Rites of Slavic paganism

M.Baranov Kupala celebration. Takeaway scarecrow Yarila from the gates for burningThe unity and integrity of a nation and a tribe is most dependent on the uniformity of the norms of behavior, the perception of the general picture of the world and its individual elements, the presence of shared memories. For each ethnic culture there are different ideas about the degree of importance of each component, but if any of the above is missing, society and ethnicity may be doomed to collapse.

Our Ancestors were characterized by two types of behavior: everyday (in the intervals between significant events) and ceremonial (dedicated to a particular event).

Every rite is a transformation through a series of actions of a crisis situation, which is a consequence of the imbalance between “ours” and “alien”. As a result, the lost balance in the community’s existence is restored, and this restoration is at the same time a transformation that is most often understood as death-rebirth: in the ritual, a certain new reality is artificially created instead of the old one that has outlived itself for age or other temporary reasons. A rite is capable of combining and reducing long-term life processes into one point, putting a certain line under age-related or calendar events.

Common to many rituals is the division of space into two areas: “ours” and “alien”. “Ours” belongs to man, it is mastered by him. “Alien” - non-human, belonging to Gods, natures and spirits, death. The balance between these spheres is maintained by exchange: sacrifices, offerings. The situation of an imbalance between them is resolved with the help (and in the course) of the rite in which direct contact is established between the representatives of “ours” and “alien”.

In everyday life, the various categories of “alien” are arranged in such a way that the characters of higher levels (Gods) are further than the characters of lower levels, and the person is in contact with various creatures (brownies (domovoy), wood goblins (leshiy), etc.). With the highest representatives of the other world, communication is usually carried out with the help of the rite, which from this point of view is a kind of regulated way of communication between people and Gods. The higher these or those characters in the “alien” system, the farther they are from the person and the more difficult the ceremonies associated with them. Communication with the lower categories of “alien” in everyday life also has its ritual.

Two main types of space used in the rite can be distinguished: in one of them the actions are directed mainly to the vertical plane, in the other - to the horizontal one.

Vertical plan has calendar rites. Particular importance is attached here to the idea of the center, the ability to focus on a single point in time and space, through which the forces of the universe pass. At the same time, “ours” is concentrated around this point on the earth, and the “alien” - in the sky and / or underground. Interactions between the world of people and the world of Gods and Ancestors are realized vertically. Such relationships in the rite are intensified by fame, glorification, and spell. Glorification is a specially composed text that differs from ordinary spontaneous speech in the presence of rhyme and rhythm. The unusual text is achieved with the help of a system of substitutions, allegories, and other construction. Sounds that fill the rite of the essence of the “message”. It is important to hear and correctly understand them.
A.Baranova Kupala celebration by the USC SNB
Rites, the action of which unfolds mostly horizontally (mainly rituals of the life cycle), have a certain plot, as their main characters cross the boundaries of worlds. And the need to perform such a ceremony is caused by the violation of the spheres of “ours” and “alien”. In one case, “strangers” are among “ours”, in the other – “ours” among “strangers”. The purpose of the ceremony is to restore disturbed order and strengthen the border between the adjoining worlds.

For enclosing “ours” territories from the penetration of “alien” commit various ceremonial actions. For example, bypasses a house, yard, village, or temple, plowing soil and snow (in the case of ritual “plowing” around villages in order to prevent the introduction of diseases and the subsequent death of cattle in settlements). To protect the home, they resort to putting signs on doors, windows, and gates. Thus, the boundaries between “ours” and “alien”, between light and darkness, are strengthened.

In order to connect “ours” and “alien”, top and bottom (heaven and earth, the world of Gods and Ancestors and the world of human physical existence) in calendar ritualism such actions are carried out as: the construction of mountains of rolling on Maslenitsa (vernal equinox); burning fires and installing a swing on Kupala (summer solstice); climbing on the roof of the house, bouncing, tossing various items on Zaklichki (spring meeting), etc.


Ritual Fire - is a channel of communication between one's own and another world, people and Ancestors, between whom incessant intensive exchange takes place; this is the intersection of two worlds. For the Ritual Bonfire is important the material from which it is collected. If a bonfire is built from old, outdated things (Kupalo, Kolyada (winter solstice)), then the fire for the bonfire should be new, “alive”. “Alive” fire is mined in the ancient way - by rubbing a tree against a tree. Thus, the ceremonial bonfire was a combination of the old and the new, in which the victory is gained by the new. Getting new fire is a rite of transformation of the old (weak, worn out, lost its power) being in the new, full of strength and opportunities for further prosperous existence.

