The Pagans of Belarus – Andrei Liankevich


Андрей Ленкевич. Язычество – Belarus people have an original culture rooted back in the pre-religious times. The Belarusian culture has benefited from the fact that when the Slavic tribes came to settle in nowadays Belarus lands, they accept the achievements of the Baltic and Finno-Ugric tribes. This form of religious perception existed for about 15-20 centuries and made the basis of today’s Belarusian culture.

Belarusians had a written language already in the pagan period (earlier the emergence of the written language was attributed to the advent of Christianity) and when Prince Vladimir’s efforts to baptize people in the 10th century C.E., he could not completely destroy the pagan beliefs. The trust in the magic powers of trees, birds, flowers and stones could not be stopped. All of the pre-pagan and much of the pagan traditions were lost or ceased in their celebrations in the 19th to the 20th centuries. A great number of still existing traditions and celebrations are reconstructed by people interested in Belarus culture and by folk unions.

The major traditions in Belarus that have arisen because of the pagan influences related to the process of natural renewal that is characteristic of spring like Gukannie Vjasny (Welcoming of Spring) or less known Sula and Ur’ja (dedicated to future harvest). The festivals are accompanied by their appropriate spring songs and mostly related to the worship of the sun which is paganism. The older pre-pagan Slavic and Balkan cultures honored and still honor the sun goddess.

The Kupalle that is a celebration accompanying the Solstice on June 21st is one of the most cherished pagan festivals. In later times however the festival has been thought to be a Christian celebration of a male saint called Ivan Kupala. This is the way Christianity interchanged with Pagan holidays. The primary part of the celebration related to this festival is the worship of “fire” which is thought to be the symbol of renewal.

Андрей Ленкевич. Язычество -  Andrei Liankevich. Pagan

The absolutely forgotten tradition of “Rusallie” is dedicated to the water-nymph and still exists in Kuzmichy village: Six people of the village have a meal together on the river bank and then choose the best water-nymph for the next year.

Another major holiday in Belarus is given for the festival called Dzyady, the cult of worshiping the spirits of the dead ancestors. It consists of a ritual dinner which commemorates the dead relatives of the concerned family and is celebrated about three to four times a year. Along with this, Belarus holidays also consist of celebrating the Kaliady, which is the Pagan version of celebrating Christmas and the New Year. The celebration starts from December 25th and goes until January 7th.

Андрей Ленкевич. Язычество Andrei Liankevich. Pagan 3

Together with that, Pagan culture still exists as a “Dark Magic”. “Villages wizards “ practice their rites in the country side. They cure people using charms and special kinds of herbs.

About photographer: Andrei Liankevich, Belarusian photographer, born 1981 in Grodno and based in Minsk (Belarus). 2004-2005 he studied  on World Press Photo seminar in Yerevan (Arminia). In 2007 Andrei took part in the Focus on Monferrato master class in Tuscany (Italy).  In 2008 he participated in a program by French Association Pour l’Instant, shooting a photo story on “Modern family institutions”.  In 2009-2010 Andrei  produced  portraits of the Belarussians living in Poland during “Gaude Polonia” program. Since 2004 Andrei  taught a course on Photojournalism at the European Humanity University in Vilnius (Lithuania).

In 2010 “Pagan” was published, Andrei’s the first book about Belarus Pagan traditions. In 2009 Andrei wins prize at the Humanity Photo Awards with his work about “Pagan traditions in Belarus”,  late that year  the project was among finalists of  “Magnum Expression Award”. Later Andrei wins 1st Prize at the Polish Photography Contest dedicated to 170 Years of Photography. And in 2010 Andrei  won OSCE photo contest and got 1st prize in Belarus Press Photo contest in “People in news” category.

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Андрей Ленкевич. Язычество Andrei Liankevich. Pagan 2.jpg

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