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Svarog p.

Dazhbog p.

Svarozhits p.

Perun p.

Veles/Volos p.

Stribog p.




Khors p.

Simargl p.

Mokosh p.





RPC - - Russian Primary Chronicle

SIC - Song of the Igor's Campaign


According to the Laurentian version of the "Russian Primary Chronicle", in the year 980:

"... ( Vladimir) set up idols on the hills outside the castle: one of Perun, made of wood with a head of silver and a moustache of gold, and others of Khors, Dazhbog, Stribog, Simargl, Mokosh".

No doubt, this was an attempt by the Kievan ruler to organise a more centralised, pagan cult to facilitate state building and centralisation. However, on many occasions, it has been claimed that he merely elevated the elite cult. And the beliefs, as well as those gods, were of foreign origin - namely Scandinavian. However, the native Eastern Slavic religion was assumed to be a collection of some animistic beliefs with an inpersonalised "Mother Moist Earth" as a dominant, agricultural deity.

Such a assumptiom is a consequence of the paucity of knowledge about Slavic mythology. This is so for a number of reasons. First, in the English speaking world as far as now,no one really attempted to research pre-Christian Slavic religion. The subject usually occupies a short chapter or paragraph in general publications on European mythology - and that is all. This is a surprising situation considering the fact that the Slavs are the largest linguistic sub-family in Europe, numbering close to 300 million people. Secondly, many publications do not go beyond various accepted ideas that originated in the German school of the 1930's and early 1940's, championed by Erwin Winecke and Leonard Franz. Briefly, both Winecke and Franz claimed that without outside help the Slavs were incapable of developing any complex beliefs beyond animism due to their racial inferiority and needed an external stimulus from the "Master Race" to invent more complex beliefs or personification of their deities. Thirdly, a number of Russian and Soviet scholars, more or less, accepted these notions. It may well be that those Russians in the West, who were recruited predominantly from post-revolution emigres, were in general deeply religious and conservative. Hence, their views were biased against any pagan beliefs. Meanwhile, many historians in the Soviet Union generally treated any religion as a collection of ancient superstitions not worth investigating.

The issue of this organised pagan cult of Kievan Rus' under Vladimir along with its emergence can be only properly investigated in a broader Indo-European and a common Slavic context. For that reason the first section of the following work will deal with the common Indo-European background and pre-migration Slavic beliefs. Apart from the deities of Vladimir's pantheon, some other Slavic gods, that were mentioned in other Eastern Slavic sources, will also be investigated. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that the following reconstruction of the common ancient Slavic religion is only partial, and explores only selected "core" concepts and deities with some relevance to the later Kievan cult.

It is commonly accepted that all the Indo-European languages evolved from closely related Bronze Age dialects collectively termed Proto-Indo-European. Further, certain similarities in names of many ancient deities were also observed. From this premise, a rather simplistic Indo-European pantheon was postulated by the early twentieth century. More recently a comparative analysis of Indo-European beliefs focussed on common functional and conceptual elements rather than on linguistic similarities of the god's names. Such a study was first attempted by an American scholar of Romanian background - Mircea Eliade. It was further developed and championed by French philologist Georges Dumézil, and is now followed by the "new comparative school" of religious studies world-wide. This new approach focus on the premise that the pre-Christian beliefs of Indo-European people (Germanic, Celtic, Italic, Greek, Baltic, Indian Iranian and Hittite) share certain concepts, ideas and anumber of deities on the functional level. And also, exploring the concept that that various Indo-European people built their own theology and mythology drawing it from a common tradition. However, the "new comparative school" acknowledges that different peoples developed their beliefs on their own, in different conditions and under different influences.

The Slavs, as a culturally and linguistically distinct people, emerged in Eastern Europe in a relatively small area. Geographicaly the Slavic cradle was limited in the south by north-eastern slopes of Carpathian Mountains. To the West, their territory probably reached to the upper Vistula river in modern Poland. In the north, the Pripet marshes divided the proto-Slavic group from the proto-Balts. And finally, their eastern boundary was roughly at the Dneper river. As the linguistic uniformity of Slavonic languages suggests, the process of Slavic ethnogenesis must have been completed by the fifth century C.E. - prior to their migration period during the sixth and seventh centuries C.E. The area under discussion was under strong Iranian (to some extend Scythian and strongly Sarmatian) influence, during the firsstmillennium B.C.E. and until the third century C.E. And this explains the strong Iranian influence on pre-Christian Slavic religion. The Scythians and Sarmatians spoke dialects which are classified as Eastern Iranian. Nowdays the Ossetic language of the Caucasus is a sole survivor of this linguistic group. However, for the purpose of clarity, throughout this study both Scythians and Sarmatians will be referred to as Northern Iranians, basically employing a geographical rather than linguistic context.

Taking into consideration the relatively small area where the Slavs emerged and that the Slavic languages did not begin to diverge significantly before the tenth Century C.E. , it may be assumed that prior to their migration period their culture and religious beliefs were relatively uniform. This working hypothesis is not implying that Slavic religion was a monolithic and solid set of beliefs, but rather like other tribal religions, a heterogeneous collection of various beliefs revolving around the same common "core" concepts.

The question of pre-migration Slavic religion will be addressed through a three-way approach. Firstly, by tracing common Indo-European concepts and ideas in Slavicreligion. Second, by searching for these concepts among the Eastern Slavs, especially among the ordinary people. And thirdly, by looking for the existence of similar concepts among the Western and Southern Slavs. By doing this, we can isolate those beliefs which were common to all Slavs from those which were of foreign influence or a result of later cultural developments in Slavdom.


Most of the Indo-European mythologies shared a concept of a Sky god, as well as Sun and Fire worship. A common Indo-European world view shared a tri-partite functional division. The first function is sacred power and knowledge. The second, is associated with war. Finally, the third function covers economic activities, such as agriculture, animal husbandry and others. And this spiritual system is reflected in an organised social hierarchy, which found its greatest expression in the original caste division of India. There, society was divided into: priestly class of brahman; warriors - k%atryas; and farmers - Vai%ya. In a similar fashion the functions of principal deities were divided into three main spheres of sovereignity, military and the economic activities. In a peculiar way, the first domain wasoccupied by two deities in a system of dual sovereignity. For example, Indian Varuna and Mitra; Iranian Ashura and Mithra; Germanic Wodan/Odin and Tyr/Tiw; and Italic Jupiter and Dius Fides. The second function was the domain of war gods, such as: Indian Indra, Germanic Donar/Thor, Celtic Taranis, Greek Ares and Italic Mars. Moreover, this tri-partite view found another reflection in the division of world into three spheres - those of heaven, atmosphere and earth. Much of the Indo-European mythologies revolved around the inter-relation of those three separate domains.


