So for the next in my series (sorry, terribly belated I know), I’m going to talk about Perun.
This is the pretty standard and general understanding of what Perun looks like. Actually, this is how I always see him described, and really the image that most people describe, if they talk about what Perun looks like.
Old, grizzled, a warrior…he kind of looks like Odin–though the attributes are more similar to Thor. But either way, the image makes him look and seem more like the grizzled warrior Æsir than any god from Slavic mythology.
This is an image that really doesn’t resonate with me. It’s too…Odin, really. Too much like a copy/rehash of Norse mythology, rather than a real understanding of Slavic culture and mythology.
I mean–he is a god of thunder and lightning, associated with war. And he’s the foremost god, so I guess I can understand the interest in portraying him like Odin or Zeus in that way–but it just has never meshed for me. But there’s almost universal understanding among Slavic pagans that he’s the chief of the gods (minus some who think it is Rod…but that’s another discussion).
Myself personally, again I see him a bit differently. — And now begins my impressions, UPG and historically sourced understanding!
He is definitely “chief” of the gods, at least, inasmuch as he’s the one that is chief of the pantheon. And as such, he would be the first of import to be named, to be honored. And given the power he has over those destructive, storm-born elements, he would be exceptionally powerful as well.
To me, he’s not just the god of thunder and lightning, but also the god of war, and of the nobility. Also, a powerfully important god for oaths (the Primary Chronicle is a great source on this…and I really do recommend anyone read it for interest in Russian history or notes on Slavic paganism). Really–it is to Veles and to Perun that oaths are sworn; which tells me that honesty and steadfast holding to one’s own word and ethos are exceptionally important to him as well.
And actually, considering all the strife and discord of recent times in the world, I see him as fundamentally more important than in times of peace. Because in times of war, discord, trouble–people turn to strength. For me, I see war as requiring strength, among other things. A god of war would be preeminent in times like that. Ancient Slavic people would have needed oaths sworn, and prayers given, to a god of war; their lives depended on their ability to survive. And in war, you need the favor of the god whose domain it is. It’s not just ancient times, but modern times too, people will turn to sources of strength.
This makes a really strong parallel towards Zeus (king of the gods of Mt. Olympus) and Odin/Thor (kind of a conglomeration of the two Norse gods). I think that’s a societal and cultural note, to show how similar people are at their core, even if they are separated by thousands of miles, and hundreds of years. It makes it easy to see similarities, which of course the individual will latch onto, since familiarity breeds comfort.
To me, Perun is in his late thirties to mid-forties; like at the height of his health. He’s past childish bravado and preening, into a maturity and solemnity born from responsibility and the weight of the work of being a god of war. He’s powerful, strong, intimidating in some respects, because a god of war must be exceptionally strong; and he shows every inch the muscles and strength that make him the powerful god of that discipline. He carries a weapon with him, I see it as the axe that is so commonly associated with him.
I see him as having dark hair: dark brown or black. To me, his hair would have traces of silver in it–I can only think that the heavy cares of war, and of governing the cosmos and all things (as chief god) would give stress that would manifest. There is not much, but enough to make it clear that he has a heavy weight that he bears. I would consider he has facial hair, not a wild, grizzled old-man beard, but a beard that is more trimmed and clean, and only slightly long. To me, he has eyes filled with storm. The color unreadable, but they flicker with lightning, darken and cloud over with the clouds of thunder, and when light, they clear up like a clear sky. There is confidence and yet also I think some weariness in his gaze.
The common things related to Perun are oak tree, fire, mountains, eagles, and weapons; as well as Thursday.
Myself, I see his color as red; blood red. That’s a bit stereotypical, perhaps. But I think of it as a regal color, and it also is obvious to correspond with the war association. There’s something vibrant, alive and also frightening about that color, a mix that I really do associate with Perun.
For animals, I do really agree with the association eagles. But I think a lot of people probably picture a bald eagle, and I’ve seen a few people put photos of one up when they mention Perun. That doesn’t work for me. I picture the Golden Eagle when I think of him. It’s native to the region, and somehow I just see golden eagles as being more regal and powerful. (This is admittedly just my personal opinion – since I really have no clue about comparing eagle strengths) Eagles are strong, powerful, they strike fast and hard…and they’re deadly. All of which I do associate with Perun–and considering how fast and hard lightning strikes, this is an easy and obvious association to make.
Pair eagles with high places–mountains. I also think the association of lightning and thunder with high places is something that’s pretty common. It’s easy to combine high places, mountains, and think of them as you see them–ringed with clouds. And fierce storms in the mountains are not safe even today, let alone centuries ago without all our modern technology. So I do deeply associate him with mountains. The high places, difficult to reach, and the strength inherent in the stone of the mountain…it meshes quite well with him in my imagining and in my mind. Mountain ranges or single peaks, they seem just perfect to bind to his image and in knowing who he is.
The oak I think is kind of symptomatic. I mean, I think oak trees are pretty standard to be associated with the father of the gods, or a chief god. I don’t know if I can think, off the top of my head, of a main god/head god that was not at one point associated with oak trees; at least among European/western mythologies. Pair it up with the whole mythology cycle of Perun and Veles and the tree, and their battle…it kind of makes sense. As of right now I don’t have any strong feelings either way. This is an association I accept, that I honor due to its being a long-held one and pretty well accepted by the community; but I don’t have any real personal binding memories or thoughts to attach to it. This one just kind of exists for me.
I have heard people talk about him being fond of gold. Again, that is pretty common I think. We humans call gold the premier metal, and the head god should like the best of metals. I could see it. But I think Perun is more fond of iron. Because as a god of war, iron was the most important metal to his craft and his defenses. So I picture that he is always most fond of this metal above all others, even if it does not gleam so much as fine gold does.
And then to speak of iron– that is weaponry. I associate him first and foremost with the axe. A lot of people would put him with the sword. I don’t think he disdains it; but I see him actively choosing the axe above all others. And so for me, I see the axe as his attribute. Weapons of all sorts are useful, and I also suspect he would be fond of tools turned to weapons. I see him as a practical god, willing to use the resources at his disposal to win; and so things like pikes or trowels are also not out of the realm of possibility. But the axe is a good tool, and a weapon; the perfect mix of practicality and deadly force.
The Thursday thing: I think that’s just to copy Thor. I don’t know…that annoys me. I don’t really associate gods with specific days for the most part. So I don’t have any real good thoughts on this association. I just feel like it’s a copy to make the Slavic god more relatable as something familiar. And since so many people already combine/mix up/associate Perun with Thor, well this seems to me the reason for this association. Admittedly I’m not fond of it.
In terms of offerings–I know people used to sacrifice to him. Usually I would bet something like an ox or a ram. I’m obviously not fond of that as a vegetarian. But I think that it’s possible to relate even without offering meat; which I just could never do, because I don’t prepare meat at all, and I don’t buy it. Because of his war attributes, I think of him as wanting to enjoy a hearty meal before battle. Much like Veles, I see him enjoying hearty, rich foods. Good food that fills you up. With good, solid flavor, and rich preparation, offering the best that you can in preparing the offering for him; I don’t think he minds if it does not have meat. And of course, vodka (I have made it clear I think all spirits like vodka…which is probably an implicit bias of my own, as I do prefer vodka). But I also think that Perun would like spiced rum. Something about the sometimes warmth of rum when you drink it makes me feel that Perun would be happy with rum as an offering too.
And here ends my second association.∗