Rodnoverie

Karina Aitamurto

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RODNOVERIE TIMELINE

1979:  Desionizatsiya was published by Valerii Emelyanov (1929 – 1999).

1986:  Obshestvo Volkhov (the Association of Volkhvs, the wise men or the wizards) was founded in Leningrad by Viktor Bezverkhii (1930 – 2000). In 1990, the community changed its name to Soyuz Venedov (Union of Veneds).

1990:  Kupala was founded. Vseslav Svyatozar (1955 – ) was nominated as the head of the community.

1992:  The first edition of the Velesova Kniga (The Book of Veles) was published by Aleksandr Asov (1964 – ) under the pseudonym Bus Kresen.

1992:  Drevnerusskaya Ingliisticheskaya Tserkov’ Pravoslavnykh Staroverov-Inglingov (DITPSI, Old Russian Ingling Church of Orthodox Oldbeliever-Inglings, hereafter the Ingling Church) was founded in Omsk by Aleksandr Khinevich (1961 – ).

1993:  Slavyano-goritskaya bor’ba. Iznachalye (Slavic tumulus fight. The beginning) was published by Aleksandr Belov (Selidor, 1957 – ).

1994:  Moskovskaya Slavyanskaya Yazycheskaya Obshchina (Moscow Slavic Pagan Community) was registered as an areligious organization.

1997:  Soyuz Slavyanskikh Obshchin (Union of Slavic Communities) was founded in Kaluga. Vadim Kazakov (1965– ) was nominated as the head of the community.  Later renamed as Soyuz Slavyanskikh Obshchin Slavyanskoi Rodnoi Very (SSO SRV, Union of Slavic Communities of the Slavic Native Faith).

1997:  Russkoe Osvoboditel’noe Dvizhenie (Russian Liberation Movement) was established by Aleksei Dobrovol’skii (Dobroslav, 1938 – 2013).

1998:  The community Rodolyubie (the love of Rod) was founded. Il’ya Cherkasov (Veleslav, 1973) was nominated as the head of the community.

1999:  The umbrella organization Velesov Krug (VK, Circle of Veles) was founded. Il’ya Cherkasov  was nominated as the head of the community.

2002:  Krug Yazycheskoi Traditsii (KYaT, Circle of Pagan Tradition) was founded on the basis of Bitsevskoe Obrashchenie and Bitsevskii dogovor (Bitsa Agreement).

2009:  The Ingling Church was banned as an extremist organization. Its leader, Aleksandr Khinevich received a two-year probationary sentence.

2009: The first number of the journal Rodnoverie was published.

2009:  SSO SRV and KYaT issued a joint statement on “changes in the understanding of language and tradition of Slavs and on pseudo Paganism,” which condemned as unscientific the works of some authors, including the leader of the Ingling Church, Aleksandr Khinevich.

2011:  Vadim Kazakov resigned from the leadership of the SSO SRV.  Maksim Ionov (Beloyar, 1971 – ), who Kazakov supported, was elected as the new head of the organization.

FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

The Rodnoverie has never been an easily demarcated movement and, therefore, it is impossible to pinpoint any specific moment or even a place for its emergence. Throughout the Soviet times, vague ideas of Paganism as a worldview, philosophy, or religion can be found in art, literature, and philosophy. However, the first public advocacy of Paganism as a religion was the book Desionizatsiya by the Arabist Valerii Emelyanov in 1979. The book, which was first published in Syria, claimed that Paganism was the most efficient religion to combat the “Zionist world conspiracy,” which actually was the main theme of the book.  Desionizatsiya had very little to say about the doctrinal or ritual side of Paganism, but many of its ideas can be found in later nationalist and anti-Semitic Rodnoverie literature. In 1980, Emelyanov was committed to a mental hospital for killing his wife and was released after six years. He joined the notorious Russian nationalist organization, Pamyat, but was forced to leave it, due to his religious views. Emelyanov founded his own Pagan Pamyat and founded with Aleksandr Belov (Selidor) and the nationalist dissident Aleksei Dobrovol’skii (Dobroslav) one of the first Rodnoverie groups, the Moskovskaya Slavyanskaya Yazycheskaya Obshchina at the end of the 1980s.

