Russia’s first pagans were largely wiped out by the Russian Christian church 1,000 years ago. But a modern iteration of the movement was reborn during the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe enabled the few small Pagan movements in the region to surface in the public sphere,” political scientist Kaarina Aitamurto wrote in the journal E-International Relations. “At the beginning of the 1990s, they gained momentum in virtually all ex-socialist countries.”
Followers say their polytheistic faith honors Russia’s Slavic roots and allows them to maintain a distinct national identity. Today, there are thousands of self-described rodnovers in Siberia, Volga, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The group defines its faith loosely, pulling traditions and beliefs from ancient Slavic tribes. Though customs vary from place to place, many rodnovers celebrate the “solar holidays” that mark the change of the season by dressing in costume and performing short plays. At some ceremonies, there are sacrifices, dances and communal meals. Rodnovers often worship in Slavic-style temples that feature images of the gods.