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Perkwunos (Proto-Indo-European: *perkwunos) is the reconstructed name of the weather god in Proto-Indo-European mythology.

Contrary to other gods of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon such as Dyēus, the sky god, or Hausōs, the dawn goddess, widely accepted cognates stemming from the root *Perkwunos are only attested in Western Indo-European traditions. The linguistic evidence for the worship of the thunder-god Perkwunos as far back as Proto-Indo-European times (4500–2500) is therefore less secured.[1]



The name *Perkwunos is generally regarded as stemming from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) verbal root *per- ('to strike').[1][2] An alternative etymology is the PIE root *pérkʷus ('the oak'),[3] attached to the divine nomenclature *-nos ('master of').[4] Various cognates can be found in the Latin oak-nymphs Querquetulanae (from quercus 'oak-tree'),[2][5] the Germanic *ferhwa ('oak'),[6] the Gaulish erc- ('oak') and Quaquerni (a tribal name),[7][5] the Punjabi pargāi ('sacred oak'),[8] and perhaps in the Greek spring-nymph Herkyna.[9][10]

The theonym *Perkwunos thus either meant 'the Striker' or 'the Lord of Oaks'.[11][12] A theory uniting those two propositions has been proposed in the mythological association of oaks with thunder, suggested by the frequency with which such tall trees are struck by lightning.[13][3][7]

The root *perkwunos also gave birth to a group of cognates for the ordinary word 'thunder', such as in Old Prussian percunis, Russian perúny, Latvian pērkauns ('thunderbolt'), or Lithuanian perkūnija ('thunderstorm').[3][14]


Other cognates related to thunder, through another root *(s)tenh₂, are found in the Germanic Thor, the Celtic Taranis and the Latin (Jupiter) Tonans.[15][16] According to scholar Peter Jackson, "they may have arisen as the result of fossilization of an original epithet or epiclesis" of Perkwunos, since the Vedic weather-god Parjanya is also called stanayitnú- ('Thunderer').[17]

George E. Dunkel regarded Perkwunos as an original epithet of Dyēus, the Sky-God.[18] It has also been postulated that Perkwunos was referred to as *Diwós Putlós ('son of Dyēus'), although this is based on the Vedic poetic tradition alone.[11]


Weapon and lightnings[edit]

Perkwunos is usually depicted as holding a weapon, named *meld-n- in the Baltic and Old Norse traditions, which personifies the lightnings and is generally conceived as a club, mace, or hammer, made of stone or metal.[19][20] In the Latvian poetic expression Pērkōns met savu milnu ("Pērkōn throws his mace"), the mace (milna), is cognate with the Old Norse mjölnir, the hammer thrown by the thunder god Thor, and also with the word for 'lightning' in the Old Prussian mealde, the Old Church Slavonic *mlъni, or the Welsh mellt.[3][20][21]

If his thunder and lightning had a destructive connotation, they could also be seen as a regenerative force since they were often escorted by fructifying rains.[22] Parjanya is depicted as a rain god in the Vedas, Latvian prayers included a call for Pērkōns to bring rain in time of drought,[1][23] and the Balkan Slavs worshipped Perun along his female counterpart Perperuna, the name of a ritual prayer calling for fructifying rains and centred on the dance of a naked virgin who had not yet had her first monthly period.[24] The earth is likewise referred to as "menstruating" in a Vedic hymn to Parjanya, a possible cognate of Perperuna.[25] The alternative name of Perperuna, Dodola, also recalls Perkūnas' pseudonym Dundulis, and Zeus' oak oracle located at Dodona.[24][26]

Striker and god of oaks[edit]

The association of Perkwunos with the oak is attested in various formulaic expressions from the Balto-Slavic languages: Lithuanian Perkūno ąžuolas (Perkūnas's oak), Latvian Pērkōna uōzuōls ('Pērkōn's oak'), or Old Russian Perunovŭ dubŭ ('Perun's oak'). The Slavic thunder-god Perūn is said to frequently strike oaks to put fire within them, and the Norse thunder-god Thor to strike his foes the giants when they hide under an oak.[3][27] According to the Belarusian folklore, Piarun made the first fire ever by striking a tree in which the Demon was hiding.[28] The striking of devils, demons or evildoers by Perkwunos is a motif also encountered in the myths surrounding the Baltic Perkūnas and the Vedic Parjanya.[29][3]

