Perun is the Slavic god of thunder and the sky. He should not be confused with Svarog, who is also a god of the sky because Svarog is the god of the universe, and Perun belongs to the lower sky, which could be interpreted as the atmosphere. He is one of the most powerful Slavic gods. He represents the destroyer because he is the god of bad weather and natural disasters. Perun is a member of the biggest and the most powerful Slavic trinity (Triglav) together with Svarog and Svetovid (the theory that Triglav is not a god, and that he represents a trinity is very questionable and disputed over, and it is posible that it was first set by neopagans). In many places, Perun is mentioned as Svarog's and Veles's brother.
Perun also represents the punisher of perjury, as well as the punisher of evil in general. Perun punishes the evil and disobedient by closing the heavenly door to them. He punishes for perjury during the life of the perjurer and uses lightnings in the process of punishing. In many written documents from the early Middle Ages (Nestor's Chronicle, Sbornik Paisijev (Paisije's Anthology), Sofyskij Sobor), and even in peace contracts can be seen that the Slavs swore to obey Perun himself and he was supposed to punish and curse any man who would break the contract. Perun was most often mentioned and frequently satanised in the Christian notes from the early middle ages. This shows us that the cult of Perun was deeply implanted in the Slavs. Their dedication to Perun can also be seen in the fact that many geographical places and plants bear his name (Perun's peak, and Perun's coast in Russia, Perunja ves in Slovenia, mountain Perin in Bulgaria, perunika is iris germanica, etc.). Even today there are sayings and curses with Perun's name in some Slavic languages. 'Go to hell' is 'do Paroma' in Slovakian, where Parom represents Perun. The word 'thunder' is 'piorun' in Polish. The Baltic Slavs called 'Thursday' – 'perendan'.
The name Perun is made from the suffix -un, or -unj (-унь) which signifies the doer of an action, and the root 'per' which means to hit, to break, to smash. Thus Perun indicates a hitter, a breaker, a smasher, a thunderer, and also a deity – the destroyer, the demolisher. This was the reason why natural disasters were attributed to him.
Legends tell us that thunders are heard because of the clattering of the wheels while Perun is riding in his coach in the sky. On statues, Perun was portreyed as a strong man with a beard. Parts of his clothes tell us that he is a warrior in his armour. There are some notions of Perun with a stone sledgehammer in his hand, which he throws at people and petrifies them. There are also notions of him with a bow, which used to be identified with a rainbow, and when he used it, the arrows would turn into lightnings. One of the odd weapons of Perun were golden apples. Some folk songs show this:
... Te izvadi tri jabuke zlatne
I baci ih nebu u visine...
...Tri munje od neba pukoše
Jedna gađa dva djevera mlada,
Druga gađa pašu na dorinu,
Treća gađa svata šest stotina,
Ne uteče oka za svjedoka,
Ni da kaže, kako pogiboše.
Which translates as:
...Then he pulled out tri apples of gold
and threw them high in the sky...
... Three bolts of lighning cracked
The first hit two young brothers of the groom,
The second hit a pasha on a sorrel,
The third hit 600 wedding guests,
Not an eye of a witness was left,
Not even to utter, how they were killed.
There are some legends about Perun's conflict with Veles. Supposedly, Veles stole Perun's wife, people, and cattle. Veles was hiding afterwards, but Perun found him by smashing the rock which he was hiding behind and beat him. This Belarus story further tells us that Vales was compelled to stay on the surface after this event. According to another legend, Veles took aside Dodola, the rain goddess, during her and Perun's wedding, and expressed his love to her. After this, he was defeated by Perun in the battle and banished to the surface until he eventually found his place in the underworld.
Perun was also associated with fire and fiery animals. Perun's animal was a fiery rooster, which is a sort of Slavic Fenix. His beings were also dragons. Rites related to fire were connected with Perun. Next to the idol the eternal fire was burning, which should not be extinguished in any case because, otherwise, all the servants in the temple would be hurt. Perun was also a fighter against droughts. According to one theory, he had an influence on the rain, and according to another Dodola, Perun's wife, was the one who influenced the rain. In any case, he could surely do a lot about it. Songs were sung:
Da zarosi sitna rosa,
oj dudula mili Bože!
Oj lija daj Bože daj!
Oj Ilija moj Perune!
Daj Bože daj, daj Ilija daj!
which translates as:
Let fine dew drizzle,
oh dudula dear God!
Oh Elijah give us, God, give!
Oh Elijah, my Perun!
Give us, God, give, give, Elijah, give!
(a chorus of Dodola song from around Gnjilane)
As far as plants are concerned, the Perun's plant was an oak tree. Even today, the Serbs call a kind of an oak tree 'grm', which originates in the word 'grmeti', which means 'to thunder'. It is thus obvious that grm was dedicated to thunder, i.e. Perun. Of the other plants there are iris, sage, nettle, apple, and houseleek. The animals which symbolised him are a he-chamois, and a European bison. When they did not have temples, the Slavs prayed to Perun in groves, at sacrificial altars, and under oak trees.
After the arrival of Christianity, the role of Perun was taken over by St. Elijah. Perun, as well as the stories about him remained in the folk tradition, but some of them took the form of St Elijah stories, and the others had to change the name of the main character. The Church satanised Perun, probably because of his strong cult and strong influence on people's lives. The Novgorod Chronicle speaks about this:
'In the year of 6479 (989) Vladimir was baptised. Prins-Bishop Aćim came to Novgorod, and destroyed all sacrificial altars, knocked Perun down, and ordered that he should be thrown into the Volhova river; and he was dragged through the mud and beaten with whips and sticks; an evil spirit possessed Perun, and started to whine: “Oh, I'm so unhappy! I fell into the merciless hands”. And he crossed the big bridge, threw his cudgel onto the bridge, and even today, madmen hit themselves with the cudgel to please evil spirits. Then he ordered that no one should accept him (Perun), and in the morning one inhabitant of Pidba went to the river bank at the very moment when Perun came to the bank, and pushed him away with a pole: “You ate and drank enough here, my little Perun, move on and keep sailing!” And the satanic object disappeared.'
translated by Jelena Salipurović