Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Museums around the world are filled with statues of gods and goddesses once worshipped by the ancient Greeks, Romans or Egyptians. But what about the Slavic mythology? Last week, we learned about Morena, the goddess of death, but have you heard of Perun, the thunder god…? The Greeks worshipped Zeus and the Roman’s revered Jupiter but the Slavs bowed to the thunder god, known as Perun – the almighty king of the Slavic divine pantheon. No layman would dispute that when lightning and thunder strike, it is a sight to behold. A majestic storm reminds us of the undisputed and awestriking power of nature, and so it makes sense that the Slavs would make the god of lightning and thunder their chief deity, that is after the creator God – Rod (but that is for another story).
Meet Perun, the thunder god Pagan tribes of all denominations recognised the law of nature. They were acutely aware that they were ‘a’ part of nature, not above it. To have enough food, shelter, sun and rain was never taken for granted and that always depended on the benevolence of the natural forces. This holy respect before that which was greater than them manifested in the idea of a supreme god, a very serious and feared masculine deity that to them personified the masculine god principle.
Indeed, Perun wore a crown made of lightning rods and in his left hand held a thunder hatchet and in his right hand a fire bow. Whenever Perun threw a hatchet, thunder resounded across the land. Wherever he shot an arrow from his bow, lightning struck across the sky. To our ancestors it was as if the sky opened to another dimension.
A storm was an omen. A direct communication from Perun himself, warning the community to stay on the correct path and not to turn its back on the law of the land – the law of nature. In the Slavic pagan imagination, Perun was personified as powerful, uncompromising, and fierce, but also kind, life-giving and just god. He was the benevolent, but strict father. When all was in balance on earth and in the heavens, Perun was happy, which translated into the generosity of nature, such as a bountiful harvest or a mild winter. But when this finely tuned harmony was disrupted, everyone on earth and in the heavens could feel Perun’s might.
Records show that Perun was one of the very few Slavic deities to which people actually made blood sacrifices. Usually it was in the form of a sacrificial bull, but in some extreme cases it was said to involve humans too…
The cult of the Slavic god was so deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the people, that its presence stubbornly remained centuries after Christianisation. For example, Slovaks (once part of the western Slavic tribes) in remote and rural areas referred to the church as a Perun temple well into the 12th century.
With time and the endured presence of Christianity, the fearsome pagan deity eventually merged with the new iconography. And he became one with a new persona – the holy father of the heavens, the Christian God himself.
By Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova and Dr Zuzana Palovic