Roughly at the same time in Leningrad, but apparently with no connection to the Pagans of Moscow, another secret, ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic Pagan community, the Obshestvo Volkhov, was formed by a university teacher of Marxism-Leninism, Viktor Bezverkhii (Ded, Ostromysl) in 1986. The community was mainly composed of the students of Bezverkhii and he was warned by the KGB for his activity.  In 1990, Bezverkhii was able to form a new, now openly functioning organization, the Soyuz Venedov. The community later divided into three branches and later into two competing Soyuz Venedovs. In the 2000s, it was active in the international Veche, an organization that gathered followers of Slavic Native Faith in such countries as Belorussia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Slovenia.

Soyuz Venedov was crucial for the emergence of the Pagan scene in St. Petersburg. For example, at the beginning of the 1990s one of the activists of this community, a kindergarten teacher, Vladimir Golyakov (Bogumil II Golyak, 1968 – ), founded an organization called Shag Volka that provided “Slavic medicine,” and in 1997, the Rodnoverie organization Skhoron Ezh Sloven (SES). [Image at right] This community erected a temple in the southern part of the city, where it conducted rituals three times per week until 2007, when the temple was removed by the city and the community had to find a new place for its rituals. Golyakov claims to continue a family lineage of Volkhvs (wise men or wizards) that have passed knowledge down from the eleventh century and has appropriated the title of the Supreme Priest of all Slavs (Verkhovnyi zhrets vsekh slavyan). Among the members of the group have been skinheads and, in 2003, Golyakov received a five-year probationary sentence for attacking the office of the famous human rights organization, Memorial.  In 2007, Golyakov received much media attention as he, dressed in the costume of a Slavic Volkhv, placed himself at the front of the nationalist Russian March in St. Petersburg, thereby seeming to lead it, even though he had no attachment to the organizers of the march.

In the 1980s, in addition to nationalist circles, the ideas of Paganism also began to emerge amidst the intelligentsia, interested in mysticism and alternative spirituality, especially Eastern traditions. One of the leading Pagan figures in these circles was the psychoanalyst, Grigorii Yakutovskii (Vseslav Svyatozar), who founded the community Kupala in 1990. Shamanism had an important role in the teachings of Yakutovskii, though some Rodnovers accused him of eclecticism. A new community Kolyada later separated from Kupala and subsequently formed a union with the community Vyatichi. These communities played a crucial role later in the formation of the umbrella organization Krug Yzycheskoi Tradititsii, which represented the less nationalistically oriented part of the Rodnoverie (Aitamurto 2016:6-52).

A much wider audience was reached by a series of articles on Slavic religious tradition by Aleksandr Asov in a highly popular journal Nauka i Religiya at the end of the 1980s. In 1992, Asov published the first edition of the manuscript Velesova Kniga (the Book of Veles), which was claimed to derive from the ninth century. Though Velesova Kniga is almost unanimously declared to be a literary forgery among historians, Asov’s numerous re-editions have sold millions of copies. The authenticity of the Book of Veles was defended by the majority of Rodnovers at least until the 2000s, though nowadays a more critical stance has gained more ground. The Velesova Kniga has had a major impact on the formation of the Rodnoverie, However, Asov himself has never gained an authoritative position in the movement. One of the reasons for this is that he has been accused of being too commercially oriented and of stealing national treasures by claiming copyrights to the publications of the Velesova Kniga.

In somewhat different circles, though, an “ancient Russian” combat sport, Slavyano-goritskaya bor’ba, developed by Aleksandr Belov has received widespread attention. In the 1990s, the organization had hundreds of local clubs. In Belov’s philosophy, Paganism espoused a warrior spirit, and the clubs attracted many nationalistically oriented people, including skinheads (Meranvil’d 2004).

In 1999, a new wave of interest in Paganism gained a foothold among ultra-nationalist youth via the book Udar Russkikgh Bogov (the Strike of Russian Gods) written by the pseudonym Istarkhov. Paganism became popular among Russian skinheads, though it often included little ritual dimension or even doctrinal reflection. There are numerous cases, when racist or anti-Semitic assaults have been committed by individuals and groups, identifying themselves as Pagans or Rodnovers (Shnirel’man 2013). Typically, however, they have not had any connections to mainstream Rodnoverie organizations.

