Proto-Indo-European religion

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Proto-Indo-European religion is not directly attested, but reconstruction has been attempted based on the existence of similarities among the deities, religious practices and mythologies of the Indo-European peoples. The hypothesized reconstructions below are based on linguistic evidence using the comparative method. Archaeological evidence is difficult to match to any specific culture in the period of early Indo-European culture in the Chalcolithic.[1] Other approaches to Indo-European mythology are possible, most notably the trifunctional hypothesis of Georges Dumézil.[2]

Pantheon[edit]

Linguists are able to reconstruct the names of some deities in the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) from many types of sources. Some of the proposed deity names are more readily accepted among scholars than others.[3]

The term for "a god" was *deiwos,[4] reflected in Hittite, sius; Latin, deus, Sanskrit deva; Avestan, daeva (later, Persian, divs); Welsh duw; Irish dia, Lithuanian, Dievas; Latvian, Dievs.[citation needed]

  • *Dyēus Ph2tēr is the god of the day-lit sky and the chief god of the Indo-European pantheon. The name survives in Greek Zeus with a vocative form Zeu pater; Latin Jūpiter (from the archaic Latin Iovis pater; Diēspiter), Sanskrit Dyáus Pitā, and Illyrian Dei-pátrous.[5]
  • *Plth2wih2 is reconstructed[6] as Plenty, a goddess of wide flat lands and the rivers that meander across them. Forms include Hittite Lelwanni, a goddess of the underworld, "the pourer",[7] and Sanskrit Prithvi.
  • *Perkwunos, known as "the striker", is reconstructed[8] from Sanskrit Parjanya, Prussian Perkuns, Lithuanian Perkūnas, Latvian Pērkons, Slavic Perun, and Norse Fjörgyn. Fjörgyn was replaced by Thor among the Germanic-speaking peoples. The Celtic hammer god Sucellus (also cf. Taranis "Thunderer") is of the same character, but with an unrelated name.
  • *H2eus(os), is believed to have been the goddess of dawn,[9] continued in Greek mythology as Eos, in Rome as Aurora, in Vedic as Ushas, in Lithuanian mythology as Aušra 'dawn' or Auštaras (Auštra) 'the god (goddess) of the northeast wind', Latvian Auseklis, the morning star (Lithuanian Aušrinė, 'morning star'); Ausera, and Ausrina, goddesses of dawn or of the planet Venus; Hittite, assu 'lord, god';[citation needed] Gallic Esus, a god of hearths; Slavic, Iaro, a god of summer. The form Arap Ushas appears in Albanian folklore, but is a name of the Moon. See also the names for the Sun which follow. An extension of the name may have been *H2eust(e)ro,[10] but see also the form *as-t-r, with intrusive -t- [between s and r] in northern dialects".[11] Anatolian dialects: Estan, Istanus, Istara; Greek, Hestia, goddess of the hearth; Latin Vesta, goddess of the hearth; in Armenian as Astghik, a star goddess; possibly also in Germanic mythology as Ēostre or Ostara; and Baltic, Austija.
  • *PriHeh2, is reconstructed (Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 208) as "beloved, friend" (Sanskrit priya), the love goddess.
  • *Deh2nu- 'River goddess' is reconstructed (Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 434) from Sanskrit Danu, Irish Danu; Welsh Dôn, and a masc. form Ossetic Donbettys. The name has been connected with the Dan rivers which run into the Black Sea (Dnieper, Dniester, Don, and Danube) and other river names in Celtic areas.
  • *Welnos, is reconstructed as a god of cattle from Slavic Veles, and Lithuanian Velnias (in archaic Lithuanian vėlės means 'shades' or 'spirits of the departed'), "protector of flocks"; Velns in Latvian; as well as Old Norse Ullr, and Old English Wuldor, and even the Elysian fields in Greek myth and ritual (according to Jaan Puhvel). There may be a god of cattle in the northern lands, but the argument is very thin. These names were also once thought to be connected to Sanskrit Varuna and Greek Ouranos, for example by Max Muller (Comparative Mythology p. 84), but this is now rejected on linguistic grounds, ("the etymology is disputed" Shapiro, JIES 10, 1&2, p. 155[12]).
  • Divine Twins: There are several sets, which may or may not be related.
    • Analysis of different Indo-European tales indicate the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed there were two progenitors of mankind: *Manu- ("Man"; Indic Manu; Germanic Mannus) and *Yemo- ("Twin"; Indic Yama; Germanic Ymir), his twin brother. Cognates of this set of twins appear as the first mortals, or the first gods to die, sometimes becoming the ancestors of everyone and/or king(s) of the dead.[13][14]
    • The Sun and Moon as discussed in the next paragraph.
    • Horse Twins, usually have a name that means 'horse' *ekwa-, but the names are not always cognate, because there is no lexical set (Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 432). They are always male and usually have a horse form, or sometimes, one is a horse and the other is a boy. They are brothers of the Sun Maiden or Dawn goddess, sons of the Sky god, continued in Sanskrit Ashvins and Lithuanian Ašvieniai, identical to Latvian Dieva deli. Other horse twins are: Greek, Dioskouroi (Polydeukes and Kastor); borrowed into Latin as Castor and Pollux; Irish, the twins of Macha; Old English, Hengist and Horsa (both words mean 'stallion'), and possibly Old Norse Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse born of Loki; Slavic Lel and Polel; possibly Christianized in Albanian as Sts. Flori and Lori. The horse twins may be based on the morning and evening star (the planet Venus) and they often have stories about them in which they "accompany" the Sun goddess, because of the close orbit of the planet Venus to the sun (JIES 10, 1&2, pp. 137–166, Michael Shapiro, who references D. Ward, The Divine Twins, Folklore Studies, No. 19, Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley, 1968).
  • A water or sea god is reconstructed (Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 438) as *H2epom Nepots 'grandson/nephew of waters' from Avestan and Vedic Apam Napat, and as *neptonos from Celtic Nechtan, Etruscan Nethuns, and Latin Neptune. This god may be related[clarification needed] to the Germanic water spirit, the Nix.[15] Similarly, most major Lithuanian rivers begin in ne- (e.g. Nemunas, Neris, Nevėžis). Poseidon fulfills the same role in Greek mythology, but although the etymology of his name is highly arguable, it is certainly not cognate to Apam Napat.

