Pagan society – part III – women

Note: this article describes only women’s position in pagan societies, mainly in the context of local laws. I skip here the situation of roman and greek women (’cause everybody learns about it in school. At least here in Poland…) and will focus on germanic, slavic and baltic people. Their laws were very similar, so there is no point in dividing this topic unto three different parts. 
About celtic women you will read in an article describing the role of female element in celtic myths.
Mund (old germanic mundo, or latinized mundium) was a privilage of the head of the family. It litteraly means “protection”, and it belonged to the oldest male member of the family (understood as all persons related by blood). The men who had mund over the other person (children, wife etc.) had a right to decide for him about marriage, his political actions etc. This power wasn’t absolute (as many people think), but was of course limited by the law. Moreover, this privilige was also a kind of duty – to protect the family against all problems and dangers. It was indeed a matter of honor, but also the law. 
The institution of munduol was inherited. So for example when a father of the family dies, his oldest son take care of it. When he also dies, and there is no adult heir, the brother of the father take care over the family. Et cetera. 
There was also many kinds of mund. Other was mund under your own child, other under a wife and other under your mother-widow. 
Now, when this typically barbarian law is known to you, let me describe the situation of women. 
Their situation
Woman of those times (and I mean something around VIII-XII century) was always under protection of man, whether they wanted it or not. The society was than very patrarcharne, which means that it was dominated by man. It was beginning since the girl’s birth day. The father were deciding if he accepts her as his daughter or not. And sometimes he actually didn’t – if he suspected that his wife was cheating him with another man. In such case the girl was left in a forest, and a wife was sent back to her father (or oldest brother/son). 
The girl was raised only by mother (even with in those times father could spent quite many time with his children). Under her protection she was learning farm management, weaving, cooking. singing and of course how to influence men ;] Sometimes she was also learning how to fight, due to the fact that man (as a warrior) quite often was leaving his farm to raid some lands, or protect the tribal land. Eventually she could even became a shieldamaiden – a woman who decided to be a warrior (of course by a permission of her munduol). Altought it wasn’t very popular (as pagan men weren’t very happy to see women taking care of their traditional male activities) sometimes it happened – but only in the land of norse and russian people.
Most of the women became wifes. Icelandic family sagas show us clearly that very often a women were choosing husbands for their own. However sometimes father were urging them to get married with particular men. Just remember – the woman could refuse it. Forcing women to marriage was recognized as a big stain on the honor.
A marriage was a happy moment especially for the slavic fathers – because they were getting a big amount of wealth (or money, or land) for mund of his daughter. It is also important – a new husband was buying a mund from his wife’s father, and not a wife as a person! It means that he was becoming a new protector of a woman. And by the way – a woman was also receiving her bride price just for her, as her own property. It wasn’t a small thing – norsemen were able to give for example equivalent of annual profit of local forges. I don’t have to mention that blacksmiths were one of the richest persons in such societies?
The women hadn’t – of course – any political rights, but quite often they had a big influence on their husbands. Norse sagas describe many situations when men (like Sigurd) were taking advice of their wifes, or when woman had quite a big power and prestige in a whole scandinavian world (like Sigrid, a sister of polish prince Mieszko I).
But what happened when woman was abused in her home, she got raped by her husband or her spouse was insolvent? Well, she could ask her relatives to prosecute prepetrator of her misey on a local thing. She couldn’t do it for herself, but a family was supposed to defend her in such situations. If he won a trial, she was free to go under a mund of her father/brother/oldest son. As a widow/divorcee she was receiving a right of re-marriage – from this time she could got married with whoever she wanted to. SHE was a side who was negotiating marriage, and not her munduol.
So to conclude – the position of women in pagan societies was different than most of people think nowadays.  In his work “Germania” Tacitus, a roman historian (56-117) was astonished how much freedom had germanic women (comaring to the situation of roman ones). The rights of pagan women were old, and well preserved through ages. Because pagan men, even if they were dominating in the society, understood very well how important to them were their daughters, wifes and lovers. 
K. Modzelewski – “Barbaric Europe” (“Barbarzyńska Europa”)
Icelandic family sagas (click!)
Germania by Tacitus
Vladyka, written in the year 2013

Pagan society – part I – ancient democracy


First of all a note: by the term “ancient democracy” I understand assemblies that were taking places in Europe beside greek and roman cultures. Here I will focus only on slavic veches and germanic things.

