Mordvin Native Religion

Mordvin Neopaganism, or the Mordvin native religion or Erzyan native religion, is the modern revival of the ethnic religion of the Mordvins (Erzya and Moksha), peoples of Volga Finnic ethnic stock dwelling in the republic of Mordovia within Russia, or in bordering lands of Russia. The religion is often called Mastorava (Mordvin for: "Mother Earth"), from the homonymous epic poem or the mother goddess of the Mordvin pantheon. The name of the originating god according to the Mordvin tradition is Ineshkipaz.

The Mordvins have been almost fully Christianised since the times of Kievan Rus', although Pagan customs were preserved in the folklore and a few villages completely preserved the native faith at least until further missionary activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century and in the early 20th century.[1] The Neopagan revival was started in 1990,[2] alongside that of many other native religions in Russia, as the Soviet Union was on the brink of dissolution.

According to scholar Victor Schnirelmann, 2% of the Mordvins adhere to the Mordvin native faith,[3] while more recent figures by the Evangelical database Joshua Project report 5%.[4] Adherents of the Erzyan Mastor organisation organise the Rasken Ozks (Mordvin for: "Native Prayer"), a national Mordvin worship service held yearly, with participation also of members of the Mastorava organisation and other ones.[5][6][7]

Mordvin Native Faith (Эрзянская вера) symbol
Mordvin Native Faith symbol, also used as logo of the Erzyan Mastor.


The revival of the Mordvin native religion has grown alongside, and with the support, of Mordvin nationalism which started in the last years of the Soviet regime.[8] The revival of the national consciousness of the Mordvins was difficult at first, since they were a minority in their country and the press, which was very influential, took a tough communist line.[8] The Russian democrats and communists were hostile towards Mordvin nationalists.[8]

At the start of the perestroika the Mordvin national intelligentsia waged a vigorous and successful campaign against Russian Orthodoxy, called "the religion of occupation", "the Russifying ideological force".[8] Later the Saransk Ministry of Culture endorsed the revival of Mordvin culture and Paganism, arousing outcry from local Orthodox bishops.[8] This was the circle that produced the first Neopagans, the Mastorava organisation led by the local poet Raisa Kemaikina, a group within the Saransk intelligentsia whose aim was the complete reconstruction of a Pagan worldview and religious services reworking folkloric, ethnographic and linguistic study.[8]

Mastorava - Mordovian Society for National Rebirth

The Mastorava organisation was established in 1990 with the aim of "restoring the Moksha and Erzya ethnic communities", also fostering a revival of Paganism.[2] The association is officially registered in Moscow since 2002.[9] The current president is Nikolaj Vasilevich Butilov.

Erzyan Mastor

Raskenj ozks-kirvactema
Ritual preparations for the Rasken Ozks.
Rasjkenj Ozka- Modan kajamo
Mordvin women taking part in Rasken Ozks celebrations.

The Erzyan Mastor (Erzya for: "Erzyan Land") is a more recent organisation splintering from the Mastorava association. At first it was headed by Raisa Kemaikina.[8] The group is focused on the Erzya (excluding the Moksha people), has political aims for the spread of Mordvin-Erzya Paganism, and is militant against Christianity.[10] In 1992 Kemaikina released the following declarations to the Chuvash newspaper Atlas, answering to a question about her attitude towards Christianity:[8]

I am strongly opposed to it. In its role as the official state religion of Russia, Christianity suffocated the religions of other nations, transforming them into involuntary spiritual slaves. [...] t is worse than a prison. Sooner or later people get out of prison and become masters of their own fate again. A prisoner is someone who has lost his or her freedom temporarily. But a slave is not a prisoner — he doesn't even desire freedom. Over the course of many centuries Christianity has bred our peoples into slaves, depriving them of freedom of thought and reducing them to the level of submissive cattle. In the Erzya religion the relationship between God and human beings is different from that in Christianity. It is deeper, more humane, more beautiful. [...] In our religion a person's worth is not killed or suppressed, but extolled. You never hear things like "you are God's slave", or "turn the other cheek", or "if someone takes your coat give them your shirt as well", or "bless your enemy".

In 1992 Kemaikina organised the first Pagan national ritual after decades or even centuries, sponsored by Mordovian businessmen.[11] Neighbouring villages learned long-forgotten Pagan prayers and Kemaikina was proclaimed the first priestess of the Erzya people.[11] Television reports of that and following national worship ceremonies caused enthusiasm throughout the republic, and now the "Pagan question" is discussed from the remotest villages to university auditoria.[11]

See also

Uralic Neopaganism
Caucasian Neopaganism
Baltic Neopaganism
Slavic neopaganism


  1. ^ Filatov, Sergei; Shchipkov, Aleksandr. "Religious Developments among the Volga Nations as a Model for the Russian Federation". Religion, State & Society, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1995. p. 234.
  2. ^ a b Schnirelmann, Victor: “Christians! Go home”: A Revival of Neo-Paganism between the Baltic Sea and Transcaucasia. Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2002. p. 206.
  3. ^ Schnirelmann, Victor: “Christians! Go home”: A Revival of Neo-Paganism between the Baltic Sea and Transcaucasia. Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2002. p. 208
  4. ^ Joshua Project. Mordvin-Erzya of Russia.
  5. ^ Republic of Mordovia. В селе Чукалы прошел эрзянский праздник "Раськень Озкс".
  6. ^ Uralistica News. Мордовские СМИ молчат о празднике «Эрзянь Раськень Озкс».
  7. ^ 2013-це иень «Раськень озкс».
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Filatov, Shchipkov. p. 236.
  9. ^ Russian organisations database: Mastorava.
  10. ^ Erzyan Mastor website: Christianisation.
  11. ^ a b c Filatov, Shchipkov. p. 237.


