Slavs Searching for their Gods

Triglav National Park, Pixabay

According to a recent Newsweek story, Russian soldiers and athletes are turning to “pagan” traditions to seek meaning in their lives and to connect to their ancient religion.

A formal revival of Slavic deities, under the name Rodnovery (invoking Rod, a name for God) is underway in Eastern Europe. But it is not only the Slavs who wish to connect to the past and it includes the Mari, who speak a Finno-Ugric language and other people.

Not many know that Ukraine and Russia were Christianized rather recently, that is only about a thousand years ago.

In the 12th-century, the German missionary Helmold of Bosau wrote in Chronica Slavorum that the Slavs believed in an impersonal God, quite like the Vedic Brahman. Around the same time, the Kiev Chronicle (Povest vremennykh let) speaks of the following principal Slavic deities Perun, Volos, Khors, Dazhbog, Stribog, Simargl and Mokosh. The generic name for God in the Slavic world is Bog, or भग.

Other ancient deities, whose worship was widespread and known from even earlier documents, are Svarog and the trinity of Triglav (like Trimūrti) as a fusion of Svarog, Perun, and Dazhbog. There is also another four-headed divinity (like Brahmā) named Svetovid and a deity named Živa.

Scholars know that Slavic Gods are no other than Vedic Gods, although they see the historical relationship between the two variously. The connection shouldn’t be surprising since the Slavs (who include the Shakas or the Scythians) lived just northwest of India (across from the Himalayas in a region called Uttara Kuru) in the wide expanse of Central Asia and beyond.

Although the earliest Vedic texts do not appear to know a region beyond the Sapta Sindhu, by the time of the later texts Uttara Kuru was recognized as a frontier land of the Vedic world. Aitareya Brāhmaṇa ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण, which belongs to a class of texts that were written in 2nd millennium BCE, makes a reference to this region. The Rājasūya Sacrifice performed by King Yudhiṣṭhira was attended by kings from Uttara Kuru.

The plains of Central Asia have had many shifts in demography and we are informed by the recently excavated Rabatak Inscription of Emperor Kanishka, that the language of his ancestors in Central Asia was what he calls Aryan (or Sanskritic), even though later on from the Chinese chronicles we know the people as the Yuezhi.

The astronomical references in the earliest Vedic texts take us to at least the 3rd millennium BCE. At the same time, new research indicates that European languages are rather late arrivals in Europe, and may be as late as 2500 BCE.

It becomes important, therefore, to note the genetic relationship between the Vedic tradition and the remembered Slavic gods. Here I am only going to touch upon the deities mentioned in the Kiev Chronicle.

Rod, Rit (Ukrainian), The Absolute, Skt. Ṛt ऋत, Absolute Order, The Law

Bog, Skt.Bhaga भग or भगवान्

Perun, Skt. Parjanya पर्जन्य

RV 5.83
áchā vada tavásaṃ gīrbhír ābhí stuhí parjányaṃ námasâ vivāsa
kánikradad vṛṣabhó jīrádānū réto dadhāty óṣadhīṣu gárbham
Sing with these songs thy welcome to the Mighty, with adoration praise and call Parjanya.
The Bull, loud roaring, swift to send his lays in the plants the seed for germination. (tr. R.T.H. Griffith)

Volos, Skt. Vala, वल

Somewhat like Vṛtra, Vala is a stone cave, split by Indra (strengthened by Soma, identified with Brhaspati in 4.50 and 10.68 or Trita in 1.52, aided by the Angirasas in 2.11), to liberate the cows and Ushas, hidden there by the Panis.

Khors, Sun, Skt. Surya, सूर्य, स्वर् and from the latter comes Persian Khor as in Khorshid, or Khar as name of lord.

Dazhbog, Skt. दक्ष-भग

Stribog, Wind-god, Skt. स्तृत-भग

Simargl, Skt. श्येन मृग, śyena-bird, from which comes Persian Simurgh سيمرغ‎.

For those who know Vedic ritual, the great altar was built in the form of the falcon, śyena.

Mokosh, Goddess, Skt. मोक्ष

Svarog, Goddess, Skt. स्वर्ग

It seems reasonable to see the Slavic religion as part of the Vedic tradition, to be viewed here as a universal way of spiritual knowledge, or Sanātana Dharma सनातन धर्म.

Second Part: Is Recent Slavic History a Replay of the Past