3 ‘specializations’ of spiritual leaders in Slavic Native Faith

There are various, we might call them, ‘specializations’ or ‘professions’ of the Slavic spiritual leaders in the sphere of Rodnovery (Slavic Native Faith), determined on the basis of old resources and continuous folklore traditions. Below I described shortly some essential informations that, hopefully, will show you clearly the main differences between the most well-known of such specializations: wołchw, guślarz and żerca.

Important side note: these are the names of those specializations in the Polish language, and they are spelled differently in the other Slavic languages in which they also exist.


WOŁCHW

Aleksander Karcz: Wołchw
Wołchw, artist: Aleksander Karcz

Wołchw is a Slavic shaman and a seer/prophet dealing with the spiritual life and magick. They are the first to mediate with the god Weles (Veles). Their main responsibilities include passing down the oral traditions of a community. Recitations, music, dance and often also natural intoxicants putting them into a trance are extremely important during their rituals.

There’s also a female version of the noun: ‘wołchwa’, however in reality this profession is practiced almost exclusively by men. The word wołchw comes from the Eastern Slavic term volkhv that was mentioned in the medieval Primary Chronicle describing the Kievan Rus’.


GUŚLARZ / GUŚLARKA

Poland: Slavic invocation of Dziady (Forefathers)
Dziady rite conducted by a guślarz, artist: Kazimierz Górski (1868-1934)

Guślarz (m) or guślarka (f) is strongly focused on the ‘shamanic’ aspects and on conducting various common rites (for example healing practices or charms). Name of this specialization is derived from a noun gusła that describes primarily those rites during which the souls are being summoned from the outerworld. They are the conductors of the annual rites of dziady when the souls of the ancestors are invited for a feast and paid homage.


ŻERCA / ŻERCZYNI

Bogumił Znicz: Żerca
Żerca, artist: Bogumił Znicz

Żerca, żyrzec (m) or żerczyni (f) is a priest/priestess and a spiritual leader. They lead the sacrificing practices, major divinations and important ceremonies like weddings. They are also responsible for designating dates of the religious festivals. They protect the sacred sites (temples, groves, sacred fires). In the past they were seen as the most elite profession among those mentioned above, and held the most of political power – it was also usually them who advised the rulers. The word żerca is derived from a noun żertwa which means an offering.

Among the contemporary Polish Rodzimowiercy (believers of the Slavic Native Faith) the most commonly revived profession is that of a żerca.

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4 thoughts on “3 ‘specializations’ of spiritual leaders in Slavic Native Faith

  1. There were never female spiritual leaders. Read the f*cking sources. I hate when people rewrite history to their own modern liberal ideology.

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    1. There’s no need to use swear words. If there’s something you or someone else would like to correct in my text, I’m more than open to see constructive criticism here in the comments because my goal is to make at least some solid informations about the Slavic Native Faith more accessible for the people from abroad. The only thing I might correct above at the moment is leaving only the male version of ‘wołchw’ who is almost exclusively male as far as I know. I decided to include there the female forms of the nouns primarily because they do exist linguistically speaking (I didn’t ‘invent’ them if that was your concern). Moreover, this short text is meant to be written from the perspective of the contemporary Rodnovery, what’s briefly hinted in the first paragraph, and there are female spiritual / religious leaders aka priestesses conducting rites who are functioning actively in the communities in Poland and in the other Slavic countries. Female priestesses are also common in other related Faiths like in Romuva.

      There’s indeed an active dominance of the male leaders in Rodnovery as well as in the process of reconstruction of the Faith across the Slavic countries. I advise the people reading my words to read papers like ‘Men Constructing Masculinity in Polish Rodzimowierstwo: Tradition and Nature’ that brings that situation up.

      On the other hand, there’s a problem of understanding the female spirituality from the male perspective, and with the simple understanding of a term of a ‘spiritual leader’ (different from the straightforward meaning of a ‘religious leader’). Within the traditional communities it was often stretching over the healing practices, especially among the women. Healthy body meant a healthy soul (just a quick reference to a popular Polish proverb, I couldn’t resist). Vast majority of the historical informations about women survived in the context of witchcraft, obviously degraded in the old texts. Most of the women practicing various kinds of rites are even nowadays associated with the medicine women who naturally couldn’t be called ‘religious leaders’, however they might be sometimes interpreted as ‘spiritual leaders’ especially if we take into the account that the term falls under the category of shamanism (a shaman by definition is a form of a spiritual leader). A weak shadow of those practices are for example szeptuchy, who in the modern days are described mostly through the lenses of the syncretized folk ‘magic’. The remnants of their spiritual ‘guidance’ during the rites is usually omitted in the interpretations. Szeptuchy might be an example of a ‘profession’ I could’ve added above with a proper explanation but decided it would be truly too much of a stretch.

      The main purpose of this short article is to simply inform the readers that there are different, as I called them, ‘specializations’ per se. I would never guess that the small detail of providing the female versions of the nouns would spark a problem and drive some comments I saw around away from the actual content.

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