For the first in my series, I’m admittedly starting with the god I most connect with, and whom I have the most interest in. It’s easiest to start with that deity that I am most connected to, and the one that I always would approach first.
So I’m going to start with Veles.
I put a picture to start — what most people see. It’s by the very talented Igor Ozhiganov. It’s good artwork, and pairs Veles up with the wildlife, a bear. I’ve already briefly touched upon how this doesn’t match with what I see. It just seems too…eh, old and out of place for me.
I am less interested in this and don’t connect with it much at all. Most people see Veles as old man, wild, god of cattle and of wildlife. Which, I guess, makes sense. But that’s now how I connect with him at all. It probably has to do with my being a born and bred city girl. I just don’t relate with livestock and countryside very much. It’s kind of hard to relate, when I grew up in the middle of a “big” city and without much, if really any, experience outdoors and with those things that usually connect to Veles.
Going onto me though (because really, why else am I writing this?)
I see Veles not just as the livestock protector, god of cattle. He’s also noted to be a god of the underworld, of magic, of musicians. Those are just the major 4 points. A fifth point is a god of merchants. And some would argue, based on some points in the Primary Chronicle (I already wrote about this here in short form on his role in this work) it seems he was also a very important god to swear oaths to.
Myself, as someone who is an amateur musician, who used music to survive some of the worst years of my childhood and to survive high school, I really relate to Veles as a god of music and musicians. I see him appreciating offers of music, of playing to him. Even if it’s just practice and something short and simple…I get the feeling that he appreciates when people play to him. I also just get a feeling, based on my own thoughts, that he likes woodwind instruments. Not that there’s anything wrong with brasswinds, but I just have this inkling that he likes the mellow, low tones of a lower-range woodwind. Not like flutes, but I think more clarinet, bassoon, oboe on the lower range…that kind of woodwind. And it seems that music that holds cultural basis in Eastern Europe or in Central European Slavic lands would fit him well. I see him as being a particularly focused god, who likes those things familiar and well-tread, like classic Czech, Polish, Russian, or South-Slavic melodies.
I think, in terms of myself, I could do to play more. I need to practice and play more, for my own enjoyment. But I also think that offering music, when my means are limited, is a good option for me. It also ties into his merchant-god aspects. I am not wealthy–I am admittedly living nearly paycheck to paycheck. I have a tiny amount of disposable income, and I can save up for those big purchases I want…but I am not someone with a lot of money. So I see music, playing my clarinet, as a form of currency. Perhaps more like old barter system, but I can use my talent for music as a currency to pay tribute to Veles not only as the musician, but also as the merchant.
In terms of magic and the underworld…I see this particularly strangely, perhaps.
I know that traditionally, in most pantheons (admittedly probably western-gaze filtered like the Greek Hades and its multiple realms, or Hell from a Christian gaze) the underworld is terrifying. I mean, you think about it as Hell and/or the twisted version of purgatory that culturally we picture, or Hades where Achilles and other heroes of Greek myth wander unknowing and terribly set upon. Even in Norse mythology, what most people remember is Hel is the goddess of the underworld and she’s half-dead. Because the underworld is death, I think most people have a negative view of what happens after death.
I see Veles’ underworld though in my mind as peaceful. Green, quiet, peacefully growing plants and a chance to rest and recuperate. The ability to contemplate in silence and without the hectic, chaotic and loud events of regular life. I picture lush gardens, many trees, a wild but peaceful and calm place to be. It isn’t frightening to think of the underworld in this manner. And I don’t even picture the underworld as below. It doesn’t necessary have to be under, even if that’s what it’s called.
Because of that picture, I don’t think of Veles as a frightening hell-figure like Christian Satan, or the more frightening depictions of gods such as Hel, Hades, etc. I picture him as being a calm, composed man. Someone who sees much, knows a lot, thinks deeply at all times–but rarely speaks. He is quiet and reserved, sometimes perhaps seeming withdrawn from that around him. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he just knows more. This is not to say I see him as all-knowing. That does not describe anyone, as I think of it. Instead, it’s that he is more prone to silent contemplation than to open confrontation or to open debate with others.
And then there is the connection to magic. For me, I think of magic as studying, learning, experimenting, going beyond one’s own bounds–school and study. This is the man who I see that would be fond of lurking in libraries, in the stacks, watching over students learning. Magic is learning and studying for me, so I see Veles as being fond of places of learning or experimentation. So I see him in libraries, or laboratories, fond of those who experiment or stretch themselves beyond their bounds to learn.
