The words "Paganism" and "Pagan" come from the Latin "paganus", meaning country dweller. In simplest terms - Paganism is a religion of place or a native religion, for example, the Native American's religion is Pagan, and Hinduism is a form of Paganism. All Pagan religions are characterized by a connection and reverence for nature, and are usually polytheistic i.e. have many Gods and/or Goddesses.
Paganism is a religion of nature, in other words Pagans revere Nature. Pagans see the divine as immanent in the whole of life and the universe; in every tree, plant, animal and object, man and woman and in the dark side of life as much as in the light. Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature, the seasons, life and death.
Unlike the patriarchal religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) the divine is female as well as male and therefore there is a Goddess as well as a God. These deities are within us as well as without us (immanent); they are we.
They are not simply substitutes for the Muslim or Judeo-Christian God. This is because the Gods of the major religions tend to be super-natural i.e. above nature whereas Pagan deities are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Having said that God and Goddess are split from the Great Spirit that probably equates to the God of the patriarchal religions.
The Goddess represents all that is female and the God represents all that is male. However, because nature is seen as female the Goddess has a wider meaning. Often called Mother Earth she is seen as the creature and sustainer of life, the mother of us all which makes all the creatures on the planet our siblings.
There are sub-groups of named Gods and Goddesses called Pantheons, drawn from the distant past, for example Isis and Osiris from Egypt or Thor, Odin, Freya et al from Norse religion and mythology.
Ancient Pagans would have worshipped one or a small number of Gods and Goddesses, while often recognizing the validity of other people's deities.
The concept of an overall, un-named Goddess and God, the sum totals of all the others, appears to be a recent one but individual named deities represent particular human qualities or archetypes and are often used as a focus for celebrations and spiritual rites.
Paganism has developed alongside mankind for thousands of years; as cultures have changed so has Paganism, yet it is grounded in deep rooted genetic memories that go back to Neolithic times and before. Thus, Paganism is not just a nature religion but also a natural religion.
Paganism in the west takes a number of forms including Wicca - Druidism, and Shamanism.
To Pagans the four ancient elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water have special significance. The importance of these is hard to define because they have so many correspondences, for example, they are associated with the four directions, North, East, South and West.
Each element is a kind of spiritual substance from which all things are made especially ourselves and at the same time are Guardians both of ourselves and of the Goddess and God, and guarding the gateways between this world and the other world.
Due to the concerted efforts of both the eastern and western churches, Christianity largely replaced Slavic paganism during the course of the tenth century. There are primarily three sources for information about Slavic paganism: written accounts, archaeological discoveries, and ethno-graphic evidence. As literacy was introduced to the East Slavs only with their conversion to Christianity in 988 C.E., and Christian monks or missionaries most often compiled the written sources, much of what is known about East Slavic paganism from written accounts is of questionable accuracy. The sources begin with the Byzantine historian Procopius (sixth century) and include Arab travel accounts, reports of Christian missionary activity, and references in the Primary Chronicle and the First Novgorod Chronicle. Archaeological evidence has provided some information on pagan temples, particularly among the West Slavs on the island of Rugen in the Baltic Sea. In addition, what may have been a temple to Perun, god of thunder, was excavated near Peryn, south of Novgorod in 1951, and several sites that were likely associated with cult practices have been found at Pskov, in the Smolensk region, and Belarus. Generally, however, archaeological sites are able to provide more information about material culture than about the spiritual life of a preliterate people. Ethnographic material was not systematically collected until the nineteenth century, which makes it difficult to separate genuine information from later accretions. One can summarize, based on evidence from all these sources, however, that early Slavic religion was animistic, in that it personified natural elements. It also deified heavenly bodies and recognized the existence of various spirits of the forest, water, and household. Ritual sacrifice was likely used to appease the pagan deities, and amulets were used to ward off evil. In accordance with widespread Indo-European practice, the early Slavs likely cremated their dead, but even before the Christian era, burial was also practiced. Chernaya Mogila, a burial site in Chernigov that dates from the tenth century provides strong evidence for a belief in the afterlife, as three members of a princely family were interred with the horses, weapons, and utensils that they would need for existence in the next world.
Procopius refers to a Slavic god who is the ruler of everything, but evidence for a larger pantheon comes much later. The twelfth-century Primary Chronicle relates how Prince Vladimir set up idols in the hills of Kiev to Perun, "made of wood with a head of silver and a mustache of gold," as well as to Khors, Dazhbog, Stribog, Simargl, and Mokosh. In the entries for 907 and 971 C.E., the chronicle reports that the Rus swore by their gods Perun and Volos, the god of the flocks. Perun is associated with thunder and the oak tree, thought to be a favorite target of the lightning bolts unleashed by the thunder god. Much less is known about the other gods mentioned in the chronicle. Khors seems to refer to the sun and, as Jakobson points out, is closely connected with Dazhbog, the "giver of wealth," and Stribog, "the apportioner of wealth." Simargl appears to be a form of Simorg, the Iranian winged monster, who is at times depicted as a winged dog. The only female in the pantheon is Mokosh, whose name is probably derived from moist, and who is likely a personification of Moist Mother Earth. Some scholars view Mokosh as a remnant of the Great Goddess cult, which struggled against the patriarchal religion of the Varangian's (Vikings). The god Volos, identified in the peace treaties as the god of cattle, may be connected with death and the underworld. The association with cattle possibly comes from the efforts of Christian writers to connect him with St. Blasius, a martyred Cappadocian bishop who became the protector of flocks. Although not listed in Vladimir's pantheon, the god Rod, with his consort Rozhanitsa, is mentioned in other East Slavic sources as a type of primordial progenitor.
After the conversion of Rus, elements of paganism continued in combination with Christian beliefs, a phenomenon that has been called "dvoeverie" or "dual belief" in the Slavic tradition. References to pagan deities occasionally occur in Christian era texts, most notably as rhetorical ornamentation in such works as the Slovo o polku Igoreve. Syncretism is also apparent in the transformation of Perun into the Old Testament Elijah, who was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.
- Barford, Paul M. (2001). The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
- Gimbutas, Marija. (1971). The Slavs. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Hubbs, Joanna. (1989). Mother Russia: The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
- Jakobson, Roman. (1950) "Slavic Mythology." Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. Vol. 2. New York: Funk and Wagnalls.
- The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. (1953). Ed. and tr. Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P.
- Sherbowitz-Wetzor. Cambridge, MA: The Mediaeval Academy of America.