The name of a common proto-Indo-European sky deity derives from a word "deivos" - heavenly, and who was known in a form "Dyaus". Different historical and cultural developments over the millennia resulted in divergence from this concept but it still could be traced among many Indo-European people, either in its function or name. For example, many Indo-European languages associated a similar name with gods, divinities and the sky, such as: the Latin "deus" and even Jupiter himself whose name derived from "Dyau Pater" ,Greek - Zeus , Sanskrit "deva" and Dyaus. The old Germanic Tyr/Tiw and the Saxon god of the eight century called Tiewaz, also fall into that category. Baltic mythology also preserved a Sky deity known as Dievas - "the sky". The Balts and Slavs are culturally and linguisticaly closely related. Because the Baltic languages preserved many ancient Indo-European features it is believed that Slavic languages branched from the common Balto-Slavic dialects. Hence, it is logical to conclude that, in some form or the other, the concept of Sky god existed among the proto-Slavs too. At first the search for a Slavic sky god is disappointing as there was no deity known by the name related to the root "deivos" or to Lithuanian Dievas. It has been suggested by the Polish historian Alexander Gieysztor that Perun originated as a sky god. However, although Perun evinced some attributes of a sky god, the etymology of the name and his original functions point to the common Indo-European god of thunder, rain and weather. It seems that the Slavs abandoned the Dievas-like name of a sky god which they had shared withBalts while under the Northern Iranian influence. The old name echoes only in the term "div", which in the Slavic languages describes a supernatural occurence or some demoniac being. Despite the quite fragmentary state of available evidence, only the god known as Svarog fits the concept. Etymologically, the name Svarog fits perfectly with the sky god because of its celestial connotations. The root "svar" in the name of Svarog is a cognate to the Old Indian "svar", describing upper heavenly worlds. Further, a related word "svargas" means radiant sky and "svarati" shines or gleams. Elsewhere, in a modern Hindi "svarg" means heaven. It is worth noting that around that time the Slavs adopted the Iranian word for the sky "nebo", derived from "nebah", both initially meaning the cloud.

The evidence for the Svarog cult among the Slavs is weak and sometimes confused with another deity known as Svarozhits. These issues will be addressed in detail in the section on cosmology. In terms of written sources Svarog appeared in the Russian translation of John Malalas, a Byzantine chronicler of the sixth century. In the Slavic version, Hephaistos was substituted by Svarog, and Helios withDazhbog. The Malalas version goes as follow:

"After the death of Hephaistos, his son Helios reigned over the Egyptians for....12 years and 97 days", and "Helios the son of Hephaistos, was very generous".

In the Slavic translation we read:

"After Svarog reigned his son, named Sun who was also called Dazhbog, for he was a mighty lord".

The Slavonic version clearly indicates that the translator was fully aware of the mythological nature of Hephaistos and Helios resulting in substitutions of Slavic deities instead. Usually it has been accepted that the functions of both Slavic gods correspond to Greek deities: that is, Hephaistos and Svarog of fire; and Helios and Dazhbog of Sun. But it is not necessarily the case. It is reasonable to assume that the translator, knowing Hephaistos to be the father of Helios, introduced into the text two Slavic deities who were in a father-son relationship. So, while Dazhbog was a Sun deity, his father Svarog's domain was not fire. Although in this translation there is no suggestion of Svarog being a Sky god, another account from the other side of Europe supports this claim. Certain relevant Slavic myths were reported byHelmold of Bossau, a German clergyman of the twelfth century:

" god in heavens ruling over the others. They

( the Slavs ) hold that he, the all powerful one, looks only after heavenly matters; that the others, discharging the duties assigned to them in obedience to him, proceeded from his blood...".

It is worthwhile noting, that the concept of a passive god is common among the other Indo-Europeans. Greek Uranos, a sky god, becames incapacitated and an inactive deity after the act of creation. In Indian mythology Dyaus', a sky god, is also a creator whose involvement in earthly affairs was unclear and indirect afterwards. In the Vedic period his importance was surpassed by Varuna and Mitra, with Varuna appropriating some attributes and functions of Dyaus. Taking into consideration that Sun worship was widespread among the Slavs ( to be discussed later ), it seems that one of the deities fathered by the Slavic Sky god was Sun. This again is a common Indo-European concept, and in Indian mythology the Sun - S%rya is often described as a son of Sky (Dyaus) and Earth. Although the name of the Sky god wasnot mentioned by Helmold, the complementary nature of both stories suggests that he was referring to Svarog.

A reinforcement for this claim that Svarog was the father of the major Slavonic gods comes from the name of another Slavic deity, that of Svarozhits, a Fire god. The ending of the name Svarozh-(its), indicates that he was son of Svarog. The endings "its" ( spelled "icz" or "ic" in Polish and "" in Russian ), common in all Slavic languages is a patronymic name, and it is still in use in present day Russia. For example: (Ivanovich), a "son of Ivan". In other countries it has been preserved in surnames: like in Polish - W%ostowicz , "son of W%ast"; or in the former Yugoslavia - Josi%, "son of Joseph ". Some scholars postulated that Svarog and Svarozhits were the same god, and that Svarozhits is a diminutive for Svarog. But it is highly unlikely that such a fierce and fear-inspiring god of fire would be addressed in such a disrespectful way.

The relationship between Svarog, Svarozhits and Dazhbog, and their functions, has been interpreted in various ways by many different scholars. However, it only fits together perfectly if we accept the notion that Svarog was the Sky god, and furthermore that he fathered the Sun god

( Dazhbog) and Fire god (Svarozhits).

The evidence for Svarog as a common Slavic deity comes mainly from the toponymy. Examples of it include: Swaro%yn near Gda%sk and Swarz%dz near Pozna%, in Poland; Svaren in Czech Republic; and Svaryzh near Pskov in Russia. Morever, the name of the German Mecklenburgian town of Schwerin derives from its old Slavic name Swarzyn. According to Roman Jakobson, a American scholar of Russian background, Svarog under tabu names appears in places like Twaro%na Góra in Poland and Tvaro%na in the Czech Republic. Besides, it could be assumed that whenever or whereever Svarozhits (son of Svarog) was reported, it implied that the concept of Svarog, sky god, was also known. A prime case is the tenth and eleventh centuries cult of Svarozhits in Eastern Germany, then inhabited by Slavs , indicating that the concept of sky god - Svarog - pre-dates the migration period.

The explanation for the lack of a more prominent cult of Svarog lies in Helmold's account. The Slavic Sky god was an otiose and passive god who became removed from earthly affairs. Hence there is not much point in worshipping the "retired" deity and the cult slowly lost its prominence.


The cults of Sun is well attested among many of theIndo-European people. It was especially prominent among the Iranians and Medes of Persia, as well as among Masagetae, Scythians and Sarmatians. In case of the Slavs it is difficult to ascertain how "solar" their religion actually was. It is possible that 'solarisation" of the religion was more prominent among the Eastern Slavs, due to the closer and prolonged contacts with Northern Iranian people. Whatever the case, there is evidence that in Slavic religion the Sun cult played an important part.

The Slavic Sun god was called Dazhbog, and it is reasonable to assume that he was a son of Svarog. The name Dazhbog could be translated as " giver of wealth" or " giving god". The root "bog", literally meaning god in all Slavic languages, is a clear Iranian borrowing, from Iranian "bhaga" - god.

The widespread Sun cult of Dazhbog featured prominently among the Eastern Slavs, not just as a part of the Kievan pantheon of Vladimir. In the "Tale of Igor's Campaign", a 12th century Russian epic poem , the Russians are twice referred to as "Dazhbog grandsons". Also in the poem, aprayer of Yaroslav of Galich's daughter begins with the words: "Bright, thrice-bright Sun!". Regardless of the literary nature of the "Tale", the survival of Dazhbog in popular memory and of sun worship in general indicates that it was deeply rooted in Eastern Slavic beliefs. It definitely would not be a case of short-lived elitist cults. An Arab traveller Al Masudi, reported around the middle of the 10th century that Eastern Slavs were sun worshipers and that they had a temple-like structure with opening dome with some other feature enabling them to watch the sunrise. Although it was most likely an open shrine rather than a temple, it is almost certain that such structures were part of a sun cult.

