Northern Wolves: Garb and Shiny Boots in a Polish Pagan Order

Tattooed man holding medieval sword

Tattoos on the body of Igor Górewicz, a noted Polish Slavic Pagan famous for Viking reenactment (not ZZPW).

In his article “Wolves among the Sheep: Looking Beyond the Aesthetics of Polish National Socialism,” Polish cultural anthropologist Mariusz Filip examines the symbolic meanings of tattoos, re-created medieval garb, and modern paramilitary uniforms in the Polish Pagan group Zakon Zadrugi “Polnocny Wilk,” (the Order of Zadruga “Northern Wolf”).

Military-style boots worn by ZZPW members.

The artiicle is part of the “Paganism, art, and fashion” special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, guest-edited by Caroline Tully. It and the other contents will be available as free downloads for a limited time.

“Folkloric” Pagan Statues Spark a Confrontation in Poland

Folkloric statue (Notes from Poland).

The news article, “Locals demand removal of “demonic, pagan” sculptures on tourist folklore trail in Poland,” starts this way:

A small community in northern Poland is embroiled in a dispute over 13 wooden sculptures of spirits based on local folklore, pitting Catholics warning of “demonic idolatry” conservatives against officials seeking to promote tourism. Some of the statues are set to be removed as a result.

I am happy to see that the reporter quoted Scott Simpson, my colleague in Pagan studies who co-edits Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies publishing series.

Scott Simpson, a lecturer in religious studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and expert on Polish paganism, told Notes from Poland that “the 13 figures have been selected because they are very local. They belong to stories collected in that area, ethnographically, as an expression of local pride”.

“Amongst the voices complaining about the removal, there are people interested in local folklore,” with no strong religious motivations, added Simpson. Yet “other people amongst them would be Contemporary Pagans, who are religiously offended by the things being taken down.”

Contemporary Pagans in Poland are small in number but “relatively visible, for example, in the folk music scene,” according to Simpson. In Poland, there may be “in the order of 2,500 very active participants in Slavic Native Faith (Rodzimowierstwo)” and a “much broader range of people” who sometimes participate.

“They do not like to see their local folklore removed, which is to them sacred,” said Simpson. And they worry about “seeing that some religions can be put up on a pedestal, but the folk religion is sent away to be put in a museum,” as the local parish priest suggested

So will folkloric tourism win over theology? Does tourism favor Pagans (it certainly does in some places)? If I learn more, I will post it.

A Pagan-ish Easter Ceremony in Poland

Rękawka is a celebration held in Krakow the Tuesday after Easter, so loosely speaking, it is a spring equinox festival. My friend in Krakow calls it “a civic holiday with Pagan roots.”

Rękawka is also one name for the tumulus (artificial mound) in the video. The celebration has long included throwing offerings of food and coins from the mound. “It is possible that this was based on, perhaps even pre-Slavic, mound and a combination of threads from the legend of Krakow with Slavic beliefs. The rite may also be an echo of the ancient Celtic traditions related to the cult of the god of death Smertius” (Source).

From what I understand, in Poland as in elsewhere, there is a certain overlap between historical re-enactors and contemporary Pagans.

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”?

A friend in Poland sent a link to this music video, adding that it looks a lot like the Midsummer celebration in his village but needs the volunteer firefighters, more kielbasa, and more vodka, except, “Our river’s a fair bit wider, too.” He describes the St. Nicholas Orchestra as “Pagan-friendly,”  and into  the “anti-clerical stratum” of Polish folk culture. Note the procession!

My post from the 18th, “What Is Wrong With Large-Scale Ritual,” got a lot of responses (thanks!) here and on Facebook, but I noticed that the responses could be sorted into several categories without too much hammering and shoving.

  1. Lots of large-scale rituals are boring, and it’s time someone said so.
  2. #1 might be correct, but we do them right.
  3. Yes, let’s forget Wiccanesque circles and do processions instead, which is my current position. It’s about religion, not magical self-transformation.

Jim Dickinson argues that worship and magic(k) are not incompatible at large rituals:

Relative to the other commenter’s statement that we ‘should emphasize worship over magic-working’…I believe ritual should be both worship and magick, as often as possible. Magick is the tool that is used to create a space in which the likelihood of spiritual experience is increased. Magick, religion and spirituality are equal parts of the process. Magick helps creates spaces (physical, mental , energetic…etc.) in which spiritual experiences are fostered (against all the anti-spiritual energies in our modern worlds) and religion is the negotiated language we use to try to communicate (albeit imperfectly) to one another the essence of those mystery/spirit experiences. The synergy of religion and magick is what humans use to try to foster those mystery, spiritual experience for one another. All three are needed for a community to advance together. And a huge part of large-scale ritual, IMHO, should be providing a community bonding component.

But there is a reason that I posted the music video above. It’s about community too. And in any community you have the 80/20 rule, meaning that eighty percent of the people are not magical specialists and don’t want to be. They just want a little “juice” in their lives now and then, as well as a blessing on their important life moments.1)When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

In the 1980s when American Pagan festivals were newish and still somewhat small, almost everyone participated in group ritual. As the attendance grew, so did a tendency that I have noticed at big festivals for people to camp in groups, decorate their camps . . . and then just stay there. Do you want to get them out of their lawn chairs and into the (temporary autonomous) community?

Here’s another large-scale summer solstice ritual, Russian Rodnovery (Native Faith) this time, via the French newspaper Le Figaro:

There is a circle again—it is hard to say how big it is or how long the circle ritual lasted. Children are involved, and there is movement, which are good signs.

