Ancient Beliefs Among Ukrainian People From Slavic Paganism To Orthodoxy

How many things stayed the same over time? Find out!

Photo: Svitlana Gyrych / Slavorum
Victoria_Borodinova (CC0), Pixabay

Ukrainian people are Orthodox or they just think they are? We build and visit churches, celebrate Christian holidays, follow God’s commandments. So why are the doubts? Christian religion was brought to our land in 988 by prince Volodymyr. And what was before? We all know there was Paganism – like in many other counties before they took Christianity. But let’s find out what was that far away forgotten religion? And if it is really forgotten. Paganism was a kind of a lifestyle based on harmony between human and nature. People respected nature and its phenomenon.

Unable to give scientific explanations to numerous act of nature our forefathers gave it some godlike features. Thus Pagan Gods were responsible for different aspects of living on Earth. Humans highly respected those Gods and lived in a balance and love to the nature. But why do people refused from their belief? Or they didn’t? In this article I would like to present you the proofs that Paganism is still alive and that Slavic people still keep pagan traditions as explained by Ukraine – Touristic Kiev!

1. Dates, holidays and celebrations

Did you ever notice that Pagans and Christian holidays are very close to each other on the time
periods? Pagan’s holidays are tightly connected to astrological rhythms, solar stages and natural periods. But Christian holidays almost totally repeat this schedule just with the changed meaning. Let’s take for example Christmas that takes place on 26 of December. Pagans also had this day as a big holiday but called it Koliada . The thing is that December 25 is the winter solstice day and 26 of December sun starts to grow. For our forefathers it was a great day – the birth of new sun. By the way for pagans the sun was a God too, and it also had God the father and Mother! Don’t you see the connection with Christmas – the birth of Christ is celebrated on the same day!? And even rituals of Slavic celebration remained logical to pagan belief. Dressed up People walk from home to home and sing songs for bringing wealth to everyone. They keep in hands symbols of new born Sun and goat. Sun is clear but why goat? Because according to the legend goat saved Koliada (mother of sun) from dark forces and helped her to give the birth. Thus people give gratitude to Koliada (from here the songs are called Koliadky) and the goat. Christian religion offers their interpretation when people hold a symbol of the advent star .

Another example is Easter. Easter existed long before Christianity. It was Jewish holiday dedicated to the rescue of Jewish children from death and in parallel it was a feast of waking nature and fertility. Slavic people didn’t have Easter at all. But in turn on 20 th of March they celebrated vernal equinox – after which the days are getting longer then nights shorter. It was huge Slavic festival on meeting spring called Maslenitsa. Interesting that being not fixed the dates of Easter are still very close to vernal equinox and bring old symbols of fertility – egg and Easter cake having an evident phallic look. By the way original Maslenitsa remained in our tradition and is actively celebrated. It was moved but still keeps original features – week long duration, dances and songs on welcoming spring, burning a straw doll symbolizing winder and cooking the pancakes – symbols of sun. Maybe the resurrection of Christ is metaphoric event meaning a new stage of life in natural circle?

2. Symbols and functional elements.

We discovered that the symbol of cross existed long before Christianity, it meant 4 compass points and the circle in the middle was the sun. On the other hand those rays of the crox reminded the sun rays. To prove this we can look at the Pagans temple that came to us through the centuries and stays on Kiev hill. Water and fire are another integral parts of Christian rituals. We use water during baptizing and blessing. We use candles in the church during the pray. But being crucial elements in humans’ well-being, water and fire had sacral powers in pagans’ belief. These elements were actively used in different Slavic ceremonies. From here we have burning straw dolls on Maslenitsa, jumping through the fire and floating wreaths. Icons. Christianity admonishes pagans for praying the idols. But it is a big difference to pray to drawn pictures – icons? So as for me all remained the same here too, just slightly changed interpretation.

3. Talismans

Looking at famous Ukrainian clothes Vyshyvanka we will see the ornaments. But these elements of decoration are not only for beauty. Colors, forms and structures are not accidental. They all bring a sacral meaning and work as talismans supporting different areas of life. The same is about popular Ukrainian and Russian souvenir Motanka – textile doll carried out not as a toy but as a special talisman bring health, love, wealth, harmony etc to the owner! Did you hear about that in Christianity? I don’t think so! Its Slavic thing and it’s still alive in our tradition.

4. Sacrificing

Well known that pagans were making sacrifices to their gods. It was the act of demonstrating gratitude or asking for loyalty and wellbeing. And we can think that this tradition has already gone. Partly its right, no one brings human or even animal sacrificing. But did you ever notice in churches that some icons are “decorated” with jewelries? Its people bring their treasures to the saints and their icons expressing gratitude for help.

5. Hierarchy of gods

Christian religion says that they have only one God in contrast to Pagans who have polytheism. But let’s analyze. Christians have the main God father. But after him there go a Christ, Godmother and Holy Spirit. They are also kind of Gods. Moreover after them there go apostles and many sainted like st.Nikolas, Varvara, Georgii, Andrew and many other. Each of those saints is responsible for particular areas of life. And people pray mainly not to the Father God but to the Christ, Godmother (in her numerous manifestations) and different saints. Pagans also have a God of the gods called Rod (from Russian can be translated as a forefather). After him there also goes a hierarchy of gods and semi gods – his descendants. See the connection? And what about the representatives of God on earth? Of course Christians have more complicated system, but still in the idea remains the same. Christians have monks, pagans had wizards (wise man).

6. Legens, fairytales and superstitions

If you look after Slavic people they have lots of superstitions. On the first sight they are nonsense and silly things. But if we study old Slavic beliefs we will understand where it all came from. For example, well known belief that you shouldn’t pass anything to each other through the doorstep. It’s because of old Slavic tradition to grave died relatives under the doorstep making their spirits to save home and all the residents from evil. A habit to sit for the road before leaving was meant to trick the home spirits who may keep a person stay home. And if we read old Slavic legends we will see such characters as BabaJaga, Koschei the Immortal, wood spirits, mermaids and others.They came to us with folklore from before Christian times and still alive in our fairy tales. Even well-known Slavic Ded Moroz is an evident prototype of Morozko – pagans god of winter. Here is his description: old man  with white beard and red nose, he holds a wand and everything he touches with it gets frozen. I hope this article gave you some ideas for consideration.

What do you think?

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