The unity of a person with the surrounding space and the restoration of his (human) integrity comes through rituals and purification of the elements of earth, water, fire and air and the expulsion of the “alien” that has penetrated into the body. Fumigation of grass and plants with smoke (mainly, sagebrush and juniper) allows you to remove negative layers, to make space for pure forces. On the one hand, smoke is perceived as a continuation of fire, on the other hand, it has a greater penetrating power, envelops and heals, this is the element of air.

In order to facilitate the transition from one level of reality to another, a ritual musical instrument, such as tambourines (bubens) and drums, can be used to establish a connection between the “ours” and the “alien” in rites. The thing is that the low sound amplitude of the monotonous battle helps calm the mind, tune in to the frequency vibrations of the invisible Worlds, removing the barrier between the perception of the material world and the reality of the spirit. As a result, a kind of bridge appears between the worlds, the process of attunement and unity with another world is underway.


During the ceremony, as I have already mentioned, communication takes place between the real world and the other world. One of the various forms of such communication are fortune-telling. In divination forms the main question: what will happen next? Any fortune-telling is a ceremonial way of determining the share of a person in the next stage of his life. In order to obtain the necessary information, the diviner makes an exchange, sending certain objects, products, and food to the sphere of “alien”.

In the monthly cycle, the most suitable time for divination is before the new moon, on the weekly cycle - Friday (in some areas - Thursday), on the daily one - evening, closer to midnight. The significance and accuracy of divination, dedicated to a particular date, may vary. When divination, confined to the summer and winter solstice, it is assumed to communicate with representatives of the Another World (Nav’), so they are recognized as the most reliable.
M.Baranov Temple of Ognya Svarozhicha on earth USC SNB Krasotynka
The person who performs divination moves from “his/ours” habitat to “alien”. “Alien” space is usually a non-residential building on the outskirts (bath, barn); the boundaries of the house, yard, village (doors, gates, hedges); roads, intersections; cemetery, water, well.
A guessing person moves away from “his own” not only in space, but also by signs, that is, he loses those that indicate his belonging to the world of the living: full or partial strip (in many cases, the obligatory removal of the belt); hair blooming, silence, a ban on the reproduction of any sounds. An interesting option is presented in the divinations “prophetic dreams” when they go to bed without undressing, having previously “formulated” their request. In this case, “moving” is done in a dream, and going to someone else is symbolized just by deliberate “dressing” - after all, the deceased is usually left dressed at night in the house.

Varieties of special behavior within one event are games (“Rucheek”, “Yashcher”, “Konyashki”). This is an integral part of most holiday rites. The game is just as important and necessary as the rite itself. There are no strict restrictions in games, in contrast to the main rite, there are no instructions on playing behavior, self-expression is allowed and encouraged.


Lost connections, which are thought mostly as vertical, are also restored with the help of victims or offerings. The world is becoming habitual: “ours” is separated from the “alien”, between them a strong bond has been established, the sacrifice is the pledge and embodiment of which. The first products prepared or received from animals have a clear purpose - they, according to custom, are used as sacrifice, for example, the first baked pancake or the first milk product is always given to the Other World. Just as the first independent products of the child needed to be burned (that is, sacrificed). The first is the share of Gods and other representatives of the other world, it does not belong to man.

The sacrificial animal is a widespread symbol of the world. Its separation, dismemberment, is usually perceived as the final stage of the disintegration of the Cosmos, and gathering, addition, restoration of wholeness - as the creation of a new/young World. Therefore, the sacrificial animal must be prepared whole. It should not be cut, only broken (the permissible method of distributing the shares among the participants in the ceremony). And no less important: the bones are not thrown away, but are collected and buried.
Bloodless sacrifices are symbols that are associated with ideas of wealth, fertility, and well-being. For example, wool - grain - money (or something made by hand).

The symbol that is present in almost all rites, regardless of their purpose - grain. They are guessing at the grain, they are showered with the young, the new house, the Ancestors “feed”, the women in labor is “cleaned”. The high symbolism is explained by the fact that the grain is an ideal reflection of any cyclic process that can be described as life – death – rebirth. The life of a grain is likened to a person’s life, and vice versa.

In ceremonial actions, the offerings are sent up or down (less often): hanging from a tree, going to the ritual fire, tossing, spilling on the ground. Gods and spirits take their part of the sacrifice on another level. For example, the Brownie eats not the bread brought to him as a gift, he eats only what is his food in the bread, and the mouse or bird eats the bread.
And so in everything and everywhere.