The religious liberation at the turn of 1990s provided opportunities to display the religion openly, but the time was also characterized by political, social, and economic uncertainty. A substantial number of the Pagan organizations or groupings in the 1990s were politically oriented with programs ranging from the ultra-right to the ultra-left but, as a rule, those subscribing to a nationalist ideology. One of the most peculiar, but also successful ones was the movement Kontseptiya Obshchestvennoi Besopasnosti (the Concept of Social Security, KOB), which was based on an overarching theory of the world order, dominated by a secret elite that derives from ancient Freemasons. At its heyday, this openly Stalinist movement claimed to have 50,000 members. The KOB also founded a party, Edinenie, which won 1.17 percent of the votes in the Parliamentary elections in 2003 (Moroz 2005). The KOB subscribed to Paganism, but the religion was never in the forefront of its ideology. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that many of its supporters did not conceive of the KOB as a Pagan organization and did not identify themselves as Pagans.

At the turn of the millennium, some nationalistically oriented organizations began to pay more attention to the ritual practices and theology. Consecutively, they oriented themselves more towards the “Pagan religious” scene, instead of political nationalism. At the forefront of this development was the Soyuz Slavyanskikh Obshchin Slavyanskoi Rodnoi Very (SSO SRV), which, for example, began to expect that participants dress themselves in traditional Russian clothes for the rituals. At the end of the 1990s, the head of the SSO SRV, engineer Vadim Kazakov, who had already published books on Russian names and Slavic religious tradition, coined the term “Rodnoverie,” which is derived from the words native (rodnaya) and faith (vera). Even today, many adherents of Slavic Paganism call their religion “Paganism” or refer to it in other terms. However, over the years, the word Rodnoverie has established itself within the movement. One of the main reasons undoubtedly is that it does not have the kind of negative connotations that the word paganism (yazychestvo) has in the Russian language.

The dominance of nationalism in the Pagan movement and the image of Paganism also raised concerns among some Rodnovers. In 2002, a new umbrella organization Krug Yazycheskoi Traditsii (KYaT) was founded in Moscow. Its founding document, the Bitsa Appeal, condemned national-chauvinism as incompatible with the spirit of Paganism:

The Pagan Tradition of Slavs (Rodnoverie), like Paganism itself – Pagan Tradition in general –  originally did not have the concept of nation. Pagan Tradition, as a worldview and authentic popular faith, emerged and flourished thousands of years before that moment in the history of society, when chronologically the first nations appeared. But Paganism always knew and acknowledged the concept of the ‘people’ [narod], though not so much in a biological aspect, but rather in a cultural meaning.

The symbols and terminology of paganism are attempted to be used for unseemly purposes, such as national-chauvinists’ building organizations on a ‘truly Aryan’ basis, but covering themselves with the bright name of our gods – such facts take place and receive due assessment in this Appeal.

Love towards the native Earth, an attitude toward the Forces of the World – as living Essences, i.e. Gods, reverence for the gods – the ancestors of the ancestral, historical and spiritual ancestors, should bring people living on the same earth closer.

The document was signed by numerous Rodnoverie organizations, such as Krug Bera, Kolyada Vyatichei, Kupala, Moskovskaya Slavyanskaya Obshchina and Slaviya. The document was also suppopponents of the Bitsa Appeal personified the antagonism between the KYaT and the SSO SRV.

Nevertheless, not all Rodnoverie organizations became involved in the disputes over nationalism and the Bitsa Appeal. One of the fastest growing Rodnoverie umbrella organizations in the 2000s is the Velesov Krug (VK), founded in 1999 by a young charismatic leader and a prolific author, Il’ya Cherkasov (Veleslav), who had a background in the study and practice of Eastern spirituality and mysticism. Even though it is well known that there are ultra-nationalist members in the VK as well, the organization emphatically vows to be apolitical and does not approve of politicizing at its events. Unlike many Rodnoverie leaders, Veleslav is interested in and has incorporated into his teachings also darker sides. In addition to the Rodnoverie as such, he has published on his version of a left-hand path, Navii put’ (the way of Nav, the Sinister Path). [Image at right]

In the 2000s, the Rodnoverie movement grew rapidly due to the Internet. In Russia, the Rodnoverie was among the first religions to seize the opportunities of the online space. Small communities created sites and displayed photographs of their festivals online. The availability of footage of rituals also created some uniformity in the ideas of what Rodnoverie festivals should be like. Individuals in remote parts of the country could participate in online discussions and seek likeminded people in their areas (Gaidukov 2013). In these discussions, many revealed that they had thought that they were the only ones adhering to the pre-Christian faith and expressed their enthusiasm to find these online and offline communities.

