The Prussian mythology was a polytheistic religion of the Old Prussians, indigenous peoples of Prussia before the Prussian Crusade waged by the Teutonic Knights. It was closely related to other Baltic faiths, the Lithuanian and Latvian mythologies. Its myths and legends did not survive as Prussians became Germanized and extinct in the early 18th century. Fragmentary information on gods and rituals can be found in various medieval chronicles, but most of them are unreliable. No sources document pagan religion before the forced Christianization in the 13th century. Most of what is known about Prussian religion is obtained from dubious 16th-century sources (Sudovian Book and Simon Grunau).
Historical background and sources
The Teutonic Knights, a crusading military order, began the Prussian Crusade in the 1220s. Their goal was to conquer and convert pagan Prussians to Christianity. The Knights built log and stone fortresses, which proved to be impregnable to the Prussians. Despite five Prussian uprisings, conquest of Prussia was then complete by the 1280s. German colonists repopulated the decimated region. It is estimated that by around 1400, Prussians numbered 100,000 and comprised about half of the total population in Prussia. The Prussians were subject to Germanization and assimilation and eventually became extinct sometime after the 16th century. The Knights regarded paganism as evil, worthy of complete eradication and not study. Therefore they showed no interest in local customs and produced no detailed accounts of Prussian mythology. Bits and pieces of accidental, fragmentary, but reliable, mentions of gods and traditions can be found in official Teutonic documents and chronicles, such as the 1248 Treaty of Christburg, Chronicle of Peter von Dusburg, correspondence with the Pope.
Affected by the Protestant Reformation, the former Catholic stronghold the Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights was transformed into the Lutheran Duchy of Prussia in 1525. Religious disputes brought new interest to the pagan Prussian religion. Right about that time two staple studies of Prussian culture were produced: the Sudovian Book and Chronicle of Simon Grunau. There is considerable academic debate on the authorship, dating, and reliability of the Sudovian Book. Most modern Lithuanian scholars follow Wilhelm Mannhardt and treat it as a reliable and independent source, which was used to prepare Constitutiones Synodales, a book of ceremonies prepared by a church synod and published in 1530. Another school of thought claims that it was the opposite: the Sudovian Book was a distorted copy of Synodales, which in turn was prepared based on Grunau, and that they all should be rejected as "invention" and "forgery".
Simon Grunau (died ca. 1530) is much-criticized for using dubious and falsified sources and often augmenting facts with his own imagination. Modern scholars often dismiss the chronicle as a work of fiction, though Lithuanian researchers tend to be more careful and attempt to find its redeeming qualities. The work is responsible for the introduction and popularization of several major legends: King Widewuto, a 6th-century king of the Cimbri, the temple of Romuva, the pagan trinity (Peckols, Potrimpo, and Perkūnas), the high priest (krivė krivaitis) and female waidelinns (similar to Roman vestales).
Various later authors simply copied information from Grunau and the Sudovian Book adding no or very little new information.
The 1249 Treaty of Christburg mentioned Curche, an idol worshiped during harvest festivals. Scholars were unable to positively determine its gender, function, or etymology. Various suggested functions include god of food (Simon Grunau), smithing god (similar to Slavic Svarog and Greek Hephaestus), god creator (derived from related Lithuanian word kurti – to create), god of harvest and grain, evil spirit, god of fire. Some even doubted whether it was a god at all and suggested that it was a name given to a corn dolly.
Another reliable source is a 1418 memorandum (Collato Episcopi Varmiensis) written by Bishop of Warmia to Pope Martin V. The letter reminded the Pope about Teutonic achievements in Christianizing Prussians, who no longer worshiped Patollu and Natrimpe. Most scholars interpret this as two different gods, but patollu could also be an adjective (evil, hellish) to describe Natrimpe. Based on later works, patollu is usually identified as Peckols, angry god of the underworld, and Natrimpe as Potrimpo, god of seas or grain.
In addition to the trinity of Peckols, Potrimpo, and Perkūnas, Grunau mentioned three minor gods: Wurschayto or Borszkayto and Szwaybrotto were personifications of Widewuto and Bruteno, and Curcho was god of food (borrowed from the Treaty of Christburg).
Sudovian Book and Constitutiones Synodales
Constitutiones listed ten Prussian gods and provided their classical Roman equivalents. Note that none of these are female goddesses and that Curche is missing. The list was closely mirrored in the Sudovian Book.
|Constitutiones Synodales||Sudovian Book||Function||Roman equivalent|
|Occopirmus||Ockopirmus||Chief sky god||Saturn|
|Suaixtix||Swayxtix||God of light||Sol|
|Ausschauts||Auschauts||God of the sick||Aesculapius|
|Autrympus||Autrimpus||God of seas||Castor|
|Potrympus||Potrimpus||God of running water||Pollux|
|Bardoyas||Bardoayts||God of ships||Neptune|
|Pergrubrius||God of plants|
|Piluuytus||Pilnitis||God of abundance||Ceres|
|Parcuns||Parkuns||God of thunder||Jupiter|
|Pecols and Pocols||Peckols and Pockols||God of hell, evil spirit||Pluto, Furies|
|Puschkayts||God of earth|
|Barstucke and Markopole||Servants of Puschkayts|
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- Bojtár, Endre (1999). Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. CEU Press. p. 315. ISBN 963-9116-42-4.
- Bojtár, Endre (1999). Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. CEU Press. pp. 308–309. ISBN 963-9116-42-4.
- Schmalstieg, William R. (2003). "Review. Baltų religijos ir mitologijos šaltiniai 2" (PDF). Archivum Lithuanicum 5: 364–365. ISSN 1392-737X.