• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Pagan Saints
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
The Gods and Goddesses of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) speaking people can be reconstructed using the methods of historical linguistics. This work was begun by Jacob Grimm in the nineteenth century, but it became controversial when many people realized how embarrassing it was to the monotheistic religions. In recent years, a sort of “substitute” pantheon has been invented for the Proto-Indo-Europeans based on psychological models or comparative religion methods which are vague and subjective. However the original linguistic techniques provide objective criteria for the reconstruction of the ancient Proto-Indo-European religion. I would not waste my time studying beliefs in the supernatural if there were no scientific standards for examining the data.
The linguistic reconstructions of the Pantheon are supported and illuminated by many types of sources. There is a vast amount of archaeological evidence that can be connected to specific Indo-European cultures and especially religious topics, such as temple site digs, votive offerings and inscriptions. The names of Gods and Goddesses are often the first words we find written in each of the Indo-European languages. There are at least 40 deities that can be reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European and most have both male and female forms. Some of these Goddesses are more fully described elsewhere on this web site.
In order to present a consistent notation, the reconstructed forms used here are cited more or less from the Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams. Use of this source does not imply agreement in either direction. The laryngeals have been capitalized to make them a little easier to read: He, also referred to as H1; Ha with “a” coloring but also referred to as H2; and Ho with “o” coloring but also referred to as H3. This way of writing them was chosen because it should make them readable on everyone's computer screens.
*Aeusos with a reconstructed form *Haéusōs is a Goddess of the Sun and Hearth Fire. More broadly, the name is applied to certain specific Goddesses, usually the Sun, and the stars (especially the planet Venus). The same word is also used for a class of gods (‘those that shine with a golden light’); and a general word for ‘a god, any god or goddess.’ These words are also used as an honorific for human beings of high rank, e.g ‘lady, lord.’ These Gods are general to the Indo-Europeans, but they are strongly affected by the Pandemonium. There are two main reconstructions. One is associated with heavenly bodies and means ‘Sun, Stars and Dawn’ (‘that which glows, shines with a golden light’) and the other with ‘Fire, Season of Warmth’ (‘that which burns’, with a transitive verb ending, -ta), however both forms can appear as either a Sun Goddess or a Hearth Fire Goddess. The deities are listed here but described more fully in the article *Aeusos.
*Haéus(ōs), is usually a Sun Goddess (p. 409, 410, 432, Oxford Introduction) with forms in Hittite, aššu ‘lord, God’; Sanskrit, Ushās, Goddess of Dawn, but later the Ashuras are demonized; Avestan, Ahura Mazda, the good god of the Zoroastrians, and ahura, a good spirit; Greek, Éōs, a Dawn Goddess; and Latin, Aurōra, a Dawn Goddess. Gallic Esus is a God of Hearths; and Old Norse, Aesir (pl.), and Old English Ôs (m.sg.) and Ose (f.sg.), are general words for ‘a god, any god or goddess.’ Slavic, Jarilo or Iaro, is a God of Summer; and Lithuanian Aušra is ‘dawn’; while both Latvian Auseklis, and Lithuanian Aušrinė are Goddesses of the Morning Star, i.e. the planet Venus. The form Arap Ushas appears in Albanian folklore, but there it is a name of the Moon.
*Arta is one of the most important of the Proto-Indo-European Goddesses and very easily reconstructed on both linguistic and comparative religion grounds. There is a very brief mention of some of the forms of her name in the article on Proto-Indo-European Ritual. The Sun and Moon are her children, for example in Welsh myth they are the children of Arianrhod, see How Lleu Llaw Gyffes Got His Name for a retelling in English of this myth.
*Danu, a River Goddess is reconstructed as *deHanu-, (p. 434, Oxford Introduction) from Sanskrit Danu, a Goddess of rivers; Irish Danu, mother of everyone; Welsh Dôn, and also a masculine form, Ossetic Donbettys. The name has been connected with the Dan rivers which run into the Black Sea (Dnieper, Dniester, Don, and Danube) and other river names in Celtic areas. This, along with the many ethnonyms (the Danes, the Tuatha de Danaan, the Dacians, the Danoi, etc.), was discussed extensively by Robert Graves in the White Goddess, a very popular but not very scholarly book.
