Perkunas

Perkunas is the Lithuanian form of the name; the Latvian is Perkons, and an Old Prussian percunis, meaning thunder, is recorded in the Elbing glossary, which dates from around 1300. From the thirteenth century onwards there are many records of Prussians, Lithuanians, or Letts worshipping a god of thunder and storm whose name is given as Percunus, Percunos, Pirchunos, Perkuns, Parcuns, or Pargnus (for -uns).3 There is mention of sacrificing to him for rain, and of a perpetual sacred fire maintained for him in the forests or on hilltops. He appears as a mythical figure in the Lithuanian and Latvian folk songs and in popular imprecations such as 'God grant that Perkunas strike you', 'God grant that Perkunas lift you up and dash you ten fathoms deep in the earth'.4 Countrymen prayed to him to pass by without harming their house and crops, or on the other hand to bring rain in time of drought.5 In modern Lithuanian perkünas and in Latvian perkons are the ordinary words for 'thunder'.

2 Cf. Grimm (1883-8), 171 f., 1340; H. Hirt, IF 1 (1892), 480 f.; Kretschmer (1896), 81 f.; T. R. von Grienberger, Archiv für slavische Philologie 18 (1896), 9-15; R. Koegel, GGA 159 (1897), 653 f.; C. Watkins in Mayrhofer et al. (1974), 107; G. Nagy, ibid. 113-31 = id. (1990), 182-201; Puhvel (1987), 226; Gamkrelidze-Ivanov (1995), 526-8; P. Friedrich in EIEC 407 f.; D. Q. Adams-J. P. Mallory, ibid. 582 f.

3 T. R. von Grienberger (as n. 2), 9 f.; Mannhardt (1936), 58/60, 71, 139, 143, 192-8, 200, 207, 233-5, 246 f., 249, 280, 295 f., 356, 362 f., 402, 435 f., 438, 458, 513, 534-40, 627; the testimonies are summarized in Usener (1896), 97. On the god cf. also Grimm (1883-8), 171, 1340; von Schroeder (1914-16), i. 531-4, ii. 603-7; Gimbutas (1963), 202 f. and JIES 1 (1973), 466-78; Biezais-Balys (1973), 430-4; Nagy (1974), 113-15 = (1990), 183-5.

4 Schleicher (1857), 189; cf. M. Gimbutas, JIES 1 (1973), 474.

5 Usener (1896), 97; T. R. von Grienberger (as n. 2), 10; von Schroeder (1914-16), ii. 603 f.; Mannhardt (1936), 197, 356, 382, 458; LD 33710 f. = Jonval nos. 446 f.

Perkunas appears as a bellowing bull in Lithuanian riddles, but is otherwise pictured in human form. Simon Grunau in his Prussian Chronicle (c.1520) says he was depicted as an angry-looking, middle-aged man with a fiery face and a dark crinkly beard. He spits fire, and hurls an axe or (less often) a hammer, which returns to his hand. He kills devils, or the Devil, or the goblin or dragon Aitvaras.6 Perkons too fights devils; his weapon is variously given as a mace (milna), a spear, a sword, an iron rod, arrows, or stone bullets.

Perkunas' car is sometimes said to be drawn by a he-goat (oZys) or goats.7 This is connected with a belief that a coming storm is presaged by the flight of the snipe, a bird whose tail-feathers produce a goat-like bleating noise as it dives through the air. In German country lore it was called Himmelsziege or Donnerziege; in Lithuanian 'God's goat' or 'Perkunas' goat' (Dievo or Perkuno ozys), and likewise in Latvian Perkona ahsis (he-goat) or kasa (she-goat).8

Perkunas/Pearkons has a special association with the oak tree. This is the tree that he typically strikes with lightning, and because of this it has fire stored up inside it which men can use. There were oaks sacred to him and containing his idol: Perkuno ciZuolas, Perkona ozols, 'P.'s oak'.9

This is relevant to the etymology of his name. It has the - no- suffix that we have seen to be a frequent element of Indo-European divine nomenclature, generally interpretable as 'master of'. What precedes the suffix, Perku-, has an exact counterpart in Latin quercus, 'oak'. A Roman deity *Quercunus does not occur, but would not have been surprising. The underlying form is *perkwu-; in Italic *p — kw- became *kw— kw- by retroactive assimilation, as in quinque 'five' from *penkwe. Related forms for 'oak' are preserved here and there in Germanic, with the regular change of [p] to [f].

In Celtic original [p] disappeared, probably with [h] as an intermediate

6 Simon Grunau in Mannhardt (1936), 195, 'wie ein zorniger man und mittelmessigk alten, sein angesicht wie feuer und gekronet mit flammen, sein bart craus und schwarcz'; Schleicher (1857), 150, 182; Gimbutas (as n. 4), 471; ead. (1963), 202; Biezais-Balys (1973), 431 f.; Greimas (1992), 47, 61-3. On Aitvaras cf. Usener (1896), 85. Lithuanian folk-tale tells of a strong smith whose hammer fells trees. He teams up with an even stronger hero, Martin, who carries an iron club and kills three-, six-, and nine-headed dragons: Schleicher (1857), 128 f., 135-7. The nine-header snorts fire like lightning and roars so that the earth shakes, ibid. 137.

7 J. Balys, Tautosakos darbai, iii (Kaunas 1937), nos. 316 f.; Gimbutas (1963), 202, and JIES 1 (1973), 466.

8 Gimbutas (1963), 199, 202; C. Watkins in Cardona et al. (1970), 354 n. 43 = (1994), 455; Grimm (1883-8), 184, 1347; West (1978), 367; (1997), 115. For Perkunas himself as a goat (in a riddle), and the practice of hanging up a goatskin as a rain charm, cf. Gimbutas, JIES 1 (1973), 471.

9 Mannhardt (1936), 196, 435, 438, 534; Jakobson (1962-88), vii. 17; Nagy (1974), 114 = (1990), 184. Perkons strikes an oak in many of the Latvian songs: LD 34127, 34047, 33802, 33713, 33715 f. = Jonval nos. 7, 128, 359, 438, 444 f. It is a fact that oaks are struck by lightning disproportionately often: Nagy (1974), 122 f. = (1990), 195 f.

stage. In the 'Hercynian' mountains or forest in central Europe mentioned by classical writers we see the Celtic reflex of *perkwun(i)yo- or *perkwun(i)ya-.10 Such a formation would be appropriate for 'the realm of *Perkwunos', i.e. the wooded mountains. Whether or not this is the correct analysis, we find a parallel Germanic form in the Gothic neuter fairguni (< *perkwunyom) 'mountain (range)', Old English fi(e)rgen- 'mountain' (only in compounds), and Farge- and the like in south Swedish place-names; also Latinized forms such as Fergunna, Virgunnia, of metalliferous mountains.11 There is a similar Slavonic word for 'wooded hill', Old Church Slavonic pregynja, Old Russian peregynja.12 But here the [g] is not (as in Germanic) the regular outcome of *[kw] or *[k], and we must either take it as an early borrowing from Germanic (with reversion of [f] to [p]) or assume a divergent form of the underlying word, with voiced instead of unvoiced labiovelar. This possibility will be relevant presently when we contemplate the Indian Parjanya.

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