The Sun and Moon are often seen as the twin children of various deities, but in fact the sun and moon were deified several times and are often found in competing forms within the same language. The usual scheme is that one of these celestial deities is male and the other female, though the exact gender of the Sun or Moon tends to vary among subsequent Indo-European mythologies. Here are two of the most common PIE forms:

A fuller treatment of the subject of the Indo-European Pantheon would not merely list the cognate names but describe additional correspondences in the "family relationships", festival dates, associated myths (but see Mythology section) and special powers.

Pandemonium[edit]

"Pandemonium" is Jaan Puhvel's word for the mutual demonization that occurred when the Younger-Avesta demonized the daevas, and the post-Rigvedic texts demonized the asuras. Neither demonization occurs in the oldest texts: in the Rigveda, there is not yet any hard-and-fast distinction between asuras and dēvas, and even in the later Vedas, the two groups (though thematically in opposition) cooperate at certain times.[17] In the Old Avestan texts the daevas are to be rejected for being misguided by the "lie", but they are still gods, and not demons.[18]

However, in the 19th century this distinction between the older and younger texts had not yet been made, and in 1884 Martin Haug "postulated his thesis that the transition of both the words [asuras and devas] into the designations of the demons ... is based on a prehistoric schism in religion ..."[19] The observation was reiterated by Jacob Grimm (DM3, p. 985), who, like Haug, considered it to be the theological basis of Zoroastrianism's dualism.

Before this (in the 1850s), Westergaard had attributed the Younger-Avesta's demonization of the daevas to a "moral reaction against Vedic polytheism", but that (unlike the general notion of a mutual demonization) was very quickly rejected, and by 1895 James Darmesteter noted that it has "no longer [had] any supporter."[20] Nonetheless, some modern authors like Mallory and Adams still refer to Zoroastrianism as a "religious reformation" of Vedic religion (Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 408–09). Most scholars however stress that there were two independent developments in ancient Iran and post-Rigvedic India, but nonetheless to be considered against the common background of prehistoric Indo-Iranian religion where both groups coexisted, with the asuras, perhaps even as a subset (having a particular common characteristic, like the Adityas) of the daevas, the national gods.

Mythology[edit]

Dragon or Serpent[edit]

One common myth which can be found among almost all Indo-European mythologies is a battle ending with the slaying of a serpent, usually a dragon of some sort (Watkins 1995).

