CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

The 2007 International Conference
June 7-9, 2007
Bordeaux, France
Globalization, Immigration, and Change in Religious Movements

Russian Rodnoverie
Negotiating Individual Traditionalism

by Kaarina AITAMURTO (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki)

A paper presented at the 2007 International Conference, Bordeaux, France. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Contemporary Slavic Paganism, Rodnoverie, is a religion that seeks to combine the principle of creedliness and the ideal of tradition and traditional community.  In several researches Rodnoverie has been noted to contain strong nationalistic and even xenophobic tendencies. Rodnoverie can be seen as a reactionary counter reaction to globalization and to the disruption of commonly shared culture and value-base. On the other hand, Pagan emphasis on validity of personal experience and celebration of cultural diversity may also affirm global values and tolerance. The controversial tendencies do not just reflect the heterogeneity of the movement, but they may also coexist and overlap in single Rodnoverie text. Therefore, it is suggested that instead of approaching the subject with binary conceptualizations, more balanced view is attained by looking at these controversies as complex discussions.[1]

The reawakening of the Native Faith 

“Rodnoverie” is a term that has seldom been used in the previous study of the subject. Instead, the religion is usually been called “Paganism” or “Neo-Paganism”. However, very few believers accept the term “Neo-Paganism” [2], and even though some groups use the word “Paganism”, a large part of the community consider it both derogatory and erroneous[3]. One of the terms the believers themselves use, is Vedism. The word reveals the importance of the connection to Eastern tradition at the early phase of the religion, but within Rodnoverie it is usually explained to derive from the Russian verb vedat’, to know. Some groups call themselves Pravoslavs (Orthodox Christian in Russian), but maintain that the word is older than Christianity and originally referred to Russians who honored (slavit’) the truth (pravda). The most widely accepted term seems to be Rodnoverie[4], which also suites to academic discussions better than Vedism and Pravoslavie, both of which have their established meanings that have nothing to do with the revived pre-Christian Slavic spirituality.

In several studies the emergence of the Rodnoverie at the end of the 1970’s is linked to the nationalist movement of the time[5]. Ultra-nationalist dissident circles were important substrata for Rodnoverie, and when the movement came public, there were a number of influential Rodnoverie groups and leaders with ultra-nationalist, racist and anti-Semitist political agendas. However, the roots of the movement could also be found in the “cultic milieu” of alternative spirituality of the last Soviet decades. In some studies, made within the study of religion, the emergence of Rodnoverie as practiced religion is portrayed as a spiritual exploration of the urban intelligentsia, interested in Russian folklore[6]. The reason for the disagreement lies in the differences in focus and vantage point of the disciplines. For a large part, Rodnoverie has been studied as a part of political nationalism and thus this part of the movement has got overt attention. Another reason is that the activity of small, intimate, spiritual groups may be quite invisible compared to high-profile political organizations. The published literature does neither give unbiased picture of the movement. Even today, it seems to be easier to find publisher to nationalist pamphlets than strictly spiritual Pagan books.  Fortunate for the research of the subject, some Rodnovers have lately begun to publish their own materials and reminiscences of the past. Furthermore, while the earlier research of the subject has often based solely on published source material, during the last decade field-work among believers has intensified.

Until to the beginning of the 1990’s, Rodnoverie remained as a very marginal religion, known only to small circles in the biggest cities. A wider audience Rodnoverie was able to reach in the turn of the decade due to two books: the “Slavyano-goritsakay bor’b”a by Aleksand Belov and “Slavyanskie Vedy: Kniga Velesa” by Aleksandr Asov[7].  The “Book of Veles”, a manuscript maintained to derive from the IX century, was already known in Soviet Union, but only the massive publications of Asov introduced it to wider public. “The Book of Veles” inspired many spiritual seekers in their attempts to reconstruct the old faith and even today it is the most often referred to source in Rodnoverie literature. Slavyano-Goritskaya borba refers to a form of combat art which, according to Belov, bases on indigenous Slavic tradition. Although not all people practicing the art – in its heyday, 40 000 people – were Rodnovers[8], it was an effective means to spread the spirituality beyond the intellectual circles of Moscow and St.Petersburg. Although already earlier Rodnoverie have often gone hand in hand with nationalist ideology, more physical dimension it received by the “Slavic combat art”. One of the outcomes was that Rodnoverie became popular religion within Russian skinheads[9].

