WROCLAW, Poland –Followers of the Slavic tradition known as Rodzimowiercy announced in December that they hope to build a temple according to historically accurate plans that will also serve as a cultural center. A crowdfunding campaign has received donations totaling six percent of the money needed to make the project a reality, using a pitch video that includes lively music and images of stockade buildings.
Dorota Solega, a representative of the group Watra which is behind the scheme, was pleased to answer questions about the project. Her responses were translated from Polish, and have been edited with her permission for clarity.The Wild Hunt: Please give some basic information about your religious tradition: what it’s called, how long it has been practiced (including whether this is a “broken tradition” due to Christian rule), and a brief description of the kinds of rituals involved and the gods or spirits you honor.
Dorota Solega: We call each other ‘rodzimowiercy,’ which can be translated as ‘native faith believers.’ The reactivation of our religion has begun in 20th century, mostly in ‘90s, however some exhorts for the revival has existed in the beginning of last century. The direct link of pagan tradition from the medieval times until now has been broken after the spread out of Catholic religion in Poland, but folk tradition has preserved lots of beliefs such as names of gods and demons with their main features, pagan rites, and magical practices. Although is it said the Christianity came to Poland in 966 and from then our country became Catholic, the native faith stayed much longer in lesser areas, like villages, and still in the 15th century there were some places where people followed two religions at once.
Slavic native faith is based on nature and its seasonal transformations, similar to other Pagan traditions. We are worshiping gods who create the nature, and who are nature themselves, and the process of how they change across the wheel of the year. Our main gods are the two divine creators – Perun (the thunder) and Weles (god of the underworld), Mokosha – the mother goddess and goddess of the Earth, Svarog – the divine smith, Dadzbog – the sun, Svarozhyc – the fire, Stribog – the wind, Rod – the head of the tribes (gods and humans), Jarylo – god of fertility, Mazhanna and Dzievanna – goddesses of stars, water and vegetation, Dola – fate, and several others.
Our worship is based on celebration of annual festivals, like solstices (‘Kupala’ in summer, ‘Gody’ in winter) and equinoxes (‘Jare’ in spring, ‘Plony’ in autumn), but also few more rites between the main ones – ‘Dziady’ (which can be compared to Samhain), ‘Zapusty,’ which is the day of Weles, as well as the day of Jarylo, day of Perun, and day of Mokosha.TWH: Is this tradition handed down orally, or are there written records that inform you?
DS: In Slavic native faith there were no written records saved from the pagan or recent times. Our knowledge of the religion is based on many sources, such as folklore (beliefs, folk songs, folk tales, rituals), publications of religious studies, and historical studies. Many of native faith believers are some kind of scientists who are trying to investigate and rebuild the mythology by putting up together different information from different records. This type of study brought a lot of fresh air to our understanding of Slavic pagan tradition.
TWH: How many people do you believe practice this same tradition today?
DS: It is really hard to speculate how many native faith believers are living in Poland, as the number is changing constantly. The difficulty lays also in the way of worshiping the religion by single person – not all of us are attending the public festivals or keep close bond with other Pagans. We can estimate that in Poland there may be about 5,000 Pagan believers. It can be extended much more if we add Pagans from Slavic countries like Ukraine, Russia, Czech Republic, Serbia and others.
TWH: Do you use initiations in your tradition? If so, are outsiders able to participate in any rituals?
DS: In the Polish native faith (and in other Slavic countries also) there are many independent regional groups that initiate believers. Each group can have their own way of doing so. The tradition does not say anything about the initiation ritual for joining the Pagan group (which is related to the fact that the religion was natural for every member of society, and wasn’t secret knowledge), therefore an official rite of initiation does not exist. However, in some people rises a need of passing such a ritual as a confirmation of their personal religious transformation, and many groups conduct this ritual for them.
In Watra, we are not likely to perform any initiation rite for anyone to join the group (unless it has been requested by the individual), and the rituals are open for everyone who has a will to join. However, we usually require new members to meet us before the ritual, at occasional meetings organized by our group.
TWH: This will be a temple and cultural center; can you describe the different ways the space will be used?
