As a successor to ‘Mythology in the Immanent: Role of Politics in the development of Slavic Rodnoverie (I)’, this article aims to discuss the nuances of Slavic native faith and the Slavophil tradition, and its impact on the socio-political structures of Russia, and vice versa.
The lack of a traditional religious institutionalised structure cultivates fertile ground for heterogeneity. This makes it hard to reduce and compartmentalise native faith into strict dichotomous definitions. However, a few trends, with minor exceptions, may be observed.
For starters, Slavic neopaganism represents a polytheistic or henotheistic culture. The plurality of spiritual deities is distinct from what is commonly observed in other established religions. As a matter of fact, neopaganism necessitates the need to propagate a lifestyle in accordance with the laws of nature, so much so that Christianity is often accused of being materialistic and anthropocentric in its beliefs. It is claimed that the ecological dead-end that the world has come to is a corollary to the transcontinental imposition of Christianity via colonisation. Some even claim that Slavs, ‘the children of the forest’, would be the first to reclaim this Christian condition and rediscover harmony with nature.
In this stride, one may discern the neopagan tendency to return to a glorious pre-Christian past. They seek to reconstruct ancient ways of life via practices and rituals to purify their faith from Christian contamination.
Eschatological patterns are recurrent in neopagan faith. It is believed that only an acceleration of the worldly cataclysms (be it ecological or political) leading to an impending doom could necessitate the transformation of Russia’s neopagan faith into its official religion. This is similar to a postmodern conceptualisation of the acceleration of late capitalism collapsing upon itself, thus forcing the need for an alternative system.
However, and in addition to the aforementioned beliefs, perhaps the one fundamental difference one observes between the west and neopagan Russia is the perception of freedom and authority. Russian neopaganism often accuses western conceptions of Liberty of being superfluous and dependent on externally defined and imposed liberties. It warrants a need for external law to maintain order in society. For the sake of explanation, this may be related to Isaiah Berlin’s conceptualisation of a ‘positive liberty’ where the idea of Liberty is externally enforced by the government and compartmentalised to suit the supposed needs of a collective. Russian freedom, on the contrary, is perceived as a state of mind. It is based on inner morality, without the need for external enforcement. This form of Liberty emerges from self-determination, which enables one to realise and reach their truest potential. Here, Liberty denotes the ability of a person to adopt the right path and for the right reasons – what Berlin calls positive Liberty.
While it is essential to refrain from adopting anachronistic positions and ties apropos of the rise of neopaganism in Russia, one must keep in mind that the simultaneous occurrences of complementary patterns of social behaviour must not negate the possibility of independency amongst similar trends. This could be explained using the idea of quantum entanglement – a paradoxical concept within quantum mechanics that claims that pairs of entangled photons may display remarkable coordination when viewed as a pair despite the stark randomness in their observable behaviour when viewed in isolation of each other. While it would be misleading to delve into the intricacies of the metaphor to substantiate this analysis, it helps us explain why neopagan groups across Central and Eastern Europe, which emerged separately, display relatively analogous practices.
Rodnoverie (or Rodnovery) is derived from ‘Rodnaya vera’, which translates to the native faith region. Rodnoverie encompasses the many religious movements within contemporary native faith. Much like the aforementioned neopagan religions, Rodnovery is characterised by its quest against Christian dogmatism. They present the veche, the ancient Slavic popular assembly, as the ideal mode of governance.
The religious references within Rodnoverie are significantly eclectic. It draws inspiration from the oriental readings of Buddha, Mani, Zarathustra, and holy texts like the Bhagavad Gita. Within contemporary readings, we also find widespread influence from Russian translations of the works of Sir Aurobindo and Carlos Castaneda
It is estimated that there are at least well over 10,000 Rodnovers in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Russia. While there are no extensive demographic statistics on Rodnovers, most studies conclude that more men than women are involved. A large majority of its followers are young, with an above-average education compared to the rest of the population.
Nationalist projects within Rodnoverie
Rodnoverie may be perceived as a vernacular project. On the political level, Rodnovers aim to challenge the corrupting ruling governments. On the level of society, it strives to promulgate a concrete feeling of communality. On the spiritual level, it attempts at dissolving structures of Christian hierarchy and propagates a direct connection with the sacrosanct.
Their scepticism towards the centralisation of power stems from Russia’s history of falling into the hands of autocratic monarchies and totalitarian communist regimes. While Rodnovers often subscribe to a multitude of political affiliations, a common thread of social solidarity runs across the multiple means by which different Rodnovers aim to achieve it.
In eastern Europe, for instance, one of the most prominent features of this movement is nationalism – often delving into ultra-nationalist and antisemitic beliefs. It usually attracts those who believe Christianity to be the religion of the weak. For instance, in The Blow of the Russian Gods, Rodnover theoretician Vladimir Istarkhov writes, “Russian . . . paganism, in contrast to Christianity, raised proud, brave, life-celebrating, strong in spirit, independent personalities, people of honour and dignity”. However, one may also find groups that condemn national chauvinism. While parts of the movement remain tangible and overt in their political motives, many resorts to the revival of native culture. There is also a notable tradition of the restoration of myth (such as the Russian thunder myth) with political structures to examine the socio-political underpinnings of the Russian society and reassert ancient values amongst its adherents.
It is no surprise, given the rise of ultra-national native faith in eastern Russia, that Rodnovers often gravitate towards extreme ends of the political spectrum in comparison to supporters who view themselves at the centre of the political spectrum. This is also signified in the perceptions of veche.
Veche may be perceived in its literal sense as an assembly of free Russian men, thereby connected to an elitist and patriarchal ideology. Criticism of the veche idea of democracy, while it may be understood as a radical denunciation of democracy altogether, could also be reflective of the contempt against the contemporary system of Russian politics. In such a case, the criticism thus becomes more about a lack of democracy. Therefore, the veche is an emblem of democratic ideals as well as an argument in favour of nationalist rhetoric. It finds resonance with both liberals seeking to dissolute the global and the local in their movements seeking to expand neopaganism and ethnic nationalists who hold onto the ethnic purity of their religion to protect themselves from the foreign other’, thus creating their own state.
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