• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Kassite Gods
• Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
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 varies widely, cumulatively these languages represent a huge repository of information about the Indo-European religion.
Hittite and the Anatolian Dialects are the oldest Indo-European language for which we have datable records. Early hieroglyphic inscriptions have been found in Anatolia (modern Turkey) and represent a number of dialects or closely related languages. The inscriptions and temple records give histories, myths, extensive (in fact, interminable) descriptions of rituals and lists of temple possessions that name and describe the Hittite Gods and Goddesses. Other related Anatolian dialects for which there are extensive inscriptions are Luwian, Palaic, and later Lydian. These languages are extinct but may have contributed vocabulary to other languages that came into contact with them such as Greek.
The Sanskrit Language is probably the oldest Indo-European language for which we have compositions, although the texts were not written down until the Common Era (CE). Here is a brief introduction to the Sanskrit Language and the Hindu Religion from the perspective of Indo-European linguistic studies. Two other closely related languages have a few early references known from their inclusion in texts produced in Mesopotamia. Mitanni is known from a few words associated with horse racing 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. 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. The information about Hinduism is over-whelmingly vast and much of it is available on the internet where it is provided by actual Hindus.
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 attributed to Persian kings. Although the Sanskrit and Avesta languages are so similar that they are dialects of each other, the religions of the Sanskrit speakers and the Avestan speakers are very different, so they are most easily treated as separate categories for religious studies. One of the differences between them is the division of the original pantheon of Indo-European Gods into two groups, the Asher, or Gods of the Sun and the Devi, with Indra, Gods associated with grain fields and the moon. This division is referred to as the Pandemonium, since the Sanskrit speakers demonized all of the Gods of the Zoroastrians and the Avestan speakers demonized all the Gods of the Sanskrit speakers.
The Greek Pagan Religion is attested from the very early Mycenaean temple records that name the Gods worshiped in Crete and Greece, but not enough information is available to give the context. Later 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. Some aspects of Greek Pagan Religion have also been continued in the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Latin Language, or properly the Italic dialects, and Roman Pagan Religion are known from a great 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. 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 continues the Pagan liturgy.
The Celtic Languages and Paganism are known from early references in classical sources dating to about 800 BCE and by inscriptions in the Celtic languages dating to the last centuries BCE. Several books in the Celtic languages, mainly Welsh and Gaelic, date to about 1200 CE, though some of these were composed earlier. They treat extensively of the ancient Indo-European myths and the Gods and Goddesses. In some isolated areas, the ancient prayers, and rituals have continued into modern times, sometimes christianized and sometimes not. Many traditions have been recorded by folklorists, or they are still in everyday use.
The Germanic Languages and Germanic Paganism have much the same types of sources as the Celtic ones with the exception that the earliest references probably date to about 400 BCE. The Germanic languages are known from the extinct Gothic language recorded in 400 CE in a translation of the Bible, and by early charms, prayers and invocations in Old English and Old High German. Only a few references to early Goddesses, rituals and myths are known from early West Germanic languages such as English but they are enough to confirm the identity of the Anglo-Saxon religion with the Pagan traditions recorded in Old Norse. The oldest sources in the Scandinavian (northern) dialects of the Germanic languages give extensive mythologies and descriptions of the Gods.
The Slavic Languages and Slavic Paganism known from them have 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. Nevertheless, the folklore traditions and a few early references regarding the Slavic Gods, rituals, and myths have been collected and published even under communist authority. 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.”
The Baltic Languages, mainly Lithuanian and Latvian, are hardly recorded before 1500 BCE, but some early observers described in print the rituals and customs of peasants who maintained their ancient traditions in isolation. More importantly, an extensive collection of folk-poetry describes the Pagan deities. The names and character of the deities are so similar to those that are known from the Sanskrit hymns that many people at one time thought that the Lithuanians were descendants of the Sanskrit speakers. While all of these groups of languages mentioned here were once closely related to each other, they are descendants of a common ancestral language, not of each other. The Lithuanian collection of “dainas” 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.
Albanian and the Paleo-Balkan Dialects are often grouped together for convenience sake. These languages are not closely related to each other but 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 1500 CE. This language has an extensive folklore and vaguely Christian traditions recorded by early visitors and modern folklorists or you can go ask an Albanian on the internet. 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 sites. They include: Dacian (once spoken in Romania), Thracian (once spoken in Bulgaria), Moesian, Mysian, Old Macedonian (all related to Greek; modern Macedonian is a Slavic language), Illyrian, Messapic, Phrygian and Venetic. 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 from Italy.
Armenian first appears in early Christian texts dated to about 400 CE. Although some Armenians worshiped Zoroastrian Gods such as Mithra until recently, most of what is known about Armenian religion is Christian in character and apart from a few folkloric references, it provides little information about the ancient Indo-European religion. Armenian is still spoken today, and they have very beautiful traditional folk music, though I don’t know if it includes any specifically native Pagan elements.
Tocharian consists of two dialects known from the Jinxiang region in China recorded in letters and books from about 1200-1400 CE preserved in the dry climate. Most of the texts are personal letters or Buddhist religious texts since the Tocharian-speaking people had become Buddhist by then.
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, rituals and other elements of religion in the different languages.
© 2007, last updated 2/9/2012, at piereligion.org/piel.html