Monthly Archives: November 2022
Credit – Spiderbrick 2099
Etymology: “Great One”
Alternate Spellings & Other Names: Taueret, Tauret, Taurt, Apet, Ipet, Ipy, Opet, Reret, Rertrertu, Thoueris (Greek), Thoeris (Greek), Toeris (Greek), Ta-uret (Greek)
Other Names and Epithets: “Lady of Heaven,” Nebetakhet “The Mistress of the Horizon,” “She Who Removes Water,” “Mistress of Pure Water,” “The One Who is in the Waters of Nun,” and “Lady of the Birth House”
In ancient Egypt or Khemet, Taweret is the hippopotamus goddess of fertility, protection, and childbirth. She was a rather popular goddess whose image could be found in homes on beds and pillows rather than in any formal temple. Because of her fearsome chimeric appearance, some sources and translations will refer to Taweret as a demon.
Color: Blue, Green
Gemstones: (Hippopotamus) Ivory, Turquoise
Patron of: Child, Mothers
Sphere of Influence: Childbirth, Fertility, Motherhood, Pregnancy, Protection
Symbols: Ivory Dagger, Sa symbol, Wand
Taweret is shown in Egyptian art as being a chimeric deity having the head and body of a hippopotamus, the arms and legs of a lion, a crocodile’s tail and human breasts, and swollen belly of someone pregnant. She wears a flat, cylindrical headdress called a modius that sits on top of her hair or wig. These chimeric aspects show Taweret being both a fertility goddess and a protective deity and how nature can be bountiful while dangerous at the same time if not properly respected. The images where Taweret is shown with a crocodile on her back represent her connection to Sobek.
Later images show Taweret with the sun disc that’s associated with the goddesses Hathor and Isis. Taweret is often shown holding a Sa amulet, a symbol for protection and it wasn’t just protective amulets, as a household deity, Taweret’s image could be found on a wide variety of objects. Household furniture from chairs to stools and headrests. Vessels holding liquid were made with Taweret’s image with openings on the nipples, thought to purify any liquid being poured out. These vessels were very popular during the New Kingdom era. Towards the Middle Kingdom era, apotropaic objects such as wands and knives would bear Taweret’s image during both funerary rituals and pregnancy and birthing rituals. These objects have been shown in tomb paintings.
What’s In A Name
Taweret’s name means either “She who is great” or “Great One” and is the type of name or epitaph given to a potentially dangerous deity or entity so as not to provoke their wrath.
Taweret is a domestic deity in that she usually didn’t have any temples dedicated to her. Instead, you could find images of her in people’s homes on beds and pillows.
However, statues of hippopotamus goddesses can be found in tombs and temples to help the deceased be successfully reborn into the afterlife. Plus, during the time of the Middle Kingdome between 2,055 and 1,650 B.C.E., Taweret became more prominent with her image appearing on more apotropaic objects, the most common being a “wand” or “knife” carved from hippopotamus ivory used in rituals for the birth and protection of infants. These same images would also appear on children’s feeding cups.
Interestingly enough, during the Middle Kingdom era, Taweret would also become a funerary deity and hippopotami images would appear alongside the marsh flora décor in tombs and temples. This imagery connects Taweret as a goddess of rebirth into the afterlife, not just earthly births.
During the New Kingdom (1,550 to 1,069 B.C.E.), Taweret along with other household deities would become even more prominent. Taweret’s image would appear on a number of household items. Despite the ruling of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Akhenaten to alter Egypt from polytheism to henotheistic religion and a focus on the sun disc, Aten banned the worship of many deities, Taweret persisted due to her influence on daily life and her connection as a funerary deity.
During the Ptolemaic and Roman periods between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E., Taweret continued to have the main role in day-to-day Egyptian life. Either during the Late Period 664 B.C.E. to 332 B.C.E., a temple was built for Ipet, a similar hippopotamus goddess in Karnak. This temple was believed to be the place of the sun god, Amun-Re’s daily birth, and several goddesses like Taweret were connected to him as a divine mother.
Crete – In the Minoan religion of ancient Crete, Taweret is known as the Minoan Genius. All thanks to contact and trade of ideas with Levant who in turn, got them from Egypt. Taweret’s image continued to be used on protective amulets, though in a more Minoan style, and would find their way even to mainland Greece.
Levant – Taweret was adopted into Levantine religions, taking a maternal goddess role in their pantheon.
