Rod Ways: My Presentation at Many Gods West

tumblr_m5z6fiae3D1rxrstso1_500Zdvaro everyone!

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.

Zivjeli!

Folklore Friday: The Birdcatcher (Bosnia)

Viktor-VasnetsovLove 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.’

Continue reading at Sacred Texts

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.

Rod Reads: The Slavs (by Marija Gimbutas)

13626549531321283783_kievsk.rusToday 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.
  • Bilibin_justiceSocial 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 banOther 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.
  • 940d6d2e0d23d5e431ab50b65a0ae34cCrafts: 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.
  • tumblr_npox3pNyY11tzeqovo1_500Religion: 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.

  • Отдых_В.Мономаха_после_охотыThe 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.
  • Rod- Slavs and ChristiansTribes: 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.
  • 0_98494_84350c62_origMigration: 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.

NEXT READING: Witchcraft and Sorcery of the Balkans By Radomir Ristic

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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.”

 

Folklore Friday: George With The Goat (Bohemia)

Faun_Whistling_to_a_BlackbirdTo-day I went, yesterday I came; I found an egg among the tree-stumps; I knocked it against somebody’s head, and gave him a bald place, and he’s got it still.

I found a truly fascinating tale from Bohemia (Western Czech Republic) today. In my haste to add more content here, I clicked on the first interesting title I saw at the top of the page – and what a gem it is. Given that Jurjevo, the festival of St. George (Slavic May Eve), is but a week away, this story can teach us all something about the significance of the celebration and the deep place it held in spiritual lives of our ancestors. It can also provide us a clearer lens with which to view other folk tales – keeping an eye toward decolonization and reconstruction, so that we might write the “Eddas” of a new Slavic Polytheist cannon in our day.

The first thing you will notice when reading is there appear some christian motifs, though nothing related to Jesus or any of the apostles. Rather this seems to be a peasant’s fable that speaks to the function of the Slavic God Jarilo, or ‘Green George’, who like Jesus, was also a dying god. The narrative details his quest to court a princess, a personification of the Earth Goddess, who is “incapable of laughing”. In other words, she has yet to find a suitor to her liking. George is the son of a shepherd (think Veles) who bequeaths him a magic goat before the two part ways. The goat has the power to attract and bind anyone it’s owner desires. A universal symbol of masculine virility, it is clear that the goat represents young George’s sexual mystique.

537a041fd7d64537b1771143ecf7c379While on this journey George meets three magical pals on the road; one has the power to leap a hundred miles, another has the power to see for a hundred miles, and yet another can project water for a hundred miles. A footnote at the end of the text suggests the Leaper is a metaphor for a rainbow, the Seer a metaphor for lightening, and the water worker a metaphor for a cloud. Together these three possess the powers of Perun – Jarilo’s long-lost biological father in Ivanov and Toporov’s reconstruction of the Slavic mythic cycle.

Next, George attracts three young maidens by means of his magic goat – Katye (Lada?), Dodla (Dodola?), and Manka (Makosh?) who are bound by its mesmerizing power. An innkeeper, a cow and a bull also get added to the troupe. Oddly enough, the three maidens play no further role in the plot development. They simply tag along for the journey to the princess’s castle. These women could represent several of the cyclical fertility goddesses, or could just as easily be personifications of the three fates (Sudice/Sudjenice).

il_340x270.241666523Unlucky for George, the King is not too keen on giving up his daughter to a low born shepherd’s boy, no matter how much his goat makes her laugh. He puts George though a number of trials which he passes with the help of his trusty travel companions. Alas, he is asked to slay a pesky unicorn that has brought recurring trouble to the village, so he ventures to the forest to find it. When he does he orchestrates a ruse so that it’s horn gets stuck in a nearby tree, thereby affording him the opportunity to cut off its head. This calls to mind the ritual sacrifice of a horned animal that likely occurred on May Eve in honor of Jarilo, probably in a sacred grove somewhere deep in the forest. There an adolescent boy exhibiting certain strange behaviors would be chosen from the lot, given a crown of hazel and a mandate to lead the procession back to the village as an embodiment of the fertility god.

