Slavic religion

Slavic religion, pre-Christian religious practices among the Slavs of Eastern Europe. There is only fragmentary and scattered information about the myths and legends of the pagan Slavs, and it is not possible to trace the history of their religion or to reconstruct the whole Slavic pantheon. Nevertheless, there were certain common beliefs among most pre-Christian Slavs. It is generally thought that the earliest Slavic religious beliefs were based on the principle that the whole natural world is inhabited and directed by spirits or mysterious forces. Later, particularly in areas where the Slavs had a more organized cultural life and were integrated with foreign peoples, the spiritual beliefs became less rustic, and the vague spirits of nature were anthropomorphized into divinities with special powers and functions.

The supreme god of the East and South Slavs was Perun, god of lightning and thunder. Because he controlled the elements of nature, his aid and protection were strongly evoked at seed time and harvest. Until the end of the 10th cent. an idol of Perun existed in Kiev. Svarog, a god known to most Slavic peoples, was regarded as the father of the chief deities. Among his sons were Dazhbog, god of the sun, and Svarazic, god of fire. Two important gods of Slavic religion were Byelobog (or Byelun) [the White God] and Chernobog [the Black God]. These two, who represented the opposing forces of good and evil, reflected the Slavic belief in the dualistic nature of the universe. Various myths and ritualistic data, however, reveal the cults of many other gods and lesser divinities, including the worship of earth goddesses.

The Baltic Slavs had a particularly rich tradition and a highly organized religious life. Religious centers, with temples, oracles, and a hierarchy of priests, were created under the influence of foreign religion, particularly Scandinavian. The gods of the Baltic Slavs were later in origin than those of the other Slavs and were often created to serve political purposes. Possibly the most powerful Baltic Slav cult was that of Radogost-Svarazic, whose worship held together many Obordrite tribes.

When in the 12th cent. Retra fell, Arcona became the major political center, and its god Svantovit became the ruling Slavic god and highest solar deity. With the coming of Christianity, the great divinities of the Slavs vanished in name, but many elements survived in popular tradition, and pagan rites became an integral part of the Christian Slavs' religious ceremonies.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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