Archives For Slavic

At the beginning of this month, a wooden idol of the god Perun, installed in the Ukrainian city of Kiev by Slavic Pagan reconstructionists/revivalists (known as Ridnovir), was destroyed by unnamed vandals. According to the Native Faith Association of Ukraine (ORU) this was a coordinated effort that required machinery and multiple people to accomplish. This desecration comes after a Ukrainian Pagan temple was attacked at the end of 2011 in Poltava.

The European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) released a statement saying that this event “rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith.”

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration.

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration. (Photo: ORU)

This event rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith. In Poland, in the name of Rodzimo Wiaro (Stanislaw Potrebowski), an appeal on behalf of their fellow Ukrainians was released. The appeal reads “With pain we are going through the news of your idol’s desecration in Kiev. Through this tragedy we stand in solidarity with you. The authors of this crime should not feel like they still live 1000 years ago, when the sacred groves were destroyed and our people’s idols were profaned. Across Europe, the old spiritual traditions are being reborn, and that which has been persistently forced on us is drawing back. The destruction of our idols and beliefs will not minimize our fidelity to our ancestral faith. Let this sordid crime become one more stimulus to move us into restoring and strengthening our indigenous culture. “

This incident seems to be part of a larger tapestry within the Ukraine, where tensions between competing worldviews seem to be ratcheting up. Back in August members of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen took a chainsaw to a giant wooden cross to protest the treatment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, while the recent Ukrainian elections were very controversial (and very close), causing mass demonstrations. No doubt some see the rise of Slavic Paganism as an affront to traditional Orthodox values, even though adherents of the traditional pre-Christian faiths in the Ukraine are hardly heterogeneous in political or social views (Ridnovir was recently denied inclusion in national religious organizations).  Unlike other European countries, clergy in the Ukraine are very involved in politics, fueling tensions with those who feel the Orthodox and Catholic churches in that region exercise too much control over society.

Within Slavic Paganism Perun is the highest power, controller of thunder and lightning. He shares many, but not all, characteristics with the Norse god Thor. As mentioned above, Ridnovir maintain that this desecration of Perun’s idol will simply become a “stimulus” towards growing and strengthening their faith. As I find more information on this incident, and the larger picture of current tensions between Pagans and Christians in the Ukraine, I’ll post updates.

Top Story: We start with the ongoing James Arthur Ray controversy. The “Secret”-selling guru was arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter last week, this came in the wake of a long investigation into the deaths of three participants at a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge ceremony led by Ray in October. Now, after Ray’s lawyer appeared on Larry King (a fan of Ray and “The Secret”), the prosecution is seeking a gag-order on further press appearances. The idea is to stop Ray’s supporters from using the bully pulpit of popular media to pollute possible jury pools, but the Don’t Pay To Pray blog points out that this will also restrict all information about the trial from the public (including damning interviews with sweat-lodge participants).

“After James Arthur Ray’s attorneys plastered their faces all over the media, on Good Morning America and Larry King Live, in a transparent attempt to influence a potential jury, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, has requested a “gag order” hearing. A gag order is a judge’s order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case. The intent is usually to prevent prejudice due to pre-trial publicity which would influence potential jurors. Based on the “freedom of the press” provision of the First Amendment, the court cannot constitutionally restrict the media from printing or broadcasting information about the case. The prosecutor’s tool to stop a case from being tried in the press is a gag order on the participants under the court’s control. While the Gag Order would stop James Ray’s attorney’s from trying the case in the media, it would also stop the public from having access to any information from Yavapai county staff regarding any aspect of this case with the exception of the scheduling of hearings.”

Don’t Pay To Pray is also concerned that a jury trial in Sedona would result in “a jury composed of several people who conduct the same type of plastic sweat lodges that Ray did.” These concerns are echoed by Johnny P. Flynn, a Potawatomi Indian and  faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at IUPUI, who says that Native religion will end up being put on trial by various non-Native “experts”.