As a non-hierarchic, grass-roots movement, Rodnoverie is extremely heterogeneous, and its followers represent most various demographic groups.  Some Rodnovers have found the religion through nationalist organizations. Another large group is formed by people, interested in esotericism or alternative spirituality. During the last decades, it has become very popular within such youth sub-cultures as role-playing, tolkienism[10], reconstructionist clubs and pagan metal music. Because of its unstructured form, no reliable data is available on the number of Rodnovers in Russia. The biggest Moscow area umbrella organizations, the “Union of Slavic Communities” (USC) and the “Circle of Pagan Traditions” (CPT) both have around 500 members. Considering that there are yet some bigger organizations, innumerable local communities, and a virtually unknown number of solitary practitioners,  it is fairly safe to say that there are at least 10 000 Rodnovers in Russia[11]. This number is a rude estimation, and also somewhat interpretative, because the figure depends on criteria utilized. Nevertheless, I suspect it more likely to bee too careful than much exaggerated.

Although in public Rodnoverie has often been associated with nationalist bigotry, there are several Rodnovers with very tolerant societal views. Furthermore, several Rodnoverie groups have decisively dissociated from national-chauvinism. This urge was one of the leitmotifs in the founding of an umbrella organization the CPT in Moscow in 2001[12], and in the founding document of the organization almost half of the pages are dedicated to questions of nationalism and ethnic intolerance[13]. Characteristic for the kind of Rodnoverie the CPT represents is that the religion is conceived as a “nature religion” with intrinsic tolerance and celebration of natural multiplicity.

Although nationalism is very prominent feature in the majority of Rodnoverie communities, the nationalist conviction they hold, or what they propagate, isn’t necessarily uniform. Three kinds of differences can be discerned in “nationalism” [14]of Rodnoverie communities. First, there are differences in what extent the organizations are political and in what sense “religious”. For example, there are some groups and writers that hardly practice the religion and see Rodnoverie more as an ideology or philosophy. Second, variances exist in the radicalism of nationalist ideology. There are some Rodnovers supporting National-Socialism, but at the other end of the spectrum “nationalism” signals more of a reverence of one’s own culture, land and heritage. Here the essential feature of Rodnoverie is that it is a “religion of one own” (rodnaya vera). There are a number of nationalistically oriented organizations and networks, some of which may not have official political preferences but support nationalism in a more vague sense of the word, such as the USC. Others may be focused on more tangible political aims, as for example the group K bogoderzhaviyu (also known as Mertvaya Voda, or Kontseptsiya Obchestvennoi Besopasnosti, KOB) which is linked to the party Edinenie[15].  Majority of nationalistically oriented communities have rather wide spectrum of political convictions. Some Rodnoverie groups have very little interest in rituals or actual practice of their religion, but in forming networks this question does not seem to be so decisive as the third one, difference in the attitudes towards history and especially, towards claims that differ strongly from scientific consensus. Such claims may be seen as damaging the image of Rodnoverie, associating it with pseudo-science and labeling it as a sectarian movement. Especially urban Rodnovers prefer to present themselves, not as old reactionary mystics, but as modern, educated people, well civilized and actively participating in social life.

While some Rodnovers would like to vindicate their religion which is so often equated with ultra-nationalism, for a big part of nationalistically oriented Rodnovers the most annoying bad press comes with such “anti-scientific” theories as the idea of “ancient Russian god Ra”, or ancient Russian literature, “Vseyasvetnaja gramota”[16]. However, it should be noted that in the “Russian cultic milieu” such claims do not necessarily stand out as exceptionally unscientific. It has been noted that one of the most striking feature in the post-Soviet spirituality is the popularity of non-traditional beliefs, such as magic, horoscopes or numerology[17]. Also, the popular history books with interpretation that diverge, more or less violently, from the academic consensus is another prominent phenomena in contemporary Russia[18].

Rodnovers criticizing unconventional postulates are not just concerned about the public image of Rodnoverie as “unscientific” religion, but the rejection reflects also an urge to present Rodnoverie as a religion that does not subjugate or deny the freedom of the consciousness of its adherents. The word “guru” or “guruism” is often used in internal discussions to denote to a form of religiosity that is seen as incompatible with true Rodnoverie or Slavic spiritualism. It should be noted that the term “guru” has rather negative connotations in Russia in general, and it is often associated with new (Western) religious movements and with the so called “totalitarian sects”[19]. Nevertheless, the aversion of “guruism” within Rodnoverie also indicates genuine rejection of authoritarianism.

