Nature and Ethnicity in East European Paganism

An Environmental Ethic of the Religious Right?


  • Adrian Ivakhiv University of Vermont



relilgious environmentalism, Nature religion, BL435


Paganism is frequently cast by Anglo-American scholars as a form of “nature religion.” Some have also identified its political leanings as left rather than right. This article tests these preconceptions against the evidence provided by East European, especially Ukrainian, Paganism or “Native Faith.” The author examines Native Faith notions of nature as land, as “blood,” and as “tradition,” and argues that these are underpinned by a concept of “territorialized ethnicity”—the belief that ethnic communities are natural and biological entities rooted in specific geographical territories. The article traces this idea to its precursors in European and Soviet thought, and suggests that it may be more commonly found around the world than Western theorists presume. In light of such a different understanding of nature, the concept of “nature religion” may need to be rethought.

Author Biography

  • Adrian Ivakhiv, University of Vermont

    Adrian Ivakhiv is an assistant professor at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, where he coordinates the graduate program in Environmental Thought and Culture. He is the author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona (Indiana University Press, 2001) and of numerous articles on environment, religion, and culture, which have appeared in such publications as Nova Religio, Culture and Religion, Ecotheology, Social Compass, Topia, Ethnic Forum, and Gnosis.


Albanese, Catherine L. Nature Religion in America: From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.

Arthur, Shawn. “Technophilia and Nature Religion: The Growth of Paradox.” Religion 32 (2002): 303-14.

Arvidsson, Stefan. “Aryan Mythology as Science and Ideology.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67 (1999): 327-54.

Bassin, Mark. “History and Philosophy of Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 21. 4 (1997): 563-72.

Botkin, Daniel S. Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-first Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Bowman, Marion. “Nature, the Natural, and Pagan Identity.” Diskus 6 (2000),, last accessed 17 June 2005.

Boym, Svetlana. “From the Russian Soul to Post-Communist Nostalgia.” Representations 49 (1995): 133-66.

Bromley, Iulian V. Ocherki teorii etnosa [Essays on the Theory of Ethnos]. Moscow: Nauka, 1983.

Budymyr. Vidrodzhennia Svitohliadu: Velyke Ukrayins’ke Vidvoyuvannia [Rebirth of the Worldview: The Great Ukrainian Resistance]. Kyiv: self-published, 2001.

Bychkova Jordan, Bella, and Terry G. Jordan-Bychkov. “Ethnogenesis and Cultural Geography.” Journal of Cultural Geography 21. 1 (2003): 3-17.

Clifton, Chas S. “Nature Religion for Real.” Gnosis 48 (1998): 16-20.

Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. New York: Norton, 1995.

Crosby, Alfred W., Jr. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.

Davies, Alan T. “The Aryan Myth: Its Religious Significance.” Sciences Religieuses/Studies in Religion 10.3 (1981): 287-98.

Denevan, William. “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82.3 (1992): 369-81.

Douglas, Mary. “Environments at Risk.” In Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology, 232-48. London: Routledge, 1975.

Dugin, Aleksandr. Konservativnaya Revolutsiya [The Conservative Revolution]. Moscow: AKIRN, 1994.

---. Osnovy Geopolitiki: Geopoliticheskoie budushcheie Rossii [Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia]. Moscow: Arktogeia, 1997.

Dunlop, John B. “Aleksandr Dugin’s ‘Neo-Eurasian’ Textbook and Dmitrii Trenin’s Ambivalent Response.” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 25.1/2 (2001): 91-128.

Dymerskaya-Tsigelman, Liudmila, and Leonid Finberg. “Antisemitism of the Ukrainian Radical Nationalists: Ideology and Policy.” Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism 14 (1999),, last accessed 1 November 2003.

Ely, Christopher. This Meagre Nature: Landscape and National Identity in Imperial Russia. Dekalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2002.

Epstein, Mikhail N. The Russian Philosophy of National Spirit: Conservatism and Traditionalism. Washington, DC: National Council for Soviet and East European Research, 1994.

Evernden, Neil. The Social Creation of Nature. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Figueira, Dorothy M. Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Franklin, Adrian. Nature and Social Theory. London: SAGE, 2001.

Gallagher, Ann-Marie. “Weaving a Tangled Web? Pagan Ethics and Issues of History, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Pagan Identity.” Diskus 6 (2000),, last accessed 17 June 2005.

Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Glacken, Clarence. Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

Gumilev, Lev N. Etnogenez i biosfera zemli. Leningrad: Izdatel’stvo Leningradskogo Universiteta, 1989; published in English translation as Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere. Moscow: Progress, 1990.

