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Notes on the Mari Religion
Fairies      Mari Fairy Tales

The Mari religion (Marla) is the last remaining indigenous faith of Europe which is also sometimes called the last pagaons of Europe.

The Marla faith holds that the spirits and gods dwell within forests and trees so nearly all ceremonies are held in these places, indeed their a currently some 500 registered sacred groves in Mari-el.

Sacred groves have three entrances. One on the east side for sacrificial animals, on the south side for carrying spring water, and on the west side for the participants of the ceremonies to enter.

Sacred groves are typically located in islands of trees that rise out of the fields surrounding villages.

Although the Marla Faith has existed for thousands of years it is a modern belief system that deals with modern concerns and morality.

The head deity Kugu Jumo is only very occasionally the focus of rituals, prayers, and worship. In the older Mari religion they were more likely to make sacrifices and pray to the Keremet or other ancestral spirits and spirits of the forest.

Along with the trees water and fire where held to be sacred, with fire of the utmost importance because it was fire that carries the sacrifices of people to the spirits being worshiped.

In modern times the “Almighty God” is of the increasing importance for he is the one who coordinates the work of the other gods and forces of nature. Their lead deity then has been compared to a President, an orchestrator of the other deities and spirits which help humanity rather then an all powerful being. Under this lead deity are a number of other “officials” of various ranks and functions. So just as no one would go to the President with every concern they wouldn’t go to the lead deity with every concern either.

The deities control the world which is explained by science thus in the modern understanding of the Marla religion science would be a way of understanding the actions of the deities and so science and the religion of the Mari people are in no way opposed to each other.

When a community enters a sacred grove for a prayer meeting the priests choose sacred trees most often oak, birch and or linden trees through which the prayers of the people will reach heaven. (For those seeking a comparison with the other ancient religions of Europe which are now lost this is similar to the ideas which the ancient which Tacitus mentions in relation to Germania. It is also similar to the ideas held by the Greek, and Latin peoples held for they believed that it was through oak trees that prayers would reach Thor, Zeus or Jupiter respectively).
Once the trees are chosen people set up long tables and podiums near them for the people to feast and pray at. There is consecrated unleavened bread and ox, sheep, and goose is cooked on a series of sacrificial fires. All this work is done by men.

The Marla faith holds that joint prayers being done by several hundred people have a greater effect but even so individual prayers can still have an important impact so prayers at home by those seeking help from deities or spirits can also be effective.

Accordning to PhD Galina Shkalina one of the key concepts of the religion of the Mari people is the idea of an inner life giving strength, power and energy on which all things depend for their well being. It is this inner strength which causes the animals, trees and all living things to grow and thrive. This inner power also fills everything and unites all things connecting everything with everything else. This is very close to the conception of Tao found in Chinese folk religion, Pneum in the Ancient Greek belief system, Vagi among the ancient Finnish peoples, Brahma in Hinduism, etc.

Before cutting a tree one must ask permission from the spirit of the forest.

One should not drink alcohol, be profane or smoke the week before or after ceremonies.

Have restraint and respect for nature.

Ask for health and abundance for other people as well as one self.

They perform rituals which free them from selfishness, help them to live together in harmony, and have a positive attitude. The Mari religion believes in constantly working at self improvement matching their actions and behavior with nature.  This is the meaning and purpose of life.

The right choice in any situation can only be known by the person with the guidance of god.

Gain serenity, confidence, spiritual freedom, independence, prudence, and steadfastness to achieving goals.

Do not be trouble by social vices, envy, greed, selfishness.

Being truly free allows a man to acquire wealth, peach of mind, better life and to protect themselves from evil forces.

Marla is not the texts; their prayers cannot be read as a bible but must flow from people’s souls.

Religion has a direct impact on peoples daily lives, their outlook behavior, values, morals, etc. Trees are perceived as living beings, as forms of deity fairies.

Diseases are presented as evil spirits but people could also grow ill from vilating socially accepted norms. Thus to treat illness one needed to provide food and sacrifice to the fairy deities, or expel the disease with magic.

Animate and inanimate beings all have souls.

The soul of the Mari can appear as lizards, butterflies and birds.

Vodyzh. Vadysh are the supernatural forces which guard certain places. (homesteads, hearths, villages, ponds, fields, etc.)

They worshiped keremet a form of regional spirit and or ancestor spirit. Keremet reflect the veneration of animals, rivers, rocks, mountains, trees and other spirits such as the vodyzh. Unlike the faceless spirits of localities the keremet manifest as animals, birds or in human form.
People pray to the keremet in specific sacred groves with each village having apatron keremet.
Keremet play an important role in social regulation and integration. Among the Eastern Mari the keremet is revered as a trible protector.
The Orthodox clerigy pushed the evil or destructive role of the Keremet to the forfront during the last few centuries. In this role the keremet causes misfortune to the economy, discord and disease.
Sacrifices then are made both to get spirits to do god as well as to prevent them from doing bad.

Maris believed in the existence of an underworld which had both a bright and a dark place with those who were good and honored going to the bright place. But even in the underworld ancestors had influence over the world and could interfere in the affairs of humans for both good or ill.

Older men acted as the deputies of the ancestor spirits on earth and so enjoyed a place of great honor and respect.

When sacrificing an animal they purify it (often with water) then cut its throat and often times the first drops of blood are sprinkled on a sacred tree where the deity sat in the branches as the people preyed to it. The animals was then cooked in a big pot with the heart, lungs, liver, tongue, ligaments, cartilage, etc which they believed contained the soul of the animal being cooked in a smaller pot. These sacred parts and the bones of the animal were burned in the fire so the animal could go to the deity and be reserected. The skin was hung on the sacred tree.

The soul which enters a child is already quite old having experience in other lives and lands. Thus the soul of ancestors appears in a newborn children.

Creation of the Mari people
One spring Kugu Jumo (the supreme god) sent his daughter Yumo Yumynydyr down to the grazing lands on a silk ladder . She met a handsome man (the first person or Mari) at the crystal clear springs and fell in love with each other but because of their different destinies they could not be together so they made plans to break the rules.
Jumo was angry with the first man and caused that the crops should fail to try to punish him, but when their child was born three years later Jumo forgave them.
It was from this union of the daughter of the supreme god and a man that the Mari came into being.

Jumo Keremet the younger brother of Mari envied him and wanted to marry Yumo so he killed Mari, burnt him and scattered his ashes around the world and from these ashes grew the birches and the oaks  which is why these trees are particularly revered in the groves of the Mari people.

After the death of her husband Yumo settled down with her children and grandchildren becoming the patroness of Mari women; teaching them how to raise children, weave, knit, and live in harmony with the world.