External links

Abkhaz neopaganism

Abkhaz neopaganism, or the Abkhaz native religion, is the contemporary re-emergence of the ethnic religion of the Abkhaz people in Abkhazia, a revitalisation which started in the 1980s. The most important holy sites of the religion are the Seven Shrines of Abkhazia, each one having its own priestly clan, where rituals and prayers began to be restored in the 1990s.

According to the 2003 census, 8% of the population of Abkhazia adheres to Abkhaz neopaganism. On 3 August 2012 the Council of Priests of Abkhazia was formally constituted in Sukhumi. The possibility of making the Abkhaz native religion one of the state religions was discussed in the following months.

List of Neopagan movements

Modern paganism, also known a "contemporary" or "neopagan", encompasses a wide range of religious groups and individuals. These may include old occult groups, those that follow a New Age approach, those that try to reconstruct old ethnic religions, and followers of the pagan religion of Wicca.

List of religions and spiritual traditions

While religion is hard to define, one standard model of religion, used in religious studies courses, was proposed by Clifford Geertz, who defined it as a

[…] system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

A critique of Geertz's model by Talal Asad categorized religion as "an anthropological category." Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws, or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world.The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviours, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership, congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural) or religious texts. Certain religions also have a sacred language often used in liturgical services. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, trance, rituals, rites, ceremonies, worship, initiations, funerals, marriages, meditation, invocation, mediumship, music, art, dance, public service or other aspects of human culture. Religious beliefs have also been used to explain parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences and reincarnation, along with many other paranormal and supernatural experiences.Some academics studying the subject have divided religions into three broad categories: world religions, a term which refers to transcultural, international faiths; indigenous religions, which refers to smaller, culture-specific or nation-specific religious groups; and new religious movements, which refers to recently developed faiths. One modern academic theory of religion, social constructionism, says that religion is a modern concept that suggests all spiritual practice and worship follows a model similar to the Abrahamic religions as an orientation system that helps to interpret reality and define human beings, and thus religion, as a concept, has been applied inappropriately to non-Western cultures that are not based upon such systems, or in which these systems are a substantially simpler construct.


Mastorava (Масторава) is a Mordvin epic poem compiled based on Mordvin mythology and folklore by Aleksandr Sharonov, published in 1994 in the Erzya language, with a Moksha language version announced.

The poem consists of five parts entitled "The Universe", "Antiquity", "King Tyushtya's Age", "The Heroic Age" and "The New Age". Mastorava is an Earth goddess in Mordvin mythology. The name mastor-ava literally means "earth woman", mastor being the Mordvin for "earth, land".

In the Mastorava epic, Tyushtya is a peasant elected by people to be the king and leader of Mokshan and Erzyan clans alliance and the warlord of allied army. During his rule, Mordvinia stretched from Volga to Dnieper and from the Oka to the Black Sea.

In Mordvin mythology, Tyushtya is a moon god, son of the thunder god and the mortal girl Litova. He is changing his age every month, following the phases of the Moon.


The Republic of Mordovia (Russian: Респу́блика Мордо́вия, tr. Respublika Mordoviya, IPA: [rʲɪsˈpublʲɪkə mɐrˈdovʲɪjə]; Moksha/Erzya: Мордовия Республикась, Mordovija Respublikaś) is a federal subject of Russia (a republic). Its capital is the city of Saransk. As of the 2010 Census, the population of the republic was 834,755. Ethnic Russians (53.4%) and Mordvins (40.0%) account for the majority of the population.


The Mordvins, also Mordva, Mordvinians, Mordovians (Erzya: эрзят/erzät, Moksha: мокшет/mokšet, Russian: мордва/mordva), are an Uralic people who speak the Mordvinic languages of the Uralic language family and live mainly in the Republic of Mordovia and other parts of the middle Volga River region of Russia.The Mordvins are one of the larger indigenous peoples of Russia. They identify themselves as separate ethnic groups: the Erzya and Moksha, Teryukhan and Tengushev (or Shoksha) Mordvins who have become fully Russified or Turkified during the 19th to 20th centuries. Less than one third of Mordvins live in the autonomous republic of Mordovia; the rest are scattered over the Russian oblasts of Samara, Penza, Orenburg and Nizhny Novgorod, as well as Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Bashkortostan, Central Asia, Siberia, Far East, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the United States.