The name Dazhbog does not appear in other Slavic lanuages in association with the Sun deity. However, the name Dazhbog survived in the Polish personal name - Da%bog. And in Serbian folklore it remains as demons called Dajboga and Daba. The cult might have existed in German Baltic region of Wagrien among the Slavic Obodrites, where Helmold of Bossau reported a temple and idol at Plòn called Podaga. The name Podaga was interpreted by Roman Jakobson as a corruption of Daboga or Dajboga , but this interpretation is questionable. Nevertheless, the remnants of a sun cult survived among the Slavs till recent times. This clearly demonstrating its importance to all the Slavs since the pre-migration period. The Southern Slavic peasants were known to swear an oath on the Sun, while Bulgarians regarded the Sun as divine. Also, customs of greeting the rising sun were reported all over Russia, Ukraine and Belorussia. Certain medieval Eastern Slavic sources reported the rural custom of bowing to the south (the Sun) at midday. In Germany, in the south-eastern district of Lusatia the Slavic Sorbs were reported to greet the raising sun before entering church on Sunday. In the Western Ukraine a curse was known: "May the Sun make you perish", and in Croatia peasants would say" May the Sun avenge me on you". And in Christian times the Sun has been called "God's face" or "God's eye". Clearly this is an echo of the old Indo-European concept where the Sun deity Surja is called an eye of Varuna.

The Sun figures prominently in Slavic folklore throughout all Slavdom. It was believed that the Sun resided in the east, in the land of everlasting summer and ofplenty, inhabiting a palace made of gold. The morning and evening auroras were associated with the Sun and were regarded as two virgin divinities. They were called morning and evening Auroras - Zoryas in Slavic. The Zoryas stood on both sides of the Sun's golden throne. According to one story, the morning Zorya opened the palace gates when the Sun was to begin his daily journey across the sky, while the other one closed the gates after Sun returned at the evening. Similar forms of sun worship and stories about auroras, morning and evening stars (planet Venus), were reported in Baltic mythology. Also, in Iranian mythology, there were two divinities of dawn and dusk associated with the sun god Mithra , and Ushas as Sun companions in Indian mythology. There is also some indirect evidence for the Sun cult among the Slavs. For example, depiction of a wheel or circle in pre-Christian, Indo-European iconography are interpreted as solar symbols, and a large number of such engravings were found on early Slavic pottery. Furthermore, in Indo-European mythology ,it is commonly accepted that the horse is usually associated with the Sun cult. It was reported among many Indo-European people, such as: ancient Indians, Iranians,Germans, Celts, Greeks, Balts and Slavs. Among the Western Slavs, horses associated with the cult of Sventovit of Rùgen, Svarozhits of Radogost and Triglav of Szczecin were reported. One of their important function was being used in foretelling the future. Although none of those later and complex cults were purely solar, the incorporation of a horse indicates amalgamation of solar and other elements. It is worth noting, that there is a saying in Russian " - veschiy kon' ", meaning "prophetic horse" , indicating that use of a sacred horse in foretelling the future was common Slavic concept.


The cult of Svarozhits, a fire god, and a son of Svarog, also shows common and strong Indo-European roots. Practically all Indo-European people worshipped fire in one or another form. It was of the greatest importance among the ancient Indians. The Iranians were regarded as fire worshipers, and were reported to swear oaths by fire. Also, the ancient Baltic people were reported to worship a female fire goddess, and to believe that fire was brought tothe earth by a thunder god Perkunas. In Indian a fire deity was known as Agni, meaning "fire", with this being a cognate to the Latin word "ignis", Lithuanian "ugnis" and Slavic "ogni"- fire.

The Svarozhits cult also appears to be universal to all Slavs. Evidence for the cult comes from two extremes of Slavdom. According to the Russian source known as "Unknown Admirer of Christ ( Bogolubiec) ":

"They ( the pagan Slavs ) also address prayer to Fire, calling him Svarogich".

The sancticity and divinity of fire survived into the Christian era among most of the Slavs. The 19th century Russian peasants would not spit into the fire or swear at it. Throwing a sheaf into fire was believed to bring luck. There was also a widespread belief that fire had special powers. A fire started by friction using wooden sticks was called a "living fire" and supposed to have a healing properties. For example: sick cattle were driven around "living fire" lit bon-fires in the field to cure them. One of the spells to cast out illness, that began with the words: "Little Fire, Tsar-Fire", seems to be a clear reminiscence of the times when Firewas worshipped as a god. Igniting a "sacred fire" through friction is a common element of wide-spread Indo-European tradition. It is known to have been practised in ancient India , and also was the case with ancient Roman Vestal fire , and it was also reported among the Lithuanians as late as the seventeenth century. Fire was started in this manner as late as the first half of the twentieth century in some parts of rural Poland on Annunciation Day.

In Western Slavdom the cult of Svarozhits gained prominence among the Veletian people, a branch of the Polabian Slavs. It was a regional deity and its major temple stood at Radogost, near modern Neuebrandenburg, in eastern Germany. This elaborate cult was an amalgamation of various elements of Slavic religious traditions and it can not be totally equated with the Slavic fire worship of the pre-migration period. It will not be discussed in detail as it was a later development, and the issue goes beyond the scope of this work. Nevertheless, the name of the deity and its associated fire worship clearly show that the cult evolved from a common Slavic concept of a Fire God.


There is also no doubt about the antiquity and Indo-European origins of the Slavic god Perun, the god of thunder and lightning. The name Perun derives from an Indo-European root "perk", "perg" or "per", meaning "to strike" and is directly associated with a striking thunderbolt. In Indian mythology there was a weather god, Parja%ya, whose domain was thunder storms and monsoons. This deity, who also makes things grow, like Perun, is associated with cattle. And among the Balts, a thunder god Perkunas was one of the major deities. There is close conceptual relationship between the foregoing and thunder-associated gods of other Indo-European people, such as: Celtic Taranis; Greek Zeus and Germanic Thor/Donar. Independent developments separated Indo-European beliefs but a certain common concept were preserved. For example, in Germanic mythology the goddess Fjòrgynn is the mother of the thunder god Thor. Taking into consideration that in Germanic languages the original Indo-European "p" changed into "f", her name clearly appearsrelated to the stem "perg". In Hittite mythology the stone monster Ullikummi, who fights the weather god Te%ub, is a son of the major god Kumarbi and a rock, a goddess called Peruna% or Piruna%. Unfortunately, Hittite mythology is so mixed up with Semitic and non-Indo-European beliefs that the similarity of name with Parja%ya or Perun may be only a coincidence. On the other hand it may reflect a common Indo-European tradition shared with the Germanic people.

Further support for the antiquity of the Perun-like deity in Eastern Europe comes from Mordvinian mythology. In pre-Christian times, Mordvins, an Ugro-Finian people of middle Volga basin, worshiped a thunder god called Purginepaz. This is a clear borrowing from the Indo-European mythology. However, it was not borrowed from the Slavs, as their Eastern branch did not penetrate the middle Volga in pre-Christian times. While at the same time the root "Purg" in Purginepaz suggests some relation to the Baltic "Perk" in Perkunas. The only plausible explanation is that Mordvins borrowed the concept and the god's name from the Fatyanovo culture of the second half of second millennium B.C.E. The Fatyanovo culture emerged in the Eastern Baltic area and spread along Volga and Oka as far as Ural mountains. Physical anthropology and strong cultural affilitiation of Fatyanovo complex with Kurgan and later Baltic cultures, indicates that they were Indo-European people. They were not Balts and probably not Balto-Slavic people either, but rather culturally and linguisticaly ancestral to both. Whatever the case, this shows that the concept of a Perun-like deity was common amongst the Old European population of Eastern Europe in the middle of the second millennium B.C.E. And this in turn clearly indicates continuity of this common Indo-European concept.

The evidence for the concept of a thunder god among the Slavs is relativelly plentiful, with his worship first mentioned among the Southern Slavs. According to the mid 6th century Byzantine historian Procopius:

"For they ( Slavs ) believe that one god, the maker of the lighting, is alone lord of all things, and they sacrifice to him cattle and all other victims".

