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Klejn L.S. The Resurrection of Perun. Reconstructing East Slavic pagan religion (Abstract)

Publ. in Russian (2004) by Eurasia, St. Petersburg

By Leo S. Klejn



This is a book about Slavic paganism, in particular, its survivals in Russian Christian religion and in folklore. The book (published by Eurasia, St.Petersburg, in 2004) is a study of an old topic that has recently attracted renewed attention. This is connected to the revival of the debate between Westernisers and Nativists on the specificity of cultural development in Russia. The debate on Slavic paganism was also revitalised by the lowering of standards for academic publications and due to the fact that forgeries (like ‘Veles’ book’), that had once seemed all but forgotten, again claimed attention. It was not by chance that ‘Veles’ book’ appealed to the dilettante Nativists. It had long been their dream to find evidence for the richness and unique curiousness of ancient Russian mythology. But, it remains the case that there are no analogues in any other sources for ‘Veles’ book’.


Meanwhile, very little was known about the ancient east-Slavic gods. There were a few isolated passages in the sermons of Christian preachers, a few proverbs and the sparse notes of foreigners; but, certainly, no extensive myths.


Indeed, information on Perun seemed very scarce and fragmented. Only a few expressions in the language remained, and a couple of stories mentioned in the chronicles. The accusations levelled at the ‘apostates’ in sermons by early Christian preachers contained little specific information. Similar names of pagan gods are known in some related Slavic languages and there is also some evidence for the functions of these characters among several related peoples. But, in general, the evidence concerns not so much their mythology, as the rituals associated with it. The fact is that the myths of Perun were not recorded.


In the Soviet period four concepts of Slavic paganism were recognised  - in all four the emphasis had shifted from the materials of history to ethnography and archaeology.


The first concept was worked out by the official leaders of Soviet historical scholarship, such as B. D. Grekov, N. S. Derzhavin and B. A. Rybakov, both Members of the Academy of Sciences. In their view, the Eastern Slavs (living from time immemorial in the same territories as at the present) had - some thousands years B.C. – invented ploughing, created the state, and developed a pagan religion that came very close to Christianity.


The second concept was presented by the officially disgraced scholar, Professor Vladimir Propp, one of the founders of Soviet semiotics – he was also at the forefront of the development of structuralism. He studied surviving festivals, and, from the absence of any pantheon of gods, concluded that Russian paganism had been of an especially archaic nature – still without developed gods.


The concept of D. K. Zelenin and N. I. Tolstoy was aimed at reconstructing the ancient Slavic pagan religion on the basis of ethnography alone. Quite naturally they argued that this religion had been reduced to demonology (lower mythology), the higher mythology having been suppressed and annihilated by the Christian church.


The fourth concept was that of Vyacheslav V. Ivanov and V. N. Toporov. They reconstructed a developed mythology derived from the common Indo-European substrate (the "Basic Myth").


The author of the present book provides a critical appraisal of all four of these concepts.


Two series of articles by L. S. Klejn (1985 – 1998) on the ethnographic (or cultural anthropological) themes preceded the book on Perun. One series consists of publications of Klejn's finds on folklore materials and the ideas connected with them; the second series consists of criticism of the work of B.A. Rybakov (a Member of the Academy of Sciences). These separate approaches have come together in the present book.


B.A. Rybakov's theory is analysed and criticized at great length in this work since it has been most influential, and remains so, especially outside of the scholarly world, to the present day. His work forms the basis for the ideas of modern neo-pagans, increasingly noticeable since the 1970s among the new religious movements. Inspired by nationalism, against the background of the general political and ideological decline of the Soviet regime, and the crisis of Russian Orthodoxy, this movement has ignored virtually all real data on ancient pagan cults and rituals. It has begun to create new cults, rituals and ceremonies, combining the elements borrowed from Indian and Germanic practices. These cults are aimed at propagating such primordial cruelties as hatred of the aliens, aggressive militancy, isolationism and xenophobic nationalism.


