Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Veles (Cyrillic: Велес; Polish: Weles; Old Russian and Old Church Slavonic: Велесъ) also known as Volos (Russian: Волосъ) (listed as a Christian saint in Old Russian texts) is a major Slavic god of earth, waters and the underworld, associated with dragons, cattle, magic, musicians, wealth and trickery. He is also the opponent of thunder-god Perun, and the battle between two of them constitutes one of the most important myths of Slavic mythology. No direct accounts survive, but reconstructions speculate that he may directly continue aspects of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon and that he may have been imagined as (at least partially) serpentine, with horns (of a bull, ram or some other domesticated herbivore), and a long beard.

Veles is one of few Slavic gods for which evidence of worship can be found in all Slavic nations. The Primary Chronicle, a historical record of the early Eastern Slavic state, is the earliest and most important record, mentioning a god named Volos several times. Here, Volos is mentioned as god of cattle and peasants, who will punish oath-breakers with diseases, the opposite of Perun who is a described as a ruling god of war who punishes by death in battle. In the later half of 10th century, Veles or Volos was one of seven gods whose statues Vladimir I, Prince of Kiev had erected in his city. It is very interesting that Veles' statue apparently wasn't standing next to others, on the hill where the prince's castle was, but lower in the city, on the marketplace. Not only does this indicate that Veles was connected with commerce, but it also shows that worship of Perun and Veles had to be kept separate: while it was proper for Perun's shrines to be built high, on the top of the hill, Veles' place was down, in the lowlands.

A similar pattern can be observed amongst the South Slavs. Here the name of Veles appears only in toponyms, the most well-known of which is the city of Veles in Macedonia, over which looms a hill of St. Elias the Thunderer. Another example is the town of Volosko in Croatia, situated on the seashore under the peak of Mount Ucka, nicknamed Perun. Amongst Western Slavs, the name can be principally found in 15th and 16th century Czech records, where it means either dragon or devil.

The main problem with etymologising the name of this Slavic deity is that there are two different forms of name know from historic sources and toponyms, Volos and Veles, and it is difficult to establish a relation between them. Proto-Slavic *Velsъ or *Volsъ would both have yielded Volosъ, but not Velesъ. Old Russian Велесъ is only known from The Tale of Igor's Campaign (ca. 1200, though its authenticity is disputed). Suggested identity with toponyms such as Macedonian Veles, Greek Βελεσσα or Albanian Veles remain doubtful. Vasmer (1979) argues against an identification of Veles and Volos and considers a connection with Old Church Slavonic velьjь "great". Volosъ himself appears as a Christian saint in the Laurentian codex, as well as listed among other saints, in the 11th c. birch bark document nr. 914) and has been connected to Saint Blasius (Βλασιος), an association reinforced by the nature of Veles as a god of cattle, and the function of Blasius as a protector of livestock.

The Indo-European etymology of the name is unknown, already because we do not know whether Volos or Veles should be considered the original form, but connections have been suggested with Vala, the enemy of Vedic thunder-god Indra, and to Vels or Velinas, a devil of Baltic mythology and enemy of Baltic thunder-god Perkūnas, as well as Nordic Vǫlsi "priapus". One possibility is that the name derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *wel-, meaning wool [1] (if so, the English word "wool" would actually be fairly closely related to the name of this god). "Volos" is also the Russian word for "hair." This seems logical since Veles was believed to be deity of a horned cattle. The name may also be related to Slavic terminology for oxen, for which the South Slavs and Russians all use "вол/vol."

The Russian philologists Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov reconstructed the mythical battle of Perun and Veles through comparative study of various Indo-European mythologies and a large number of Slavic folk stories and songs. A unifying characteristic of all Indo-European mythologies is a story about a battle between a god of thunder and a huge serpent or a dragon. In the Slavic version of the myth, Perun is a god of thunder, whilst Veles acts as a dragon who opposes him, consistent with the Vala etymology; He is also similar to the Etruscan Underworld-monster Vetha and to the dragon Illuyankas, enemy of the storm god of Hittite mythology.

The reason of enmity between the two gods is Veles' theft of Perun's son, wife or, usually, cattle. It is also an act of challenge: Veles, in the form of a huge serpent, slithers from the caves of the Underworld and coils upwards the Slavic world tree towards Perun's heavenly domain. Perun retaliates and attacks Veles with his lightning bolts. Veles flees, hiding or transforming himself into trees, animals or people. In the end he is killed by Perun, and in this ritual death, whatever Veles stole is released from his battered body in form of rain falling from the skies. This Storm myth, as it is generally referred to by scholars today, explained to ancient Slavs the changing of seasons through the year. The dry periods were interpreted as chaotic results of Veles' thievery. Storms and lightning were seen as divine battles. The following rain was the triumph of Perun over Veles and re-establishment of world order.

