Wendish Religion: Ancestor Cult, Werewolves & Vampiric Dead

Wendish Religion: Ancestor Cult, Werewolves & Vampiric Dead

September 9, 2019 46 By William Hollis


hello friends how are you, I’m Arith Härger
and today I’m going to talk about the religion of the Wends, also known as
Sorbians well lately I’ve been mentioning Slavic peoples on my videos and if I’m not mistaken on the video about the horse in Norse religion I’ve
mentioned some aspects of horse augury of the Western Slavic peoples, to make
some sort of historical and cultural bridge with another video I’ve made
about horse augury in the Germanic world horse divination since the Wendss or Sorbians were a Western Slavic people bordering continental Germanic peoples
and Baltic Norse there were obviously a lot of similarities in the Iron Age and medieval period religions among the Germanic peoples and Western Slavic
peoples and well, throughout this video- you will certainly notice those similarities
and make comparisons with other videos I have made and a variety of sources I have already given you I’m making this video because, well, many of you were interested in hearing more about Slavic peoples since I’ve mentioned them on
previous videos and because some of my patrons from the US are Wendish descendants, mainly those from Texas so they might enjoy knowing about their
ancestors I also want to dedicate this video to another patron of mine mr. Shiva Balasingham who was interested in comparing Norse
and old German methods of divination with slavic ones and to my Italian friend Ottavia Bonventre who is very much interested in slavic paganism; may
Perun bless you with his rains and storms of change now let’s start this video Alright, if you are familiar with the fictional book called Eaters of the Dead, by Michael Crichton, or if you have seen the movie The 13th warrior based on that same book, you have probably heard about the Wendol, those fierce neanderthal-like warriors on horseback spreading terror among the vikings Of course the book is a mixture between the accounts of Ahmad ibn Fadlan and his journey, and between the Old English epic poem Beowulf Michael Crichton portrayed the wendol as being cannibal brutes, which I believe his intention was to create a sort of mixture between Grendel from Beowulf, obviously and a sort of word-play with the Wendigo, a mythical man-eating creature or evil spirit from the native folklore of the peoples of the northern regions along the Atlantic Coast of the United States and Canada Grendel ate people, so does the Wendigo I believe this was indeed Michael Crichton’s very smart use of the terms to create a unique creature based one the Wends, the Wendish people, which were actually real people and indeed they were very fierce pagan Slavic people, who were neighbours and bitter enemies of the Danes during the 10th century up until at least the 12th century And indeed most of Michael Crichton’s novel takes place in Denmark And there were many conflicts between the Danes and the Wends, especially on the island of Rügen, a very important strategic point for the Danes in the Baltic Sea and a sacred island to the Slavic peoples where Horse augury was performed and there were many temples to the Slavic gods So Michael Crichtion’s work actually has a lot of historical truth But of course the Wends were not neanderthal cannibals, but who were they exactly? Let’s take a look Among Old Germans and Scandinavians the Wends were quite famous for their skills in battle They were respected by warriors all across the Germanic world The Wends were none other than all the tribes of the westernmost Slavic regions The Slavic cultural territory is obviously quite vast, from the northern Baltic Sea all the way to the south into the Black Sea, and from the Ural Mountains in the east all the way to the Danube River in the west Now, I’m going to show you a map I’ve made so you have a better perception of the geographical reality of the Wends, so let’s see As you can see in here, I’ve drawn a red line which roughly represents the approximate western border of the Slavic cultural expansion, and the green circle roughly represents the area of the group of Slavic tribes most often referred to as “Wends”, and these western pagan Slavs and their religion is the subject of today’s video So the Wends, or Sorbians, were the group of West Slavic tribes living in the area I’ve shown you, more or less west of the Oder River in nowadays Poland, and east of the Elbe River in nowadays Germany Wends or Wenden, is the name to designate a variety of western Slavic tribes such as the Lusati, Obodrites which were the ones that caused a lot of trouble to the Danes, the Wilzen, etc. Sorbians or Wendish, enter in the group of West Slavic peoples, such as the Polish, Slovak and Czech So I think you got the point, let’s move on to the religion of the Wends Let’s start with the Household traditions which not only are linked to nature, but it’s a fraction of the cult of the ancestors, and you must understand that among the Wends in an historical point of view of their culture, there isn’t