There is no doubt that this account refers to Perun. The account does not imply that the Slavs were monotheists, but rather that Perun gained prominence among the Southern Slavs, whose religion evolved into henotheism. There is also evidence, that in the mythology of non-Slavic Albanians, there was a thunder god known as Per%ndi. Again, this is no doubt a borrowing from the Southern Slavs.

As a consequence of the relatively early Christianisation of the Southern Slavs, there are no moredirect accounts in relation to Perun from the Balkans. Nevertheless, as late as the first half of the twentieth century, in Bulgaria and Macedonia, peasants performed a certain ceremony meant to induce rain. A central figure in the rite was a young girl called Perperuna, a name clearly related to Perun. At the same time the association of Perperuna with rain, shows conceptual similarities with an Indian god Parja%ya. There was a strong Slavic penetration of Albania, Greece and Romania, between the sixth and tenth centuries. Not surprisingly the folklore of northern Greece also knows Perperuna, Albanians know Pirpirûn% and so the Romanians have their Perperona. Also, in a certain Bulgarian folk riddle the word "peru%an" is a substitute for the Bulgarian word " " (grmotevitsa) for the thunder. Moreover, the name of Perun is also commonly found in Southern Slavic toponymy. There are places called: Perun, Perunac, Perunovac, Perunika, Peruni%ka Glava, Peruni Vrh, Perunja Ves, Peruna Dubrava, Perunu%a, Peru%ice, Perudina and Perutovac.

In addition, the Eastern Slavs, promised to uphold treaties with the Byzantines by invoking Perun in 907, 945 and 971. The Perun idol stood in Kiev, already by 945, when prince Igor swore to be true to the treaty at the shrine. Therefore, either Vladimir did not erect it or only enlargedthe shrine.

But there are more accounts and other evidence showing that the cult was widespread among the ordinary people and in various forms, survived christianization. It is worth noting certain passage in the "Russian Primary Chronicle". It stated that when the Perun idol and its sanctuary was destroyed, the people cried , while, according to the Chronicle of Novgorod, assault on the Perun shrine in Novgorod caused serious uprising and bloody fighting in the city. Surely, both cases implied that it was a well established people's cult.

The survival of worship well into the Christian era is also well attested. The following accounts strongly demonstrate the popularity of the cult among the ordinary people. In a Russian apocrypha of the 12th century, known as " " (Hozhdyene Boguroditsi Po Mukam ), idols of Perun and other gods were mentioned:

" And they made gods out of the devils Troyan, Khors, Veles and Perun, and they worshiped these evil devils".

A fourteenth century source known as (Slovo Grigoriya) - "The Word of Gregory", says that in remote areas pagans still prayed to Perun. . In the late eighteenth century Russia an ecclesiatic ruling had forbidden the singing of Christian prayers in front of an oak tree. And it has to be remembered that the oak tree was closely associated with the cult of Perun (oak tree worship will be discussed later). Also, an interesting custom was reported near Novgorod, as late as the early twentieth century. Here many travellers or boatsmen, sailing the Volkhov river, would cast a coin into the water, at the spot where Perun shrine was excavated in 1950's.

Finally, after Christianization the cult merged and was transformed into veneration of Saint Elias. This happened most likely because of the Old Testament which credited Saint Elias with the ability to bring rain and thunderstorms. Thus through these means, an obscure Christian saint became a major celebrity in Eastern Slavic Orthodoxy. In the later Christian iconography of Saint Elias, he appears like Perun traversing the sky in the chariot of fire or riding on the horse. He has been also associated with thunders, arrows and oaks. In the early twentieth century, in the north-east of Russia, the following celebration was reported. On the 20th of July, Saint Elias day, a cow was slaughtered and the meatprepared by males. It was then distributed in the church and eaten by the whole congregation. This custom, evidently not being Christian, resembles the sacrificial killing of an animal and the communal consumption of the meat.

The veneration of St. Elias with its mixture of pagan and Christian elements is one of the best arguments for the purely Slavic character of Perun and of the cult being widespread among all sections of Eastern Slavic society. Put simply, if Perun was only a deity of the elite and was elevated to prominence at Kiev only for a few years, ordinary people would not have retained the cult for centuries. Neither would the Orthodox Church be forced to accept and tolerate certain evidently pagan beliefs and practices.

The name of Perun also appears in Eastern Slavic toponymy. The most famous place is Peryn' near Novgorod, where the remnants of open site shrine were unearthed by archaeologists , and there was a place on the Dneper known as "Perun's Shoal".

Perun was also a deity of the Western Slavs, although the cult did not show up so prominently. In all Slavic languages, except Polish and Kashubian, the term for thunderbolt is "grom". The term is known to the Poles but more often they call it "piorun", a word clearly deriving from the name of Perun. In Silesia, even today, people say "Ty pieronie !", which in free-lance translation means "you bastard !". Theolder Poles' saying of dissatisfaction, "do pioruna !", could be translated as "by thunder !". It sounds like nonsense, but if we substitute the old meaning it would be "by Perun !". Very close to the familiar "by Jove !". Similar sayings have survived among Kashubians in the form of "na peróna !" and "ty perónie !". It is worthwhile to note that in Kashubian thunder or lighting is called "par%n" not "perón" , indicating that original saying refers to deity rather than to the thunder. In Moravian and Slovakian folklore there are spells using the term "parom" or "hrom" (original Slavic "g" replaced by "h" in Ukrainian, Czech and Slovak languages) interchangeably for thunder. Furthermore, the Slovaks would say "parom do teba" or "do paroma", meaning "may Perun strike you" and "by Perun !", respectively. Among the now almost extinct Polabian Slavs of eastern Germany, a deity called Porenutius (Porenut) was reported on Rùgen island by a Danish chronicler of the turn of the 13th century Saxo Gramaticus. Some scholars have interpreted the name as a corrupted form of Perun. However, this interpretation is not uniformlly accepted. Another deity called Proue was mentioned by Helmold as being worshipped in the 12th century nearOldenburg in Wagrien. Its idol stood in an enclosed sanctuary situated in an oak grove. Sacrifices of cattle and sheep, and sometimes humans were performed for this deity, and once a week tribal court and the assembly was held there. Again it has been postulated that the name Proue is a corruption of Perun, taking into consideration that in another version of the chronicle, known as Stettin manuscript, it appears as "Prone". Whatever the case, Proue's association with oaks and cattle sacrifice indicates close conceptual links with Perun-like deity.

Still, however, the strongest evidence for antiquity of the Perun cult, its universality among all the Slavs, and all sections of the Slavic society, comes from the western extreme of Slavdom. In the region of Hanoverian Wendland, west of Elbe river in Germany, a dialect of Obodrite Slavs survived till the end of the eighteenth century. Those Slavs called Thursday a " Per%ndan" - literally a "day of Perun". Evidently, these people were aware that the name for Thursday in German "Donnerstag" means "day of Donar", a continental Germanic war god. Clearly, they had substituted their god Perun for Donar, as it was the Slavic deity thatmost closely resembled the Germanic war god. There is no other explanation, unless we accept that the 18th century Slavic peasants of backward Hanowerian Wendland spent cold nights of the northern European winter passionately reading the "Russian Primary Chronicle".


The origins and functions of the god Veles or Volos, are controversial. According to the Laurentian version of the "Russian Primary Chronicle", Veles was the god of cattle. And this view was accepted by the majority of scholars, without questioning. However, there is some indication that he was more than a mere god of the beasts. In Christian times, Veles was replaced by St. Blasius - a patron of domestic animals. It is likely that a monk who had written the "Russian Primary Chronicle" had projected St. Blasius' functions onto Veles, albeit ignorant of the role of the ancient god.

