Russian Pagans From Ancient Cult Greet Solstice

July 5, 2009

Author: Sergei Ponomarev


Wire Service: AP

Tambourine throbbing in hand, Velislav chants to gods whose cult has almost been obliterated by a millennium of Christianity in Russia.

Several hundred followers wearing linen, ancient Slavic ornaments and flower garlands circle around the high priest to celebrate the summer solstice, in an all-night festivity fought by the Russian Orthodox Church for centuries. The rugged faces of bearded gods and stern goddesses top a temple of upright logs.

These are Russia's neo-pagans, whose ranks are estimated in the low thousands. Only a handful of pagan groups are officially registered in this predominantly Orthodox Christian country with sizable Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish minorities. The fractured pagan groups constantly argue about the authenticity of rituals, the hierarchy of priests or the pantheon of gods.