Ural religions

23.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Ural folk religions are the beliefs and practices of certain ethnic groups. In this article, we will discuss the Mari Native, Erzya (Mordvin), Saami and Udmurt religions.

The mari native religion

This is the ethnic religion of the Mari, which was based on Mari mythology that changed in modern times under the influence of monotheism.

Ural religions

History and features of the mari native religion

The belief in the forces of nature, which should be treated with reverence and respect, lie at the heart of the Mari religion. Before its mythology was modified under the influence of monotheism, the Mari worshipped a multitude of gods called Jumo. The Great God of Light (Osh Kugu-Yumo) was the predominant god. In the 19th century, under the influence of monotheism, the image of the One Kind Great God of Light (Tun Osh Poro Kugu Yumo) became formed.

Mari people perform various religious rituals and say mass prayers. They arrange charitable and cultural events and are engaged in the distribution of religious literature, education and the upbringing of children.

In the early 2000s, the regional unified religious organization of the Mari El Republic was officially registered and formalized. It was given the ecclesiastical name the Mari Native Religion (in Mari – Марий Юмыйӱла). Today, four district religious organizations have been registered.

The days of mass prayers are chosen based on the traditional calendar according to the lunar and solar positions. Most often public prayers are held in sacred groves under the guidance of a priest (онаеҥ). 

Kugu Jumo is the great and supreme God and is the head of all heavenly and lower gods.

Erzya traditional religion

This is the ethnic religion of the sub-ethnic groups of the Mordvins — the Erzya people, who observe clan and agrarian cults.

Erzya traditional religion

History and features of the erzya religion

Most Mordvins (Mokshan subethnos) profess Orthodoxy, but the Erzyans remain double believers. They pray to pagan dieties on the days of Easter, Trinity, Christmas, Baptism and other patronal feasts. The number of adherents of the national faith among the Erzya is extremely small — about 2%. 

The Russian Church completed the Christianisation of the Mordovians in the 18th century. On 23 September 1629, in the village of Chukaly, Russian troops dispersed the last national prayer meeting, and the sacred groves, where rituals of worship were performed, were destroyed.  A large number of pagans emigrated to the Urals and the Volga region (to the Nizhny Novgorod, Samara and Ulyanovsk regions). More than once, revolts against the new faith broke out. Between 1806 and the 1810s, the last pagan revolt took place. This was led by Kuzma Alekseev. Later, in 1810, he and his active supporters were sentenced to be beaten with sticks and then exiled to Irkutsk.

Modern Erzyans equally revere Christian and non-Christian spirits and gods. Among the Erzya, there are almost no “pure pagans” left. Therefore, the modern movement for national and religious revival resembles a monotheistic transformation. 

By the 18th century, there were no professional priests of the Mordvins, but selected men or women led others in prayers. In 1991, after a long break, a mass prayer was held in the forest near the village of Tavla and a sacrifice to the supreme god Nishka was performed. Afterwards such prayers were arranged regularly in early summer and autumn in the village of Tashto Kshumantsya, Bolsheignatovsky settlement, Bolsheignatovsky district and several thousand people participated in them. Now the institution of priests and priestesses is being reveived.

In 2004, the President of Mordovia signed a decree assigning state status to the pagan all-republican holiday Rasken Ozks and allocated funds for its needs from the budget.

Saami religion

The Saami are people of Northern Europe who live in Norway, Russia, Finland and Sweden. Their traditional beliefs were primarily a trade cult involving the worship of different spirits who patronised occupations or natural phenomena and seidas (sacred stones).

Traditional saami beliefs

The traditional religious beliefs of the Saami are similar to the beliefs of the peoples of Northern Asia (Khanty, Mans, Nivkhs, Ulchas, Nanai, Evenks, Yukaghirs, partly Yakuts). The main difference is that the Saami have a cult of ancestors. The beliefs of the Saami have also been influenced by people whose way of life is significantly different: Norwegians, Russians, Finns and Swedes.

The great gods were Torden (Tyr) god of thunder; Storyunkar (the Great Saint) god of the animals and plants, and Baive the personification of the Sun.

Saami cults

The trade cult was the most important element among the Saami.   Reindeer herding, fishing and hunting were the major occupations and each of them was patronised by a master spirit.

The Deer mistress (Luot-khozik) and the Deer master (Luot-khozin) were the patrons of reindeer herding. The Saami believed in sea deities who were the patrons of fishing and the fish-man (Accruva) was one of them.

Hunting was patronised by the Forest Master (Mets-khozin).

The Saami honoured the dead and their ancestors (saivo or sitte). They believed that ancestors have influence over living people and the weather and also they assist in fishing. They presented food and made sacrifices in honour of the dead.

The Saami revered seidas — sacred stones of natural origin. They fenced the stones and made sacrifices at the sites. It is thought that the cult of seidas and the cult of ancestors were connected.



Certain followers of the cult took on the role of shaman, priest and magician. In their rituals, they used a tambourine or a special belt.

The religion of the modern saami

The Christianization of the Saami people began around the 15th century, but pagan beliefs and rituals existed for quite a long time after. Shamanism among the Saami was present in the early 20th century.

Now the Saami are mostly Lutherans and Laestadians. Orthodoxy has been accepted by the Russian Saami and the Norwegian and Finnish Skolts Saami.

Udmurt religion

This is the ethnic religion of the Udmurts of the Finno-Ugric ethnic group inhabiting the Republic of Udmurtia.

Udmurt paganism was revived from the movement Demen, created in December 1989 to protect and restore the Udmurt ethnic culture. The religion was registered in 1994.

According to statistics of 2012, two percent of the population of Udmurtia are pagans.

Udmurt religion

History and features of the udmurt religion

The Christianization of the Udmurts began in 1557 when Ivan the Terrible endowed priviledges on the baptised Udmurts by decree. Later in the middle of the 18th century, Christianization became more aggressive. The pagans were repressed and sacred groves, prayer places and pagan burial grounds were destroyed.

In 1917, a short period of national awakening began and an active intelligentsia appeared in Udmurtia. This contributed to the revival of the Udmurt religion. But, in the 1930s, this intelligentsia was almost destroyed. Repressions and bans on prayers were resumed and all shrines destroyed.

The process of Russification of the Udmurts fell during the period of perestroika and in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Udmurt national movement reawakened. In 1994, the Udmurt religion acquired official status and spread rapidly.

Udmurt theologians believe that gods, spirits and deities are present everywhere. Everything has three main levels:

  1. Cosmic, with the deity Inmar in the centre.
  2. Heavenly, in which Quasi dominates.
  3. Earthly, in which Kelchin is predominant.

In addition to these levels is Lud (world tree) and the creator of all spirits, which can be identified with neither good nor evil. The dead continue to live in another world the structure of which is similar to the world of the living.

According to another source (Taagepera), the Udmurt religion has similarities with the Mari, but the former is dominated by female deities.

Followers of the Ural religions, despite assimilation, honour the historical spiritual values of their peoples. They believe that a promising future is possible only where the traditions of their ancestors are honoured and maintained.