But firstly imagine this situation: you’re living in early middle-age village. A local community has a full independence, and is only combined with other ones with tribal ties. A social stratification is still very low, and a central authority has very limited control under lieges. There are no permament officials that could enforce decisions of central authority. So in what way worked a local law?
This phenomenon can be strange for a modern man, but people were enforcing a law by their own. Where an assembly decided to e.g. banish somebody and burn down his house, the whole community were taking part in it. If anybody hadn’t do that, he could be judged himself on another assembly. That’s how things worked. Of course the only ones who were taking part in assemblies were men.
Somebody can ask why people were so lawful back then, but it’s not a matter of being lawful or not. This is a matter of surviving – if community couldn’t enforce a law, it was divided. If it was divided – it was weak. If it was weak it was quickly dominated by the other community. So people had to cooperate for their own good.
A good example of how much those assemblies were strong can be shown by a concrete situation. There is a year 804, when frankish king Charlemagne eventually crushed the saxon tribes and forced them to convert into christianity (under his reign). One of his firsts orders were enforcing of his jurisdiction. It means that a local communities were supposed to be judged by his officials, and not by local assemblies. After a couple of years he surprisingly discovered that it wasn’t the best decision. His officials weren’t able to enforce royal law in every small community, due to the fact that their military capabilities weren’t sufficient (and they were already very expensive). Charlemagne was forced to abandon this activity. He decided that his officials will represent him only on bigger popular assemblies (where they were effective).


Althought I call this assemblies “ancient democracy” it’s very far from what modern democracy is, or even was in ancient Athenes. There were two kinds of assemblies – local (called in old scandinavian “thing”, and in old slavic “veche”) where different cases of single or few communities were being judged – and popular (“althing”), on which were being judged cases of a whole tribe, or even tribal federation.
Everyone who was a free man and were living in particular community could take a part in thing. Such gatherings were organized in sacred places – in slavic case it was always a sacred grove. A slavic term of such place – “gai” – is derived from an old slavic verb “gaiti” (“to inclose”). So a meeting place was a fenced area. Moreover it was devoted to a concrete god of law – in Scandinavia it was e.g. Thor, in Sclavia propably Perun or Svarog. It wasn’t a sign that all the new resolutions were blessed by gods – it was a sign that everyone taking part in assembly was obligated before gods that he won’t break thing’s decision (or he will be punished by gods and humans for his disloyalty).
The assembly were always beggining by prayers to gods. Later the men who was a law-speaker – a person who was able to recite all the traditional laws – were supposed to do it. After that the thing were able to make new decisions – choose a new chief, declare war to somebody etc.
Unlike in greek democracy where everybody could make a public speech, in slavic and germanic assemblies the only ones who were speaking had been nobles (and later local rulers). They were discussing all the important things before the thing started, and later announcing them to other free people (peasants). Freeman could reject them, or accept by hitting with their spears (or less often other weapons) into their shields as a sign of appreciation. The decision had to be taken unanimously. If anybody was opposing it he was firstly convinced to change his mind. If even after this he didn’t want to appreciate the resolution he was beaten by sticks.
Later anybody who has some compliment could represent his case to thing. The decision was taken again by all of freeman, but it had to be consistent with local law. Both of sides – accused and accusing were supported by their relatives. That’s why a kin was so important back then – without influencial kinsman nobody was able to win a case.
Relatives weren’t saying that somebody is wrong or not – they were just making a guarantee that their akin men is not guilty. If a thing decided that he was, all people related with accused had to pay a part of his chastisement. If somebody were banished from a community their duty was to protect him.
Banishing from a community was the worst punishment for people back then. That meant that outlaw hadn’t any tribe – and so he hadn’t any laws. Anybody could kill him and take or destroy his property without any consequences. The tribe, who normally had to defend such a man, could simply don’t care about him. Without a tribe an outlaw was in eyes of people nobody.
That’s how things and veches worked.

