Perkunos, a Proto-Indo-European God

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Perkunos is one of the great Gods of the Indo-Europeans, and the name translates as ‘striker’ or ‘sprinkler.’ The God is associated with fertility and rain, but also with the lightning and thunder that accompanies storms in some climates. He is usually masculine but as with other Indo-Europeans Gods, sometimes female. He may be one of the oldest deities that can be reconstructed for the Proto-Indo-European religion, along with forms of the Goddess Artemis. The form *Perkwunos is reconstructed based on cognate names and other characteristics in Sanskrit, Avestan, Greek, and the Germanic and Baltic languages (p. 410, 433, Oxford Introduction).

The Sanskrit form Parjánya is known from the Rig Veda, where he is responsible for the killing of the monster Vrtr.

Perseus is the Persian form of the name of this God, but he is not reported in Persian sources. Rather, he is only known from Greek sources where he is the legendary hero who kills Medusa. An image of Perseus decapitating Medusa appears on Greek metopes by 600 BCE.

In Greek, this deity appears in the form Prokris, the morning dew. This Goddess appears in a myth in which she is slain by her lover Cephalos, when he mistakes her for prey hiding in the shady forest. As George Cox remarks in The Mythology of the Aryan Nations, “frost in the north, dew in the south.” This form and its variations illustrate an important element in the reconstruction of the Indo-European religion, that it’s necessary to take into account differences in climate over the very broad geographic range of the Indo-European Languages.

It has been argued that Jupiter or Jove is the Latin form of this God, since the fourth day of the week in Latin is named after Jove and this corresponds to the fourth day of the week in several other European languages which are named after the corresponding deities listed here. However there are a number of problems with this argument. For example, if the seven day week was introduced to northern European cultures by Christians at the time of the introduction of Christianity, it is difficult to see why the Christians would have translated the names of Roman Pagan weekday names into the names of other Pagan Gods. And if the seven day week was introduced by Roman Pagans, it is difficult to see how they came to have absorbed the seven day week from Jews, independent of Christianity. The seven day week has historically been considered to be an invention of the Jews, as a development of the story in Genesis, but it’s difficult to imagine that such a major social institution would have become standard in Rome before Christianity became widespread in the Roman empire. In any case, the Indo-Europeans are known to have dedicated certain days of the month to certain Gods although no universal system for this has been reconstructed with one possible exception. Gamkrelidze and Ivanov argue that the fourth day of every month may have been dedicated to *Perkunos by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and that this dedication was extended to Jove and to Thor, by later substitution.

We are now able to add a Gaelic cognate of this God, namely Fergus mac Roich, well known from Irish mythology, especially the Tain Bo Cuailnge. Fergus is best known for his sword, called Caladbolg in some sources, and apparently cognate with Welsh forms of the very famous sword of King Arthur, known in the later romances as Excalibur. Fergus is perhaps associated with thunderstorms, but he certainly has the other characteristics of the Storm God of the Indo-Europeans.

The name of the God *Perkunos is known in Old Norse in both male and female forms. Both Fjörgynr and Fjörgynn are recorded in the sources. Fjörgynn was replaced by Thor among the Germanic-speaking people. This is one of the rare occasions when Indo-Europeans seem to have had an opinion on the gender of their deities. The Norse seem to have felt that a deity named Fjörgynn (whose name could be interpreted as a compound with the second element -gyn, kuni, ‘woman’) was not appropriate to be their storm God, so Fjörgynn, a neuter form but personified as feminine became the mother of a son named Thor. Thor has many elements in common with other forms of the Indo-European God Perkunos, but his name is not cognate with any other known Gods. #frigg

Frigg is another cognate form of the name of this deity in Old Norse, and she is clearly associated with frost and winter. She is especially celebrated at the Winter Solstice, known in Germanic as Modranacht (according to Bede). Yule Songs which celebrate feasting on boars are probably connected to her. The constellation of Orion, a winter constellation, is known as Frigg’s spindle or distaff. It has been argued that the tradition of making Spekulatis cookies at the Winter Solstice with an image of a wheel or of a woman spinning, is a representation of the Goddess Frigg, however the evidence for a Pagan source for the symbolism of this tradition is slender. Perun being worshipped by Vladimir in Kiev in 980 CE, as imagined by Dutch Christians in 1660.

Perun: In Slavic sources, there are many references to the God Perun. One of the oldest is in a description of the Gods of the pantheon of Vladimir from Ukraine in about 980 CE. Other references to this deity are known from isolated Slavic regions including Slavic peasants in Romania and also from Czech sources. Perun is identified with other forms of *Perkunos on the grounds that the name is a linguistic cognate, but there is not much evidence that he was a “Hammer God.” He seems mostly to have been responsible for the fertility of domestic crops, possibly by providing rain, an attribute of Thor also. This difference may reflect the interests of Slavic peasants at a time when they were excluded culturally, linguistically and religiously from full participation in the political systems of the time. This is in contrast to 19th century fantasies about “War Gods” which were strongly associated with political agendas of some of the nations of the time.

Forms of the God *Perkunos are known from the three major Baltic languages, Old Prussian Perkúnos, Lithuanian Perkunas, and Latvian Perkons. The oldest sources of information about Perkúnos are reports by early Christian missionaries, which are brief but revealing. Later references in Lithuanian and Latvian were collected in the 1800’s in the form of the sacred folk songs known as Dainas. Perkunas persists in Baltic folk tales, and where Christianization managed to penetrate, Perkunas was demonized as “the devil.” [fuggle26]

Myths There are two major myths that can be reconstructed about *Perkunos, one in which he decapitates the moon and another in which he brings spring by “killing winter.” There is also a set of myths that describe how he loses his “weapons of power” and then gets them back, which is related to the fact that there are no thunderstorms in winter. Among these last myths is the story of “How Thor Lost His Hammer,” which is known from the Elder Edda, and also in a Danish ballad for which I believe there is music.

Festivals The major seasons for forms of the God *Perkunos are at the winter solstice and in the spring at the melting of the winter ice, though there do not seem to be many specific festivals. The spring festival was probably celebrated when the first rain fell. In Slavic folk tradition, Perun is offered the first fruits of the harvest, presumably in late summer.

References
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.
The Mythology of the Aryan Nations by George W. Cox; Kegan Paul, Trench & Co, London, 1887.
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.

© 2007, last updated 3/10/2014, at piereligion.org/perkunos.html