The Erzya Mordvins (Erzya: эрзят, Erzyat; also Erzia, Erza), who speak Erzya, and the Moksha Mordvins (Moksha: мокшет, Mokshet), who speak Moksha, are the two major groups. The Qaratay Mordvins live in the Kama Tamağı District of Tatarstan, albeit with a large proportion of Mordvin vocabulary (substratum). The Teryukhan, living in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast of Russia, switched to Russian in the 19th century. The Teryukhans recognize the term Mordva as pertaining to themselves, whereas the Qaratay also call themselves Muksha. The Tengushev Mordvins live in southern Mordovia and are a transitional group between Moksha and Erzya.

The western Erzyans are also called Shoksha (or Shoksho). They are isolated from the bulk of the Erzyans, and their dialect/language has been influenced by the Mokshan dialects.


Paganism (from classical Latin pāgānus "rural, rustic", later "civilian") is a term first used in the fourth century by early Christians for people in the Roman Empire who practiced polytheism. This was either because they were increasingly rural and provincial relative to the Christian population, or because they were not milites Christi (soldiers of Christ). Alternate terms in Christian texts for the same group were hellene, gentile, and heathen. Ritual sacrifice was an integral part of ancient Graeco-Roman religion and was regarded as an indication of whether a person was pagan or Christian.Paganism was originally a pejorative and derogatory term for polytheism, implying its inferiority. Paganism has broadly connoted the "religion of the peasantry". During and after the Middle Ages, the term paganism was applied to any unfamiliar religion, and the term presumed a belief in false god(s). Most modern pagan religions existing today—Modern Paganism, or Neopaganism—express a world view that is pantheistic, polytheistic or animistic; but some are monotheistic.The origin of the application of the term pagan to polytheism is debated. In the 19th century, paganism was adopted as a self-descriptor by members of various artistic groups inspired by the ancient world. In the 20th century, it came to be applied as a self-descriptor by practitioners of Modern Paganism, Neopagan movements and Polytheistic reconstructionists. Modern pagan traditions often incorporate beliefs or practices, such as nature worship, that are different from those in the largest world religions.Contemporary knowledge of old pagan religions comes from several sources, including anthropological field research records, the evidence of archaeological artifacts, and the historical accounts of ancient writers regarding cultures known to Classical antiquity.

Uralic neopaganism

Uralic neopaganism encompasses contemporary movements which have been reviving or revitalising the ethnic religions of the Uralic peoples. The rebirth has taken place since the 1980s and 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and alongside the ethnonational and cultural reawakening of the Uralic peoples of Russia, the Estonians and the Finns. In fact, Neopagan movements in Finland and Estonia have much older roots, dating from the early 20th century.

Among the Uralic peoples of the Volga Federal District of Russia (the Volga Finns and Udmurts), scholar Victor Schnirelmann has observed two cooperating patterns of development of Neopaganism: the reactivation of authentic rituals and worship ceremonies in the countrysides, and the development of systematised doctrines amongst the urban intelligentsia rejecting Russian Orthodoxy as a foreign religion. The Uralic Communion, founded in 2001, is an organisation for the cooperation of different institutions promoting Uralic indigenous religions.

Vattisen Yaly

Vattisen Yaly (Chuvash: Ваттисен йӑли, Tradition of the Old) is a contemporary revival of the ethnic religion of the Chuvash people, a Turkic ethnicity of uppermost Bulgar ancestry mostly settled in the republic of Chuvashia and surrounding federal subjects of Russia.

Vattisen Yaly could be categorised as a peculiar form of Tengrism, a related revivalist movement of Central Asian traditional religion, however it differs significantly from it: being the Chuvash a heavily Fennicised and Slavified ethnicity (they were also never fully Islamised, contrarywise to most of other Turks), and having had exchanges also with other Indo-European ethnicities,The Chuvash are not simply Finns Tatarized in language, but show evidence in face form, nose form, and in the scarcity of true blondism, that the Turkish influence did bring some mongoloid traits. Their religion shows many similarities with Finnic and Slavic Paganisms; moreover, the revival of "Vattisen Yaly" in recent decades has occurred following Neopagan patterns. Thus it should be more carefully categorised as a Neopagan religion. Today the followers of the Chuvash Traditional Religion are called "the true Chuvash". Their main god is Tura, a deity comparable to the Estonian Taara, the Germanic Thunraz and the pan-Turkic Tengri.The Chuvash Traditional Religion has an unbroken continuation, having been preserved in a few villages of the Chuvash diaspora outside Chuvashia until modern times. In the late 1980s and early 1990s together with the demise of the Soviet Union a cultural and national revival blossomed among the Chuvash, and its leaders gradually embraced the idea of a return to indigenous Paganism, also supported by Chuvash intellectuals. The identitary movement looked to movements in the Baltic states for inspiration.

The national movement, meanwhile embodied in a Chuvash National Congress, carried on its "national religion" idea during the 1990s. Intellectuals started to recover and codify ancient rituals and started practicing them among the population both in cities and countryside villages, declaring themselves the guardians of tradition and the descendants of elder priests.

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