A mythical multi-headed water-serpent is connected in particular with the thunder-deity in an epic battle. The monstrous foe is generally described as a 'blocker of waters', and his heads are eventually smashed by the thunder-deity to release torrents of water that had previously been pent up.[30] The myth has numerous reflexes in mythical stories of battles between a serpent and a god or mythical hero. The latter is not necessary etymologically related to *Perkwunos, but he is usually associated with thunder in some way: the Vedic Indra and Vṛtra (the personification of drought), the Iranian Tištry/Sirius and Apaoša (a demon of drought), the Albanian Drangue and Kulshedra (an amphibious serpent who causes streams to dry up), the Armenian Vishap and Vahagn, the Greek Typhoeus and Zeus, or the Norse Thor and Miðgarðsormr.[30]

Stony skies[edit]

Perkwunos is often portrayed in connection with stone and (wooded) mountains, probably because the mountainous forests were his realm.[31] A cognate relationship has been noted between the Germanic *fergunja ('[mountainous] forest') and the Gaulish (h)ercunia ('[oaks] forests').[32][6][7] The Old Russian Chronicles indicate that wooden idols of Perūn were erected on hills overlooking Kiev and Novgorod, and both the Belarusian Piarun and the Lithuanian Perkūnas were said to dwell on lofty mountaintops. Such places are called perkūnkalnis in Lithuanian, meaning the "summit of Perkūnas", while the Slavic word perynja designated the hill over Novgorod where the sanctuary of Perun was located.[33]

Words from a root *pér-ur are also attested in the Hittite pēru ('rock, cliff, boulder'),[34] the Avestan pauruuatā ('mountains'),[35] as well as in the Sanskrit goddess Parvati and the epithet Parvateshwara ('lord of mountains'), attached to her father Himavat.[36][37] In Germanic mythology, Fjörgynn was used as a poetic synonym for 'the land' or 'the earth', and she could have originally been the mistress of the wooded mountains, the personification of what appears in Gothic as fairguni ('wooded mountain').[31] Additionally, the Baltic tradition mentions a perpetual sacred fire dedicated to Perkūnas and fuelled by oakwood in the forests or on hilltops.[28][38]

A term for the sky, *h₂ekmōn, denoted both 'stones' and 'heaven'.[39] The motif of the stony skies can be found in the story of the Greek Akmon ('anvil'), the father of Ouranos and the personified Heaven.[40] The term akmon was also used with the meaning 'thunderbolt' in Homeric and Hesiodic diction.[41] Other cognates appear in the Hittite aku ('stone'), the Vedic áśman ('stone'), the Iranian deity Asman ('stone, heaven'), the Lithuanian god Akmo (mentioned alongside Perkūnas himself), and also in the Germanic *hemina (German: Himmel, English: heaven) and *hamara (cf. Old Norse: hamarr, which could mean 'rock, boulder, cliff' or 'hammer').[41][20][39][42] Akmo is described in a 16th century treatise as a saxum grandius, 'a sizable stone', which was still worshipped in Samogitia.[43][44]

The mythological association can be explained by the observation (e.g., meteorites) or the belief that thunderstones (polished ones for axes in particular) had fallen from the sky.[45] Indeed, the Vedic word áśman is the name of the weapon thrown by Indra, Thor's weapon is also called hamarr, and the thunderstone can be named Perkūno akmuõ ('Perkuna's stone') in the Lithuanian tradition.[46][40][47] One can also note that Perkūnas and Piarun are said to strike rocks instead of oaks in some themes of the Lithuanian and Belarusian folklores,[48] and that the Slavic Perūn sends his axe or arrow from a mountain or the sky.[38] The original meaning of *h₂ekmōn could thus have been 'stone-made weapon', then 'sky' or 'lighting'.[49]


The Hand of Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1909. Note that Perkwunos should be represented with a metal weapon, as the depiction of the hand holding the thunderbolt is of Semitic origin.[50]

The following deities are cognates stemming from the root *Perkwunos or derivatives in Western Indo-European mythologies:

Other cognates are less secured:

