Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Slavic Mythology & Eastern European 'Paganism'


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Slavic Mythology…….….. "...the polytheistic religion that was practised by the Slavs before Christianisation. The religion possesses many common traits with other religions descended from the Proto-Indo-European religion. Old Slavic religion evolved over more than a thousand years and some parts of it were from neolithic or possibly even mesolithic times. The Earth was worshipped as Mat Zemlya and there were no temples. Rituals were performed in nature…..Mat Zemlya, also Matka Ziemia, and Mati Syra Zemlya (literally Damp Mother Earth), is the oldest deity in Slavic mythology, her identity later blended into that of Mokosh….She shares characteristics with Indo-Iranian Ardvi Sura Anahita “Humid Mother of the Earth.”….In the early Middle Ages, Mati Syra Zemlya was one of the most important deities in the Slavic world. Oaths were made binding by touching the Earth and sins were confessed into a hole in the Earth before death. She was worshipped in her natural form and was not given a human personage or likeness."....

"The Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group living in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia and Central Asia, who speak the Indo-European Slavic languages, and share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Europe."

"Kupala Night, Ivan Kupala Day (Feast of St. John the Baptist) is celebrated in Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia and Russia currently on 23/24 June in the Julian or Old Style calendar… it is opposite to the winter holiday Koliada. The celebration relates to the summer solstice when nights are the shortest and includes a number of fascinating Pagan rituals….. Sir James Frazer, claimed that the holiday was originally Kupala; a pagan fertility rite later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. There are analogues for celebrating the legacy of St. John around the time of the summer solstice elsewhere, including St. John's Day in Western Europe......The Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian name of this holiday combines "Ivan" (John — the Baptist) and Kupala which is related to a word derived from the Slavic word for bathing…. the tradition of Kupala predates Christianity. Due to the popularity of the pagan celebration that with time it was simply accepted and reestablished as one of the native Christian traditions intertwined with local folklore…..The holiday is still enthusiastically celebrated by the younger people of the Eastern Europe. The night preceding the holiday (Tvorila night) is considered the night for "good humour" mischiefs…. On Ivan Kupala day itself, children are engaged in water fights and perform pranks mostly involving pouring water over someone…on that night village folks would roam through the forests in search of magical herbs and especially the elusive fern flower.."….

"In Gogol's story The Eve of Ivan Kupala a young man finds the fabulous fern-flower but is cursed by it. Gogol's tale may have been the stimulus for Modest Mussorgsky to compose his tone poem Night on Bald Mountain."….

"Koliada or koleda (Cyrillic: коляда, коледа, колада, коледе) is an ancient pre-Christian winter ritual/festival. It was later incorporated into Christmas……One theory states that Koliada is the name of a cycle of winter rituals stemming from the ancient calendae. Others believe it derived from Kolo, "round dance"……Some claim it was named after Kolyada, the Slavic god of winter or Koliada, the goddess who brings up a new sun every day……Croatian composer Jakov Gotovac wrote in 1925 the composition "Koleda", which he called a "folk rite in five parts", There is also a dance from Dubrovnik called "The Dubrovnik Koleda.""….

"These days there is kind of raise of old Slavic pagan traditions in Russia. The followers of paganism build copies of old pagan monuments of wood and stone and then gather for some rituals. According to their point of view they try to reconstruct the true religion of Russian people that was destroyed by early Russian Christian church 1000 years ago when it came to Russia and violently converted local pagan population to Christianity…… all their original religious beliefs and traditions were likely passed down orally over the generations, and basically forgotten over the centuries following their rapid conversion into Christianity (which began with the conversion of Bulgaria in 864 and was largely complete by the late 11th century.) …..

"Rod is considered to be the Common Slavonic God, the creator of all life and existence. ROD in Slavic language means - the TRIBE or the FAMILY……In detail handcarved from all four sizes and in the front, on right and left sides there are carved other Slavic Pagan Gods - Perun and Veles. …. According to Procopius, these Slavs worshipped a single deity, who crafted lightning and thunder. Though not named explicitly, it can be deduced this is a reference to the deity known as Perun in later historic sources, as in many Slavic languages today (Polish 'piorun' for example). Perun simply means "thunder" or "lightning bolt". He also mentions the belief in various demons and nymphs (i.e. vilas),…….

