*This article is an excerpt from "The Three Golden Hairs: Slavic & Germanic Myth in Czech Folklore," European Fairy Tales Series Vol VI.
I argue quite strongly that the phenomenon of holding a hybrid form of religion occurred clear across Northern Europe, from Britain clear to Russia. However, the manifestation of it occurred much more strongly in Slavic lands than elsewhere. In fact, the ancient faith of the Slavs was so overtly prominently practiced by the peasantry that the Slavs began to be referred to as the people of two faiths. Dvoeverie is a Russian word that is typically translated as “dual belief” or “double faith.”
Since starting the European Fairy Tales Series, I've been struck with just how much of the ancient native European worldview is embedded within our folk and fairy tale tradition. There are several ways that this appears, but one important theme found in a majority of fairy tales is the concept of fate and destiny.
When I set out to look more deeply into Slavic mythology to understand how it survived in fairy tales, such as was the case in the Western European paradigm, I discovered that the language barrier means that there is not a great deal of research on this topic available in English to the general public. So, I've been collecting the books that I can find, and wanted to give you a bit of information on what I've learned thus far and a rundown of a few of the best books that I've yet found for people who want to learn more about the Slavic folk tradition.
*This article is an excerpt from "Aschenputtel: Animism and Ancestor Veneration in Grimms' Cinderella," European Fairy Tales Series Vol V.
Understanding our lost native beliefs can be difficult for modern minds to wrap their heads around. We are so cut off from our deep roots that, today, our own indigenous belief system feels foreign to those who are unfamiliar with it.
Furthermore, both Abrahamic religion and science based rationalism (which tends to be atheistic) view the world in a linear and literal way that is incompatible with the flexible and more free flow understandings of organic ethnic-spirituality (which was the native spirituality of all indigenous peoples in the world before adopting “revealed religions”).
Years pouring over the myths and tales passed down by our ancestors through centuries to millennia will lead to great personal revelation and insight to those who think deeply and contemplate what they've read. This is true for all cultures, and I firmly believe all people of all backgrounds have something very important to gain by delving deeply into the mythic tradition of their blood ancestors.
These stories have important insight to share with us if we move beyond the surface and look deeper. They provide guidance for our regular everyday lives. And, today, as I am processing a personal tragedy, I felt the urge to share how the rich lexicon of European folk belief helps me personally process bumps along the road and direct me upon my life's journey in the hope that this gift can be passed on to others.
Over several years of studying indigenous European belief (paganism, mythology), and then studying the folk tradition (folklore, folk customs, holiday traditions, witch trial records), I began to realize that the idea that paganism died out after conversion to Christianity was simply preposterous. Native European spirituality remained an incredibly powerful force in the consciousness of the European people well into the modern era.
There is an important side to fairy tales which is often overlooked. Although I work within the European paradigm, what I will explore here is relevant to ALL cultures, as fairy tales exist universally among all people worldwide.
True fairy tales, not stories written solely by one author, but rather stories that were developed collectively over generations among language groups and cultures, have encoded in them important keys to understanding our own psyches.
Fairy tales have been written off as simple stories for children. And, while children do become absorbed in the tales of the land of Faerie, these stories have layers of deep meaning that are applicable to people of all ages. We tend to think of "mythology" as somehow a higher status of literature than fairy tales. Maybe that's due to the conception of their antiquity, and the complex worlds with pantheons that represent a cast of characters whose exploits we can follow.
But, what we don't realize is that fairy tales exist within the lexicon of myth. Many fairy tales have origins that extend back into the murky haze of pre-history. Others build off of patterns and influences from those very ancient tales, and still others were formed during eras when indigenous spirituality was suppressed by the authorities, and so elements of the old religion were preserved in coded form.
By peeling back the layers, we can find deep spiritual insight and guidance in fairy tales that can give us comfort, direction, hope, and other psychological-emotional support.
Most of us who have more than a cursory knowledge of folklore understand that the popular notion of a “fairy” today is completely different than in earlier eras, and that the fae were often considered very dangerous, and even as evil beings by Church authorities.
What many people don't know, however, was that communing with fairies was an act that could get you accused of witchcraft during the witch trial era.
Emma Wilby is the scholar of choice for this topic, and her work was cited in my article "When Witches Communed with Fairies." Research for that article urged me to delve deeper into the subject of "Popular Religion" to discover how old beliefs mingled with new, and how the beliefs and practices of the common folk differed from the beliefs sanctioned by the Church.
Folklore as a discipline is often misunderstood and undervalued by many with limited exposure to the field. The term folklore elicits the notion of fairytales and children’s stories, of fairy godmothers and talking animals. While this is certainly one component of folk and fairy tales, there is much, much more to be found both within the stories and the wider field.