The Old Country: Coming Home to Your Native Faith

Old Rodnovner Temple

Old RodnovnerTemple

An estimated 60 million Slavs have immigrated to lands beyond the ‘Old County’. A third of them reside in the United States. In places like Chicago, Pittsburgh and a few other Mid-Western urban centers emigrant Slavs were an ethnic majority. Today, Chicago is still the second largest Polish city (in terms of population) next to Warsaw. Wherever they settle, the Slavs retain a vibrantly untethered attitude toward life.

Let me begin with a clarifying statement. When I use the colloquialism ‘Old Country’, I do so in the context of Pan-Slavic indigeny, not to sound ‘ethnic’ or other than. The ‘Old Country’, as referenced by our elders in their recitations of childhood memories, folks tales and music, was a placeholder used to identify any number of locations in Eastern Europe. There is, however, much more to be gleaned from the subtext of this uniquely Slavic linguistic construction. This idiom, spoken of in all Diasporic homes, is a modern etymological expression of an ancient and intrinsic Pan-Slavic identity aesthetic. It’s usage has had the unwitting effect of uniting rival tribes who came from varying mixes of culture and monotheisms. Some, like my relatives in the former Yugoslavia, fought brutal wars against one another because of these differences. So when our elders took up this way of describing their national origin, dropping the article “the” in what must have seemed like a bewilderingly superfluous English grammar quirk, they did so each with the same heavy heart. Their choice of vernacular gives us insight into their worldview. For them transatlantic migration was as much an assault of time as it was displacement. The fading faces of family and friends left behind in a country that was, from their ontological vantage point, dying a slow death. Yet this socio-allegorical invention was nothing new to them. It was the Industrial age manifestation of a much older piece of idiosyncratic lore; the eternal longing of the Slavic spirit to return home to Rajevina or Navi- a paradise somewhere far in the east where the ancestors dwelt.

Slavic Women in Ritual Procession

Slavic Women in Ritual Procession

The folk mythos that is the Old Country is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us. It lends authenticity to the praxis of Diasporic Rodnovery. And so we pour out libations to our Gods and they turn the wheel of Svarica for us. We feed Svarog’s hearth so that he may wield his hammer to bind the chain-male of our collective cultural memory- a memory that reaches all the way back to our common Scythian ancestors who first moved west of the Pontic Steppe. Rodnovery was and is the only religion common to all Slavic tribes. The word Rodnovery (pronounced rod-NAH-very) is an anglicized cognate of the Russian родной веры meaning ‘native faith’, or Serbo-Croatian ‘Rodna Vjera’ meaning the same. This may be comparable to the difference between West African Vodoun and New Orleans Voodoo. As such, the devotional practices of Diasporic Rodnovery differ slightly from those kindred who honor the native faith in the Old Country. That said, we are bound by the same bonds of присяга/prisega to our gods. The Old Country is much more than the place where our ancestors came from, it is also the state of mind and way of life that they have gifted to us. We need only have the desire to reach out and reclaim it.

The Book of Veles is perhaps Rodnovery’s most sacred text. It was written on wooden staves, in a Slavic runic scrip called Glagolitic and is one part cultural epic, one part devotional instruction manual. We take our cues from its words and that of our gods and spirits.

‘Do not take an unreliable faith that does not honor your ancestors, and never approach a tree with no will‘ – Book of Veles / Велесова книга (D-11/A11)