MARI EL, A pagan beauty



Publisher: Voglino Editrice
Editor:  Annalisa D’AngeloGraphic
Design: Anna Lavezzoli
Author of text:   Denis Osokin
Pages:   120
Cover:  hard cover
Number of printed copies:  500



There is a population with Finnish ancestry living in a rural area near Joshkar-ola, in the Republic of Mari El, Russia. Settled in this area around the fifth century, they speak a language belonging to the Urallic family and use a modified version of the Cyrillic alphabet. They are called the Mari, the last pagan population of the West, which currently amounts to around 600,000 people organized in small villages.
Within these communities, everyday life is marked by profound spirituality: inhabitants live in a symbiotic relationship with nature, which exerts an ancestral influence on them and is celebrated as the basis of their existence.
She is conceived and revered as a mother who protects her sons, beneficial as long as they do not try to destroy her. It’s in this way that in Mari El the cyclicity of the seasons merges with ancient pagan practices and faith and worship center around the gods of the four natural elements.
In the sixteenth century, this territory was annexed to the Russian Empire and Ivan the Terrible imposed Christianity. However, religious subjugation was never fully accepted. In fact, Mari people retain a significant amount of pre-Christian elements in their beliefs. In the twentieth century, with the rise of the Soviet Union, celebrating rituals and sacrifices was officially forbidden. During the Cold War many prominent personalities of the Red Army turned in secret to the Mari’s spiritual guidance, fascinated by their magical power, looking for answers to the possible outcomes of their military strategies. In the 90’s, right after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Mari’s economy – mainly based on agriculture and livestock – entered a period of severe crisis. Poverty and unemployment led young people to migrate to big cities in search of a stable future, abandoning their villages and their ancient traditions. However, in response to changing times, the community survives continuing to preserve spirituality as a collective essential resource.
In this journey back to the origins of man, in search of languages and cultures not yet disappeared ,we come across this peasant ethic.
Among forests and rituals, a pagan beauty emerges from this forgotten people living their present suspended in time.