The most often repeated slogan within Rodnoverie is: “We are not god’s slaves, but god’s sons”[20]. Brotherly spirit is one of the most prominent features in Rodnoverie communities, and it is bolstered by the ideal of Rodnovers (or Pagans) as independently thinking, strong and responsible individuals. Very often leaders and wizards stress that they are not gaining any financial profits of their activities, and within communities they are not necessarily considered so much as “leaders” but as authorities in the sense of primus inter pares.  Some communities even refuse to name any leaders or wizard amongst themselves. Rodnovers may see hierarchy as a natural form of human communities, due to the natural differences in peoples’ talents and competence[21]. However, while some Rodnovers may be rather skeptical of “democracy”[22] they may at the same time stress the equality and freedom of traditional Russian communities.  In examining the subject critically, it cannot escape one’s notice that in some communities the role and the authority of the leader usually remain very much unquestioned. But even in such cases, the leaders may still stress the equality of a community and ordinary members of the communities use similar anti-authoritative discourse.

Although many Rodnovers are highly suspicious about all kinds of religious authorities and organizational hierarchies, there are fractions in the movement which tolerate less deviance from the religious doctrines and have more authoritative leaders. Most notable of such organizations is the Ancient Russian Ingliistic Church of Orthodox Old Believers-Ingliists (ARICOOBI) [23]. The church was founded by a charismatic leader Aleksandr Hinevich (Pater Dii) in Omsk, but in recent few years, it has considerably increased its influence throughout Russia. Other Rodnoverie organizations do not, however, have very warm relations with the ARICOOBI, and the main reason for this refutation is the “sectarian” nature of the church[24]. Although in 2004 it lost the official status of registered religious community[25], it has communities throughout Russia and professes massive selling of books and video material.  The teachings of the church base on Vedas, texts that are claimed to be ancient Aryan holy scriptures, the oldest part dating from the 40 000 BP[26]. Besides the Vedas, Ingliists teach their adherents for example “h’Arriiskaya arifmetika” and ancient Slavic grammar. Special emphasis is laid on “healthy way of life”, which includes such very common features as  eating natural and pure food, living responsible and sober life, but also ideas basing on theories of human biology and genetics which are very far from the academic perceptions[27].

There are several groups or orientations that could be placed in the vague borderlines of Rodnoverie as religion. During the last decades various publications of Slavic mythology and spiritual books with some Pagan ingredients have become extremely popular. Beyond the Pagan movement, considerably wider audience exists interested in   Pagan literature, but since a large part of this audience does not want to identify with Paganism as religion, it is often presented in a less vague form as a part of the Russian tradition or heritage[28]. In some books, Orthodox Christianity, magic and Paganism are mixed into seemingly harmonious folklore. Other writers distance themselves from the Orthodoxy, but are neither presenting themselves as “Pagans”. Although for example the ARICOOBI has very little in common with the Orthodox Christianity (Pravoslavie), by this self-description it can claim a place in the “mainstream” of Russian spiritual tradition,  and avoid the marginalization that inevitably follows the more unconventional label of “Paganism”. It should be remembered, that Asov, the most popular writer of pre-Christian spirituality with over 3, 5 million published books, is also maintaining Pravoslavie to be distinctly Russian religious tradition which did not replace but continued the old faith[29]. Paganism as such cannot be placed under the umbrella-term New Age religiosity, but there are some forms of Paganism that could be classified as New Age Paganism[30]. Especially, this is the case when Paganism is seen as a form of spirituality which does not overrule other religious identities and is seen rather as an ingredient of spirituality than a religion of its own rights.

