Devi is one of the great Goddesses of the Indo-Europeans, but because the
same word is also used generally in a number of Indo-European Languages for ‘a god(dess), any god(dess)’, her characteristics are a
little difficult to define. However, this can be determined by looking at the myths,
festivals and rituals connected to her. And as with all Indo-European
deities, gender is not a fixed characteristic so it is
natural that her name should appear in both feminine and masculine forms.
The feminine form of her name is reconstructed in Proto-Indo-European as
*deiu-iH2, by Eva Tichy, p. 72 in A Survey of
Proto-Indo-European and see also Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, Vol. I, p. 196.
This Goddess was worshiped by speakers of most of the Indo-European language
groups. Masculine forms of the name of this deity are reconstructed as having
the form *deiwos- in Proto-Indo-European according to Mallory and Adams, p. 408,
and a similar form is reconstructed by Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, Vol. I, p. 196.
However, Jaan Puhvel reconstructs the form as beginning with *dhy-, which takes
into account the Hittite forms in which he is an expert. He connects the Hittite
form sius ‘God’ with the rest of these deities. Masculine forms of her name
include Sanskrit Deva, and Latin Deus. The words Devi or Deva or their
equivalents are sometimes used as forms of address for high-ranking (or very
vain) people. In a few languages, the Devas and Devis and some other deities
were demonized because of Zarathustra’s negative attitude toward them. This
influence extended to several languages which were strongly influenced by the
Zoroastrian religion including the early Armenian language and some dialects of
the Germanic languages. In addition, masculinized forms of her name with the
vocative element patri ‘father’; such as Deus Patri are used by some Christians
as a name of one of their Gods and so she has often been obscured or
misrepresented for religious reasons by monotheists who did not want her to be
Sanskrit and Hindi
Although the word
devi appears in the Rig Veda as a general word for a Goddess,
the specific Goddess Devi does not appear in the early Rig Vedic hymns, which
have a limited pantheon, mostly in opposition to the Zoroastrian pantheon.
However, Devi is the major Goddess worshiped in the
Devi-bhagavata-purana which is dated to about the sixth century CE. She
is most closely associated with Durga, also a grain Goddess, and is currently
the major Goddess worshiped in India (see Kinsley in References). In Sanskrit
the masculine form is Deva, meaning either ‘God’ or as a polite
form of address to a human being ‘His/Your Majesty’.
Avestan and Persian
In Avestan, a daevi
is a female demon, as the masculine form daeva means a male
demon based on the Zoroastrian demonization of the Devas of the Vedic priests.
This negative denotation is continued into later Persian where the divs appear
as demons in the Shah Namah, and in Armenian folklore. See the Pandemonium for an explanation.
In Greek the word dia means a
Goddess although thea is the nominative form in some dialects. One of the most
important deities of the Greeks is Demeter who is clearly a
grain Goddess and while the etymology of her name is uncertain it is probably
dia-meter ‘Goddess mother.’ Deo is the vocative form used to
address her in prayers, while zea is the Greek word for spelt, a primitive kind
of grain. Masculine forms of her name include dios ‘God’; although theos is more
usual as the nominative form in northern dialects, and the form Zeus is used as
the nominative form for a specific God of the Greeks. Demeter was so important
to the Greeks, and grain was so important to Demeter that eight festivals a year
marking the stages in the growth of grain are dedicated to her and she is called
‘Giver of Seasons.’ There is an interesting article with updated information about the major site for the worship at Eleusis of the Goddess Demeter.
In Latin, the Goddess Dea Dia was
one of the major Goddesses worshiped at a temple built in the grain fields on
the outside of Rome, while elsewhere in Italy she is usually worshiped under the
name Ceres. The site of the temple for Dea Dia is very well known, and there are
records of all the rituals performed for her because the temple records were
literally carved in stone. A good description of her rites is given at a website
www.thaliatook.com. She is clearly a grain Goddess and
was worshiped by being offered sheaves of grain by the people with the
assistance of priests who wore wreaths of grain. Other forms of the cognate word
in Latin include dia and diva and mean ‘Goddess’ in general. Diva is now used
metaphorically to mean any Goddess-like woman, such as an opera singer. There
are many dialects known from the Italic peninsula, among them Oscan in which the
masculine form is written Diovis; and in Latin, Jove is a particular God. The
form Jupiter is actually Etruscan and may have been borrowed into Etruscan from
Greek (from Zeu Pitar), since there were Greek colonies in Italy by 800 BCE. The
native masculine Italic form of the grain God is Dis Pater, a God associated
with death, because the dead were typically buried (planted) in Italy. Other
forms of the cognate word in Latin include deus, dives, ‘a God, a rich man.’ As
with Sanskrit, the same word can refer to a god or a very god-like human being,
or possibly someone who wants to be treated like a god.
In the oldest Celtic languages, this
Goddess appears as Deva, for whom a votive altar was built in
Iberia (Spain). In the more recent Celtic dialects the name dia, dea, is used
for a Goddess in Irish prayers and charms. Masculine forms in the Celtic
languages include dewi in Welsh and dia in Irish. Some authors have considered
the Dagda a form of this God, partly because he is obviously a grain God.
