Who are neopagans and where did they come from

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Who are neopagans and where did they come from
Who are neopagans and where did they come from

Where do neo-pagans come from in our time? "Rodnovers", "Orthodox (this is not a mistake) Old Believers-Inglings", "Slavs", "Vedists", "Wiccans" - people who are considered to be representatives of Russian neo-paganism call themselves differently, but they have something in common - the search own "true path", the origins of which are thought in the legendary past, and the goal is called "harmony" of man and the Universe. This search, however, is often complicated by the struggle for national independence, sometimes does not shy away from nationalism and resorts to outright myth-making. At the request of N + 1, the religious scholar Pyotr Kromskikh understood this complex picture.

Gloomy Germanic genius

The rise of interest in the pre-Christian history of the northern peoples of Europe began in the second half of the 18th century. It is usually associated with two phenomena: the growing popularity of sentimentalism in literature and the attempts of German intellectuals to find a common cultural and linguistic basis for all Germans, residents of the patchwork Holy Roman Empire.

Sentimentalism paves the way for a new concept of genius - an inspired experience of unity with Nature, a semi-mystical feeling of the infinity of her creative forces, touching which the poet is capable of an unprecedented creative take-off. The new concept of genius opposes the hegemony of "good taste" and "rules" of French classicism with its rational approach to the craft of poetry.

Young German poets, writers and philosophers in the 1770s united in the Sturm und Drang movement, called themselves “Sturmers”, or “tempestuous geniuses,” nominated as an exemplary artist, in defiance of the French racines and corneles, the Englishman Shakespeare, who allegedly did not recognize any rules and wrote "under the dictation" of nature.

Poet, philosopher and publicist Johann Gottfried Herder, one of the founders of Sturmerism, called the culture of every nation unique and inimitable, as well as incomplete, since it is always in a state of creative development. If so, then the early stages of its history are vitally important for contemporary artists - any truly great creator can grow only on national soil.

This interest in collective folk art naturally resulted in a love for folklore, and through it - for pre-Christian antiquity, which the Germanic peoples, in contrast to the Romanesque - southern, Mediterranean - with their Antiquity, before, in fact, as it were, did not exist. …

Herder, the compiler of the collection Voices of Peoples in Songs, was already a folklorist. Young Goethe stylized his poems after folklore, and Schiller wrote a programmatic article "On Naive and Sentimental Poetry", calling genius poets "naive", and naivety - an attribute of antiquity. The "childhood" of peoples began to attract close attention; childhood in everyday life stood out as an independent stage in people's lives.

Later, the activity of the Brothers Grimm and the entire “folklore” line of European romanticism grew out of a passion for folk art. Folklore at the end of the 18th century was, of course, fond of not only in Germany - suffice it to recall the famous hoax of James MacPherson, who published Songs of Ossian - a collection of his own poetry, stylized after the works of the legendary Gaelic bard, the subject of many sturmers, including the young Goethe.

At the same time, attempts began to unite the geographically, politically and religiously disparate Germans on the basis of language and belonging to the same cultural roots. At first, the institution in which such a unity should take place was conceived of the new German theater, the construction of which had been given a lot of energy by Goethe and Schiller.

But with the beginning of the Napoleonic wars and the French occupation of a number of German lands (which put an end to the Holy Roman Empire), the process turned towards national liberation projects - first ideological, and later political. Already Johann Gottlieb Fichte in his "Address to the German Nation" (1807) constructed a "German character", relying on a metaphysically understood national spirit, and argued that in the future the Germans themselves will write their own history.

Ancient Germanic mythology, pre-Christian pagan beliefs, the pantheon of ancient gods, ancient epic legends - all this in the era of romanticism worked to form the national identity of the Germans.

The unification of Germany that took place in 1871, of course, was not only due to the power of romantic ideas. However, this event, which became the pinnacle of a long process of "gathering" the German lands, consolidated the "recipe" for the national liberation struggle: the unity of language - the unity of cultural origins - a single national spirit - the nation state.