Feeling even more threatened, the King again refuses to give his daughters hand, so he resorts to more nefarious actions. George prevails yet again, this time having dismissed warnings that the King planned to “clear him out of the world” (think the cutting of the annual grain crop). George responds by saying, “Oh, I’m not afraid. When I was only just twelve years old, I killed twelve of them with one blow!” Note the numbers twelve and one here, and how this might relate to the thirteen lunations that happen in a lunar year. This may be a reference to the fact that most pagans celebrated the new year on the first full moon following winter solstice.

tumblr_ncav87l4wC1tj0ejxo1_500Finally our hero George gets his well earned wedding, yet still the King plots his murder – this time ordering his soldiers to shoot the shepherd’s son. But again, George escapes unscathed after he implores his pal to bring torrential rain down on the festivities. This represents the first rain of late summer where Perun defeats Veles, along with the forces of growth and drought. Being that Jarilo’s story is a paradox – he is immortal, yet nonetheless a ‘dying god’ – the storyteller offers this final detail,

“So, when they perceived that nothing else was to he done, they told him to go, for they would give him the damsel. Then they gave him a handsome royal robe, and the wedding took place. I, too, was at the wedding; they had music there, sang, ate, and drank; there was meat, there were cheesecakes, and baskets full of everything, and buckets full of strong waters. Today I went, yesterday I came; I found an egg among the tree-stumps; I knocked it against somebody’s head, and gave him a bald place, and he’s got it still.”

The last sentence is haunting in its implications. In saying ‘Today I went, yesterday I came’ the bard throws the passage of time on its head. The egg he finds amid the tree stumps is the seed that has fallen upon the sheared fields. He cracks it over the head of another and, in so doing, regenerates the grain crop and the entire mythic cycle, passing the spirit of the vegetation god onto another humble young man. In this way, we find that our storyteller is the shepherd – and you know who that is! So the story ends where it began as all things come full circle.

Read the George With The Goat at Sacred Texts.

 

Rod Reads: About a Rodnover Book Club

IMAG1288Zdravo everyone! It’s been a couple months since I’ve contributed. Since that time I’ve returned home to my native Portland after seven months away working in Los Angeles. While there I couldn’t help but feel estranged from the gods and ancestors. Part of it was being in a new location with a climate that experiences only one season. The other part had to do with my demanding work load. Now that my sojourn has concluded, my return has brought with it renewed sustenance to the hallowed alters, hungry ancestors, sacred trees and streams I left behind. Feeling a bit more reintegrated (the land and spirits of the North move at a more leisurely pace than those in southern California) I feel ready to engage the readers here in a more collaborative way.

One of the nice things about working on campaigns is that all those ten hour days make the subsequent time off all the more sweeter. With the discretionary income I’ve accumulated I’ve been building a little library for myself comprised of old books about Slavic and eastern European history, archaeology, religion, folklore, folk healing and magic. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to compile on a tight budget thus far, including a rare copy of P. Kemp’s Healing Ritual: Studies in the Technique and Tradition of the Southern Slavs from the University of Lancaster Library in London at an absurd cost of $19 while the book retails now anywhere from $150-200 online (I’ve come believe it was a gift from Veles).

So rather than me writing yet another tome about my analyses of various sources, I was thinking it might be fun to start an informal book club. Here’s how it would work – I’d share with you a new title every month and allow you time to obtain a print copy or facsimile. Then at the end of the thirty day period I will write a brief post about my thoughts and source other insights that you all send my way (via email) in the interim. What do you think? I think the reconstruction of Slavic Native Faith in the Diaspora hinges on our ability to build bonds of kinship and community across cultures and distances. This could be an excellent way to get both closer to the gods and closer to each other.