DS: The space will be used variously due to our plan of running different activities and educational programs. As you’ve mentioned, our purpose is to create a Slavic Cultural Centre in this building, which will be dedicated to the promotion of our traditional culture. We are planning to run different programs such as classes in traditional crafts, music, and historical lectures. We have among us many people with necessary educational background like anthropologists, historians, architects, and artists, as well as people with similar passions.
The building will also become some sort of museum of Slavic native faith, and it will be playing the role of Slavic temple for educational purposes, but also for the performance of living rituals for native faith believers. We are open to any form of cooperation, so anyone who has a will and good idea related to promotion of Slavic culture could find the space there and perform his activities.TWH: How many people do you expect will use this temple/cultural center for religious purposes once it is complete?
DS: We hope that this place will become an attraction for more than only native faith believers. In Wroclaw there are approximately 100 people who could potentially use this space for religious purposes. We are hoping many more will attend other events. We also hope that it will be visited regularly by the native faith believers from all over the country, and maybe other lands also.
TWH: I understand some officials in the Polish government are very intolerant of non-Catholics; one minister even would like them to sign some kind of loyalty oath or be deported. Are you worried that this climate will cause you any problems with this project?
DS: This is very common question. It is true that our current government is pro-Catholic so, theoretically, we might expect to notice some non-supportive attitude from this side. However, we are the citizens of Poland and no one can deport us (also, this minister’s statement was bit misunderstood, as how she explained later, this loyalty oath would be directed mostly to immigrants) or – according to Polish law – perform any other act of religious intolerance. If we would face any problems, we can always turn to the Polish constitution, where the plurality of religion in Poland has been legitimized by the law.
TWH: On the other hand, some people who have commented on articles about this project have claimed that members of your organization are intolerant of others, even going so far as to characterize your beliefs as fascist. Similar accusations are sometimes leveled against people following traditions from northern Europe here in the United States. What would you say to these critics?
DS: These comments are completely without foundation. This is a religious organization the purpose of which is to popularize Slavic traditional beliefs and folklore, and we have no links at all into politics and political views. Obviously, each of us can have their own views and to sympathize or not with something, and that is totally natural. Even if in the past we can find a lots of ties between the native faith and nationalism (what, for some people is considered wrongly as similar with fascism), nowadays members of native Pagan groups have various views and political plurality is not a matter of discussion. In Watra, here in Wroclaw, we have both right-wing and left-wing followers and we do not interfere with their views or opinions.
I can also ensure that within our group there is no place for any political extremists.TWH: How did you decide on that particular design for the building? I read that it is an old design; where did you find it?
DS: Our plan is to reproduce the construction of a real Slavic temple from old times. The design is based on archaeological reconstruction of the Slavic temple from Gross Raden, Germany. Our architect analyzed the reconstructed scheme and redesigned it, adjusting it to our needs and architectural standards.
TWH: Do you have any floor plans that would provide a sense of how the space will be used once it is constructed?
DS: The room will have two areas; most of the space will be given over to different activities to be carried in the building, so we can say it will be given over to people. But also, there will be a sacral part with the statues of gods. Besides that, there will be also a separated place for a bonfire and the sacrifices (no worries, no animal will die ;).
TWH: When do you hope to begin construction?
DS: We are planning to start work in the spring. First we have to prepare the ground for the building works, which will take some time. Hopefully, we will start to build in early summer.
TWH: How long do you think it will take to complete this building?
DS: It depends on many factors; most of them are related to money. It also depends on our time and the people factor. Obviously, there always might be situations which we are not able to forecast, so it is really hard to give the date by when the building will be finished. If everything would go smoothly and without bigger obstacles, taking into consideration the necessary time to perform all the works, we’ll be happy if we could finish it by the end of 2017.
While there is clearly enthusiasm for this project, organizers have quite a bit of money to raise to achieve their goal. It also remains to be seen if regulatory hurdles or public sentiment will pose any barriers to the work. Those interested in supporting this effort to rebuild a native European faith community may do so by donating to the campaign.
CORRECTION 2/9/17 9:20 am EST: The original article contained incorrect links to the funding drive for the project. It also contained an unrelated video. We have removed the video and corrected all links. In addition, we have corrected the word Rodzimowierców to read Rodzimowiercy.
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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.