Although I am predominantly a Norse heathen, I must admit that I do feel a bit of a connection to the Slavic gods. Perhaps this is an ancestral thing, or maybe it is simply because there are so many similarities between the religions in the two regions; hence why I decided to write an article comparing them! I have done plenty of study, but sadly I have discovered that there is very little reliable information published about Slavic paganism that has been translated into English. Therefore, please forgive me and do let me know if there are any mistakes! Enjoy!
Norse paganism: Asatru (Icelandic, meaning ‘faith in the gods’) / Heathenry (‘heathen’ was once a derogatory term used by Christians to describe pagans, but modern Norse pagans have adopted it as their own).
Slavic paganism: Slavic Native Faith / Vedism / Orthodoxy / Old Belief / Rodnovery (this term varies depending on which Slavic country you happen to be in, but it is believed to be derived from the words ‘rod’ – meaning ‘ancestral’ or ‘indigenous’ – and ‘vera’, meaning ‘faith’ or ‘religion’). Rod is also the name of the supreme god in Slavic mythology, so it could also be translated roughly as ‘faith in Rod’. Interestingly, many who follow Rodnovery avoid labeling themselves as ‘pagans’, instead preferring to class themselves as followers of an ‘ethnic religion’.
Norse: followers of Asatru (the modern reconstruction of ancient Scandinavian pre-Christian religion) believe in living their lives – and dying their deaths – honourably. They do not bow down before their gods, but instead ask them for guidance and pay homage to them in a variety of ways including (but not limited to) prayer, rituals, sacrifices etc. They are fiercely proud of their roots, and pay as much respect to their ancestors as they do their gods.
Slavic: followers of Rodnovery (the modern reconstruction of ancient Slavic pre-Christian religion) believe in restoring national spirituality. In fact, many would argue that theirs is NOT a reconstruction, but rather a modern movement based on the folklore and old traditions of their region. They pay homage to their gods, and live rather conservative and traditional lives. They are proud of their history, and wish to uphold the traditions of days gone by. As with Norse paganism, there are also elements of prayer and ritualistic practices.
Both religions are polytheistic, meaning that they recognize multiple deities.
Norse: Odin, Thor, Freya, Loki, Tyr, etc.
Slavic: Rod, Belobog, Chernobog, Perun, Svetovid, Lada, etc.
It is very intriguing to compare the gods and goddesses of these two pantheons, as they bear striking similarities. For example:
Both Odin and Rod are the ‘chief gods’ of their respective pantheons.
Thor and Perun are both gods of thunder.
Freya and Lada are both goddesses of fertility.
Tyr and Svetovid are both gods of war.
However, one of the differences between the two pantheons is that the Slavic deities tend to have polar opposites of each other. For example:
Belobog (black god) and Chernobog (white god).
Dazhbog (sun god) and Jutrobog (moon god).
There is also a strong concept of the ‘heavenly’ masculine deities, and ‘earthly’ feminine deities (similar to Wiccan teachings).
Both Norse and Slavic mythologies speak of the ‘Tree of Life’/’World Tree’.
Norse: Yggdrasil, a colossal ash tree which holds the Nine Worlds. There are also many mythical creatures and beings scattered about the tree.
Slavic: ‘World Tree’/’Tree of Life’, a humongous oak tree which represents the worlds’ axis. Many deities and mythical creatures live within the branches and roots of the tree. It’s branches stretch to the heavens, and it’s roots bury down into the underworld.
Norse: Norse pagans believe that those who die in battle ascend to Valhalla – a golden hall in Asgard (realm of the Aesir gods) – where they will feast, drink, fight and die, only to be reborn and continue this itinerary until Ragnarok (the final battle of the gods, and the end of the world as we know it). Odin and Freya choose half each of those slain in battle. Odin’s choices go to Valhalla, whereas Freya’s choices go to either Helgafjell (a mountainous place which is basically halfway between Valhalla and the next place, which I’m about to explain…) or Hel/Helheim (realm of the dead, presided over by the goddess Hel. Not to be confused with the fire and brimstone of the Christian ‘Hell’!). Only the very bravest of warriors can ever hope to go to Valhalla, whereas those who died of sickness or old age were pretty much destined for Hel. Little is known about Helgafjell, but it appears to be a sort of limbo between the others.
Slavic: there is, sadly, hardly any surviving documents pertaining to the ancient Slavic pagan afterlife. Even more sadly, I cannot find any reliable English translations! So, I am going on pure guesswork judging by the minute amount of information I have been able to find online… There are lots of tales of demonic creatures such as vampires and strigoi, which could suggest a rather grim type of afterlife for some poor souls! I have also read theories suggesting that Slavs also had their own versions of Valhalla and Hel, although I haven’t been able to find a completely trustworthy source, so I am reluctant to publicize this as fact. Another theory is that the souls of the dead went to ‘Nawia’ – the ‘land of eternal happiness’, but that they could return to the land of the living several times throughout the year during rituals dedicated to the forefathers (Dziady). This type of ritual is described in the next section.
Both religions perform rituals to pay homage to their respective gods, and to attain their favour to ensure a successful harvest or good fortunes (for example). They also both celebrate holidays such as the Summer and Winter Solstices, pre-Christian versions of Christmas (otherwise known as Winter Solstice/Yule) and Easter (Eostre/Ostara/Jare Swieto).
Norse: many Norse pagans perform Blots, which are essentially sacrificial rituals. In the Viking era, blood sacrifices were extremely common, but nowadays it is preferable to pay libation in leftover food or drink!
Slavic: similar to Blots, the Slavs also made offerings of food and drink to their gods and goddesses, as well as blood sacrifices in ancient times.
Another similarity between the ritualistic practices of the two religions is the ways in which they conversed with their dead; the Norse celebrated Alfablot, which occurred around the same time as the modern Halloween. They would place offerings and recite poems upon the burial mounds of their ancestors, and they also believed that the dead walked among them during the ritual. Slavic pagans also offered food and drink, and lit fires in cemeteries to celebrate their own ‘day of the dead’ (now called ‘Zaduszki’ in Poland, although it is still celebrated in other Slavic countries under different names). They also placed pieces of wood at crossroads in attempt to point the way to back to heaven, in order that the souls of the dead would not become trapped in the mortal world.
I’m still researching Rodnovery, so once I have some more information, I may write another article! But I hope that you enjoyed reading my comparison. I think you’ll agree, they both have much in common!