The worldwide popularity of such outstanding Germans as Richard Wagner, who glorified the key images of German mythology in his music and grandiose dramatic cycles, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who called for freeing from "decrepit" Christian morality, made German neo-paganism attractive in the minds of many contemporaries.


In the city of the Russian Clan

In search of a glorious past

The historical path of German nationalism led, as we know today, to disastrous consequences not only for Germany itself, but also for a good half of the world. But this does not mean that the example of the formation of national identity on the basis of common cultural origins has disappeared in vain.

Already in the first half of the 19th century, many people, including Polish intellectuals, tried to follow the German path of struggle for their national interests. Poland, at that time the western outskirts of the Russian Empire, dreamed of political independence and, in search of funds to strengthen the national spirit, was also ready to turn to its pre-Christian roots.

Here, however, an unexpected complication arose in the person of the same Herder. In his key work, Ideas for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1791), he wrote about the Slavs as follows: “Despite the feats they accomplished, the Slavs were never a warlike people, adventure seekers, like the Germans. This did not help them to protect themselves from enslavement, but on the contrary, it contributed to their enslavement."

Such a formulation was not suitable for the tasks of nation-building. And if so, poetry has habitually come to the aid of politics. During the Polish uprising of 1830, the poet Zygmunt Krasinski, in his novel The Vengeful Dwarf and Metzlav, Prince of Mazovia, portrayed Metzlav, whose prototype was a historical character, a new image of a pagan Slav - a fearless and merciless warrior.

Another Polish romantic poet, Ryszard Berwinski, left a description of a festival he invented in honor of the pagan god of war: his seven lips are intoxicated by the flowing blood of the river.

The further struggle of the Poles for national liberation did not put pre-Christian beliefs at the forefront, but attempts of this kind continued at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Thus, one of the leaders of Polish neo-pagans, publicist Jan Stakhnyuk, published a number of books in the interwar period, including "Heroic Unification of the People", which denied Christianity as a "Jewish religion", and founded the religious and political movement "Zadruga" ("community") for the sake of "Development of national identity" of compatriots.

Stakhnyuk took an active part in the Warsaw Uprising, was wounded three times, survived the Second World War, but four years after its end he was arrested for sharply criticizing the pro-Soviet regime established in Poland. Seven years in prison completely undermined his health - Stakhnyuk died in 1963.

Baltic gods and the USSR

Similar events took place in another former outskirts of the Russian Empire - in the Baltic States. The most notable among the Baltic neopagans was the Latvian ethnographer and artist Ernest Brastins.

A graduate of the St. Petersburg Higher School of Arts of Baron Stieglitz and the Pavlovsk military school, colonel of the Latvian army, participant of the First World War and the Civil War, Brastins, after Latvia gained independence, headed the Riga military museum, taught history and painting and participated in archaeological expeditions.

In 1925 he published the book "The Revival of the Latvian Dievturiba" (dievturiba - worship). The central figure of the newly invented system of beliefs was the god Dievs - according to Brastins, the original deity of these lands, whom the ancestors of Latvians worshiped before Christianization.

This point of view prevailed in the controversy of other seekers of the most suitable religion, who proposed the "letonization" of Christianity, the creation of syncretic or completely new traditions. In 1926, Brastins was supported by the engineer Karlis Bregis, and together they founded a community of diyevturs. The main task of the Brastins community was the revival of the national spirit of Latvians.

The brotherhood did not last long legally - in 1935 it was deprived of the status of a religious organization due to the participation of its members in the activities of the Ugunskrusts (Fiery Cross) organization, which was banned two years earlier, and its successor, Perkonskrusts (Thunder Cross). The "National Revolution" they called for was to sweep away the "rotten" parliamentary democracy and establish a fascist dictatorship.

The connections with the Nazis, albeit indirect, were not in vain for the diyevturs: after the annexation of Latvia to the USSR, Brastins was deported and died in exile in Siberia in 1942. The movement, the number of followers of which Brastins himself estimated at five hundred people, was banned.