Learn more:
First of all a genius work of polish historian – Karol Modzelewski’s ” Barbarian Europe” (pol. “Barbarzyńska Europa”). It’s a really perfect and complex book about this topic.

You can always read these and other related arts on Wikipedia (which are quite good):

Vladyka 2013

Introduction to paganism – part V – baltic tradition

This article contains only basic information about Balts’ pagan traditions. If you want to learn more – read some of books or visit websites that I recommend you at the end of this text.
Sources and historical background
Today exist only three baltic nations – Lithuanians, Latvians and Samogitians (living in Lithuania). But back in the Middle Ages they were much more numerous – there existed many bigger and lesser tribes, inter alia the nation of Old Prussians, the biggest and the most advanced from all of baltic people. All of those tribes had their own original culture and beliefs, closely related with slavic ones. Unfortunetely, they high skill of warfare was a big problem for christianized slavic and nordic rulers. There were organized many crusades against them, along with even more numerous peaceful missions, but most of them was a complete disaster. The Baltic people stood bravely against christians for many ages, but they were gradually forced to convert into new faith. Here you can read a bit about this topic; it’s a link to blog of Peter of Skyforger:
Since Baltic people were a last christianized Europeans, we have quite many information about their believes. The main source are of course christian chronicles (“history is written by victors”) like e.g. Chronicon Prussiae by Peter Dusburg. Many information is also hidden in the folklore, and auxiliary sciences like comparative mythology and linguistics. 


Main Deities
A baltic pantheon is really big, so here I will present only the most important gods and goddesses:
Dievas, Dievs – he is the supreme god of baltic pantheon, a ruler of the sky and shine, and also a king of all gods. His name means literally “God”. Worshipped as a god-creator, he’s a patron of sowing and a storm. Presenting with seed basket and a lightning in each hand. He’s bounded with beneficial, positive powers of the universe. In myths bounded with a storms he’s almost always relieved from the duties by Perkunas. Unlike other gods-creators, he have never became deus otiosus.
Perkunas, Perkuno – is a baltic god of thunder, lightning and rain. Closely related to slavic Perun, as well as nordic Thor. He is presented with many different weapons, mainly with axe. He is a creator of his weapons, sometimes with a helo of a god-blacksmith Televalis Representing positvive, active forces of the universe, Perkunas is a defender of the humanity. He’s sacred tree is oak.
Velnias, Velinas, Vels, Vielona – the opponent of Perkunas. God of the underworld, death and dead people. In some way he is bounded with destructive magic.
Saule – is a goddess of the sun, a wife of Menu and a lover of Perkunas. He is presented as a women with a ewer, pouring out the light and warm after a long, cold winter. She represents a positive solar force.
Menu, Menulis – a god of the moon, and a husband of Saule. A tale says that his chlidren are stars. 
Zemyna, Zeme Mate – is a Mother-Earth, responsible for the fertility and life of all beings. She is said to be a wife of Dievas (or sometimes Perkunas), with whom on spring solstice she inosculate again, and thanks to that gives another life to the earth (after a winter).
Laima – “a fate”, or “a luck”. She is the goddess of the human’s destiny, appearing in most important moments of life. A patron of births and childhood. Sometimes she is also presented as a goddess of love (instead of nowadays goddess of love Milda).
Gabija, Gabia, Gabeta – “a candle”, or “a light”. She’s a patron of the fire, linked with a sacred fire Aukuras. She’s also a patron of household and a family.
Regular Festivals
Prusiauzemis – celebrated in January, is a festival of change of cosmos in winter. 
On Ferburary there are celebrated several days: a day of Gabija, a day of Perkunas and the most important Uzgavenes. On this day is burnt down an effigy symbolising a bad, winter spirits.
Spring equinox – xelebrated on march.
Jore – a day of spring, devoted to Perkunas. On this day a thunder god awakes all nature to live.
The day of Milda – a day of lovers.
Rasos – a celebration of summer solstice in June.
Zoline – celebrated in August, is a festival of grass, cereal and a Mother-Earth Zemyna.
The day of Perkunas – celebrated on September, together with autumn equinox.
The day of all souls – festival lf the dead, celebrated in November.
Kucios, Kaledos and the day of Praamzius – the festivals bounded with winter and winter solstice.
Learn more:
M. Gambitas – “Balts. Ancient people and places”
V.R. Dzundzilla – “Balitc Lithuanian Religion and Romuva”
H. Biezais – “Baltic Religion”
For polish-speaking people:
J. Suchocki – “Mitologia Bałtyjska”
A. Zubiński – “Mitologia Bałtyjska”
J. Kierszka “Mity i Legendy Prusów”
O. Miłosz – “Legendy i podania litewskie”
Vladyka 2013