Throughout the presentation I have referred to Rodnoverie as religion. However, it should be noted, that I am using religion as an etic concept, not necessarily corresponding to the ways Rodnovers understand it. Two kinds of attitudes towards the word “religion” can be noticed among Rodnovers. As could be expected, many believers feel offended when Rodnoverie is not regarded as “actual religion” but as a form of superstition, play or a “quasi-religion”[31]. Furthermore, considering the aspiration of many communities to gain official status of religious communities, such labeling may even have concrete harmful consequences for the community. Still a large number, in fact probably even the majority, of Rodnovers feel aversion to the word “religion” and prefer to define Rodnoverie as faith, spirituality, worldview, philosophy or simply - tradition. According to them, religion postulates dogmatism, which they see as alien to their ”faith”.  While similar views and arguments are very common within Western Pagans as well, in the case of Rodnoverie the legacy of Soviet Union undoubtedly also has its influences on the way “religion” is understood and on attitudes towards it[32].

A common basis of all the various forms of Rodnoverie is that they see themselves as continuing the pre-Christian Slavic spiritual tradition. However, while for some Rodnovers tradition is the solid fundament that gives clear guidelines and an exit from the confusing modernity, it may also be seen as tradition of plurality and multiplicity, breaking the uniformity of monotheist religions and ideologies. Several Rodnoverie writers have even used words “monoideology” and “monoreligion” to refer to what they see as problematic feature both in Christianity and in Soviet Communism. Thus, there seems to be two currents, running to a quite opposite direction concerning globalization and modernity. This coexistence was first noticed by Koskello in her article “Contemporary pagan religions of Eurasia: Extremes of globalism and anti-globalism” (my translation)[33].  This seminal article challenges the view that dominates the earlier research, according to which Rodnoverie is permeated with nationalist conservatism. Also, by reducing the societal views of the Rodnovers, the article makes visible two important ideological tendencies within the movement. With concepts of “globalism” and “anti-globalism” Koskello refers to societal tolerance versus national-chauvinism, and links the question to the attitudes towards democracy and capitalism. Koskello uses the concepts as heuristic tools, defined in a very narrow way. However, it should not be forgotten that globalization as such is much more multidimensional phenomenon. Furthermore, the differences in the societal views of Rodnovers also seem to relate to more general processes of late modernity.

In sociology and sociological study of religion reactionary and affirmative reactions to modernity and / or consequences of globalization have been discussed widely. For example, while fundamentalism has its specific historical roots in American Christianity, it has also become a general term for a type of religiosity that seeks to reverse the individualization and relativization, some of the inherent features of late modernity. Thus fundamentalism can be defined as a movement aiming at restoration of the fundamental values which are not open for negotiations or compromises. New Age, on the other hand, has served as an example of ecumenical and syncretic form of spirituality, which professes high tolerance for differences in personal religious convictions[34].

Very similar oppositional conceptualization is introduced by Beyer in his seminal “Religion and Globalization”[35]. Beyer’s analysis of “liberal” and “conservative” religiosity portrays these as reactions to modernity, but also discusses thoroughly the strengths and weaknesses of these as strategies. However, in several points Beyer breaks the simplicity of dualist outlook. He claims, for example, that conservative religiosity cannot be considered as negation of globalization, but that globalization is a “vital aspect” of conservative religiosity[36].  Corresponding to the thesis of pluralizing effects of modernity, Beyer notes that as the “other” becomes more familiar to us, demonization of the previously unknown becomes more difficult. At the same time, however, ecumenism effaces clear distinctions and moral righteousness. Thus liberal religiosity profess tolerance and ecumenism but in cost of its capacity to commit people to religion. Conservative option can provide certainty by reasserting tradition, but often collides with the other tendencies of modern society.

Both globalization and the consequences of late modernity are complex and multidimensional phenomena. Therefore, reactions or attitudes towards them should also be approached in several levels. For example, while New Age spirituality usually is characterized by syncretism and ecumenism, it may at the same time attract people with authoritarian personality or societal views[37]. Next I will sketch a four-point conceptualization, which serves as an analytical frame in the next part, where I am examining Rodnoverie.









Distorting the picture

Globalism versus Nationalism

Many Rodnovers hold negative attitude towards globalization, professing very Slavophilic ideals according to which Russia should follow its own path and reject alien influences. On the other hand, these arguments do not necessarily rule out co-operation or communication with other cultures. The slogan “unity in multiplicity”, appropriated by the CPT[38] expresses the ideal, also supported by many nationalist Rodnoverie groups. According to this line of thinking, respect and cultivation of ones own culture is not only a nationalist virtue, but also prerequisite for genuine dialogue and interaction between cultures and nations.

