I’ve stated several times before that I identify strictly as a Slavic Polytheist. Not as a Rodnover, not as a follower of “native faith”…not even a Slavic pagan. There’s a reason for that, which I’ve been grappling with for a while.
See, Rodnovery (and any of the linguistic names) is extremely problematic for me. I have seen too many people online on various blogging platforms who identify as Rodnovers and who are terribly racist or bigoted. People who spew hate for those of other races, or those who are not heterosexual and heteronormative. And while I logically know judging a whole title by a few people is not my most shining moment, I cannot in good conscience call myself a Rodnover when I know very well what a very vocal subset post and profligate. Also, the news stories of Rodnovers and what they have done (mostly from Russia is the articles I read), those were not pleasant and did not endear me to the term. Not to mention, as a few of these less than savory Rodnovers were my actual introduction into all things Slavic mythology/pagan/witchcraft – I am indelibly soured on this term.
I grew up in an open household with family of all sorts. I was raised to not accept bigotry, racism, sexism or ableism in any form. So I cannot identify with a group that originally soured me, due to how the most vocal among them speak and degrade those who do not fit their world view. And anyone who claims to hold superiority over others purely based on race, Slavic blood, or gender–they are not something I want to identify with.
Then there is “native faith”. I’m part of a few Slavic groups on Facebook. That was where I first learned of the term native faith. And admittedly, again, the people who were stuck on using that term were just like the original Rodnovers I dealt with. They were belittling, abusive, and extremely sexist and racist. I don’t do well with that. So I realized barely two months into my sojourn in these groups that I could never identify with that either.
Also, these two terms hold another problem for me. The majority of people I see posting online who label as either claim that those still living in “Slavic lands” are inherently superior in terms of morals, connection, spirituality than those whose families left the homeland and moved away. So for example, it doesn’t matter that I’m over 1/2 Slavic by blood…because my great-grandparents moved to the USA, I am naturally inferior because my family didn’t “stick it out” during the tumult of the 20th century. And it doesn’t matter what your blood is anyway, but a lot of the loud online people are very vocal that blood and percentages do matter.
I don’t get (and this may be a part of my raising in the USA, I admit) how my family having left a poverty-torn area to make a better living for their children is detrimental. The only downside is that I do not speak a Slavic language, I do not have innate knowledge of some concepts, legends, and folklore. But I can study just as well as someone who grew up in Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, etc. My family left to save their lives, and self-preservation is not something that I see my deities punishing anyone for. To live is paramount, and if that meant going across the ocean to a new world, then I do not feel my deities would shun me, the descendant, for what my ancestors did. In fact, I am a product of my family moving when they did, where they did. And so I have a real problem with labels that hold me as below others, just because of where I was born.
I know very well that there are good people who use those terms–there are quite a few in said Facebook groups. But given the vocal ones who speak so intolerantly, I cannot in good faith use such terms to label myself.
Labels are important after all–they tell others who you are, and what you believe. Therefore, I always felt I had to have a valid “label”. Not really for myself in some respects, because I am fine with my fluid-always evolving beliefs. But it does help for people to know what I am doing and which direction I am coming for.
And since I knew I needed a label at least to make my postings online somewhat cohesive, and to give at least something of a frame of reference to people I spoke with–I had to really struggle to figure out what I was. Since I had deep problems with Rodnovery and native faith, I for a long time used Slavic pagan.
But, as anyone who has done reading on Facebook groups, tumblr, or other blogging platforms has probably realized, pagan is a troublesome label as well.
There are too many people who claim they are pagan and steal from closed cultures. And I do not want to align myself with that either. Because I have a deep respect for those cultures who have deemed it such that they are not open to outsiders, for whatever reason they have. Their reasons do not even need to be explained–I understand that as an outsider I have no right to their spirituality without permission given by a member of that people and culture. I do not want to appropriate customs, ideas or concepts from a culture that I do not understand. I do not want to pluck a concept out of its cultural framework, twist it around, and bastardize it. I am deeply interested in learning about all different spiritual beliefs, but I want to do it respectfully. So I read what actual practitioners/believers say. If something is forbidden to me as an outsider, I want to respect that.
Also, people who label religions as pagan, because they are “not Christian” is a problem in the pagan community. Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Shinto…these are not in any way pagan religions, beliefs or world views. But yet, people go and pluck themes, ideas, concepts, and deities out of these religions with no respect for the culture they come from. And some of these are closed religions, not open to outsiders. So it is doubly problematic for erasing the identities of living believers and religions, while also appropriating things that outsiders may not have any right to use.
Also, in the pagan community there is a lot of “shaming” that goes on. You use hexes/curses/binding spells, etc – you’re using “black magic” (highly racist term there too). Only love and light should be done – “white magic”. Prayers and blessings to everyone, not a lot of real attention on doing the “mundane” first and supplementing with magic. Requesting that people back up their claims or to explain their position is mean and bullying…having a dissenting opinion is arguing. There is, on the whole, no room for debate in most locations. Satanism is not pagan – because it is “devil worship”, and many pagans hold up the whole we don’t believe in the devil. Satanism isn’t paganism as an argument to fling against their deep set and previously held Christian mindset. They erase a whole set of people who do choose to identify as pagan just to try and bolster their beliefs.
So it was a while ago, but I began to identify as a polytheist. I’m not saying this is problem-less. There are problems in all labels, beliefs, religious structures. But–I feel more at home as a polytheist. To me it doesn’t have the overwhelming baggage that Rodnovery, native faith and paganism all hold for me.
It speaks to the fundamental truth that I believe in many gods, distinct and separate from each other. It is easier to identify with a label that speaks to the basic core of what has become my spiritual beliefs. Other things may change, but at the heart, I have always believed in more than one deity. I’m comfortable with that being the core of my identification and label. I believe in other deities beyond the Slavic pantheon that I’m working with. I respect those deities–but I just don’t work with them.
So it’s been a bit of a struggle. I don’t identify with a large portion of those online who follow/worship/work with the same deities, spirits and entities that I do. I’m not comfortable allying myself with beliefs espoused by some who use those labels. But, it also brings comfort to know that the label I have, what I identify with, makes me feel comfortable. That’s a big step for me, and I think very important for a lot of people – being comfortable in my own skin is a huge step.∗