From the scarce written records we know that at the official signing of the treaty with the Byzantines in 907 the whole Kievan army swore by Perun and Veles, and also, in the 971 treaty, the warriors swore by Perun and the "rest of Rus'" by Veles. This shows that Veles was an important god whose functions must have gone much beyond caring for cattle. The importance of cattle for the Eastern Slavs can not be denied, but their economy was agriculturally based. It wouldmake more sense if they swore by the "Mother Earth" rather than Veles. So, this suggests that Veles was also the guardian of the oath. In reference to the punishment for breaking the oath, the offenders would be killed by their own weapons" and " (da budem zoloti yako zoloto)" - " become yellow as gold". Knowing the war function of Perun it seems that punishment by their own weapons must have referred to the wrath of Perun. For other punishment, at first the sentence appears to make no sense at all. However in Russian "" ( zolotukha ) means scrofula, a tuberculosis of bones and lymph glands - a serious and life threatening disease. So, this suggests that Veles was also able to inflict disease as a punishment. Furthermore, from the "Song of Igor's Campaign" comes a passage referring to the bard Boyan: "Vatic Boyan, grandson of Veles.." , suggesting a clairvoyant and prophetic nature of the god. After Christianisation of Kievan Rus', Veles was transformed into St. Blasius ( Russian - Vlasiy ), a patron of domestic animals. An interesting insight intothe cult comes from ethnographic data. Well into Christian times in Russia, during the cattle epidemic, peasants carring an icon of St. Blasius and performd certain ritual. A ritual that involved killing an ewe, ram, horse and cow, all being tied together. The rite is a mixture of many traditions and customs, and it is impossible to analyse it in details. Nevertheless, the killing of horses must be an ancient tradition associated with the cult of Veles. Among Indo-Europeans a very common sacrifice of horse was performed to only a few major deities. Hence, in this new perspective, Veles emerges as a deity of great importance, not only as a cattle god, but also as a guardian of the oath, punishing with diseases, and associated with clairvoyance and prophesies. A horse, and possibly some other animals were sacrificed to Veles.

Furthermore, his importance could be fully realised if we look closer into the merger of the cult of Veles with St. Blasius. Most historians without much thought accept the simple notion that Veles was a cattle god transformed into the Christian saint of similar patronage. However, there is no doubt that Greek missionaries and Eastern Slavic clergy view the non-christian beliefs as evil and tried as hard aspossible to eradicate any traces of them. If they did not succeed and had to accept a merger of pagan and Christian beliefs, Veles must have been a god of great importance whose cult was deeply rooted in Eastern Slavic tradition. Only Perun, no doubt a major god of the 10th century Eastern Slavs, managed to achieve the same by "transforming" himself into Saint Elias.

Some further insight into the functions of Veles comes from Baltic mythology. Both Slavs and Balts are linguistically and culturally closely related and share many similar religious concepts. In Baltic mythology, there is a deity known as Vélinas, Velnias or Véls, very well attested in folklore and toponymy, hence indicating the importance of this god in Baltic beliefs. In folklore Vélinas appears to be a deity or demon of the dead and cattle. And in some Lithuanian legends Velnias is attributed with clairvoyance. Furthermore, according to Marija Gimbutas and Jaan Puhvel, the underworld demons knowns as Pikulas, Pikis or Piktis are alternative names of Vélinas. There is also evidence that Balts sacrificed horse, bull and he-goat to Velnias. So, the similarity of names and functions strongly indicate that both, Veles and Vélinas are conceptualy the same deity.

Other historical accounts also mentioned the cult ofVeles on a number of occasions. A Veles statue stood in the suburb called Podol, an area apparently a craftsmen and tradesmen quarter. " A Tale of Vladimir's Baptism" tells us that this idol was destroyed shortly after conversion. We probably will never know if Veles was included in Vladimir's pantheon or not. And if not, why his worship was not incorporated into Kievan cult. The cult of Veles is also known from other parts of the Eastern Slavdom. The destruction of a stone idol of Veles was recorded in Rostov district in the 11th century in "The Live of Abraam", a biography of an archimandrite of the Rostov monastery. In the twelfth century source, known as "Hozhdyene Boguroditsi Po Mukam ", Veles is mentioned as still being worshipped in some rural areas.

The name of this ancient god was also preserved in Eastern Slavic toponymy. Although many place names may relate to "" - hair in Russian, at least names for two places in Belorussian forests are associated with some supernatural forces called Volosin and Volosach, or the river Velesa in the Smolensk district of Russia seems to be derived from Veles. All this suggests that the cult of Veles was widespread among all sections of Eastern Slavic society.

It appears that the borrowing from Baltic mythologycould be excluded and Veles-Vélinas concept comes from common Balto-Slavic tradition. This is supported by evidence from other than the eastern branch of Slavic people. For example, there is a mount called Veles in Bosnia and a place of the same name, Veles, on the river Vardar in Bulgaria. The name of a Greek port on the Aegean coast of Thessaly, Vólos, on the site of ancient Iolcos, may also be of Slavic origin , being a legacy of Slavic penetration into Greece between the 6th and 9th century. In Serbia, one of the names for the constellation of Pleiads is Vla%ici, clearly meaning "children of Vlas". In Western Slavdom, among the Poles of the Tatra Mountains there is a folk tale about the dragon and the mount called Wo%oszyn (phonetically: Voloshin) , while, in Kashubian folk song appears a female spirit called Velevitka (the root: Vele, Velev). In a certain Bohemian folk tale, a bad wife turns into the goose that flies "beyond the sea, to the Veles". In an old Bohemian carol, condemned by Christian priest, a spirit called "vele" brings the people luck and happiness. The word "vele" is meaningless in Czech language, and seems to be an echo of an ancient pagan chant. And the sixteenth century Czech could say about weird ideas "k%veles ti to na%eptal ? (what devil put you up to it ?)". And there is another Czech saying: "u velesa !", as an expression of annoyance.

So, despite this indirect evidence, it seems to be cumulatively convincing that Veles was a major god of various functions and known to all branches of Slavdom. Hence his cult definitely pre-dates the migration period.


Stribog of the Kievan pantheon appears to be a god of Wind or winds. The word's etymology is unclear, but the root "stri" may derive from the Slavic "stru" (to flow). Whereas the root "bog" means either means god or wealth. An alternative etymology was postulated by Russian scholars Ivanov and Toporov. According to them, the name Stribog derives from "Patribhagos", a Father God. However, this would make Stribog a major god of a first function, at least among the Eastern Slavs. But it seems to be unlikely considering his rather minor position in the Kievan pantheon and low prominence in Slavic mythology and folklore.

There are parallel beliefs in various Indo-European mythologies. For instance in India there was a wind deity called V%yu, also known in ancient Persia as Vayu. Further, a similar deity named Wejopatis was worshipped by the Balts. Besides "The Russian Primary Chronicle" this deity wasmentioned in the "Tale Of Igor's Campaign",where the winds were called " Stribog's grandsons". In another passage in the tale, the daughter of Yaroslav of Galich - a 12th century prince - addressed this prayer to the wind:

"Wind, Great Wind !

why, lord, blow perversly ?

Why carry those Hinish dartlets

on your light winglets

against my husband's warriors ?".

This seems to link the Wind with some military affairs, which finds a conceptual reflection in the military association of India V%yu and Iranian Vayu. Finally, the Stribog also appears in Eastern Slavic toponymy, such as: Stribozhe Lake or place called Stribozh.