1185817The first title I’d like to put on the agenda is The Slavs by the late Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. Gimbutas has garnered both adoration and ire in the pagan community for her, at times, politically charged interpretations of archaeological evidence, particularly with respect to her ‘Kurgan Hypothesis’ and the theory embraced by feminists pagans that a ‘goddess religion’ existed in Neolithic Europe prior to the invasion by modern Europeans whose pastoral culture, she believed, introduced patriarchal social and religious reforms. Regardless of where we land on Gimbutas’ theories, The Slavs‘ uses archaeological evidence to put forward a compelling, although decidedly incomplete, picture of early Slavic life and how it may have evolved in the Carpathian region where native Baltic tribes integrated with the Scythian horse cultures of the Pontic Steppe in the early 5th Century BCE.

You can order a physical copy of ‘The Slavs’ here or read a facsimile online here. Until then, lets meet back in month!

Editors note: To further this effort at engaging the Slavic Polytheist community in North America I have re-introduced oracle and augury services and lowered prices to make things more accessible for those in need. When I started this site I had no idea I’d be getting so many requests and must apologize for falling behind. Now that my schedule has opened up a bit, I’m promising 48 turnaround, and for those who have made requests over the last few months know that I will be in touch shortly.

Slava!

West Slavic Mushroom Folklore

toadstool_and_the_toad_by_garitterTis the season from which the death of Morena spring those medicinal and maleficent mycelium. I’m living in West Los Angeles now, where rain is rare. Following those fleeting moments where it does shower, mushrooms sprout eagerly from the depths to greet people in their well manicured lawns and gardens.  From the book Toads and Toadstools comes a few witchy morsels of fun fungi folklore sourced from the western Slavic  world…

‘How Mushrooms Got Their Poison’

Source: Lipa, Czech Republic

“Christ and Peter were traveling through a village, begging for bread and biscuits to satisfy their hunger. All they were offered were dry crusts. Upon reaching a large forest, the ate their alms, which were made of brown flour as well as white flour. As they ate, crumbs rolled from their mouths onto the forest floor, where they became mushrooms. From the brown crumbs came the poisonous fungi, and from the white, the edible.”

‘Why Mushrooms Never Satisfy Hunger’

Source: Prague, Czech Republic

“During their travels, Christ and Peter came to a village and heard the sounds of a wedding. The entered the house, but noticing that the householders were poor, Christ warned Peter that they should only accept bread and salt, but no cakes. Peter stole some of the cakes anyway, hiding them in his pouch. As they continued on their journey, Peter surreptitiously stuffed the pieces of cake into his mouth. Each time he did this, Christ asked him what he was doing. Peter had to spit out the caked and reply “Nothing.” Soon the cake was all gone and Peter was forced to retrace his steps to gather up the fallen morsels. All he found was mushrooms.”

‘How the Fly Agaric is made’

Source: Kocevje, Slovenia

“On Yule night, following the ritual cutting of the Yule log [Bozic], the god Wodan [Vodan] rides with his retinue of dead souls. As they flee, blood-fleckled foam falls from the mouth of his steed and here will grow the crop of fly agarics.”

toadstool

Note: The Czech tales of Christ and Peter seem to be analogous to Jaro and Veles. In the second tale Peter (or Veles), by virtue of his greed, is forced to circle back along his journey, whereas Christ (Jaro/Vid) continues progressing onward.

Reel Rdnovery: The Indo-European Pagans Of Pakistan

tumblr_inline_mz91qdpwr41s0jkdiThe mysterious Kalash people practice an ancient form of Indo-European paganism in an unbroken tradition having survived against all odds in a remote mountain region of northern Pakistan. The isolated Chitral Valley is home to Dardic people who speak an ancient Indo-European language called Nuristani. This is what remained when the Indo-Iranian and Indo-Aryan subgroups cleaved off after their invasion of the Indian subcontinent. Their religion descends from the Rigvedic period and they have close genetic ties to modern Europeans.