Nubia – Taweret even found favor with the Nubian empire and became part of their pantheon during the lat Middle Kingdom era in Egypt. Evidence has been found of Taweret appearing in royal rituals in Kerma, the capital of Nubia.
Parentage & Family
Given how fluid Egyptian myths can be, who’s related to who can vary by era.
Taweret has been paired up with a few different gods.
Aha – Or Bes, the dwarf god, Taweret is sometimes paired with him.
Apep – An Egyptian snake god of chaos who is sometimes paired with Taweret.
Seth – Or Set, according to Plutarch, is Taweret’s spouse.
Sobek – The crocodile god of chaos, Taweret is paired with him.
In Thebes, Taweret is regarded as the mother of Osiris and thus linked to the sky goddess Nut. Taweret is to have given birth to Osiris in Karnak.
Amun-Re in Ptolemaic traditions and accounts when he becomes the supreme god instead of Ra. Under this mythic tradition, numerous maternal goddesses were seen as Amun-Re’s divine mother. They were all just different names for the same Divine Mother.
The Egyptians were very fluid in their theology and how the gods were depicted. Different deities were known to merge for a specific reason or to emerge and split away, becoming their own entity. Given the thousands of years, the Egyptian Dynasties lasted, it’s not surprising in many ways for the myths to be fluid and change with the times. It was no problem for the Egyptians who saw such myths as complimentary and not contradictory.
At different points in the continuing development of Egyptian mythology, Taweret has had her roles become associated with other goddesses or have roles added. For the ancient Egyptians, they often saw their deities as just being different aspects of the same Goddess. Taweret goes from not just a goddess who protects children and the birth process but one who protects and purifies those moving to the afterlife. Which, makes sense, death being a form of rebirth to the next life and what comes after.
Other examples of this are the goddess of Isis, Hathor, and Mut all having protective roles and aspects that would later be absorbed by Taweret.
Egyptian Astronomy – The Mistress of the Horizon
Taweret’s image is often used to represent a northern constellation in the zodiacs where she is known as Nebetakhet (“The Mistress of the Horizon”). This same image can be found in many astronomical tomb paintings, even the Theban tombs of Tharwas, Senemut tomb, and the Pharoah Seti I in the Valley of the Kings. In this aspect, Taweret is thought to keep the heavens free of evil preventing those not worthy from passing by.
We see the image of the astral Taweret again, almost exclusively on the Sethian foreleg of a bull. This image later comes to represent the never-setting circumpolar constellations of Ursa Major and Draco and has associations with the Egyptian god of Chaos, Seth. The seven stars that line down Taweret’s form are from Ursa Minor.
In the Book of Day & Night, a mythological text dating from the Twentieth Dynasty (1186-1069 B.C.E.), it’s commented that this foreleg of Seth’s in the northern sky is tied down to two mooring posts of flint by gold chains. Isis in the form of a hippopotamus guards these posts.
This specific example of mentioning Isis and not Taweret is part of the fluidity of Egyptian cosmology and beliefs where the aspects of one goddess could be absorbed by another or split off for other deities.
The cosmic, astral imagery for Taweret is even found in later Ptolemaic and Roman eras such as the Book of Faiyum where Taweret is shown in her usual image with a crocodile on her back and a small upright crocodile in her right hand. Another section of Faiyum papyrus shows her near Lake Moeris. The Faiyum shows the solar journey that the sun god Ra takes with Lake Moeris being where the sun god is believed to descend during his nightly journey to the underworld of Amduat.
Taweret is represented in connection with Lake Moeris as a well-known constellation where she is a protective divine mother to Sobek-Re during his daily, solar journeys. In this respect, Taweret is like Neith the primary divine mother to Sobek. This aspect of Taweret is known as “Neith the Great, who protects her son.”
Protector of Pregnancy & Motherhood
This is perhaps Taweret’s best-known role as a goddess of protection. Her role and domain is over pregnancy and childbirth to ensure safe and healthy births. Magic by way of charms, amulets, and the use of special apotropaic wands and ivory-handled knives to ward off evil. 75% of all apotropaic wands have been found with Taweret’s image on them. Practitioners using these would draw a circle on the ground around the sleeping, expectant mother.
As a protective goddess of childbirth, Taweret would often be shown with the dwarf god, Bes who also has a similar protection role.
It should go without saying that pregnancy and childbirth were and still can be a dangerous time. Advanced as Egyptian medical knowledge was, they weren’t above invoking Taweret’s aid and help to ensure a successful birth with incantations that hoped and prayed for a son to carry on a patriarchal line for the household.