But any search for the Stribog cult beyond the borders of Eastern Slavdom does not produce much evidence. Nevertheless, the winds and associated demons are common in Slavic folklore and mythology - from Bulgaria to Poland. Among the Western Slavs, Poles called some winds "stryj", but this mayas well derive from the "stryj" - a term for father's brother. As for toponomy, there is Strzyboga in central Poland, and in the 13th c., a stream near Gda%sk was called Striboc. The latter suggests that Stribog, like Perun and Veles, might have been a common Slavic deity. How developed this cult was in the pre-migration period is hard to determine. Definietely, it was not as prominent and elaborate as it was in the late tenth century Kiev.

The remaining deities of the Kievan pantheon, such as: Khors, Simargl and Mokosh seem to be specifically Eastern Slavic deities and will be discussed later.


The question of Slavic animism is probably sufficiently answered by the fore-going evidence demonstrating that these major common Slavic deities were to a various degree personified. However, the whole issue should, nonetheless, be explored a bit further. It should be pointed out that the personification and antropomorphisation of Slavic deities is also supported by their very names. All the deities discussed above had different names from their functions or their domains. For example, Svarog was a sky god, while the sky is called "nebo" in all Slavic languages. Dazhbog -"the giver of wealth" or "giving god" was a Sun god and the Sun is called "" in Russian, and similary in all other Slavoniclanguages. In a common Slavic myth the Sun takes a journey across the sky - from the east to the west - in his chariot, pulled by flame breathing white horses. This is a broad and general description of the myth as certain details differ from region to region. Nevertheless, the myth cleary indicates that Slavs worshiped the Sun god but not the Sun itself. The name of Svarozhits, a Fire deity, shows clear son-father relationship with Svarog. The "fire" in Russian is "", in Polish "ogie%", and similary in all other Slavonic tongues. It is interesting to note that the noun is cognate to Indian "agni" of the same meaning. Perun is the name of deity, not a thunderbolt, clearly related to perosonified Indian and Baltic deities of a similar function. The thunderbolt in all Slavic languages is called "grom". Veles etymology, although unclear, does not resemble any Slavic name for domestic animals. The same applies to Stribog, god of winds, as wind is called "" in Russian and similary by orher Slavs.

Personification and anthropomorhisation of major Slavic deities, should not be a surprise. All the other Indo-European people had a personified and anthropomorphised deities from the earliest times, suggesting that the processbegan already among the Proto-Indo-Europeans, before divergence into separate linguistic branches. It would be extremely unusual if the Slavs would revert to animism after branching off from Balto-Slavic ethno-linguistic stratum.

To what degree Slavic gods were personified and anthropomorphised is difficult to establish. Possibly it varied not only between various Slavic branches and tribes but also between social classes. It is worth noting that different conceptions of deity are still common today, even in a very uniform and organised religions. For example, for a Calabrian peasant and a Christian Democrat minister in Italy, a concept of Jesus Christ is definitely very different, although both are Roman Catholics.

Beliefs and veneration of multitude of lesser gods, demigods, spirits, waters, wells etc., is an Indo-European phenomena and was common among the Celtic, Germanic, Italic, Slavic and other people , forming a lower layer of their pre-Christian religion. Claims of Slavic animism could emerge as a result of customs and beliefs observed among the Eastern Slavs in Christian times, a situation which arouse out of theeradication of major cults where only the lower strata of beliefs survived in folklore, customs and some rites. While at the same time written records about Slavic religion were scarce. We can imagine a person equipped with a book containing Catholic doctrines but ignorant of the ancient Aztec religion trying to reconstruct pre-Christian beliefs of Mexicans. We would have a similar situation where the upper stratum of Aztec religion was completely wiped out, while Catholicism of the rural Mexicans heavly intermingled with lower stratum of old beliefs. In such a case it would be very likely that conclusion would be: that Aztecs were animists. "CORE" CONCEPTS AND GODS IN SLAVONIC COSMOLOGY

As the above evidence shows, the Slavic pre-christian religion was conceptualy rooted in the common Indo-European tradition. It evolved into its own relatively uniform set of beliefs in a specific conditions and circumstances. Where especially Northern Iranian influences played an important part. They had major deities and their personification is also well atested. That does not imply that some animistic elements did not exist, especially on the level of lesser spirits.

The expression of particular cults might not have been common among all the Slavs, as the presented evidence often comes from much later times. Nevertheless, the "core" of pre-migration period Slavic religion was acknowledgement of a passive Sky god, known as Svarog. There are some indications that Veles was also a deity ranking among the major gods The Slavs of pre-migration period were clan based, small tribal societies and it seems logical to conclude that lack of political unity and any central authority led to the demise of Svarog and to some degree of the Veles. Svarog was the creator of two deities, Sun and Fire, that being Dazhbog and Svarozhits respectively. This echoes an Indo-European tradition conceptually. In Rig Veda Sun-Surja is created by Dyaus but also often confused or identified with Fire-Agni. From there, it is not hard to conclude that both deities descended from the Sky god. Perun, and his thunderbolt was most likely perceived as the "fire link" between celestial fire of Sun and earthly fire. This clearly reflects a common Indo-European concept of tri-partite division of the world. At the same time, the original deity of the second function, the god of war, faded into oblivion. However, taking into consideration some war like attributes of Perun, it appears that the original deity of weather and thunder was always to some extent associated with war functions. This is supported by evidence of the association of Indian Parja%yawith Indra and military functions. It might have happen that by the time the need for war deity arouse, Perun who fit the it most closely was assigned a function. And this is reinforced by the already presented evidence from Procopius and from Hanoverian Wendland.


Now let us return to the end of the tenth century at Kiev, and Vladimir's pantheon. As it was already shown, Perun and Dazhbog are major and common Slavic gods. The case of Stribog seem to be unclear and his cult might have not extended far from the Eastern Slavdom. The remaining deities are without doubt specifically Eastern Slavic.


Khors seems to be unique to the Eastern Slavs, and appears to be another version of Dazhbog, that is Sun god. The etymology of his name is Iranian again, and it appears to be cognate to Iranian "khvar", and the modern Persian "Khorsid", both meaning the Sun. It is likely that some easternmost Slavic tribes, possibly those of Tmutorokan, were under much stronger Sarmatian influence, than the rest of the Eastern Slavs. They might then worship the Sun god under its Iranian name. Khors' inclusion in a Kievan pantheon might have been an attempt to bring some tribal god into the mainstream and state organised cult. The cult is not Vladimir's invention as the deity and its worship is mentionedin some other source. He appears in the "Tale of Igor's Campaign", in reference to Vseslav a Russian prince-wizard, of the turn of twelfth century, strongly suggesting his solar character. In the tweltfth century "Hozhdyene Boguroditsi Po Mukam", idol of Khors, alongside that of Troyan, Veles and Perun, are mentioned. The survival of Khors' memory into the Christian era suggests that the cult was widespread. And that under the name of Khors some sections of Eastern Slavic society worshiped the Sun.


Simargl appears to be yet another direct borrowing from the Northern Iranians. In medieval Iranian and Caucasian mythology a bird-like demon with dog head is known as Simurgh, or Senmurv, and was the creature of a "good omen". What the function of the Eastern Slavic Simargl was is unclear. In later Russian folklore s similarly looking creature is sometimes called Paskudj, and it appeared as a decorative motif between the ninth and thirteenth centuries. There is no evidence for this obscure cult anywhere else in Slavdom and it seems confined to its eastern branch. It is also hard to say how and why it was included in the Kievan pantheon.


The interpretation of the Mokosh cult, the only female deity in Vladimir's pantheon poses a great difficulty. Above all the etymology of her name is unclear. An Indo-European etymology is unconvincing and speculative. An Ugrofinian borrowing has been suggested as there was a deity or demon called Moksha. However, Ugro-Finian borrowing from the Slavs can not be excluded either. In Russian folklore Mokosh is associated with a variety of activities such as shearing and spinning. There are also some links with sexuality and fertility. It is possible that Mokosh derives from a Slavic root "mok" or "mokr" - wet. And it that case, she could have been somehow associated with "Mother Moist Earth". Taking into consideration that there is no evidence of personification of Mother Earth in Slavic mytholgy, the possiblity is that Mokosh was such an attempt on behalf of Vladimir. But it has to be acknowledged that the above argument is of highly speculative nature.