There are also analogous stories in other neighbouring mythologies: Anu or Marduk vs. Tiamat in Mesopotamian mythology; Ra vs. Apep in Egyptian mythology; Baal or El vs. Lotan or Yam-Nahar in Levantine mythology; Yahweh or Gabriel vs. Leviathan or Rahab or Tannin in Jewish mythology; Michael the Archangel and, Christ vs. Satan (in the form of a seven-headed dragon), Virgin Mary crushing a serpent in Roman Catholic iconography (see Book of Revelation 12), Saint George and the Dragon in Christian mythology. The myth symbolized a clash between forces of order and chaos (represented by the serpent), and the god or hero would always win (except in some mythologies, such as the Norse Ragnarök myth in which both die). Serpentine aspects can be found in many Greek aquatic deities, most notably Poseidon, Oceanus, Triton, Typhon (who carries many chthonic attributes while not specifically linked with the sea), Ophion, and also the Slavic Veles. Possibly called *kʷr̥mis, or some name cognate with *Velnos/Werunos or the root *Wel/Vel- (VS Varuna, who is associated with the serpentine naga, Vala and Vṛtra, Slavic Veles, Baltic velnias), or "serpent" (Hittite Illuyanka, VS Ahis, Iranian azhi, Greek ophis and Ophion, and Latin anguis), or the root *dheubh- (Greek Typhon and Python).

Sun[edit]

  • Related to the dragon-slaying myth is the "Sun in the rock" myth, of a heroic warrior deity splitting a rock where the Sun or Dawn was imprisoned. Such a myth is preserved in the Rigvedic story of Vala, where Ushas and the cows, stolen by the Panis were imprisoned, connected with other myths of abductions into the netherworld such as the mysteries of Eleusis connected with Persephone, Dionysus and Triptolemus.
  • The Sun god, Helios of Greek mythology, Surya of Hinduism, and Sól of Germanic mythology are represented as riding in a chariot with horses. (Note that the chariot was not invented until Indo-European had already split into linguistic branches.)
  • In Hinduism, the Sun god (Surya) and Moon god (Chandra) are swallowed by the demon serpents Rahu and Ketu resulting in Eclipses.[21]

Brothers[edit]

Analysis of different Indo-European tales indicates the Proto-Indo-Europeans believed there were two progenitors of mankind: *Manu- ("Man"; Indic Manu; Germanic Mannus) and *Yemo- ("Twin"), his twin brother.

There are almost no mythological tales of Rome, but the early "history" of Rome is recognized as being an historicized version of various old myths. Romulus and Remus were twin brothers. They both have stories in which they are killed.

  • Remus is killed by his brother Romulus at the foundation of Rome; and
  • Romulus is dismembered by the senators, "... there were some who secretly hinted that he had been torn limb from limb by the senators ..." There is no world making here, but Romulus is the eponymous ancestor of the Romans, and the founder of Rome. One of the original sources for the stories of Romulus and Remus is Livy's History of Rome Vol. 1, parts iv–vii and xvi. This has been published in an Everyman edition, transl. by W.M. Roberts, E.P. Dutton & Co. NY, 1912.
  • Gemini is the actual Latin word for 'twins' though it usually applies to Castor and Pollux, see Horse Twins in the Pantheon section. They were worshipped all over the Roman world with votive altars with inscriptions, which remained after the Romans were gone. This may be the source of some names which appear in early Christian myths.[clarification needed]

The Germanic languages have information about both Ymir and Mannus (cognates of *Yemo- and *Manu- respectively), but they never appear in the same myth, rather they appear only in myths widely separated in both time and circumstances.

  • A Roman text (dated CE 98) tells that Mannus, the son of Tuisto, was the ancestor of the Germanic people, according to Tacitus, writing in Latin, in Germania 2. We never see this being again, but the name Allemagne is interpreted (perhaps by folk etymology) as "all-men" the name for themselves.

Bulls[edit]

