The Slavonic Epic: A Tale of Quiet Conquest

Slovanska Epopej ''The Slav Epic' by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha

‘Slovanska Epopej’ by Czech Artist Alphonse Mucha

Most dictionaries say the word ‘Slav’ comes from the German ‘scalv’ meaning slave, hence where we find the English derivation for the same word. This however, and I don’t say this flippantly, is utter bullshit. Our ancestors have been using this word to describe themselves for over three millenniums. It comes from the word ‘slava’ meaning ‘glory’. The Goths who ruled over the Slavs during the third and fourth centuries simply applied their own vernacular connotations to it, and from there the related Saxon tribes carried it westward. The ironic truth here is that one man’s ‘slave’ is another man’s ‘glory’. Our ancestors story is thus one of endurance and perseverance. They descended from of the great Scytho-Sarmatian hoards of late antiquity. But between successive Persian and Roman conquests their ambitions gave way to those of others. By  that time ‘the game’ must have seemed pointless to them. The Scythians later became known then as the Alans and Antes as they first encountered the Paleo-Baltic tribes north of the Pontic Steppe sometime before the turn of the first millennium. They each found the other amicable and their cultures slowly diffused to form the first proto-Slavs. Together they expanded northward. However in the 4th century Goths had different ideas. Despite their fearsome expeditions and rousing epics however, the Goths were eradicated from the globe a hundred years after their empire began. Yet thanks to the Goths, the Slavs reached new lands in the West. The Huns followed them, and like the Goths their empire too was short lived. The descendants of the Huns now live in Hungary, founded first as a Roman refugee camp for those expelled from the Italian peninsula following the death of Atilla. The Slavs can thank the Huns for paving their way to the Balkans. The Lombards and Avars were next, and so one hoard moved over the other until the ensuing cannibalization left the inevitable power vacuum. Only the Slavs remained.

Old Slavonic Bazaar

Old Slavonic Bazaar

How did the Slavs inherit Eastern Europe without a dynasty or political institution one wonders? How did they do this despite successive waves of Goth, Hun, Lombard, Avar, Tartar, Khazar, Bulgar and Viking hoards? Well, they did it by avoiding all politics with the same ten foot poles they used to honor their gods. Their apathetic attitudes towards politics and egalitarian social organization strengthened kinship bonds. Tribal leaders had term limits, and thus sought pragmatic solutions to ensure their community’s survival. As mercenaries they often followed the caravans of their nomadic overlords. However migration included the entire clan, not just the men. Such decisions were brought to a vote and all people had a voice in the hall, including women. This gifted the Slavs with the power to maintain the continuity of their language and culture. They reaped all the benefits of a conqueror whilst delegating all its Machiavellian implications. In the sixth century they descended from the Carpathian Mountains in three waves of quiet conquest. They branched off into East, West and Southward migrations. In the East the Kievan Rus culture flourished. Great Moravia arose in the West. Not long after, the Balkans were settled by an influx of 100,000 Slavs culminating with the first Bulgarian and Serbian Dynasties. Despite distant migrations across the face of Europe, the Slavs managed to maintain the continuity of their unique brand of polytheism. The Old Slavonic societies honored the gods without loosing their animist flavor. The gods were worshiped on hillsides, sacred stones and in forest groves more often than in temples. Unlike the high temple priests of other European traditions, Slavic magi called Volkhvi (Wolves), clad in animals skin masks, practiced the bygone art of shamanic sorcery. This included the largest, most complex network of nature spirits and genus loci of any tradition on the continent.

All this changed with the encroachment of Christianity. As Slavs made contact with indigenous populations in new lands, they took on elements of their established culture. It was the Byzantine clergy, Bulgarian Khagans, Varangian nobility and Teutonic knights who were largely responsible for destroying the idols of our gods and forcing our ancestors to convert on pain of death. The decision was almost always political. That said, the Slavs didn’t give up without a fight. Recall too the first great pagan king of Kievan-Rus, Igor I raided Byzantium twice, nearly sacking Constantinople in 941. His son Sviatoslav the Great defeated the Jewish Khazars and Muslim Volga-Bulgars restoring home rule to Slavic lands for the first time in centuries. The last pagan king was Vladimir, Sviatoslav’s son, who betrayed the gods that gifted him the largest territorial expansion in Russian history at the time. He converted to Christianity in return for a Byzantine bride. That said, these campaigns were typical of all feudal lords (pagan or monotheistic) during the so called “age of chivalry”. The Slavic peasantry were guided more by the Volkhvi than they were their nobles anyway. The Volkhvi led popular uprisings throughout the 10th and 11th centuries. These rebellions met tragic ends of course. The last heathen stronghold in Europe fell in 1168 when the Danish king Valdemar I conquered Rügen and destroyed the Wendish temple of Svantevit. Yet in spite of christian oppression, the native faith never fully died. It continued to live on in oral tradition- in the telling of folk tales, in the devotional practices of dual believers, and in the craft wisdom of Vedmas and Vjesticas (Slavic witches). Today modern Rodnovers stand upon the shoulders of this unbroken heathen lineage as we take up the work of the Old Slavonic Gods.

By now you may be curious about my antiquated and deliberate use of the words ‘Slavic’ and ‘Slavonic’. This brings us back to the etymological place we began. Put simply, ‘Slavic’ refers to the ethno-linguistic group whose speakers people the majority of Eastern Europe. ‘Slavonic’ refers to the supra-national, identity aesthetic colored by the common cultural heritage shared by all 13 Slavic tribes. These tribes form the modern nation states of Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina , Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. One of the most inspiring depictions of the Slavonic ethos is the 20 part Art Nouveau masterpiece of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. Titled ‘The Slav Epic’, it survived both Nazi thievery and Soviet suppression and is now on display in Prague. When examining the paintings closely, especially his choice of imagery in Cycle No. 18, he foretells the revival of Rodnovery. This is a must view for all Slavophiles and anyone called by our Gods. It can be viewed here.