Metternich Stela – In this later myth, Isis tells Horus that he was raised by a “sow and a dwarf.” The sow refers to a female hippopotamus and thus Taweret while the dwarf is a reference to Bes.
The Death Of Osiris – Plutarch says that Taweret is a concubine of Set who changed her ways to become a follower of Horus and his order of law. This links Taweret to Isis as the goddess kept Set on a chain to control his forces of chaos. One version of this myth has Taweret holding Set down while Horus slays him.
Motherhood – Later myths quickly connect Taweret as a divine mother, namely the one who fiercely protects her children, much like lions and hippopotamuses are known to.
Pregnancy – Modern folk magic in Egypt still sees women who desire to become pregnant going to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to rub the belly of Taweret’s statue. To the point that a glass vitrine now shields the statue from the constant rubbing and wear. That doesn’t stop women from going to visit the statue in efforts and hopes of becoming pregnant.
The Sa symbol is the hieroglyph for protection and with Taweret, this protective amulet is used during pregnancy and childbirth to ensure the baby’s health and safety. Pregnant women frequently wore these Sa amulets or those with Taweret’s image on them.
Plutarch’s Notes – Plutarch mentions in his writings that in the central myth of Isis and Osiris, Taweret is a concubine to Seth, the god of chaos and murderer of Osiris. Taweret rebels against Seth in order to join Horus and his forces of order.
To the Egyptian mind, this one makes sense, as you’re born into the mortal life, so too do you undergo a similar rebirth into the afterlife with death. Who else will be there, none other than Taweret to act as a sort of psychopomp to purify the soul as you move on.
Taweret’s image would also be placed outside of temples dedicated to other Egyptian gods where it was believed she would protect and keep away harmful, chaotic spirits.
The Eye Of Ra
This story has been found engraved on one of the shrines in Tutankhamun’s tomb and in “The Book of the Heavenly Cow.”
In this story, Hathor, as the Eye of Ra, turns into Sakhmet. How this came about is that Hathor’s father Ra, having grown old, was beginning to fall out of worship. Angry about this, Ra speaks to his daughter who turns into Sakhment and goes out to punish humanity.
As Sakhmet, she was very efficient and nearly wiped out everyone. Realizing that if she continued killing everyone, there would be none left at all to worship the gods, Ra decided that there has been enough killing and told her to stop. Only now she can’t quit, Sekhmet’s become so full of bloodlust.
Seeking the guidance of the ever-wise Thoth, he and Ra get large vats or barrels of beer that have been dyed and colored red to look like blood. In some versions of the story, they flood the land with the blood-red beer, and in others; Thoth has a hallucinogenic like poppies put into the beer.
Regardless of the final version told, Sekhmet on seeing all this beer drinks it up, getting so drunk, she forgets about her reason for coming to the earth, her great blood lust, and forgets all about killing anyone. When Sekhmet returns to Ra, he embraces her and Sekhmet turns back into Taweret. Granted, the other version I have mentioned before sees Sekhmet turn back into Hathor.
With Taweret’s rise and popularity, this version and change of the story is meant to showcase Taweret’s role as a fertility goddess and one of renewal or rejuvenation. This version of the story is why Taweret has the epithet of “Mistress of Pure Water.” By taking the form of a giant hippopotamus that brings the flooding of the Nile River.
Mistress of Pure Water – Fertility Goddess
The above story places Taweret in a position as a goddess of fertility, which makes sense, she is already the goddess responsible for watching over the birth process. Since hippopotami are associated with the Nile River, it’s easy to equate them with the annual flooding that brings much-needed life, rejuvenation, and renewal, especially near Jabal al-Silsila. Just as Tawerret would bring rejuvenation and fertility, she was also associated with the harvest.
Another myth has the god Amun-Re as being born from Taweret as Ipet to ensure the cycle of renewal and regeneration.
Archeological finds have found that hippopotami lived in the Nile River long before the rise of dynastic Egypt around 3,000 B.C.E. Among the Egyptians, male hippopotami were viewed as dark, negative creatures allied with Set, the god of chaos. There would be royal hunting parties that would prove the divine power and might of the pharaoh.
As for female hippopotami, they were seen in a more favorable light as they were seen to represent Taweret. This frightful appearance was to frighten away any negative spirits that would harm a child, especially during labor and childbirth. Given the protective nature of female hippopotami with their young, they were easily adopted as protective symbols. Protective amulets with female hippopotami have been found dating back to between 3,000 to 2,686 B.C.E. up to the Ptolemaic and Roman eras between 332 B.C.E. and 390 C.E.
