In this article* I describe the process of developing of Mari ethnic religion based on the tradition of animistic beliefs. I aim to consider two areas of contemporary Mari religion, the activities of the official religious organisation and the vernacular tradition as practiced by people in the countryside. The Mari vernacular belief system has been seen as one of the components of Mari ethnic identity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mari religious tradition has played a role in strengthening national identity, and so the religious organisation has been officially registered. Today there is an attempt to adapt Mari religious practices to the conditions of the religious market, in the face of which vernacular tradition seems to lose its connection with the ethnic worldview and rural way of life. My analysis of research material from fieldwork conducted shows the existence of belief rituals that are followed independently from the official Mari religious movement. Contemporary Mari religious tradition has two layers and can be described as a process of transformation from vernacular belief to ethnic religion with its religious institutions and group of experts.