Discussing such multidimensional concepts as globalization it is of vital importance to begin by explicating the meaning they are used. Globalization takes place in several levels, such as economy, culture, information and politics, and it is quite possible, for example, to be against economic globalization and at the same time positive about cultural one. Furthermore, criticism of globalization is not necessarily targeted against globalization per se, as much as it is against its terms or some of its byproducts. Therefore, the concept of “anti-globalization” is as obscure as the notoriously slippery “globalization”. It has been used in a meaning of tendencies working as a counter-force to globalization, but also to refer to criticism of it. Nationalism has, as also have fundamentalism and conservative religiosity, gathered momentum because of the globalization. Still this does not mean that such ideologies or religious movements would be delighted of globalization or that they would consciously support it in any way.

It is an undeniable fact that globalization has enhanced the rise of Rodnoverie in several ways.  First, the interplay between local and global has for a large part fuelled the yearning back to ones roots, and by that assisted the rise of nationalist sentiments and politics. Second, as many Rodnovers admit, the modern communication technology, and especially the Internet is one of the most important mediums that has made possible for scattered Pagan “religious dissidents” to find each others and form communities and networks, including transnational ones.

Syncretism versus Traditionalism

To simplify Rodnoverie outlooks on tradition, two basic ways can be discerned:  According to some Rodnovers, the movement continues the old faith, a tradition that was never broken. Others admit that what we know about the old religion is very fragmented and allusive. While reconstruction of the old tradition as faithfully as possible is the goal of many Rodnoverie groups, it is at least as often claimed that essential is not the form or details of the religion, but the spirit of it. Still it is not unusual that in single Rodnoverie text these outlooks coexist and overlap. Rodnovers usually emphasize that they don’t want to return to the past, and do not imagine that an Iron Age religion as such would be applicable to modern society. On the contrary, many present it to be the advantage of Paganism not to be tied to any holy scripture, written in quite a different societal context. However, reconstructionist spirit influences in all Rodnoverie communities and arguments about the pre-Christian religion or society is very often used as an argument in discussions “what Paganism should be”.

Rodnoverie refers to the followers of “native faith”, that is, Slavic spirituality. However, some communities have appropriated elements from other ethnic traditions. Individual Rodnovers may defend their right for eclecticism and inventiveness by appealing to the non-dogmatic nature of Rodnoverie which postulates that the religion should not deny and overrule personal experience. Eclecticism is a subject that has, in fact, caused rather strong controversies within the movement. Several groups disapprove eclecticism on the grounds that it distorts the tradition, but eclecticism can also be accused of corrupting individuals. Since many Rodnovers see ethnicity in very essentialist terms, seasoned with ideas inspired by Jungian cultural archetypes, appropriation of foreign tradition may even be seen as somewhat “unnatural”. However, even within the traditionalist Rodnovers, agreeing on the importance of the tradition, there is no agreement on it’s essence or boundaries. For example, from an outside perspective, one of the most syncretic forms of Rodnoverie is the nationalist and ultra-conservative ARICOOBI. The Vedas of the Inglists contain ideas and even passages that can also be found in Scandinavian sagas or Indian heritage. However, according to Inglists, this does not prove of syncretism or eclecticism. According to them, the teachings of the ARICOOBI base on ancient tradition, common to all “white” people, and thus it is just logical that fragments of it can also be found in other areas where the “Aryans” have “later settled”.

As mentioned earlier, Rodnoverie interpretations of history do not necessarily coincide with academic research. Consequently, in the research of the subject, Rodnoverie has often been examined in the spirit of Hobsbawmian concept “invented tradition”. However, lately the concept has become under some criticism. For example, Giddens notes that creativity and alterations within tradition is not a modern phenomenon[39]. Instead, Giddens notices some other fundamental changes in the nature of traditions, caused by reflexive modernity. According to him, in the modern world even the traditions must transfer the “filter of reflexivity” before being accepted by individuals[40]. The theory has been criticized for underestimating reflexivity in past religiosity and normativity in modern one[41]. However, Giddens does address one important shift or feature in modern religiosity which takes us to the next theme, the question of authority.

Individualism versus Authoritarianism

According to a well-known Ingliist writer, Aleksei Trekhlebov, the tradition gives three postulates for distinguishing truth: Slovo, Vedy, opyt, that is; word, Vedas and experience[42]. In estimating the validity of a given claim a person should listen the opinion of his spiritual teacher, read what the Vedas say about it, and ponder, whether it seems reasonable in the light of his own experience. Without examining critically how well such a principle warrants the freedom of conscience, the fact that the ideal is presents is noteworthy. It reveals that personal gnosis is recognized in the legitimization of religious truths even by the ARICOOBI, one of the most authoritarian Rodnoverie organizations.

Earlier I discussed the position of leader and the question of hierarchic structure within Rodnoverie. Although independence of thought and personal responsibility are often stressed as Pagan virtues, communality is a feature, placed to the very core of Russian heritage. The Russian tradition of communality is valued as indicating the moral virtues of Russians and considered as a contribution Russia can donate to the world. However, individuality and communality are features that have often been regarded as conflicting. Since Rodnovers are aiming at presenting them as not exclusive and not in tension, it is understandable that the relationship between individual and community has become very central theme in Rodnoverie discussions.[43] Considering the relationship between individual and society in the context of late modernity, few further points can be made. Given that societies cannot anymore base on a single value-system and moral codex, at least on a very specific level, the very basic of social contract has to be renegotiated. As globalization discharges the methodology of nation-state, it annihilates one of the central justifications of social solidarity used during the modernity. Thus the question of social, or global, solidarity and justness have become especially imperative in the circumstances of late modernity and globalization.

Rodnovers may be sworn conservatives, and they may propagate hierarchic social models. But even the people, supporting some forms caste system[44], emphasize that the system should base on personal merits and on the freedom and responsibility of individuals. The slogan “We are not Gods slaves” refers not only to Orthodox Christianity and such Christian concepts as sin, salvation or humility. It also sets against such myths as “Russian slave-soul” or the “perpetual Russian tradition of totalitarianism”. The democratic heritage of Russia is broached with the idea veche as the original Russian form of governance, which was abandon only after the foreign influences. While virtually all Rodnovers pursue social solidarity, basing on personal responsibility and social justness, the solutions and means to obtain this goal vary. Very often nationalism is both the manifestation of this yearning, as well as the remedy, offered for social problems. The sphere of solidarity may, however, include all humanity and the basis of the solidarity be found, instead of ethnicity or of fatherland, in the common nature and the earth.

Pluralism versus Fundamentalism

As has already has become evident, there are some forms of Rodnoverie that resemble fundamentalism. On the other hand, as a nature religion Rodnoverie celebrates the diversity of nature and thus seems to subscribe to values of multiplicity and pluralism. “Nature” does indeed stand as a metaphor and an example of pluralism, but on the other hand, it may also be used as a standard for what is considered good and valuable by Rodnovers. In this sense, it can even be suggested that the “nature” forms the “fundament” of “fundamentalist” side of Rodnoverie. Logically, the following question is, what is the “nature” we are talking about, and yet more importantly; what is considered as “natural”? The perceptions are by no means uniform. For example, used as an ideal model for “natural” human society, nature can be portrayed both as a “struggle of the fittest”, but also as a realm without greediness or meaningless violence. Even the ideal of “diversity of nature” can lead into most diverging conclusions. For example, ethnic differences can be seen as part of the “natural diversity” and the interracial marriages condemned as violation of this heterogeneity. The conclusion couldn’t be farther from the nature-oriented ideal of the Western counter-culture of the sixties that also demand that all flowers should be let to blossom. But again, the majority of Rodnovers can be found somewhere in the middle between the most conflicting outlooks: They may value cultural or even ethnic diversity, but do not necessarily support restrictions of personal freedom to safeguard this diversity.


Various very diverging groups and orientation exist within Russian Rodnoverie. Concerning such questions as authority or individualism these groups may hold quite opposite positions. On the other hand, in looking at more closely, it becomes difficult to divide these views into two distinct categories. Instead, contradictious views, or what look like contradictions from an outside perspective, may coexist and overlap in a single text. Thus it seems impossible to place Rodnoverie, or even individual Rodnoverie groups into abstract categories if we are to do full justice to the subject. However, in analyzing Rodnoverie, theoretical conceptualizations describing reactions and attitudes toward globalization and modernity can also be used in distinguishing individual threads in a given discussion. Although this kind of detailed analysis may exclude more general conclusions, it does preserve the internal contradictions, which in the end may turn out to be the most interesting part of the conversation.

