The Mari - The Last Pagans of Europe (ongoing project)
In 2015 many Russians observed the 1,000th anniversary of the death of Vladimir the Great, the grand prince of ancient Kiev who adopted Christianity and converted his people and neighboring tribes whether they wanted to become Christians or not.
For those who still worship in the ways of their Pagan ancestors, this observance marks a different history, one in which their forbears left prosperous towns and fled to the woods to escape forced conversion to Christianity. But despite centuries of oppression that continued during the Soviet Union, some Russian Pagans living in remote settlements still hold fast to their beliefs.
The Mari Pagans’ religion is based on respect for the elements of nature, and they hold their religious gatherings in sacred groves in the forest where they pray, cook and eat, and some feasts include the ritual slaughter of animals as sacrifice. A circle of honored older Pagans, mostly men, are the keepers of the ceremonies, phrases, gestures and meaning of their prayers. They have no written scriptures, and their practices have been passed down through oral tradition since before the time of Vladimir the Great, “Nature is our temple”.
While conditions have improved drastically for the Mari Pagans since the fall of the Soviet Union, there is still prejudice against them from elements of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The Mari El Republic, 2011-2013
All images © Tatiana Plotnikova. All rights reserved.