More Than One Hippo Goddess!?!
Taweret isn’t the only protective hippopotamus goddess. There is also Ipet, Reret, and Hedjet. Some scholars have put forward the idea that all these goddesses are merely different aspects of the same goddess as they’re all protective household goddesses.
We know already that Taweret means “Great One.” Ipet’s name means “the Nurse” and refers to her connection with birth, child rearing, and caretaking. Reret’s name means “the Sow” and it does connect to an erroneous classification of calling hippopotami as water pigs. Hedjet’s name means “the White One” and the meaning for this name isn’t clear. Depending on the source and era, all three goddesses were regarded as different names and aspects of Taweret or she absorbs them.
There is evidence of a hippopotamus goddesses’ cult during the time of the Old Kingdom between 2,686 and 2,181 B.C.E. found on Ancient Egyptian funerary papyrus known as the Pyramid Texts. Ipet is mentioned in Spell 269 of the Pyramid Texts of how the deceased Pharoah will suck on the goddess’ “white, dazzling, sweet milk” when he ascends to the heavens. Maternal goddesses, these hippopotami goddesses protected not just those of royal lineage but those of non-royal lineages as well.
Not To Be Confused With Ammit!
While Taweret and the other hippopotamus goddesses all share similar roles with protection, fertility, and childbirth. There is another hippopotamus goddess, Ammit who should not be confused with Taweret or her fellow hippopotamus goddesses. Why? Because Ammit is the only hippopotamus goddess who is destructive, she is known for eating the souls of the unjust before they go to the afterlife.
Hathor – An Egyptian goddess, it should come as no surprise that at some point in the ever-evolving and changing Egyptian cosmology, that at some point Taweret would be equated with Hathor or share, take over many of the same attributes and even a myth or two while we’re at it.
Mut – A mother goddess in ancient Egypt, married to Amun-Re and often equated with Taweret.
Persephone – A Greek goddess of fertility and the underworld, those attributes seem to be the most like Taweret.
Also Known As: Benec, Vėlinas (Baltic, Lithuanian),Volos, Volusu, Volusu, Vyeles, Ganyklos (Lithuanian), Vlas (Russian), Walgino, Weles
Epitaphs: King of Bears, Lord of all Wolves, Master of the Forest, “Skotiybog“ (God of Cattle)
Etymology: “Uel-“ to see, fields, spirits of the dead. Also likely from the proto-Indo-European word “wel-“ wool
In Slavic beliefs, folklore, and mythology, Veles is a god of many things from storms and trickery to God of the underworld and domestic animals as well as the god of the earth and water. Veles is indeed a significant and major supernatural force within Slavic mythology and beliefs. Depending upon your source, some of it can seem rather contradictory.
Given the nature of Slavic beliefs, there isn’t much concrete documentation. There is still a lot of oral history and traditions about Veles found in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. All of this can get very confusing as for the longest time, first with the arrival of Christianity, a lot of local Slavic pagan beliefs were done away with and made to be seen as aspects of evil and the devil. Then later, when that’s no longer so prominent, there just isn’t a lot that has been documented and what survives has been by oral tradition and that, can vary widely by local, regional traditions that have managed to get passed on. We also hit on several dubious sources that over time have proven not to be reliable.
Naturally, this will be where I’ve got some mistakes and expect I Veles to be a post I will come back to correct several times and update.
Animal: Bear, Cattle, Crows, Dragons, Owl, Ravens, Rooster, Serpents, Wolf
Colors: Black, Blue, Green, Red
Day of the Week: Sunday
Directions: North, West
Element: Earth, Water
Gemstones: Bloodstone, Garnet, Jasper, Jet, Obsidian, Onyx
Incense: Cedar, Clove, Ginger, Wormwood
Month: February, March
Plant: Cedar, Hawthorne, Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine, Wheat, Willow
Sphere of Influence: Cattle, Commerce, Divination, Fertility, Magic, Medicine, Music, Pastures, Underworld, Wealth, Wildlife
Symbols: Cattle, Horns, Serpents, Wool
Tarot: Cups, Pentacles
In some sources, Veles is described as a wolf-headed god. In other sources, Veles is described as a large serpent with horns that lives in the water or is pictured at the bottom of the Slavic World Tree with Perun in his eagle form at the top. Frequently, Veles is depicted as an elderly man with a gray beard and hair. As a shapeshifter, Veles often takes on the traits of those animals favored or associated with him such as horns and bear fur.
