Being part of a “diaspora” and lacking the native resources and sources can be very difficult at times. Figure it out that, to start with, one is removed from the modern culture, people, traditions and folklore; then also, in a lot of cases, the family that came from the original country is either long-gone, unable to remember (they might have been children coming over), or just unwilling to discuss such things. So one is cut off from the intimate knowledge of more distant past and knowledge. Sure, one can look up historical documents, can read surveys and academic accounts–also one can always read blogs or posts or articles by those who still live in the home country/region. But that is intrinsically very different than growing up within the culture.
Take my family as example. My family that comes from Slavic countries–they were my great-grandparents and back (great-greats, and great-great-greats in some cases). These people are long dead, so I cannot ask them directly for information. Family records are sketchy, that is just how it goes with my family and in general records from eastern countries are more difficult than say England or France or even Germany. And the few family members left alive who are old enough to have known my great-great-greats, etc and so on, are all old, far removed from me + out of touch with the family; and most commonly, the family who might have known such things are all dead.
So my resources to get first hand or even second-hand family information are slim. It’s difficult for me to get information from the family; and even if there were more alive, I know how my family was, from the stories I have learned from my remaining family. The family all kicked back our origin and worked hard to totally assimilate. Which I understand, I do. But that complicates all issues for me in trying to build that connection. It’s a type of thing to deal with when your family has left the “Old Country” and has gone somewhere else to start over and rebuild.
Being in a diaspora can be difficult. Because you’re cut off. And in certain communities it is very difficult to continue learning when those who still remain on the Old Country are vehemently against sharing information. Or the ever more fun situation–your family’s country of origin has few to no resources translated into languages accessible to outsiders. I am lucky in one respect–I speak a 2nd language. But my knowledge of German is far better for strict historical research and knowledge of eastern Europe; for spiritual beliefs and needs, I really need to learn a Slavic language. But that is difficult when time and resources are limited. So it is a struggle to access resources that otherwise would make practice far easier.
There are true benefits to growing up inside the culture/beliefs that you follow.
Not that everyone can.
But even in the example of the more popular “paganisms”, well there are major resources, cultural ties, and cultural and societal influences that overwhelm even the fact that one did not grow up within these cultures. I mean–looking at Hellenismos, Roman paganism – these two are from the the “foundation” cultures/societies that created western society. Now, that’s gross oversimplification. And it makes the historian in me cringe to even write it. But that’s how it is seen. And in a broad way, this is kind of true; especially as most people will never know better, and so this is what gets said. You do not have to have grown up in Rome or in a Greek city-state to understand and know the culture that gave rise to Greek or Roman gods. There is a shared culture base that makes these deities and beliefs instantly accessible to any layman who opens up a mythology book. These are the base of how almost every western culture looks at mythology, at ancients, at paganism.
Even Norse mythology has a large base (though I will admit that from my understanding there are some major flaws in modern understanding by outsiders, thanks to Marvel and the like) of well-known beliefs. There is more obscurity here, and there are obvious large misunderstandings about what the gods are, who they were, and just what is and is not actually pagan; as opposed to what was written later by Christians. But there is a huge base, and people can understand and relate to this mythology very well also.
None of this to say that everything people say/assume/think about these pantheons is correct. Every base has misunderstandings, frauds, lies, and UPG that affects practitioners and worshipers. That is always going to be the case, and there is no need to deny that. —- still, these “major” pantheons are well understood, well seen, and generally have a lot of people from all over the world with multiple resource bases and options to get research, information, or even people to speak about their beliefs with.
Then you get into my interest: Slavic beliefs.
I made a big study of western European attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes and knowledge on eastern Europe in the early modern period during college. My history dissertation was on how western Europe saw Russia (as the “archetype” of eastern Europe of the time) as the outsider, and just what that means in terms of how they dealt with Russians, what economic, political and sociological implications this provided. And my professor tried to take me to town; to make sure that I was able to defend my dissertation: he asked me about modern views, comparatively. I did research also on the bias, beliefs, and just what you can tell about the beliefs of the researcher’s/writer’s time period and culture by how they write about a situation.
Suffice that long thing to say: I am very well aware of how the “West” (western Europe, and by extension, the USA) sees eastern Europe throughout history. Even into today, western perceptions of eastern Europe are very easy to trace and track back to original contacts. And today, due to the socioeconomic and -political stands and events of the 20th century, many western cultures treat central European countries, such as Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and others, just the same as they treat the true eastern country of Russia.
Due to the extreme situations that played out over the last 120 years between west and east Europe, with central Europe see-sawing back and forth between interests based on who was in power, and what they deemed priority, there is a real uncertainty in how people think about the east. And thus — just what people think of Slavic culture, beliefs, society and history. It’s a topic I could write a small novella on; I still have dozens of my resources, sources and even a copy of my dissertation with a full section on this. Suffice that this is a huge passion on research for me, and I do like to learn ever more.
Diaspora members, those of us whose families left long ago, find ourselves in a difficult position. Many of us might be very “western” in our outlooks, in our cultural raising, in our society. Many of us are 3rd generation or longer in our new countries (like me, a 3rd generation American; though my family assimilated so well that you’d never know that my grandparents were the 1st generation born in the USA)–so our ties to our “Home Countries” are comparatively low. I know, for example, that my family who came to the US all left the same neighborhood in Prague; but that they originally came from a much smaller town. I know I have very distant relations still living in that town–though we’re separated by generations and nearly 130 years since my family left to come to the USA and get a new life.
So you have those of us who grew up “abroad” from the heart of our Slavic beliefs. We are inherently not raised as “Slavs”, especially not in the States. Raised to be proud of our heritage, of course. My own family would never deny where they came from; they’re proud of that. But raised to be fully American, to fit in as your stereotypical American family; and to not stand out in any way that would make things difficult.
