Stories about Perun

In Slavic mythology, the world was represented by a sacred tree, usually an oak, whose branches and trunk represented the living world of heavens and mortals, while its roots represented the underworld, i.e. the realm of dead. Perun was a ruler of the living world, sky and earth, and was often symbolised by an eagle sitting on the top of the tallest branch of the tree, from which he kept watch over the entire world. Perun was a punisher of evil-doers. Deep down in the roots of the tree was the place of his enemy, symbolised by a serpent or a dragon: this was Zaltys, a great serpent curled at the base of the world tree (which people later associated with Veles, watery god of the underworld). Zaltys /Veles continually provoked Perun by stealing his cattle, children or wife. Perun pursued Zaltys /Veles around the earth, attacking him with his lightning bolts from the sky. Zaltys /Veles fled from him by transforming himself into various animals, or hiding behind trees, houses or people; wherever a lightning bolt struck, it was believed, this was because Zaltys /Veles hid from Perun under or behind that particular place. In the end, Perun managed to kill Zaltys /Veles, or to chase him back down into his watery underworld. The supreme god thus reestablished the order in the world which had been disrupted by his chaotic enemy. He then returned to the top of the World tree and proudly informed his opponent down in the roots: Ңy, таm твое место, таm сабе бyдз! ("Well, there is your place, stay there!"). This line came from a Belarusian folk tale of great antiquity. To the Slavs, the mythological symbolism of a supreme heavenly god who battles with his underworldly enemy through storms and thunder was extremely significant, and from Perun and Zaltys /Veles, this idea of cosmic battle was passed onto God and the Devil following Christianization.

While the exact pantheon characterization differed between the Slavic tribes, Perun is generally believed to have been considered as the supreme god by the majority, or perhaps nearly all Slavs, at least towards the end of Slavic paganism. The earliest supreme god was probably Rod; it is unclear precisely how and why his worship as the head of pantheon evolved into the worship of Perun. Another candidate for supreme deity among at least some Slavs is Svarog.

Thunder is his voice, and the winds and the tempests his breath. Water represents Perun's blood or tears. The sun and the moon are his eyes. Man receives his flesh from the fire that comes out of his eyes, and his soul from his breath.

As the thunder god, he enters into a union with the mother earth (or sometimes creates it), and impregnates it through rainwater, causing her to generate life. One of Perun's main roles is to restore the earth's productive powers after the multi-headed snake demon steals the holy waters, takes away the earth's moisture, and renders her infertile. After killing the demon, Perun releases the holy waters that come pouring down to restore the earth's fertility. Closely associated with this is the belief that the rains, especially, of the spring season bless all those, who bathe in its waters, with strength, health, beauty, and fertility. These waters are also a protection against evil forces and spirits. The sun, which is referred to as the divine eye, also ages with the seasons, bathes in these pure waters and becomes healthy and youthful again. These waters are believed to cure human blindness, and there are a number of tales and legends in which the hero regains his sight after washing his eyes in the holy water collected at the crack of dawn before the "crow has bathed her children" from the seven springs or wells.

As a thunder deity, all manner of rain-related phenomenon were associated with him. Perun's family all had roles in the coming of rain. His sons would make the thunder and cause the lightning to strike. His daughters and wife would sift the rain. Together, they brought the moisture, thus making the land fertile so crops would grow. This would have been very important to the agricultural societies which worshipped Perun. To invoke Perun's favor or call upon him to bring the rains, worshippers would give food offerings to the god. It is considered unlikely that human sacrifices were made to Perun.
In 1610 D. Fabricius wrote: "During a drought, when there has not been rain, they worship Perkons in thick forests on hills and sacrifice to him a black calf, a black goat, and a black cock. When the animals are killed, then, according their custom, the people come together from all the vicinity, to eat and drink there together. They pay homage to Perkons by first pouring him beer, which is then brought around the fire, and at last pour it in this fire, asking Perkons to give them rain."

Rain is a happy omen and, falling before a new endeavour is commenced, guarantees its success. The sick are given rain water, or water collected from the seven springs to drink. Rain water, or the water of life, as it is called in Russian, heals wounds, makes mutilated parts of the body grow, rejuvenates the old, and resurrects the dead.

