Russian history 9: Paganism in Ancient Russia

As we have seen, knyaz Vladimir (I use words 'knyaz' and 'king' interchangeably, as etymologically close -- DM) converted to Christianity. This was immediately followed by the total baptising of the whole country.

The paganist beliefs of Ancient Russians are not well known. Russian Slavs worshipped the natural forces and their forefathers.

Among the gods of nature, the most important one was the Sun god, Dazhbog, or Hors, or Veles. It is not clear why he had many names. . Under the name of Dazhbog, he was worshipped as the source of light and warmth. As Veles, he was the god of the cattle. The Great Hors, it seems, was the Sun itself. Another god was Perun, the embodiment of thunder and lightning. Stribog was the god of wind. The sky was called Svarog and was thought to be the Sun's father, this is why Dazhbog had the patronym Svarozhich (son of Svarog). The goddess of the land was named Mat' Syra Zemlya (Mother Wet Land) and she was the mother of the people. But all these personalities were not as elaborate as the characters of, say, Greek mythology. The cult was rather simple, too, there were neither temples nor priests. In some open places, wooden images of gods were established. The rituals were mostly limited to sacrifices, sometimes even human ones. It is interesting that the Scandinavian mythology did not change the Slavic religion at all, in spite of the political influence of the Varangians. The Scandinavian beliefs were not any more clear or strong and the Vikings easily changed their religion to the Slavic paganism or to Christianity. Knyaz Igor and his Varangian druzhina already swore by the name of Perun and worshipped his images.

The cult of the forefathers was developed better than the cult of the nature. The progenitor, called Chur or Rod, was the patron of all his descendants. The female progenitors were called Rozhanitsy and were respected as equals of Chur. When the clan system declined and the families were limited to the people living in one house, the place of the family spirit was taken by a house spirit, Domovoi, who ran the life of the family, while staying invisible. Other spirits included the souls of the dead, who inhabited forests, fields and rivers, and various local spirits, who were the masters of the forests (Leshiy) or rivers, moors, lakes (Vodyanoy). All nature was animated and a large set of holidays had established to worship the nature.

These holidays survived till our days, being adapted to the Christianity. So, for example, Kolyada, the holiday of the winter solstice, became Christmas, the spring festival became Maslenitsa, or Pancake week, Kupala (or the summer solstice) became the Birth of St. John, etc.

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