---. Noosfera i khudozhestvennoe tvorchestvo [The Noosphere and Artistic Creativity]. Moscow: Nauka, 1991.

---. Etnosfera: Istoriia lyudei i istoriia pryrody [The Ethnosphere: Human History and the History of Nature]. Moscow: Ecopros, 1993.

Hagemeister, Michael. “Russian Cosmism in the 1920s and Today.” In The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture, edited by B. G. Rosenthal, 185-202. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Herder, Johann Gottfried von. Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. 1784.

Horigan, Stephen. Nature and Culture in Western Discourses. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Hutton, Ronald H., The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Isaev, I. A., ed. Puti Evrazii [Eurasian Paths]. Moscow: Russkaia kniga, 1992.

Ivakhiv, Adrian. Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

---. “In Search of Deeper Identities: Neo-Paganism and Native Faith in Contemporary Ukraine.” Nova Religio 8. 3 (2005): 7-38.

---. “The Revival of Ukrainian Native Faith.” In Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, edited by M. Strmiska. Religion and Contemporary Society series; Oxford: ABC-CLIO Press, forthcoming.

Kaganskaya, Maya. “The Book of Veles: Saga of a Forgery,” Jews and Jewish Topics in Soviet and East-European Publications 4 (1986-87): 3-27

Kahanets’, Ihor. Ariis’kyi standart [Aryan Standard]. Kyiv: A.S.K., 2004.

Kaiser, Robert J. The Geography of Nationalism in Russia and the USSR. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Kanyhin, Iurii. Shliakh Ariv: Ukrayina v dukhovnii istoriyi l’udstva. Roman-ese [Way of the Aryans: Ukraine in the Spiritual History of Humanity, A Novel-essay]. Kyiv: Ukrayina, 2000.

---. Vikhy sviashchennoi istorii: Rus’-Ukraina [Landmarks of Sacred History: Rus’- Ukraine]. Kyiv: Ukrayina, 2001.

Kurov’skyi, Volodymyr, ed. Z bohamy u Tryhlavi: Karby virovchennia Ridnoyi Pravoslavnoyi Viry [With the Gods in Tryhlav: Treasury of the Teachings of the Native Orthodox Faith]. Kyiv: Rodove Vohnyshche Ridnoyi Pravoslavnoyi Viry, 2004.

Leopold, Aldo. “The Land Ethic.” In A Sand County Almanac, 237-64. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

Lozko, Halyna. “Volodymyr Shaian: Osnovopolozhnyk vidrodzhennia Ridnoi Viry” [Volodymyr Shaian: Founder of the Rebirth of the Native Faith]. Svaroh 9 (1999): 6.

---. Etnolohiia Ukrayiny. Kyiv: ArtEk, 2001.

Lozko, Halyna, ed. Volkhovnyk. Pravoslov [Mage’s Guide and Worship Manual]. Kyiv: Svaroh, 2001.

---. Velesova Knyha: Volkhovnyk [The Book of Veles: Mage’s Guide]. Kyiv: Taki Spravy, 2002.

Mann, Charles C. New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Martin, Terry. The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationlism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Moroz, Yevgenii. Istoriia “mertvoi vody”—ot strashnoi skazki k bolshoi politike: Politicheskoie neoyazichestvo v Postsovietskoi Rossii [The Story of “Dead Water”— From Terrible Tale to Great Politics: Political Neopaganism in Post-Soviet Russia]. Stuttgart: Ibidem, 2005.

Myers, Brendan Cathbad. “The Politics of Environmental Counterculture and Heterodoxy.” Unpublished article shared on the NatRel listserv, 12 February 2001.

---. Dangerous Religion: Environmental Spirituality and its Activist Dimension. Miami: Dubsar House, 2004.

Obiednannia Ridnoviriv Ukrayiny. “Vidozva Pershoho Vseukrayins’koho Soboru Ridnoyi Viry do Uriadu Ukrayiny ta do vsikh ukrayintsiv v Ukrayini y poza yiyi mezhamy” [Response of the First All-Ukrainian Council of the Native Faith to the Government of Ukraine and to All Ukrainians in Ukraine and Beyond its Borders]. Svaroh 9 (1998): 4.

Oboler, Regina Smith. “Nature Religion as a Cultural System? Sources of Environmentalist Action and Rhetoric in a Contemporary Pagan Community.” The Pomegranate 6.1 (2004): 86-106.

Oldfield, J. D., and D. J. B. Shaw. “Revisiting Sustainable Development: Russian Cultural and Scientific Traditions and the Concept of Sustainable Development.” Area 34.4 (2002): 391-400.