According to Rybakov the supreme god of Slavs was Rod, while Perun was a later introduction by Prince Vladimir - as a god for his military retinue. In Klejn's opinion the presence of Perun's traces throughout Slavic territories refutes this theory. In fact Rod was an artificial construct introduced by some ancient Russian authors, on the basis of a misreading of Greek Christian texts. So Rybakov's discources are discredited. In general, nearly all the main pagan sanctuaries ascribed to Eastern Slavs (two in Kiev, one in Novgorod and one in Pskov) are doubtful. In the present work this criticism is developed in great detail.. Some of these ‘sanctuaries’ are most likely secular (not sacral) monuments, whilst others are burial sites.


As a disciple of Propp, the author of the book based his research on a study of folklore, however, being also an archaeologist, he of course also made use of archaeological data.


The author was lucky enough to discover in the Caucasus, in aboriginal folklore, a surviving mythical tradition of Perun. Thus the present work introduces a new source for the analysis of old Slavic paganism, Vainakh (Chechen-Ingoush) folklore. In this folklore there is a character named Pir”on or Pir|-on, whose name is phonetically close to the Slavic name Perun. This Vainakh personage has been interpreted by folklore students as a derivative of the Biblical Pharaoh (a Caucasian distortion of the word “pharao[n]”). However this interpretation does not tally with its functional use: Per’un climbs the sky, thunders, and waters the earth with rain. Functionally Per’un is equivalent to the Thunderer Perun.


Perun must have entered Vainakh folklore from east Slavic mythology, and this borrowing could not have occurred later than the 8th century B.C. For it was then that the Arabian Caliph Mervan II led his troops from Syria into the North Caucasus. Having penetrated Khazar caganate, and specifically Slavic territory, he took 200,000 Slavic prisoners, whom he led away and settled in Kakheti, i. e. in the neighbourhood of Chechnya. In the tales on Pir''on one should see remnants of the ancient Russian myths about Perun. However, what in fact occurred in that the tales dropped to the level of folklore upon meeting the dominant native Chechen mythology.


However this new source of information serves for the author only as the starting point of research. This source would not have credibility if it were not confirmed by other sources. These stories (of Pir”on’s commands to women pouring water, of his association with bread and mills, of his protection of old men and children etc.) correspond to stories of Perun found in Slavic ethnography and folklore. The comparison of all these sources has enabled the restoration of considerable pieces of Slavic mythology as well as the system of feasts devoted to Perun. This restoration involved fairy tales, folklore about witchcraft, and evidence from chronicles.


The analysis of Perun's image in mythology involved the study of belief in Rusalkas (Russian mermaids), folk tales about miraculous children (in Pushkin, the tale of tzar Saltan), the image of Ivan Kupalo, and the study of ethnographic rites and feasts. As a result Perun emerges not as a copy of the German Thor or Greek Zeus, but rather as a dying and resurrecting god of a type more common among oriental deities (though the Greek Apollo is another example). The main feasts devoted to Perun were his funeral and resurrection. These form the basis of the Slavic calendar and have survived as Kupalo Night and Sviatki. The Kupalo festivals devoted to Perun are full of sexual elements; intensive sexuality is also seen in Yarilki and in Sviatki games with "umrun" (the "dead"). The author also reassesses Maslenitsa (Russian Shrovetide): he argues that this is not an old pagan festival, but the transfer of summer pagan rites to a new date, under the pressure of Christian fasts and feasts.


The book is supplied with a series of illustrations, an extensive bibliography and indices, and with three summaries: English, German and Polish. The scope of the book is ca. 480 pages. It is written in a comprehensible language; and the subject and material make the book captivating.

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Leaving aside conjectures, inferences from analogy, indirect considerations, and guesswork, and addressing only the original material, the sources, it appears that time and victorious Christianity have efficiently destroyed the Slavic pagan religion - the information we have on Perun seems very scarce and fragmentary. Memory of Perun seems to be retained only in certain swear-words, in a couple of stories mentioned in the chronicles on erecting and overthrowing Perun's, and other gods', idols in Kiev and Novgorod, as well as in oaths using the names of these gods in treaties with the Byzantines. The accusations levelled at the “apostates” in sermons by early Christian preachers contained little specific information. Although Similar names of pagan gods are known in some related Slavic languages, and although There is also some evidence on functions of these characters among several related peoples., This evidence concerns not so much their mythology, as the rituals associated with it. The Myths of Perun were not recorded.


It was only from the time of the Renaissance and the consequent study of classical mythology in Europe that interest began to be paid to domestic pre-Christian phenomenon, particularly to material that might be directly compared to similar classical examples. Addressing the mythology of some linguistically and culturally related peoples, two Polish authors of the 15th - 16th centuries, A. D., J. Dlugosch and M. Srtryjkovski, relayed (in a somewhat confused and tangled way) certain data from the Russian chronicles, as well as mentioning what they themselves had heard in the East. In the 17th century, German, English and other European travellers collected further evidence on pagan beliefs in Russia.


In Russia itself, the studies of domestic paganism began only from the time of Peter the Great, i.e. the 18th century. Initially, the confused notions of Western scholarship of the time were borrowed wholesale. In the early 19th century, Russian scholars still based their approach on purely speculative considerations. They produced long lists of gods culled from enigmatic words in proverbs and songs (cf. A. S. Kaisarov, G. Glinka, a.o.). They strove to present the religion of their ancestors in a positive and idealized manner, not only as pre-eminent among the other pagan religions, but also as being close to Christianity (cf. P. Stroev, M. Kastorsky, N. Kostomarov, S. M. Solovyev). The Slavophiles, however, did not fully support this approach; they advanced the idea of the original closeness of Slavic customs to orthodox monogamy and denied the idea that any developed pagan polytheism had existed at any time. In their opinion, the pagan gods of the Chronicles were brought to Russia by the Varangians.


Since the middle of the 19th century when the research of the comparative school began, close connections were established between the mythologies of various Indo-European peoples. The Slavic system appeared to be kindred to the Greek, Roman and Indian systems. The entire pantheon began to be thought of as derived from the common matrix of the original Indo-European ethnos (Ur-Volk). In keeping with the solar-mythological school, the anthropomorphic deities were thought of as derived, via poetic allegory, from the worship of nature, (see D. O. Shepping, A. N. Afanasyev). In keeping with diffusionism, A. S. Famintsyn maintained the Slavophile traditon, while N. I. Kareev defended the secondary emergence of monotheism. The adherents of evolutionism, developed in the ’70s and ’80s of the 19th century, saw the images of gods as being derived from lower demonology – that is to say, from the belief in spirits (in Russia demonology was studied by N. F. Sumtsov).


The evolutionist and diffusionist approaches were combined in the works of Lubor Niederle and A. N. Veselovsky. Both of them thought that the Slavs had not succeeded in developing a higher mythology and had remained at the level of demonology. Other scholars rejected the conclusions of the mythological school for a different reason. They stressed the shortage of available facts and were unconvinced as to the reliability of any of the offered hypotheses (W. Jagi, H. Machál, L. Leger, A. Kirpichnikov).


In the works of scholars of the 20th century (E. V. Anichkov, N. M. Galkovsky, V. J. Mansikka), this scepticism was overcome, and the analysis of sermons by orthodox preachers (against survivals of paganism) came to the fore. However, in following the preachers’ vilification of the pagan practices, the scholars involuntarily inherited their bias as well. They continued to view paganism as a crude and primitive belief system. Anichkov, for instance, held that the Rus had an abundance of minor gods (or rather demons), but that the powerful major gods were borrowed from the Varangians. In this he followed S. Ruzhnetsky's interpretation of Perun as an imitation of Thor.


In the 20th century, the Polish scholars (H. Lowmiaski, W. Szafraski, L. Moszyski) picked up the trend emphasizing the primacy of attributes of primal monotheism in Slavic paganism. Underlying this trend was the influence of Catholicism. For these scholars, Perun was not simply the main god, but the only god, all others being only his incarnations.


Among Soviet scholars - although the obligatory Marxist vitriol was reserved mainly for the major ideological enemies, Christianity and Islam - the official militant atheism prevented the study of Slavic paganism for a long time. However, not long before the Great Patriotic War (World War II), interest in Slavic paganism was revived, due to the regime’s encouragement of patriotism. Four new concepts of Slavic paganism were introduced. In all of them the focus had shifted from the use of historical records to those provided by  ethnography and archaeology.


The first concept was worked out by the official leaders of Soviet science, such as B. D. Grekov, N. S. Derzhavin and B. A. Rybakov, - all Members of the Academy of Sciences. According to their concept, the Eastern Slavs (living from the time immemorial on the same territories as at the present) had discovered - some thousands years B.C. – the plough-based agriculture, created the state, and developed a pagan religion that came very close to Christianity.


The second concept was presented by the officially disgraced scholar, Professor Vladimir Propp, one of the founders of Soviet semiotics who was also a world leader in the development of structuralism. Propp observed that Russian agricultural festivals, which are highly seasonal, demonstrate a stable set of common features (due, he said, mainly to the similarity of peasant working conditions).  Since these festivals were totally devoid of any developed gods, it was inferred that the underlying Russian paganism was also totally devoid of them, and was of an especially archaic nature (c.f. Anichkov, Niederle and Veselovsky). Such figures as Kupalo, Yarilo and the like, were seen as “underdeveloped deities”.


The influential works of Propp gave an additional impulse to the work of the old Russian ethnographer Dmitriy Zelenin who had studied demonology with just this retrospective method. His follower was Nikita Tolstoy, the grandson of Leo Tolstoy. – a Member of the Academy of Sciences, he built up an influential school of ethnographers and ethnolinguists. So the third major concept of Slavic Paganism emerged, aimed at reconstructing the ancient pagan religion only from living ethnography. Naturally the only light that could be thrown onto the past was that from living culture; hence the inference that there were no major gods. So the most prominent professional ethnographers, ethnolinguists, and folklorists accepted the idea that the ancient Slavs had only a lower mythology (a demonology).


The fourth concept was that of Vyacheslav Ivanov and Valdimir Toporov, - also structuralists and (if for no other reason than this) regarded by the regime as frondeurs. They used the names of Slavic gods as their main source and compared them with other Indo-European personal and social names, and with myths. On this basis they began reconstructing a developed mythology derived from the common Indo-European substrate (the "Basic Myth", - the initial struggle of Perun against Volos-Veles, etc.). Their methodology was to a great extent borrowed from Lévi-Strauss. This allowed them the freedom to make connections but unfortunately what was gained in richness was lost in reliability. For instance, there is no direct proof of the struggle of Perun against Volos (and Volos, as distinct from Veles, is at any rate probably a new god, most likely having emerged from the transformation of the Christian Saint Vlasius/Blasius, Bulgarian Vlas).


Boris Rybakov's theory is analysed in depth and criticized at length for this work has been and still is most influential, particularly outside the confines of the scholarly world. Rybakov's use of the material (entire categories of which he simply lacked the professional qualifications to process) was already outdated at the time and was often embarrassingly crude. The conclusions at which he arrived were not just unsound but often no less than comical. In spite of all this, however, one must give him his due, both for his enthusiasm for his subject and his considerable imagination.


Recently his work has been taken up by modern neo-pagans, - ever more noticeable, since the 70s, among the new religious movements. Inspired by nationalism, in the conditions of the general political and ideological decline of the Soviet regime, as well as the crisis of the Russian Orthodoxy, this movement has ignored virtually all real data on ancient pagan cults and rituals and begun to create new cults and rituals, formally combining elements borrowed from the Indian and Germanic practices in order to propagate such primordial cruelties as hatred of the aliens, militancy, isolationism and xenophobic nationalist solidarity. Current ecological concerns (centred around the respect for nature) are being hijacked by the new pagans and recruited into their complete disavowal of the principles and norms of civilization.


For this reason the proper analysis of genuine East Slavic cults and mythology is especially important. It allows us to see clearly into the basement of the growing neo-pagan movements.


The present work introduces a new source for the analysis of old Slavic paganism,  Vainakh (Chechen-Ingoush) folklore. In this folklore there is a character named Pir''on or Pir|on, whose name is phonetically close to the Slavic ‘Perun’. This Vainakh character was interpreted by folklorists as a derivate of a Pharao (genitive: Pharaoni). They suggested that Pir''on might be a Caucasian distortion of "pharaon-". However, his behaviour does not fit this role: he climbs up the heaven, thunders, and pours rain. In this respect, he is functionally equivalent to the Thunderer Perun. But How could he have entered Vainakh folklore? When Russians first came to the Caucasus, the inhabitants were already Christian and Perun was absent from their mythology.


