September 01, 2020

God in Nature

God in Nature

It is early morning; a wristwatch reads seven. The faithful stream into the grove, where preparations are in full swing: the men are chopping wood with huge axes, and the women are scooping water out of a barrel, pouring it into the caldrons. The elders are supervising the arrangement of candles at the base of the most important trees. Warmth from the caldrons fills the air, along with the melodious murmur of Mari speech. It is time to perform the first rite. The gods must give a sign that they are ready to hear the prayers and accept the offerings.

My bus pulls out of the station and starts down the narrow stripe of road that ultimately merges into the ribbon of the horizon. My destination is the village Toktaybelyak, where one of the most respected people of the Mari El Republic awaits: the kart Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Aktuganov. He has been presiding over worship for several decades. I will return to his home again and again. He will be my primary guide in my attempt to understand the Mari way of life, its values and creed.

For the Mari, being a kart, a pagan priest, endows a special status. Yet, in principle, any man can be a kart. The most important qualifications are having the respect of the people, knowledge, and life experience. Being a kart means serving one’s people.

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See Also

A Village School

A Village School

As if trapped in a time warp, a remote village school in the Mari El Republic preserves a largely forgotten style of schooling, mostly cut off from the twenty-first century.

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