  • Indo-Iranian:
  • Celtic *herku- ('oak'),[7]
  • Greek: keraunos (κεραυνός), the name of Zeus’s thunderbolt, which were sometimes also deified (by metathesis of *per(k)aunos; although the root *ḱerh₂, 'shatter, smash' has also been proposed),[10][76] and the Herkyna spring-nymph, associated with a river of the same name and identified with Demeter (the name could be a borrowing as it rather follows Celtic sound laws),[9][10]
  • Illyrian: Perëndi, a sky and thunder god (from per-en-, an extension of PIE *per, 'to strike', attached to -di, the sky-god Dyēus, thus related to *per-uhₓn-os (see above); although the Albanian root perëndoj, 'to set (of the sun)' or also literally "pe rëndoj"(Eng. "I'm making it heavier"), from Latin parentare, 'a sacrifice (to the dead), to satisfy', has also been proposed,[77][78]
    • Albanian: The word Perëndi could also derive from three words Pe -> Prej/Pej (from), Re -> Re (clouds), Ndij (hear; feel), which could mean "I hear/feel it from the clouds". Another more similar word to Perkwunos is the Gheg Albanian word Përkune (English: "shake it"), which is almost exclusively used when referring to rocking a child in a cradle back and forth.
  • Thracian: Perkos/Perkon (Περκος/Περκων), a horseman hero depicted as facing a tree surrounded by a snake,[11][10][8]
  • Romano-Germanic: inscriptions to the Matronae 'Ala-ferhuiae' found in Bonn, Altdorf, or Dormagen.[5][79]
  • Pomeranian: Porenut, latinized as Porenutius in the work of Saxo Grammaticus. The name is believed to refer to a deity worshipped in the port city of Rügen in ancient times as a possible son of Perun.[80][81]
  • Hittite: the words perunas and peruni are attested in a Hittite text of The Song of Ullikummi, and refer to a female being made of 'Rock' or 'Stone' who gives birth to a rocky creature.[82][83]
  • Scythian: in the 19th century, Russian folklorist Alexander Afanasyev and French philologist Frédéric-Guillaume Bergmann (fr) mentioned the existence of a Scythian deity named Pirkunas or Pirchunas, an epithet attached to the "Scythian Divus" and meaning "pluvieux".[84][85]
  • Italian: porca, a word meaning 'fir tree' in the Trentino dialect. Mallory and Adams suppose it is a loanword from Raetic.[32]

Thunder-god's weapon[edit]

The name of Perkwunos' weapon *meld-n- is attested by a group of cognates alternatively denoting 'hammer' or 'lightning' in the following traditions:

19th century scholar Francis Hindes Groome cited the existence of the "Gypsy" (Romani) word malúna as a loanword from Slavic Molnija.[96]


Some scholars argue that the functions of the Luwian and Hittite weather gods Tarḫunz and Tarḫunna ultimately stem from those of Perkwunos. Anatolians may have dropped the old name in order to adopt the epithet *Tṛḫu-ent- ('conquering', from PIE *terh2, 'to cross over, pass through, overcome'),[17][97] which sounded closer to the name of the Hattian Storm-god Taru.[98]


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Further reading[edit]

General studies:

  • Blinkenberg, Christian. The Thunderweapon In Religion And Folklore: a Study In Comparative Archaeology. Cambridge [Eng.]: The University press, 1911.
  • Chadwick, H. Munro (1900). "The Oak and the Thunder-God". The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 30: 22–44. doi:10.2307/2842615. JSTOR 2842615.
  • Cotton, Gérard (1931). "Orientalia I: Parjányah, le dieu qui <<frappe>> de la foudre". Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire. 10 (3): 579–585. doi:10.3406/rbph.1931.6798. ISSN 0035-0818.
  • Haffter, P. (1972). "The Designations of the Oak in Romance Languages". Acta Classica. 15: 95–112. ISSN 0065-1141. JSTOR 24591271.
  • Ivanov, Viatcheslav; Toporov, Vladimir (1970). "Le Mythe Indo-européen du Dieu de l'Orage Poursuivant le Serpent: Reconstruction du Schéma". Échanges et communications, II: Mélanges offerts à Claude Lévi-Strauss à l'occasion de son 60ème anniversaire. De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 1180–1206. doi:10.1515/9783111698281. ISBN 978-3-11-169828-1.
  • Lajoye, Patrice (2010). "Quirinus, un ancien dieu tonnant? Nouvelles hypothèses sur son étymologie et sa nature primitive". Revue de l'histoire des religions. 227 (2): 175–194. doi:10.4000/rhr.7573. ISSN 0035-1423. JSTOR 23618183.
  • Laurinkiene, Nijole. Senovés Lietuviu Dievas Perkunas. Vilnius, Lithuania: Lietuvu Literaturos Tautosakos Institutas. 1996. ISBN 9986-513-14-6

For the etymology of the Indo-European weather-god, see:

For the association with "stones", "mountains" and "heaven", see: