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PERUN was the thunder god of the heathen Slavs. A fructifier, a purifier, and an overseer of right and order, he was the adversary of the Slavic "black god" (Chernobog, Veles). His actions were perceived by the senses: he was seen in the thunderbolt, he was heard in the crackling rattle of stones or the thunderous bellow of the bull or he-goat, and he was felt in the sharp touch of an ax blade.

The cult of Perun among the Baltic Slavs is attested by the Byzantine historian Procopius in the sixth century ce. In the Russian Primary Chronicle, compiled circa 1111, Perun is invoked by name in the treaties of 945 and 971, and his name is first in the list of gods compiled by Vladimir I in 980. As Prone, Perun was worshiped in oak groves by West Slavs, and he is so named in Helmold's Chronica Slavorum of the twelfth century. Saxo Grammaticus mentions Perun's son, whom he calls Porenutius, in his Gesta Danorum of the early thirteenth century.

The root per-/perk -, meaning "to strike, to splinter," is common to Indo-European languages. Close relatives to the Slavic name Perun are the Lithuanian Perkūnas, Prussian Perkonis, Latvian Pērkons, Old Icelandic Fjo̜r-gynn, and Greek Zeus keraunos (from a taboo *peraunos ). Common nouns derived from the same Indo-European rootSanskrit parjanyah ("cloud, thunder"), Hittite peruna ("mountaintop"), Gothic fairguni ("oak forest"), Celtic hercynia (from silva, "oak forest"), and Latin quercus (from *perkus, "pine" or, earlier, "oak")suggest prehistoric ties between Indo-European thunder gods and clouds (i.e., rain), oaks, oak forests, and mountaintops. The veneration of the Slavic *pergynja (Russian peregynia, Polish przeginia ), meaning "oak forest," is attested by Russian literary sources. West Slavic and South Slavic personal names and place-names with the root per - are mostly linked with "oak," "oak forest," and "hill": Perun gora (Serbian), Perunowa gora (Polish), and Porun, the name of a hill in Istria. The word for "Thursday" (Thor's day) in the Polabian dialect is peründan, which literally means "lightning."

In the Christian period, worship of Perun was gradually transferred to the old, white-bearded Saint Elijah (Russian, Il'ia), who traveled across the sky in a fiery chariot (as the Lithuanian thunder god, copper-bearded Perkunas, is still believed to do). In folk beliefs, Perun's fructifying, life-stimulating, and purifying functions are still performed by his traditional instruments: ax, bull, he-goat, dove, and cuckoo. Sacrifice of a bull and a communal feast on Saint Il'ia's Day, July 20, in honor of Perun or Il'ia were last recorded in northern Russia in 1907, when they were combined with Christian hymns and blessings. The meat was prepared entirely by men and then taken into the church and divided among the villagers (see Otto Schrader, Die Indogermanen, 1907).


Darkevich, V. P. "Topor kak simvol Peruna v drevnerusskom iazychestve." Sovetskaia arkheologiia 4 (1961): 91102.

Duridanov, I. "Urslav: Perun und seine Spuren in der Topo-nymie." Studia Slavica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 12 (1966): 99102.

Gimbutas, Marija. "Perkūnas/Perun: The Thunder God of the Balts and the Slavs." Journal of Indo-European Studies 1 (1973): 466478.

Ivanov, J. "Kul't Peruna u iuzhnykh slavian." Izvestiia 8, no. 4 (1903): 140174.

Rozniecki, Stan. "Perun und Thor: Ein Beitrag zur Quellenkritik der russischen Mythologie." Archiv für slawische Philologie (Berlin) 23 (1901): 462520.

New Sources

Yoffe, Mark, and Joseph Krafczik. Perun: The God of Thunder. New York, 2003.

Marija Gimbutas (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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