the perception of a well-structured mythology, nor even a unified belief system Among the Wends it seems their religious belief system was rather loose and mostly based on folk practices, traditional folklore and magical practices So let’s start with the basic notions of religion, which is the belief in a soul It all starts from that point, in the belief of a living spiritual entity in everything, and a sort of symbiotic spiritual relationship between the living and all other spiritual entities of the natural world and the cosmos Of course with the coming of Christianity and the imposition of a universal and foreign system of ideas, much of the old belief systems and religious concepts were lost, which can only be remembered in folklore, so it’s quite hard The wends believed in the existence of the duša which means spirit or soul, which was seen as the sort of vessel where the power of the individual resided It’s not bound to the physical body, which means it is not affected by the life or death of the body It influences the individual, but it is not influenced by the reality the individual lives in So the belief in this duša, this soul, was an essential part of the family and the clan, because as long as the life of the clan continues to exist, the soul of all its members remains immortal What this means is that an individual didn’t have to necessarily have children to continue his own existence through the child And some of you came to ask me just that, because some of you are worried that since you do not plan on having children or it’s too late to have children, the ancestral line will be broken, no descendants, etc. etc. Well, the Wends were quite practical in this, as long as other members of the family, the clan or tribe survived, the collective spirit of the tribe endured Anyway, continuing to speak about this soul, the Wends believed that when an individual was sleeping or unconscious, it could fly out of the body and go into the mountain tops. In there they did battle with the souls of others Those who were victories in such battle were given great benefits and success in life, because the soul received power in the spiritual world, therefore it would influence the life of the individual So it remains consistent the belief that spirit of an individual and the power residing in it would influence the individual’s own life but nothing of the living reality would influence the spirit Among the Wends there was the belief in shapeshifting, changing one’s physical appearance into animals or inanimate objects But one of the most common physical changes was into a vrkolák, a werewolf You could become a werewolf because you had been born that way, the signs were in those who had been born with feet first or with teeth, or having been enchanted by a sorcerer So you were not to be blamed, but this rarely happened according to Wendish folklore More common was a person becoming a werewolf voluntarily through sorcery. Now that was your fault! The werewolf cult is a very ancient Indo-European warrior traditions, which I’ve already made a video of The warrior cult in which young-warriors were thought to be able to transform themselves into wolves in order to fight, to apply ferocity in battle In an Indo-European past the werewolf wasn’t seen as a monster and it later on came to be described in medieval folklore but it was more like a sort of super-hero, to become that figure and fight fiercely Surprisingly it was in Latvia and Estonia up until that 17th century at least, the werewolf in folklore was still seen as a benevolent figure, in which shamanic warriors would shapeshift into it, in order to fight evil and chaotic entities in the underworld And well, speaking of werewolves and such spiritual entities, the wends also believed in the mora, a feminine spiritual entity or soul that possessed an individual, and while the person is asleep with no control over its body, the mora leaves the body and assumes various forms and it goes into people’s houses causing them to sleep deeply and then enters their bodies which can cause terrible dreams or it can choke them to death or suck their blood :[ This obviously resembles much of the figure of the vampire in Slavic lore But the vrkolák and the mora, or the werewolf and this sort of vampire entity, belong to the category of spiritual entities that influence an individual As I’ve explained before, the Wends believed that spiritual entities influenced their lives and their bodies, and all life revolved around a symbiotic relationship with the spiritual world Much of these people’s lives was influenced by the spiritual world, constantly So in Wendish religion and folklore much of the animistic past was kept, or better preserved than other European cultures, especially Western ones So this constant and continuous relationship with the spiritual world among the Wends leads me to talk about the ancestor worship Just like in the Indo-European past, the wends were very much involved in Ancestor Worship Not necessarily or exclusively turned to family members, but other individuals that were the representation