The cognate deity in the Germanic
languages is Sif, who is obviously a ‘sheaf’ of wheat as her
name shows. The main myth about this Goddess is given in the Prose Edda
by Snorri Sturluson who explains that one of the kennings (or poetic phrases)
for gold is ‘Sif’s hair’ because of the story in which Loki cut off her hair
while she was asleep. When he was found out he had to negotiate with dwarves to
replace her hair with hair of gold that would grow like natural hair. He was
able to do this, and this is thought to provide an explanation for the growth of
wheat each year and incidentally an association with dwarves which is common to
grain goddesses. There are many songs in the Germanic languages related to grain
deities, but I have put together this list of Harvest Songs, in English to celebrate the grain harvest that happens in
In the Slavic languages, the name of
this Goddess appears under various spellings (because of the irregular
transcription of the Cyrillic alphabet) and includes Zhiva, or
Siebe in Old Polish where she is clearly a grain Goddess. Masculine forms of
this God include Old Polish Zywie.
In the Baltic languages Devi appears as
Lithuanian deive ‘Goddess’ and Latvian dieve. There are many
dainas or sacred songs for her. The masculine forms in the Baltic languages
include Lithuanian Dievas and Latvian Dievs. Dievs is clearly a grain God who
causes the rye fields to ripen as can be seen from many sacred songs addressed
Before the Armenians became Christians,
their form of Pagan religion was Zoroastrianism which they absorbed from the
Persians, and the Zoroastrians demonized the daevas. Even after the Armenians
became Christians, they retained the negative attitude toward
Divs which appear as bad creatures in Armenian folklore where
they cause trouble.
Myth of the Grain Goddess
Ultimately the Indo-European
Gods and Goddesses are personified and deified forms of natural phenomena and
the myths about them reflect this, or at least, that is true of the ones that we
can reconstruct. Most of the Indo-European language groups have a version of the
Proto-Indo-European Myth of the Dying Corn God, in
which the Grain Goddess loses her son, who is killed and then beaten (because
grain is first cut to harvest it and then threshed with flails to separate the
grain from the chaff). The Dying Corn God, as he is called, is constantly dying
and being reborn, which is also true of wheat and barley which are planted and
then harvested several times a year. The Grain Goddess mourns her son’s death,
both when he is harvested and when he is buried and then she rejoices, as
farmers do, when the grain springs up three days after being planted in the
As a grain goddess, Devi is worshiped with
offerings of her gifts, grain and bread at many festivals throughout the year.
Grain harvest festivals typically fall in May (for the harvest of the winter
barley and wheat) and in August (for the harvest of the summer grains).
Naturally these times are adjusted according to the local climate. A grain
goddess is worshiped with offerings of grain, as the Indo-Europeans normally
thanked their deities for their gifts by offering a part back and singing songs
of praise. There are many descriptions of the grain goddesses being worshiped in
the form of grain sheaves, which can be offered at the altar. She is also
worshiped with different kinds of bread. In the Greek tradition, there is a
beautiful description of this, given in fragment #5 of Archestratos, known from
the quotations in the Deipnosophists, which introduces “the gifts of
fair-haired Demeter” and describes the kinds of bread that are offered. fuggle26
There are also festivals of the Grain Goddess connected with the time of
planting, which typically falls in March and October. These festivals are
especially related to the Dying Corn God, who is the personification of grain
seed which is buried in the ground and then pops up again three days after it is
Devi is understood to have
relationships with a number of other Gods and Goddesses. She is usually the
mother of the Dying Corn God. In Greek this deity is a daughter and Persephone
doesn’t die, she just spends the winter underground, as does the winter grain.
Devi is usually the mother of the horse twins, which she has with Uncle Water
(Apam Napat or Neptune), although they are not married. More properly, they do
not live together because her domain is the grasslands, while his is the waters.
But she is the ruler of her domain, the grasslands. [fuggle26]
The forms of the Goddess Devi can be seen all
over the Indo-European-speaking world. She can be reconstructed as a grain
Goddess, and she is the main focus of a number of festivals during the year,
making her giver of seasons. Many major temples and thousands of votive
offerings have been made for her and there are several myths about her which can
be reconstructed to a Proto-Indo-European original. Although she is overlooked
by some of the more conservative western linguistic scholars, perhaps because of
their biases, she is one of the most important and widely worshiped deities
among the Indo-Europeans.
• Gamkrelidze, Thomas V. and Ivanov,
Vjaceslav V., Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A Reconstruction and
Historical Analysis of a Proto-Language and a Proto-Culture (Trends in
Linguistics: Studies and Monographs 80, 2 Vol. Set), with Werner Winter, ed.,
and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i
indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995.
David R., Hindu Goddesses, University of California Press, Berkeley,
• Mallory, J.P., and Adams, Douglas Q., Oxford Introduction to
Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, Oxford University
Press, Oxford, 2006.
• Mann, Stuart E., An Indo-European Comparative
Dictionary, Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, 1984/1987.
• Olson, S.
Douglas, Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, a translation of
Deipnosophistae by Athenaeus, (Loeb Classical Library dual edition),
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2006
• Olson, S. Douglas and Sens,
Alexander, ed. and transl. of Archestratos of Gela[author of
Gastronomy, or the Hedupatheia], Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.
Tichy, Eva, A Survey of Proto-Indo-European, transl. by James E. Cathy,
Hempen Verlag, Bremen, 2006.
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