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Wendish Religion: Temples, Priesthood & The Divine


Hello everyone, how are you? I’mArith Härger, and today I’m going to continue to talk about the Wendish religion This is the second part of this subject and on the previous video I have talked about The general aspects of the wendish religion such as the ancestor worship, the hearth cult and the household worship the conception of the soul werewolves, vampire- or vampiric dead Wild women, shamanic battles on mountaintops, etc, etc Today, I’m going to mostly focus on the temples priesthood, the divine and other religious icons of the wendish religion, so- Let’s go straight to the point As I’ve said on the previous video, most of the perceptions the wends had about the divine Was still quite animistic in nature; their religious practices revolved around a symbiotic relationship with the natural world for the benefit of both humans and the spiritual entities much of the wendish religion was quite private and performed in one’s own house and very much based on folk traditions, but they also had the worship of the gods of course of what they perceived to be holy and where holiness could be found, the wends worshipped those holy powers So in earlier times the Wends most likely worshipped their gods right there in the open, outside, on sacred groves and other geographical features perceived has being of great importance to directly contact with the divine Only around the 11th and the 12th centuries, the Wends started to elaborate actual structures for the worship of the gods If you have seen the previous video You will understand why this late approach in building structures to harbor the divine As I’ve said, the Wends were very fond of their traditional practices, and their folk traditions and animistic perceptions were well preserved until quite late This doesn’t mean that before the 11th century the Wends did not have temples They did but the Wends did not pay much importance to the houses of the divine, so such structures were not very elaborate, nor were they and important aspect in the daily religious lives of the Wends It’s precisely due to more contact with Scandinavians and Celts, already Christianized, that the Wends start to pay more attention to temples And in fact, geographically speaking and obviously archaeologically speaking, in Wendish territory the closer they were to Scandinavians, the more information we get about their temples In Wendish territory far from Scandinavians, other Germanic peoples and Celts, temples are almost inexistent and the ones that exist were not very elaborate In the more southern regions of Wendish territory, the more archaic practices of worship in open-air spaces or groves were better preserved for a longer period in history Which means certain Slavic gods the Wends worshipped in the north, were completely unknown in the south of their own territory So in the south their holy groves were more noticeable, and they consisted on an area bordered by woodland, of corse, and a sort of fence was constructed around the grove, a fence made of poles which were sculptures of their gods In the north The scenery was different We have good examples of that such as the temple in Rethra and Gross Raden, in nowadays northern Germany closer the Island of Rügen, and in that Island of course the famous Slavic temple of the Wends called Arkona These temples in nowadays northern Germany closer to the Danes, were impressive structures and the centres of political power The temple in Arkona was the citadel-temple of the god Svantovit, splendidly carved and bearing various painted symbols, it was a seat of power Which the Christian Danes brought down in the second half of the 12th century, unfortunately Aside from these major temples, in the north of Wendish territory, it seems every tribal area had its own temple or place of worship, and each with its special idol, a special god-form for each specific tribal area or district Now, I want you to try to picture these specific temples: The outside of the temple’s walls were covered- or were decorated with carved images of gods and goddesses On the inside the gods became more specific, the carvings had more attention to details and the names of the gods were carved on each figure, they were carved to resemble as if they were dressed in battle gear The most prominent deity would be a carving taller than the rest. Right? now picture a simple wooden structure Rectangular in shape with a roof made of timber and all around on the outside a low fence Now, the temple walls were made of planks of the same size and on their extremities the planks were carved to resemble a human head, an anthropomorphic figure, the ones I’ve previously mentioned, of gods and goddesses, on the outside of the temple’s walls Now, inside the temple you would have the carved images of the gods, the ones with more detail and a taller figure to the most prominent god Now, I hope I was successful in creating that mind image for you I found a picture of a reconstruction of one of these temples – to be more precise, the temple of Gross Raden Sure, I could have shown you the picture and we wouldn’t waste much time, but I really want you to work on that imagination of yours, because much of our perception of the spiritual comes from inside now Let’s talk about the priesthood So, if there are temples, there a priests, devoted to the management of the structure and to deal with