But the Brastinsh case was not forgotten: those diyevturs who managed to leave the country retained their faith in emigration. The movement was registered again at home in 1989.

In 1930, in Lithuania, Domas Shidlaukas (who started developing his version of Baltic paganism back in 1911) and Gediminas Berzhanskis founded the Romuva movement - it got its name in honor of the ancient sanctuary of the Prussians. Their convictions cost them their freedom as much as they did to the divertura; and just like the dievturs, the followers of Romuva, the Soviet government did not manage to liquidate.

Romuva existed as a student union in the sixties and seventies, and a number of its members at that time were convicted of anti-Soviet activities. After the proclamation of independence by Lithuania, Romuva was registered in her homeland as a religious association.


Honoring Heaven Day

Veles's book

The search for the Russian national spirit at this time could be carried out only outside the USSR. While in exile, even in the interwar period, the writer Yuri Mirolyubov created a text that became one of the programmatic ones for the emerging Russian Rodnoverie - "Veles's Book".

This book, allegedly discovered by the Colonel of the White Army Fyodor Isenbek during the retreat from Moscow in 1919 in the princely estate abandoned by the owners, is a hoax. It was allegedly written on birch bark planks ("planks"), which no one had ever seen - according to Mirolyubov, they all disappeared without a trace after the death of Isenbek in 1941.

"Veles's book" was published in San Francisco, in the emigrant magazine "Firebird" edited by Mirolyubov. "A colossal historical sensation!" - this is how the first note was titled in 1953, promising to the readers photographs of the "boards" and the translation of these "unique" into Russian.

However, the only photograph appeared on the pages of "Firebird" in 1955, and the text, which Mirolyubov called a translation of the "Veles Book", was published from 1957 to 1959 - until the very closing of the magazine.

Although Mirolyubov's "translation" was published in the USSR only in 1990, the book did not go unnoticed in the Soviet Union. Scientists who analyzed its text were unanimous in the opinion that this was a fake.

There were, however, supporters of the authenticity of the "Veles Book", which, in their opinion, was a clear proof of the former glory and greatness of the Russians - "God's grandchildren, God's favorites."

Among them were poets and writers, as well as figures of Russian nationalism emerging in the 1970s - the poet and activist of the “Russian Party” Igor Kobzev, who transposed the “ancient monument” into modern Russian in verse; Valery Skurlatov, future member of the nationalist society "Memory".

The history of Russian Rodnoverie began in the same circles. The manifesto “Word of the Nation” signed by “Russian patriots”, published in samizdat in 1970, preached a “national version” of Christianity for “Russian people, by blood and by spirit” and ended with the phrase: “Long live the victory of Christian civilization over those who rebelled against it chaos!"

Other dissidents criticized this text for passages about the Jews "monopolizing [the] field of science and culture", about "the battle of the black and yellow races for world domination", about the need to put an end to "disorderly hybridization."

As it turned out later, "Word of the Nation" was written by Anatoly Skuratov, the author of another samizdat article entitled "The Christian Plague", which paints the struggle of European pagans against the spreading religion across the continent and its "main carrier of bacteria" - world Jewry.

Bearers of similar views were also among the first founders of native faith communities that emerged in the late 1980s. One of them was Alexander Dobrovolsky, or Dobroslav, who went through a difficult path of changing worldview guidelines.

So, in 1956, Dobrovolsky left the Komsomol in protest against the then policy of de-Stalinization, and already in 1958 he received his first prison term for organizing the National Socialist Party, and immediately upon his release, in 1961, he was baptized as a priest Gleb Yakunin.

In 1964, Dobrovolsky joined the dissidents - he met Vladimir Bukovsky, later a world famous writer and human rights activist, and Major General Pyotr Grigorenko, a war veteran, human rights activist and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Dobrovolsky was even one of the defendants in the "trial of four" - the trial of the Moscow samizdat activists arrested in 1967 and accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. At the trial, however, he testified against other dissidents, receiving a relatively short sentence of two years; Yuri Galanskov, who was tried along with Dobrovolsky, was sentenced to 7 years and died in the camp.

