Critiquing “Double Belief” in Russian Paganism

Consider this a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Russian dream rituals, which linked to an article whose author totally accepted the idea of spiritual practices with  “very deep roots in pre-Christian culture.”

I had not realized this, but Routledge published a book critiquing the idea of “double belief”  (dvoeverie) three years ago: Stella Rock’s Popular Religion in Russia: ‘Double Belief’ and the Making of an Academic Myth.

From the catalog:

This book dispels the widely-held view that paganism [sic] survived in Russia alongside Orthodox Christianity, demonstrating that ‘double belief’, dvoeverie, is in fact an academic myth.

Scholars, citing the medieval origins of the term, have often portrayed Russian Christianity as uniquely muddied by paganism, with ‘double-believing’ Christians consciously or unconsciously preserving pagan traditions even into the twentieth century. This volume shows how the concept of dvoeverie arose with nineteenth-century scholars obsessed with the Russian ‘folk’ and was perpetuated as a propaganda tool in the Soviet period, colouring our perception of both popular faith in Russian and medieval Russian culture for over a century. It surveys the wide variety of uses of the term from the eleventh to the seventeenth century, and contrasts them to its use in modern historiography, concluding that our modern interpretation of dvoeverie would not have been recognized by medieval clerics, and that ‘double-belief’ is a modern academic construct. Furthermore, it offers a brief foray into medieval Orthodoxy via the mind of the believer, through the language and literature of the period.

From what I have seen in current Pagan studies, the concept is indeed widely accepted by today’s Russian Pagans and by some scholars as well. I may need to read this book.

UPDATE: From a review in Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review by Kaarina Aitamurto:

The validity of the myth has been increasingly called into question in recent decades. Rock’s contribution, however, is ground-breaking in its extensive and methodologically solid approach.

Russian Seasonal Dream Rituals

I missed Orthodox Christmas by  a day, but here is an article on Russian Pagan dream practice.

 Here I’ll try to give the “taste” of the authentic Russian tradition of dream work that has very deep roots in pre-Christian culture.  Mainly the Russian tradition tells about highly practical dream incubation and tuning.  The tuning rituals are connected to certain calendar dates and periods all over the year, days of the week, and time of the day.  There is also very rich practice of using ‘magic’ objects and creating special situations for powerful dream incubation. My experience in teaching dream work shows that three days intensive in the nature is not enough to try at least either summer, or winter rituals.

More on “Europe’s Oldest Paganism”

Following up on last July’s post about Mari Paganism, here via Forging the Sampo is another contemporary journalistic article with links.

Two of the grandmothers are less concerned, lying down in the grass in their shawls as their grandsons collect wood for the fire. “In [Orthodox] Church, you have to stand for hours. I can’t deal with that. The glade is better. Much more comfortable.”

You will find the same article linked as well as other material at the MariUver blog.

The Khan of the Winter


The King of the Winter — Sakha Republic (NE Siberian) ritual costume.

This man is costumed as the King (or Khan or Bull) of the Winter, as envisioned in the Sakha Republic of northeastern Siberia.

Here is the translation of the page about him in the Turkish Wikipedia, with a link to the photograph.

The Turkic people of Sakha were originally followers of shamanic traditions before being converted to Orthodox Christianity, and some are going back.

There seems to be a suggestion in the Wikipedia text that the bull horns might have been originally mammoth tusks, which would make more sense for that part of the world.

The website English Russia has a selection of photos of winter life there as well. “Yakutia has turned cold into brand!”

Europe’s Oldest Paganism

At Forging the Sampo, a link to a short documentary video on the revived Pagan religion of the Mari people of the former Soviet Union. (Wikipedia entry on Mari-El.)

Massive sacrificial feasts, accordions, sacred oaks and groves, priests in tall woolen hats, even a sort of Bigfoot reference — what’s not to like?

I have been reading chapters from a forthcoming book on revived Paganism in Central and Eastern Europe, which includes a chapter on the Mari by Boris Knorre, who writes,

Even during the Soviet times, within the isolated rural population of the Mari, certain elements remained well preserved: local and family prayers, reverence for the sacred grove, and similar “private” practices of the tradition. In the 1990s, some urban intellectuals among the Mari initiated an active process of restoration of the native faith. The conduct of these Pagan rituals extended the boundaries of family tradition into public space, and at this time public communal sacrifices and prayers reemerged. In the Republic of Mari El, there are six hundred holy groves (kusoto), of which the majority have been taken under the protection of the state.

I look forward to being able to promote the entire volume when it is published.

Siberian Shamans and their Music

A short documentary on contemporary Siberian shamanism from the Russian television channel RT.

The interesting part is a young shaman and his friend composing a sort of “house” music (or so the narrator describes it) to try to bridge contemporary sounds with the shamanic tradition, which was almost destroyed by seventy years of atheistic Communism. A little throat-singing comes in as well.

“Music helps me withdraw from the [trance] state,” says the shaman-musician.

The relationship between the revival of Siberian shamanism and Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies is briefly hinted at.

No, It Wasn’t the Provocative Women

It was Icelandic Pagans who caused the volcano to erupt, say Russian Orthodox clerics, countering the Shiite Islamic cleric who blamed women for inciting the lust of hapless men and thus, somehow, earthquakes.

They noted that Iceland “has recently become a center of European neo-paganism of Aryan occult kind, which has Nazi character” as Iceland has headquartered the Association of European Ethnic Religions that has recently worked out a draft of merger between the World Pagan Assembly and International Pagan Alliance.

UPDATE: Monday the 26th is the Boobquake protest.

Slavery, Vikings, and Charlemagne

Here is a little bit of synchronicity in my historical reading. I am not sure if it “proves” anything, other than the fact that it is difficult to sort people into “good guys” and “bad guys.”

1. At the library, I recently picked up The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Early Medieval Studies, ed. Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick.

I wanted to look for some material on agriculture—the adoption of the three-field system, wheeled plows, etc.—but I was sucked into a chapter entitled, “Strong Rulers—Weak Economy? Rome, the Carolingians and the Archaeology of Slavery in the First Millennium AD” by a German scholar, Joachim Henning.

Here are two figures that I have lifted from his work:

As I used to tell my students when we talked about American religion and slavery, the Roman empire back in Jesus’ time ran on slavery the way that our civilization runs on petroleum. (And Jesus had nothing to say about it.)

Slavery requires chains and shackles, lest the slaves wander away. Figure 2.1 is a map of archaeological sites (farms, villas, plantations) containing shackles.

The second figure graphs shackle finds over time in Gaul (France, roughly). They rise during the Roman times, then plunge during the Merovingian dynasty, during the so-called Dark Ages.

But then shackle finds—and hence presumably slavery—rise during the Carologian dynasty. Its founder, Charles Martel (ca. 688-741), stopped the Islamic expansion into Europe. His grandson Charlemagne (Charles the Great) is a huge figure in medieval western European history, but his actions included the slaughter of more than 4,000 Saxons who resisted conversion to Christianity.

There was a European slave trade in Pagan, polytheistic Roman times—and it continued into Christian times, up through the 1400s, at least—and then it was time for Columbus!

2. Meanwhile, a British historian suggests that Viking raids on Europe might have been payback for Charlemagne’s forced-conversion program. (Via the Covenant of the Goddess NPIO blog.)

But before you annoint the Vikings as the pro-Pagan “good guys,” remember that they were in the slave trade too, particularly in what is now Ireland and Russia.

As some people say about their relationships on Facebook, “It’s complicated.”