Contradicting the trend against the official recognition of unusual religions, the neo-pagan faith Aar Aiyy won formal recognition in the Siberian republic of Sakha. Practicers of the religion have been waiting for this moment for at least 18 years.
This creed was native to the original Turkic-speaking population of Sakha, also known as Yakutia, but was forced out as Orthodox Christianity spread during Russia’s 17th century colonization of the region. Even so, the Yakuts have preserved the creed and are now free to practice it.
The Russian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of belief, but while creating a “religious group” requires no formal permit, the relevant legislation sets strict limitations on the rights of such groups to proselytize and to carry out daily operations.
Registering an “organization” requires a minimum waiting period of 15 years and comes replete with exhausting inspections, including by the Federal Security Service, KGB’s successor. The registration of Aar Aiyy was finalized in late April 2014.
The religion — whose name translates roughly from Yakut as “belief in higher deities” — teaches that the Universe, consisting of three worlds, possesses a Creator aided by 12 celestial helpers and is populated by numerous spirits. The creed comprises elements of shamanism, animism and Tengrianism, a religion unique to Central Asian and Siberian nations, which was followed by Ghengis Khan’s Mongols.
It was unable to provide an estimate of the number of Aar Aiyy practitioners among a population of 950,000, including 467,000 ethnic Yakuts. But it is said that the group never had any run-ins with the powerful Christian church and does not expect trouble as it plans to limit its missionary activity to — as such, anyone can join.
Many Yakut Shamans died during the Soviet period, but neo-pagan beliefs remain strongly rooted in Yakut culture. In the 1990s, neo-pagans were actually an opposition force to be reckoned with in Yakutia’s parliament, though they lost all of their mandates during the 2000s.
Nevertheless, Yakut neo-paganism retains popularity, and its institutionalization cannot be stopped. This is a native folk tradition, which always was and hopefully will always exist.