the powers of the holy to the mutual benefit of the gods and humans The priesthood had a great influence upon people’s lives including on political, economic and military matters The idea was that the divinities ruled the world, so it was up to the priests to express how things should be conducted according to the divine The priests transmitted how people should act, all sorts of people from the lowest social rank to the highest Among the Wends, the high priest had more respect from the people than the king himself, or the chieftain of the tribe And the will of the gods or the god of the specific temple, was expressed through the priest on the form of divination, though the casting of lots; objects with the purpose of divination, just has I’ve expressed on the video about Divination in the Germanic world, so by now you are already familiar with that procedure The role of the Wendish priests wasn’t solely restricted to divination as a method to express the will of the gods They acted as “politicians” “diplomats” and played an important role in military strategies In fact it was mostly due to the role of these priests that the Wends remained pagan for a longer period of time than all the rest of European cultures Their political resistance was strong their religious resistance Now, the temples were obviously centres of political power, to express authority, economic and military power If foreigners wanted to trade with the Wends, they had to come to these temples and convince the priests to allow them to trade throughout Wendish territory It was a privilege to be allowed to trade with the Wends, it was a blessing Temples and the priests managing them were so important for the economy and politics of these people, at least in the northern regions of Wendish territory, that the priests themselves were the ones to collected taxes to increase the temple’s treasury Even a great portion of the spoils of war, mostly gold and silver, would be kept within the temple So you can already see the impact of other cultures upon the northern Wends But, these taxes would be distributed in times of great need, such as famine or some other sort of disaster that befell their communities the priesthood also had farmlands and cultivated the land and bred livestock, especially horses I’ve expressed the importance of the Horse on previous videos Horse augury was one of the most used methods of divination to perceive the will of the divine Certain gods had specific horses that belonged to them, specific colours – skin colours – for specific gods The Wendish priests presided over legal assemblies, on Tuesdays It’s true Military policies and strategies were also influenced by the priesthood, and declarations of war of the tribes had to be approved by the priests This means, it often happened that the priests themselves would lead a rebellion, would lead the army into battle, riding on the sacred horse on the forefront of the fight but of course, they wouldn’t go to battle all the time, in certain occasions it was the sacred horse of the deity of the temple in which the priest took management, that would go into battle, riderless not on behalf of the priest but as if the god himself was riding his horse and was in charge, leading people into battle Please watch my video about The Horse in Norse Religion and you will better understand this aspect, since in that video I’ve talked about Horse Augury of the Wends as well But I suppose we have time to talk a bit about that, why not? Wendish priests obviously played the role as oracles as well For instance, at the famous temple, and the area around Arkona, a herd of horses was kept along with a holy horse, a sacred horse only the priest was allowed to touch or ride and lead him to pasture It was the representative horse of the divine, of the deity of the temple, and only the deity itself and the priest were allowed to touch or ride the horse, much like the Scandinavian account of Hrafnkels saga; Hrafnkel being a priest of Freyr, and Freyfaxi was his horse, only Freyr himself and Hrafnkel were allowed to use the horse So, using this horse, the Wendish priest could decide whether the tribe should go to war or not As I’ve explained on the videos about Horse Augury, this was done by laying out three rows of spears on the ground in a particular way so that when the priest led the horse out of the sanctuary across the rows of spears, if the horse stepped three times with this left forefoot over the three rows of spears, war should happen! If however, the horse stepped over the spears in any other way, war was not the will of the divine Clearly the priest was thought to transmit the divine will by means of casting lots and horse augury, divination, oracles, you get the point The thing is, the casting of lots was one method, and horse augury was the second method following the casting of lots Both methods had to be in concordance with each other, otherwise nothing would happen One method of divination must be the confirmation of the other But I think it’s important to underline this next statement Clearly the Wendish priesthood had a great impact on politics, economy and military matters, but mind that it wasn’t like our perception of nowadays of priesthood where we clearly understand what a political matter is, what an economic issue is, and what is a military action and the role of religion in all of this to the Wendish priesthood there wasn’t a separation in all of this, and these social aspects