The myth was cyclical, repeating itself each year. The death of Veles was never permanent; he would reform himself as a serpent who would shed its old skin and would be reborn in a new body. Although in this particular myth he plays the negative role as bringer of chaos, Veles was not seen as an evil god by ancient Slavs. In fact, in many of the Russian folk tales, Veles, appearing under the Christian guise of St. Nicholas, saves the poor farmer and his cattle from the furious and destructive St. Elias the Thunderer, who, of course, represents the old Perun. The duality and conflict of Perun and Veles does not represent the dualistic clash of good and evil; rather, it is the opposition of the natural principles of earth, water and substance (Veles) against heaven, fire and spirit (Perun).

Ancient Slavs viewed their world as a huge tree, with the treetop and branches representing the heavenly abode of gods and the world of mortals, whilst the roots represented the underworld. And while Perun, seen as a hawk or eagle sitting on a tallest branch of tree, was believed to be ruler of heaven and living world, Veles, seen as a huge serpent coiling around the roots, was ruling the world of dead. This was actually quite a lovely place, described in folk tales as a green and wet world of grassy plains and eternal spring, where various fantastic creatures dwell and the spirits of deceased watch over Veles' herds of cattle. In more geographical terms, the world of Veles was located, the Slavs believed, "across the sea", and it was there the migrating birds would fly to every winter. In folk tales this land is called Virey or Iriy. Each year, the god of fertility and vegetation, Jarilo, who also dwelt there during winter, would return from across the sea and bring spring into the world of the living.

Veles also regularly sent spirits of the dead into the living world as his heralds. Festivals in honour of him were held near the end of the year, in winter, when time was coming to the very end of world order, chaos was growing stronger, the borders between worlds of living and dead were fading, and ancestral spirits would return amongst the living. This was the ancient pagan celebration of Velja noc (Great Night), the relic of which still persists amongst many Slavic countries in folk customs of Koleda, a kind of combination of carnival and Halloween, which can happen anywhere from Christmas up to end of February. Young men, known as koledari or vucari would dress long coats of sheep's wool and don grotesque masks, roaming around villages in groups and raising a lot of noise. They sang songs saying they travelled a long way, and they are all wet and muddy, an allusion of the wet underworld of Veles from which they came as ghosts of dead. The master of any house they visited would welcome them warmly and presented them with gifts. This is an example of Slavic shamanism, which also indicates Veles was a god of magic and wealth. The gifts given to koledari were probably believed to be passed onto him (which makes him very much like a dragon hoarding treasure), thus ensuring good fortune and wealth for the house and family through entire year. As seen in descriptions from the Primary Chronicle, by angering Veles one would be stricken by diseases.

Veles' nature for mischief is evident both from his role in Storm myth and in carnival customs of Koledari shamans. In his role as a trickster god, he is in some ways similar to both Greek Hermes and Scandinavian Loki, and like them, he was connected with magic. The word volhov, obviously derived from his name, in some Slavic languages still means sorcerer, whilst in the 12th century Russian epic The Tale of Igor's Campaign, character of Boyan the wizard is called Veles' grandson. Since magic was and is closely linked to music in primitive societies, Veles was also believed to be protector of travelling musicians. For instance, in some wedding ceremonies of northern Croatia (which continued up to 20th century), the music would not start playing unless the bridegroom, when making a toast, spilled some of the wine on the ground, preferably over the roots of the nearest tree. The symbolism of this is clear, even though forgotten long ago by those still performing it: the musicians will not sing until a toast is made to their patron deity [1].

Veles' main practical function was protecting the cattle of Slavic tribes. Often he was referred to as skotji bog, meaning "cattle-god". One of his attributes, as mentioned, were horns of bull or a ram, and probably also sheep's wool. As stated already, Veles was a god of magic, and in some folk accounts, the expression presti vunu (weaving wool) or, particularly, crnu vunu presti (weaving of black wool) stands as allusion to magical crafts. In some of surviving Koledo songs, Koledari sing they are coming along and "weaving black wool".

Thus, being a "wooly" god, Veles was considered to be a protector of shepherds, which reveals one additional trait of his enemity with Perun, who, as a giver of rain, would be god of farmers. Veles, however, did have some influence over agriculture, or at least harvest. Among many Slavic nations, most notably in Russia, a harvest custom persisted of cutting the first ear of wheat and tying it in a sort of amulet which protected the harvest from evil spirits. This was called 'tying of the beard of Veles', which also indicates Veles was imagined to be bearded. In several South Slavic languages, witty expressions such as puna šaka brade (full fist of beard) or, particularly, primiti boga za bradu ("to grab a god for [his] beard", the forgotten god in this expression most likely being a pagan Veles), allude to exceptionally good fortune and gaining of wealth.

From: Wiki
Perun and Veles

Ivanov and Toporov reconstructed the ancient myth involving the two major gods of the Proto-Slavic pantheon, Perun and Veles. The two of them stand in opposition in almost every way. Perun is a heavenly god of thunder and lightning, fiery and dry, who rules the living world from his citadel high above, located on the top of the highest branch of the World Tree. Veles is a chthonic god associated with waters, earthly and wet, lord of underworld, who rules the realm of dead from down in the roots of the World Tree. Perun is a giver of rain for farmers, god of war and weapons, invoked by fighters. Veles is a god of cattle, protector of shepherds, associated with magic and commerce.

