In sacred groves

Paganism revives in Russia

In the forest shrine, the meat of two rams and a goat cook in great cauldrons suspended from wooden frames. Cloth belts stained with the blood of these sacrificial animals hang from the trees. Higher up, the branches are festooned with votive offerings—items of clothing brought by people who claim to have been cured during earlier ritual sacrifices. This is a scene not from the distant European past but from Russia’s Mari El Republic today. Located along the Volga River some 400 miles east of Moscow, Mari El has solid indigenous populations of Muslims and Buddhists. Pagans are spread more thinly, but they have emerged as a presence, even a political force, during the past decade both here and in many areas of Siberia.


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