weren’t seen as being matters of politics, economy, military, etc. The Wendish priesthood understood that all things belonged to the spiritual, there wasn’t the clear perception of separation of matters The spiritual and the material were more integrated as a whole, and everything was seen as belonging to the exact same, to the sacred So we cannot transport our modern ideas of things into the past, because it wasn’t perceived like that I know I said the Wendish priesthood had a great impact on a variety of matters, but to them, in the past, everything belonged to the spiritual, so they did not detached their thinking and their actions according to the situation They saw everything as a whole, as part of the same reality So every action and decision was an expression of the spiritual I hope you take my meaning. Now let’s speak about the divinities in Wendish religion As I’ve already told you, from region to region within Wendish territory there were different perceptions of the divine, and into the south the expression of religion was more archaic, and certain gods in one place were completely unknown on another, and we obviously have the case of the same deity having different names according to the tribe and regional customs and the way things were religiously conducted This happens with many ancient religions and sometimes we think they had hundreds of gods but in fact it’s just different names for the same gods or aspects of the divine now one of the most fascinating aspects of Wendish religion Towards the images of the Gods is the multiplicity of heads or faces in one single deity This is very noticeable all across the Slavic cultural world, but most prominent in Wendish culture certain scholars have argued that this was a Christian creation, to make the Slavic religion and their gods even more strange and abnormal, for political reasons and to create fear, etc. You might have heard this, obviously, but this isn’t the case, actually. If we take a look into other mythologies, Roman, Celtic, Lusitanian, and such, there are a couple of gods with multiple heads or faces Multiple heads on a divine figure symbolizes the multiple responsibilities that deity has over a variety of realities and subjects, and it’s even the multiple aspects of the deity whose power is extended into many aspects of life and death so I think this had to be said now you have to take in mind, as I’ve said on the first part of this subject, the Wends didn’t have a well-structured mythology, nor did they have any texts or anything that might give us some concrete idea of their gods They relied much more on oral traditions, on folk practices, so the knowledge of the divine was kept within their own heads however the Wends were a people who have shown a great resilience to foreigner cultures and belief systems, and there was a considerable resistance to Christianity, and their loyalty to their gods was outstanding And this factor was well known to many Christians around them who actually preserved much of the Wendish Slavic gods because they were fascinated by the fact that the Wends fervently protected their sanctuaries to the death, so their gods were clearly an integral part of their lives So many Christians preserved the gods of the Wends to understand the importance they had But obviously the various names of the gods and goddesses of the western Slavs were recorded by people with different linguistic backgrounds, and often completely ignorant of the Slavic languages Not only that, but the fact that within Jewish and Christian tradition is blasphemous to use the name of the divine, while recording the Slavic gods they couldn’t write the name of the gods so they used other terms such as “The Father”, “The Almighty”, “The Mother”, which makes things even more difficult So please keep that in mind and let’s take a look at some of the gods and goddesses of the Western Slavs išvanbrat this is a deity we know nothing of it but it’s exclusivity a Wendish deity Bentis: the god of travellers Jarovit: A sort of Wendish Mars, but it’s important to reflect on this: the vit suffix in Sobrian language implies that the deity is connected to light, from being shinning and bright, as in the perception a person has when being in contact with the holy, either having a feeling of safety or being secure In this case a god of war but linked to protection and security Lupa: The Wendish goddess of love Dažbog the Sun God the element bog was borrowed from the Iranian language in prehistoric times Which indicated being a holy power that gives, that had a direct connection with humans and the world and gives something In this case Dažbog means “the giver of wealth” This deity might correspond to the deity Svarog from other parts of the Slavic world, which is also a sun-god This is a god that distributes divine gifts Budjintaja: a goddess of those who sleep A peculiar goddess who protects and awakens those who are sleeping if there is an approaching danger or some misfortune She’s a goddess of occasion, of a specific moments In this case if one is sleeping and danger is near, she wakes them up Thir might be the perception of one’s ancestral spirit watching over the person Plavit: God of wealth and fortune Podaga: God of hunt, breeding of animals and cultivation of the fields – husbandry A god of good weather and gentle winds that bring fertility So this also makes him a god of Storm and of the air This god also appears in feminine form, as a goddess of fair