 8th Century AD after increased contact with the Christian west.
Meat of all kinds, along with eggs, were laid in graves in the middle Danube region between the 6-9th centuries. This tradition remains in the graveyard rites of rural Slavs during the holiday of All Souls Day.
The Arab traveler Al-Masudi said the Slavs were sun worshipers who’s temples featured specialized architecture to observe the sunrise. Apertures were built in the ceiling to observe annual celestial phenomenon. He noted how the Slavs buried their dead with their heads orientated eastward. This was derived from a custom of sleeping with one’s head facing east.
Religion: The crusades of Otto of Bramberg, who waged war against pagan Slavs in northern Germany, is recorded by Ebo, Herbord, Monachus Priflingensis and Thietmar of Merseburg – all writing in the 11th Century.
Saxo Grammaticus writing in the 13th Century describes the sacking of the pagan temple at Arkona. The hill-fort shrine had an open door, a red roof and strong walls adorned with painted reliefs. Later excavations revealed a purple interior with the outer walls composed of vertical posts. After Arkona, the Danes took Garz. There were three temples there; the largest of which had an inner sanctum featuring an oaken statue of Rugiewit. The idol possessed seven heads and seven swords hanging from a girdle, with an eighth sword placed in its hand.
The earliest source is Thietmar (1014 AD). He describes a similar Lusatian hill-fort temple in Rethra that housed the timber idol of Svarozhich. The floor-plan was square and the outside was found to have been adorned with sculptures and animal horns. According to Gimbutas, the priests here determined what offerings should be given by means of dice and horse oracles.
The god Triglav was worshiped in hill-fort temples in Wolin, Szczecin and Brandenburg. The interiors were decorated with war booty before being destroyed by the Danes. A sculpture of Triglav discovered in the town of Šibenik is housed in the museum of Slavic antiquities in Split, Croatia. Gimbutas argues that the trinity of Gerowit, Porewit, Rugiewit found on the Island Rugen corresponds to the Slavic growing season (jaro = spring, pora = midsummer, rujan = September). Swietovit then, to whom records indicate a festival taking place in early November, could be a fourth aspect correlating to the annual animal sacrifices that took place before winter, as well as ancestor cult traditions preserved in the rites of All Souls Day.
Otto also destroyed temples in Wolin and Wolgast; the latter housed an ornate, shield inlaid with gold leaf dedicated to the god Gerowit (Jarovit). Helmod, one of Otto’s biographers, discovered it while on a mission. The temple was hidden in the forests outside Lubek and featured an oak tree flanked by wooden stakes where offerings were left to the god Proven (Perun). The monk Herbertus describes a similar monument where a large tar covered idol rested against a revered oak tree. A priest of Jarovit is recorded as saying, according to Gimbutas,
“I am your god who covers the plains with grass and the forests with leaves. The produce of the fields and woods, the young of the cattle and all things that serve man’s needs, are in my power.”
St Tikhon Zadonskih of Voronezh, writing in 1673 AD, mentions a festival that took place the Wednesday through Sunday of Whitsuntide. It featured a man adorned with flowers and bells and his face covered in red and white. These correspond to the May Eve rites of St George’s Day.
The Primary Chronicle discusses the well-known pantheon of Vladimir I of Kiev. His uncle Dobrynya commissioned an statue for Perun in the hills above Novgorod that was later destroyed by Vladimir causing residents to weep. A ruined temple to Perun was discovered near Novgorod on a hill surrounding the river Volkhov. The floor-plan was found to be an octagonal rosette shape. In the center was a circular mound that held the idol adjacent to a stone hearth and a flat stone altar. Helmold mentions a similar Perun cult centered around an oak tree shielded by a fence. During the Common Slavic period, strely or ‘arrows’, that emerged from the ground were considered sacred to Perun and were kept for their health and luck giving properties. From Procopius, we learn Slavs sacrificed animals to Perun.
Veles appears scantly in the historical record though it is clear he was a god of cattle and music. In the Russian epic Slovo o polku Igoreve the main character is a musician and poet is called, ‘a grandchild of Veles’. A treaty between the invading Russian and Byzantium in 945 was ratified on a hill before an idol of Perun. The oath recorded in 971 stated he who would not respect the treaty shall be cursed by Perun and by Volos, and “become as yellow as the gold of his ornaments and be destroyed by his own weapons”.
