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Perun – the Slavic God of Thunder

Legends of a fierce thunder god roaming the sky still live among the people

Photo © Slavorum / source: slavorum.org

Perun, Slavic God of Thunder – In Slavic Pagan mythology, Perun (written in Cyrillic: Перун) is the highest god of the pantheon and the god of thunder and lightning just like Germanic Thor or Greek Zeus.

Rod-Gromoviti-Znaci
Perun symbol: “Thunder marks”

His other attributes were mountains, fire, iris, eagle, the oak, firmament, horses and carts, weapons (the hammer, Axe of Perun, and golden arrows), and of course war. He was first associated with weapons made of stone and later with those of metal, such as most popular Axe of Perun. Throught history some Slavic nations worshiped him as the main god of the Slavic pantheon while others worshiped Svarog, but the truth lies in correct timeline, as Svarog was the first main god, but as the mythological story develops, his Son Perun takes his place as the main god, and after Perun Yarilo takes his place.

Description of Perun

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Copper bearded Slavic god Perun / source: wikimedia cc

Perun is described as a strong muscular rugged man with a golden-copper beard. He rides in a fiery chariot pulled by a goat buck and wields a mighty axe of Perun. The axe in battle is hurled at evil people and spirits and will always return to his hand.

Peruns axe pedants

Two types of Peruns Axe pedants that were commonly found in Archeological excavations:

Axe_Perun
Peruns axe pedants found in remains / source: wikimedia cc

Origin and etymology of Perun

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Photo © Perunova straža / source: wikimedia cc

Perun is very similar and related with the near-identical Perkūnas/Pērkons from Baltic mythology, suggesting either a common derivative of the Proto-Indo European thunder god whose original name has been reconstructed as Perkwunos, or it’s possible one of these cultures borrowed the deity from the other, considering the size and wide-spread population of Slavic people where they worshiped Perun and not being in proximity to the Baltic cultures we can conclude the Baltic people did borrow the deity from their neigbouring Slavs. The root *perkwu originally probably meant oak (which is seen as Peruns tree), but in Proto-Slavic this evolved into per- meaning “to strike, to slay”. Lithuanian word “Perkūnas” has two meanings: the thunder and the god of thunder and lightning.

The Slavic God Perun in Mythology

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Perun vs Veles / Painting © Slavorum / source: slavorum.org

In Slavic mythology, much like in Norse and Baltic mythologies, the world was represented by a sacred tree, usually an oak, whose branches and trunk represented the living world of heavens and mortals, whilst its roots represented the underworld, i.e. the realm of the dead. Perun was a ruler of the living world, sky and earth, and was often symbolized by an eagle sitting on the top of the tallest branch of the tree, from which he kept watch over the entire world. Deep down in the roots of the tree was the place of his enemy, symbolized by a serpent or a dragon: this was also a Slavic God Veles, watery god of the underworld, who continually provoked Perun by stealing his cattle, children, or wife. Perun pursued Veles around the earth, attacking him with his lightning bolts from the sky. Veles fled from him by transforming himself into various animals, or hiding behind trees, houses, or people; wherever a lightning bolt struck, it was believed, this was because Veles hid from Perun under or behind that particular place. In the image above you can see the scene from the final big battle between the two Gods. In the end, Perun managed to kill Veles, or to chase him back down into his watery underworld. The supreme god thus reestablished the order in the world which had been disrupted by his chaotic enemy. He then returned to the top of the World tree and proudly informed his opponent down in the roots: Ну, там твое место, там сабе будь! (Nu, tam tvoje mjesto, tam sabje bud’! “Well, there is your place, remain there!”). This line came from a Belarusian folk tale of great antiquity. To the Slavs, the mythological symbolism of a supreme heavenly god who battles with his under-worldly enemy through storms and thunder was extremely significant, and from Perun and Veles, this idea of cosmic battle was passed onto God and the Devil following Christianization.

While the exact pantheon characterization differed between the Slavic tribes, Perun is generally believed to have been considered as the supreme god by the majority, or perhaps nearly all Slavs, at least towards the end of Slavic paganism. The earliest supreme god was probably Rod; it is unclear precisely how and why his worship as the head of the pantheon evolved into the worship of Perun. Another candidate for supreme deity among at least some Slavs is Svarog.

Slavic Neo-Paganism and worshiping Perun

Today Perun is still the chief deity to Slavic neo-Pagans and is worshiped as the supreme God of the Slavs

Rodnover_temple_in_Kaluga,_Russia
Rodnover temple in Kaluga, Russia / Photo © Boryslav Javir / source: wikimedia cc

No matter be it Perun, Thor, Zeus or any other, the thunder Gods will always be a part of our legacy!

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