Introduction

SINCE those records of ancient Slavic life which have survived are very superficial, it is not surprising that only scanty and fragmentary knowledge of Slavonic religions has come down to us. The native chroniclers, imbued with Christian civilization, dealt shallowly and, it would seem, reluctantly with the life of their pagan ancestors; and while writers of other nationalities have left much more thorough accounts of the religions of the Slavic peoples, yet, being ignorant of the Slavic dialects and insufficiently familiar with the lives and customs of the Slavs, their documents are either very confused or betray a one-sided Classical or Christian point of view. It must further be borne in mind that the extant data treat of the period immediately preceding the introduction of Christianity, when the Slavic nations, inhabiting a wide-spread region and already possessed of some degree of civilization, had made considerable progress from their primeval culture. Hence no inferences may be drawn from the mythology of one Slavic nation as to the religion of the Slavs as a whole.

The most ample evidence, relatively speaking, is found regarding the religion of the Elbe Slavs, who adopted Christianity as late as the twelfth century. Thietmar, Bishop of Merseburg, gives the earliest accounts of their religion (976-1018),1 and the description of the rites of the Slavic tribe of the Lutici by Adam of Bremen, in his Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum (eleventh century),2 is founded chiefly on Thietmar's report. Helmold, a German chronicler of the twelfth century, who had seen the countries of the Elbe Slavs with his own eyes, transmitted important evidence of their religion in his Chronica Slavonim;3 and in like manner the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus, writing in the same century, spoke of the idolatry of the Elbe Slavs,4 his statements being confirmed by the Danish Knytlingasaga.5 Further detailed accounts of Slavic paganism may be found in the lives of St. Otto, a bishop of Bamberg, who was renowned as a missionary among the Pomeranian Slavs.6

The most important evidence for Russian religion is contained in the Chronicle of Nestor (noo);7 further fragments of pagan customs are preserved in the old Russian epic Slovo o pluku Igoreve ("Song of Igor's Band"), which dates from the twelfth century;8 and to these two main sources for a knowledge of the pagan period in Russia may be added some old religious writings directed against the heathenism which still lingered among the folk.

Mention of the religions of the eastern and southern Slavs is made in the works of the Greek historian Procopius of Caesarea (sixth century)9 and of the Arabian travellers al-Mas'udl10 and Ibrahim ibn Vasifshah 11 (tenth and twelfth centuries respectively), while allusions to ancient Slavic pagan rites and idolatry are found in the mediaeval encyclopaedias which were translated from Greek and Byzantine originals.

The main source for the religion of the Czechs is the Chronicle of Cosmas (ob. 1125),12 supplemented by the Homiliary of the Bishop of Prague (twelfth century.) 13 The chronicler Dtugosz (fifteenth century) records fairly detailed accounts of the old Polish religion, although they are not very reliable;14 and allusions of a more specific character occur in some fragments of old Polish literature, particularly in Polish-Latin homilies.15

These poor and scanty accounts of the mythology of the ancient Slavs are supplemented by old traditions which still live among the people, these legends being very rich and containing ample survivals of the past, since even after their conversion to Christianity the common folk clung to their pagan beliefs. Thus ancient national tales, preserved to this very day, contain distinct traces of the early faith, and these traditions, verified by old evidence, are of such prime importance that they will form the basis of our description of Slavic mythology.

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