Excavations at Stara Ladoga uncovered a small effigy with a mustache and beard wearing a conical helmet. The hands were missing, and it had only one leg. This brings to mind the myth of the lame smith Svarog, or Dabog. Svarog comes from Hindu svarga, ‘radiant sky’ and svarati, ‘gleams, shines’. Russian records state that Svarog generated the sun (Khors-Dazhbog) and the hearth-fire (Svarozhich). According to GImbutas, the hearthfire was guarded by mothers of the home and never went out except on the eve of the summer solstice when it was rekindled. She traces Svarog etymologically through Polish rarog, Ukrainian jarog and Czech rarach – a fiery dwarf that turns into a whirlwind – a series of “complicated borrowings” from the Zoroastrian god Verethranga. Whirlwinds were believed to cause misfortune and peasants would cast themselves face down before one to ward themselves. Svarog, Gimbutas argues, was once a hero who dueled with negative forces causing the appearance of such whether phenomenon.
Saxo, Helmold, and the Old Icelandic Knytlingasaga all mention the god Swietovit, the patron of Arkona. He had a white horse used to divine propitious times for planting and war making. The priests did this by walking the horse across a row of crossed spears. This occurred during the harvest to make plans for the following year. Statues resembling the Zbruc idol – three / four headed gods bearing conical hats, drinking horns, equine and solar motifs – have been uncovered in varying sizes and depths throughout the Forest Steppe region revealing a striking continuity between Proto-Indo-European stone stelae and later works of the Early Slavic type.
Information about Mokosh, primarily comes from folk culture remains. Gimbutas believes her name comes from the Slavic word for ‘wet’. She notes that Russian women would invoke her help with laundry and that Czechs prayed to her during drought. The deaf, blind and lame would offer grain, flax, wool, pigs, calves, sheep, and money to touch stones resembling her breasts. Mat Zemlja was revered in a similar way by peasants in Volynia, believing it a grave sin to strike the earth before March 25, because during that time the Earth is pregnant. If one spat on the earth it was common to beg the goddess’s pardon. The Earth was often invoked in land disputes. Marriages were confirmed by swallowing a lump of dirt or by putting it on one’s head. Crop predictions were made by digging a small hole and listening to what the Earth said – If one heard the sound of a full sleigh it meant a good crop. Gimbutas believes Makosh’s festival was Kupala during midsummer; from the Russian kupati, meaning to bathe. A birch tree cut, stripped and dressed by all women served as cult object, while the bonfire was tended by the men.
Gimbutas discusses, in brief, possible connections with other divinities like the vile, Simargl and Stribog.
Tribes: Gimbutas notes that the early Serbs were named as one of the thirteen Sarmatian tribes in Ptolemy’s Geography; the name Serb stemming from Indo-European root ser- meaning to ‘guard’, ‘protect’ or perhaps ‘shepherds’ or ‘guardians of animals’. Serv- to ‘protect’ translates as xarv- in Sarmatian, or Hrvat (Croatian) suggesting that Croatians may have stemmed from a Scythian-dominant branch of the Slavic migration. The name appears twice in the 2nd Century, written in Greek on two separate tablets near the black sea port of Tanais – ‘Xoroathos‘ and ‘Xorouathos‘. Citing Herodotus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder and Ptolemy, Gimbutas draws connections between the Veneti, Ante and Sclavini tribes: The Veneti may originate from the old Slavic Vjatici tribe, or derived possibly from the east Russian village of Vjatka. This would corroborate Tacitus’ much earlier account of Veneti raiders operating in northeastern steppe. Following westward migration in the late Iron Age, the Veneti become ‘Wends’, from German Wendisch, the name of a Slavic tribe of the Vistula basin. Finally there are the Antes, located in the North Pontic region, who are identified by Jordanes as being “of one blood” with the Sclavini.
In the 6th Century AD Early Slavic tribes begin migrating north and west due to pressure from the Khazars, Bulgars and Alans. The Severjane and Poljane tribes paid to tribute to them according to the Primary Chronicle, and later moved west along with the Krivichi and Slovenes. The Radimichi and Dregovichi move north of the Pripet swamps into the Baltic.
In 550 AD Menander relays a story of an Ante defeat at the hands of the Avars where the Ante Prince ‘Mezamir’ provoked Avar aggression leading to their complete annihilation.
Menander describes another conflict between the Sclavini and the Khazar Khagan Bayan instigated by the Romans in 578 AD where Khazar and Avar cavalry pillaged Sclavini settlements after they refused to become vassals.
By the end of the 6th Century AD historical records suggest the Avars and Slavs joined forces to pillage Roman and Byzantine outposts south of the Danube. Between 610 and 626 AD Sclavini composed of Draguvites, Sagudates, Velegezites, Vaiunites and Berzites ravaged Thessaly. A year later, Slavs reached the Adriatic coast with the help of the Avars and Longobards. Another route of colonization moved northward to the Baltic Sea in the early 7th Century AD.
