“And above all, don’t let us forget India, the cradle of the human race, or at least of that part of it to which we belong, where first Mohammedans, and then Christians, were most cruelly infuriated against the adherents of the original faith of mankind. The destruction or disfigurement of the ancient temples and idols, a lamentable, mischievous and barbarous act, still bears witness to the monotheistic fury of the Mohammedans, carried on from Marmud, the Ghaznevid of cursed memory, down to Aurangzeb, the fratricide, whom the Portuguese Christians have zealously imitated by destruction of temples and the auto de fé of the Inquisition at Goa.” – Arthur Schopenhauer in Parerga and Paralipomena
“During the Middle Ages, for over four centuries, Franks, Saxons, Germans and Danes waged wars against the Polabian Slavs. More than once, in the name of Christianity, the religious fanatics were also destroying unique Slavic temples important for European culture. Often, they even boasted about it. There are more than seven hundred registered Slavic fortresses in the Polabian-Slavic area. As a rule, such fortresses also held sacred shrines or were located in their vicinity, thus it can be assumed that at least an equal number of places of worship was also destroyed.” – Werner Meschkank in Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism
Of all the Indo-European people, Slavs are the ones who inhabit the largest territory on the Euro-Asian continent today. Also, Slavs are the most numerous ethno-linguistic group on the European continent. There are about 300 million of them today. Slavic peoples are traditionally divided into Eastern Slavs (Russians, Belarus, Ukrainians), Western Slavs (Polish, Czech, Slovakians, Lusatian Sorbs, Kashubians) and Southern Slavs (Serbs, Croatians, Slovenians, Macedonians, Bulgarians). In the current religious division, the Slavs are divided into: Orthodox (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarus, Serbs, Macedonians and Bulgarians), Catholic (Polish, Czech, Slovakians, Croatians and Slovenians) and Muslim (Bosniaks). Despite their numbers and the huge territory they inhabit, Slavs are the people about whose pre-Christian history and religion there are the fewest published scientific papers in English and there is little general knowledge about them overall.
Although there are some significant and thorough books on Slavic Paganism, such as those of the French historian of religion Louis Leger, La mythologie Slave from 1904, none of those works have thus far been translated into English.
Although one Slavic state is a military super-power even today (Russia, who also possesses the largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world with around 6800 atomic bombs), for centuries the Slavs have also been some of the poorest inhabitants of the European continent. One of the reasons that we know so little about the pre-Christian faith of the Old Slavs, in all the Slavic states today, is the simple fact that, due to historical circumstances, all Slavic peoples have, for almost half a century (1945-1991), and some even longer (since 1917), lived under the extremely anti-religious, atheistic ideology of Communism. But with the fall of Communism, interest in not only Christianity and Islam, but also Slavic Paganism rose significantly, and not only in science: a certain kind of “revival” of old religion happened among many so-called “neo-pagan” groups in more-or-less all Slavic countries.
During the nineties of the previous century, a lot of younger Slavs, like the author of this text, began wondering why old Slavic religions were not taught in schools and other institutions of learning, leading to a paradoxical situation in which most students from Slavic countries learned all about the gods of other European peoples (Greeks, Romans, Germans, Irish etc.) but nothing about the gods of their own ancestors. For these, and other reasons, new scientific works on Old Slavic Pagan religion started being published. One of such books is Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Paganism (first published in in Belgrade, Serbia in 2009, with the second, extended edition published in 2016 and the third, translated edition in 2019), in which almost everything regarding the aforementioned subject had been meticulously studied. This work differs from other similar works in that it contains—for the first time— English translations of all sources (medieval chronicles and travelogues) which describe the Old Slavic religion as it was since the VII century, when the Slavs first appeared in history, and up until XII century when Slavic Paganism was at last crushed.