of the power of the tribe, like semi-legendry tribal patriarchs, who served as patrons of the families that composed the tribe They also worshipped departed heroes So the ancestor worship was much closer to the worship of individuals that represented the tribe Their power, bravery, outstanding actions were the main focus of the Ancestor worship because they represented the best of the collective spirit of the tribe The ancestor worship was not specifically turned to the individual, but to a broader panorama that represented the spirit of the tribe The Wends worshipped the spirits of their own ancestors virtually as they worshipped gods They worshipped those who were considered to be the heroes of one’s own clan and tribe Before Christian influences the Wends burned their dead and placed their ashes in urns, or burial mounds were raised over the site of the funeral pyre, and the custom of sacrificing horses or slave girls by burning them, to accompany individuals of high social statues wasn’t unknown to the Wends, especially when the funeral rites were for warriors and tribal chieftains I mean, the Wends were famously known for their warrior skills and for being fierce fighters, and the werewolf cult was still quite present in their belief system, so they obviously had a high esteem for the figures of their society that represented strength, power, and fighting prowess. As previously mentioned, they believed that the souls would fly into high places to fight one another, a bit like the concept of Valhalla So clearly to the Wends making battle was quite important But of course it wasn’t all about war We have archaeological indications that barley was spread over the ashes of the dead or mixed with them, which is intimately tied to the ancestor fertility cults, as the dead propitiated the fertility of the soils Not only that but it’s the idea that from ashes new life is born, so it’s the continuation of the human spirit and the grounds became sacred grounds However, with the growth of Christian influences, the Wends started to bury their dead with all sorts of grave goods, such as food and valuable items, and this isn’t just about the idea of the dead needing certain items for their life in the otherworld Burying the dead wasn’t common to the Wends as it was to other cultures Many cultures thorough history buried their dead for a very long time since before Christianity was even created But such cultures had the specific religious beliefs in the underworld, or the life after death being a continuation of the life in this world, so they needed the tools of their trade and their personal items, etc. to be used in the afterlife But to the wends there isn’t a noticeable belief in the underworld, and what we notice when they change from burning the dead and started to bury the dead, is actual fear During the 10th and 11th centuries in the history of the Wends, marks a growth in Christian influences in the region, and this is the period when the Wends start to bury their dead, which seems something rather forced upon them or some just went along and adopted the custom But, this is when we start to see burial places with a lot of grave goods, which seem to be out of fear, to appease the dead and to ease their passing The wends started to bury the dead which was a great change in their belief system, and this caused them fear There was a wondrous variety of ritual performances around the places of the dead, because, well, the Wends were Slavic peoples and as it so happens among ancient Slavs, there was a certain fear that the dead might return, the evil dead to be more precise, rising from their graves to seek the blood of the living This is directly linked with the figure of the vampire As I said before, the mora could inhabit the body of the living, so who’s to say after death the mora wasn’t still inside the body? There were many ritual performances to ease the passing of the dead, so their angry spirits won’t remain to cause trouble to the living There were naturally men and women who were already feared during their lifetime, so certain steps were taken to ensure that their corpses would not rise up to trouble the living Like burring them in very deep graves, with large stones piled on top of their bodies, or their bodies nailed to the platform that carried the dead into the grave, or buried face down, or with knives, nails or pieces of iron piercing down through the lower jaw into the chest; well, variety of realties found in archaeological sites which was carried up until the middle ages, and in certain places long after that period I mean, the Wends used to burn the dead, the body was destroyed, so there would be no problems from spiritual entities inhabiting the body and the corpse was forced to wander about But not burning the body…. That caused a lot of trouble to the still pagan mind of the Wends and their very peculiar belief systems But this is quite curious and it’s a belief system that remotes to ancient Greece and obviously into a more distance proto-European past; the belief that when someone had an untimely death caused by great violence, the soul of the person would be bound to the place where the catastrophe happened until the body was utterly consumed Restless dead that could not move on due to the violence of their death Because the soul could not move on, it could again try to inhabit its body and haunt the living, or because the soul remain in that specific space, a sorcerer could take advantage of that and use the restless spirit to cause harm so Slavic people took precautions to