Devis and Devas are found among all the Indo-Europeans, and the word is often used as a general word for ‘a god, any god or goddess’ and sometimes for a specific Goddess or God. These words are also used as an honorific for human beings of high rank, e.g ‘lady, lord.’ Here again, the use of this word as a general word for any deity is affected by the Pandemonium. The forms of her in each Indo-European language are discussed more fully in the article *Devi. Note also that in Sanskrit, Avestan and Hindi, words that end in -a are masculine and -i is feminine. In the western languages the situation is reversed, so that words that end in -a are usually feminine and words that end in -i, or more often -us, and -os are usually masculine. Here the forms are divided into masculine and feminine forms for convenience.
*Devi, the Goddess of the Grain Fields, gives birth to the Sun every morning and she is the Mother who protects her children. Devi or Dia, ‘Goddess’ is reconstructed (*déįų-iHa-, see Tichy, p. 72 in A Survey of Proto-Indo-European and *dyeu-, G&I, Vol. I, p. 196) from Sanskrit Devi, a Goddess with a major cult in India, devi ‘a goddess, any goddess’; Avestan, daevi ‘female demon’; Greek, dīa ‘goddess’ and Demeter, a Grain Goddess, with the vocative form Deo used to address her (although thea is the usual Greek word for ‘goddess’ and zea is the Greek word for spelt, a kind of grain); Latin, Dea Dia, a Grain Goddess, also dia and diva, ‘goddess’; Iberian Celtic, Deva; Irish dīa, dea, ‘Goddess’; Germanic Síf (sheaf); Old Polish Zhiva, Жива, a Grain Goddess, also spelled Siebe; Lithuanian deive ‘goddess’; and Latvian dieve.
Horse Twins often have a name that means ‘horse’ *Heékuos, but the names are not always cognate. There is “no lexical set,” according to Mallory and Adams, p. 432, Oxford Introduction. They are always male and usually have a horse form, or sometimes, one is a horse and the other is a boy. They are usually sons of the Horse/Grain Goddess and the Sea God. They are known in Sanskrit as the Ašvins, though with a different father. Other horse twins are: Greek, Dioskuri (Polydeukēs and Kastōr); borrowed into Latin as Castor and Pollux; Irish, the twins of Macha; Old English, Hengist and Horsa (both words mean ‘stallion’), and possibly Old Norse Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse born of Loki; Slavic Lel and Polel; Lithuanian Ašvieniai, and possibly christianized in Albanian as the Saints Flori and Lori. The Horse Twins may be based on the morning and evening star (the planet Venus) and they often have stories in which they “accompany” the Sun Goddess, because of the close orbit of the planet Venus to the Sun, (Michael Shapiro, “Neglected Evidence of Dioscurism (Divine Twinning) in the Old Slavic Pantheon,” p. 137-166, Vol. 10, JIES, who references Donald Ward, in the The Divine Twins).
The Moon is reconstructed as *méHenōt which gives Hindu Mas; Avestan, Mah; Greek Selene (unrelated), although they also use a form Mēnē; Latin, Luna and later Diana, (also not cognate); ON Māni, Old English Mōna, modern English Moon; Slavic Myesyats; Lithuanian, Mėnuo (Mėnulis); and Latvian Meness. The Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture gives the forms on p. 385, but doesn’t even have an entry for a Moon Goddess. Obviously Moon Goddesses give their names to the first day of the seven day week and they are normally worshiped on the first day of every lunar month, see for example the Greek Noumenia Ritual on another website. #hnikar
A Water or Sea God is reconstructed (p. 438, Oxford Introduction) as *Haepōm nepōts ‘uncle/grandson/nephew of waters’ from Avestan and Vedic Apām Nápāt, and as *néptonos from Latin Neptūnus, Etruscan Nethuns, Celtic Nechtan, and Germanic forms Old Norse Hnikarr, Old English Nicor, along with the Nixies or water spirits, and the Neckar River, (see Puhvel, p. 277-284 and Golden Bough Vol. 11, p. 26). There is a list of these forms in Deutsche Mythologie by Grimm, p. 488-489. This God is demonized by Christians as Old Nick and christianized as Saint Nick, patron saint of sailors. Poseidon (etymology highly arguable, but not cognate) fills the function of this deity in Greek.