Analytical study of any religion will probably end up with an array of contradictions. Instead of approaching these as failings of logic, the contradictions could be looked at as complex meditation of subject that cannot be resolved with a single, one-dimensional answer. It could even be argued that complexity is in fact in the very heart of religions. Straightforward collection of truths and commandments would not touch and fascinate people as religious texts and myths do. The contradictions reflect the multiplicity of world, providing people inspiration and insight while struggling with these questions.

An interesting question is, what the issues are in a given religion and at given times that provoke the biggest passions. By locating such thickenings of controversies we may gain important insights into both the religion and the societal context. Within Rodnoverie discussions, several such focal points seem to coincide with the issues that are presented as central societal and individual dilemmas, caused by late modernity. One of these is the tension between individual and community, and individualism and tradition. Considering what seems to be the idealistic goal of many Rodnovers, to establish individual forms of tradition, and a tradition that could endure the freedom of individual, controversies are perhaps unavoidable.



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[1] This work is a part of my doctoral thesis on Russian Rodnoverie. The main material of the study consists of Rodnoverie literature, but I have also made some participant observation in St. Petersburg, and conducted interviews with Rodnoverie leaders in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kaluga and Omsk.

[2] Elsewhere I have discussed this topic more thoroughly. Aitamurto 2007. I am presenting this paper in the conference, focusing on new religious movement, even though majority of the Rodnovers do not see their religion as new. The complex discussions of novelty and definition of “New religious movements” are, unfortunately, beyond the scope of this paper. However, it should be noted that the focus of my study is not on cultural or intellectual history of the form of spirituality, but on the movement that was able to ”come conscious”  during the last decades of the Soviet Union.

[3] Those who accept it, claim that originally the word Pagan (yazychnik) meant people talking the same language (yazyk), and was thus used by ancient Slavs for themselves. Those rejecting it, explain it to be used as a term for people that spoke “other languages”. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Rodnoverie belongs to a group of religions or form of religiosity that in West has been called “contemporary Paganism”.

[4] The term has been coined by the head of the USC, Vadim Kazakov, but it is also used in other groups. See e. g. Stavr & Veleslav 2005; Vereya 2006. One of the exceptions is the Church of Ingliists (which will be later discussed). The Ingliists reject the word “Paganism”,  but neither call themselves as Rodnovers. Acording to Hinevich Rodnoverie refers to reconstructed form of the tradition, whereas the Starovery (the ARICOOBI) continues it directly. Interview 20. 5. 2007, in possession of the author.

[5] See e.g. Shnirelman 1998: 5 – 6,  Pribylovskii 1999.

[6]Prokof’ev, Filatov & Koskello. 2006, 159.

[7]Both Asov and Belov also wrote to a wide-spread journal “Nauka i religiya”  (The science and religion) which also was an important forum to awake interest in pre-Christian spirituality within wider audience. 

[8] Belov himself suggested rather plainly that in order to advance in the combat art, one should appropriate the pre-Christian spirituality. Akhramovich 1991.

[9] Prokof’ev, Filatov, & Koskello 2006, 170 – 171.

[10] On tolkienism, see e.g. Pilkington 2002.

[11] On local communities a useful source is a vast survey done few years ago, published in two series of books: Atlas religioznoi zhizni Rosssii and Sovremennaya religioznay zhiz’n Rossii. See Prokof’ev, Filatov. & Koskello. 2006 Although the Atlas introduces several Pagan communities in almost half of the all areas studied, the list is not completely extensive.

[12] Aitamurto 2006.

[13] Nagovitsyn 2005.

[14] Here I understand nationalism in a very wide sense, not only as a political conviction that relates to the nation-state and its form and interests, but also as a presupposition that ethnicity or nationality is an essential feature in human being. I also include to it such emotions as pride, belonging and loyalty, and expectations that a nation or a nation-state should arouse such emotions in an individual.  On wide definition of nationalism, see e. g. Smith 2001, 5 -9.

[15] Moroz 2003. On the party, see www.kpe.ru.