Just 100-120 years ago and my family were not “white”. We were troublesome people, subject to strict immigration bans and limits on numbers. Eastern Europeans were not desirable Caucasian immigrants, not for a good period of time. My family’s home country marked them as lesser; as not desirable. So I am acutely aware of how very lucky my family is to be where they are now. But it was not easy–I have read the records, my family struggled hard when they first got here. They fought and made a better living here; and there are even letters from the very first years here back to family in the “Old Country”. So I know what kind of sacrifice my family made.
Those of us not living back in the old country all have trouble. It is difficult to make connections that people who grew up in the culture instinctively make. I recognize that very well after having lived in Germany for a year. I understood the culture and history from an academic standpoint. But not matter how long I live there, how long I study and immerse myself in German culture–I will never have the benefit or intrinsic knowing of just what it is like to actually grow up German. It’s just the way things are. There will always be things that I don’t “get” the way a native-born German will; even if I can always academically know it, understand it, and even fully discuss ramification and results with German people.
And perhaps because I’m so deeply entrenched in it, I see just how nasty things can get in the Slavic groups and discussions about diaspora members. I’ve written about it before. It is pretty clear what types of trouble I’ve run into online on Facebook and Tumblr with Slavic beliefs. Quite frankly, most of the online stuff I see is bordering on toxic. There are good people though, I’ve got a few people I’ve come to chat with off of Tumblr or Facebook; and for that I am very grateful. Finding those good people makes it worth it. Because good people who share my beliefs mean I have people to talk to; and that is always worth the BS otherwise.
It’s a pretty common topic among outspoken Rodnovers (I will specifically call this – because the majority I interact with with these beliefs all claim this title) from the eastern European countries – that only they themselves are truly worshiping the gods; only they are allowed to. And anyone else is a fraud, dishonoring the gods, and should be harassed into stopping. There is also the stereotypical infighting between different Slavic believers from different countries: I have mentioned the bashing going on between one man and a Serbian Slavic pagan in a Facebook group I’m part of; there have also been nasty flame wars before about how Balkan pagans are all traitors, and a few dust ups between Russian and Polish pagans I’ve seen. Really, the vitriol gets nasty–but it’s the same refrain at all times: only those who grew up and stayed in the Old Country–and can prove their Slavic blood are allowed to worship the gods. Everyone else is posing.
As though they hold the monopoly on an open religion that died in the early modern period as a full-fledged and independent belief system. Modern types of Slavic beliefs and worship–those are recreations. None of us are practicing an ancient pagan belief system. All of our ancestors became Christian (whether Orthodox, Catholic or later Protestant, it doesn’t matter). Yes folklore and folk belief remained. But these are not the basis of a full-fledged religion. It is not as though there was some long, unbroken line of Slavic pagans who survived all alone without any interference, borrowing, or influence of Christianity. Quite frankly, I have zero respect for anyone who follows a Slavic path who claims they are following an unbroken family “pagan” tradition. No. It is a folklore, a superstition, a lore belief. That is fine, and it is just what I expect. But no, there is no solid line.
And to go with this — Slavic beliefs were never closed to begin with. It is very likely that several of the gods we can definitely prove existed in old Slavic pagan beliefs were Iranian or Greek–borrowings from the Byzantine cultures that they traded with. There is absolute certainty that the original princes that took over the Slavic tribes (who were Scandinavian in origin) brought their own culture and beliefs with them. Slavic culture was not closed. It was open, borrowing, mutating, adapting with their neighbors. There is nothing wrong with this. But it means that the loudest cries of those who claim only “pure Slavs” can worship Slavic gods, spirits and beliefs are all full of shit. And those of us whose families left to make it somewhere else, we are not barred from learning about our ancestors, our family’s culture and history, just because others think we should be.
Still, all this makes for some real tension. There are a lot of western-raised people who are members of the diaspora, who want to learn more. They try to learn. And to be honest, sometimes we cannot get good sources. Other times we try and go with Google translate of articles or websites, when we cannot read the source material languages. Sometimes this does not work, so we will trade off language knowledge and summaries with each other–to pool our resources. Other times it is impossible, and we have to save sources and try to get them translated later. Some of us try to learn a new language; but this can be difficult based on our own resources and time. We are limited, as we do need to care for our physical and “mundane” needs first. But we try.
Sometimes we get help. Other times, there is a very real sense of “get out” that makes it difficult. Still, the diaspora here is a lot stranger than any other I’ve been introduced to. It may be that the open interest and cultural ties stretching back to antiquity mean that other pantheons/mythologies are far more accessible. It might also be that because these have been so long bastions of “western culture” that everyone is less territorial and possessive of them. I won’t claim to understand just why it is so easy with western beliefs and structures; and yet eastern European beliefs are so hard and fraught.
But there is nothing that makes me appreciate just how hard it is to connect and make connections as I have learned the last years in my continuing journey as a western-raised Slavic polytheist. It has been difficult, terribly nasty at times. But there have been good, helpful times as well. I’ve gotten a few good communication partners over the last few years. Some we’ve fallen out of touch, others we still chat on occasion. The collaboration with these people is great though. Because while I cannot ever understand what it’s like being a Czech-born/raised Slavic pagan or Russian-born/raised–I can understand what it’s like being the result of a diaspora and having to struggle to learn what I have, and to gain what resources I may.
Having been through this over the last years, I’ve really come to appreciate the good people and groups. To really appreciate just what resources I’ve gathered; what information I’ve learned. Diaspora living for religious and spiritual beliefs is difficult. But then again, what is learning without some kind of challenge?∗