Introduction to paganism – part IV – celtic tradition


This article contains only basic information about celtic pagan traditions. If you want to learn more – read some books, or visit websites that I recommend you at the end of this text.

This topic is really long and hard to present. So if you have good knowledge about it, and you will see some mistakes – simply write to me.


Sources and historical background

The ancient Celts settled vast lands from Ireland and Britain on the north, to northern Italy, Spain and Balcans on the south. They were living in what is now called France on the west, and in part of Czech Republic on the east, and even in Minor Asia (being known there as “Galats”). They were great warriors and craftsman. But that was in VII-III B.C. In following years, they were slowly conquered by Romans, Germanic and Daco-Thracian tribes. The only free celtic lands were still lying in modern Scotland (settled by Picts), Wales and Ireland.

Celtic pagans haven’t written themselves about their beliefs. The tradition existed in word of mouth, being guarded and cultivated by druids – a rank of priests, medicals, historians, astronomers, philosophers and scientists. I will write about them in other article.

Our main sources are texts of celtic neighbors – Romans and Greeks. The second part of texts are manuscripts of Christian monks, who were recording old celtic tales. They were using a names of celtic deities and heroes, and were writing about old festivals, but in Christian vain.

Also our sources are archeology (especially useful for Gallia’s territory), linguistic, folklore and comparative mythology.

First of difficulties is that under roman occupation invaders tried to Romanize specific gods and goddesses. Also, when they were writing about celtic pantheon they were using Roman names (as an equivalent). Very often ancient classics weren’t writing about gods, that were popular on many monuments and in inscriptions.

In different part of Gallia, in Ireland and Britain names of deities were generally different. Also many deities don’t have their equivalent in other regions. Because of that, I will write only about most popular gods and goddesses. I will not write about fomoraig generation of Ireland – that is a topic for other text.


Main deities

First name is always gaulish:

Teutates (bryt. Totatis, Tutatis) – is a central character in celtic pantheon. His name means all people. He’s a patron and a guardian of a tribe. He is also a god of war. Romans were comparing him to Mercury and Mars.

Lugus (irl. Lugh, bryt. Llud Llaw Ereint or Llew, Lleu) – is a god-king, and his name means flashing light. Was worshipped in every region of celtic world. He is associated with sun and warm light.

A Lugnasad festival is especially bounded with this god.

His attribute is spear.


Taranis (bryt. Taran) – or Sucellos, a god of thunder and sky, worshipped in Gallia, Britain and Ireland. His attributes are hammer, an oak and a wheel, and his name means basically Thunder or Lord of Thunder.He is similar to other thunder gods of Europe – germanic Donar/Thor, roman Jupiter, greek Zeus, slavic Perun and Baltic Perkunas.


Belenos (bryt. Beli) –  a solar god, by Romans identified with Apollo. He is bounded with healing forces and life-giving power of sun.

Bounded with Beltaine and Lugnasad festivals.


Goibniu (irl. Goibniu, bryt. Govannon) – is a god-blacksmith, patron of crafts and work.


Ogmios (irl. Ogma) – is a god of eloquence and science. He was identified with Hercules, but his strength is a power of speech, not a muscle.

