The major branches of the Indo-European languages which are used for the
reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European religion are described here.
Although the types of information available in each language branch vary
widely, cumulatively these languages represent a huge repository of information
about the Indo-European religion.
Hittite and the Anatolian Dialects
Hittite is the oldest Indo-European language for
which we have datable records, some as early as the 20th century BCE (Before Common Era), found in Anatolia (modern Turkey).
Other related Anatolian dialects for which there are substantial cuneiform or hieroglyphic inscriptions are Palaic, Luwian, and Lydian.
The inscriptions and temple records in Hittite give histories, myths, lists of temple possessions that name and describe the Hittite Gods and Goddesses, and extensive (in fact, interminable) descriptions of rituals.
These languages are extinct but contributed important deities to the Greek pantheon. More information about Hittite and the Anatolian dialects and aspects of Paganism is given on this page.
For this research, the Indo-Iranian language family has been treated as two separate groups. Although the Sanskrit and Avesta languages are so similar
that they are essentially dialects of each other, the religions of the Sanskrit speakers (exemplified by the Vedas) and the Avestan speakers (followers of Zoroastrianism) are very different, so they are most easily treated as separate categories for religious studies. The Pandemonium page gives a brief explanation of this.
The Sanskrit language is probably the oldest Indo-European
language for which we have compositions, although the texts that we have were not written
down until the Common Era (CE). This is the language of the Vedas, one of our major sources of information about the Gods and myths of the Indo-Europeans. It continues as a language of learning to the present day. Two other closely related languages, known from their inclusion in texts produced in Mesopotamia, have a few early
is known from a few words associated with horse racing and with the names of some Indo-European Gods, included in Hurrian (not
an Indo-European language) texts made in Anatolia (Turkey). Information about
the Kassite Gods is known from a few words and theophoric king names recorded in
letters to Mesopotamian and Egyptian rulers and on inscriptions on boundary markers.
Other ancient languages such as the Prakrits (vernacular languages) are known from inscriptions and brief references from around the 5th century BCE. Pali is a related language which was used in Theravada Buddhist texts,
so it is well documented. Gandhari is a prakrit dialect spoken in Afghanistan and recorded in the Tarim Basin from the 2nd to 4th century CE. Related languages are spoken today in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Modern forms are Hindi-Urdu, where Hindi is spoken widely in northern India and written in the Devanagari alphabet from around the 13th century and Urdu is spoken in Pakistan and written with an Arabic alphabet.
Languages from northwest India contributed to the various dialects spoken by the Romani, better known as Gypsies, in Europe.
The southern group of Indian languages includes Sinhalese spoken in Sri Lanka, and Marathi. Eastern Indian languages include Bengali and Assamese. These are spoken in northeast India and Bangladesh and some surrounding areas by both Moslems and Hindus. The middle group of Dardic languages and Nuristani falls between the Indian and Iranian groups. They include the Chitral languages, Kunar, Shina, and Gujurati with many dialects. All of these languages with many dialects form a continuum with both the Indian and Iranian language groups.
The religion of the Sanskrit speakers eventually became the Hindu religion of modern India and
surrounding areas. Because this is still the religion of about a billion people
who had no break in their traditions, it retains the character of the ancient
religion. Information about Hinduism is vast and much of it
is available on the internet where it is provided by actual Hindus. The Sanskrit Language and Hindu Religion page gives a brief introduction from the perspective of Indo-European
Iranian language group
The Avestan language is the oldest form of the Iranian languages and it is known from the ancient scriptures of the Zoroastrian religion. These texts are not datable, but they are believed to be very old.
The earliest datable inscriptions in an Iranian language are Old Persian cuneiform, dated to the 5th century BCE. Pahlavi or Middle Persian continued to about 700 CE with the introduction of Islam. Persian continued in use through the Middle Ages as a language of commerce, religion and court literature and preserves Indo-European myths in an historicized form.
Modern Persian, also called Farsi, is spoken in Iran and as Dari in Afghanistan, and as Tajik in Tajikistan, all of which are now mainly Moslem cultures.
Other early languages include Parthian which was an important language in an area northeast of Iran between 228 BC to 224 CE, though little recorded; Kurdish and other dialects are spoken there now.