weather He is the lover of the goddess of dawn Simzerla Three of the most famous gods among the wends were Porevit, Svantevit and Triglav Porevit is the god of justice, of the earth and of the air He is also a war-god A god of marriage and protector of children in their mothers’ wombs Porevit has five faces, one of which is on his chest Svantevit is the holy god, this was the god at the temple of Arkona, so this one had a greater importance He was depicted as having for heads of four faces, two in the front and two in the back He was generally considered the highest god of the Wends; a war-god as well but also a protector god and his sacred horse was the white horse This would be the type of horse the priest of Svantevit’s temple would use in horse divination and other religious practices On the temple of Arkona there would be a large drinking horn on his statue that would be filled with mead during the harvest festival, so take note of that if you plan on worshiping to this deity This mead would be left there for almost a whole year, until it was time for the priests to use it to foretell the next year’s harvest This was also a method of divination It’s curious, when I went to Prague 2 or 3 years ago, I obviously visited the famous St. Vitus Cathedral, which is the main church of the former imperial capital of Prague In Christian times Svantevit was associated with St. Vitus, and the wends continued to worship their old god in the new form as St. Vitus Triglav literally means three-headed portrayed as having three heads which, according to the Wendish folklore it signifies that he rules over the three realms of heaven, earth and the underworld But in ancient times you would not see the faces of this deity, because- In the temples they were covered by golden veils, because he did not wish to see what humans were up to But it’s curious this idea of heaven, earth and underworld This god has a lot of dualistic conceptions which is common to see in the Wendish religion but not because of Christian influences but because of Iranian traditions in prehistory The Wends had a long contact with Iranian tribes which influenced some points of their religions, most of these influences come from the contact with the Scythians and Sarmatians Well, there are other gods such as Porenut, with five heads He is associated with the more famous Slavic god Perun but also with Porevit This god as a particularity, he was depicted has being unarmed One of the few gods that doesn’t’ show any signs of being linked to any military aspect Prove: God of justice Oxen and sheep were sacrificed to him This god is depicted has having a iron shield, and actual iron shield In legal matters this shield was heated until it glowed red and a person accused of a crime would be made to touch the shield, if the burns healed in three days, the accused was declared innocent The Franks did more or less the same with pagans and people accused of witchcraft Making them pick up an iron coin from boiling water, and if the wounds healed within 3 or 5 days, they were innocent of witchcraft Pripegala: Another exclusively from the Wends. A god living in the Elbe River in nowadays Germany Rugivit: A god of spring time and fertility He is also known as Karevit A god with seven heads under one single hat He has eight swords, seven in his belt and one in his hand. He also has a feminine form known as Rago Siva, which means gray A goddess which is the personification of the power of the earth She propitiates fertility and brings forth nourishment A goddess of luck and Happiness Svarožić: This is the Wendish, or Sorbian name of the god Svarog To the Wends he was also a god of contracts and sworn bonds among people. A fire god as well. Zcerneboch: The black god, this gods comes directly from Iranian influences upon the Slavs He was seen as a deity of evil and it was also important to worship him to appease this deity Honouring this deity in order to avoid feeling the effects of his powers This god it the equivalent of ćernebog the black god of the underworld in opposition to Byelobog, the white god This dualistic perception of light and dark, good and evil, heaven and underworld, isn’t a Christian influence upon the Wends, but as I have said it comes from an Iranian past and with the contact the Wends had with Scythians and Sarmatians Well, I think I shall develop more on the Wendish gods later on, on the patreon platform but/and if I see the subject raises people’s interest, I shall develop a video on it with more details All right, my dear friends. I hope you have enjoyed this video and before you go, by the end of this video- You will have the sources I have consulted to make these two videos – the first part and the second part So if you are interested in knowing more about the Wendish religion and the Wendish gods etc. you might want to consult those sources Also, if you found this video interesting, please do share it among your friends and your enemies all across the social media and also If you subscribe to this channel please click on the bell icon and you will get all the notifications of everything that goes on in this channel so you won’t miss a thing And finally if you want to contribute to this little community and help me out to acquire sources and do a more thorough work of Investigation, you can always become my patron Now… Once again, thank you so much for watching. See you on the next video and as always tack för idag!
(Thank you for today!)

27 Comments

  1. Arith Härger Author

    If you want to know more about the gods of the Wends, I've written a patreon post about it which you can see in here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/gods-of-wends-29980797 (need to become a patron to read it). Thank you in advance. Cheers!

    Reply
  2. Gary Chynne Author

    geese religion was as ridiculous then as they are now. have a good day is religion enough for me.

    quiet little heathen
    living life along the way
    pays no mind
    to what organized religions say.
    thank yew arith.
    take care gare

    Reply
  3. Ratnoseterry Author

    Triglav and Trismegistus stem from the same ideas, in many ways. This is also tied to many concepts of the tree of life. Many gods are three fold in ways still very apparent. 3 norns, 3 fates, etc

    Reply
  4. actualitypossibility Author

    I loved your word-picture method. It's so much more interesting than just showing the picture. Your description conveyed an image to me that was almost identical with the picture you ended up showing.

    Reply
  5. Luna Nero Author

    Once again very thought provoking.
    I feel that around the time of ocean going exploration and the publishing of books a big change in belief systems occurred.
    With many new colonies being established, the old ways came as well. They tended to stall. If that makes sense. Nowadays Old Customs are only celebrated on a consumer level. The names of the Old Gods are spoken but not worshipped.
    The Wendish communities that are around today have stalled. They remember and celebrate and make a big fuss for a day or two. But then back to Modern Life Style.
    Believe it or not but I believe the Amish peoples are to be admired for their dedication and continuation of the old life.

    Reply
  6. Eric Twombly Author

    I have tremendously enjoyed your Wends video and even though I can’t be a Patreon at this time, I would love to see another video on these topics! You clarify and rectify so much about pagan history, insert facts and bring out how conjecture and manipulation of those facts bring about contemporary believe beliefs, and accurately describe the historical paths on each topic you cover! Just unmatched by other YouTube efforts!!

    Reply
  7. Filip Uzunovic Author

    Great videos, thanks for spending your time and explaining these pagan traditions. As a Serbian, i wanted to shed some light on some of the meanings behind the gods names. I might be wrong on this of course, haven't looked if it's really tied together, but "vit" in "Jarovit" might also refer to "sight". In Serbian and some other slavic languages i presume, "Vit" or "Vid" literally means "Sight", as in "My eyes give me sight (vid)". Could be linked with "Divine sight" or something similar. Another one is "Živa", which in Serbian means "She who who is alive" or "alive" in feminine form. "Siva" indeed means "gray", so i don't know how that is connected. I'm also interested in your opinion on relation between Sorbian and Serbian, haven't looked that much into it myself, but i can't but notice similarities in the names. Thank you for your content!

    Reply
  8. O B Author

    The second part is as great as the first one; I enjoyed the descriptions of the gods and goddesses, especially the part concerning the multiple heads. Reading the Patreon essay before watching this video was a good idea, it seems 🙂
    I'm certainly up for hearing more about those fierce Slavs who tried their best to stood up against a not so encompassing religion.
    Great job and explanations as usual, mate 🙂

    Reply

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