When in the form of a bear, Veles is regarded as the King of Bears. As a wolf, among the southern Slavs, Veles is the lord of all wolves.
Velinas – In the Balto-Slavic regions, a description is given that describes him as being a one-eyed god with a gift for divination and leader of the Wild Hunt, lord of the dead, and to whom people sacrificed to were killed with a spear. This version of Veles warrants having its own post as one source found, discusses Velinas as similar to, yet clearly different from Veles. Taking a look at the Mediterranean region among the Greek and Roman cultures, there were other culture groups like the Etruscans, the Dacians, Phrygians who have their own local deities who were similar to those of the Greek and Roman deities and would frequently be absorbed into the Greco-Roman pantheons and survive as epitaphs for the local region.
What’s In A Name?
According to the linguist Roman Jakobson, the name Veles comes from the word “uel-“ and “esu-“ while the name Volos comes from another root word for where “-el” changes to “olo.” The root word “uel” or “wel-“ can have variable meanings and refer to any number of words such as “to die,” “grass,” “to see,” “to want,” “to turn,” “to cull,” “tepid”, “hair,” “wool,” “forest,” and “deception” as in magical deceptions. The book “The Mythology of All Races” published in 1918 says that Veles’ name comes from “weles” for wolf.
The root word “uel” is also related to the proto-Germanic word “walaz” that is also seen in the old Norse “valr,” “valkyria,” and “Valholl” all words related to the Norse god Odin who is known too by the name “Valfǫðr.” In the Baltic dialects and language, we see this reflected in the word “vėlės/veļi” for the “spirits of the dead,” “shade of the deceased,” and “shadow of death.”. This is reflected in the Baltic god’s names of Vėlinas, Velnias, and Velns. A connection of the word “uel” from “ṷélsu-“ for meadow or pasture has been made with the Greek Elysium, the fields of the blessed dead.
Where “uel-“ relates with “to see,” there is a connection in the name of the seeress Veleda. Going off this, in Norse mythology there is a “Völva,” a seeress connected to water and foretelling known as “Völuspa.” The word “Völuspa” is connected to spinning or braiding the Thread of Fate of those whose futures have been seen. “Völva” is also the cognate for a “Wheel” or “Spinning Wheel.”
In the proto-Indo-European language, etymologists have found the root word “wel-“ meaning wool and likely where the English word “wool” comes from. The Russian word for “hair” is “volos.” As a god of horned cattle and other livestock, this makes sense.
First off, “The Primary Chronicle” is the main source and historical record that provides us with evidence for Veles’ importance and worship. Veles is one of the Slavic gods that can be concretely confirmed while there are several others that have been disproved or there’s still information being gathered to confirm them.
Veles is worshiped in two distinct forms. One as Veles and one as Volos. This makes sense as that can be a way to break down all the aspects of what Veles is a god of and the domains he presides over. Scholars and etymologists suggest that Veles and Volos are two different gods being referred to. However, that does make sense for a need to see two different deities once the Slavic regions began to be Christianized and there’s a split of Veles’ dualistic nature.
Cocks or Roosters would be sacrificed to Veles at the rivers or lakes sacred to him.
During the later 10th century, Vladimir I, the Prince of Kiev erected seven statues in his city, of which Veles was one of them. However, Veles’ statue is the only one that didn’t stand up on the hill next to the other statues and castle. Instead, Veles’ statue could be found in the city in the marketplace. This placement indicates strongly Veles’ importance to commerce. Plus, it also shows that the worship of Perun and Veles needed to be kept separate as Perun’s shrines and worship were to be conducted up high with Veles’ place down in the lowlands. Among the Southern Slavs, Veles’ name is often found in place names.
Triglav – Veles was worshipped as an aspect of the three-headed Slavic god Triglav and the Slavic trinity consisting of Perun, Veles, and Svarog.
With the arrival of Christianity in the Slavic regions and countries, the aspect of Veles has largely been suppressed, at least the aspects connecting him to the Underworld and as a trickster. He has been equated with the Devil with his name becoming the same word for ghosts and devils. There is a record of Czech’s referring to Veles as a devil in the 16th century. An idol was thrown in the Pocayna River. Veles is used frequently in medieval curses from Bohemia.
Due to Veles’ dualistic nature, we see a split in his name with Veles and Volos. The name Veles under Christian influence holding a more negative connotations and associations. Whereas with Volos, he is held more benignly, and this aspect survives, becoming associated with different Saints.
