Assianism (Russian: Ассианство, Assianstvo; meaning the "religion of the ese", in Russian асов, asov) is a Scythian modern Pagan religion practised in Russia, based on the traditional folk religious beliefs of the Ossetians, modern descendants of the Scythians. The religion is known as "Assianism" among its Russian adherents, and as Uatsdin (Уацдин) or Ætsæg Din (Æцæг Дин; both meaning "True Faith") or Assdin (Ассдин, "Ese-Faith") by Ossetians in their own language. It started to be revived in a conscious and organised way in the 1980s, as an ethnic religion among the Ossetians, who have since largely embraced it. Scythian religious groups are also present in Ukraine.
The religion has been incorporated by some organisations, chiefly in North Ossetia–Alania, Russia. Some Russians have embraced Assianism by virtue of the fact that most of the ancient Scythians were assimilated by the East Slavs, and therefore modern Russians may reclaim Scythian culture. Among Russians, Assianism is advocated as a religion for all Slavs, Indo-Europeans, or even as a worldwide spiritual heritage. The Nart sagas are central to the religion.
Traditional and new religion
Followers of Assianism are mostly Ossetians, an Eastern Iranic, Alan-Samatian ethnic group inhabiting a homeland in the Caucasus that is split nowadays between two states: the Republic of North Ossetia–Alania within Russia, and the neighbouring state of South Ossetia. The religion has experienced an organised revival since the 1980s. In the Ossetian case, certain traditions of folk religion had survived with unbroken continuity, and were revived in rural areas. This contrasts, and interacts, with an urban and more intellectual movement which elaborated a systematic revival religion to overcome the crisis of identity of the Ossetian people, based on ethnic nationalism and opposition to both Russian and Georgian Orthodox Christianity, perceived as foreign, and opposed as well to Islam, professed by the neighboring Turkic and Caucasian ethnic groups and by a small minority of Ossetians.
There are attempts to turn traditional local gods into objects of national worship in North Ossetia–Alania. For example, in former times, a grove was devoted to the local god Khetag. After the clashes between Ossetians and Georgians in 1991–1992, a glade near the wood was turned into a place for pan-Ossetian worship, including religious and political rituals, with activities supervised by the Great Council of Ossetian Priests (Styr-nykhas), a non-governmental committee established in 1993. The Khetag celebration was approved by the 1990s president of North Ossetia–Alania as a national holiday. A special foundation was established in order to raise funds for the reconstruction of the site, and since 1994 a big yearly sacrifice is arranged at the Khetag shrine.
Relevance for Slavs and other Indo-Europeans
In 2009, at the Center for Conservative Research of Moscow State University, led by philosopher Alexander Dugin, a conference was held about the role of Ossetians in Russian history. Among participants there was, among others, Daurbek Makeyev, the head of the Atsætæ religious organisation of Assianism. On that occasion, Dugin praised the revitalisation of Ossetian culture for it having preserved a pristine Indo-European heritage. He discussed the importance of Scythian culture in the development of broader Eurasia, recognising that Scythian culture had an enormous impact on the development of Finno-Ugric, Turkic and Slavic cultures, and despite this European scholars have paid little attention to it so far. Makeyev declared that the Atsætæ organisation was founded for fostering traditional Ossetian religion, but also to share the heritage of Assianism with other peoples, because "what was preserved in Ossetia is not [merely] Ossetian, but is a worldwide heritage". Russian Assian resources present the religion as a universal truth "addressed to the whole world".
Theology and cosmology
Assianism contemplates the worship of a supreme God, Xwytsau (Хуыцау), who is the creator of the universe and of all beings. The supreme God may be called upon by a multiplicity of epithets, including simply "Styr Xwytsau" (Стыр Хуыцау), meaning "Great God", but also "Duneskænæg" (Дунескæнæг), "Creator of the Universe", "Meskænæg Xwytsau" (Мескаенаег Хуыцау) and "Xwycautty Xwycau" (Хуыцаутты Хуыцау), meaning "God of the Gods". Uatsdin's theology affirms that God is within every creature, and in men he manifests as consciousness and worthy action. A variety of other beings, lesser gods, deities and spirits, such as Uastyrdzhi, are worshipped as intermediaries of Xwytsau.
Assianism has a monistic theory, expressed by three concepts:
- Xwytsau / Xuitsau (Хуыцау, "Heaven") — is the supreme God of the universe, the source of it and of the highest wisdom attainable by men. Creator and patron of worlds, he has neither image nor form, is incomprehensible and omnipresent;
- Iwag / Iuag (Иуаг) or Iuæg (Иуæг) — is the substance of everything, both uncreated and created worlds;
- Ud (Уд) — is the true universal self, that is attained by an individual soul when it identifies with Mon (Мон), the universal mind-spirit, i.e. God's manifestation. Ultimately, Mon and Ud are the same, and they are Xwytsau's manifestation.
- Uas / Was (Уас) — the good-spell or good-word, that is to say the well-being born of beings;
- Uastyrdzhi / Wastyrji (Уастырджи) — the good-spell as it embodies in men, who are bearers of divine wisdom, enlightened consciousnesses (as a symbol, Uastyrdzhi is the archetypal deity of the perfected man);
- Duagi / dwagi (дуаги; pl. дауджытæ → daudzhytæ / daujytæ), otherwise called ass (асс, pl. асов → asov; cf. the Germanic ese) — gods, divine forces endowed with measure and right that continuously mould the world, alternating forms. Among them, arvon daujita (арвон дауджита) are the divine forces underlying celestial bodies.
