by: Serge Mikhailov • 7
Perun (Cyrillic: Перун) is the highest god of the pantheon and the god of thunder and lightning. His other attributes were fire, mountains, the oak, iris, eagle, firmament (in Indo-European languages, this was joined with the notion of the sky of stone), horses and carts, weapons (the hammer, axe (Axe of Perun), and arrow), and war. He was first associated with weapons made of stone and later with those of metal.
Like Germanic Thor, Perun is described as a rugged man with a copper beard. He rides in a chariot pulled by a goat buck and carries a mighty axe, or sometimes a hammer. The axe is hurled at evil people and spirits and will always return to his hand.
Of all historic records describing Slavic gods, those mentioning Perun are the most numerous. As early as the 6th century, he was mentioned in De Bello Gothico, a historical source written by the Byzantine historian Procopius. A short note describing beliefs of a certain South Slavic tribe states they acknowledge that one god, creator of lightning, is the only lord of all: to him do they sacrifice an ox and all sacrificial animals. While the name of the god is not mentioned here explicitly, the fact that the word Perun in a number of Slavic languages today simply means "thunder," or "lightning bolt," credibly suggests that this was a reference of him.
In 980, when prince Vladimir the Great came to the throne of Kiev, he erected statues of five pagan gods in front of his palace. Perun was chief among these, represented with a silver head and a golden moustache. Vladimir's uncle Dobrinja also had a shrine of Perun established in his city of Novgorod. After the Christianization of Kievan Rus, this place became a monastery, which, quite remarkably, continued to bear the name of Perun.
Perun is not mentioned directly in any of the records of Western Slavic paganism, but a reference to him is perhaps made in a short note in Helmod's Chronica Slavorum, written in the latter half of the 12th century, which states (quite similarly to Procopius some six centuries earlier) that Slavic tribes, even though they worship many various gods, all agree there is a supreme god in heaven which rules over all other on earth. This could be a reference to Perun, but since he is not named, nor any of his chief attributes (thunder or lightning) mentioned, we cannot be certain.
Moreover, the name of Perun is also commonly found in Southern Slavic toponymy. The Macedonian and Bulgarian people believe that the name of the mountain Pirin, one of the highest mountains of the Balkan Peninsula, was named after Perun. There are also places called: Perun (the famous mountain in Bosnia Herzegovina, Vareš), Perunac, Perunovac, Perunika, Perunička Glava, Peruni Vrh, Perunja Ves, Peruna Dubrava, Perunuša, Perušice, Perudina and Perutovac. These names today mostly represent mountain tops, but in medieval times, large oaks, sacred groves and even entire villages or citadels were named Perun. Also, as mentioned already, in Ukrainian perun and in Polish piorun means "thunderbolt". Among South Slavs, a mountain plant Iris germanica is known in folklore as perunika ("Perun's plant") and sometimes also as bogisha, ("god's plant"), and was believed to grow from ground that had been struck by lightning. Also the Serbian surname Peruničić is derived from Perun.
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