"The Slavic Primary Chronicle is a major work with many valuable references to the pagan beliefs of Eastern Slavs. The chronicle treats the history of the early Eastern Slavic state. Even though the manuscript was compiled at the beginning of the 12th century, it contains references to and copies of older documents, and describes events predating the Baptism of Kiev. Two deities, Perun and Veles/Volos, are mentioned in the text of the early 10th century peace treaties between pagan rulers of East Slavs and Byzantine Emperors. Later, Nestor the Chronicler describes a state pantheon introduced by Prince Vladimir in Kiev in 980 CE. Vladimir's pantheon included Perun, Hors, Dažbog, Stribog, Simargl, and Mokosh. The Hypatian Codex of the Primary Chronicle also mentions Svarog, compared to Greek Hephaestus. Also very interesting are the passages in the East Slavic epic The Tale of Igor's Campaign referring to Veles, Dažbog, and Hors. The original epic has been dated to the end of the 12th century, although there are marginal disputes over the authenticity of this work....The most numerous and richest written records are of West Slavic paganism, particularly of Wendish and Polabian tribes, who were forcibly made Christian only at the end of the 12th century. The German missionaries and priests who criticized pagan religion left extensive records of old mythological systems they sought to overcome. However, they hardly restrained themselves from "pious lies", claiming pagan Slavs were idolatrous, blood-thirsty barbarians. As none of those missionaries learned any Slavic language, their records are confused and exaggerated.
Major works include a chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg from the beginning of the 11th century, who described a temple in the city of Riedegost (Radegast) where the great deity Zuarasic (Svarožič) was worshipped. According to Thietmar, this was the most sacred place in the land of pagan Slavs, and Svarožič was their most important deity.....The most numerous and richest written records are of West Slavic paganism, particularly of Wendish and Polabian tribes, who were forcibly made Christian only at the end of the 12th century. The German missionaries and priests who criticized pagan religion left extensive records of old mythological systems they sought to overcome. However, they hardly restrained themselves from “pious lies”, claiming pagan Slavs were idolatrous, blood-thirsty barbarians. As none of those missionaries learned any Slavic language, their records are confused and exaggerated……a chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg from the beginning of the 11th century, who described a temple in the city of Riedegost (Radegast) where the great deity Zuarasic (Svarožič) was worshipped. According to Thietmar, this was the most sacred place in the land of pagan Slavs, and Svarožič was their most important deity…… Svarog is there identified with Hephaestus, the god of the blacksmith in ancient Greek religion, and as the father of Dažbog, a Slavic solar deity."…..

Bulgaria....."Kingdom of Balhara is a theory of some Bulgarian scientists (for example: Georgi Bakalov, Petar Dobrev, Ian Mladjov) to have been the earliest known state of the ancient Bulgars, situated in the upper course of Oxus River (present Amu Darya), and the foothills and valleys of Hindu Kush and Pamir Mountains (ancient Mount Imeon).One historian - Dr Peter Dobrev (senior research fellow), places the date of the kingdom around the 12th century BC,while others (from Ashharatsuyts) place the date 7/6th century BC......In Sanskrit, "Bal" means "strength" and "hara" means "the possessor", thus, "Balhara" means "the possessor of strength" (and so, in that regard also the name of Bulgar could mean "possessor of strength"); another theory is that "Balh" refers to the city of Balkh (Balhara's capital) and that "ar" means "man of", so Bal-hara could mean "man of Balh/Balkh"; consequently "Balh-ar/Bulg-ar" could then mean "man of stength". The name "Balkan" (mountains) could also come from this connection, instead of the Turkish word for mountain."....