He is also bounded with underworld.

Cernunnos – a god with a horns of a deer, bounded with wild nature and magic.


Mothers – three goddesses, patron of wealth, fertility and maternity. Their attributes are basket of apples, baby and/or horn of plenty.


Epona – a goddess with features of mothers. She is also a goddess of death, fallen in battle and underworld.

Their attributes, beside Mothers’ ones, is also a horse.

She was known in ancient world under many names (e.g. Rosmerta).

She is quite similar to irish goddess Danu and british Riannon.


Brigantia (bryt. Brigantia, irl. Brigid) – is a goddess of poetry, healing, smith’s work. She is patron of higher dimension – as high hills, so as also high intelligence, perfection etc. By Romans she was described as Minerva.


Bodua/Catabodua (irl. Badb, also known as Morrigan) – goddess of war. She is taking fallen warriors souls to the Underworld. Her attribute is a crow.

The Irish goddess Morrigan is sometimes a name for a trio of other goddess (bounded with war) – Badb, Macha and Nemain).


Regular Festivals

31st October / 1st November – Samhain – the first day of celtic calendar. It is starting “darker” part of a year, ending a time of harvest and being a festival of spirits, forefathers and unborn children.

1st February – Imbolc – bounded mainly with goddess Brigid, it is a holyday of purification by fire and water.

30th April / 1st May – Beltaine – a holyday starting a part of “light”year. Devoted mainly to the god Belenos, and bounded with fire.

1st August – Lugnasad – a day of devoted mainly to god Lugh, and also Belenos. Bounded with a beginning of harvest, it is also a day of love and happiness.


Learn more:

Also, worth to check:


J. de Vries – Celtic Religion
p. MacCana – Celtic Mythology
Th. F. O’Rahilly – Early Irish History and Mythology
M.L. Sjeostedt – Gods and Heroes of the Celts
J. Wood – The Celts: Life, Myth and Art
And lots of more – english literature about Celts is huge.
Also try to read source text and legends – e.g. Mabinogion or De Bello Gallico by Ceaser.

Books for polish-speaking people:
J. Gąssowski – Mitologia Celtów
A. Bartnik – Zarys Wierzeń Plemion Celtyckich
Celtowie (z serii Mitologie Świata)
+ tłumaczenia zagranicznych książek (a sporo ich jest).

Vladyka 2013

Introduction to paganism – part II – slavic tradition

This text contains only basic information about slavic native traditions. If you want to learn more – read some books, or go to links that I recommend you (look at the end of this article).

Historical Background
First of all, it must be written that slavic religion is not so well known as e.g. german (id est scandinavian) or celtic. It’s because of poor sources. There is no written texts like scandinavians sagas or celtic legends and poems – slavic christian elites had no interest in survival of their native traditions. They were going to erase it from history’s charts instead. I suppose it is bounded with resistance, which gave lower classes. In many slavonic countries (e.g. Poland in 1034, Czech Kingdom in the beggining of Xth century) there occured something called “the pagan reaction”. It was a revolt of lower, still pagan classes, against the oppresion of Church and nobleman. During this events, the paganism was again main religion for a short period of time. It must be obvious than victorious christian people wanted to erase momories about paganism – because it was a root of resistance against tyranny and feudalism (which was half-slavery system in reality).
Our sources than are: archeology, folklore, some fragments from foreigner’s texts, linguistics and of course comparitive mythology. By it, we can rebuilt slavic’s ancient traditions.