“I am not a psychic or an attorney, but my experiences through the years with American Indian religious issues tell me this: even though James Ray will be sitting at the defense table, it will be our religious practices on trial in that courtroom. And it will be experts who will argue both sides of the case … In following the Ray story over the past few months, I am amazed at the number of non-Indian sweat lodge experts the media has been able to locate. Few Indians if any have been interviewed … James Ray’s defense might be compelled to bring in experts to argue that he did the ceremony the right way—and to insist that occasional and “unforeseen” death is one of the by-products of American Indian religious practices … The prosecution would then be compelled to bring in their “experts” to argue that a non-Indian, who allegedly learned to do this ceremony from “shamans” all over the world, did the sweat lodge the wrong way. Ray would be guilty of manslaughter by way of “malpractice” even if he is an “expert” on the sweat lodge.”

For the moment, Ray still sits in jail, while his lawyers appeal the 5 million dollar bail, and lawyers on both sides position themselves for the coming trial. If the gag order goes through, news on this issue could dry up until the trial starts. But I suspect there will still be plenty to talk about, like the James Ray true believers who are organizing prayer conference calls on his behalf, or the Native American (and guru-debunking) activists who are using services like Twitter to network and share information. It still remains to be see what reverberations will be felt in the larger New Age community, or if it will be business as usual after a short period of making noises about “accountability”. You can bet I’ll continue to keep you posted as things develop.

In Other News:

Stonehenge’s Modernist Box: Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is protesting the approved design for Stonehenge’s new visitor center, saying it would detract from the landmark, and that the new “twee” footpaths are more appropriate for an “urban garden”.

“We question whether, in this landscape of scale and huge horizons and with a very robust end point that has stood for centuries and centuries, this is the right design approach?” said Diane Haigh, CABE’s director of design review. “You need to feel you are approaching Stonehenge. You want the sense you are walking over Salisbury Plain towards the stones.”

This is quickly becoming a big issue for Britain. The new center was supposed to be a compromise on the scrapped plans to build a tunnel that would reroute traffic away from the site. With the looming influx of Olympics visitors, pressure is mounting to get the site ready for the spotlight. It remains to be seen if CABE’s objections will now slow that process down. You can see a concept photo of the proposed center, here.

Kupala not Valentine: A right-wing nationalist Polish group called Niklot (named after a famous Slavic pagan) is protesting the celebration of Valentine’s Day, saying that Slavic Poles should celebrate Kupala Day instead.

“Niklot claims that Poles should observe the Kupala Day, a Slavic fertility holiday traditionally celebrated on 23-24 June. On Kupala Day young men would jump over the flames of bonfires and girls would float wreaths of flowers often lit with candles on rivers, attempting to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river.”

You can read more about Kupala and Kupala Day at Wikipedia. The Helsinki Federation for Human Rights is calling for city officials to oppose the group, who have been putting up posters that say “F**k Off Valentines”, claiming Niklot promotes racism and fascism. Niklot spokesman Ireneusz Woszczyk disputes these claims, saying the group is only interested in tradition. Could one of our experts on Slavic Paganism weigh in on this? Is this group extremist? Or are they misunderstood reconstructionists?

Haitian Vodou Leaders Lend the UN a Hand: United Nations officials in Haiti are asking for help from the estimated 60,000 voodoo priests and priestesses in that country to perform a census of the dead and injured.

“…in postquake Haiti, the practitioners of voodoo have taken on a more practical role, enlisted by the government to help count the dead, tend to the injured, and soothe the psychologically damaged. “One must understand that Haiti is voodoo,’’ said Max Beauvoir, 75, the “pope’’ of Haitian voodoo and a former biochemical engineer who once worked for Digital Equipment in Maynard, Mass. “Helping Haitians is nothing else but helping ourselves.’’ To make use of that resource, the United Nations has reached out to the vast and influential network of about 60,000 voodoo priests in Haiti, Beauvoir said. And the priests, firmly entrenched in their displaced communities, are eager to lend a hand.”

The article also interviews Vodou “pope” Max Beauvoir, and discusses how Haiti’s Houngans and Mambos are helping a traumatized nation regain its footing. Whatever the future may hold for Haiti, it seems very likely that Vodou will be an ongoing and important part of that future.