Having freed himself, Dobrovolsky broke off ties with the dissident underground. In the 1970s, he was able to return to Moscow and, carried away by esotericism, began to study the pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavs. In the 1980s, he joined the most radical branch of the Pamyat society, adopted a new name - Dobroslav, and by the 1990s retired from the world to the village of Vesenevo in the Kirov region, where he lived until his death in 2013, honing his philosophy.

Dobroslav's neo-paganism was a conglomerate of occultism, Blavatsky's theosophy, environmentalism and aroma yoga. His authorship belongs to a number of texts included in the federal list of extremist materials in 2007.

Rod or Perun?

The origins of modern Russian paganism can also be found in the scientific research of the Soviet era. Here it is a by-product of the old Norman / Anti-Norman debate.

Perhaps, the works of academician Boris Rybakov were of key importance, in which he made an attempt to reconstruct the pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavs of the ancient era and Kievan Rus and systematize Slavic religious ideas and rituals.

The son of a prominent figure of the Old Believers - the first director of the Moscow Old Believer Teachers' Theological Institute at the Rogozh Community, Alexander Rybakov - Boris Rybakov managed to be a Moscow street child in the 1920s. By his own admission, he began to study the history of Slavic paganism back in the 1930s.

Rybakov began publishing his concept of Slavic paganism back in the 1960s, and in the 1980s his fundamental works were published: “The Paganism of the Ancient Slavs” (1981) and “The Paganism of Ancient Rus” (1987).

Rybakov was not inclined either to complete the history of paganism in Russia with the date of her baptism, or to study it in isolation from earlier phenomena. Using as sources the complex of folk tradition and oral culture collected by ethnographers, the scientist considered the pagan worldview as the key to understanding many events in Russian history.

Without an analysis of paganism, we will not be able to understand the ideology of the Slavic medieval states, and in particular Kievan Rus. Only knowledge of popular pagan traditions will allow us to correctly understand the nature of many anti-church movements in the Middle Ages. If we comprehend the culture of the feudal class mainly from church literature and art (which unfairly narrow it down), then the culture of the common people throughout the centuries of feudalism we can only understand in the light of the analysis of the entire pagan complex. The fine, traditional, centuries-old culture of the Russian countryside is not only a treasure trove of information of interest to us about its deep roots, but at the same time the very roots on which the mass of working peasantry stood for a difficult thousand years, the roots that nourished not only the village, but also the urban settlement, and to some extent the social top. Folk tales, round dances and songs, epics and thoughts, colorful and deeply meaningful wedding ceremonies, folk embroidery, artistic woodcarving - all this can be understood only taking into account the ancient pagan worldview.

Boris Rybakov, Preface to the second edition of Paganism of the Ancient Slavs (1994).

In his works, the academician, starting from the periodization of "Words about Idols" - a medieval Russian Christian compilation of teachings against the pagans, - builds the evolution of the pre-Christian beliefs of the Slavs: from worshiping evil and good spirits of nature, ghouls and bereiners, to worshiping the god of fertility Rod and his companions Women in labor and the cult of the warlike thunderer Perun, who replaced him, the patron saint of princes and their retinues, in the pre-Christian period.

It was Roda - "the most mysterious and little-studied of all Slavic deities" - Rybakov put in the first place in the pantheon of the ancient Slavs, considering the thunderer Perun a "squad" god introduced by Prince Vladimir.

The genus in Russian medieval sources is described as a heavenly god in the air, controlling the clouds and blowing life into all living things. The greatest number of formidable denunciations were directed by the churchmen against public festivities in honor of the Family and women in labor. In these teachings, the Slavic pagan Clan is equated with the Egyptian Osiris, the biblical Baal (Baal-Hadd), the Christian Sabaoth, the creator god and Almighty.

Boris Rybakov, “Paganism of the Ancient Slavs”.

The neo-pagans liked this concept: in memory of the academician who died on December 27, 2001, the Moscow native-believers, among whom were such prominent representatives as Bogumil Murin, sorcerer Velimir (Nikolai Speransky) and Veleslav (Ilya) Cherkasov, issued a brochure of condolences - “Trizna after Boris Alexandrovich Rybakov ".