Main Gods
Perun – He was also called with other names, dependly of region, and was widely worshipped in whole slavonic land. For many, he is the most important god of the pantheon.
He is describing as a bearded, strong men with an axe or hammer in his hand.
His name means “he, who strikes”. As the god of sky and storm he represents an element of order. He is an active deity, in legends fighting with chaotic forces (e.g. he fights with a Dragon (Żmij), who represent a chaos in the universe). He is also responsible for the creation of the universe, along with Veles.
He is an incarnation of courage, honor and striving for perfection. He was worshipped especially by warriors.
He is similar with other thunder gods, like Thor and Taranis.
He’s holy tree is oak.
He’s holyday is 20 of July.
Veles – a chtonic, god of underworld (Navia), wealth, magic, poetry and knowledge.  A deity that represents a chaotic side of the universe. He’s the secend most important god in slavic pantheon, right behind Perun. He is his antagonist, (e.g. myth about creation of the universe). Together with Perun, he created a man.
Animals bounded with Veles are viper, bull and black horse.
He is similar to Hades and Pluto.
Svarog – a solar god, patron of celestial fire and of blacksmithing. He represents a more distant forces of light (deus otiosus), and by many he is called a demiurg. He is suppossed to be the main god of the pantheon, a king of all gods, not so interested in Earth’s affairs though.
Similar to Hephaestus.
Dažbog – a son of Svarog, god of fire and a cultural hero. He represents a home’s fireplace, and he gives people wealth and luck in life.
Similar to: Sol, Vesta and Hercules.
Mokosh – Mother Earth, goddes of fertility, abundance and love. Patron of women. One of the most important deities in slavic pantheon.
Similar to: Demeter, Aphrodite.
Rod –  He is a patron of all human gatherings e.g. families, kins, nations etc. He also assigns everyone’s fate with help of his three servants, Rožanicas. He is a distant god, but Rožanicas were often an object of worship, due to their power of changing people’s destiny.
Yarilo/Yarovit – a young, active god of spring, light and youth. He is incarnation of goodness, fertility and hapiness, especially worshipped at the first days of spring. He dies in the time of winter, and reborn on spring.
Described as a young, blond men dressing white drob. He rides a horse, and holds an ear of grain in his hand.
He’s main holyday is 20th of april.
Similar to: Baldur, Apollo.
Marena/Marzanna – a goddes of death and winter, connected with underworld (Navia). Her effigy is burned on the first day of spring.
Hors – a god of moon.

Other beings
Dola – personification of fate, similar to disir in scandinavian mythology or christian guardian angel. They protect people form all the evil.
Dziady (Forefathers)  – a spirit of forebears, which can help in everyday life.

Regular festivals
21st of March – Jare Gody* – a festival of spring’s equinox.
20th of April – Yarilo’s Holyday.
21st of June – Kupala’s Night – a festival of summer’s solstice.
20th of July – Perun’s Holyday.
23rd of September – Festival of yields – a festival of autamn’s equinox.
1st of November – Dziady – festival of forefathers.
21st of December – Szczodre Gody – festival of winter’s solstice.
*I’m using Polish names if there is no English one.

Learn more:

Marija Gimbutas The Slavs
P.M. Barford – The Early Slavs: Culture & Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe
J. Mahal – Slavic Mythology
A. Szyjewski – Slavic Religion
B. Ribakov – Ancient Slavic Paganism

Books for polish-speaking people:
A. Gieysztor – Mitologia Słowian
A. Szyjewski – Religia Słowian
S. Urbańczyk – Dawni Słowianie – wiara i kult
H. Łowmiański – Religia Słowian i Jej Upadek (very critical work, but you can find here some useful infos)

Vladyka, May 2013

Introduction to paganism – part I

Original post: here.

I’m planning to put on this site things bounded with paganism. Yet, I believe that not every person who will be visiting Heathen Altar might have knowledge about our ancestor’s culture. That’s why “Introduction to paganism” starts to appear – to show those persons our european legacy, our prechristian believes, values, mythology and rituals. You will get basic information about that kind of stuff. I am going to present germanic, celtic, slavic and baltic traditions as the good beggining. There will also appear traditions of Greece and Rome (even they are quite well known), and also of people who have dissapeared in the darkness of the past.
As the first, you can expect slavic tradition. It will appear tommorow on this site, together with the first album’s review.


Heathen Altar

Please visit to find articles about atmospheric, black and folk music. If you, on the other hand, share an interest only in religion, culture and history of the pagan Europe – this place is dedicated to You.  I should post new material very soon, so please be patient.

Thanks for your attention!