Neo-paganism and Russian Orthodoxy – an explosive mix of religion and ideology

32 Neo paganism and Russian Orthodoxy – an explosive mix of religion and ideologyXXIst century witnesses a strange phenomenon – Orthodox Christianity cooperating with its two thousand year old enemy – paganism. Though co-existence, symbiosis, and cooperation of Christianity with paganism seems theologically impossible, or, at least, contradicting to common sense and logic, it does develop in Russia, though the leaders of Moscow Patriarchy condemn and deny it ex cathedra.

Russian Orthodox Church today is more than just the most popular church in Russia and some post-USSR countries, – in recent years it has become an ideological institution, which justified and sanctified the power of V.Putin, and stated the basis for Russian identity. Being Russian means being Orthodox Christian today, and it doesn’t really matter whether you believe in God or not[1].

Mysteriously in the minds of many “believers” defining themselves as Orthodoxes (75% of Russia’s population) being Christian doesn’t contradict the broad spectrum of beliefs like:

  • Jesus spoke Russian
  • Russians wrote the original Vedas and were the core Aryans that brought sacred ancient knowledge to India
  • Ra was Russian Sun-god, plagiarized by Egyptians”.

This set of ideas comes from a quickly rising Russian neo-paganism – a new complex quazi-religion, which has spread during last twenty-five years in post-USSR states.
“Pagan revival” in post-USSR countries started in early nineties. Most popular view among scholars of religion is that it filled the spiritual gap among low-educated and militarized youth, looking for proofs of own superiority and strive for religious justification of xenophobia and aggression.

For sure, KGB’s successors in Russia couldn’t do but use and develop this fresh aggressive ethnic-oriented pseudo-religion. Today its ideas reach hundreds of thousands people in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus getting as far as to Russian-speaking population of Baltic states and Germany.


Acquaintance with the works of Russian paganism ideologists (Hinevich, Trehlebov, Levashov, Cherkasov, Golyakov) and their followers’ practices helps us define its basic features:

  •         claim for the sole access to Higher Truth through the hidden pre-Christian tradition of wise men;
  •         “pagan” crypto-history (Russians are the most ancient “race” and descendants of Slavic pagan gods);
  •         justification of territorial claims towards neighbors and killing of non-Russians;
  •         xenophobia, racism, and antisemitism based on the idea of spiritual superiority of “Russian race”;
  •         claims for Vedic heritage and search for its origin in pre-Russian culture (very similar to Aryosophy of German Nazis with its swastika cult, rune symbolism, and “revival of Nordic Gods”);
  •         easy blending with popular simplified and vulgarized form of Russian Orthodoxy, at the outcome providing a religion-like ideology and worldview, that justifies aggression much better than Orthodoxy with its humble moral and commandments like “you shall not murder”;
  •         jihadist-like fanatism;
  •         apparent absence of single centralized management.


Revivers or, to be more precise, recreators of Russian paganism rarely use scientific data on the religion of ancient Slavs, but prefer “lost and miracluously found ancient sacred texts” like “Book of Veles” or “Slavic-Arian Vedas” considered by serious researchers to be pseudoreligious falsifications created in  XXth century.

The main thing that unites neo-pagans and their “historical enemies” from Russian Orthodox Church is the notion of belonging to Russians – which is much more important than the complex theoretical disagreements in theology, ontology, soteriology, or eschatology.  

Field cooperation between Orthodox priests and “pagans” started at ultra-nationalist marches in Russia, and continues on the battlefields of Ukraine today.

We have analyzed numerous online interviews with Russian terrorists in the East of Ukraine, who demonstrate the common political goals and cooperation of Orhodox Christian and neo-pagan combatants. For many of them even the word “православие” (“Orthodoxy” in Russian) is the name of pre-Christian pagan ancestorial religion and means “glorifiying Prav” (“права”  is supposed to be an ancient Universal Law, similar to Vedic ṛta, though you’ll never find this word in old Slavic texts).

In combat conditions two religions’ symbiosis works extremely well – both Orthodox and pagan combatants believe that they fight for “building holy Russia and killing its enemies as enemies of faith and enemies of God”. One of the groups, “Rusich” with neopagan kolovrat (double swastika) as their symbol and talisman, states that “our goal is unity of all Slavs under Russian flag and the sign of Sun.

One more conspicuous representative of a trend was the commander of “Varyag” group who in 2014 had scared Western reporter with his dreams of “creation of Orthodox Al-Queda“.

Another good example is 700-fighter “pagan battalion Svarog” (Svarog was the name of a Slavic pre-Christian god). Its leader dreams of destroying all “non-Russian enemies and building a great state from the Atlantic to the Pacific”. Further to military disciplines, battalion’s members study the mystic symbolism of Slavic alphabet.

These gangs fight shoulder to shoulder with ultra-orthodoxes from “Russian Orthodox Army” (ROA) – another powerful terrorist organization, which has lots of fighters combining Nazi swastikas with Orthodox crosses. The supposedly volunteer “army” counted 4000 fighters in 2014 and demonstrated harsh violence against non-Orthodox believers.  

ROA, Svarog, Varyag and the like military groups are the spreaders of this religion\ideology in occupied territories of Ukrainian Donbas. We have no data on how successful they are, but we know they do their best proselytizing.



It looks like Russian powers have managed to forge the religion-based terrorist ideology armed with revanchism and notions of religious and racial superiority, which turns out to be an effective mass manipulation instrument prepared for aggression.

Though scholars of religion have noted many times that Russian neo-paganism had been lacking cooperation among different concurring and often hostile towards earch other groups, it has recently showed itself from different aspect: its multiple followers are ready to overcome their leadership and theological differences and join the ultra-right Orthodoxes to fight mutual non-Russian enemy both inside and outside Russia.

Russia’s attempts to establish neo-paganism in its blend with Russian Orthodox Christianity does more than just providing ideology for Russian terrorists – the movement has become a strong basis for fanatics’ organisation: as the war between Russia and Ukraine goes on, new and new groups of fighters from Russia come into Ukraine believing in a strange mix of paganism and Orthodoxy.

This phenomenon constitutes a great danger for all neighboring states, because it can be easily exported into Russian-speaking communities outside Russia, and transformed from a religion into a practical combatant ideology, as the war in Ukraine has shown.

If not stopped in Ukraine, Russian Orthodox and neo-pagan extremism and terrorism will rise, spread, and look for new victims.

Presented:  XXIst World Congress of International Association for the History of Religions held in Erfurt, 27.08.2015.

[1] 30% of people defining themselves as “Orthodox” in Russia stated they didn’t believe in God in 2010 survey.



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