And then I come to what do I see him as looking like.
Veles for me is not old and grizzled. I picture him in the height of health, perhaps in his early forties. Not young and foolish, preening and vain; and not old, bearded and white-haired like one thinks of Odin. He is powerful, strong, and well-proportioned. He’s no god of war, so I don’t picture him as having bulging muscles, but he’s also not weak. It’s more a matter of him using his own body to its best advantage and not being too overwrought in any way. I see him with darker hair. Not necessarily black, but dark brown, auburn, black…somewhere in there. Facial hair, perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be a guarantee. And his eyes, dark and deep. Color unspecified in my imagination. He’s got a hint of mischief there, but also deep wisdom. I expect looking him in the eyes is akin to looking at secrets sometimes, so it must be disconcerting.
Most people see him as related to cattle, snakes, bears, and the color green.
I agree on the green. Because of the underworld that just makes sense to me. I’ve always pictured a dark, muted green as being a favored color of Veles’. Nothing too flashy, and also not drab. Just…warm and earthy as a color. Well, as warm as green itself can be, I suppose. That’s one major point I’ve always been okay with. It’s one that just makes sense, and it makes me comfortable. So green has been an overarching point of association for me.
And while I know he’s a cattle god, I just can’t picture him much with cattle (again, I’m a city girl) — so this aspect is something I struggle with. Accept, yes, but see myself, no. I don’t. Cattle don’t seem like something I’ll ever much relate to. For the other animals, I don’t much picture him with bears either. They seem too overtly strong and powerful. Too bold and obvious–as though one was trying to beat powerful association over the head for anyone looking over it. I see him more entwined with a puma. It somehow seems more fitting. They seem like more elegant, subtle powerful animals. As though hidden depths of strength that aren’t immediately obvious, which is just how I see Veles, not obvious, but hidden. I also realize that the puma/cougar is only native to the Americas. So really, that’s not at all remotely something that is historically accurate. This is total UPG for me, that I see him associating with pumas. But it just fits for me.
Then there are freaking snakes. I am terrified of snakes, phobic. I always have been, and I guess this is slightly genetic, because so is my dad and my grandma was too; both of them just as badly as I am. So there’s something there. While I get that almost all Slavic pagans see him as, at times, half snake-bodied, that is the one animal I just cannot see him with. I know that is verified gnosis from the larger group. But my mind puts up a mental block on this one, and I just cannot accept the association. Perhaps one day I might eventually be able to stomach it, but there’s no way I accept this one right now, no matter how much gnosis supports this. There is other animal/creature I see him related to: butterflies. I have a UPG that butterflies can be souls, or at least are used as an embodiment of human souls. And paired with his aspect as god of the underworld, I just naturally see him being related to butterflies. Not really manly, I suppose, but that’s not my concern. It’s an association I came across very early into my beginnings of Slavic polytheism, and it’s stuck strongly ever since.
Then there is the fact that as a god of merchants, I see him being fond of gold. I am not, but it seems to me that he would be fond of the warm hue of gold. Not that he would disdain the cooler comfort of silver, but I think for him gold is something special. It’s warm, it has worth and catches attention. But I think, as a god of musicians and music, he would be fond of silver-hues as well. A lot of instruments have silver-hued keys, so I think he likes either metal. It would depend on who he was dealing with, as to which of the metals he is more interested in.
I’ve got this idea, the feeling, that Veles likes hearty, filling foods. You cannot be a god of woods, cattle, and the like without liking good, filling food. Or that is the impression I have. So for me, I see him being fond of rich food offerings. Something with a lot of flavor, and something that makes use of those things available, or perhaps, if possible, those things from far off that can be bought/traded for (a god of merchants, right?). Nothing overtly fancy, I don’t picture that, but good food.
Of course, vodka also. I’m particularly fond of vodka, and I might as well just openly state that I feel most gods and spirits are fond of vodka. It’s almost an unspoken, universal like to my understanding and beliefs of the gods and spirits. But I could see Veles being fond of a good beer. I don’t know what types, but I can picture him enjoying an offering of beer.
There are perhaps more thoughts I’m missing. But I feel I hit the major points. It’s a mix of gnosis, UPG and some historical points. I’m aware of all that. But this is what I think of and relate to Veles.∗