- Zedy (зэды, pl. задтæ → zadtæ) — forces who are worthy of veneration;
- Uayugi (уайуги, pl. уайгуытæ / уайгуыта → uayguytæ / uayguyta) — parasitic forces accompanying the temporality of being and distancing from enlightenment; in mankind they are passions, fears, pride and nervous diseases;
- Dalimon (Далимон) or Dælimon (Дæлимон) — the lowest mind that corresponds to brute matter.
According to Assian theory, human nature is the same as all being's nature; in other words, man is a microcosm within a macrocosm, or larger context, and the same applies to all other beings. In all contexts, Uas is the foundation of nobility and pure reason; daujita form both worlds and men according to this universal law, while uayguyta counter-act gods' action, and are the causes of illness and death. These forces manifest in humanity's power of consciousness and action; a man may take the side of gods or demons, and this choice manifests in this man's life and activity. If a man is able to subdue passions, not putting exclusively material motives in his actions, he becomes open to the Uas, or its receptacle (Уасдан → Uasdan, good-spell receptacle), a wise or noble who perceives the will of God and higher spirits and receives their energy. On the contrary, if a man's actions are driven by material ends, Dalimon and demons own him and he becomes a source of evil, lie and ugliness.
Demography and institutions
Scythian Native Faith is popular in Russia and Ukraine among Cossacks, especially those who claim a Scythian identity to distinguish themselves from Slavs. Some of them identify within the category of Rodnovery, the general "Slavic Native Faith". Assianism is also practised without connection to Cossack ethnicism.
- Dzuary Lægtæ (Дзуары Лæгтæ) — an organisation for the coordination of the Ossetian clergy established in 2016 in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia–Alania, on the initiative of the public organisation Yudzinad (Иудзинад);
- Atsætæ (Ацæтæ) — an organisation registered in 2009 in the city of Mozdok, North Ossetia–Alania;
- Ætsæg Din (Æцæг Дин) — an organisation registered in Vladikavkaz in 2009 and related to the Atsætæ community.
- Makeyev (2007).
- "Александр Дугин: Осетинский народ сделал возможным возвращение России на имперскую орбиту" [Alexander Dugin: The Ossetian people made it possible for Russia to return to the imperial orbit]. iratta.com. 7 October 2009. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017.
- Popov 2016, Иранские народные религии / Iranian indigenous religions.
- Shnirelman 2002, pp. 202–207: "Since the turn of the 1980s, a growth of Neo-Paganism has been observed in the Middle Volga region, in North Ossetia-Alaniia, and in Abkhazia. Pagan traditions had never disappeared there completely and, in contrast to the Slavic and Baltic regions, there was no need to invent too much by reference to books, as almost all the resources were intact there. Thus, in these regions, interest in Paganism developed in two different environments: firstly, in the countryside with its unbroken continuity of traditional folk beliefs, and secondly, in the urbanized areas where local, highly secularized intellectuals began to construct a new synthetic religion in order to overcome a crisis of identity. In the latter case, this was a manifestation of local ethnic nationalism resisting Russian Orthodoxy as a "religion of exploiters". [...] Contemporary Neo-Paganism is constituted by two different branches—one of a "bookish" approach which is artificially cultivated by urbanized intellectuals who have lost their links with folk tradition, and the other, more authentic, is of a rural movement based on a continuity rooted in the remote past. The first dominates among the Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Armenians and can be defined as an "invention of tradition", after Eric Hobsbawm (1983). A more complex pattern can be observed among the ethnic groups of the Middle Volga River region as well as among the Ossetians and Abkhazians, where both tendencies are interacting with one another."
- Shnirelman 2002, pp. 204–205.
- "Основные положения традиционной осетинской веры" [Basic provisions of the traditional Ossetian faith]. wacdin.com. Ассианство / Уацдин (Assianism / True Faith). Archived from the original on 26 April 2017.
- Schmitz 2015, pp. 1–2.
- McKay (2009), pp. 275–276.
- Lesiv, Mariya (2013). The Return of Ancestral Gods: Modern Ukrainian Paganism as an Alternative Vision for a Nation. McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion. 2. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. ISBN 077358966X. pp. 167–169.
- Makeyev, Daurbek (2007). "Ассианство и мировая культура [Assianism and world culture]". Traditional Religious Views of Ossetians and Modernity. National Scientific Library of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania: Ministry of National Affairs and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania; Alano-Pamir Centre of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017. Also published as chapter #4 in Makeyev, D. (2007). Религиозное мировоззрение в Нартском эпосе [Religious Worldview in the Nart Epic]. Vladikavkaz.
- McKay, George (2009). Subcultures and New Religious Movements in Russia and East-Central Europe. Peter Lang. ISBN 3039119214.
- Popov, Igor (2016). Справочник и новости всех религиозных течений и объединений в России [The Reference Book on All Religious Branches and Communities in Russia] (in Russian).
- Schmitz, Timo (2015). "Etseg Din – Caucasian paganism from Ossetia" (PDF).
- Shnirelman, Victor A. (2002). ""Christians! Go home": A Revival of Neo-Paganism between the Baltic Sea and Transcaucasia (An Overview)". Journal of Contemporary Religion. 17 (2). pp. 197–211. doi:10.1080/13537900220125181.
- Shtyrkov, Sergey (2011). "Religious nationalism in contemporary Russia: the case of the Ossetian ethnic religious project" (PDF). In Alapuro, Risto (ed.). Understanding Russianness. Routledge. pp. 232–244.