Vignette 6.1 Slavic Gods

Before the Eastern Slavs were converted to Christianity, they were animists. “Animism” is a belief in spirits as expressed in forces of nature. The ancient Slavs believed in a number of gods, both male and female. Each tribe had one most important god and a variety of others. Wooden totemic statues (idols) were commonly erected at prominent sacrificial sites. Many were located in sacred groves, near springs, or on promontories between two rivers. The gods included Perun, the god of thunder; Dazbog, the god of fertility and sunshine; Svarog, the blacksmith god; Khors, the god of the sun; Mokosh, the goddess of fate; Lada, the goddess of spring; and many others. Some deities had clear parallels with Greek and Roman mythological characters, whereas others were unique. In addition, the Slavs believed in various supernatural creatures who lived in the forest (leshy), in the water (vodyanoy and kikimora), in houses (domovoy), and so on. Some of these resembled the dwarves, elves, and leprechauns of the western Celtic and Germanic peoples. They were not spirits, but may have had some supernatural powers.

The open worship of the ancient gods came to an end with Prince Vladimir's official baptism of the people of Rus in 988 A.D., although many folk traditions continued to be retold in tales and legends for many centuries thereafter. The sacred geography of ancient Rus is poorly studied. V. Boreiko from the Kiev Ecological–Cultural Center has published a few books (in Russian) that elucidate some of these landscape connections for the early Ukrainians and Russians.