It should also be mentioned that since the discovery and the first translations of the classics of old Indian literature (The Upanishads, Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, etc.) on the European continent in the beginning and the middle of the XIX century and during the following hundred or so years, it became a sort of a “competition” in Europe to see who were the closest relatives of the old Indian race and culture.
Due to the fact that the first fans of India and its culture were German philosophers and scientists (such as Schopenhauer, Jacob Grimm, the Schlegel brothers etc.), a certain idea (which, in our times, proved to be false) about a so-called old “Indo-German” civilisation and religion rose in popularity, and culminated during the reign of the German National Socialist Party (1933-1945). However, modern sciences (above all genetics, but also linguistics, archaeology, comparative mythology) offer an astonishingly different conclusion about this phenomenon: in practice, it can be called an “Indo-Slavic religion” and culture. But we shall return to this point a bit later.
Firstly, what are the correct guidelines regarding our subject? Which documents conclusively speak of Old Slavic religion? When it comes to Eastern Slavs, we have the main testimony in the form of Nestor’s Chronicle (Russian Primary Chronicle), as well as the secondary testimonies in the forms of Novgorod Chronicle, The Tale of Igor’s Campaign and The Hypatian Codex, which describe the faith in Kievan Rus near the end of the X century. Eastern Slavic gods mentioned there include Perun, Xors, Dazhbog, Simargl, Veles, Stribog, Swarog, the goddess Mokosh, etc. Of these, the primary spot undoubtedly belonged to Perun, the god of thunder, as the supreme deity of the Eastern Slavs (whose counterpart with Lithuanians and Latvians—the closest relatives of Slavs in Europe—was called Perkunas; however, like many other Slavic gods, Perun is etymologically related to the Vedic god Parjanya from whom he likely originated).
In the history of religion, the gods Xors and Simargl have been traditionally considered as being borrowed from the old Iranian religion. Thus, Xors would be the Slavic variant of the solar god Hursid and Simargl would then be the Iranian Simurg, the divine griffin. But, aside from Perun (the Slavic Parjanya), two other Eastern-Slavic deities have often been considered to be of Indian origin based on the words from Sanskrit. Those two deities are the god Swarog, whose name comes from Sanskrit “Svarga” (meaning “turbulent, cloudy, dim sky”) and the goddess Mokosh, whose name most likely originates from the Sanskrit word ” Mokṣa” (meaning “liberation from the eternal circle of reincarnation”).
However, the sources on the Western Slavic cults are much more numerous. Here, we are talking about those Slavs whom their Germanic neighbours called “The Wends” and who inhabited the region of today’s northern Germany and southeastern Denmark, the only Slavic people who went extinct, refusing to get baptised and accept Christianity until the bitter end, near the end of the XII century (meaning that the Western Slavic cult outlasted the Eastern Slavic one—the Kiev pantheon—by full two centuries).
We will also mention here that their neighbours called the Slavs “Wends”, which is the paronym of the words “Hindi” and “Sindi”, meaning “those who came from India, the Indians”. The most important historical sources on history, wars, economy, morality, culture, religion and gods of the Wends are the Frankish Chronicle of Fredegar from the VII century, the works of the Arabian annalist Al Massoudi The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems from the beginning of the X century, the travelogue of the Hispano-Arabic Jewish traveler Abraham ben Jacob and the works of the first German writer Widukind, both from the X century as well as the chronicles of Thietmar and Adam of Bremen from the XI century, The Life of Otto of Bamberg by Ebbo and Herbord, Helmold’s Chronica Slavorum, Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, the famous Danish writer from the XII century, and the Icelandic writer Olafr Thordarson’s Knytlinga Saga from the beginning of the XIII century. All of these writings, or rather, their most important parts in regards to our subject and our book, have been, for the first time ever, translated into English and gathered in a single book The Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of the Slavic Heathenism.