Some of their religious customs echo pre-christian Slavic ones – a cosmic dualism pitting a thunder god against a chthonic rival, a polymorphic fertility deity, animal sacrifice, use of wooden idols and a corpus of nature spirits. Their pantheon even includes a female deity of death named Mara. The women’s clothing bare remarkable resemblance to Slavic folk costume, especially the Ukrainian type. Watching the videos below you will notice their use of sun-wheels, the eight petal flower and even the gromovit znaki.

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Top: Kalash Left: Ukrainian

Whats more, the Kalash have a winter solstice ritual thatb03017b37448b0c54f4080ed51616906 may yield precious clues to the meaning behind Slavic yule log (Bozic/Badnjak/Budnik) tradition. Here a young boy assumes the role of the polymorphic solar fertility hero by taking to the hills during summer. He returns to his community and completes the rite of passage during the night of the winter solstice. Per Wikipedia,

“This includes the Festival of the Budulak (buḍáḷak, the ‘shepherd king’). In this festival, a strong prepubescent boy is sent up into the mountains to live with the goats for the summer. He is supposed to get fat and strong from the goat milk. When the festival comes he is allowed for a 24-hour period only to have sexual intercourse with any woman he wants, including even the wife of another man, or a young virgin. Any child born of this 24-hour period is considered to be blessed. “

This ritual might shed some light on the esoteric meaning behind Slavic winter solstice rites. The blazing kolovrats sent careening down hills comes to mind here. Perhaps the Bozic (meaning ‘little god’), and therefore Jarilo as well, was at once embodied by a real boy chosen by the tribe for his purity and fitness. The log then is not a symbol of the ‘little god’ himself, but of the seed (sperm) he holds. This seed, when germinated by the fires of love and passion, is planted in the earth (womb) on the night of the winter solstice to ensure fertility. This is why Slavs always took the yule log from a young oak – the tree being analogous to the young father, and the log to the seed which (re)creates the son/sun. Might this yield rare glimpses into an Old Slavonic sacred marriage ritual? You decide.

tumblr_inline_mz91qzcYJd1s0jkdiIn the meantime, the beautiful Kalash people are in danger of cultural annihilation. Though the Pakistani government now protects their freedom of religion, they face many challenges in the 21st century. Incursions by Muslim missionaries offering young men jobs and other incentives for conversion occur with impunity. Some of the more wealthy Muslim men fetishize the fair Kalash women, and there have been numerous reports of rapes, kidnappings and forced marriages. Unfortunately, European visitors haven’t been much help either. Introduction of Western entertainment has lured many young Kalash away from the Chitral Valley in search of a modern life. What’s more, local legends saying the Kalash were spawned by children of Alexander the Great’s lost Army (which has little basis in reality) have attracted Greek antiquarians who have sought to exploit the myth by constructing Greco-themed tourist attractions.

The Kalash are a resilient people, and though they face many challenges today, this is nothing new for them.  If history is any indicator, they will continue to survive and endure – A living testament to the perseverance of Indo-European polytheism, and one that can inspire her world-wide decedents.

Rod Work: Altars and Offerings

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Pšenica and Božić: A candle burns in a bed of wheat grass along side the ‘yule log’ as per Croatian tradition performed on the eve of the winter solstice.

I’ve been getting a lot a emails requesting “how to” information lately so I thought I’d give you a sneak peak into my private practice. The easiest way to do that is by sharing with you all my home alter where most of my devotional work occurs. Operative Rodnovery is different for everyone. Slavic Polytheism is a nature based religion, and as such, I strive to perform most of the seasonal fertility rites outdoors and with community. But if your’re an urban-dweller like me, maintaining a bond with your local landscape can be challenging. This is why private practice in the home is so valuable.

