Slavic Polytheism, Part 1: The Kiev Pantheon

In a recent post, I wrote about some of the challenges I as a Westerner have faced in building a relationship with the Slavic pantheon. One of the biggest challenges for me when I was first starting out was a simple lack of information. What did Rodnovery (Slavic paganism or Slavic polytheism) look like in practice? Who were the gods? What were their stories? Which information was rooted in historical source, which was fraudulent, and which was someone’s unverified personal gnosis (UPG)? What should a Slavic shrine look like? How did the logistics of offerings work, and what kinds of things were appropriate to offer? What did a prayer to the Slavic gods look like?

In the next couple of posts, I’m going to share all of my notes about my current practice of Slavic polytheism. It’s not going to be terribly pretty, because these are just my notes; somewhere along the line, I realized I’d be turning them into a blog post, and I started writing as if someone other than me might eventually read them, but nonetheless, they’re unpolished and probably a bit disorganized. I’ve only done minor editing to turn them into readable blog posts. I barely cite sources except to note what’s my own invention, what comes from elsewhere, and what I can or can’t verify. Occasionally, I’m downright ungrammatical. But if you’ll permit all that messiness, over the course of these posts, I am going to share everything there is to know about my own personal Slavic practice.

Why? Because this is the kind of thing I was looking for when I first started, and I had a hard time finding it. I wanted to see how other people practiced and how they interacted with the gods. So I’m just going to do a straight information dump, with no (or very few) pictures, in the hopes that if someone else is starting out with these gods they will find my practice a helpful jumping-off point in developing something of their own. Parts 1 and 2 will list the gods I work with and the things I think about who they are and what they’re like. Part 3 will talk about other spirits, and then I’ll share my notes on what a shrine to the Slavic gods looks like and how I conduct my daily devotionals to them.

For anyone who wants to learn more about Slavic mythology, the best resource by far is Elizabeth Warner’s Russian Myths. And with that, let’s meet the Slavic gods:

Gods

There are five main gods whose names we know. These are the only deities mentioned in a primary historical source: the Primary Chronicle, which details the Christianization of Kiev. These deities are known as the Kiev pantheon, and they’re the main pantheon of my personal practice. That’s not to say they’re the most important gods (although Perun arguably is), but they’re the gods we have historical record of and they’re the ones I work with most closely as a core pantheon (similar to the twelve Olympians of Hellenic practice). 

Perun:

Epithets I’ve written: Thunderer, chief and mightiest of the gods, lord of peace and justice, healer, keeper of oaths.

Perun is primarily the thunder god, and he’s also generally acknowledged as the chief of the Slavic pantheon. His idol at Kiev had a silver head and whiskers made of gold. He’s usually depicted holding an axe, and I’ve seen a lot of Rodnovers wear axe pendants similarly to how Ásatrúar wear hammers of Thor. (Many others wear a kolovrat, an eight-spoked Slavic swastika, but I avoid that symbol because it’s been appropriated by a number of neo-Nazi groups in the Slavic world.) We have record of soldiers swearing oaths to Perun, and because he’s associated with chieftainship it’s reasonable to infer that he is a god of sovereignty, law, justice, and oathkeeping. Syncretized with Thor/Zeus/Taranis/Indra/Perkunas. Also associated with the prophet Elijah in the Orthodox Church. Orthodox prayers to Elijah:

An angel in the flesh and the cornerstone of the prophets,
The second forerunner of the coming of Christ,
Glorious Elijah sent grace from on high to Elisha,
To dispel diseases and to cleanse lepers.
Therefore, he pours forth healings on those who honor him.

[Prayers taken from orthodoxwiki.org listings about the saints]

This could be amended to:

A spirit in the flesh and the cornerstone of the Gods,
The second forerunner of the coming of spring,
Glorious Perun sent grace from on high,
To dispel diseases and to cleanse lepers.
Therefore, he pours forth healings on those who honor him.

Prophet Elijah of great renown,
Seer of the mighty mighty works of God,
By your command you held back the rain!
Pray for us to the only Lover of mankind!

This could be amended to:

Lord Perun of great renown,
Seer of the mighty mighty works of heaven,
By your command you held back the rain!
Hear our prayer, only Lover of mankind!

Elijah’s feast day is July 20th in the Julian calendar. From the bit about healing in the prayer to Elijah, I also choose to assign Perun a role as healer. The connection to rain may also make him a god of agriculture.

Khors Dažbog:

Epithets I’ve written: Lord of the sun, bright flame of the sky, giver of life and of light.

Listed as two separate names in the Primary Chronicle, but a lack of punctuation makes it ambiguous as to whether these are two deities or two names of the same deity. I choose the latter. In the Hypatian Codex, the Greek name Helios is translated as Dažbog, so there’s a syncretization with Helios, as well as with other solar deities like Surya. I can’t find any known link to a Christian saint. The name Dažbog may translate as “God of gifts” or “God who gives”, so this figure is associated with abundance and prosperity, and probably with agricultural growth as well.

Stribog:

Epithets I’ve written: Voice in the wind, keeper of art and song, grandfather of the poets.

Little information available. Many people seem to attribute him as a god of the wind and disease, but I can’t seem to find any basis for that. One source references a famous poet as the “grandson of Stribog”, so I choose to interpret that as meaning he’s a god of poetry and of art more broadly. Totally a personal interpretation. I can’t find a Christian saint associated with Stribog.

Simargl:

Epithets I’ve written: Firebird, chaos, bringer of the end of days, he who is chained behind the North Star.

Etymologically, Simargl is probably connected to the Simurgh, the giant bird from Persian folklore. I also make a personal association between Simargl and the firebird of Russian folklore. I can’t find any well-sourced information beyond that, but it looks like Simargl was likely a large winged figure (probably birdlike rather than anthropomorphic). I’ve seen a story in a couple of places that Simargl is a giant winged bear or dog, kept prisoner in the sky behind the constellation Ursa Minor. This story says that the morning star and evening star (Danica and Zorica, who are usually depicted as sisters [Zorya] and possibly the daughters of Khors Dažbog) are the keepers of Simargl’s prison, and that when he breaks free, the world will end. I can’t confirm a source for the story, but I like it and choose to use it since there’s no other information. It has a very Fenrir/Ragnarok vibe.

Mokosh:

Epithets I’ve written: Great mother, keeper of the hearth and home, weaver of fate, protector of women and children, bestower of life and health

Bears resemblance to a number of deities from other pantheons, including Frigg, Hestia, the Nornir, the Moirae, and Semele. She is sometimes called Mat Zemjla (“Mother of All”), and I’ve seen it suggested that the name is derived from Semele. Syncretized with Saint Paraskevi. Orthodox prayers to Paraskevi:

Appropriate to your calling, O Champion Paraskevi,
You worshipped with the readiness your name bears.
For an abode you obtained faith, which is your namesake.
Wherefore, you pour forth healing and intercede for our souls.

This could be amended to:

Appropriate to your calling, O Champion Mokosh,
You are worshipped with the readiness your name bears.
In our abode you obtain faith, which is your namesake.
Wherefore, you pour forth healing and intercede for our souls.

O most majestic One,
We have discovered your temple to be a spiritual clinic
Wherein all the faithful resoundingly honor you,
O famed and venerable martyr Paraskevi.

This could be amended to:

O most majestic One,
We have discovered your temple to be a spiritual clinic
Wherein all the faithful resoundingly honor you,
O famed and venerable goddess Mokosh.

Paraskevi’s feast day is July 26th in the Julian calendar. Mokosh is the only female deity honored among the Kiev pantheon. As such, I consider her a protector and representative of women. It’s a little sexist to make this inference, but I also extend that to mean that she governs traditionally female roles, spaces, and crafts: Motherhood, the home, the hearth, cooking, weaving, childcare, etc. In contemporary Russian folklore, there is a demoness named Mokosha who will tangle your weaving if you don’t make the sign of the cross over it when you’re finished for the night. The association with weaving also leads me to think of Mokosh as a goddess of fate (cf. the Moirae and the Nornir). The prayers to Paraskevi reinforce the domestic aspect of this goddess, and also lead me to think of her as a goddess of medicine and healing.

11 thoughts on “Slavic Polytheism, Part 1: The Kiev Pantheon

  1. A long time ago I had some interest in combining my knowledge of the Russian language with a devotional practice to Russian deities, but I ultimately abandoned the effort owing to the paucity of knowledge about them (as you’ve well explained.) At that time, I also lost interest because I was unsatisfied with Wiccan-style ritual format, but after some investigation found that the same Wiccan-style ritual format I disliked had already been widely adopted at least within the online sources I was able to review. That was years and years ago, and my belief in gods as well as my interest in devotional worship or observance has long waned, but I’m still interested to see where you’re going with this if only because it makes me nostalgic for my own prior interests and the question that I couldn’t answer, “What would Slavic polytheism look like in practice?”

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  2. Your adaptions of the Orthodox prayers are exceptionally interesting. I had never thought of that as a workable option in working with them. It’s also great to see how another person looks at the gods. I’m excited for this series of yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy these posts. Information-wise, I’m sure there’ll be nothing you haven’t seen, but hopefully you’ll find the more personal parts interesting!

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  3. Reblogged this on The Slavic Polytheist and commented:
    If you want to see another person’s thoughts on Slavic gods and polytheism, please do check this out. It’s got great insight and some really wonderful ideas and angles that I have not thought of before.

    Like

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