top of page

Mythology in the Immanent: Role of Politics in the development of Slavic Rodnoverie (I)

The emergence of post-soviet nations in the 1990s was characterized by a quest to construct novel national identities. Spanning across political, economic, and socio-cultural spheres, the ideological matrices of this national re-composition saw the rise of several religious movements in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). As one might expect, Russia was no exception to the rule.


In the early 1900s, and unlike the esoteric ideological dimensions of German Ariosophy prevalent at the time, there was no large-scale far-right movement in Russia that sought to restore a national pre-Christian identity. As a matter of fact, it is only following the emigration crises in the interwar years that one observes an emergence of scepticism concerning the primacy of Christian faith within Russian nationalist circles. Such circles sought ancient Russian texts that pre-dated the emergence of Christianity in Russia – prioritizing a nationwide ‘return’ to its native roots.


These Articles are a study on autochthonous Russian circles which refer to themselves as “native faiths”. The first article aims at tracing the historical context within which we observe the rise of native faith whilst contrasting it with Abrahamic conceptions of religion. The second article delves deeper into the nuances of Russian native faith (Rodnoverie) and its impact on Russian politics. The cultural metamorphosis of groups outside the Russian subcontinent and CEE are therefore left beyond the scope of the articles.

Rodnovers gathered at the Temple of Svarozhich's Fire of the Union of Slavic Native Belief Communities (Wikiwand)

Rise of Russian Neopagan Faith

Russian scholars in the 1950s found themselves particularly engrossed in the study of the book of Vles (Vlesova Kniga) – a manuscript dating back to the first century BCE. It is believed that F.A. Izenbek, an officer in the White Army (Belogvardeytsi), discovered the book amidst the Russian Civil War[i]. While the original wooden boards on which the texts were written had been lost during World War II, Iurii Miroliubov, a friend of F.A. Izenbeck, studied the texts prior to its misplacement. Miroliubov, as the forger of the manuscript, is noted to be the first to use the term ‘Vedism’ (appropriated from the Indian filiation of Vedas) to describe the tenets of Russian Neopaganism enshrined within the Book of Vles.


Amidst Nikita Khrushchev’s renewal of atheist activism, the 1960s also observed an en masse rereading of pre-Christian and pre-Islamic texts. Following the proceedings of the plenary session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) Central committee in June 1963, the call for reinforcements of the struggle against faith motivated the ideological commission of the party to push agendas that favoured the creation of non-religious rituals. These concerned esoteric dimensions of the many ancient cults of nature – laying the fecund ground for the birth of neopagan faith in Russia. In fact, by the mid-1960s, the book of Vles was accepted as an authentic manuscript not only by the descendants of the White Army and other Russian Nationalists but also by several exiled Ukrainians who followed the preachings of Sergei Lesnoi – another eminent neopagan propagandist at the time.


The earliest known manifesto of the neopagan movement is the anonymously published letter in 1973 by Valerii Emelianov titled ‘Critical remarks by a Russian man on the patriotic newspaper Veche’. The paper expressed harsh criticism of Christian ideology, claiming that Christianity was a mere expression of Jewish domination. The text also paraded antisemitic and ultra-nationalist beliefs whilst claiming to speak on behalf of a collective native Russian identity.


“Those who are not against Zionism are against the Russian people, Slavophiles, and everything that is genuine in this world. And if the magazine really wants to be truly Russian and patriotic, instead of becoming a harbour for defiant dissidents and their free agents, it should understand that out of all the issues the Russian people have to confront; the most important is its fight against the Zionist stranglehold.” – Valerii Emelianov

The publication of the text caused a massive uproar in the region. Consequently, Veche closed in 1974, and the editor of the magazine, who was a prominent orthodox dissident, was arrested. Following this incident, Russia noted a stark rise in anti-socialist movements in the region – including a Russian translation of Mein Kampf. By the late 1980s, the KGB had become extremely wary of the openly nationalist insults and kept Vladamir Bezverkhii – the translator of the Russian Mein Kampf – under close surveillance.[ii]

Russian Neopaganism in contrast with Traditional religions

To understand native faith, it is of utmost importance to contrast it from our understanding of Abrahamic or traditional religious paradigms.


Unlike mainstream religions, which offer behavioural scripts as guidance to navigating moral, ontological, or spiritual dilemmas, neopagan collectives are less focused on spirituality and the meaning of life. They lack elaborate religious and moral theosophies, be it on the level of doctrines for the individual or at the level of groups. Here, one observes the absence of an unconditional support system from within the community. This draws a stark contrast from Abrahamic faiths, where the group’s unity yields a powerful instrument of social control that regulates a majority of practical dilemmas faced by its followers. However, most neopagan sympathizers find common ground in their adamant faith in the Blook of Vles as the ultimate unquestionable source of Slavic antiquity.


With the exception of this guiding canonical theme – which may possess within it, features of a religious movement – Slavic Neopaganism finds itself more concerned with material questions pertaining to identity and political structures. Contrary to most religions, Neopagans resort to functioning at the level of loose networks – often in the absence of fixed temples or shrines. They focus on promoting a lifestyle that is in consonance with their ideologies, but the religious layer here lays thin, and their discursive beliefs often transgress into socio-political conditions.


Another notable feature of Neopagan faith is the absence of a proselytist strategy to gain adherents. This may be traced back to two possible reasons. First, the lack of comprehensive spiritual explanations of everyday existential issues and all-encompassing eschatological myths like the promise of salvation. And second, the firm belief in the genetic purity of the Russian autochthony.


When distinguishing native faith from a traditional conception of religion, one must not overlook the unrealized potential impact of Neopaganism on the socio-political landscape of the region. It is common to associate the lack of proselytism and myths of the eschaton to undermine the influence of neopagan groups on a large scale. However, the absence of a spiritual myth may be replaced by secular myths. While devoid of religious affiliations, these secular myths do not seek to address the sphere of the sacrosanct but rather appease what may resemble a Jungian sphere of the “collective unconscious”.


Endnotes

[i] The Russian White Army was the collective name for the anti-communist and anti-Soviet groups during the Russian civil war. The White Army primarily fought the Bolsheviks.

[ii] It is worth noting that the myth of Aryan supremacy has been a common running theme across Slavic Neopaganism.


References

1. Aitamurto, K. (n.d.). Egalitarian Utopias and Conservative Politics. 10.

2. Aitamurto, K. (2016). Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315599304

3. Aitamurto, K., & Simpson, S. (n.d.). Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe (Studies in Contemporary and Historical Paganism). 555.

4. Kolstø, P., & Blakkisrud, H. (Eds.). (2016). The new Russian nationalism: Imperialism, ethnicity and authoritarianism 2000-15. Edinburgh University Press.

5. Laruelle, M. (2008). Alternative identity, alternative religion? Neo-paganism and the Aryan myth in contemporary Russia. Nations and Nationalism, 14(2), 283–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8129.2008.00329.x

6. McKay, G., Williams, C., Goddard, M., & Foxlee, N. (Eds.). (2009). Subcultures and New Religious Movements in Russia and East-Central Europe. Peter Lang UK. https://doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0292-9

7. Menzel, B., Hagemeister, M., & Rosenthal, B. G. (Eds.). (2012). The New Age of Russia: Occult and esoteric dimensions. Otto Sagner.

8. Yanov, A. (2014, September 19). The Drama of Veche Magazine. Part 2. Institute of Modern Russia. https://imrussia.org/en/analysis/nation/810-the-drama-of-veche-magazine-part-2


19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page