Olender, Maurice. The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the Nineteenth Century, translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Pearson, Joanne, Richard H. Roberts, and Geoffrey Samuel, eds. Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

Poliakov, Léon. The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe, translated by Edmund Howard. London: Sussex University Press, 1974.

Riabchuk, Mykola. “Culture and Cultural Politics in Ukraine: A Post-Colonial Perspective.” In Dilemmas of State-Led Nation Building in Ukraine, edited by T. Kuzio and P. D’Anieri, 47-70. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

Scoones, Ian. “New Ecology and the Social Sciences: What Prospects for a Fruitful Engagement?” Annual Review of Anthropology 28 (1999): 479-507.

Shaian, Volodymyr. Vira Predkiv Nashykh [Faith of our Ancestors]. Hamilton, Ont.: Society of the Ukrainian Native Faith, 1987.

Shnirel’man, V. A. “Passions about Arkaim: Russian Nationalism, the Aryans, and the Politics of Archaeology.” Inner Asia 1 (1999): 267-82.

---. “Perun, Svarog, and Others: Russian Neo-Paganism in Search of Itself.” Cambridge Anthropology 21.3 (1999/2000): 18-36.

---. “‘Christians! Go Home!’ A Revival of Neo-Paganism between the Baltic Sea and Transcaucasia (An Overview).” Journal of Contemporary Religion 17.2 (2002): 197- 211.

---. “Russian Neo-Pagan Myths and Anti-Semitism.” Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism 13 (1998),, last accessed 1 November 2004.

Shnirel’man, V. A., ed. Neoyazychestvo na prostorakh Yevrazii [Neo-Paganism on the Expanses of Eurasia]. Moscow: Bibleisko-bogoslovskii institut sv. Apostola Andreia [Biblical-Theological Institute of the Holy Apostle Andrew], 2001.

Shnirel’man, Viktor, and Sergei Panarin. “Lev Gumilev: His Pretensions as Founder of Ethnology and his Eurasian Theories.” Inner Asia 3 (2001): 1-18.

Simpson, Scott. Native Faith: Polish Neo-paganism at the Brink of the Twenty First Century. Krakow: Nomos, 2000.

Sokolovski, Sergei. “Structures of Russian Political Discourse on Nationality Problems.” Kennan Institute Occasional Papers Series 272. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1999,

Soper, Kate. What is Nature? Culture, Politics and the Non-human. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1995.

Strmiska, Michael. “The Music of the Past in Modern Baltic Paganism.” Nova Religio 8.3 (2005): 39-58.

Sunic, Tomislav. Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

---. “Marx, Moses, and the Pagans in the Secular City.” CLIO 24 (1990): 2.

Taylor, Bron R. “Nature and Supernature—Harmony and Mastery: Irony and Evolution in Contemporary Nature Religion.” The Pomegranate 8 (1999): 21-27.

Tolz, Vera. “Forging the Nation: National Identity and Nation-Building in PostCommunist Russia.” Europe-Asia Studies 50.6 (1998): 993-1022.

Triitsia. Rechnyk Ridnovira [Native Believer’s Handbook]. Kyiv: Triitsia, 2003.

Trusov, Iu. P. “The Concept of the Noosphere.” Soviet Geography 10 (1969): 220-37.

Tvorogov, O. V. “Vlesova kniga,” Trudy otdela drevnerusskoi literatury 43 (1990): 170- 254, available at, last accessed 1 September 2005.

Urry, John, and Phil Macnaghten. Contested Natures. London: Sage, 1996.

Velychenko, Stephen. “Post-colonialism and Ukrainian History.” Ab Imperio 1 (2004): 391-404.

Vernadsky, V. I. “The Biosphere and the Noosphere.” American Scientist 33 (1945): 1- 12.

---. Zhyvoye vyeshchestvo i biosfera [The Living Substance and the Biosphere]. Moscow: Nauka, 1994.

---. Biosfera. Moscow: Mysl’, 1967; published in English as The Biosphere, translated by David B. Langmuir. New York: Copernicus, 1998.

Wanner, Catherine S. Burden of Dreams: History and Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

Weiner, D. R. Models of Nature: Ecology, Conservation and Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. London: Fontana, 1976.

Wilson, Andrew. The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

Worster, Donald. Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. 2nd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

York, Michael. “Nature Religion as a Contemporary Sectarian Development.” Diskus 6 (2000),

---. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Zimmerer, Karl S. “Human Geography and the ‘New Ecology’: The Prospect and Promise of Integration.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84.1 (1994): 108-25.






How to Cite

Ivakhiv, A. (2007). Nature and Ethnicity in East European Paganism: An Environmental Ethic of the Religious Right?. Pomegranate, 7(2), 194-225.