An Introductory Guide to Slavic Paganism

A friendly disclaimer . . .

An Introduction to Slavic Paganism

Recently, it was brought to my attention that one of our members was in need of some resources related to Slavic Paganism. My disclaimer here is, I’m no expert or practitioner of Slavic beliefs nor do I hold any cultural ties to it. I wrote this guide for them as a way to help point the direction to a deeper understanding of their Path as part of my obligation as Pagan clergy. I may write more of these about different Paths in Paganism if there is a demand for such knowledge. I included a list of various sources for my information to serve as a guide post to those who are curious about expanding their knowledge on the subject. 

A Brief History of Slavic Paganism

So you’re interested in practicing or working with Slavic Paganism? Modern-day Slavic Paganism is a reconstruction belief system  of Pre-Chrtistian beliefs, deities, & practices. The term “Slav” refers to a wide-range of individuals who speak the “Slavic” language. These Indo-European people are not a single ethic group and span a population of over 300 million. They are mainly the people of  Polish, Russian, and Ukranian descent. While most people associate the Slavic cultures with Eastern Europe, they can be found around the globe! Through the diaspora caused by the Byzantine empire, the Slavs migrated to Asia, parts of the Aegean sea, and even the Arctic circle region!

The Slavic culture is impressive because it forms the largest ethnolinguistic group in Europe. Generally, a culture united by a single language would have many advantages in preserving it’s traditions & practices, however, there is very little known about this form of Paganism. The Tribes of people living in the Balkans, Central, & Eastern Europe did not have a single church or a strict set of beliefs. The stories & beliefs may have had a unifying theme however they could vary depending on what lesson needed to be passed on to eager ears around the fire. This may have contributed to some confusion or inconsistency in popular legends & myths. This may have lead to the downfall of Slavic Paganism as more monotheistic traditions such as Christianity & Islam began to take hold.

Reconstructing this vibrant tradition is the mission of many practitioners of Slavic Paganism. Their ancient writings, wooden totems, and oral tradition have all but disintegrated throughout the passage of time. It’s important for new practitioners to learn as much as they can about the culture & not be afraid to add new insights to the community. Sacred experiences are not limited to the past and can have valid impacts on the present of the tradition. One does not have to have blood ties to the Slavic culture to practice, however it may be helpful in forming a connection to the ancestors & Gods of this Path. A better understanding of the history of the people will establish those connections and provide a unique insight into the heart of the Slavic people. 

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Popular Deities

The Gods of the Slavic people were not considered to be just legends or archetypes. They were considered to be real, living, and walking among the people. The act of “gifting” or making offerings is an integral part of their reverence. The deities of the Slavs are vibrant & full of life. They may have some comparable traits to Greek & Norse tales, however, they remain a breed of their own. They gracefully reflect the charm of the Slavic people. 

  • Perun – The God of Thunder would be most like Thor or Odin from the Norse traditions. He lived in the sacred Oak tree, at the highest part which was considered the “Upper Realm” of the Gods. He was considered the “King” or “Leader” of the Gods. Perun is  in charge of lightning, fertility, war, thunder, leadership, storms, rain, law, order, oak trees, and sometimes associated with death. 

His temples & offerings were placed in high places to honor his status as leader of the Slavic deities. He is the purifier and law-keeper of the Gods. In some tales, he may be just & fair – in others he may be portrayed as ruthless. This representation of Perun can be similar to the way that Odin is portrayed in Norse culture or Zeus in the Greek pantheon. He is the living patron of warriors & chiefs for the Slavic peoples. 

  • Dazhbog – The God of prosperity, insight, inspiration, wealth, good fortune (sometimes bad fortune if you cross him) and the sun. He represents the fertile rays of the sun and their effect on crops and animals. His name translates to “Giving God.” Much like the Greek God Apollo, he pulls a chariot of three  horses (one silver, one gold, and one diamond) across the sky. He was beloved to the people of Pre-Christian Eastern Europe and may have been another representation of Baldur from the Norse legends.
  • Stribog – He is the son of Perun. A God associated with the wind, sky, & air. He can change size at will and is always moving. A God of raw energy and dynamic forces. He was created from the swinging of the hammer as Savrog, the divine smith, worked his craft. This God is unstoppable and can travel as quickly as the wind can blow. He is a warrior God, revered by only the most stalwart defenders. 

He is portrayed as an old man or a golden haired youth. He carries a golden bow. He can control the weather at his command and brings vitality to the working people. 