avoid the dead from returning in the form of vampires and such other creatures So they used to burn the bodies, and when they no longer could burn them, they would make sure the body stayed trapped in the grave This same belief system is reflected in a way in the pre-Christian Scandinavian Draugr, the restless dead and in the Continental Germanic Wild Hunt, the restless dead that follow Odin, the leader of the Wild Hunt Much of the Old Norse and Icelandic sources about the Draugr are people who had a violent death, and the restless dead of the Wild Hunt are warriors, who had a violent death So we keep having this idea of the restless dead, of people who had violent deaths and could not move on from the place of trauma, and could not cross over So the Slavic had methods to prevent the dead from returning, just has the Scandinavians had spells to keep the dead away, or to control them But in the Scandinavian mythology it was the Valkyries that played the role of appeasing dead warriors in the battle field itself, after the violent death, but I shall talk about that on another video But without a doubt the belief in the Vampiric dead had a great impact on the Slavic culture, and it wasn’t different among the Wends A great part of the Wendish religion took place within the household The focus of their daily spiritual life wasn’t much in a temple or some sort of sacred structured, but in one’s own house Which is why many of the religious aspects of the Wends were better preserved in folklore and much of their religion was indeed based on traditional practices rather than having a wellstructured mythology or priesthood that dictated the religious life That doesn’t mean temples and priests did not exist – they did but the Wends relied much more on folk traditions and their household ancestral practices and folklore in general The Household was considered a sacred space Various aspects of the house had symbolic meanings, especially near the hearth, which I’ve already talked about the Hearth cult To the wends it was perceived that the space between the hearth and the wall was loaded with power for it was the place where household gods lived and their influence spread to every corner of the house The point here is that the Wends had a set of deities which more or less are the general deities within pagan Slavic religion, but the wends had a lot of specific household gods, their own domestic gods they greatly and constantly worshipped and sacrificed to them The hearth cult is a fraction of the ancestral worship, and it is the hearth cult that is much more turned to the family members instead of the general worship of the collective spirit of the tribe So it was here, within the house, that the Wends worshipped their private gods and we find these gods in the archaeological record, little figurines of gods and goddesses people carried around in little pouches This is more or less the equivalent of the ancestral house old gods of the Romans called penates, also carried by people when they moved from land to land to carry their gods with them all the time Each person had their own ancestral household gods It was still the animistic belief that an ancestral spirit, or various ancestral spirits could inhabit the figures made to resemble their images and still have impact and influence upon the life of their descendants This is why I say the ancestor worship isn’t exclusively about the family members, because in truth, the cult of the ancestral family members was within the hearth cult which is a tiny fraction of the ancestor worship Anyway, each home had its ancestral household god. This household deity was called džěd, which also means grandfather, which is a deity that lives between the hearth and the wall It’s more or less the same spiritual entity of the rest of the Slavic paganism, famously known as Domovoi, (Домово́й) in Russia, the household lord or god of that specific family – deified progenitors The curious thing, and I find this fascinating, is that, other parts of the house had a deity, and parts of the farmstead, and the further away from the hearth and from the house itself, the more unfriendly these deities become, which had to be appeased with offerings It’s like, within the house near the hearth, you have your ancestral grandfather, and other ancestors of great relevance they are happy and cozy and will help you out, but other ancestors are in the house, in various places, and the furthest away from the hearth they are, the less inclined to help you they will be because obviously some of them are not that happy to be left outside the house, and you have to appease