The explanation is to be found in the 8th century when the Arab caliph Mervan II led his troops from Syria to the North Caucasus. He penetrated deep into the Khazar caganate, specifically into Slav territory (he approached the "Sacalib river"); he there took some twenty thousand Slav prisoners, whom he settled in Kakheti, i. e. in the neighbourhood of Chechnya. It is from these prisoners that the myths of Perun were able to feed into the Vainakh  tradition, where, having collided with the native Vainakh mythology, they lost their sacral character and ‘sank’ into folklore. Thus the stories of Perun (such as his commands to women to pour water from barrels, his association with bread and mill, his power over old men and children, etc.) find close correspondence in East Slavic ethnography (popular beliefs, superstitions, fairy tales). This new material, never before used in the discussion of Perun, can, in the author’s opinion, be successfully used in the reconstruction of Slavic myths. In this exercise this material can be used in conjunction with Slavic fairy tales.


Rybakov's approach denies the very possibility of borrowing the name Perun from the Slavs because in his view the supreme god of Slavs was Rod, whilst Perun was introduced by Prince Vladimir to serve as a god of his military retinue. Yet the presence of Perun's traces in all Slavic folklore (not just East Slavic) refutes such confinement. In fact, it is obvious that the early Slavs did not have any such deity as Rod - this was the artificial construct of some ancient Russian authors, based on a misreading of Greek Christian texts, the horoscopes known as "genealogies" (literally, ‘a study of kin or stock’) to the Byzantines. The dependence on fate from the beginning of a man's life, from birth, was misunderstood by the translators as the worship of a special figure - Rod (‘kin’ in Russian, or, more precisely, a ‘kingroup’). “Rod” is connected to the verb ‘to give birth’. Hence its relation to Rozhenitsas (literally ‘women in childbirth’) - maids of fate, Slavic Parcas, present at a person’s birth and important in determining his/her fate.


Perun was not only the main god of Eastern Slavs but perhaps was for some time their only god, at least officially. In Russian chronicles there is, as Lowmiaski has observed, some evidence that other gods mentioned in Vladimir's pantheon were late insertions by a Christian editor. It seems that Vladimir's first religious reform was an attempt to establish monotheism on a pagan basis. Archaeological monuments previously interpreted as proof of Vladimir’s six-god pantheon fail to withstand close scrutiny. Generally speaking, nearly all the main pagan sanctuaries ascribed to the Eastern Slavs (two in Kiev, one in Novgorod and one in Pskov) are doubtful. In the present work they are investigated in great detail. Most likely, some of these ‘sanctuaries’ are secular (non-sacral) monuments, and some are burial sites. 

In support of his system of gods led by Rod, Rybakov points to the Zbruch idol, a tetrahedral stele with a number of carved anthropomorphic figures. A detailed analysis of this monument shows that these figures cannot be interpreted as Rod and the gods of Vladimir's pantheon, nor can the monument as a whole be viewed as typically East Slavic. It is West Slavic in character, with some influence from the steppe nomads. Such idols are not unknown in the region of the basin of Dnestr. Both the West and South Slav tribes are known to have lived in that area, and It is also known that they underwent a comparatively late forced conversion to Christianity.


It is reasonable to suppose that Perun's attributes in people’s imagination were gradually formed on the basis of his functions as a ‘Thunderer’. This process must date back to the the existence of the Indo-European community, and must have continued after its dissolution. Such attributes of the deity as his mighty force and bellicosity obviously go back to the earliest traceable stage in its evolution. Evidence of this can be seen in Perun’s  connection with the oak, the hammer-axe, and arrows, as well as his influence upon yields and fertility, and his general association with women. However, establishing Thursday as Perun’s day must have occurred under the influence of Christian calendar.


Such was the image elaborated in those myths that permeated Vainakh folklore. Let us now consider the data presented in Vainakh folklore and their correlation with East Slavic ethnography and folklore.