There is no doubt that long association of Slavs with Iranians left a visible mark on their beliefs. Their religion absorbed and incorporated numerous Iranian elements, nevertheless, Slavic beliefs had developed on their own.

In this context the deities like Svarog, Svarozhits, Dazhbog, Veles and Stribog should be regarded as Slavic, rather thenIranian. Only Khors and Simargl are clear, and direct borrowings from Northern Iranian pantheon. Finally, the knowledge about Mokosh and her cult is so obscure that any claims in regard to her remain in the sphere of speculations.

It is interesting to note that by an overwhelming majority, the champions of Slavic animism and supporters of Norman origin of organised cult in Kiev never substanciate their claims, rarely going beyond simple statement without any evidence being presented. Such statements were made by Alexinsky and Fedotov. For Vlasto and Turville-Petre, Veles was a rustic Slavic deity while Perun a "Varangian god". Additionaly, Turville-Petre says that Perun is not well attested in Slavonic mythology , a claim already disproved by the above work. And in a recent publication, titled "Mother Russia", Joanna Hubbs claimed strong Scandinavian elements in Vladimir's pantheon, and that Thor was a prototype for Perun. Again, no evidence presented. As far as the author's research goes, only Nora Chadwick attempted to prove her point in the 1945 publication on Russian history. However, before addressing Chadwick's claims, let's analyse the Kievan cult in the context of possible Scandinavian influence.

Firstly, we can look into the organisational aspect ofreligious life in Kiev. One of the most common shortfalls in addressing the Slavic religion is a failure to recognize that like any living religion, it was not a static phenomenon. Any religion serves the social function, appropriate for the society that practices it, and both evolve together. Hence in the clan based, small tribal society , there is no need for elaborate, highly organised and hierarchical cults. On the other hand in supra-tribal society, socio-political realities facilitate the emergence of more complex and hierarchical religion. During the migration period and shortly after - that is between the sixth and ninth centuries - the Slavic societies underwent transformation from a clan based to a large tribal form of socio-political organisation. In the case of the Eastern Slavs, this was partly a result of their expansion to the north and east , The process is facilitated when people are on the move, colonising new territories, encountering new challanging environments, circumstances and often hostile locals. This undoubtly created a need for better hierarchical organisation and more clearly defined leadership. Also, during thatperiod, Eastern Slavs came into the contact with, and often were subjugated by nomadic or semi-nomadic people such as Huns, Avars and Khazars. This also stimulated internal socio-political changes. Consequently, by the 9th century, Eastern Slavs were already organised into supra-tribal political units, such as: Polyane, Kriviche, Drevlyane and others. In this context, the religion of the Eastern Slavs had to serve new and different functions, and became more organised, elaborated, and hierarchical.

It has to be acknowledged that Scandinavian military organisation and prowess as well as their mercantile spirit played a significant part in the foundation of Kievan Rus'. Nevertheless, the Scandinavan impact on the Eastern Slavs is frequently exaggerated. It is often overlooked that the Scandinavians did not have much to offer in political and religious spheres. Above all, Sweden did not exist as such by then, and on its territory there were a number of independent supra-tribal political units. And those principalities were more or less on a par with the large, regional, tribal political entities of the Eastern Slavdom. In the religious sphere, Scandinavians were also on a similarlevel. Their mythology was often as inconsistent as in the case of the Slavs. It is worthwhile to note, that a formal priesthood did not exist in Scandinavia until the tenth-eleventh century. Furthermore, Scandinavians did not have temples and worshipped their gods at open shrines. It is commonly accepted that later temples and priesthood (from subsequent centuries) came into being as a result of unification trends and to some extent as a response to the ideological challenge of Christianity. So, there is no reason to believe that the evolution of Eastern Slavic religion was the result of any direct Scandinavian influence.

Second, we can look into the cult of Perun and how it acquired its war god characteristics and developed henotheistic tendencies. It is hard to say when the atmospheric functions of this deity were surpassed by the military functions. Nevertheless, it is likely that it took place just before the Slavic migration began. This is supported by the fore-going evidence from Hanoverian Wendland, where Perun was conceptually perceived as a similar deity to the Germanic Thor/Donar, and where later contacts with Eastern Slavdom could be safely excluded. It seems natural that the warlike deities would become of greater importance in the societies engaged in frequent warfare. And this is the case of the Eastern Slavs during their northern and eastern expansion of the migration period, as well as a result of later constant conflicts with the people of the steppes. A similar development took place among the Southern Slavs, whoconquered and colonised the Balkans. This is confirmed by the previously cited Procopius account that their dominant deity was a thunder god - no doubt Perun himself. On the other hand, it appears that among the Polish tribes, the cult of Perun never became dominant. Simply because they were surrounded by fellow Slavs and, as a consequence, sheltered from other hostile people. This of course does not imply that inter-tribal warfare among the Slavs did not exist. It did exist, but such inter-tribal conflicts were of a different nature, magnitude and consequences. A similar development took place among the people of Scandinavia, where the cult of Thor gained prominence from the outset of the Viking era. , that is, when warfare became of greater importance to their society.

Third, we explore the close association of the Perun cult and the oak tree. There is evidence that sacred and consecrated oaks were situated in some form of enclosure, usually, surrounded by a ditch, a stone ring or a fence. Here sacrifices and offerings were made to Perun. The most common sacrificial animal was a cock, but sometimes on special occasions a bull, bear or he-goat. The sacrificial animals were killed and consumed at the communal eating event. It was believed that such a feast would strengthen the bonds between the group's members. This association clearly derives from common Indo-European heritage, shared by most of theEuropean people. The oak was a holy tree not only of Germanic Thor/Donar but also of Italic Jupiter, Baltic Perkunas and Celtic Taranis. Also, Greek Zeus was associated with this tree. This universal association of thunder gods with an oak could be explained in the following terms. As oaks are quite tall and large trees, they must have been struck by lightning more often than any other trees. So, this coincidence must have been seen by ancient Indo-Europeans as caused by divine power. There is also a linguistic association of thunder gods with an oak tree. The Indo-European root "perg" - to strike, found in Perun and Perkunas, also appears in oak related terms. In Latin an oak is "quercus", where Indo-European "p" was replaced by Latin "q" . In Celtic "hercos" means "oak forest", where "h" replaced "p". While in Gothic, "fairguni", means "hill covered with oaks", with a typical Germanic change of Indo-European "p" into Germanic "f".

Fourth, in popular Slavic mythology Perun's magic weapon was a bow and arrow. The Slavs believed that arrow-like stones were Perun's thunderbolts. They were called ( stryela ) - arrow, arrow-bolt, and had certain magic properties when found. Evidence for this belief isoverwhelming, and comes from the Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia and Poland. This again echoes the ancient Indo-European tradition as arrows were associated with the Indian god Parja%ya. At the same time, the most recognisable attribute of Baltic Perkunas was an axe same like the Germanic Thor/Donar who wielded and threw an axe or stone hammer.