The Wicker Tree: In a final note, director Robin Hardy’s long-awaited sequel/re-imagining of 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”, “The Wicker Tree”, finally has its own web site!

Looks nice! No word on a release date other than “2010”, but you can sign up for updates. For all of my previous coverage of “The Wicker Tree”, click here.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 23, 2009 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Looks like all is not happy in the land of the Cabot Witches, it seems that Laurie “Official Witch of Salem” Cabot accused her daughter Jody Cabot (also a Witch) of forging a check in her name two years ago. A restitution agreement was made, but due to non-compliance and failing to appear in court, a bench warrant was issued for her arrest.

“Last year, Jody Cabot was granted a general continuance in the case on the condition that she pay restitution of $1,328 to her elderly mother. Had she done that, the charges would have been dismissed. But earlier this year, Jody Cabot defaulted on the agreement and the case was put back on the court’s docket, where it was heading for trial. Attorney Steve Reardon tried to convince Judge Richard Mori not to issue a warrant for his client, saying she had stayed home because she had a severe headache that was a result of a past head injury.”

However, this tale doesn’t end in tragedy, Jody Cabot went to court the next day and thanks to her mother’s current reluctance to testify against her daughter a new plea agreement was made. According to reports Jody, as her mother has in the past, appeared in “traditional witch garb” for the hearing. Now that this unpleasantness is done with for the moment, lets remember Jody from (seemingly) happier times when she posed for pictures with sister Penny (taken by photographer Stephen Muskie).

Two teenage female ringleaders of a racist gang accused of orchestrating a spate of brutal attacks against non-Slavic foreigners were sentenced to jail terms of up to ten years. The gang is believed to be an offshoot of a Slavic Pagan group called “Native Belief”, a group accused of bombing a McDonalds and murdering several people.

“The verdicts were the latest convictions of young people for racist attacks in Russia and come amid growing concern over the frequency of attacks on non-Slavic foreigners in the country. The presumed ringleaders, Yevgenia Zhikhareva – a 17-year-old girl linked to pagan sects that worshipped ancient Slavic gods – and Ilya Shutko, 19, were jailed for eight and 10 years respectively, Russian news agencies reported … Zhikhareva is also suspected of involvement in a series of blasts in Moscow between 2008-09, including at a branch of US fast food chain McDonalds, carried out by a pagan group calling itself ‘Native Belief.’ The gang members were accused of carrying out up to four attempted murders and one actual murder of citizens of China, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan between February 12 and March 7, 2008.”

Sadly there is a strong undercurrent of racism and antisemitism within some Slavic Pagans groups, though that isn’t  universally true. However, it seems that the groups who do espouse racism are becoming increasingly strident and violent. No doubt economic hardship and social upheaval have much to do with this development, but these excuses don’t justify distorting pre-Christian beliefs for racist political causes.

Religion Dispatches brings us two interesting articles on African diasporic faiths, starting with an interview with sociologist Salvador Vidal-Ortiz concerning the recent animal sacrifice court victory for Santero Jose Merced, the place made for gays and lesbians within Santeria, and how perceptions of Santeria are (slowly) evolving in America.

“Generally speaking, when we are talking about racial and ethnic minorities, the United States’ racial (and racist) system tends to find much of what is non-white “suspicious.” That’s why Santería continues to be categorized as a cult by some, and why the media usually frame practitioners as somehow “criminal” in the coverage we see in the news. That tendency is mirrored in entertainment media. For at least the past two decades, portrayals of Santería practitioners in movies and television shows have resisted the opportunity to represent them as religious people and focused instead on Santería as a hypersexual space, recalling earlier representations of Africans as savages. That does seem to be changing, at least incrementally.”

Then, religion scholar Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado takes possession of a Vodou doll/poppet that had several seemingly rational faculty members at her university seriously spooked.