The diminishing of the dominance of ultra-nationalist politics within Rodnoverie circles, or at least their open display, was also due to the anti-extremist laws from 2002 onwards. On the basis of these laws, hundreds of Rodnoverie publications have been banned as extremist and numerous organizations have been liquidated. Among the first Rodnoverie authors, whose publication succumbed to the list of banned literature was one of the founding fathers of the movement, Dobroslav. His philosophy was a curious mix of deep ecology, nature veneration, flagrant anti-Semitism and admiration of National Socialism. He was active in many of the first Rodnoverie organizations and in 1997, he founded an ultranationalist organization, Russkoe Osvoboditel’noe Dvizhenie. Nevertheless, already in the 1990s, he retreated from the capital to the countryside in Kirov Oblast to live according to his convictions. [Image at right]  Dobroslav’s house became a place of pilgrimage, especially for ultra-nationalist youth until his death in 2013 (Shizhenskii 2013). Dobroslav’s funeral, in which his corpse was cremated on a bonfire, was a major event in the Rodnoverie movement.

One of the biggest Pagan organizations that was banned as extremist was Drevnerusskaya Ingliisticheskaya Tserkov’ Pravoslavnykh Staroverov-Inglingov (DITPSI, hereafter the Ingling Church) that was located in Omsk, but had activity throughout Russia. The Ingling Church claimed to represent an unbroken Aryan tradition and to possess secret ancient manuscript of Slavyano-Ariiskie Vedy, parts of which were copies of the ancient Scandinavian Ynglinga Saga. [Image at right] The teachings of this Church contained some extraordinary claims for reading biology and history. It argued, for example, that humanity consists of different races that originated from different planets and that the ancestors of the “Aryans” could live for hundreds of years. The Ingling Church was harshly criticized by the biggest Rodnoverie organizations, which claimed that the Church did not represent Paganism, but its publications were sold in the thousands of copies and many people found the Rodnoverie movement through the Ingling Church.

According to the anti-extremist law, the authorities also began surveillance activity on the Internet and in many Rodnoverie sites and forums, where the moderators constantly reminded the online participants about the possible consequences of statements that could be regarded as extremist. In this way, the mainstream Rodnoverie organizations were compelled to self-censorship and to choose whether they were willing to risk their organization in engaging in controversial activity. Atthe end of the 2000s, the viewpoints of the former rivalries, the KYaT and the SSO SRV had come closer, enabling them to begin cooperation, even though the activity of the KYaT in the 2010s has faltered and many communities have left it. In 2009, the journal Rodnoverie was founded. It is a joint venture of the SSO SRV, KYaT, and the VK and each number contains texts from authors from all of these organizations. [Image at right] The three organizations have also issued public statements in the name of the Sovet Trekh (the Council of Three). One of the main targets of these statements has been groups, authors or religious leaders, which the Council claims has falsified the history or has misrepresented Paganism as a religion. Such groups and individuals include, for example, Aleksandr Asov, Vladimir Golyakov, and Vladimir Kurovksii (1976 – ), the leader of the Ukrainian Rodovoe Ognishche that had gained popularity in Russia as well.

In 2014, the annexation of Crimea and, especially, the war in Ukraine divided Russian nationalist opposition into those who supported Putin’s actions and those, who opposed them. Rodnovers too have been divided on this issue. A few Rodnovers have openly supported Ukraine, but hundreds of voluntary Rodnoverie fighters left for the Ukraine to fight for the rebels. A battalion composed of Rodnovers, Svarozhitsi (Svarog batallion) consisted of over 800 men, before its leader was arrested (Morin 2015). On the other side as well, among the Ukrainian forces, Slavic Pagans are participating in the combat in the nationalist Azov battalion. The topic raises heated discussions among Rodnovers in social media. The mainstream organizations have not taken any official stance on the annexation of the Crimea or the war on Ukraine, but especially among the Pagans in such big cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is also much dissatisfaction towards Putin’s politics, both domestic and foreign.

DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

There are no unanimously agreed upon doctrines in Rodnoverie, and, despite constant debates on, for example, the nature or historical authenticity of some gods or rituals, many Rodnovers consider freedom of conscience and pluralism to be the core values of the religion. What is common to Rodnovers is that they base their doctrine on the pre-Christian Slavic religiosity, or what is known of it, and in Russian folk tradition. The second part of the word “Rodnoverie” refers to faith (vera) and many Rodnovers prefer this concept instead of the term “religion.” According to this stance, “religion” implies something dogmatic and institutionalized, whereas faith is more flexible and personalized. It is also common to argue that Paganism is more of a worldview or philosophy of life than a religion, because, it is argued, it does not require people to “believe” in anything beyond their senses.

The majority of Rodnoverie publications and communities subscribe to polytheism, but there are Rodnovers, who consider the different gods to be just various personifications of one god and even atheist Rodnovers, who understand deities more as symbols for natural phenomena and forces. Some communities hold to such deities as Rod, Svarog, Triglav or Dazhdbog as supreme gods. For example, Veleslav (2016: 26) writes:

According to Slavic Rodnovery, the supreme Deity of the World that Is (Triworld) and all determined existence is Svarog (cf. Brahma), the Creator, Demiurge of the Universe. The Divine Patrons of the World that Is (Triworld) are subordinate to Svarog (as to a progenitor), Gods sharing the common name of Svarozhichi – Dazhdbog, Perun, etc.

In the communities, perhaps the most popular deities are the gods of thunder and of warriors, Perun and of poetry, art, and cattle, Veles. It is typical that communities and individuals choose to “follow the path” of either one of these gods depending on their areas of interest. Consequently, Perun is usually a more central god in nationalistically oriented communities. Many gods are associated with seasons, as the goddess Mara, who represents death and winter. Lada is the goddess of love, family, and crops, while the goddess of destiny and the underworld is Makosh. This list of revered gods is by no means exhaustive, but a description of all the different deities and their interpretations is beyond the scope of this text. Due to the fragmentary knowledge of the pre-Christian tradition and regional differences, there are numerous competing understandings of the Slavic pantheon. The issue also boils down to the weight given to the scholarly study of history and the importance given to historical accuracy. Many deities, such as Rod, Kupala, or Chislobog are denounced as new inventions by some Rodnovers, but others discredit the references to academic study of history and refer to less authoritative sources. Yet others consider historical accuracy secondary to the spiritual experience of these gods.

In the rituals, the gods are venerated, but Rodnovers usually wish to make a distinction between Pagan and (Orthodox) Christian attitude towards divinity. An often-repeated slogan in the movement is: “We are not God’s slaves, but sons.” This slogan refers to the Orthodox phrase identifying believers as “God’s slaves” and expresses the more equal attitude of Pagans with their gods. It is claimed, metaphorically or not, that Slavs are the grandchildren of Dazhdbog. Rodnovers venerate gods, but many of them hold on to the individual’s right and necessity to make his or her own decisions according to one’s own conscious, and to face the consequences of their actions.

The Rodnoverie is regularly defined as a nature religion or faith (prirodnaya vera) and establishing a connection to nature and its veneration are central in the movement. However, nature can also be understood in a nationalist framework as our, Slavic, or Russian nature. This kind of perception reinforces the division of ethnicities with their demarcated, unchanging qualities and environments (Ivakhiv 2002). At the same time, Rodnovers may also feel deeper connection to their localities than to Russia as a state. In a survey, conducted by Roman Shizhenskii, Rodnovers identified the concept of Motherland (Rodina) in multiple ways, such as “an area around which I can walk in a day” instead of connecting it to the Russian state (Shizhenskii and Aitamurto 2017). Nevertheless, in contemporary Rodnoverie, nationalism is indeed a prevalent characteristic. At least as often as defined as nature spirituality, Rodnoverie is presented as the faith of the ancestors. The veneration of ancestors is almost as common in Rodnoverie texts and rituals as the veneration of gods. Many, if not the majority of Rodnovers, accept as members only people with Slavic ancestry. However, some exceptions reveal that this rule may be bent regarding people, whose appearance does not differ from average Russians, whereas Jewish heritage is much more likely to lead to dismissal.