Who were the gods of the Wends, the “thirteenth, lost Slavic tribe”? Certainly, the most venerated, supreme god of the Western Slavs (and, most likely, all other Slavs as well, especially the Southern ones) was Svetovid (known in Germanic chronicles as Svantevit, Zuantevit). His oracle was located on the northernmost part of the Rugen Island (in today’s Germany) in the temple city of Arkona.
His statue was eight meters high, situated in the temple to which only his high priest had access. But even that priest was not allowed to breathe in the presence of the god (that is to say, his statue). Svetovid had four heads, facing all four sides of the world, which is why science considers that to be the origin of the god’s name: from the word “videti” (“to see”) and the word “svet” (“the world”)—“the one who sees the entire world” (still, there is no scientific consensus on this issue). In appearance, he remarkably resembled the Indian god Brahma, whose Slavic version he probably is. And neither should we overlook the Iranian god Zervan (Time) who also had four heads, nor, for example, Buddha Sarvavida-Vairochana who was always depicted in the mandalas as having four heads.
Svetovid was a solar deity who had a white horse (we are reminding the reader that the Vedic god Surya also had a carriage drawn by seven white horses) from which no one was allowed to remove even a single hair; he was also a prophet-god: his oracle was considered to be the most reliable one—not only among the Slavs but among others as well.
There is a report by Saxo Grammaticus that one Danish ruler (King Sweyn) believed in the Slavic oracle so much he had gifted it with a precious chalice. Our medieval sources confirm that Svetovid was the supreme deity of all Slavic lands; among others, Saxo Grammaticus and Helmold of Bosau write that huge amounts of offerings and money arrived in Svetovid’s oracle in Arkona every year “from all Slavic lands” and that all Slavs went to the oracle for advice. Aside from that, Svetovid was also a god of war, and whether to go to war or not was decided according to the movements of his horse’s legs. He was also a god of fertility. It is assumed that his holidays were celebrated during all four solstices/equinoxes, in June, September, December and March, although Saxo Grammaticus describes his holiday as an autumnal one (during the harvest time).
Other gods of the Western Slavic pantheon are no less interesting. On the Island of Rugen, there were oracles of at least six other gods and goddesses. Those were: Rugevit, meaning “of Rugen, God of the Rugen Island”, who had seven heads and seven swords at his belt, while holding the eighth sword in his right hand. Then there was Porevit, who had five heads. Then, probably the most enigmatic Slavic god, Porenut, whose idol in Arkona had four faces, with the fifth one on his chest; his left hand was touching his fifth face and his right hand was touching its beard. Historians of religion are generally confused by this god’s meditative appearance. Some interpret him as a god of oaths, some as the god of goodness.
Then there is Chernoglav, also from Rugen Island (which was kind of a Mount Athos of the Slavic Pagan religion) whose name meant “black-headed” and who had a silver moustache; Pizamar, whose oracle was located on the loveliest part of the Rugen Island, in Jasmund Woods, where the fallen leaves are red-colored in autumn; the female deity Baba (“grandmother”) who we know had her cult in Bobin on Rugen Island. We also have the great god Triglav (“three-headed”) from Szczecin in today’s Poland who also had a horse, though his horse, unlike Svetovid’s, was black (it is for this reason that some scientists, like Ribyakov, are interpreting Triglav as “the god of the setting sun” and Svetovid/Svantevit as “the god of the rising sun”).
Triglav’s statue was made of gold, and a golden scarf covered his eyes and lips. Pagan priests explained those details this way: his great god has three heads, for he rules over three great kingdoms—heaven, earth and hell; his face is covered with a scarf for he doesn’t want to either see or know the sins of men. There are also other Western Slavic gods, such as Radegast (meaning “dear guest”), the god of prophecy and war. We find the description of his temple city, Retra, in the chronicles of Adam of Bremen: “His statue is made of gold and his temple is adorned in purple.