Bactrian was a language of the Kushan empire, while Sogdian was very well recorded along the Silk Road from 100 BCE to 1000 CE and is still spoken in a modern form as Yagnobian.
Saka was spoken by tribes from the Danube to the Yenisei rivers from the 8th to 3rd century BCE, though most of the texts known for it were preserved in the Tarim Basin from the 4th to 10th centuries CE.
These languages were used widely in the Zoroastrian religion which contributed to Shiite Islam.
Further to the east are many dialects of Iranian languages such as Pashto, the national language of Afghanistan. In the Caucasus area, Ossetic is still spoken and it preserves a rich heritage of Indo-European Paganism, referred to as the Nart Sagas, and collected in the 19th century CE. The Iranian languages used to be among the most widely spoken language group but they have largely contracted due to incursions from Turkish, Mongolian, and Arabic languages. Most speakers now identify as Moslem although they often continue Zoroastrian customs. Avestan and Zoroastrianism are discussed here.
The earliest Greek is attested from Mycenaean temple
records dating to around 1200 BCE that name Gods worshiped in Crete and Greece. Much later we have the classical dialects of Doric Greek (spoken in the south of Greece and southern Italy); Attic Greek, the main language of literature spoken around Athens; and Ionian Greek spoken in Anatolia (modern Turkey). Texts in classical Greek
give detailed and extremely beautiful information about the Pagan Religion,
including the Gods and Goddesses, myths, rituals and even the philosophies and
beliefs of the Greek people. In addition, archaeology has provided a vast store
of data on temples, images of Gods, inscriptions, votive offerings and other
information related to religion. Archaeology continues to provide new
information, and better standards of scholarship have allowed for an improvement
in the understanding of Greek religion. Eventually the classical dialects developed into a koine, the common speech of most people in Egypt, the Middle East, and most of southern Europe.
This became the language of the early (Greek) Orthodox Church and some aspects of Greek Pagan religion have also been continued in the Greek Orthodox Church.
Greek was an important language of learning in classical Rome and continued as such through the Middle Ages in both eastern and western Europe. This necessarily included knowledge of Greek Pagan religion with the result that many English speakers know more
about Greek Paganism than they do about the Pagan religion of their own ancestors. Modern Greek is still spoken but has mostly contracted to the borders of the modern country. Greek Pagan Religion is discussed in more detail on this page.
Old Italic dialects include Sabellic (South Picine), Oscan, Volscian, Umbrian and Faliscan, some recorded as early as the 6th century BCE but all extinct. Old Latin is first recorded in the 6th century BCE and
develops into classical Latin, a language of learning in much of western Europe. Roman Pagan religion is known from many written texts, and archaeological sources including
inscriptions. Much of the information about Roman religion was intentionally
destroyed or misinterpreted in accord with various religious agendas or pet
theories, but modern standards of scholarship and new archaeological finds have
improved the situation. Vulgar Latin (the common speech) is not well recorded from classical times but it developed into the Romance languages, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. Each of these languages has old, middle (medieval) and new (modern) forms with many local dialects while Spanish, French and Portuguese have expanded to other parts of the world. In addition to the information directly related to
religion left by the Roman classical society, we have access to the
christianized forms of Roman Pagan religion such as the liturgy of the Roman
Catholic Church which continued the Pagan liturgy until 1965. More information on
Latin Language and Roman Paganism may be found here.
The earliest references to Celtic languages are found in classical
sources dating to about 800 BCE and in dedications to Celtic Goddesses recorded mostly in a Latin context and
dating to the last centuries BCE. Early references are identified as Gaulish (in modern France and central Europe), Galatian (Anatolia) and Celtiberian (Spain) and possibly Tartessian in southern Portugal.
