Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Vattisen Yaly, the Ethnic Religion of the Chuvash

Many people assume (incorrectly) that heathenism or paganism was totally eradicated in Europe over 1000 years ago by the church in league with traitorous kings and chieftains but this is a false assumption. Many remote parts of Europe preserved their ancient traditions, rituals, legends and myths. The whole of Europe is experiencing a revival of their pre-Christian religions and traditions but in some parts of the continent these religions have survived either wholly or partially intact. One such example of partial survival is amongst the Chuvash, a Turkic speaking European people who have their own republic, Chuvashia which is part of the Russian Federation.

The Chuvash are regarded as a 'Central Asian' people but they dwell in the centre of European Russia and have mainly northern European genetics. They regard themselves as descendants of the Bulgars and Suars, Turkic tribes residing in the Northern Caucasus in the 5th to 8th centuries CE after the death of their leader Attila the Hun. In the 7th to 8th centuries CE a part of the Bulgars moved into the Balkans and mixed with local Slavs to form the modern state of Bulgaria. Modern Bulgarians speak Bulgarian, a south Slavic Indo-European language. Some historians are of the opinion that the Bulgars are of Iranian descent rather than Turkic, citing linguistic evidence. It is more than likely however that in reality the Bulgars are a mixed people of Thracian, Slavic and Bulgar ancestry. This appears to be the current prevailing opinion due to DNA analysis. Another part of the Bulgars moved into the region of the Middle Volga and formed the Chuvash people. After the Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria they became vassals of  the Golden Horde. In August 1552 the princes of the Chuvash swore an oath of loyalty to Ivan the Terrible. It is from the Chuvash people that I have a line of maternal genetic descent, born out by autosomal DNA and seemingly supported by mitochondrial DNA analysis. Some scholars associate the Suars or Sabirs with the name of Siberia. The Suar spoke a Turkic language but are genetically thought to be of Finno-Ugric origin. The Chuvash consider themselves to be descended from the Suar who mixed with the Mari, a Finno-Ugric people and they are their neighbours.

DNA analysis reveals that the Chuvash are of mixed Finnic and Indo-European (Balto-Slavic) descent with some Turkic admixture. (The Y-DNA haplotype of R1a is dominant amongst the population although R1b is also present. This is typical of Europe as R1b is dominant in the west and R1a in the east, both of which belong to the carriers of the Proto-Indo-European mother language.) This genetic mix is reflected in the quite wide range of racial physiognomy with traits ranging from the Nordic at one end of the scale to the Mongoloid on the other. The vast majority have mixed features but appear to be 90% European in physical traits. 

"The Chuvash are not simply Finns Tatarized in language, but show evidence in face form, nose form, and in the scarcity of true blondism, that the Turkish influence did bring some mongoloid traits. It is interesting to note, however, that the cephalic index was not elevated as a result. Individually the Chuvash are extremely variable, as their portraits will show; complete Nordics of Corded tendency, and unmistakable mongoloids represent the end types, both of which may have been brought by the Turks." (The Races of Europe, 1939, Carleton S. Coon)

Coon's analysis of these "Tatarized Finns" appears to be remarkably vindicated by modern genetic science and this demonstrates the validity of this great man's work. I have given a little information about the history and ethnology of the Chuvash even though this article is concerned with their native religion. However as readers of this blog will know the two are inseparable.

According to a recent census (2012) religion in the Chuvash Republic can be broken down as follows:

Russian Orthodox 54.7%.
Other Orthodox 4.2%.
Other Christian 2.7%.
Islam 3.5%.
Rodnovery and other native faiths 1.2%.
Spiritual but not religious 24.2%
Atheism and irreligion 7.7%.
Other and undeclared 1.8%.

My readers should note that Rodnovery is a modern religion but it is based upon the spiritual traditions of the Slavs of central and eastern Europe. It would be interesting to compare the above statistics from the Republic of Chuvashia with the wider Russian Federation of which it is a part:

Russian Orthodox 41%.
Other Orthodox 1.5%.
Unaffiliated Christian 4.1%.
Other Christian/Religion 1.7%.
Spiritual but not Religious 25%.
Atheism 13%.
Islam 6.5%.
Slavic native faith, other Pagan and Tengrist 1.2%.
Tibetan Buddhism 0.5%.
Undecided 5.5%. 

Surprisingly the Orthodox faith is quite strong in Chuvashia and there are significant numbers of people in Chuvashia and Russia as a  whole who describe themselves as being 'spiritual' but not belonging to any organised religion. This is a contrast with the naked atheism which is present in western Europe whose people are far more materialistic in nature. The reference to 'Slavic native faith' relates to Rodnovery, the Slavic equivalent of Odinism. Tengrism is a Central Asian religion which incorporates elements of shamanism, animism, totemism, polytheism, monotheism and ancestor worship. This religion was dominant amongst the Hungarians, Turks, Mongols and Huns. Similar to Tengrism is Vattisen Yaly, the contemporary revival of the ethnic religion of the Chuvash.

Although Vattisen Yaly may be categorised as a branch of Tengrism it has significant differences as the Chuvash although speaking a Turkic language (originally though to be Finnic) they are predominately Finnic and Slavic in ethnicity and so their native religion has mainly Indo-European and Finno-Ugric elements. It should also be noted that unlike other speakers of Turkic languages only a small minority accepted Islam and this is borne out by the 2012 statistics which show less followers of Islam in Chuvashia than in the wider Russian Federation. The Chuvash language itself diverges considerably from other Turkic languages and Chuvash speakers can be found as ethnic minorities in other Russian republics. There are only 1,640,000 Chuvash speakers in the Russian Federation as a whole and 34,000 in other countries.

Interestingly the followers of Vattisen Yaly describe themselves as "the true Chuvash" and Vattisen Yaly has the meaning 'Tradition of the Old'. The main God of this religion is Tura and this deity is comparable to the Estonian (Finno-Ugric) Taara, the Germanic Thunraz and the Turkic Tengri. It is interesting how this deity can be found in Finno-Ugric, Indo-European and Turkic religions. Their highest deity is therefore the Thunder God. The traditional religion of the Chuvash has an unbroken traition and has survived all attempts of the Abrahamic religions to wipe it out and with the fall of the USSR it is experiencing a revival. The governing body of Vattisen Yaly, the Chuvash National Congress has codified its rituals and they regard themselves as guardians of its traditions and even as descendants of the 'elder priests'. 

A central feature of Vattisen Yaly is the World Tree which is called the Keremet and this is shown on the Chuvash national flag. The God Tura is reborn in the tree, growing from the ashes, symbolising the 'rebirth of man through nature'. The concept of the birth of man from a tree should not be lost on my readers who will be familiar with the Norse myth of Askr and Embla. In Germanic mythology we have of course a close association of Thunar and the oak tree. Amongst the Slavs many villages carved the image of Perun into the most prominent oak tree and He is intimately associated with that species of tree as are all the Thunder Gods of Europe.

Regardless of the individual religious affiliations of the Chuvash their ethnic pre-Christian religion appears to play a surprisingly prominent part of their national life and has become interwoven with their identity. In a similar way Rodnovery plays such a part amongst the ethnically aware Slavs.

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