The Slavic Mystery
Not only is there a dearth of information available in English (comparatively to other cultural studies), but the beliefs of the early Slavs are shrouded in even more mystery than many of the other language/culture groups on the European continent. And there are several reasons for this.
While the Teutonic people used the runic writing system and the Celts used a system called Ogham, the Slavs are thought to have had no form of writing before the creation of the Cyrillic alphabet.
Interestingly, when Christianity was adopted by groups such as the Anglo-Saxons, eventually runic script was banned as it was seen as a pagan writing system with magical connotations (which is, actually, accurate). But, luckily for us, rune stones have survived which add to the lexicon of what we know about the Teutonic peoples.
Russian Dvoeverie - The Double Faith
Folklore to the rescue! As is seen clear across Europe, the old ways died hard. In fact, they really did not die at all. European peasants found ways to incorporate their native folkways into their daily lives so that their old folkways could linger on.
Once the conversion had been in place for several generations, the peasantry eventually had no conception that they were engaging in pagan activities. They viewed themselves as strictly Christian, yet many of their beliefs and practices were overtly pagan.
But, Slavs, just like other Europeans, kept their old beliefs alive in their folklore, customs, songs, legends, arts and crafts, and so on.
The double, also referred to as dual, faith was so intense that it still lingers on in many Slavic nations today, but it is most often studied and discussed in relation to Russia.
However, most individuals living in traditional Slavic societies today typically have no idea that certain beliefs, symbols, images, and stories that they continue to share are representative of paganism.
This is not unusual. In fact, it is the norm. And we see it quite strongly through the ages in Western Europe as well.
What this means is that the ancient beliefs were allowed to linger on and evolve naturally and organically with the culture. We may not know certain epic myths of the Slavs in the same way we know of the exploits of the Norse gods, but we can still get to the heart and the soul of Slavic indigenous belief by studying their folk and fairy tales.
Digging for the Heart of the Slavs
But, if we're looking for more from the fairy tale canon, and especially looking for how our own ancient native faith lived on through these tales, it's helpful to have some background knowledge.
Because there aren't any ancient full length myths to reference directly, the "Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend" is great to keep on hand. Scholars have reconstructed some Slavic myth from evidence surviving in the folk culture of Slavic Europe.
Piecing together these sources is a painstaking process, so having this research handy can help us make some sense of certain images, figures, and motifs that come up in the folk and fairy tale tradition. In addition, certain symbols that are related to deities also come up in Slavic folk art that is still created by traditional artists today.
I'm just a big nerd for these kinds of reference books and I will buy as many as I can and use them often in my research.
"Slavic Folklore: A Handbook" is written as a textbook for folklore students. However, the author's prose flows smoothly so that it reads quite easily.
This book gives a solid discussion on broad Slavic culture in relation to the folk tradition. She also addresses certain problems we have in getting to the roots of Slavic myth as outlined above.
For those looking for some of the history of folklore, who exactly has been recording and preserving the folklore of Slavic peoples and the methodologies used, this is pretty much THE essential book on the subject.
"Russian Magic: Living Folk Traditions of an Enchanted Landscape" is the kind of book that makes my heart beat fast. The author is a woman after my own heart. She has a passion for Russian culture and has spent years studying it deeply.
I haven't looked into the author's background, so I don't know her academic credentials. It doesn't read like a scholarly book, per se. She comes off more as an enthusiast than a scholar on Russian studies. That said, she certainly comes off as very knowledgeable, very intelligent, and as someone who reads scholarly work in order to make sense of her own observations.
Last but not least, for years I have been recommending Jacqueline Simpson's "European Mythology" as highly as I can. This book is not about the great epic myths of ancient times, but rather about folk beliefs, customs, and traditions which demonstrate how mythology remained vibrantly alive in the European consciousness through the ages.
Simpson emphasizes the continuity of belief and worldview which transcends language barriers throughout Europe. So, she discusses examples from many different European cultures (including Slavic) but reminds us that just because a practice is mentioned in one culture group does not at all mean that the same (or similar) practice does not occur in other culture/language groups throughout Europe.
Touch the Hand of a Seer to See as They See
One common motif found in Celtic folklore is the notion that if you hold the hand of someone who has the ability to see the Faerie Realm, that their gift will be transmitted through their hand to yours and you will be able to see what they see (until you let go of their hand).
My supernatural gifts are quite modest. But, I have spent years studying the European folk tradition, and I have been told that I have a knack for relaying what I have learned with others.
So, I invite you to come along with me for this journey while we dig deeply into the European folk tradition to discover our lost folkways.
What we find when we make the effort to look is that our native folkways never actually died at all. They just became encoded within folk culture.
The European Fairy Tales Series
These books are available in print and Kindle via Amazon, and also available in PDF. However, for a $1 subscription, you can receive them in PDF as they become available each month. Higher tier subscriptions receive more content as it becomes available.
More importantly, your subscription sponsors research into our lost native folkways. I am working on the August 2017 volume now, and as you may have guessed, we'll be delving into the Land of the Slavs!