Rodnovers emphasise the immanence of life, the life in the here and now. They argue that people will face the consequences of their actions in this life. Many claim that people must engage in bettering life and preserving nature in this world instead of meditating on that which is transcendent. The focus on immanence is attested by the relative scarcity of debates concerning the afterlife. Nevertheless, given the multiplicity of the Rodnoverie, there are also adherents and authors, who believe in reincarnation, or an afterlife, which is usually called Iriya, in which good deeds will be rewarded. A common perception of the world divides it into three dimensions: Prav, Nav, and Yav. The way these are understood varies but, in a simplified way, these could be explained as the underworld (Nav), our world (Yav), and an upper world or the world of ideas (Prav).

RITUALS/PRACTICES

The Rodnoverie calendar is based on natural cycles and the Russian peasant tradition. Three main events are the summer solstice (Kupala), the winter solstice (Kolyada), and Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) in March. Other holidays include, among others, the autumn solstice Dedi and the day of Perun in July, and, finally, the day of Veles in February. Rodnoverie communities have many other holidays as well, but the names and dates somewhat vary. For example, in 2018, both the SSO SRV and the VK celebrate the fertilization of the earth in Yarilo Veshchii on May 23, but the VK also has two other celebrations at the beginning of summer in May, the Krasnaya gorka and  Lel’nik on May 22. Some communities use their own Rodnoverie names for months, derived from Russian tradition. Rodnoverie communities also organize weddings and rituals for giving a Pagan name (imyanerechenie). Some communities also have a ritual for washing away the baptism, raskreshchenie.

The rituals are held outdoors in the woods or in parks. [Image at right] Communities usually have their own specific places, where they erect wooden statues of gods, called idols or churs. Rodnovers may not own the land of these temples, and the idols are regularly vandalized. Typically, communities have festivals that are open to everyone and rituals for members only. The biggest audience can be found during the Kupala festival, when the weather allows people to camp on the site of the event for a few days.

The rituals usually take place around a fire or an idol. They are led by the head (or heads) of the community inside the circle of participants. The content of the rituals depend on the festivity. For example, the celebrations of Kupala must include references to water and fire, the main elements of the event, but the way these are incorporated and the symbols can alter  yearly. Idols of gods are also made of plants, hay, or other temporary material for rituals.  For example, in Maslenitsa a statue of Marena, the goddess of winter is burned as a sign of the end of her reign. In the ritual, gods are evoked and toasts raised for the gods and ancestor. Crucial elements are circle dancing (khorovod) and jumping over the fire. [Image at right]  It is customary that the participants honor the festivals by dressing in the fashion of Russian or Slavic folk tradition, such as white linen shirts with embroidered red decoration for men. Earlier many Rodnoverie communities used the Swastika as their symbol. Nowadays, after the ban on the public use of the Swastika, the most established symbol for the Rodnoverie is the Kolovorot representing the sun. [Image at right]

ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

There is no unanimously acknowledged Rodnoverie leader or organization. In the scope of this article, it has been possible to discuss only the most prominent or mainstream organizations, omitting smaller ones, or the ones that have a more eclectic identity. In addition to the organizations, there are solitary practitioners and authors or charismatic figures, who do not participate in any Rodnoverie community. Despite the persistent idea of freedom and even egalitarianism, Rodnoverie communities usually have a leader and some leading group. In the leading group, the members may have different kinds of honorary titles or areas of responsibility. Many communities and especially umbrella organizations have a council called veche after the ancient Russian popular assembly. Though there is no reliable information on the number or socio-economic position of Rodnovers, the majority of the scholars of the topic agree that there are more men than women involved. Correspondingly, virtually all of the most prominent leaders are men (see also Aitamurto 2013).

At the turn of the millennium, some Slavic Pagan communities were registered as religious organizations, but in line with the stricter approach of the authorities, they have all lost this status by the 2010s. Among the Rodnovers, there are mixed feelings toward official registration. Some aim toward the status of officially registered religious organization, in order to strengthen the position of Pagans. Nevertheless, the authorities have denied requests for registration on the basis, for example, of the fact that the Rodnoverie cannot be considered a religion.  The majority seems to think that the status of religious organization could potentially bring too many problems. An officially registered religious organization can be banned as extremist, in which case the whole denomination can be conceived as banned. The status of religious organization may draw the attention of the authorities more than “cultural” or “societal” communities that claim to be focused on the revival of Russian or Slavic “tradition.” The main Rodnoverie organizations have therefore not taken steps to be registered as religious organizations. For example, the SSO SRV has a registration of a “societal organization.”