"Dažbog (Proto-Slavic: *dadjьbogъ, Serbo-Croatian: Dabog, Daždbog, Dajbog; Bulgarian: Даждбог, Polish: Dadźbóg, Russian: Даж(д)ьбог, Ukrainian: Дажбог), alternatively Dazhbog, Dazbog, Dazhdbog, or Dadzbóg, was one of the major gods of Slavic mythology, most likely a solar deity and possibly a cultural hero. He is one of several authentic Slavic gods, mentioned by a number of medieval manuscripts, and one of the few Slavic gods for which evidence of worship can be found in all Slavic nations….The Proto-Slavic reconstruction is *dadjьbogъ, and is composed of *dadjь, imperative of the verb *dati "to give", and the noun *bogъ "god". The original meaning of Dažbog would thus, according to Dubenskij, Ognovskij and Niderle, be "giving god", "god-giver, "god-donor"……Morphologically this word is an old compound, that is particularly interesting because it retains the old meaning of the Proto-Slavic *bogъ "earthly wealth/well-being; fortune", with a semantic shift to "dispenser of wealth/fortune" and finally "god". Due to the absence of convincing cognates in other Indo-European languages, Proto-Slavic *bogъ is often considered to be an Iranian borrowing, being related to Indo-Iranian words such as Old Persian baga and Sanskrit bhaga, or at least being semantically influenced by them; in both Slavic and Indo-Iranian cognate forms mean both "deity" and "wealth, share". Thus, translated literally, Dažbog would be "dispenser of fortune". Similar formations such as Belobog and Chernobog furthermore prove an existence of Iranian dualism in Proto-Slavic mythology."…..žbog

"….. in all Slavic languages, the word for Sun, Sunce, is of neutral or feminine gender, never masculine. Also, in Baltic mythology, which is most akin to Slavic, Sun is a female deity, Saule, while the Moon is a male one. The same pattern can be observed in folklore of many Slavic nations, where the Sun is most often identified with mother or a bride, and Moon with father or husband, their children being the stars. Where exactly this leaves Dažbog as a possible male solar deity of Slavic pantheon remains questionable."…..žbog

"….Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov proposed a reconstruction of this mythical genealogy that Svarog, a deity of fire and forge similar to the Greek Hephaestus, had two sons; Dažbog, who represented the fire in sky (i.e., the Sun), and Svarožič, who symbolised the flame on earth, in the forge.Henryk Łowmiański, however, theorised that Svarog was a Slavic sky god and personification of daylight sky itself, possibly a continuation of Proto-Indo-European *Dyēus Ph2ter, while Svarožič and solar Dažbog were one and the same deity, though, he concluded, two other aspects of Svarožič also existed: fiery Svarožič, as in the Sun (mentioned in Russian medieval manuscripts), and lunar Svarožič, associated with the Moon. Franjo Ledic, on the other hand, simply assumed that Svarog and Dažbog are one and the same god."…..žbog

"Roerich also had access to a remarkable collection of Slavic cultural pieces. His patron, Princess Tenisheva of the Talashkino estate, gave him access to her collection of Russian folk art, including traditional national costumes, khlokhloma (Russian folk designs – largely pagan – painted onto wood, which was then varnished), and even ancient carved pagan idols. “In the propitious surroundings of Talashkino work on the Rite prospered and within a few days…the plan of action and titles of the dances had been decided. Roerich began work on the designs, sketching backdrops and seeking inspiration in the Princess’s collection for his costume designs”….While the swirls and circles and ladder designs found on the ancient clothing inspired the costumes, the wooden idols were even more influential in the creation of LSDP, particularly once Nijinsky joined the project. The idols must have had a major impact on the choreographer. Surviving photographs taken backstage during preparation for the premiere show stylized, abstracted poses."…..

