Friday, April 18, 2008

Ukrainian Paganism, Past and Present



For the vast majority of Ukrainian history, its people – the Slavs – have been pagan (worshiping a multitude of divine beings). Over the long period of time prior to Christianity’s adoption, the Rus’ (former name for Ukraine) had developed a strong culture, tied into their religious beliefs. In 988 C.E., when Prince Vladimir of Kiev baptized the Rus’, thereby denouncing paganism and officially adopting Christianity. However, he was only able to weaken polytheism’s grip on the Ukraine. The remnants of it still persist to the present day.
There are numerous examples of paganism’s presence in today’s Ukraine. Many such examples are the multitude of traditions practiced in conjunction with various Christian holidays. One such holiday is Ivana Kupala, which is supposed to be a celebration of John the Baptist. However many Ukrainians celebrating this holiday practice pagan pleasures such as jumping over a burning fire with a partner to purge the soul. These practices are part of its past. This tradition shows an attempt of an early way of Ukrainians to retain their rich and ancient religious culture.
One other such famous “textbook example” is the ancient ritual of pysanka or what is presently known as Easter egg decoration. As before, the sun, along with other major parts of nature, was given extreme respect. Eggs were painted with symbolic plants, animals and other living and non-living beings and were used in sun worship celebrations and later kept as juju’s. However, just as in Ivana Kupala, pysanky and its many symbols were blended with the Christian holiday Easter.

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