ISSUES/CHALLENGES

In recent decades, the state of religious freedom has deteriorated in Russia. Minority religions have been persecuted by restriction of their activity and even by banning them under the pretense of promoting extremism. Until the 2010s, the Rodnoverie was allowed to function relatively freely in comparison to many other minority religions. Possible reasons for this were that the Rodnoverie is a relatively small movement; it remained even more invisible, because it has no centralized organizations and the rituals are conducted in nature instead of in specific buildings; it is not a “foreign religion” nor a religion with wide contacts abroad, as these were the first targets of oppression; and because the Rodnoverie enjoy some support among such state structures as the army and law enforcement. In the 2010s, the role of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has grown in Russian society and it has targeted the Rodnoverie increasingly often. On local levels, the representatives of ROC have encouraged the authorities to take a stricter line on the Rodnoverie. Several high-level people in ROC have made statements, according to which the Rodnoverie or neo-Paganism is a major social problem and high-profile events have been used as a platform to promote this view (Skrylnikov 2016). Thus it is possible that the Russian authorities will take a more oppressive attitude toward the Rodnoverie in the future.

Another major challenge for the Rodnoverie and its image in public emerges from its non-institutionalized and heterogeneous nature. The cases of individuals and groups that commit racist, anti-Semitic, and even terrorist actions and present themselves as Rodnovers may seriously harm the image of the movement. Though not an equally serious problem, various conspiracy theories, scientifically unfounded historical and biological claims also negatively affect the way the Rodnoverie is conceived in public. In recent decades, the mainstream organizations have decidedly taken a stand against these, but especially in the provinces, some Rodnoverie communities still believe in such historical claims as the Russian origin of the Egyptian pharaohs or that ancient Slavs possessed various supernatural powers. These kinds of claims are recycled in sites that aim to discredit the Rodnoverie. If nationalism continues to determine much of the movement, the religion remains or becomes unattractive to people, who oppose racism and the exclusion of people on the basis of their ethnicity. Such people, who might otherwise find the nature-centered and anti-dogmatic nature of Paganism appealing, may instead turn to other religions with similar features.

IMAGES
Image #1: The SES has member communities in several areas in Russia and also in Belorussia and Ukraine.
Image #2:  The publication Navii put’ (the way of Nav, the Sinister Path) by Il’ya Cherkasov (Veleslav).
Image #3: Aleksei Dobroslav in his countryside residence in Kirov Oblast.
Image #4: The alleged secret ancient manuscript of Slavyano-Ariiskie Vedy that the Ingling Church claimed to possess.
Image #5: Cover of the journal Rodnoverie.
Image #5: Rodnovers participating in a ritual in a wooded area.
Image #6: Rodnovers jumping over a fire in a Maslenitsa ritual.

REFERENCES

Aitamurto, Kaarina. 2016. Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie. Milton Park and New York: Routledge.

Aitamurto, Kaarina. 2013. “Gender in Russian Rodnoverie.” The Pomegranate. The International Journal of Pagan Studies 1-2:12-30.

Belov, Aleksandr. 1993. Slavyano-goritskaya bor’ba: Iznachal’e. Moscow: NKDR.

Drevnerusskaya Ingliistiicheskaya tserkov’ Pravoslavnykh Staroverov-Inglingov. 2007. Slavyano-Ariiskie Vedy I. Omsk: Asgard’.

Bitsa Appeal. 2002. Accessed from http://slavya.ru/docs/bitc_obr.htm on 20 August 2018.

Emelyanov, Valerii N. 2005. Desionizatsiya. Moscow: Russkaya Pravda.

Gaidukov, Alexey. 2013. “The Russian-language Internet and Rodnoverie.” Pp. 315-32 in Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson. Durham: Acumen.

Istarkhov, Vladimir. 2001. Udar Russkikh Bogov. St. Petersburg: LIO Redaktor.

Ivakhiv, Adrian. 2002. “Nature and ethnicity in East European paganism: an environmental ethic of the religious right?” Religion 32:303-14.

Kresen, Bus (restauration, translation, commentary) (Asov, Aleksandr) 1992. Russkie Vedy. Pesni ptitsi Gamayun. Velesova kniga. Moscow: Nauka i religiya.

Istarkhov, Vladimir. 2001. Udar Russkikh Bogov. St. Petersburg: LIO Redaktor.

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2 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

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