Fifth, we can explore a shrine devoted to Vladimir's pantheon. Although we have no description of the Kievan site, presumably a similar shrine was excavated near Novgorod. It is known from historical records that Novgorod had a shrine for Perun and the site excavated nearby at Peryn' - must be the one. It was an open, circular site 33 metres in diameter enclosed by a ditch, in which a number of sacred fires were burning. A number of large post holes and a centrally located fragments of rectangular stone were interpreted as being bases for the idols. A similar, but smaller site was excavated near Zhitomir on the river Khnylopiata in Ukraine which dated from the second half of the ninth century. Numerous sites, similar to the fore-going, were unearthed all over Slavdom. Just to list a few, therewere two enclosures at Trzebiatów and one at Smo%dzin dated to the ninth and tenth century. Stone encircled sites were located on mount Che%mno, mount Góra Grodowa, Paleni hill, near Wapiennica in Silesia and mount %wi%ty Krzy% in Kielce district ( all in Poland - the ninth - tenth century ). Further, in Bohemia circular, ditched sites were unearthed at Old Kou%im and at Pohansko, both from the ninth century. Generally speaking, the early Slavs did not build temples, but neither did the Scandinavians before the tenth-eleventh century. As a matter of fact the early ancient Indians, Iranians, Celts and Romans, also worshipped their deities in the open. For many Indo-European people the sacred places, were often: the trees or groves; springs and lake; or open, fenced or stone encircled enclosures. Hence, there are no reasons to believe that open, circular shrines of Eastern Slavdom bear any Scandinavian influence. The wooden or sometimes stone idols, often with a moustache are also common finds across Slavdom, dating from the sixth to eleventh centuries. Here again there is no evidence for Norse influence.

Now returning to Nora Chadwick. A major problem with her interpretation is her initial assumption that Scandinavianpre-christian religion was somehow superior to that of the Baltic and Slavic peoples, an issue already briefly addressed. In her interpretation of the 971 treaty with the Byzantines, she postulate that a parallel exists with an Icelandic oath taken on a golden ring where Freyr, Njòrdr and an unspecified "almighty god" were invoked. She claimed that the name of Veles derives from the Scandinavian Vòlsi: a horse penis and a symbol of fertility from the "Saga Of King Olaf Tryggvason". Then by associating Vòlsi with the fertility attributes of the god Freyr, she equated Veles with Freyr. In the next step of her reasoning, she introduced Thor as "almighty god" and equated him with Perun. This was followed then by the interpretation of a passage in the Russo-Byzantine treaty, "slain by their own weapon", as a reference to Odin/Wodan. Finally, she arriving at the conclusion that the 971 treaty was really sworn on Odin, Thor and Freyr. However, this interpretation poses serious problems. The passage " (da budem zoloti yako zoloto) - become yellow as a gold", already explained in terms of sickness as a punishment for breaking the oath, has no conceptual link with the Icelandic golden ring. A brief account of laying some gold under the Perun idol by prince Igor in 945, as a part of the oath is hard to interpret and explain. Unfortunately,

"The Russian Primary Chronicle" does not specify whether the"gold" of Igor's was a personal jewellery, some booty or some other artefacts. Consequently, it does not offer any clues which could assist in the interpretation of its symbolism and it could be freely interpreted or linked with most of the religions. Using Chadwick's logic we may come to the conclusion that the Kievan cult was influenced by Roman Catholicism. After all, Catholics are known to make golden votive offerings to their Saints.

Although, the authenticity and antiquity of the "horse penis - Vòlsi" story has been questioned , its links with god Freyr seem plausible. Nevertheless, this interpretation fails to explain how Freyr under the name Vélinas, became a major deity of the Baltic people. And how, under the Slavic name Veles, it became known among the Western and Southern Slavs (see earlier paragraph on Volos). In a subsequent step in her study, Chadwick conveniently omitted Njòrdr and more or less out of the blue introduced Odin and Thor - mentioned by name neither in Icelandic oath or Russo-Byzantinian treaty. Hence, taking into consideration that the entire interpretation is based on a lengthy sequence of highly speculative arguments it should rather be disregarded.

Also, Nora Chadwick claimed that the name of the Kievan deity Khors derives from the Anglo-Saxon "hors" and Old Norse "hross" - both meaning: horse - and that Khors did not appear in other sources. Then by association of horse with horse penis she also linked Khors with both Vòlsi and Volos. Evidently, she was unaware that this god was mentioned together with Veles and other deities in " - Hozhdyene Boguroditsi Po Mukam", and once more in "Tale of Igors Campaign". But above all, taking into consideration strong and undisputable Northern Iranian influence on the Slavic religion and languages, the Iranian etymology of Khors and his solar association appear to be more plausible.

All together Nora Chadwick's theories on the origins of later pagan Eastern Slavic religion should rather be addressed in a freudian rather than historical context.

Nevertheless, taking into consideration that the Varangians and Slavs co-existed for centuries in the land of Rus', we could suspect that some diffusion of religious elements took place. For example, a number of ship burials were reported in Russia. This is obviously a Scandinavian custom with similar burials found all over Scandinavia, in Iceland, Brittany and England. It is hard to say who was buried there, but it is likely that at least in some cases the Slavic elite might have adopted these Scandinavian burial custom.

It is possible that prince Igor's act of laying down his weapons under Perun's idol , reflected a Scandinavian ritual. All Germanic people revered their swords resulting inmany of them endowed with magical and supernatural powers. On the other hand, other people like Scythians worshipped a sword as a war god symbol and are known to perform the sacrifice of a horse and cattle to it. As a matter of fact "celebration" of weapons could be viewed as any warrior ritual, not exclusively Germanic.

On the contrary, there is some evidence of slavization of Varangian beliefs in Kievan Rus'. For example, according to Al Masudi, wives of deceased prominent Slavs were burned alive with their husbands. There is no reason to doubt the account as similar customs were practiced by Indians and Sarmatians. However, an account by another Arab trader of the early tenth century, referring to the Varangian Russes, tells as that they buried alive the wives of important man when he dies. There is no evidence for that practice among any other Germanic people and it is reasonable to assume that it was adopted by Varangians from the Eastern Slavs. It is also worth noting that, according to "The Russian Primary Chronicle" treaties with the Byzantines, in 907, 945 and 971were sworn by the Russes on Perun. Regardless of conceptual similarities between the Germanic Thor and the Slavic Perun, the very fact that they swore by a Slavic rather then Scandinavian deity suggests a high degree of slavization of Varangian beliefs.


In summary, it has to be acknowledged that the reconstruction of the "core" Slavic beliefs ( presented above ) may be a subject of criticism, and certain details subject to different interpretations. Nevertheless, it could be said that the pre-migration religion of Slavs was clearly and deeply rooted in the common Indo-European tradition. In this period the Slavic religion shows certain conceptual uniformity but was not a single set of beliefs. It displayed very strong and an indisputable Northern Iranian influence, in both religious concepts and origins of many deities.

As fore-going work shows, the alledged animism of pre-Christian Slavic beliefs appeared to be a hard dying legacy of biases of the two German historians of 30's and early 40's, Winecke and Franz; and also of the general lack of a serious research on the subject.

Moreover, Vladimir's pantheon was not a foreign, Scandinavian elite cult. It is reasonable to assume that certain Norman elements were incorporated into the Kievan cult but their impact is hardly traceable. In principle, Vladimir's pantheon was a response to internal socio-political changes and the external needs of the emerging Eastern Slavic state. It was a henotheistic and dynastic cult focussing onthe deity which best served state building purposes - Perun. It was a product of the long evolution of the Eastern Slavic religion which in post-migration times diverged from a relative conceptual unity of the common Slavic beliefs. Eastern Slavic beliefs evolved in specific geographic, ethnic and political conditions, characteristic for Eastern Europe. Its development was the response to those circumstances. Serving new needs and purposes, the Kievan cult must have incorporated new attributes and acquired a new dimension. Nevertheless, those new elements were drawn mainly from Slavic and Northern Iranian heritage, rather than from the Scandinavian one.



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Converted by Andrew Scriven