From the Oak: Let’s hear it for the God!
Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.
The Baltic Thunder God
The next divinity from the “God Graveyard” list is the very well documented Lithuanian Perkunas. He is very similar to Zeus and Jupiter. One website described him as a cross between Odin and Thor.
The Baltic region had, what appears to my eyes, the same divinity with slight changes in spelling: Prussian Percunis, Russian Perun, Latvian Perkons, and Finish Perkele. They all are related to the Indo-European word per(k) or per+g(q) meaning one of three things: god of thunder and rain, god of height/mountain and god of oaks. Other epithets: Perkonins, Perkonitis, Perkona tevs (father Perkons), Vecais tevs (Old father) and Dievins (while a diminutive form of Dievs, which deity is meant is determined by context).
Perkunas was honored officially until at least 1385 when the king of the Franks, Wladislaw II Jagello, converted to Christianity so that he could marry the Polish heir and gain an army to deploy against the Teutonic Knights at his borders. However in 1547 a protestant pastor complained of the necessity of continuing to condemn the worship of Perkunas. Some say that his worship never truly died out. It was hidden, given a thin veneer of Christianity until such a time that they could once again worship him openly. In 1610, a Catholic clergyman described a ritual in which Perkunas was honored with animal sacrifices and beer libations then asked to alleviate a drought.
The Cathedral of Vilnius, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Lithuania, is built over a temple of Perkunas. A 16th century Lithuanian history book describes the roofless temple being built of stone in 1285 where two rivers (Villija and Neris) meet containing offerings, a wood idol and an eternal flame. The temple was destroyed in 1387.
Perkunas is a god of fertily, of rain. He oversees his whole family in this pursuit. His sons thunder, strike and issue lightning. His wife and daughters sift the rain. Folksongs ask him for rain as well as thanking him for the harvest. Offerings are described in existing literature as bread with butter, honey/honeycombs, black animals (calf, goat, cock) and beer. As an attendant of a divine wedding, he struck an oak to expel any evil spirits in the area giving him protective powers too. There are also healing charms which call upon his protective nature.
In Baltic folklore, Perkunas is portrayed as a heavily armed grey/white haired/bearded rider. Ancients Balts wore an axe as his symbol. The axe being his instrument of thunder, associated with the idea of thunder-balls. The Balts believed that the prehistoric axes they would find were thunder-balls and useful for healing illnesses. Perkunas weaponry caused him to be associated with warrior arms but there is no tales of his prowness in battle beyond the ongoing fight with the “evil demon”, Velns/Devil/Dragon. Many think this is a Christian overlay as there are no folksongs that support this fight. As often happens in areas of Christian conversion, it appears Velns may be connected to velis, a “spirit of the dead” that was forced into the role of evil adversary or Velinas, the god of the nocturne sky who harmoniously balanced out Dievas, the god of the daytime sky. Modern devotees seem to consider Velns to be an easily fooled, rather stupid, mischievous creature.
I find Perkunas, and the ancient Baltic religion, to be interesting because it is so well documented over the course of history and because its “revival” has so much from which to work. I can’t help wondering for all that is known, what was lost…whether in translation, Christian editing or from not being written down. This is one of the few ancient religions that survived and I think in a lot of ways grew with the times rather than remain stagnant. I do envy their long and relatively unbroken history.
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