*Perkunos, a God of Storms, returns in the spring to melt the ice and release the world from winter. Known as the Striker, or Sprinkler, he is reconstructed as *perkwunos (p. 410, 433, Oxford Introduction) from Sanskrit Parjánya, and Norse Fjörgyn and Frigg. Fjörgyn was replaced by Thor among the Germanic-speaking people. Other forms are Slavic Perun, Old Prussian Perkúnos, Lithuanian Perkūnas, and Latvian Pērkons. These Gods give their names to Thursday, the fourth day of the seven day week in various languages. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov reconstruct an older system in which the fourth day of every lunar month was dedicated to this deity. *Perkunos is discussed in more detail on a different page on this website.
*Pleto, a Goddess of Wide Rivers that meander across the land is reconstructed as *pltHa wiHa (p. 267, Oxford Introduction). She pours out the waters that sustain people and livestock. Forms include Hittite Lelwanni, a Goddess, the “Pourer” (p. 760, G&I); Sanskrit Prthivi in the Rig Veda; as u-fratis, the ancient Persian name of the Euphrates river (Vol. 1, p. 27, Bopp in the Grammaire Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes); Greek Leto; in Latin, Latona, the eponymous ancestor of the Latins; and also Greek Ploutos, borrowed into Latin as Pluto. (S)he is responsible for pushing the water up into the springs that form rivers. Pluto was demonized by Christians as a God of the “underworld”; i.e. the Christian hell. Walter Burkert recognizes the Goddess *Pleto, although he considers Greek Plataia an ‘Earth Goddess’, p. 17 in Greek Religion. *Pleto is discussed in more detail in an article on another page.
*Pria, the Goddess of the Garden, is generous to everyone and she embodies the flowers of Spring and the fruit trees. *priHxeHa is reconstructed (p. 208, Oxford Introduction) as ‘beloved, friend.’ She is known in Hittite as the object of the Purulli festival, and in Sanskrit as Priya. In Avestan she is demonized as Paurwa, but replaced by Anahita. In Greek she is recognized as Aphrodite, although this name does not quite fit the expected phonology, and apparently means the ‘Goddess of the Garden’, related to the word ‘paradise.’ In Latin, Venus takes her place (not cognate), and in Old Norse she is Freya with a major festival on May Day. J. Grimm refers to an Old Bohemian (Czech) form Priye, used as a gloss for Aphrodite (p. 303, Deutsche Mythologie). In Slavic languages she is also worshiped under the name Paraskeva (a Greek word meaning ‘veil’), and re-christianized as St. Paraskeva. In Albanian she is Perendi, christianized as St. Prendi. Many of these Goddesses now give their names to the fifth day of the week, Friday. They are also very well known in lesser forms such as the Germanic Fairies and the Persian Peris, charming and seductive beings in folklore. There are also masculine forms of this deity, Sanskrit Prajapati, Greek Priapos borrowed into Latin as Priapus, and Old Norse Freyr. *Pria is discussed more fully in another article on this website.
A Pastoral God is reconstructed as *péHausōn (p. 411, 434, Oxford Introduction) based on Vedic Pashupati, and Pūshān; the Greek God Pān, and the Roman God Faunus and the fauns. However, this group does not hold together either linguistically, or in their qualities and features. Pashupati and Pushan are cognate with the Greek Goddess Psyche, but they do not correspond to Pan, Faunus and Fauna and the fauns. This reconstruction obscures a much more important and interesting set of relationships and, as is commonly the case with much of what has been written about Proto-Indo-European religion, it leaves out the female deities.
A God of Cattle has been reconstructed as *welnos from Old Slavic Veles and Volos; and Lithuanian Velnias, “protector of flocks”; as well as Old Norse Ullr, and Old English Wuldor, and even the Elysian fields in Greek myth and ritual (according to Jaan Puhvel, p. 215, in Analecta Indoeuropaea). There may be a God of Cattle in the northern lands (christianized as Saint Blaise/St. Vlas), but the argument is very thin. Some of these names were also once thought to be connected to Sanskrit Varuna and Greek Uranus or Ouranos, for example by Max Müller, p. 84 in Comparative Mythology, and many other authors, including Mircea Eliade, Bruce Lincoln and Georges Dumézil. They imagined this to be a sort of “Binder God” but this is now rejected on linguistic grounds, (“the etymology is disputed” according to Michael Shapiro, p. 155, in “Neglected Evidence of Dioscurism (Divine Twinning) in the Old Slavic Pantheon,” article in Vol. 10 of JIES).