In his attention to oral folklore, Rybakov followed the historical school of Russian folklore studies of the late 19th century, which sought to explain epic plots based on their connection with the history of Ancient Rus.

But from the interpretation of Russian folklore, he at times drew far-reaching and not at all indisputable conclusions. For example, comparing the Neolithic cult of the bear with the peasant custom of hanging a bear's paw in the yards to guard livestock in The Paganism of the Ancient Slavs, Rybakov actually built a direct continuity between these phenomena.

Another source of the worldview of Russian Rodnovers in Soviet science is the theory of the main Indo-European myth of Vladimir Toporov and Vyacheslav Ivanov, developed in the 1960s and 1970s. Scientists considered the plot about the struggle of the thunderer with the serpent to be the main and system-forming one for Indo-European mythology.

In particular, they found the correspondences of the Vedic myth about the struggle of Indra with the serpent Vritra in Baltic mythology, suggesting the existence of its traces in the mythology of the ancient Slavs. The central plot for the Slavic mythologists, in their opinion, thus, was the struggle of the god Perun, akin to the Baltic Perkunas, with Veles, the serpent.

This version was supported, in particular, by the illustration to the Radziwill Chronicle, in which the god Veles was depicted as a snake at the feet of Prince Oleg, as well as a large number of toponyms analyzed by scientists, whose names, in their opinion, were somehow connected with these deities.

Reconstruction of the connection between historical events and mythological plots, based on the latter, became the reason for the dispute between Rybakov and Vladimir Propp, one of the most famous and honored Soviet folklorists. However, his main opponent, who criticized Ivanov and Toporov's theory along with his concept, was the historian and philologist Lev Klein.

In his book “The Resurrection of Perun. Towards the reconstruction of East Slavic paganism "Klein painted another picture of the paganism of the ancient Slavs, returning Perun to the place of the supreme - and, possibly, for a short time," pagan monotheism "of the only prince Vladimir - deity.

According to the scientist, Perun was one of a number of dying and resurrecting gods, similar to the Greek Apollo, and the Slavs divided the calendar year into two halves in accordance with the cycle of his festivities.

Klein reconstructed his image, including with the involvement of ethnographic data from the North Caucasus, making him a relative of the character of the Chechen-Ingush folklore Pirion, pouring rain on the earth with a thunderer. According to the scientist, thousands of Slavs were brought with them to the Vainakhs of Perun, who were captured and settled in the North Caucasus in the 8th century AD by the Arab commander Mervan II.

Klein, who survived Rybakov for a decade and a half, most recently - on November 7, 2019 - passed away in St. Petersburg. From pagan resources about the death of Rybakov's main opponent, Veleslav Cherkasov, the sorcerer of the Velesov Circle, Svarte Aske public and the Pantheon Telegram channel wrote about the death of Rybakov. It should be noted that despite the disagreements, Rybakov's and Klein's views coincided with regard to the Veles Book, both scientists considered it to be a fake.


Sanctuary of Chislobog. Summer solstice morning

Modern witchcraft

Russian Rodnoverie, which has spread widely in recent years (for example, the pagans celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Union of Slavic Communities of the Slavic Native Faith by raising their flag over Elbrus), often appears to outside observers as fragments of that leading "tear and stab" chauvinism, about which in the song "Memory Society"”Sang Yegor Letov.

It is really easy to imagine him as such - the cultivation of the image of a pagan warrior, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian tendencies still attract radical nationalists to the religious organizations.

And yet, such an idea of modern Russian pagans seems one-sided. There are also communities that gravitate towards their European and more moderate fellow believers. For example, to Wicca, which appeared in England in the 1950s.

Its founder, former British official Gerald Gardner, however, did not call his new religion that: the word wica in his writings denotes those who profess witchcraft. According to him, he "was granted permission to describe, under the guise of a work of art, some of the beliefs of witches."