“The doll who sits in my office is not the type of doll you stick needles in. I am not even sure he is a Vodou doll. And yet, his black cloth skin and his scarf evoked feelings of fear and mistrust among a group of university professors. The mythology of evil surrounding Vodou, surrounding black religion, remains. I have nestled him between an image of the Mayan god Maximon and an image of the Yoruban orisha Bablú Ayé. I decided he would feel at home with other marginalized and often misinterpreted religious figures. He has been with me now for twenty-four hours. I am happy to say, as a type this reflection, that my computer is working fine.”

A simple rule to remember is that most mysterious dolls aren’t actually magical poppets, and even if they were, not every poppet is aimed at you. If it were simply some child’s toy I’m glad it ended up on her shelf, where it could be reclaimed some day, and not buried in a hole with rum and gunpowder as on faculty member suggested.

The Taliban are now targeting the Kalash in Pakistan, Indo-European pagans believed by some to be descended from a commingling of Alexander the Great’s army and local peoples, who have survived in prominently Muslim areas thanks to living in remote valleys. Now, an outsider who had been raising money for the Kalash has been kidnapped.

“While Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians were slowly driven out of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province by Muslim militants, the Kalash were free to drink their own distilled spirits and smoke cannabis. But the militant maulanas of the Taliban have finally caught up with them and declared war on their culture and heritage by kidnapping their most devoted supporter. Taliban commanders have taken Professor Athanasion Larounis, a Greek aid worker who has generated £2.5 million in donations to build schools, clinics, clean water projects and a museum. They are now demanding £1.25 million and the release of three militant leaders in exchange for his safe return.”

I don’t know if this is a sign of desperation on the part of the Taliban in Pakistan, or simply an escalation in their fervor to eliminate any group that theologically deviates from their extremist form of monotheism (or maybe both). Kalash leaders are attempting to negotiate a release, and it remains to be seen what the government of Pakistan can really do to help, especially amidst recent accusations that the government’s spy organization can’t disentangle itself from the Taliban and that US aid money has been going towards anti-Indian defenses.

In a final note, Boing Boing reports on a legal ruling that may make some Pagan festival/event organizers rest easier.

“The California Supreme Court has denied the appeal of Anthony Beninati, the Los Angeles real estate manager who unsuccessfully sued Burning Man organizers for failing to restrain him from walking into a fire.”

So if some idiot waltzes, jumps, or walks into a fire-pit, you aren’t liable for their stupidity concerning “obvious dangers”.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Summer seasonal celebrations by Pagan and pre-Christian faiths isn’t merely relegated to places like Britain or North America, various Pagan groups in Russia celebrated the arrival of Summer, and their numbers are growing to the point where the international press is taking notice. Sergei Ponomarev, writing for the Associated Press, talks to some modern Russian Pagans celebrating a fertility rite known as Ivan Kupala.

Priests pelt grain on the crowd, and young women with braided hair serve loaves of unleavened bread and kvas, a nonalcoholic drink made of rye. As darkness falls, they jump over bonfires, roll burning wooden wheels symbolizing the Sun chariot and float burning candles in a nearby river to attract good luck. Dmitri Pankratov, who goes by Ragnar among his friends, says Slavic paganism is the only true religion for Russians. Other religious “are branches grafted to a tree,” Pankratov says on the morning after the festivity. “None of them are a root of the people.”

Ponomarev also briefly touches on nationalistic impulses within Slavic Paganism that has led some to join violent extremist movements that target the Orthodox Church and non-Slavic immigrants. Some of these themes were touched on in Speaking of Faith’s “Pagans Ancient and Modern” show, which interviewed Adrian J. Ivakhiv, an academic whose parents are Ukranian.

“Paganism in Eastern Europe tends to be on the right end of the spectrum. But yeah, I mean, there’s nationalism and there’s nationalism. There’s a kind of civic nationalism that is inclusive and just wants to get things moving in the right direction in a given country. And then there’s the kind that really claims that one group of people, one ethnic group, or one nationality has the rightful claim to a particular piece of land and others don’t. And you do find some of that among people of this religious persuasion. You find it among others as well, but it’s definitely a fairly strong tendency.”