These languages are broadly referred to as Gaulish, but Old Celtic would be a more inclusive term. Celtic became extinct on the continent of Europe aside from Brittany, but continued in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and
the Isle of Man (i.e. Insular Celtic) where it is generally divided into two streams. Brythonic or P-Celtic includes Breton, Welsh and Cornish (the last one now being revived) while Goidelic or Q-Celtic includes Irish
Gaelic, Scots Gaelic and Manx Gaelic. Both Welsh and Irish have very early texts, some as early as the 7th century CE, which treat extensively of the ancient myths and the Gods
and Goddesses, some euhemerized in histories, romances or saints’ tales. Speakers of all of these languages have retained vast amounts of folklore, customs, tales and music collected by antiquarians as early as the 1800’s which give additional myths and
festival information, much of it correlating with other Indo-European sources. In some isolated areas, the ancient prayers and rituals have
continued into modern times, sometimes christianized and sometimes not. Many more
traditions have been recorded by folklorists, and some are still in everyday use. More information on Celtic Languages and Paganism is available here.
The earliest references to the Germanic languages date to about 400 CE and consist of some runic inscriptions, some dedications in a Latin context and some references
in classical literature. The Germanic languages may be divided into East, North and West branches. The eastern branch is entirely extinct and consisted of the Gothic languages (mainly Visigothic
and Ostrogothic) recorded in a 400 CE translation of the Bible which, however, is of very little use. The northern branch is comprised of the Scandinavian dialects and gives extensive
mythologies and descriptions of the Gods, many provided with helpful explanations for the interested reader. These are first recorded in the 1200’s but some include poems composed centuries
earlier. As Scandinavia was late and unenthusiastic at being christianized, it has retained many traditional customs and lore. These have been published more recently, including offerings
and other rituals. The languages include Old Norse (a catchall term for all early dialects but mainly recorded in Iceland) and Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic dialects with middle (medieval) and modern forms.
The western branch of Germanic includes Low German, (from the "lowlands" along the northern sea coasts, south toward the mountains) and High German ("uphill" from about midway across Germany, south to the Swiss Alps).
Low German includes Lombardic, briefly recorded in early Christian sources, Old Saxon, Old Frisian and Old Dutch (more or less the language spoken by the Franks), and Anglo-Saxon or Old English, all recorded by the 6th century CE.
Modern forms are English, Frisian, Plattdeutsch, Dutch, Flemish, and Afrikaans (spoken in South Africa) and Dietsch (Pennsylvania Dutch). Taken all together, these languages and dialects form a continuum from England to the Swiss Alps.
The European languages have old, middle and modern forms.
Old Saxon was recorded on the mainland but is mostly known from only one long Christian poem. As Anglo-Saxon or Old English, the form that the language took when Germanic-speaking people moved to
England after 400 CE, it is very well represented. Early charms, prayers and invocations are recorded in Old English and Old High German.
Only a few references to early Goddesses, rituals and myths are known from early
West Germanic languages but they are enough to confirm the
identity of the Anglo-Saxon religion with the Pagan traditions recorded in Old
Norse. All of these languages have also produced extensive folklore collections. Dietsch preserves an extensive Pagan tradition recorded by modern scholars in the US.
More about Germanic Languages and Germanic Paganism may be found here.
The Slavic languages are divided into East, West and South Slavic. South Slavic is the earliest recorded Slavic language but consists of Old Church Slavonic, used for a translation of the Bible in the 9th century.
Other south Slavic languages are Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, (modern) Macedonian and Slovene. They are divided by alphabet (Cyrillic or Roman), and religion
(Greek orthodox, Roman Catholic or Moslem--originally Sufi), that is, they are essentially dialects separated by historical tragedies.
East Slavic includes Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian. There are early texts, mainly short notes on birchbark, in a language
called Old Novgorodian, but they appear to be strongly Christian. West Slavic includes Czech (originally as Old Czech from the 14th century, later called Bohemian), Polish, Slovak, and Sorbian.
Slavic Paganism has not often been
well studied by western scholars because of religious and political hostility
and because of the political isolation of the Slavic countries until recently. For this reason, it has been very difficult to access information about Slavic Paganism.
Nevertheless, the folklore traditions and a few early references regarding the
Slavic Gods, rituals, and myths have been collected and published even under
communist authorities. Furthermore they are still remembered by Slavs in their
home countries and by refugees in the United States. The Gods have also been
christianized as “saints,” and the folk customs continue in the form of “dual
religion” under the color of Russian Orthodox Christianity. Information about the Slavic Languages and Slavic Paganism may be seen here.
Old Prussian was recorded in the 1300’s by Protestant missionaries who had no interest in the culture. From this we have a few tantalizing clues about Baltic Pagan religion and the Gods, but this language is extinct.