Gardner's version of English witchcraft is practically devoid of the nationalist reputation that accompanies the constructions of the Eastern European pagans. Wicca is one of the varieties of a whole family of reconstructions of the traditional religions of Northern and Western Europe, such as neodruidism and Asatru, that appeared in the middle of the twentieth century, drawing attention to the heritage of the Celts and northern mythology.

Wicca came to Russia relatively recently. Unlike, it would seem, native faith movements, this doctrine is faced with the same problems that are characteristic of new religious movements in general, and for Russian neo-pagans in particular. But the Russian vetch also takes on its own features.

For the first time, the works of Wiccan authors began to be published in Russian in the 1990s … However, many publications that were, in fact, devoted to Wicca (for example, the books of S. Cunningham), for some readers remained textbooks of practical magic, and not a description of the original religious worldview.

It took some time for the Wiccans to develop their identity as representatives of a particular religious group. The Wiccans in Russia began to show themselves actively already in the 2000s.

There are undoubtedly examples of cooperation between Wiccans and Slavic pagans, in particular through the "International Pagan Federation". At the same time, both those and others are aware of the existing worldview differences.

Wicca in Russia and abroad, of course, is different, and quite a lot. By age, there are much more young people among Russian Wiccans, it is almost impossible to meet older Wiccans, which, on the contrary, is quite normal for Western countries.

Further, in Russia, the so-called "British Traditional Wicca" is practically not represented, that is, the most orthodox branches of Wicca, including well-thought-out systems of teaching and initiation. Wicca in Russia, for the most part, is the result of their own searches and the creativity of its followers, a mixture of different sources.

Finally, many issues that are on the agenda of Western Wiccans, for example, the place of homosexual men in Wiccan communities, in the Russian-speaking environment are far from relevant, if raised at all. In general, there are quite a few differences, and these are just a few of them.

Stanislav Panin, religious scholar

"The result of search and creativity" - these words, perhaps, can be said about many branches of Russian paganism. So, today the main provisions of Romuva are concentrated on the veneration of harmony in the sacred, animate world; tendencies towards such a transition are also present among a part of Russian native-believers and among their counterparts from the former Soviet republics.

We are already in paradise

The rise of interest in pre-Christian beliefs in the 20th century has affected many countries. Even such dissimilar teachings of Dobroslav and Gardner can be viewed as peculiar manifestations of countercultural religiosity, based on a connection with ancient traditions.

Neo-paganism in Russia is part of a wider pan-European phenomenon, bearing the imprint of the circumstances in which it was formed: the collapse of the USSR, the collapse of communist ideology and the rise of nationalist sentiments.

The diverse and complex relationships of the organizations of modern pagans do not prevent believers from freely professing it: communities usually have neither the ability nor the desire to introduce a fixed membership and are content with the rules of attendance at festivals and services. Broader community unions are limited by the most general requirements for their members.

In paganism, people who are acutely aware of the connection with history and their roots, are looking not for a break with modernity, but for a worldview basis that allows them to connect history and modernity.

“As soon as I heard the names of the gods and pagan images, the ancestral memory woke up in my soul. It was at school, in history class. The basis of paganism is taking care of the clan, native land and nature,”the modern pagan asserts. “The beauty of faith and tradition. The poetry of folk legends and images. Why do we need heaven, we are already in heaven. Happiness from communication with the Universe "- complements the other.

Holidays by neo-pagan communities include fairs selling a wide range of goods, from spiritual literature and the latest issues of Rodnoverie magazine to rune-adorned license plates and designer knives.

Divine services themselves represent a rather small part of the religious festivals. "It is forbidden to give up the merrymaking!" - reads the announcement of the June festival of fire on the page of Krasotynka, one of the largest ritual complexes of pagans in Russia, belonging to the Union of Slavic Communities. Sports are an important part of these gatherings.

The announcement of the gathering of community members to work on the construction of the smithy ends with an appeal "to take camping accessories with you - it is wonderful to have a rest on Krasotynka with an overnight stay!"

Peter Kromskikh

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