Notes   [ + ]

1. When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

Call for Papers: Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World

Information on the upcoming Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World conference in Krakow, Poland, 24-25 March 2017, may be found at this link.

Presentations may address various issues within the following (suggested) topics:

  • Everyday life of contemporary Pagans
  • Understanding human relationships: from till death do us part to polyamory
  • Living in a Pagan family: the ‘second/third generation’ Pagans
  • Celebrating rites de passage in contemporary Paganism
  • Pagan fashion on a daily basis and ritual dress-codes
  • Pagan home altars, sacred images in the home
  • Sacred space: public and private
  • Upbringing children in Pagan traditions
  • Are there any specific Pagan hobbies? Music, historical re-enactment, etc.
  • Pagans and the Television: Game of Thrones, Vikings, etc.
  • Reading preferences & contemporary Pagan literature
  • Pagans and new technologies
  • Pagans in the workplace
  • Paganism and/vs globalization and consumerism

New Article on Polish Paganism

Via Scott Simpson, who is quoted in it, “Pre-Christian Slavic Beliefs are on the Rise in Poland” (PDF file), from the Krakow Post.

“The native faith movement as a whole is loosely organised and doesn’t
have a strong dogmatic component, it is actually less about faith – as in
‘correct belief’ – and more about being faithful, living the lifestyle,” said
Scott Simpson, a scholar of religious studies at the Jagiellonian University,
and a co-author [sic] of a recent study of Eastern European neo-paganism.

Scroll to page 22 and watch out for extraneous commas.

Polish Pagans Hold Congress

Scott Simpson, co-editor of Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, is quoted in an article on Polish Paganism in a June 18, 2013 article in Rzeczpospolita, one of Poland’s largest daily newspapers.

He offers this translation:

Polish Pagans Combine Their Strength

Three Polish Pagans (Rzeczpospolita newspaper).

At their first congress in years, the followers of the old beliefs will try to overcome their theological differences.

Making harvest offerings to the gods, jumping through bonfires and releasing wreathes [into running water] — that’s how Rodzimowiercy, the followers of the old Pagan beliefs, will celebrate Kupala [Summer Solstice]. Poland’s largest celebration in a chram, the temple at Pruszkow in Mazowia, will begin on Thursday. The culmination falls on the shortest night of the year — from 21 to 22 June.

Pre-Christian beliefs started to return in the 1980s, and the Pagans say that the followers of their religion is growing. In August, in Łódz the first National Convention of Rodzimowierczy will be held. “From the point of view of this milieu, this is a breakthrough,” Scott Simpson, a scholar of religion from the Jagiellonian University tells Rzeczpospolita.

Polish Pagans celebrate six major holidays, most of them related to dates marking changes in the length of the day. On the spring equinox they celebrate Jare Gody, Dozynki [harvest] marks the beginning of autumn, and Swięto Godów – the beginning of winter. Added to this Dziady [Forefathers’ Eve], in memory of the dead, which is celebrated twice,  in spring and autumn.

The most important role, however, is played by Święto Kupaly [Midsummer Night]. Pagan rites will be celebrated, among others in Warsaw, Szczecin, Wrocław, Opole, Poznan, Łódż and Sopot.

Ratomir Wilkowski, who is a żerca, that is, a Slavic priest of the Native Polish Church tells Rzeczpospolita that the biggest celebration near Pruszkow expects some [missing number] participants. “A similar turnout came last year. However, more and more people are asking about the celebration,” he adds.

How many Rodzimowierców are there in Poland? Scott Simpson says that there are around two thousand committed followers.”But there is a much broader periphery of supporters. I think that the number is growing, although not as rapidly as it was in the 90s,’”he says.

However, recently the Pagans have done much to integrate their movement.

They have managed to reactivate the Gniazdo periodical dedicated to their religion. The next step will be to organize the Congress for several communities in Łódż. One of the speakers will be author Witold Jablonski, who recently published a novel [Słowo i Miecz] about the Pagan uprising in the eleventh century in Poland.

In the registry of the Ministry of Administration and Digitization there are currently four religious Rodzimowiersto organisations: the Polish Slavic Church, Native Faith, Slavic Faith and the Native Polish Church. They try to find the principles of the faith of their ancestors in historical sources. They believe in the gods, who are identified with the forces of nature. Mother Earth is Mokosh, the Sky — Swiatowid, the Sun — Svarog, and Lightning — Perun.

However, there have arisen theological differences between the adherents. “Some Rodzimowiercy claim that their religion can be combined with other faiths. I think that is unacceptable. I am counting on the congress helping to dispel theological doubts,” says Stanislaw Potrzebowski of Native Faith.

Why are Poles going back to pre-Christian beliefs? Religious Studies Professor Zbigniew Pasek argues that the reason is the desire to seek alternatives to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. “For these people, it is not credible today. The claim that we Slavs will never regain our identity if we do not go back to our roots, rejecting foreign gods, falls on fertile ground,” he explains.

The scholar adds that many people get involved in the Neopagan movement, because they are drawn to participation in the reconstruction [re-enactment] of history. Ratomir Wilkowski argues that his faith is authentic.

“We’re not a bunch of lunatics running around half-naked in the woods. If we did not believe in it we would not create religious organisations,” he assures.

To which he adds, “Again, the journalist (relatively harmlessly) made my vague hedging answer into something short and punchy that I didn’t really say. ”  So it goes!