them And obviously these spiritual entities continue to exist even out of the farmstead, in the forests, in the wilds, and those are the dangerous ones because they have no relation with a specific family or any one else And then of course some ancestors would arrive to the house in the form of serpents or in balls of light that went down the chimney and would help the family providing wealth and well-being until they were asked to leave because sometimes they caused mischief, probably because they would end up in conflict with the Lutki, which were the little people, perceived to be the original inhabitants of the land, very similar to the concept of dwarves in Germanic myth and folklore These Lutki dressed themselves with bright colours and wore large red hats, and lived in the woods or inside mountains; said to be great craftsmen, very skilful in music and in prophecy The Lutki would become attached to a particular house or family and help that family, if they received help in return, of course Quite similar to the Danish Nisse, the Norwegian tomte and the Swedish tomtenisse, which are intimately tied with the Old Norse álfar – the elves and the Duergar, dwarves Again, part of the ancestor worship was greatly focused on spiritual entities that had no consanguinity ties with people Simply spiritual entities of the natural world people worshipped to acquire their help The ancient wends in their spirituality were very much concerned in maintaining a healthy relationship with nature; they were surrounded by it, as we are nowadays, obviously but the wends were well aware that their lives depended on maintaining a harmonious interconnection with the natural world Their gods and other spiritual entities they had contact with, were representatives of forces of nature such as the sun, moon, the starts, heavenly bodies, and natural elements such as fire and water, but also the fields, plants and trees To the wends the sun was the embodiment of the divine You see, as previously mentioned, they had figures for their household gods which were the representation of their ancestors, deified progenitors They also had a variety of deities more or less shared among other slavs, the general group of gods of the Slavic traditions, but to the wends, their perceptions of the divine was much more animistic in the sense that much of their gods had no physical representation The sun, the trees, mountains, rivers, natural elements, heavenly bodies etc. where already the embodiment of the divine, that was their form, or rather, those were the forms in which the divine manifested itself on the lives of mortals It is curious that among the wends they had the believe that there were as many stars in the sky as there were people on earth, so when a person died a star would fall down as the spirit of the individual went up after death So there was always a never-ending relationship with nature, and much of the offerings were to nature, to forces of nature, or spirits of nature, including to wild women, džiwje žony this one I’m not certain if I’m pronouncing right But these wild women were spiritual beings that knew the ways of the land, so giving offerings to them in return people would receive knowledge about the power and benefits of herbs and plants for magical purposes Just like the Lutki, the džiwje žony lived underground in the forests and fields, or insie mountains Just to finalize this video, the wends believed that soul resides within the human head, that concept isn’t something new, and to the ancient Wends it was no different The Wends believed that the human head was the seat of the human spirit and so the human head played an important role in their religious conceptions The head was the symbol of individuality and identity and it symbolized the power of the divine This is the main reason why the head was used so often as a symbol in the construction of temples and one of the reasons why the Slavic gods were depicted with multiple heads Like the god Triglav, the three-headed god, or Svetovid, the four-headed god of war, reatly worshipped by the Wends, especially in the island of Rügen But also Porevit the Lord of Power depicted with 5 faces, and as I’ve told you, the duša, soul or spirit was seen as the vessel of an individual’s power So I think you know where I’m heading The Slavs just like the Celts collected the heads of their enemies The heads of the enemies were often placed on the gates of fortresses or temples But concerning their temples and their gods, I’ll leave that for the next video and we shall continue this subject later on I shall have to develop a second part just for their gods, temples and priesthood Alright my dear friends, I hope you have enjoyed this video, and if you found this video interesting please do share it with your friends and on your social-media and if you don’t want to miss any of my videos and other notifications in this channel when you subscribe please click on the bell icon and you will always get notifications of everything that happens
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(Thank you for today!)