The ninth gate of the city can be accessed only by a wooden bridge which can be crossed only by those who bring offerings or seek the oracle’s answers….” Then we have Pripegala, the most radical anti-Christian god who was described as particularly bloodthirsty as his worshipers sacrificed Christians to him and whose priests, according to the Christian medieval sources, shouted after every victory: “Rejoice, because Christ is defeated! (“This horrible people, Slavs, have risen against us. They profaned the churches of Christ with their idolatry. They came like a flood to our lands. … They cut off Christian heads, and then offer them as a sacrifice … they keep cups full of blood in front of their temples, and howling around them shout in a penetrating voice: Rejoice, because Christ is defeated; the victory belongs to victorious Pripegala.”)
There was also a god of forests, Prove (Slavic religion was, in its essence, nature worship). Of the goddesses, the most important ones were: Zhiva, described by chronicler Helmold (Zhiva, Zhivena, the goddess of human life and nature). In the book Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism there is a text by the American linguist Richard Stoney who makes a connection between the Slavic goddess Zhiva and the Indian god Shiva. Then there are also the goddesses Lada (the goddess of beauty), Morana (the goddess of winter and death) as well as Vesna (the goddess of spring). We shall stop here lest we go too far into this, for most readers probably too exotic a subject.
Here we must add something else. Some might take this book to be anti-Christian since it really does offer documented evidence of the, primarily Catholic Church’s, role in the genocide of the Western, Pagan, Slavs, the Wends. The person who stands out the most and had the main role in these events is the famous Catholic saint from the Middle Ages, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In 1147, at the order of the Pope Eugene III, he wrote the following (as evidenced in his letters) to German priests and nobles: “Invade Slavia and don’t make peace with the Wends or accept any surrender, nor any census from them until the religion of that people or all of them (Wends) are destroyed.” I repeat, that was in 1147.
In another sentence from the same letter he says: “Christian armed force stands against them (Wends) in Frankfurt, and we took the cross in our hands in order to extinct (destroy) this nation completely or to Christianise them indisputably.” Therefore, we can see here the full scope of one violent conversion. With the exception of Ireland, there is no European country in which Christianity arrived peacefully. Only in Ireland, thanks to St. Patrick, did the Christianity arrive without bloodshed. It’s simply a historical fact. On a side note, St. Bernard of Clairvaux had no rights to forcibly christen the Slavs according to the Catholic laws; St. Augustine wrote around 400. that christening Pagans can only be done voluntarily.
The Crusades from the 1147 and on are called the Western Crusades [Wendish Crusade] and have ended in 1242. with the attack on Orthodox Russia. That was the only non-Pagan country that Catholic Baptists attacked, and they have lost that war, defeated by Alexander Nevsky on Chudskoe Lake. Meanwhile, the Crusaders waged war against the Lusatian Sorbs, Obotrites, Livonians, Finnish, Estonians, old Prussians and Lithuanians [Northern Crusades].
What is there to add, in the end, about the relations between Slavic Paganism and ancient religions of India aside from the facts we have already mentioned? Our old faith is certainly descended from the ancient religions of India, our ancestral land, just as the Slavic race descended from India, too. Noted Slovakian linguist from the XIX century, Pavel Safarik, also wrote that: “… the results of the most cautious and deepest linguistic research, according to the testimonies of experts with the right to vote (cf. J. S. Vaters Analekten I Hft. 3-48), point to India and Persia as old cradle of the Slavic national tribe.
The name of the Hindu people of the world who, according to the opinion closest to the common sense, owe their name and existence to the deep-blue waters of the river Indus, as well as the names of the later Slavic Moravians, Polabs, Pomorans, Posavacs, Chronacs, Timochians, Nerechians, Bobran, Buzhans (Peukins), Havelans, Jezeratsians (Ezeritae), and Rascians, Ratzis, Donks, Sulichs and others, all of which are derived from the names of rivers, lakes and coastlines could, at least as examples, justify the hypothesis that requires nothing more but to be one of the options. As for me, I agree with the opinion of those who, like J. Jungman, considered the name of Wind by origin identical to the Hindu, Greek ό ‘Ινδός, ‘Ινδικος, ή ‘Ινδική, Latin Indus, Inds, India, Honda Hebrew, Arabic Hind, Ethiopian Hende, Persian Hind (in the plural Hunud).