The Sorbs, likely ancestors of modern Serbs, were mentioned by Fredegar in 630 AD as living along the Elbe river region in modern Germany. Einhard corroborates this account by making note of ‘Sorabi’ in the years 782 and 806 AD.
Integration: In the Sarmatian / Gothic period (200 BC- 400AD) Proto-Slavic culture was, according to Gimbutas, “… all but submerged beneath the avalanche of foreign elements… though historic records show Slavic tribes remained extant.” The introduction of Indo-Iranian elements into the Slavic lexicon as a result of Sarmatian influence seemed to concentrate on religious vocabulary. Words like bogu, ‘god’, raji ‘paradise’, and svetu, ‘holy’ serve as key examples. The Zarubinets complex demonstrates Baltic incursion on the forest steppe region as pottery of the Le Tene type appears for the first time during the 1st Century BC. According to Gimbutas, this indicates an increase in Baltic influence on Proto-Slavic culture.
Gothic / Gepid incursions in the Trans-Carpathian region saw the final absorption of nomadic Sarmatian culture. This fueled the rise of a multi-ethnic state of Slavs, Dacians, Getae, Romanized Greeks and the remnants of Hellenized Scythians all under Gothic rule. This is the Chernyakov complex located in what would later become Kievan-Rus. This development signaled a stark move away from the Proto-Slavic culture of the Forest Steppe, as local architecture appears in a familiar Germanic type. Gone are the hill-fort communities and, in some cases, there is a return to mound burial. Wheel pottery, sophisticated metallurgy and other specialized crafts emerge for the first time.
Gimbutas argues that the Slavs of Chernyakov constituted a submerged culture that persisted hidden in the Carpathian forests, despite Gothic occupation. She concludes “The very modest Slavic cultural remains which emerged out of the ruins cannot have been derived from the classical Chernjakhovo complex.” Presence of Germanic influence on Slavic development is evidenced by the many German loan words. For instance, words related to finance like ‘money’ and ‘loan’, novelties like ‘book’ and ‘nail-file’, exotic goods like ‘wine’ and ‘fig’, as well as those related to militarism like ‘helmet’ and ‘sword’. These indicate that such things had little or no provenance in Proto-Slavic culture. In other words, the large amount of German load-words in Slavic language, and the corresponding lack of Slavic loan-words in Germanic languages, demonstrates how the Goths acted as occupiers and cultural donors during this period.
Slavic influence can be traced in countries all over Central Europe, the Carpathians and the Balkans. In places like Romania, where elements of Dacian culture remain, their language nevertheless has more Slavic words than Romance words. The Sorbs of East Germany, despite years of germanization, still speak a Slavic language, though the the Slavs of Pomerania have completely assimilated. The Magyars colonized modern Hungary in the ninth and tenth centuries, yet their language and culture display many Slavic elements. The same is true for modern Bulgaria, where the cultural remains of the invading Bulgars and indigenous Thracians have all but been erased by a Slavic ethnic identity.
Migration: Gimbutas was a proponent of the mass migration theory as a means of explaining how Slavic language came to dominate parts of Central Europe and the Balkans. She argues that Slavic tribes, suppressed by a millennium of foreign rule from Scythian, Sarmatian and Gothic overlords, reemerged from the Forest Steppe to colonize southwestern Europe after it was deserted by its indigenous inhabitants as a result of relentless Avar, Bulgar and Khazar raids. For instance, Priscus, visiting the court of Attila in 448 AD, made note of ‘Scythians’ in Attila’s army who spoke their own (non-Hunnic) language, that lived in villages, used monoxyles (canoes) and drank mead and barely wine. These are features of sedentary Slavic life, rather than that of the nomadic Huns. This would suggest that Slavs made up a large contingent of the ground forces deployed by the Huns, Avars, Khazars and others.
Editors note: I asked fellow friend and Rodnover Michelle Miller Stottlemire, who also read the book, what she took away from the reading. Was there anything she thought could help inform the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Native Faith practice? Were there things she disagreed with? If so, why? Here was her response.
“Through the archaeology I think she paints a very detailed and understandable portrait of cultural traditions and subsequent upheavals in the steppe areas from the 4th through 7th centuries. She is definitely supporting a Slavic mass migration model – a model that is increasingly questionable based on current archaeological and linguistic evidence. Related, I think the biggest weakness with this book is its age – Gimbutas’ death has not allowed her to update and modify her ideas for the past two decades. I would love to get her opinion on the current works of Florin Curta (who thinks the mass migration model is a sham). As far as personal practice goes, understanding some of the deep history made me more comfortable in using Vedic sources for comparison/understanding but, overall, this was more of a cerebral read for me. There is a similarly dated book on Slavic Porto-linguistics which I think offers more insight into religious practices, but it has its own slightly-out-of-date limitations.”