Social Circumstances Kept Slavs More Culturally Isolated
Unfortunately for English speakers interested in Slavic groups other than Russian, the vast bulk of material available in English only covers Russian culture, especially as it pertains to mythology and folklore.
However, as mentioned above, the slow nature of the separation of Slavonic languages means that Slavic mythology likely retained a strong continuity between various Slavic language speakers. Therefore, studying scholarship on Russian folklore will still help us understand lore and practices of other Slavic groups.
There are other similarities between the different Slavic groups that allowed them to remain both closely related and tied closely to their indigenous folkways. One important factor is that most of the Slavic lands remained quite rural and agrarian based, so they were less abruptly affected by the kind of urbanization elicited by the Industrial Revolution in the West.
We are so removed from these events today that we may not immediately understand their cultural ramifications.
Urbanization drastically reduced the rural peasant population in Western nations, which had an eroding effect on the preservation of rural folk customs.
Prior to that, the Protestant Reformation attacked not only Roman Catholicism, but also all of the indigenous European beliefs and practices that had been allowed to continue to flourish under the Catholic Church.
While native European belief did certainly live on after those events, it certainly took quite a hit by both social movements
Without foreign mass media breaking through to lure people away from their culture, the Soviet Union essentially placed Slavic people in a time capsule for several decades.
While religion was frowned upon under Soviet rule, nationalism was encouraged. Fairy and folk tales seemed innocuous enough to communist leaders, so they were not suppressed in the same way that Christianity was.
In fact, fairy and folk tales served as a vehicle by which Russian and other Slavic writers and artists could express themselves during an age when self-expression was severely limited.
So, therefore, the magical realm of fairy tales and folklore continued to flourish and inspire ballets, film, artwork, and literature.
The Folklore Boom Allowed for the Study of Russian Peasants
Yet another researcher found himself recording folklore from a rural Russian fellow who claimed to have never before heard of Jesus Christ!
The notes record that he had heard something about God from his parents but, no, nothing about Christ.
What this demonstrates is that in very remote and rural areas of Russia into the late 19th and probably early 20th century, there were still peasants who had never been converted to Christianity and were still practicing a form of native faith.
And in fact, we know that there are still some groups in Russia today who still have not converted, most notably the Mari El people, known as “Europe’s last pagans.”
The Merging of Paganism with Christianity
One point that speaks volumes is that when scholars look at recorded sermons from the time of conversion to Christianity (roughly the 10th century, varying by locale) and then compare them to the notes made by ethnographers recording folk traditions in the late 19th and early 20th century, they find many of the exact same practices that Christian priests rallied against at the pulpit were still being practiced by Slavic peasants a good millennium later.
In some of my other work, I have pointed out that one source of information to understand native European practices that have since died out is to look at church sermons, papal bulls and edicts, and other Church communications written closely to the time of conversion.
So that certain practices described in Church sermons from the point of nominal conversion were still being practiced by Slavic peasants a good one thousand years later speaks volumes about the notion of a living dual-faith that carried on unbroken.
The Three Golden Hairs: Slavic & Germanic Myth in Czech Folklore
Each volume explores some of the deeper cultural elements found within the tale followed by a re-telling of the story.
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