St. Blaise – Or Saint Vlas, Saint Vlaho, St. Blaz, or St. Vlasiy, he is connected more to the aspect of Volos, he is a shepherd and patron saint cattle and domestic animals. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds for their protection. The Saint’s name day is February 12th and, on this day, cattle are treated to a special feed to eat. In Yaroslavl, the church built on the site of Vele’s shrine was dedicated to St. Blaise.
St. Nicholas – Veles is associated with this saint who is a patron of merchants, fishermen, and mariners. There is also this connection due to the association with water and being a snake who is slain by St. George, a motif similar to the enmity between Perun and Veles.
Parentage and Family
Father – Rod, the creator god in Slavic beliefs.
Mother – Zemun, a divine or celestial cow.
Sometimes Veles’ parents are given as Svarog and Lada.
Perun and Dażbóg
Depending on the region or the source cited, Veles is married either to Mokosh, the goddess of the earth, or to Devana, a goddess of the wilds and hunt.
Mokosh – She is somewhat conflicting as in other stories Mokosh is the wife to Perun and whom Veles kidnaps in their never-ending feud.
Devana – Or Dziewanna was forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun.
Jarilo – A fertility god raised by Veles after being kidnapped. So he may not really count.
The struggle against Chaos; this is a familiar motif found throughout the world in many different regions and mythologies of a culture hero or God going up against a creature of chaos. This creature is often shown as and takes the form of a great serpent or dragon. This is the familiar Knight slaying the Dragon seen in many European mythologies. Parallels to this concept are even found in other cultures.
This aspect is seen in the descriptions of Veles where he is a serpent with horns and the battle that he has with Perun. It’s a dragon or serpent-slaying motif seen with the story of Saint George slaying the dragon.
Storm Myth – Battle With Perun, the Storm God
As previously mentioned above under Chaoskampf, this story is perhaps the best-known Slavic story, especially as it fits into the Christian ideas of a hero slaying the dragon or evil or order triumphing over chaos.
Russian scholars and philologists Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov have reconstructed this mythical battle of Perun and Veles with comparative studies to various Indo-European myths, Slavic folk tales, and songs.
Perun, the god of thunder battles against Veles in his dragon form. Depending on the story, Veles has stolen either Perun’s son, wife, or cattle which leads to their conflict.
As a challenge, in the shape of a huge serpent, Veles comes up from the underworld of Nav and wind his way up the Slave World Tree towards the heavens and Perun’s domain. Naturally, Perun responds by sending lightning bolts so that Veles flees back down and turns himself into various animals, people, and even trees to escape from or ambush Perun as they battle it out.
In the end, Veles is slain by Perun and the person or thing that Veles is to have stolen is released from within his body and it comes out in the form of falling rain from the heavens.
Scholars have commented that this “Storm Myth” is probably how the ancient Slavs would explain the changing of the seasons throughout the year. Any dry periods would be seen as Veles’ theft with the storms and lightning being interpreted as a divine battle up in the heavens and Perun’s ultimate triumph over Veles with the arrival of rain and Perun establishing order over chaos.
The Slavs have a saying that wherever lighting strikes, that is Perun attacking Veles.
Variation 1 – In the stories where Veles kidnaps Perun’s son, it is Jarilo, the tenth son who is stolen. Veles then raises Jarilo as his own son, who when he is older, becomes a god of fertility and heralds the arrival of spring when he returns to the lands of the living.
Variation 2 – It is Perun who is stolen as an infant and raised in the underworld. Once Perun is grown, he battles many creatures in order to fight his way back up to the mortal world.
Since the “Storm Myth” is cyclical and repeats every year. It connects Veles as a god of fertility and a god who dies and then is resurrected. The snake or serpent aspect of Veles would be him shedding his old skin or old life to be reborn as the year changes.
The “Storm Myth” and battle with Perun places Veles in a more negative role as one who brings chaos. Certainly, change is chaotic, but there is a pattern that emerges and soon you can make sense of that pattern and bring about a certain order to things so it doesn’t get destructive.
For the ancient Slavs, Veles wasn’t evil, he was the god of the wilds and nature which can appear to be very unpredictable if you’re not careful or respectful.
Later Christian influences will place him as evil and why in so many places Veles’ name does become synonymous with the devil and evil. But we do see where Veles appears as a Saint such as Saint Nicholas to save a poor farmer’s cattle from the destructiveness of St. Elias, a representative of Perun.