  • Celtic (in this case Irish) texts were written down between the 11th and 14th centuries CE. In one myth a bull is killed and dismembered by another bull and the parts of his body are distributed around Ireland, which explains the names of many features of the landscape, though not the cause of their existence. "It was not long before the men of Erin [Ireland], as they were there in the company of Ailill and Madb early on the morrow, saw coming over Cruachan from the west, the Brown Bull of Cualnge with the Whitehorned [Bull] of Ai in torn fragments hanging about his ears and horns." An example of one of the distributions is this one: "Then he raised his head, and the shoulder-blades of the Whitehorned fell from him in that place. Hence, Sruthair Finnlethe ('Stream of the White Shoulder-blade') is the name given to it." The original source is the last chapter of the Táin Bó Cúalnge, usually called in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley. These quotations are from The Ancient Irish Epic Tale, Táin Bó Cúalnge, transl. by Joseph Dunn, publ. David Nutt, London, 1914.
  • In Lithuanian, a folktale tells of a bull and three cows which are beheaded by Aušrinė, (the morning star) and then the land appears. "The maiden upon returning released her bull. The bull knelt down and spoke in a man's voice: "Chop off my head!" The maiden did not want to chop it off, but she had to. She chopped the head off—a fourth of the seas disappeared, became land. Her brother emerged from the bull. She cut off the heads of all three cows, who were her sisters. All the seas disappeared, turned to land. The earth sprang to life." The original source for this is a folktale called Saulė and Vejų Motina (The Sun and the Mother of the Winds), pp. 309–13, of M. Davainis-Silvestraitis' Collection, Pasakos, Sakmės, Oracijos (Tales, Legends and Orations) publ. in Vilnius, 1973. The English version is from p. 67 Of Gods and Men by Algirdas J. Greimas, transl. by Milda Newman, Indiana Univ. Press, Indianapolis, 1992.

Other myths[edit]

Other myths may have included:

Creation myths[edit]

  • Birth of the Horse Twins from the grain/horse mother (Cox, p. 234, found in 7/11 language groups, which is a very conservative statistic)
  • Danu killed and cut open to produce a river (a parturition creation myth, 3/11)

Cyclic myths[edit]

  • Spring kills Winter, usually with his sprinkler or his striker (Cox, p. 559, found in 4/11 language groups)
  • Cloud/cows stolen from the sun god by the wind god and then released (Cox, p. 232, 4/11)
  • Death and rebirth of the (often grain-associated) life-death-rebirth deity causes the seasons; Frazer calls him the "Dying Corn God" (Frazer, Vol. 8 and 9 of the Golden Bough esp. Vol. 9, pp. 412–423; 4/11)
  • Uncle Water melts the ice and releases the water causing flooding (Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995, 5/11)
  • Quest of the golden apples of immortality, usually by a wind god (Cox, p. 512, 4/11)

Culture myths[edit]

  • Culture myths, stories in which some godlike being teaches the "arts of civilization" (actually technologies) to humans, are found in all cultures. The culture myths of the Indo-Europeans tell how the culture gods taught humans such arts as how to make fire, the proper way to kill and butcher an animal (sacrifice), religious rituals and law codes, smithing, weaving, ploughing, and healing. Culture-giving figures (e.g. Prometheus and Loki) sometimes have an intermediate position between gods and humans (i.e., demigods). They are certainly supernatural, but they often die or are tortured by other gods for their beneficence to humans; nevertheless they are often revived and worshipped like regular gods or revered as heroes. Mallory and Adams call them Craft Gods and argue that they are not linguistically reconstructible; however, Cox compares Greek Prometheus with Hindu Pramanthu (Cox, p. 421). Smith gods, a subset of the culture gods, are slightly reconstructible according to Mallory and Adams.

Flood myth[edit]

  • Flood myth is a widespread myth, in Indo-European as in other cultures (for example, Noah and Utnapishtim myths). In Hindu mythology, there is a story of a great flood, wherein the Matsya Avatar of Vishnu warns the first man, Manu. In Greek mythology, Deucalion is the survivor of the flood, and his sons Aeolus, Ion and Dorus are the founders of the three main lines of modern Greeks.

Ritual[edit]

Émile Benveniste states that "there is no common [IE] term to designate religion itself, or cult, or the priest, not even one of the personal gods".[22] There are, however, terms denoting ritual practice reconstructed in Indo-Iranian religion which have root cognates in other branches, hinting at common PIE concepts. Thus, the stem *hrta-, usually translated as "(cosmic) order" (Vedic ŗta and Iranian arta).[23] Benveniste states, "We have here one of the cardinal notions of the legal world of the Indo-Europeans to say nothing of their religious and moral ideas" (pp. 379–381). He also adds that an abstract suffix -tu formed the Vedic stem ŗtu-, Avestan ratu- which designated order, particularly in the seasons and periods of time and which appears in Latin ritus "rite" and Sanskrit ritu.

