The day begins
Imagine a scene in North Yorkshire a thousand years ago. The autumn sun crawls lazily across the horizon, flooding a small coastal valley with the early morning light. Svensholm is a small Viking homestead, comprising a large hall and a few outbuildings. The longhouse has thick walls which keep it cool in summer and stop it freezing in winter. The family sleep in the main hall around the fire pit along with some of the farm stock. On the top of an outbuilding a cockerel crows rousing the farm to life. With little thought to the daily chores ahead the immediate care is to breakfast! No breakfast cereals, bagels or scrambled eggs for these farmers though.
Whilst Ingrid, the farmer’s wife, coaxes the embers of yesterday’s fire back to life, Sven the farmer helps himself to some of yesterday’s left-over stew. It has been left in an iron cauldron, rather like something you’d imagine Halloween witches to sit around. The stew itself also looks rather scary; a thin crust of fat has formed over a brown liquid which is made up of boiled lamb bones, beans, peas, carrots and turnips. Sven breaks off a hunk of bread to dip into the stew. A rather stale crusty flat loaf, this bread was baked last week.
The children of the household will spend the day helping their parents. Fortified with a breakfast of bread and buttermilk (similar to skimmed milk), Tostig will help his father in the fields. The remainder of the harvest has to be gathered in and a lamb needs to be slaughtered. Sven uses an iron sickle to cut the corn, whilst Tostig uses a wooden rake to gather the cut corn into sheaths. Later these will be threshed to release the grains of wheat, rye and barley.
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At the end of August, the first National Congress of Native Faith Believers will be held in Łódź, organized by the four biggest ‘native faith’ groups in Poland. It is a clear sign that native faith is a growing social force in a country that has a reputation as mono-faith, Catholic state.
‘Native faith’ is the literal English translation of ‘rodzimowierstwo’ – a Polish term derived from the words ‘rodzimy’ (native) and ‘wiara’ (faith) – that refers to a belief system based on ethnic Slavic traditions. Native faithers reject the labels ‘paganism’ and ‘neo-paganism’ as both pejorative and not capturing the ethnic Slavic elements of their beliefs. Some scholars refer to these as ‘ethnic religions.’
There has been a marked upturn in interest in pre-Christian religious traditions across Europe in the past two decades, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. This has been reflected in the creation of international organisations such as the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, founded in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1998, with members from Latvia, Poland, Iceland, Germany, Denmark and Greece.
One of the theological questions to be discussed at the Łódź congress will be whether a person can simultaneously be a native faith believer and belong to another church. Academics involved in religious studies in Poland believe this might be a breakthrough moment for the native faith movement.
“The native faith movement as a whole is loosely organised and doesn’t have a strong dogmatic component, it is actually less about faith – as in ‘correct belief’ – and more about being faithful, living the lifestyle,” said Scott Simpson, a scholar of religious studies at the Jagiellonian University, and a co-author of a recent study of Eastern European neo-paganism.
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