But modern Paganism in Russia isn’t simply assorted pseudo-nationalists, and anti-Russian Orthodoxy rebels (though Russian Christians aren’t exactly friendly to Russian Pagans), it also has surviving remnants of pre-Christian religion through the Finnic-derived Mari Traditional Religion (though they reject the term “pagan” as a descriptor).

“The Mari, a Finnic people of roughly half a million whose language sounds a bit like a strange mixture of Finnish and Turkish, are said to be Europe’s last pagans. Yet their priests, called kart in Mari, reject that notion. “We are not pagans. We call our faith the Mari Traditional Religion, and we are registered officially in the republic,” said Vyacheslav Mamayev, who oversaw the ceremony as the chief kart of the local Sernur district. He went on to explain that for the Mari, God has nine substances, or hypostases, ranging from the life-giving Ilyan Yumo to the birth goddess Shochinava. Asked about the theological foundation of his faith, Mamayev smiled and said, “Everything works through nature.” Indeed, like most animist religions, the Mari faith traditionally knows no written scriptures and no sacred edifices. Prayers are chiefly held in sacred groves, where some feasts include the ritual slaughter of animals as sacrifice.”

It’s hard for an outsider to get a truly clear picture of what modern Paganism is really like in Russia, most journalistic accounts that reach us either focus on nationalistic thugs or anthropological-style reports on folk-survivals. There is, no doubt, any number of Pagans there who reject violent nationalism and have much in common with Pagans in Britain, Australia, and America, but I doubt we’ll hear much from them in the press any time soon. However, the AP article does note one commonality between Paganisms in Russia and the West.

“The fractured pagan groups constantly argue about the authenticity of rituals, the hierarchy of priests or the pantheon of gods.”

Sounds like they’d fit right in around here.

While small (sometimes nationalist) Pagan groups have existed in Poland for some time, it looks like Wicca is starting to make some headway into the overwhelmingly Catholic country.

“Witches are among us, says the weekly Polityka. Marion calls herself the first stationary witch in Poland. She was initiated in Great Britain in the Wicca cult, a pagan, nature-based religion popularized in 1954 by a retired British civil servant. This petite 30 year old works in a marketing department of a big firm and doesn’t want to reveal her real name. One never knows how her colleagues and bosses would react. It is impossible to say how many Wiccans there are in Poland. They fear intolerance in the predominantly Roman Catholic society. Often even their families don’t know about it. On the other hand, job migration to the British Isles facilitates their contacts with British Wiccans and books on the Wicca cult have sold in 10 thousand copies here.”

You can find a link to the weekly, and downloadable table of contents (featuring a picture of Laurie Cabot), here. As the synopsis mentions, most Polish Wiccans live “in the broom closet”, and often have a hard time coping with the need to remain anonymous.

“A very interesting element is also the relation between the catholic church and polish Wiccans – on one hand in catholic doctrine Wiccans are identified as Satanists; on the other hand Wiccans became discouraged by anonymous rituals and external religiousity of Catholic believers. It seems to be a very important element of Wiccans identity.”

But perhaps as religious freedom continues to grow, and Pagan advocacy groups become more entrenched, the Polish Pagans and Witches there will finally find it safe to live a more public life. In what could be seen by some as a positive sign for redefining the role of “witches” in Poland, government officials recently put a stop to the ceremonial burning of witches in the village of Zielona Gora.

“Polish women’s rights groups and government ministers have banned the display after protests that the stake-burning drama was anti-feminist. “Making peoples’ tragic deaths into a tourist attraction is reprehensible and regrettable,” said Monika Platek, head of Poland’s Association for Legal Education. “The stakes where women were burned were the result of profound misogyny, discrimination against women and ignorance.” Poland’s women’s ministry boss Berenika Anders told the town council it had to scrap the witch sessions.”

Stories like these help to reinforce the fact that the modern Pagan movement isn’t isolated to the UK, America, or Australia, but is a truly global phenomenon spreading from India, to Brazil, to South Africa, and Russia. Paganism isn’t a decadent sign of a post-modern world (as some critics would see it), but a revitalized religious impulse finding its voice once more. So good luck to the Polish Pagans, whether they are Wiccan, follow a revived Slavic tradition, or engage some other path.