In Vainakh folklore there are stories of women sent by Perun to heaven to pour water and make rain. These stories most likely express common Slavic notions of witches and sorceresses - the rain-makers, or the "Blitzhexes" (‘witches of lightning’) as they were called by the Germans. It was believed in 19th century Ukraine that the witches could steal the rain from heaven and hold it in buckets. In Afanasyev's collection of tales there are witches who fly to heaven where they then roll barrels (just like in the Chechen stories of Pir''on's women) - the clang of these barrels creates thunderstorms. In Russia, a related custom was to break barrels in order to call forth a shower of rain.


What was originally contained in the broken barrels? In Russian fairy-tales it was the unusual or specially blessed children that had been imprisoned there. Such children (often twins) were thought of as having been conceived by spirits of the other world. The barrel with the children was left adrift in the sea. Upon landing, the wonderful children would break out of the barrel, to freedom - where a great future awaited them. This motif was frequently used as a legal device by pretenders to the highest office, in order to create a tie to a traditional royal dynasty (Sargon, Perseus). A similar idea lay behind the custom of the witch trial by drowning (if she was really a witch, she would not drown). It was probably the presence of ‘god's children’ that eventually led to the substitution of drowning by exile. It is also worth mentioning that the worn out sacral objects were floated in the river. The women marked by god were believed to have drowned or to have been driven away along the waterways. They were those who became mermaids (in Russian “rusalki”).


Mermaids in the 19th century peasant Russia were understood as, originally, drowned women or children who died before christening. They were believed to have caused offense, not having lived the full term granted to them by god. Therefore, they might be evil-doers, but on occasion some help could be coaxed from them as well since these characters were often recently diseased relatives or neighbours. They were believed to have power over the weather (calling forth the rain) and were linked to the oak, Perun's tree. In the custom of “sending off (or driving) the rusalka away” there is an echo of human sacrifice: a witch or some other woman was sent to the god as an advocate for her home-folks.


Some other characters were sent off too: in the early spring (on Shrovetide, in Russian “Maslenitsa”) Maslenitsa was sent; in the Midsummer (on the summer solstice, or St. John the Baptist's day, in Russian Ivan Krestitel’s day or Kupalo) Ivan Kupalo was thrown into the river; among the Southern Slavs, Mara, or Marena, was seen off. As observed by Vladimir Propp, the similarity of the major ritual components of these festivals, across the entire area of their distribution, is most striking. However, his contention that it may be explained by the similarity of peasant working conditions is unlikely: indeed, the seasons across this vast area are quite different.


It is more convincing to explain the unity of the ritual components by homology – by common origin. The custom of erecting a fire-wheel on a pole and then rolling it downhill may be connected to the magical descent of the sun from the highest point on the ecliptic, that is, to the St. John the Baptist's day, rather than to the spring sun that is still rising to its highest point. Yet, in fact, this ritual is seen in the Shrovetide, in the spring. However, the St. John the Baptist’s feast preserved in the Ukraine and Belorussia, had disappeared from Russia proper where it was ousted by the Christian fast. It is conjectured that before Christianity, Russia had the Shrovetide that is absent from Ukraine and Belorussia. So, the ritual with all its concomitant features had moved from St John the Baptist's day to the early spring where became the Russian Shrovetide, “Maslenitsa”.


In addition to the above ritual, the Kupalo festival is characterized by elements of the Perun worship and intense sexuality. The term "Kupalo" is not a proper personal name but a kind of sobriquet, designating the main action. It is derived not from the word "kupati" ('to bathe') but is cognate to the words “kupa” (‘pile’), "sovokuplenie" ('coitus').


Still more erotic features are present in "Yarilki", "Yarilo’s send-off", another sexual term, this time from "yariti" ('to become excited', ‘to get hot’, ‘to be filled with lust’). This festival also appears to have been moved from the same spot on the calendar and consists of customs from the same original complex. Ithyphallic Yarilo is another manifestation of Perun (connected with his sexual, marriage-making functions).