While Perun is more associated with agriculture, there is a Russian custom during harvest season to cut the first ear of wheat and tie it into an amulet that would protect crops from evil spirits. This was known as “tying the beard of Veles” which meant to invoke good fortune and wealth.
Duality – Ultimately the conflict of Perun and Veles is the duality in the clash of good and evil and the cyclical nature of the passing of the seasons and year. Veles represents the earth, water, and physical world and Perun represents fire, the heavens, and spirit.
Marriage To Devana
Also known as Dziewanna, she is a goddess of the wilds and hunt. As punishment, Devana found herself forced to marry Veles after she rebelled against Perun. Wanting to be wild and free, Devana didn’t initially love Veles at first despite the two having a domain that’s very similar to each other. After a bit of thought, Veles managed to win Devana over when he changed into a basil flower and calmed her. While they’re still not really in love, together they do watch over the lowlands of the wilds and are a force not to be taken lightly.
God of Mischief
Like Loki, Veles is considered a god of mischief and trickery. This ties strongly to the association of Veles’ use of magic, shapeshifting, and the arts. This aspect holds where Veles is seen as a god of chaos and a disruption during any long periods of dryness, or no rain as primarily seen in the “Storm Myth.”
Magic & The Arts
In this aspect, we see Veles the god of divination, magic, music, poetry, the earth, and water. Oaths would be sworn in Veles’ name. Traveling musicians, skalds, bards, and poets were known to pray to Veles for his protection as they traveled.
As a god of poetry, divination, and the arts, Veles has been equated with the Norse Odin. There is a 12th-century Russian epic, “The Tale of Igor’s Campaign,” where the character Boyan the wizard is referred to as Vele’s grandson. Poetry, music, and magic were closely linked in both Nordic and Slavic beliefs.
Veles is regarded as a protector of traveling musicians. Up into the 20th century, in some wedding ceremonies held in northern Croatia, the music won’t begin playing unless the groom while making a toast, spills some of the wine onto the ground, especially near the roots of a tree. This tradition would be musicians making a toast to their patron deity.
The Slavic magician-priests were called: volhov, volchvi, vlъsvi and volъsvi. They were not priests of an elite religion like those belonging to Perun. Rather, these magician-priests were known to be seers, soothsayers, poets, magicians and sorcerers as well as healers and herbalists. It is thought the etymology of volchys connects them to Volos.
God of the Underworld
Veles is a god of the Underworld, in charge of the spirits of the dead whom he would send out as his messengers. In his connection to the earth, Veles is also a god of all the bounties and riches of the earth, growing above and found below.
Nav – Also known as Nawia, this is Veles’ abode in the underworld. Incidentally, the word nav could also refer to the spirits or souls of the deceased who had premature deaths or poor deaths such as drowning, or being murdered, or if you were a murderer or warlock, these were all spirits that would come back as demons to afflict the living. The navias could take the form of birds. In Bulgaria, there is folklore that says twelve navias could suck the blood from a pregnant woman. The navias were also the demonic representation of the 1092 plague in Polotsk, Belarus.
Very similar to Norse beliefs, the Slavs also believed a huge world tree connected the mortal world to the heavens and the underworld. The roots of the world tree formed the roof of the underworld as they stretched out.
Where Perun was seen as either a hawk or eagle sitting in the branches of the world tree looking out over the heavens, Veles was seen as a huge serpent coiled around the roots ruling over the underworld.
Unlike descriptions of other underworlds, Nav was viewed as a beautiful place in folktales as a place where it’s forever Spring with green, grassy plains and plenty of water. Many fantastical creatures could be found here, not just the spirits of the dead who watched over Veles’ herds of cattle.
For the Slavs, Nav was described as being somewhere “across the sea” and was the place where migrating birds would go to every winter. In folktales, we find a different name, Virey or Iriv and that Jarilo, the god of fertility and vegetation lived here during winter and would return when it was time for spring. Jarilo would cross the seas, returning to the lands of the living bringing spring and birds back.
The Separation Of The Human World & Underworld
This story concerns the separation and boundary separating the mortal, living world with that of the underworld and lands of the dead. A shepherd pledged to Veles to sacrifice his best cow and to keep the god’s prohibitions. From this, Veles divides the human world and the underworld with either a furrow that he plows or groove over the road that the shepherd carves with a knife to prevent evil or negative powers from crossing.
God of Cattle
As Volos, he is known as “skotiybog,“ the god of cattle who watches over and protects flocks, cattle and all domestic animals, keeping them from harm. The name skotnyi bog is also the name for livestock in general. This aspect of Veles survives and continued under Christian influence well into the 18th century as Saint Blaise where he is a protector of shepherds and their flocks or cattle.