A cosmic battle fought between two of them echoes the ancientIndo-European myth of a fight between a storm god and a dragon. Attacking with his lightning bolts from sky, Perun pursues his serpentine enemy Veles who slithers down over earth. Veles taunts Perun and flees, transforming himself into various animals, hiding behind trees, houses, or people. In the end, he is killed by Perun, or he flees into the water, into the underworld. This is basically the same thing; by killing Veles, Perun does not actually destroy him, but simply returns him to his place in the world of the dead. Thus the order of the world, disrupted by Veles's mischief, is established once again by Perun. The idea that storms and thunder are actually a divine battle between the supreme god and his arch-enemy was extremely important to Slavs, and continued to thrive long after Perun and Veles were replaced by God and Devil. A lightning bolt striking down a tree or burning down a peasant's house was always explained through the belief of a raging heavenly deity bashing down on his earthly, underworldly, enemy.

The enmity of the two gods was explained by Veles theft of Perun's cattle, or by Perun's theft of Veles's cattle (since Veles was god of cattle, the matter of ownership here is not clear). The motif of stealing divine cattle is also a common one in Indo-European mythology; the cattle in fact may be understood simply as a metaphor for heavenly water or rain. Thus, Veles steals rain water from Perun, or Perun steals water for rain from Veles (again, since Veles is associated with waters, and Perun with sky and clouds, it is unclear to whom rain should belong). An additional reason for this enmity may be wife-theft. From folklore accounts it seems clear that the Sun was considered to be Perun's wife. However, since the Sun, in the mythic view of the world, dies every evening, as it descends beyond horizon and into the underworld where it spends the night, this was understood by Slavs as Veles's theft of Perun's wife (but again, the rebirth of the Sun in the morning could also be understood as Perun's theft of Veles's wife).

From: here
The Slavic god of cattle and horned livestock (skotyi bog). Veles also became associated with commerce, wealth, and prosperity; merchants often sealed their agreements by swearing upon his name, and legal documents sometimes concluded with oaths to him. This second attribute has led Roman Jakobson to speculate that, as an older, Indo-European deity, Veles absorbed some of the functions of the Vedic god Varuna, who was seen in part as a protector of world order and a guarantor of promises. B. A. Rybakov argues that Veles emerged during the neolithic era as a "master of the forest" – presiding over the souls of wild animals killed for food – then underwent a transformation to a "god of flocks" as Slavic societies made the transition from hunting and gathering to a more settled, agricultural existence. Some Baltic groups worshipped Veles as well, but connected him more with the underworld and the dead; the Lithuanian root vele means "shade of the deceased" or "shadow of death."

After the Christianization of the Slavs, Veles's identity was absorbed into the new religious order in several ways. In some places, he disappeared altogether. In others, Veles was depicted as the devil; the fact that he had often been pictured as a horned god made this equation natural, and as late as the 16th century, the Czechs referred to Veles as a demon. On the other hand, most Orthodox Russians identified Veles with St. Vlas (Blasius), who became the patron saint of livestock. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds, and on the saint's name day (February 12), cattle were treated to special feed.

From: here
About him:
He was the god of wealth, cattle, harvest, grain, merchants, poetry and oracles.
He became particularly associated with commerce.
His idol was often placed in marketplaces.
He was sometimes the god of farmers.
His cult was very popular around Novgorod.
He was a mischievous god, and he was fond of playing tricks and casting spells.
He became St.Vlas (Blaise or Blasius).
A treaty between the Russians and the Greeks signed in 971 refers to him as "god of flocks."



  1. Mythological story of Veles and Perun fight is having its roots in Rig-veda`s SarmaPani story.

  2. The Anukramanika, the index to the Rig-Veda samhita (a part of the Rig-Veda), records that Indra sent the Deva-shuni to look for the cows and repeats that a conversation took place between Sarama and the Panis.[12] The Jaiminiya Brahmana and Sayana's 14th century Satyayanaka add to the story. Indra first sends a supernatural bird Suparna to retrieve the cows, but he proves disloyal. Indra then deputes Sarama, who agrees to find the cows on the condition that her children will be given milk. This deal secures milk not only for her children, but also for mankind.[13] Sayana's commentary on the Rig Veda, Vedartha Prakasha, simplifies and adds some details to the original story as told in the Rig Veda. The ownership of the cows is attributed to Angirasas or Brihaspati. The cows are stolen by Panis, who dwell in the Vala, a stone cave. Indra sends Sarama on Brihaspati's advice. Sarama tracks the cows to Vala, where the Panis try unsuccessfully to lure her to their side. Sayana also states that Sarama makes a deal with Indra before embarking on the search, that her children will be given milk and other food.[14][15] The 15th century work Nitimanjari by Dva Dviveda comments that "Though knowing The Truth, a person out of greed in this earthly life, loses all senses of values; Sarama, who knew The Truth, begged food from Indra on the occasion of redeeming the kine (cattle)."The above quoting is from Rig-veda which supports my statement.