Thus, under the more modern forms described by travellers, later ethnographers, and students of folklore, one may discern the earlier content of the Kupalo’s festival, Perun's send-off, which marked his downfall and death. This festival coincides in its original place on the calendar with the summer solstice. It is very likely that the old chronicler’s description of Perun's overthrow (the beating of the idol by twelve men, the imploring of it by others, and the final floating of it down the river) was, in fact, misunderstood by the chronicler. It was actually a description of the regular ritual of Perun's send-off on the day of the summer solstice.


The next assumption must be that if there was a send-off, then there must be also be a reception of Perun, an annual festival of his re-emergence, resurrection or birth. Indeed, at the opposite end of the calendar, at the winter solstice, there is more than a week of completely pagan celebrations - Svyatki (modern New Year’s feast). Among the Southern Slavs this holiday is marked by the veneration of an oak log called Badnyak, to which  the attributes of an anthropomorphic deity, an old man, are ascribed. Simultaneously, during the ceremony, a young Bozhi appears (a patronymic from "Bog", 'god'), that is, the son of god. At the same time, Russian peasants performed mummery. Among these performances, the "plays with umrun" are especially remarkable. "Umrun" is a dead man (from the Russian "umirat'" - 'to die'). The dead imitated by a mummer was supposedly resurrected by sheer sexual acts. Among these were masturbation and fellatio, which the girls of the village were forced to perform. This method of resurrection was connected to a belief in the beneficial properties of human semen. The idea of reviving the dead was akin to the ancient Indo-European idea of sansara (the second life on earth, the movement of souls).


So, typologically, Perun appears to belong to the well-known class of the dying and resurrecting gods. In accordance with the cycle of his festivals, the year among the Eastern Slavs was divided into two halves (as among the Greeks, where the year was divided into apodemy and epidemy by the celebrations of Apollo's appearance and send-off). Yet, primarily due to differences in climate and ecology, the lines of division were different among the different groups among the Slavs. The worship of Perun, like that of Apollo, was conducted by women and girls.


It is intriguing to speculate that the presence of a dying and resurrecting deity and its supremacy in the ancient Slavic pantheon might have provided the decisive influence in the future "choice of faiths". Prince Vladimir favoured Christianity, with its resurrection of Jesus Christ, and this led to the relatively fast conversion of the pagan Slavs. Their faith in Perun, the dying and resurrecting deity, had already prepared them to accept the main mystery of Christianity.

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Introduction. The appearance of Perun

Part I. History of the study of the problem

From golden ears to golden beard

First acquaintance

The Views of foreigners

Alone on the throne

In the assembly of gods

The crisis of confidence

A new veneration

Studies abroad

The Soviet Perun

Paganism in the course of Soviet policy

Four doctrines

The work of B.A. Rybakov in critical consideration

Authority and criticism

Kinds of sources

Methodological basis

The memory of culture and subjectivism of the researcher

Memory and the horizon

Post-Soviet Neo-Paganists

The crisis of orthodoxy

The revival of paganism

“Veles’ book” and “Slavic Vedas”

The siege of culture and of society by Vedists

Part II. Data from the Caucasus; history plus anthropology

Perun in the Caucasus

Folklore personage

Slavs in the Caucasus

Six gods in chronicles and in archaeology

Gods of treaties

“Vladimir’s pantheon”

Ancient Russian pagan sanctuaries

The god who did not exist

Zbruch idol: interpretation or pagan theology?

Idols of pagan gods in Rus’

The main god

Attributes of Perun

Who was the main God of the Slavs?

Indo-European roots

The question of seniority

The composition of pantheon

Part III. The outlet to Slavic folklore and ethnography

Barrels in the copper sky

Copper sky



“Czar Saltan” and Rusalkas

Tsarina in the barrel


Rusalkas and the fairy tale

Following Rusalka

Sending-off Mara

The enigmatic Maslenitsa


Barrel on a post 

Rolling down the wheel and the origin of Maslenitsa

Perun behind the Kupalo rituals

The death of Perun

Funeral of Kostroma


Sending-off Perun – ethnography and history

Resurrection of Perun

Perun on the millstone

Old and young

Sviatki: from Badniak to Bozhich

Plays with ‘umrun’

Aqua vita and the ‘milking of the nice cow’


Vainakhan Pir’’on and Slavic Perun

The general picture




Subjects and themes

Mythical personages

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