Each holiday ceremony ends with a feast, which is an integral part of it, and not the usual meal. This is the unity of the whole community, in which people, and Ancestors, and Gods, and the elements - all participants of our world. Depending on the event, to which the rite is dedicated, dishes, activities and behavior during the feast differ.

The main feature of the treats used in the rite is that they belong not so much to people as to Gods and Ancestors.
It is important that the actions of cooking, distribution and eating food be a full cycle: the transformation of the original products into ready-made dishes, filling them with ritual meaning and their role in the rite and destruction. Both parties take part in the preparation and distribution of food. The participation of representatives of another world is expressed not only in the fact that they receive their share (steam or demand to be brought to the fire), but also that they “communicate” about their attitude to people, giving certain form to prepared food, as well as contributing to or interfering with cooking. Food steam is the favorite food of the Ancestors.

One of the ways to consolidate the new status of the world and man is the fractional distribution of the object, symbolizing the world, between the participants in the ceremony. Bread-loaf - a kind of image of the world, a joint share, the embodiment of the idea of wealth, abundance. It must be made as large as possible, with images of symbols of the sun, stars, month, animals, birds. Our Ancestors' loaf was a joint creation of the whole community. The process of its manufacture was realized as the collection of separate initial elements (products for making loaf: flour, oil, eggs, water) to create a single whole, symbolizing the total share of participants in the ceremony. Thus, each participant in the rite of their personal share and thought is poured into the general message.

In the ritual distribution of a loaf (one of the symbols of the image of the world), each participant in visible and invisible worlds gets his part, his share of the life force. Hence the exceptional importance of the ritual feast, which is a form of offering, exchanging, strengthening the former, as well as the approval of new connections and relationships.


In the setting of the rite, the spatial appearance of the world, the form of organization of the community and the nature of communication change. There is a switch from one type of reality to another, the main feature of which are signs. From the beginning to the end of the ceremony, its participants are in a certain space, and everything that comes from outside (from the sphere of “alien”) is considered as a message with its sender (various signs and other messages of another world). The rite gives a feeling of unity, cohesion, openness for any interactions, the contact of each participant with various characters is possible. In the rite, with the help of all five senses, a comprehensive check is made of the existing connections and relationships. As a result, a person is updated perception of the world, fixing those changes, which are focused on the ceremony.

One of the main meanings of this feeling is, apparently, in the transition from physiological perception to understanding, from natural to cultural. There is a spiritual mastery of the world. The ceremony reflects, as it were, that side of things, actions, phenomena that are not visible in everyday life, but in fact often determine its essence and purpose. The ability to be one in everyday life, and completely different in the rite, provides a switch from the level of daily worries and routine to another level, values. Here spiritual aspirations find their realization, a person reveals his inner essence, his thought, ability to create. In everyday life, a person is primarily concerned with the satisfaction of his vital interests, acting according to the custom - the rules of behavior in his society.

Customs regulated daily life, a retreat from them could affect the offender, but did not affect the well-being of the whole community or family. The rite also has a connecting function, which is that the community periodically updates and asserts itself, its unity. The rite is necessary for the realization of solidarity and interconnectedness of the community members. It is in the rite that common feelings and moods take possession — something that may be absent in everyday life. Moreover, in the ritual, people communicate not only with each other, but the connection between Ancestors and descendants, past and present, is restored.

The rite has a reproducing function, which is aimed at maintaining the custom, norms, values of the community. With the help of the rite, the community periodically renews their experiences, their faith and, ultimately, their social significance. Actually, the rites are performed in order to restore the past, to make it real.


Daily life (between calendar rites) can be presented as a gradual transition of the world from one state to another. The ties and relations between different spheres of being, between “ours” and “alien”, are weakened. Exhausts stock of energy, vitality. The processes occurring in society and in nature, are inconsistent with each other. Then they begin to talk about the “aging” of the world and the need for its “renewal” in the rite.
M.Baranov Kupala celebration. Scarecrow Yarila
In the natural plane, the world is constantly changing, but in structural terms it remains the same (as it was recorded by the last ceremony). The task of each of the following rituals is to eliminate this discrepancy, how to “legitimize” the changes that have occurred and thereby approve a new state of the world. The ceremony has a certain self-dependence and independence from the processes occurring in the world of our physical reality. There is a division of time with the help of rites. In order for one period to be replaced by another, another ritual is needed. In other words, the world does not change by itself, gradually or spontaneously, as it appears to the man in the street.

