Kind of an interesting question, depending on perspective. Because I’m sure there could be at least a dozen answers I could come up with–and that does not begin to count the answers other people could give at the exact same time. – and most of them are not the historical phenomenon I am actually talking about.
The historian and life-long student in me wants to pontificate on double faith; that being the particular manifestation of Orthodox Christianity that sprung up after the church swept through eastern Slavic lands and became the dominant religion of the ruling class. The rulers pushed their new holy religion on the masses, regardless of what the masses themselves believed or wanted. Rulers prerogative, as it were, of course.
Which led to a duality of belief that came down to us as a particular phenomenon in early modern Russian religious belief:
Dvoeverie – Double Faith
Just what is this?
Dvoeverie is the double faith within medieval and early-modern Russian history. It is the people embracing both the new and old. Or more specifically – your average person accepting the new Christianity (baptism, masses, feast days/Christian holidays) but also keeping their old pagan beliefs (worship and sacrifice to gods, ancient rites, etc). This even persisted past when the old mythology was forgotten. And thus you get superstitions and folk practices that held on past the time anyone living could remember why they did something.
Lots of the common people (i.e. peasants) probably saw Christianity as an addition to their existing beliefs and traditions; not a new religion to supplant the old. Might as well keep the best of what you had and add on the good of the new. It’s rather practical and pragmatic–definitely my kind of belief system.
In any case, this particular belief system was extremely strong, in “Russia”, and so it’s a fascinating concept to study. Given the studies done into the phenomenon, and the sheer volume of information we have about–it’s pretty obvious that the church was never able to fully eradicate dvoeverie during the Christianization of Slavic lands.
Looking from the outside in, this is pretty fascinating. The historian in me adores fun puzzles, and this is one of the more interesting things to consider and puzzle out. It’s the mix and combination of pre-Christian beliefs (what now we call superstitions or folklore), combined and brought together with Christian theology and tradition.
Veles became St. Blaise and St. Nicholas; as well as the Christian Devil. Perun becomes St. Elijah the Thunderer (specific, yes), or more rarely St. Michael. Folklore creatures like rusalka, leshy, domovoi, and vilas all have place. Then there’s the fairy-tale elements like the firebird, Baba Jaga, Koschei the Deathless and others come into play. Especially the gods as saints, and folklore creatures–those definitely had pre-Christian hold. Many of the fairy-tale elements have the same.
Generally, I enjoy things like this. New information and fun interesting informational bits that can be teased out and learned about. It’s kind of unique in some ways. And it draws in the interest to try and investigate and learn more about just how dvoeverie might have influenced later folklore and folk beliefs. Or what influence it even had–if it had an influence.
There is some discussion academically, I believe, on just how influential this dvoeverie really was in the medieval period. And whether it even truly was a thing — or were the people just doing what people across Europe did on adopting Christianity.
So it’s not a theory without detractors. But there’s no denying that the concept and theory has been extremely influential in studying pre-Christian and early Christian Slavic paganism, especially in Russia. It’s been the guiding principle for over 150 years of studies.
It’s a fun little study concept though, and I’m currently on the look out for more academic texts on the subject so I can get a better understanding of the academic work and research into the topic.*