"….dance researcher Millicent Hodson stated: “The wooden idols are the most probable source of Nijinsky’s postures and gestures” (Hodson, 7)……Even the makeup and costumes used in the ballet were reminiscent of the ancient idols: “…parts of the carved figures are accentuated with red paint, a detail which may have motivated the stylized make-up for the dancers in Sacre” (Hodson, 7)…..Another reason to connect Nijinsky with the pagan idols so admired by Roerich is the fact that the two men enjoyed a comfortable friendship based on shared ideas and respect. In fact, Nijinsky’s sister reportedly stated that it was only with Roerich that she ever saw her brother appear relaxed……An additional source of ideas for choreography may well have been the rhythmic, circular patterns that repeated over and over in Russian pagan designs. “Many of the ground patterns in the original Sacre have antecedents in the ritual dance of shamanistic tradition – circles, concentric circles, squares, and the circle-in-the-square. Surely Roerich passed on to Nijinsky the importance of patterns in the archaic rites of the Slavs” (Hodson, 12)…..Since it seems fairly clear that Roerich and Nijinsky worked closely together on the project, it really is not much of a stretch to suppose that the choreographer developed the ground patterns for the ballet from Roerich’s ideas and the ritualistic Slavic tradition…..Certainly the steps that have been “recreated” (based on what documentation is available from the original) indicate movements that are primitive, intentionally ungraceful, which befits the pagan rite represented….The sense of intensity in emotion and movement, however, is actually quite a contrast to the set designs Roerich created for the LSDP set. His artwork for the ballet is serene, even pastoral. It is possible this contrast is deliberate – a way of showing both the peaceful Russian countryside and the passionate experiences that come out of that same setting. Culturally speaking, this would make sense, as the Russians feel a very powerful pull to their native earth and the cycles it represents."….

"In one of the surviving letters from Roerich’s correspondence with Diaghalev, the artist (Roerich) states his objectives for LSDP. It is clear from this letter that his goal was “to present a number of scenes of earthly and celestial triumph as understood by the Slavs…My intention is that the first set should transport us to the foot of a sacred hill, in a lush plain where Slavonic tribes are gathered together to celebrate the spring rites…”

Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924-1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala.

"In the late seventies, Millicent Hodson, a doctoral candidate in dance history at Berkeley, set out, as part of her dissertation project, to reconstruct Nijinsky's "The Rite of Spring," which had its première with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Paris, in 1913. It was for this ballet that Stravinsky wrote his shattering score, and the action onstage was apparently no less a surprise. The spectators were shown an ancient Slavic tribe, at the beginning of spring, calling on their gods to renew the earth—a concession won, in the end, by human sacrifice. At the ballet's conclusion, a young girl danced herself to death. The choreography was aggressively anti-balletic. The dancers stood hunched over, turned in. They shuddered; they stamped. In the words of Nijinsky's sister, Bronislava, they seemed "almost bestial."….eventually she acquired a partner: Kenneth Archer, an English art historian who was doing research on Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who designed "The Rite." Hodson and Archer combined their findings, got married, and went on working, she on the dance, he on the sets and costumes. In 1987, their "Rite of Spring" was given its première, in Los Angeles, by the Joffrey Ballet."….

Vaslav (or Vatslav) Nijinsky ( 1889-1950) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish descent, cited as the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. He grew to be celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations. As the title character in L'après-midi d'un faune, in the final tableau (or scene), he mimed masturbation with the scarf of a nymph, causing a scandal; he was defended by such artists as Auguste Rodin, Odilon Redon and Marcel Proust. Violence broke out in the audience as The Rite of Spring premiered. The theme of the ballet centered around a young maiden who was sacrificing herself by dancing until she died."….

"Paganism is a broad group of indigenous and historical polytheistic religious traditions—primarily those of cultures known to the classical world. In a wider sense, it has also been understood to include any non-Abrahamic folk/ethnic religion…..The term pagan was historically used as one of several pejorative Christian counterparts to "gentile" (גוי / נכרי) as used in the Hebrew Bible—comparable to "infidel" or "heretic". Modern ethnologists often avoid this broad usage in favour of more specific and less potentially offensive terms such as polytheism, shamanism, pantheism, or animism when referring to traditional or historical faiths."….

"In his early works, notably The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, Igor Stravinsky sought to evoke the imagery and rhythms of pagan Slavic ritual."


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….October 2013


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