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What Are the Major Elements of Russian Mythology?

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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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The major elements of Russian mythology are deeply linked to Slavic traditions across Eastern Europe. Elements of this mythology are broken down into deities, folklore/folktales and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The most used examples are supernatural creatures such as the Baba Yaga and the Firebird. With the arrival of Orthodox Christianity, a large amount of pagan folklore was absorbed and made Christian as with other parts of the world.

Russian mythology should be separated from the nationality of Russian, which includes many ethnic non-Russians such as Tartars, Chechens and Chuvash with their own mythologies and traditions. Russia is a vast country spreading from the borders of Eastern Europe to the Bering Strait; Russian culture comes mostly from west of the Ural Mountains.

A common chief God of pagan Russians — not all tribes agreed — was a pan-Slavic God called Perun. Perun is often balanced with Veles, also written as Volos. If Perun is noted in a high situation such as on a hill or mountain, then the lowlands around it, the valleys and the plains, are associated with Veles. With the introduction of Christianity, folklore modified Veles from a rival of Perun to a devil-like figure. Other chief Gods of the region included Rod, Svarog and Triglav.

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Russian mythology is replete with a vast array of supernatural creatures and monsters. An example is the Baba Yaga. She began life as a minor goddess, but after Christianity’s arrival, she became a witch-like creature who mostly caused trouble, but sometimes helped heroes in stories. Another example is the firebird. Basically a flaming peacock, the firebird usually tries to help people.

Slavic and Russian mythology also have localized versions of more pan-European creatures. The Russian dragon, or Zmey Gorynych, is a triple-headed creature that runs on two legs with little T-Rex style front arms. Vampires in Russia are represented by butterflies rather than by bats and were seen as immortals who’d suffered a tragic death, rather than blood-sucking monsters.

Like many polytheistic and animist religions, the ancient Russian religion was full of a number of local variations on basic ideas. Religious beliefs were deeply tied to nature, the cycle of life and ancestors. This often meant appeasing and getting along with a vast number of spirits from house spirits such as Domovoi to field and wood spirits like the polevye and lecnyee, respectively.

The dominance of life cycles in Russian mythology naturally led to a complex calendar of events and rituals. Some were linked to particular deities and others to times of the year. For example, the holiday of Kupala was seen as an ideal time to bathe because the sun had given special qualities to the water. When Christianity came, Christians combined Kupala with rituals surrounding John the Baptist.

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