The volkhvy originate in the mist-covered heathen past of the Labdy people. Related words - volshebstvo ('magic'), and volk ('wolf'), imply that volkhvy may descend from a line of wolf shapeshifters.
In the days when people were organized into tribal federations, each clan or circle (krug) venerated a particular deity, and each such circle was led by an elder or volkhv. Many volkhvy combined cultic and religious duties with administrative ones, serving as leaders of particular tribes. They were responsible for divining the future, maintaining purity, preserving secret knowledge, and presiding over sacrifices to the gods at outdoor shrines known as kapishcha, where standing stones representing the deities were erected.
There are two major surviving volkhvy circles:
The Circle of Mokosh
Mokosh is the dominant female divinity of the Old Faith. She is an earth goddess, sometimes called Moist Mother Earth, whose cult originally centered on the hearth, fertility, and the harvest. She is also the deity who governs fate, and determines what lot will befall each person. She therefore presides over the apportionment of land, property, and the earth's bounty. She determines mortal fates by weaving and unweaving their individual spindles that hang on the world tree, and as such, she has become the patron of weavers. For this reason, most Circle of Mokosh volkhvy use spindles as their magical foci.
Mokosh is also the queen of vily
, other other water and earth spirits, and she has taken over the tutelage of all earth- and water-bound nechist'
in general. For a volkhva
of Mokosh (they are still predominantly female), learning how to traffick with such creatures, who are considered potential allies, is an important aspect of the calling.
Since the True Confession (Gaalite)
has asserted itself over the old heathen ways, the priests of Mokosh, unlike other volkhvy, have ceased trying to recapture power. Instead, they await for the Mother Herself to restore the balance. Meanwhile, they hide in plain sight, posing as weavers, tailors, and authoritative matriarchs within peasant communes. Instead of erecting shrines, they pass down old stories and devotions to young pupils learning to spin yarn and weave, and encode the old ways into their woven fabrics and embroidery. These fabrics are sent as gifts to other members of the circle, and in this way, messages which are inaccessible except to those schooled in the secret language of the volkhvy are circulated (this languages is identical to the Chudy
Circle of Veles
Though originally venerated asa god of the hunt and master of the Beastworld, at the height of heathendom, Veles expanded his purview to become the patron of pastoralists and merchants, and lord of the Netherworld. In the latter capacity, he presided over dispensing hidden secrets, teaching magic, and according to many sages, he originated the first volkhvy circles. A tradition kept by many of his followers names hair as the source of magical power, so his followers avoid shearing or shaving themselves in any circumstances.
Committed as it is to keeping and propagating subterranean mysteries, the veneration of Veles has survived the formal conversion of the the people to the True Confession better than most heathen cults. As the chthonic deity who often opposed rulers of the celestial sphere, Veles became the focus of many who opposed the new political and religious order. The Church responded in kind, painting the "Livestock God" as the most demonic and frightening figure of the old pantheon. Gradually, the more monstrous aspects of the Veles cult once again began to predominate, and the god's followers associated with the god's beastly, serpentine, and netherworldly guises.
The Circle of Veles retreated from settled areas, but did not surrender. Many of its members live as hermits, maintaining secret shrines in caves and forest hollows. Some, however, live under under assumed names and attempt to recruit followers as they strive to maintain or rebuild ancient shrines in secret glades and even underground grottoes. When seeking supporters, these volkhvy may assume a friendly or attractive guise, though some are not above engaging in human sacrifice if it promotes their longterm goals.
As foci, adherents of this circle commonly use carved staves, or horned headdresses.
Numerous circles centered around other deities or forms existed during the heyday of the Old Faith
, but most of them have falled by the wayside. When volkhvy held political power, many were attracted to the Circle of Perun, and those of other sky divinities. These circles were the first to be targeted after the conversion, and by and large have been irrevocably destroyed, though revivals centered around single adherents spring up from time to time.
Circles dedicated to less powerful deities, such as the shepherd-oriented Cicle of Yarilo also exist on the margins of settlements, but they are too few in number, or too secretive, to gain much prominence and to alter the balance of power. Circles dedicated to Svarog, Rod, the Rozhanitsy, and others occasionally spring up around specific artisans, or volkhvy seeking youthful followings, but the need to attract worshipers in a public cult usually ensures that such circles do not last long. Magicians seeking more intimate connection to the old gods typically opt for the more secretive callings of witches and sorcerers.
Since the coming of the New Faith, the circles have dissolved as social institutions, and the old gods have been lost power. The volkhvy were forced to retreat into the wilderness, where under the cover of secrecy, a few cults struggle to survive, preserve the old ways, and pass along their knowledge to new generations of adepts. These volkhvy recognize one another on the basis of an old secret language.