Perun also Perkun one of the main Slavic deities.
The nature of Perun
In the 6th century, the Greek historian Procopius wrote of Perun:
He is the god who wields the thunderbolt, and they, the Slavs, recognise him as the sole lord of the universe.
Perun’s name means thunder and lightning bolt in the various Slavic languages. His name originates in the very earliest times of the Aryan race. It has the same root as Parjanya, which is one of the names of Indra, the Hindu god of thunder and war. Other variants of his name in Slavic languages are Piorun, Perunu, Pyerun, Peron, Perin and Parom.The Lithuanians worshipped him by the Finno-Ugric name of Perkaunas. Like Indra, Perun is god of thunder and war.
It is interesting to note that the Baltic Slavs saw Thursday as being Perun’s day and called it Perendan. This parallels the Norse dedication of the same day to their thunder god, Thor, which of course is seen also in the English name: Thursday (= Thor’s day).
Given Perun’s pre-eminence among the Slavic deities, it is important to understand, though, that he has two aspects similarly to the Hindu god Shiva Nataraj, who dances the universe into destruction, so as to dance it back, renewed, into new life.
Perun is not just an angry god of storms and war, hurling destructive lightning bolts from the sky and leading Slav hordes into bloody battle. In his association with rain and the electrical energy of lighting, Perun was also worshipped by the old Slavs as a creator god of life and fertility.
The oak god
Perun is associated with the oak, a tree that is a universal symbol of strength. The Serbs use the word “grm” for one variety of oak (nb, if you’re wondering how to pronounce this word, the r is used as a vowel and rolled very strongly: grrrrr-m). The same root is used in the verb “grmeti”,” grzmieć” to thunder.
There are no records of any temples dedicated to Perun. Given his association with the oak, it is quite likely he was frequently worshipped in oak groves. Oaks struck by lightning were particularly venerated as being linked with Perun.
To my mind’s eye, this oak tree shown below, which has been blasted by lightning, could almost be a statue of Perun.
Perun and goddesses of the Slavs
Perun is sometimes associated with Zorya, goddess of the dawn. His influence on her is another sign of his warlike nature. Zorya is usually portrayed as a gentle girl, who opens the gates of the palace when the Sun rides out in the morning. In association with Perun, she transforms into a warrior maiden and protector of warriors.
Mater Sva is described in various sources as Perun’s mother, wife or messenger. Her name translates directly as Mother of All, but some also call her Mater Slava (Mother of Glory) or Ptica od Sunca (Bird of the Sun). The ancient Slavs saw her as encouraging warriors, calling them to battle, singing of their deeds and helping them by warning them of the enemy’s approach and giving strategic advice. When a warrior died in battle, she appeared as a Valkyrie-like figure to carry him off to eternal bliss in Perun’s realm.
In other stories, Perun’s wife is Diva-Dodola, the rain goddess. One story tells of how Veles, god of cattle, magic and the underworld, seduced Dodola during the celebrations of her marriage with Perun. Another speaks of Veles stealing Dodola and Perun’s people and cattle. In both cases, Perun fought and defeated Veles.
“The Watering of Dodola” or “Peperuda” is a Balkan ritual in which a young girl was ccovered with leaves and branches and had water poured over her as a “sacrifice” for Perun.
Fights with serpents
The conflict between Perun and Veles is a theme that is often repeated and is used in pictures and statues. Often these depict Veles as a serpent, as can be seen in the image by Max Presnyakov above, where Perun is treading on the serpent.
Another story has Perun being abducted and placed into a deathly sleep by another chthonic serpent, the Skiper. He is freed by Mater Sva, who brings him the water of life, and he goes on ultimately to defeat the Skiper after facing a series of trials. A third story has him defeating a 3-headed serpent that rose out of the Black Sea and abducted Diva-Dodola, while Perun was asking her father for her hand in marriage.
The image of a god or hero fighting a serpent (or dragon) is found in many mythologies and legends. It is often considered to represent the battle against the force of pure chaos. There is a parallel here between Perun and Set (Sutek), the Ancient Egyptian god of desert storms and destruction. Although later demonised as the killer of Osiris, in earlier times Set was often portrayed as the one who vanquished the Apep serpent, symbol of total chaos. Here, therefore, in the case both of Set and of Perun, we see a “destroyer” god playing a vital part in saving creation from falling victim to chaos.