It must be noted too that it isn’t just domestic animals that Volos watches over, but all wild animals, connecting him to the image of him as a horned serpent and thus, horned gods like Pan or Cernunnos who watch over the forests and animals. In addition to the horns associated with either a bull or ram, there is also sheep’s wool that is used as a symbol for Veles.
The Koledari would sing that they come to “weaving black wool.” There is some folklore involving wool and the expressions, “presti vunu” meaning weaving wool, and “crnu vunu presti” meaning the weaving of black wool. These are illusions to magical crafts and Veles’ role as a god of magic.
God of Commerce & Wealth
Given how cattle were regarded as a sign of wealth and influence, it’s not hard to see Volos become the god and patron of commerce, business, prosperity, trade, and wealth. Merchants would seal their agreements by swearing Volos’ name and even legal documents would sometimes have oaths to him. If you broke an oath, you could be sure of Volos’ punishment and retribution.
A Rus-Byzantine Treaty of 971 is the earliest record we have where signers swore by Vele’s name with violators being warned of a punishment. They would be killed by their own weapons that would become “yellow as gold.” It is thought that this meant they would be cursed with a disease.
Veles’ Feast Day
Or the Festival of Veles, this festival is celebrated either February 11th or 24th for the observance of midwinter. In Christian folk rituals, this festival corresponds with Saint Blaise’s feast day. In the Orthodox traditions, St. Blaise as the protector of cattle is said to have defeated Winter or Morana. Among Catholic traditions, St. Blaise is the patron of throat diseases and apples and candles are blessed to provide protection from those diseases. In Catholic tradition, St. Blaise’s feast day is February 3rd and apples would be sacrificed to him by feeding them to cattle.
Prayers would be offered to Veles for the protection of livestock and their health by sacrificing milk. The festival would be held near a place of worship. During this time, it is forbidden to eat veal. The food eaten during this time is groats seasoned with fat. Ritual fights would also be held during this festival.
The best part is knowing that this held close to Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia!
The Great Night, in Slavic beliefs, following a lunar calendar, the first day of the New Year would begin on what corresponds with the Gregorian calendar of March 1st to celebrate the end of Winter and return of Spring. This festival could last from Christmas all the way to the end of February. After the arrival and Christianization of many Slavic countries, for those Slavs falling under the Orthodox Churches, this day came to be known as Velik Dan or the Great Day. For the Catholic Slavs, this day became Velika Noc, still the Great Night. Both names correspond with the day or the week in which Easter is observed.
In pre-Christian worship, Velja Noc is the night that the spirits of the dead walk the earth and would enter villages and homes to celebrate the New Year with their living relatives. It is believed that Veles, as the god of the underworld would send out the souls of the dead to the living world to act as his messengers. One tradition has young men known as koledari or vucari would dress up in long coats of sheep wool and wear grotesque masks as they went around the villages making a lot of noise and singing songs. They would be wet and muddy to symbolize the wet underworld of Nav and the ghosts of the dead. In the koledari traditions, they would visit different homes and people presented them with gifts as if they were messengers from Veles to gain his favor for wealth and fortune in the following year.
Which I find very fascinating as this all sounds very much like the Irish celebration of Samhain and Halloween with spirits of the dead passing over to the world of the living and dressing up in costume. Plus, the spirits visiting living relatives is a lot like celebrations of Día de Los Muertos in Mexico and Kalan Goañv in Brittany, France.
Apsat – A Georgian or Sarmatian deity and god of cattle and herds who has been equated with Velese.
Cernunnos – A god of the druids in Celtic myth, he is symbolized as a horned snake and god of nature and horned animals.
Hermes – A trickster god and messenger of the Greek pantheon, Veles has been compared to them.
Loki – Veles has been compared to the trickster god Loki from Norse mythology.
Mercury – The trickster and messenger god of the Roman pantheon.
Odin – Some descriptions of Veles also sound just like Odin with his one-eye and gift of prophecy.
Triglav – A three-headed underworld god worshiped by the Pomeranians and some of the Polabian Slavs in Szczecin, Wolin and Brandenburg. It was a short-lived cult confirmed by St. Otto of Bamberg in his biographies.
Vala – A demon who opposes the thunder god Indra in the Vedas.
Vėlinas – A Baltic deity who is very similar in appearance to the Norse Odin and not just Veles.