  • Simargl – The shape-shifting right-hand man of Perun. He takes the form of the winged wolf wreathed in a circlet of fire.  Simargl is considered to be a bright, intelligent God who acts as an advisor to those seeking wise counsel. His wife is Kupalnitsa, goddess of night. He is sometimes depicted with Perun riding him through the sky as his mount.
  • Kikimora – More of a house spirit associated with domestic protection & looking after the chickens. She is portrayed as a thin old woman with long white hair and chicken feet! She has a temper and is known to haunt homes who do not pay homage to her properly. She can also be a protective force to those who pay their due to her. She is also associated with needlework, spinning, and the making of clothing or textiles. 
  • Baba Yaga – One of my favorite Slavic spirits. She can be portrayed as a spiritual entity or as a deity depending on who you ask & has quite a following in popular culture due to Japanese Animation (see Spirited Away) She is associated with the season of Autumn and is portrayed as an old woman who lives in a cabin that has chicken feet!  She travels by mortar and pestle through the air and is possibly one of the most ferocious visualizations the human mind has ever perceived. She takes the form of a witch with iron teeth and has been known to consume little children who are not listening or being properly watched! An all-around embodiment of fear!
  • Kremara – The Slavic God of pig farmers, butchers, and all things related to porcines! He is associated with the abundance of the earth as well as fertility. The Goddess Darinka is known as his female counterpart and may have been a consort to him or another form taken by this individual. 
  • Vesna – The gorgeous Goddess of Spring – you might compare her to the Germanic Ostara. She is portrayed as a comely blonde maiden, naked & free in her mood. She is always smiling and is the embodiment of the happiness that occurs after the long, hard winter. She is the Goddess of Marriage (and presumably consummating the marriage as Spring / fertility are close associations with each other.) Her offerings include apples & grapes. 
  • Veles – The supreme God of the earth, livestock, death, the underworld, and many other aspects of agriculture. His name means, “souls of the deceased.” He may be closely tied to the Greek God Hades for this, however, his scope seems to incorporate much more than the afterlife. Veles or Volos (Russian) is sometimes portrayed as a serpent with the horns of a ram and the beard of an old man. He can be associated with magick, trickery, and wisdom because of his far-reaching ties to the Underworld. 
  • Devana – The lady of the hunt. She is depicted wearing the skin of a bear around her body. A fierce and rebellious character, you might compare her to the Greek Goddess Artemis or even Freya (beauty and brains!) Her colors are turquoise and silver. Devana has absolute control of the forests, wilds, and unknown places of the earth and may turn nasty if she feels that these places are not being properly honored.  She is the great mother and is honored as a protector of women in need. She is also associated with horses, as her symbol is the mare. 
  • Dodole – Also known as Perperuna. As the name suggests, she is the “high wife” of the thunder God Perune. She is associated with the gentle rains, cows, milkmaidens, thunder, and storms. She can be seen as a feminine aspect of Perun. In times of drought, she can be invoked by dancing and singing. She is also a supreme mother who watches over women in childbirth and wives who need protection. You might compare her to Frigg, wife of Chief Odin in Norse mythos. 

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Sacred Festivals of the Ancient Slavic People

Much like Modern-day Pagans celebrating the Wheel of the Year, the ancient Slavic people venerated the changing of the seasons through their festivals.  Differing from our traditions in modern times, the Slavic people were highly dependent on good growing seasons and other factors which affected their livestock and by extension, their food supply. They were intimately tied to the land as the land provided them a bounty (or lack thereof if there was a drought or some other natural disaster at play) so the practices of these festivals were strongly held traditions. These are just a sampling of some of those beloved holidays. 

  • Koljada (21st December) – This festival represents the Winter solstice. It is the darkest day of the year. It is named for Koledo, the deity associated with the Winter solstice time period. It is celebrated by the warmth of the fire & sharing stories. The Slavs had their own tree of life, similar to Yggdrasil. They cut down small evergreen trees to represent the bounty and coming life of the next season. 
  • The Drowning of Marzanna doll the Goddess associated with the cold winter) came during the coming of spring. The slavic people would create a representation of Marzanna and drown her in a river to put an end to the cold, unforgiving weather. People were said to rub eggs on their bodies (a sign of good health) to cure themselves of various illnesses. Likely, this is where we get the tradition of Easter eggs.
  • Kupalnocka (Slavic Valentine’s Day!) This was celebrated around the time of the Summer solstice. This holiday was distinguished by the lighting of large bonfires throughout the country side and also taking a mate. This was a time of marriages, fertility, and partying! 
  • Święto Plonów (First day of fall) The ancient Slavic people used this holiday to thank the Gods for the bounty of their harvest. They danced with ribbons around a grain-grain covered pole (much like a May-Pole at Beltane.) The people offered up drinks of honey wine to the Gods. It was said that if this drink disappeared or fell, the Gods were displeased. If the drink stayed full or untouched, it was a sign that the offering had been taken and the next year would also be bountiful as well as a blessed winter.