[16] See e. g. an article by a head of the CCO, Vadim Kazakov, ”Vliyanie ’Russkogo Boga Ra’ i ’Vseyasvetnoi Gramoty’ na proiskhozhdenie zaitsa ot korovy.” In Kazakov, 2005, 230 – 236. Although in radically different extent and concerning very different kinds of issues, similar tension exists within Western Paganism. There it concerns, for example, the theory of the matriarchy or the question has the pre-Christian “Paganism” survived until today. See e. g. Hutton 1999, 377. While I agree with Hutton that it probably would serve Paganism better to sustain more open dialogic relationship with academic world, I find it highly interesting that unscientific claims, which are found in virtually all religions, are perceived with much harsher scrutiny in the case of Paganism.

[17] Kääriäinen 1999.

[18]On this “folk-history”, see Zubkova & Kuprianov 1999. On the book of Veles in particular, see Sobolev, 2004.   

[19] Shterin 2000.

[20] The slogan derives from Russian Orthodox concept ”rabi bozha”, but naturally the way it used reflects the Rodnoverie interpretation of the concept.

[21] There are some links to right-wing social Darwinism, but it also reflects a counter reaction to Soviet “uravnilovka”, equalization. 

[22] Occasionally the criticism of democracy seems to be more targeted against the “Russian form of democracy”. Also, because of the peculiarities in Russian democracy surprisingly many people subscribe to  claims, according to which democracy is a societal model artificially implemented on Russia by the selfish elite, and has very little to do with the will of the people.

[23] russian text On the church, see Yashin, 1999.

[24] For example, in 2004 in the second Veche, international conference gathering  Rodnovers from Poland, Belorussia, Ukraine and Russia, the definition of the “rodnovercheskaya obshchina” was defined, as well as the types of communities which cannot be considered as such. Among such communities the ARICOOBI was mentioned, and one of the characteristics mentioned was: “communities which propagate for following of some prophet and his personal teachings”. Fedosov & Tishchenko 2004. (Shorter version of the resolution on the official Internet site of the Veche (www.rodoved.info) does not mention any particular communities.)

[25] The grounds of the verdict was an incitement of hate between nations, and the facts that the church rejects interracial marriages and uses swastika as its symbol were mentioned.

[26] Slavyano-Ariiskie Vedy. Kniga pervaya, 10.

[27] For example, according to Hinevich, the first lover of a woman gives her the “form of the Spirit and Blood of his Rod” and therefore, even if the woman gets later married to another man, her children will genetically be of her first lover. Furthermore, according to Hinevich people are designed to live for centuries, but because of the unhealthy and unnatural way of life they nowadays tend to die prematurely. It is claimed, for example, that every extramarital intercourse shortens mans life in three years.  Hinevich 2004.

[28] The interest and appreciation of “Russian spiritual tradition” even if it includes features that could be described as superstition or magic was one of the main results of a recent study of the religiosity among Russian students. Turunen 2005,  200 – 201.

[29] Asov, 2002, 5 – 6.

[30] Hanegraaff 1996, 78.

[31] Pribylovskii1999.

[32] This argument was presented to me by a Rodnover, who has influenced in the movement already at the beginning of the 90’s. According to him, the fact that majority of Rodnoverie leaders and writers have received Soviet education has strongly affected their negative attitudes toward religion. 

[33] Koskello 2005.

[34] Of juxtaposition of fundamentalism and New Age, see e. g. Luckmann 1999.

[35] Beyer 1994.

[36] Beyer 1994, 90.

[37] Höllinger 2004.

[38] This is the slogan of the World Congress of Ethnic Religions as well.

[39] Giddens 2002, 36 – 41.

[40] Giddens 1990, 38, Mellor 1997.

[41] Mellor 1997.

[42] Trekhlebov, 2004, 425 – 426.

[43]This feature does not, however, concern only Rodnoverie, but is evident in contemporary Paganism more widely. For example, discussing the American Paganism Magliocco writes:”The tension between the desire for community and the desire for individualism is central leitmotif in American Pagan culture, reflecting the presence of twin conflicting desires in the surrounding dominant culture of the United States.” Magliocco 2004, 60.

[44] The concept of ”caste system” is found in several Rodnoverie fractions. However, instead of admiring the Indian societal model, it usually refers to romantically interpreted Dumézilian model of Indo-European society as composed of warriors, priests and peasant, all living harmoniously in fulfilling their natural tasks.