The Slavonic tales abound in accounts of how a dead hero is restored to life by means of this precious liquid, which is sometimes brought by the Whirlwind, the Thunder, and the Hail, sometimes by their types the Raven, the Hawk, the Eagle, and the Dove. But they differ from most of the similar stories in this respect. They have two species of what is called the "strong" or the "heroic" water. The one is called "the dead water" (mertvaya voda); the other the "living [or vivifying] water" (zhivaya voda). Contrary to its name, however, the dead water does not bring death; rather, it makes mutilated bodies whole, and heals wounds. But unlike live water, it does not possess the power of resurrection. Folktales are replete with motifs of dead and live water. Like the spring rains which first melt the earth, purify her, make her whole, while the following rains resurrect her, the dead hero too is first sprinkled with dead water, and then with live water, before he comes to life again. When that has been done, the corpse first shudders and then sits up, usually remarking "How long I have been asleep?" or "Oh, did I sleep too long?"

What is the source of these waters? This brings us to the arbor mundi, the world tree. There, in the centre of the universe stands the oak tree, on its top sits the bird of paradise, the eagle, under its roots lies the snake demon. Two springs flow out from under the tree; one of live water, and the other of dead water. Near the springs sit three women, the fortune tellers. One knows the past, the other the future, and the third, the present. They decide what should be and what should not be, and the fate of every being. They bring death or life, and continuously work over the creation of the world (Here I may add that one of the magical values of live water is that it imparts wisdom and power to tell the future).

The arbor mundi is seen as a mediator between the world of the dead and the world of the living. The fight between the eagle and the snake demon is eternal, and represents the cycle of life and death, and of the seasons. The defeat of the demon results in the release of live waters. Death in slavic folklore is seen as a temporary state, a state of sleep. Nothing dies till the end. Every spring the sun comes out of the clutches of the forces of darkness; every spring Perun overpowers the snake demon, and life returns to the earth. Arbor mundi, associated with the theme of the constant revival and renewal, is seen as one of the attributes of Perun.
The sun in Russian folklore is metaphorically called Ognioni kamen, or Bel goruch kamen ? the white hot stone. Perun either holds the fire-stone (the fireball) in his hands, or his thick eyelashes hide the fire underneath them or, at times, he himself represents the sun. On the one hand, the sun (fire-stone) dies every winter or, having become weak, is overpowered by his adversary the dark forces of winter and revives every spring after having bathed in the pure waters released by Perun. On the other hand, Perun has to drink the living fluids of the celestial wells first before he is able to kill the snake demon, and send life generating rains down to earth. The sun as the eye of god Perun or, as the fire hidden in the eyes of god, can burn and destroy everything when they are open but, soaked in holy waters, it generates life-giving forces. These attributes of the sun and Perun are transferred on the earth to stones.

Stone, like the oak tree, is seen as a mediator between the two worlds. The grave stone represents death. Like the oceans, it also separates the worlds of the dead and the living. The stone appears as a frequent symbol of death in folktales. The death of the hero is represented by his turning into stone. But since death is not absolute, the hero, like the earth in general, is brought back to life after he is sprinkled with live water.

A dry stone represents death; soaked in water, it represents life. As Perun is himself incapable of impregnating the earth without having first drunk the fluids of life from the celestial springs. The sun gets his strength and energy back only by bathing in the pure spring rains. The sun and fire are attributes of Perun. Fire is masculine in slavic religion, and water feminine. Both are seen as good phenomenon; neither can tolerate any impurity. One burns, and the other washes away or drowns all impurities. The pigeon (blue) book refers to fire as king, and water as queen. They are husband and wife. Through their union, procreation takes place.

Perun, the sun, and stone are thus dry seeds unless soaked in female waters. In many places, Perun is said to be married to the celestial water maiden. He places stones in the wombs of women, thus blessing them with children. In other stories the representative of Perun recovers gems or treasures which evil spirits have hidden away within mountains or under deep waters, that is to say, he brings out the lights of heaven from behind the dark veil of winter, or from out of the depths of the cloud-sea. Sometimes, however, it is Perun who dies, and then remains lying veiled in a shroud [of fog] or floating over dark waters in a coffin [of cloud, until the spring recalls him to life].

Slava is a beautiful bird - a messenger of God Perun, every feather of which was said to shine a different color. This beautiful bird was called MATEPb CBA (Mater Sva) which can be translated either as Mater Slava (Mother Glory), Mater svex (Mother of everyone) or Mater Sova (Mother Owl - which may be why much of Russian Folk art depicts an owl). This flame colored bird usually appeared in the critical moment and pointed with its wing the direction in which an army should go. Everyone knew that either glory or a glorious death awaited the warriors and the prince had no choice but to follow the bird's lead.