If you’re like me, you might have furnished a room devoted to the sacred, constructed altars or hollowed a section of the home for ritual use and religious observance. In archaic times it was less formal. Spiritual life centered around the hearth fire. Offerings were set upon the hearth-stone then given over to the gods by being tossed to the fire at the conclusion of the rite. The smoke was thought to carry a pleasing aroma up to the heavens; a realm called ‘Navi’, where the bardo worlds of Virij (Balkan Paklina) and Svarga (Balkan Rajevina) exist.

By the advent of public electricity stoves replaced fireplaces as center of meal preparation. Logically these rites moved to the kitchen. Here we find the remnants of house spirit veneration in eastern Europe. Spirits like the domovoy were honored in the form of a straw figurines set above the range. A bit of food from each meal was set out as a token of gratitude with the aim of keeping peace in the home. Another important focal point of domestic ritual activity was the threshold, or doorway. Amulets like horseshoes, goat horns – perhaps a bushel of protective herbs like broom or thistle stood as ward against outside threats, corporeal and incorporeal.

Alter Reality: Designate sacred space to enhance the spiritual texture of your home.

Alter Reality: Designate sacred space to enhance the spiritual texture of your home.

In my home, I incorporate all of these traditions in some way. I keep an altar in the northern-most corner, which serves as the center of my religious and magical life. On the left side I keep the tools of my Craft and on the right I curate a shrine for my gods and ancestors. Many Native Faith practitioners like to interface with gods through wooden statuettes called churi, but I find items dedicated to each deity to be equally effective.

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Family Portraits: The honored dead are served regular libations.

At different times I’ve warded space by burning mugwort with elecampane – a Balkan specialty. For more lasting protection I have employed bushels of dried basil and rue hung above the threshold. When more protection is needed I’m known to place a broom upside down against the door. Ancestor veneration also serves as a form of protection. Photos of my familial dead are arranged inside two sectionals built into the wet bar where I keep my other ‘spirits’. They enjoy regular libations in vintage European 50ml long-stem shot glasses. I also have a place next to the stove where I feed my Domovoy buttercream and honey, though he doesn’t hang around as much since we brought home a kitten.

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Hallowed Ground: The gods and ancestors abide in familiar surroundings.

My ritual space houses a baked clay amphora that holds vedrina (starlight infused) water in honor of Živa. Capping the amphora is a septarian “dragon’s egg” which symbolizes the Zmaj – serpent spirits of Slavic mythology. Wrapped round the amphora is a leather chord holding a svarica (sun-wheel) made of hammered bronze. This belongs to Svarog so he remains close to his consort. Beside it is a birch log in honor of Božić and buck antlers in honor of Jarilo (the infant and adolescent aspects of the polymorphic Slavic male fertility god). Not visible is a bow of oak next to the log which represents Perun and Perunica. On top of the log is a skull candle made of black wax and a pzanki egg in honor of Morena and Lada respectively. These rest against a ball of twine pierced by the black-handled Kostura knife, which is adorned by three lunica (moon) symbols. The twine represents Rod, and the knife with its three crescents belong to Rozhanitsa, or the Slavic Fates (Sudjenice). Behind the birch log is vase of exotic bird feathers gifted to me by a friend and fellow polytheist. I’ve dedicated it to the mythical creatures of Slavic lore like Firebird, Simargl and the Alknost. Next to that is a bottle of Sljivovica and a pair of traditional slippers gifted to me ten years ago by a relative from Imotski, Croatia. These are consecrated to my ancestors and represent the many paths they’ve walked to bring me to life. A traditional Polish wood flute stands against the slippers which I play to call on Veles using the songs he teaches me. An octagonal slab of beeswax and a shell of salt stand nearby. These belong to the Zorye – the solar colored wax representing the morning star Danica and the white shell of salt the evening star. The drinking horn is a talisman for Svantevid, who’s cult rites involved the pouring of libations using such a horn. The black candle belongs to Svarožić and the dogwood wand to the left of it belongs to Baba Rogu. Finally, the black walnut offering bowl is dedicated to Mat Zemlja.