The Return of Ancestral Gods

The Return of Ancestral Gods: Modern Ukrainian Paganism as an Alternative Vision for a Nation

MARIYA LESIV
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt32b80f
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Return of Ancestral Gods
    Book Description:

    As Ukraine struggles to find its national identity, modern Ukrainian Pagans offer an alternative vision of the Ukrainian nation. Drawing inspiration from the spiritual life of past millennia, they strive to return to the pre-Christian roots of their ancestors. Since Christianity dominates the spiritual discourse in Ukraine, Pagans are marginalized, and their ideas are perceived as radical. In The Return of Ancestral Gods, Mariya Lesiv explores Pagan beliefs and practices in Ukraine and amongst the North American Ukrainian diaspora. Drawing on intensive fieldwork, archival documents, and published sources not available in English, she allows the voices of Pagans to be heard. Paganism in Slavic countries is heavily charged with ethno-nationalist politics, and previous scholarship has mainly focused on this aspect. Lesiv finds it important to consider not only how Paganism is preached but also the way that it is understood on a private level. She shows that many Ukrainians embrace Paganism because of its aesthetic aspects rather than its associated politics and discusses the role that aesthetics may play in the further development of Ukrainian Paganism. Paganism in Eastern Europe remains underrepresented within Pagan studies, and this work helps to fill that gap. Extensive comparative references to various forms of Western Paganism allows English-speaking readers to better understand the world of Ukrainian Pagans.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8965-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    On the pleasant summer day of 24 August 2006 I happened to be in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. The day was characterized not only by its enjoyable weather but also by its special significance for Ukrainians the world over as it marked the fifteenth anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. Many celebratory activities were taking place in various parts of central Kyiv.

    While observing the festivities, I spotted a procession of approximately one hundred people. Their clothing and various symbolic objects caught my attention. While some members of the group wore casual everyday clothes, the majority were...

  6. 1 “Living with Honour”: Modern Western Paganism
    (pp. 14-25)

    Modern Western Paganism is an umbrella term for such religions as Wicca, Druidry, Heathenism, Asatru, and the Goddess movement.² It is also closely linked to New Age beliefs.³ Paganism offers alternative worldviews and forms of spirituality. Some outsiders view it with fascination while others treat it with scepticism. Despite the perception of outsiders, this new phenomenon is actively growing in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.

    The exact number of Pagans is unknown and is usually described in rough figures.⁴ Paganism is reported to be one of the most rapidly growing religions in the present-day United States and...

  7. 2 “Where Do They Get This From?”: Sources of Ukrainian Paganism
    (pp. 26-40)

    On 28 April 2007, the followers of Ancestral Fire gathered on Khoryvytsia Mountain, an undeveloped, natural area in the centre of Kyiv. They met for their weekly Sunday ceremony of Slavlennia (Glorifying Gods). The rite was conducted by Arseniia, the group’s leader, according to the Minor Service Book of the Native Orthodox Faith (Mezhymyr 2005), in which Slavlennia is described in detail.¹

    The ritual is performed in a circle and includes several stages: (1) glorifying the gods and sanctifying the place where the ceremony is to be held; (2) opening of the Sacred Gate through which the gods are believed...

  8. 3 Ukrainian Pagan Groups: History, Ideology, and Spirituality
    (pp. 41-62)

    Two names – Volodymyr Shaian and Lev Sylenko – are associated with the roots of modern Ukrainian Paganism. Volodymyr Shaian, being fascinated with the idea of Aryan origin, took the first step in reviving old Slavic religion in Ukraine in the mid-1930s (Ivakhiv 2005a, 11). During the Second World War, he established two orders of the Knights of the Solar God as semi-religious and semi-political organizations. According to the followers of Shaian, one of the knights initiated was Lev Sylenko. Sylenko then allegedly split with his teacher, reformed Shaian’s religious doctrine, and established RUNvira. RUNvira sources, however, stress that Sylenko was never...

  9. 4 Boundaries and Borders: Cultural Context
    (pp. 63-76)

    Ukraine is considered to be a Christian state. Christianity has been the predominant faith since 988 ace, when it was adopted as the official religion of Kyivan Rus by Prince Volodymyr. At the time of Christianization, the Kyivan Rus state was a loose federation of various pagan Slavic tribes. While they shared a similar polytheistic worldview, beliefs varied among different groups. For example, while southern Slavic tribes had the cult of Perun, God of Thunder and Lightning, northern Slavs worshiped Veles, the God of Cattle and Prosperity, as their main deity (Froianov, Dvornichenko, and Krivosheev 1992, 4). Prince Volodymyr was...

  10. 5 “We Haven’t Given Up What Is Ours”: Past and Present
    (pp. 77-89)

    Fascination with the past closely unites Eastern European Pagans, including those in Ukraine, with their Western counterparts. However, over the course of their development the focus for a majority of Western Pagans has shifted from “authenticity” to “creativity.” Although they continue to draw inspiration from the past, many Western Pagans have made peace with the idea that their religion is new. Many even encourage and promote creativity.

    In the case of Slavic Pagans, it is important to distinguish between emic and etic perspectives with regard to the notion of creativity. While now both insiders and outsiders consider Western Paganism to...

  11. 6 Glory to Dazhboh (Sun-God) or to All Native Gods?: Monotheism and Polytheism
    (pp. 90-96)

    One of the major debates among Ukrainian Pagans involves the question as to whether polytheism or monotheism should be the model for a contemporary national identity and spirituality. RUN-vira and Native Faith communicate this question most clearly. Their conflict dates back to the roots of present-day Ukrainian Paganism and is connected with the visions of its two founding fathers – Volodymyr Shaian and Lev Sylenko. Shaian’s Native Faith followers believe in many different spiritual beings, each of whom is in charge of particular natural forces and spheres of life. Sylenko reworked the polytheistic faith of old Slavs, proclaiming Dazhboh as the...

  12. 7 “Where Else Is There Such a People?”: Vision for a Nation
    (pp. 97-113)

    Although interpretations of the past and visions of the future nourish Ukrainian Paganism, it is not only “theory” that contributes to its growth. People need real experiences to help them develop a sense of connection with both their past and their present-day communities. Pagans often create these experiences with the help of rituals and symbols.

    Over the past several years, the Pagan khoda (procession) has become a traditional activity for many Pagans in Ukraine. It takes place annually on Ukraine’s Independence Day in the context of state celebratory activities. Pagan groups begin their celebrations with sacred ceremonies performed near their...

  13. 8 “We Allowed Nature to Live in Our Holy Place”: Nature and Power
    (pp. 114-124)

    Because of their focus on nature, various Western Pagan groups are often defined as adherents of “Nature Religions.”¹ Although nature “means different things to different people” (Ivakhiv 2005b, 196),² many Western Pagans agree on its relationship to such notions as territory, ethnicity, race, environmentalism, and power.

    Selena Fox, quoted above, is a well-known American Pagan. Although her speech evinces certain individual characteristics, it represents the way many contemporary Western Pagans understand relationships between humans and nature. They perceive both nature and humans in global terms, de-emphasizing any geographical, ethnic, political, sexual, or racial boundaries.

    Many Western Pagans emphasize equality in...

  14. 9 “This Is Indeed Ours!”: Religious Syncretism
    (pp. 125-139)

    In the spring of 2007, while conducting fieldwork in Lviv, western Ukraine, I met Ohnedar², a young male adherent of Ancestral Fire who was especially enthusiastic about his group’s calendar-and lifecycle rituals. He found them spiritually and socially meaningful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Discussing Pagan marriages, I asked Ohnedar to describe wedding rituals that he had either observed or in which he had participated. I was surprised to find that Ancestral Fire weddings were very similar to weddings currently celebrated in many Ukrainian villages by people who identify themselves as Christians. He explained: “When you accept Native Faith you...

  15. 10 In Spite of Politics: Aesthetics and Beauty
    (pp. 140-164)

    The existing literature on Slavic Paganism focuses almost exclusively on the nationalist and pro-racist politics of its various movements.¹ This is largely the result of methodology. Scholars concentrate predominantly on authoritative discourse, namely, the voices of Pagan leaders as presented through official media such as books, periodicals, websites, and public presentations.² Folklorist Leonard Primiano (1995, 44) emphasizes the importance of understanding religion not only as it is preached but also “as it is lived: as human beings encounter, understand, interpret, and practice it.”³ Ethnographic research enables us to look at modern Ukrainian Paganism as it is lived by particular individuals,...

  16. Concluding Remarks: Ukrainian Paganism in the Context of Modernity
    (pp. 165-166)

    Ukrainian Paganism is a response to a fear of modernity that is associated with globalization. However, it is, in fact, modernity that provides a favourable setting for this movement’s development.¹ Ukrainian Pagans strive to recreate the distant past with the help of modern technological resources, strategies, and ideas.

    Ukrainian Paganism has become a global phenomenon. It has spread globally thanks to contemporary technology such as print publications, the internet, and high-speed transportation. Although Ukrainian Paganism is closely tied to the “sacred land” of Ukraine, its initial development occurred beyond Ukraine’s geographical territory. Arjun Appadurai (1996, 32), studying influences within the...

  17. Terms
    (pp. 167-170)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 171-188)
  19. References
    (pp. 189-212)
  20. Index
    (pp. 213-222)