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Magickal Practices & Traditions of Slavic Paganism

The Magickal traditions and folk remedies of the Slavic people are some of the most enchanting you will run across. Folk magick is the lifeblood of the people, as these traditions are passed down from father-to-son or from grandmother-to-grandchild throughout the generations. These practices consist of spells, rituals, forms of divination, and the mixing of natural ingredients. Modern witchcraft is also making a surprising comeback in countries like Russia so now more than ever it seems important that this work be shared throughout the Pagan community. 

  • Zagovory is the Russian form of “verbal witchcraft” and can be used to heal or harm an individual. It can also be used to enchant magickal tools. This form of witchcraft can be spoken, sung, or whispered at an individual or object to create the results desired. It is also known as “Sound shaping” which means the ability to manipulate reality with magick much like a potter would with clay. 
  • Vrac – A person gifted with abilities which are not ordinary. A magickal practitioner. Much like a priest or a doctor. 
  • Shaman – A healer who traveled between the veils of the physical and spiritual world. An individual who might be gifted in seeing the future or interpreting dreams. 
  • The Montanka Doll – A form of poppet Magick. A doll which is believed to bring prosperity, protection, and blessings to the household. 

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Symbolism

Much like other cultures spanning the globe, the slavs had a unique set of symbols which had sacred meanings. They were a form of “shorthand,” communicating in simple pictures a much broader form of thought. Some of these symbols may look rather menacing and some may appear benign. The totality of their true meaning may be lost, however, we can look at other surviving remnants of other Pagan cultures to glean an understanding of what our ancient ancestors may have meant. Here is a sampling. 

  • Bahrain (Tree of Life) A massive Oak tree whose branches reached to the upper world controlled by Perun and roots which reached deep into the Underworld ruled by Veles. This tree could be compared to the Norse Yggdrasil and has many of the same associations. 
  • Kolovrat (Slavic Fire Wheel) This ancient swastika has been found depicted on various stones as far back as 8,000 years ago. The meaning of this symbol has nothing to do with the modern-day thought of Hitler or Nazi culture. It symbolizes the eternal struggle between light & dark. 
  • The Lunka (Moon) This symbol carries from the Slavic over to the Germanic cultures of the Norse. It represents a woman’s connection to the moon – covering menstruation, lunar cycles, psychic abilities, and the world of dreams. It is also worn as a protective amulet for women.
  • Star of Lada (Star of Russia) Associated with the Goddess Vesna, or the springtime. This is the lady’s symbol of goodluck, fertility, abundance, and protection! Animals associated with this symbol are the stag and the chicken. This is also used as a protective amulet to guard the home from illness or misfortune. 
  • Perun’s Flower  A sacred fern (not actually a flower) associated with the Sky God and his wife. Associated with protection of marriages, fertility, and of blooming love. A gift from the supreme Thunder God to the people. 
  • Stone of Alatyr (Altar)  The mythical stone who depicts the unfolding of the Universe. The ancient Slavs actually had a version of the “Big Bang” theory. Our English word “altar” and its use in religion comes from this ancient symbol. It is also known as the “Dawn stone” and represents the foundation of creation. 

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Reconstruction & Conclusion

There are indeed many more questions than there are answers about Slavic Paganism. The oral traditions, herbal magick, & folk healing have largely been erased from our memories. Reconstructionists of the Slavic path have observed the fall of ancient Slavic beliefs to be somewhere around 966 CE in areas such as Poland. This was largely due to the grip that monotheistic religions such as Christianity had on the common people. This has left us with a fractured understanding of our ancient kin as well as many loose ends. This “hiccup” in our history is far from the end of Slavic Paganism as popularity begins to build around the world. 

It is important to note that the Path of Slavic Paganism does not lie in the past. Our future is with every curious soul who takes up a book or who gifts offerings to the Gods. As the ancients did, look up to the branches of the trees and reach bravely for the glorious fruit that is Slavic Paganism. Do not fear what is not known – discover it! Thank you for reading. – Shining Quill the Unicorn

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Helpful videos:

A Sample of Slavic Pagan Music:

Reading Materials:

Published by Shining Quill of Deeply Rooted

I've been dedicated to Paganism and Earth Magick for 18+ years since Mabon 1999. I am a writer, an artist, and a student of nature.

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