*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.
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.
The discipline of folklore was founded during an era that was grappling with many of the same issues we are facing today. Obviously the lore itself has roots much older. But, prior to the Romantic Era, scholars and "civilized society" simply weren't paying attention.
The Romantic Era started in Europe as a pushback against Industrialization. The prior Scientific Revolution had shifted Western thought toward a more "rational" worldview; one that rejected the "superstition" found among the countryfolk. There were clear benefits and advancements in the birth of science and medicine, but one downside was the dismissal of age-old tradition and belief.
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.
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.