*Yama and *Manu, the first mortals, (or the first Gods to die), became the ancestors of everyone and king(s) of the dead. They are thought of as twins though one is in the form of a cow and one is in the form of a human. They also have both male and female forms.
Lesser Spirits are found among all the Indo-Europeans and they still persist in folklore, or as Jones and Pennick put it “Pagan deities...[are] venerated as folk-spirits, not simply as Christian saints,” p. 104 in A History of Pagan Europe. These less powerful supernatural beings are especially popular where Christianity has demonized Pagan Gods, but they are very well known from classical sources too. They can conveniently be grouped according to where they are found in nature, however many of their names are cognate with the Great Gods and often their names are just plural forms. They usually “attend” their namesakes and share their sphere of power.
There are many more deities that can be reconstructed to Proto-Indo-European, including Wind Gods which are strongly affected by the Pandemonium and also Tree Goddesses. The Pandemonium is an important division that developed between groups of deities, such as the Ashuras and Devis and is most noticeable among the Zoroastrian (Avestan) Gods and the Vedic (Sanskrit) Gods. However it affects other Gods and Goddesses and other language groups. And finally so many Indo-European Gods and Goddesses were christianized that they make up a special category of Pagan Saints. Information about them is very useful for determining the festival dates and customs of the older Pagan religions in western countries after the nominal introduction of Christianity. [fuggle26]
A fuller treatment of the subject of the Indo-European Pantheon would not merely list the cognate names but describe additional correspondences in the “family relationships,” festival dates, myths and rituals especially associated with them and their special powers. Some of that information is now included in the articles devoted to particular Proto-Indo-European Gods and Goddesses.
While it is sometimes argued that Pagan religion is extinct, it certainly is not. The older form of the Indo-European religion continues in India without interference and most Proto-Indo-European Gods and Goddesses have cognate forms among modern Hindus who still worship them in the old ways. And while it never disappeared, since it has persisted among the common people, the Pagan Religion is re-emerging all over Europe and also in countries with a European heritage. At first it began to reappear as a confusing mass of national forms, but it seems that now the common elements of various Indo-European Pagan religions are beginning to be recognized and everything is coming together.
References• Analecta Indoeuropaea, (a collection of articles), by Jaan Puhvel, published by Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Sprachwissenschaft, Innsbruck, 1981.
• Archestratos of Gela, by S. Douglas Olson and Alexander Sens, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.
• Comparative Mythology, Max Müller, Arno Press, NY, 1909, 1977.
• Deutsche Mythologie by Jacob Grimm, (English title Teutonic Mythology, translated by James Stallybrass), George Bell and Sons, London, 1883.
• The Divine Twins, article by Donald Ward, Folklore Studies, No. 19, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1968.
• Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, ed., Fitzroy Dearborn, London, 1997.
• Golden Bough by James Frazer, MacMillan & Co. Ltd., London, 1919-1920 (12 vol. edition).
• Grammaire Comparée des Langues Indo-Européennes by François Bopp, translated by Michel Bréal, Imprimerie Impériale, Paris, 1866.
• Greek Religion by Walter Burkert, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1985.
• A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, Routledge, NY, 1995.
• An Indo-European Comparative Dictionary by Stuart E. Mann, Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, 1984/1987.
• 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), by Thomas V. Gamkrelidze, and Vjaceslav V. Ivanov, with Werner Winter, ed., and Johanna Nichols, translator (original title Indoevropeiskii iazyk i indoevropeistsy), M. De Gruyter, Berlin & NY, 1995 (abbreviated G&I).
• “Neglected Evidence of Dioscurism (Divine Twinning) in the Old Slavic Pantheon,” article by Michael Shapiro, p. 137-166, Vol. 10, The Journal of Indo-European Studies, published by JIES, Washington, DC., 1973.
• Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World, by J. P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.
• A Survey of Proto-Indo-European by Eva Tichy, translated by James E. Cathy, Hempen Verlag, Bremen, 2006.
• The White Goddess by Robert Graves; Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, NY, 1948 and 1966.
This article was originally published on Yola, but they were hacked in 2011, so it is now published here with many revisions based on continuing research.
© 2007, last updated 1/10/2013, at http://piereligion.org/pantheon.html