The calendar rite in the traditional culture of our Ancestors did not necessarily follow nature. The spring meeting could occur when the winter was still real. Conversely, after the ceremony, whatever the winter weather, it was considered spring. These changes are not dictated by natural processes, but are given by rites. They were the key time points in the time matrix. Time focused and intensified in the rites.

Natural change, understood as the “aging” of the world, is a destructive principle. The world is losing its usual look, shape, spatial organization. This is expressed in the fact that the borders disappear, and first of all the border between “ours” and “alien”. All space is endowed with features that are inherent in the border. Figuratively speaking, the world takes on the appearance of an intersection. The consequence of such a world perception was widespread ideas about the activation of the characters of another world precisely at this border time (orgy of evil spirits in Kolyada and Kupala). There is a dialogue with the characters of another world, everything is in close proximity, the behavior is regulated.

It is possible to assert with all certainty that it is not necessary to chronologically follow the rite after the event. An event (for example, death or birth) may occur, but a person is considered dead and born only after performing corresponding rites with him. In a normal life, when everything goes “as expected”, the rite is primary regardless of what happens “at the level” of nature. What is interesting, it is reflected in modern everyday life. For example, according to their physiological data, a person can be counted as an adult, but until receiving a passport (or until a certain age is reached) is not considered as such. According to the law of our state, the person whose death is documented (regardless of whether he is actually alive or dead) is considered dead.

The rite is able to replace the event (to be an event), but it is also able to “stretch” the event, give them the character of the process (this applies primarily to birth and death), and on the other hand, the ability to “compress” the long-term processes of the calendar and life cycles give them the status of events.

The object (Badnyak (ritual log), Maslenitsa scarecrow, Yarilya doll), over which the ritual actions of destruction are to be accomplished (burning, tearing, drowning, giving to the earth, etc.), is understood as an image of an “aged” world or a host of evil spirits. Its destruction is a natural step for transition to a new state. The calendar character, as a rule, is created from old things, and he symbolizes, if not old age, then over mature, which manifests itself, for example, in the apparent redundancy of attributes in the big breasts of Maslenitsa or hypertrophy of the genitals of the Yaryla doll. The forms of destruction of the ceremonial object usually correspond to the main forms of burial: burning, surrendering to earth, water.


During the life of a person several times there is a need to eliminate inconsistencies between his biological state and social status. The discrepancy begins immediately after the next “leveling”: in physiological terms, a person is constantly changing, while his social status remains the same. For a period between these moments of human existence, there is a balance, but gradually the discrepancy increases, the contradiction escalates, the destructive processes reach a critical level, and the need for another biological and social alignment arises. So, the birth itself is only an episode in the structure of the birthing ritual. The ritual of the birth of a child begins much earlier than the birth, and ends a very long time after birth. Ritual preparation for death (for example, making clothes and other attributes) sometimes begins long before old age, and in some traditions from childhood (the custom is to collect nails and hair that is put in the coffin to their owner throughout their lives). Deaths are usually preceded by “omen”: parting with loved ones, dressing up and other ritual acts. A person is finally dead after many years (for example, according to the beliefs of Belarusians, nine years after biological death).A.Baranova Kupala celebration by the USC SNB copy

The rite can be attributed to the conditional type of behavior, but among the Ancestors there was no choice whether to perform the rite or not. One of the main functions of the rite is that with its help absolute, unconditional biological processes (such as, for example, death and birth) are transformed into conditional categories. By the way, it is for this reason that it is possible to “stretch” death and birth in time, and on the other hand, “reduce” such lengthy processes as maturation into one “point”.


In the traditional Slavic worldview, everything in nature is filled with meaning and soul. The external world is filled with beings of a Different, inhuman nature and implies “mutual understanding”, provided that they interact correctly. Constant dialogue of the person with the natural environment is a characteristic feature of our Native faith. In this respect, differences in the principles of mastering the external world are indicative: if modern society with its aggressive production activities is focused mainly on “conquering” the external world, then traditional Slavic culture is characterized by cooperation with it, learning its “answers”. In this interaction, there is a sense of inseparable connection and the desire to act not in spite of, but in harmony with nature, this is the key to success in any sphere of human activity. People, Gods and the world are merged into a single whole and the orderliness of our world depends on their interaction.

Maxim Ionov (Beloyar)
Head of the Union of Slavic Communities of Slavic Native Belief (USC SNB) (www.rodnovery.ru)
and Editor in chief of the first Russian magazine about Paganism, “Rodnoverie” (www.rodnoverie.org)