Lithuanian and Latvian are not recorded before
the 16th century CE; however these languages are still spoken in their respective countries and they preserve
an extensive collection of folk-poetry concerning the Pagan deities. The Lithuanian collection of
“dainas” or songs runs to 13 volumes and the Latvian collection is 7 volumes. Many songs
are still sung today at annual festivals and the rituals and dances have been
recorded in writing and on film. More information on the Baltic Languages and Baltic Paganism can be found here.
Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects
Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects are grouped together for
convenience sake. These languages are not closely related to each other although all are Indo-European. Most of them are recorded from the Balkans or northern Greece. Albanian is a
modern language spoken in Albania and surrounding areas and hardly recorded
before the 15th century CE. This language has an extensive folklore and vaguely Christian
traditions recorded by early visitors and modern folklorists. Albanian retains elements of the original
Indo-European religion but with a Zoroastrian cast. The Paleo-Balkan Dialects
are very poorly known and extinct, with only a few references in ancient
literature or a paltry number of inscriptions from old archaeological sites, mainly from the last few centuries BCE.
They include (all of these links go to the same page):
Dacian (once spoken in Romania),
Thracian (once spoken in Bulgaria),
Moesian and Mysian,
Old Macedonian (related to Greek; modern Macedonian is a Slavic
Phrygian is not actually a
Balkan dialect since it is known from a few finds in central and eastern Turkey,
while Venetic is recorded only in northern Italy near Venice. Messapic may be
closely related to Illyrian but it is only recorded in Italy.
Armenian, with its distinctive alphabet, first appears in floor mosaics dated to about 600 CE in Jerusalem.
Only brief references in Christian sources mention the ancient Indo-European religion among Armenians. The Armenians had become Zoroastrians before the introduction of Christianity and some Armenians continued to worship Zoroastrian Gods such as Mithras until
recently. The Armenian language has been used for writing Christian religious texts from 600 CE and has old, middle (medieval) and modern forms. Armenian is still spoken
in the country of Armenia (Eastern dialect) and by an even larger diaspora (Western dialect). Armenians usually identify as Christian,
however they have preserved very beautiful folk traditions with a few native Pagan elements which occasionally remember the ancient Gods and Goddesses. [fuggle26]
Tocharian consists of three dialects known from the Xinjiang region in
China, recorded in inscriptions and manuscripts from about 300 to 1400 CE, and preserved in the dry
climate of the Tarim Basin. Most of the texts are personal letters or Buddhist religious texts
since writing was only introduced in that area by Buddhist missionaries. However, a small amount of information has been preserved about native Tocharian religion. The study of Tocharian religion has not yet been written, but this
Tarim Basin Timeline has been produced which lists the major events that are considered important according to various theories of how the Tocharian languages came to be preserved in the Tarim basin.
These twelve language groups make a convenient way of organizing information
about Proto-Indo-European religion as it is based on
linguistic study. Most importantly, the standard methods used for linguistic
analysis in the field of historic phonology can be used as an objective marker
when comparing the names of Gods, myths, rituals and other elements of religion in the
Link to Pokorny, free pdf on the internet
One of the standard sources for studying Indo-European languages is Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch by Julius Pokorny, Francke Verlag, Bern und Munchen, 1959. It is usually referred to as IEW or Pokorny. There is also a 1989 edition. There is a version of Pokorny available on archive.org, in 3 volumes. I have included the links to the three volumes here for convenience.
Volume 1 begins with page 1, A. with the first entry *ā, Ausruf der Empfindung, oft neugeschaffen
and ends on page 348 with the last entry *eu̯egʷh- “feierlich, ruhmend, prahlend sprechen” etc.
Volume 2 begins on page 349 with G, Gy, with first entry *ǵăb- “schauen, ausschauen nach”?? and
ends on page 770 with the last entry *nū/nŭ ‘nun’ und ähnliche Formen; nu-no “jetzig”
Volume 3 begins on page 771, Ṇ and first entry *ndhos, ndheri “unter” [under], and
ends on page 1183 with the last entry *u̯rughi̯o “Roggen, Emmerkorn” [rye]
© 2007, last updated 7/30/2017, at piereligion.org/piel.html