It follows that, although the Slavs themselves, to our knowledge, have not used this name, it is not just a random geographical term, but a genetically determined one, and that it was confirmed as such since the ancestral age. The variety of forms: Ind, Hind, Handu and Enet, Heneti, Vened, Vind, Ant, must not confuse us; the name of a nation so far removed from the ancestral homeland, could not sound quite the same in the two parts of the world with different people and in different languages; in this case, the deviation is not greater than they are in forms Välsche, Vallone, Galli, Galatae, Keltae, Celten, which the linguistic researchers unanimously claim to be just variations of the same basic word.”
Polycephaly of the supreme gods of both Slavs and Indians is a striking phenomenon (Svetovid looks identical to Brahma who is, according to some researchers, the oldest god in India; Triglav looks like a version of Shiva, as does Porenut—who was maybe the Slavic god of meditation; two-headed deities discovered on Rugen look like Indian Agni etc.).
I’m also bringing to attention the Slavic-Indian parallels in the myths of the wild boar who rolls on the waves and is considered the saviour of humanity. The chronicler Thietmar speaks of this boar among the Slavs, and among Indians, that boar is the third avatar of Vishnu, named Varaha. Next, the great German scientist from the XIX century, Jacob Grimm, noted that the Slavic god Sitivrat is a version of the Indian Satyavrat, the king of the solar race, the Indian version of Utnapishtim from the Epic of Gilgamesh or of Noah from the Bible. Slavic word “bog” has its roots in the Indian deity Bhaga, whose name means riches, prosperity, protection. The god of thunder from Rig Veda, Parjanya, is undoubtedly etymologically related with Perun.
According to some, “slava” that Southern Serbs celebrate, are the most exact examples of Vedism and our ancient existence, for the Vedeians celebrated the same way; above all, they celebrated the gods and asked for only the rare, symbolic and most important things—health, good harvest etc. Scythians of northern Iran, who many equate with original Slavs, had a religion which bore a lot of resemblance to the Vedic religion, with the specific accent placed on sun worship, soma drinking and with a wide variety of deities, which was more typical of Vedic and Slavic religion than, for example, Zoroastrian one (which also left its mark on Slavic religion). Aside from that, Pagan Slavs considered things such as forests, springs, mountains, rivers, banks, birds, oxen, horses etc. sacred, just as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (“I am the Himalaya among mountains … among immovable things I am Ashvattha … among horses I am Uchchaisravas, among cows, Kamadhenu….“) Some decades ago, in 2007. to be more precise, a statue of Vishnu was found in the oldest Russian city, Staraya Mayna on the River Volga. The practice of suttee, in which a widow sacrifices herself by sitting atop of her husband’s funeral pyre, was described by the Arabian traveller Al Massoudi in the X century as also being practiced by the early Slavs. Let us add, in the end, that the historical documents confirm that Pagan Slavs also believed in reincarnation, as evidenced by the contract signed between the Russian Prince Igor and the Byzantines in 994. which says that: “those Slavs who break this deal shall be slaves in the next life.”
And for the very end of this text: genetic research done by Underhill in 2009. regarding the Haplogroup R1a1a shows that Indians and Slavs are the closest relatives, as well as that the Southern-Asian expansion is older than Southern-European one, which proves Indian ancestry of most Slavic people of today.
Everything that this text mentions is much more extensively written about in the book The Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism which can be found in English on online platforms Amazon, Google Play, Apple Books as well as in paperback from the Belgrade-based publisher ATOS-DK.
› Dr Rastko Kostić is an author, linguist and historian of religion in Belgrade, Serbia.