The following list of reconstructed PIE religious terms is based on EIEC[24] and Lyle Campbell[25]

  • *isH1roholy
  • *sakro-sacred’ (derived from *sak- ‘to sanctify’) [p. 493, EIEC]
  • *kywen(to)- ‘holy’ [p. 493, EIEC]
  • *noibho- ‘holy’ [p. 493, EIEC]
  • *preky- ‘pray’
  • *meldh- ‘pray’ [p. 449, EIEC]
  • *gwhedh- ‘pray’ [p. 449, EIEC]
  • *H1wegwh- ‘speak solemnly’; [*uegwh-, p. 449, EIEC]
  • *ĝheuHx- ‘call, invoke’ (perhaps English god < *ĝhu-to- from ‘that which is invoked’, but derivation from *ĝhu-to-libated’ from *ĝheu- ‘libate, pour’ is also possible). [p. 89, EIEC]
  • *kowHxei- ‘priest, seer/poet’ [p. 451, EIEC]
  • *Hxiaĝ- ‘worship’
  • *weik-consecrate’ (earlier meaning perhaps ‘to separate’), [*ueik-, p. 493, EIEC; p. 29, Grimm[26]]
  • *sep- ‘handle reverently’ [p. 450, EIEC]
  • *spend- ‘libate’
  • *ĝheu- ‘libate’ and *ĝheu-mņ ‘libation’
  • *dapnom ‘sacrificial meal’ from *dap-, [p. 496, EIEC; p. 484, Benveniste]
  • *tolko/eH2- ‘meal’ (at least late PIE) [p. 496, EIEC]
  • *nemos ‘sacred grove’ (used in west and centre of the IE world)
  • *werbh- ‘sacred enclosure’

Development[edit]

The various Indo-European daughter-cultures continued elements of PIE religion, syncretizing it with innovations and foreign elements, notably Ancient Near Eastern and Dravidian elements, the reforms of Zoroaster and Buddha, and the spread of Christianity and Islam.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mallory & Adams 1989
  2. ^ Mythe et Épopée I, II, III, by G. Dumézil, Gallimard, 1995.
  3. ^ In order to present a consistent notation, the reconstructed forms used here are cited from Mallory & Adams 2006. For further explanation of the laryngeals – <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> – see the Laryngeal theory article.
  4. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 408
  5. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 409–31
  6. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, p. 267
  7. ^ Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 1995, p. 760
  8. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 410–33
  9. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 409, 410, 432
  10. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 294, 301
  11. ^ Mallory & Adams 2006, pp. 702, 780; Gamkrelidze & Ivanov 1995
  12. ^ The Journal of Indo-European Studies, publ. by JIES, Washington, DC., 1973 and continuing
  13. ^ Mallory. In Search of the Indo-Europeans. 1987. p. 140.
  14. ^ Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology & Practice. 1991
  15. ^ Jaan Puhvel, Analecta Indoeuropaea, (a collection of articles), publ. by Innsbrucker Beitrage zur Sprachwissenschaft, Innsbruck, 1981
  16. ^ Encyclopedia of IE Culture, p. 556.
  17. ^ Kuiper, F.B.J. (1983). Irwin, J., ed. Ancient Indian Cosmology. Delhi: Vikas. .
  18. ^ Herrenschmidt, Clarisse; Kellens, Jean (1993). "*Daiva". Encyclopaedia Iranica 6. Cosa Mesa: Mazda. p. 601. .
  19. ^ Hillebrandt, Alfred (1891/1981). Sarma, Sreeramula Rajeswara, trans., ed. Vedic Mythology 2. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 264.  .
  20. ^ Darmesteter, James (1895). Müller, Max, ed. Sacred Books of the East 4. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. lii. .
  21. ^ Charles Hartley. "Rahu & Ketu". Hartwick college, New York, USA. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  22. ^ Indo-European Language and Society by Émile Benveniste (transl. by Elizabeth Palmer, pp. 445–6; orig. title Le vocabulaire des institutions Indo-Européennes, 1969), University of Miami Press, Coral Gables, Florida, 1973.
  23. ^ Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995 p. 810; c.f. Hittite ara, UL ara, DAra (a Hittite goddess).
  24. ^ Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, J.P. Mallory and Douglas Q. Adams, ed., Fitzroy Dearborn, London, 1997.
  25. ^ Historical Linguistics, An Introduction, by Lyle Campbell, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2004, pp. 391-392; see also Gamkrelidze and Ivanov 1995, pp. 832-7, ritual language.
  26. ^ Deutsche Mythologie by Jacob Grimm, (English title Teutonic Mythology, transl. by Stallybrass), George Bell and Sons, London, 1883.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]