The Way Of The Gun – The Surprising Re-Development Of A Proto-Indo-European Term Into Modern English … And its Comparative Cognates Considered In Both Ritual And Conventional Phraseology Across The Indo-European Sphere

Something I have long remarked upon is the manner in which certain terms, certain concepts … they are to be found in incredibly archaic spheres, and then they ‘fade away’ or they undergo some transmogrification which obscures their essence somewhat, only to thence re-emerge somewhere else entirely amidst one of the Indo-European descendant groups who may erstwiley have forgotten them. It is almost as if our modern forms are ‘guided’ or we are guided to bring back the past in these regards – to go back to what was once there before.

A good example of this in practice is modern English ‘Huge’. Now, I hardly need to explicate what its meaning is to be … and it would therefore seem eminently logical to suppose that it hailed as its ultimate origin from Proto-Indo-European ‘Hewg’ – which means ‘to get larger, to increase’.

Except here’s the curious thing: it doesn’t. Huge in English actually derives from Proto-Germanic ‘Haugaz’, meaning ‘Hill’, from PIE ‘Kewk’ (‘Height’, ‘Hill’, ‘Elevation’). So what has in fact happened is we have over the span of centuries, ‘re-developed’ a term which sounds suspiciously like the PIE term which means broadly what the modern English does … even though this has in fact come down to us from a different ultimate PIE root entirely. Funny, that.

So, too, it would seem, is the case with ‘Gun’.

Now, the etymology for ‘Gun’ is one which isn’t entirely linguistic in nature – but also has a semi-mythic saliency to it at a key stage in its development. You see, the Gun as we know it, is so named due to a rather impressive crossbow itself called the ‘Domina Gunilda’ – the ‘Lady/Mistress Gunnhilda’.

Gunnhilda, as many are presumably aware, is a not infrequently encountered Nordic name for a woman – quite prominent for several noblewomen, including the wife of Erik Bloodaxe. I am not aware of a direct statement for a Valkyrie by this name – although certainly, it would fit with the general underlying typology to Their nomenclature, and we do find both a Gunnr (‘Battle’/’War’/’Conflict’) and a Hildr (‘Battle’/’Fight’) enumerated amidst Their ranks.

So, Gunnhilda effectively means … Battle-Battle – or, presuming that the doublet acts as an intensifier, big battle, serious conflict, that sort of thing.

But for our purposes, we may just focus in upon the “Gunnr” element – it is, after all, the most directly related to our modern “Gun”.

Gunnr is from Proto-Germanic ‘Gunþiz’, and means much the same as its later Old Norse descendant.

It hails from Proto-Indo-European ‘Gwhen’, in the specific formulation of ‘Gwhentis’. And that’s where things get somewhat interesting (if they weren’t already 😛 ).

PIE ‘Gwhen’ means ‘To Kill’ or ‘To Strike’, and informs quite an array of also-PIE immediately-derived terms which have been preserved with remarkable fidelity down the ages in various liturgical canons, occasionally with quite specific shades of meaning understood to dwell within them.

So, for instance, we have Herakles engaged in the act of ‘κᾰτέπεφνον’ [‘Katepephnon’ – which, given the ‘Kata-‘ prefex, I suppose we might feasibly translate as ‘To Strike Down‘ somewhat more aptly than merely ‘To Slay’] in Hesiod against Giants or the Nemean Lion; or Indra in RV VIII 49 2 – शतानीकेव पर जिगाति धर्ष्णुया हन्ति वर्त्राणि दाशुषे , rendered in the Jamison-Brereton translation as “Like (a missile) with a hundred facets he advances boldly. He smashes obstacles for the pious man”. The key word in the ecclesiastical Sanskrit there being ‘Hanti’, our ‘Gwhen’ derivation’ – and the ‘Obstacles’ actually being, funnily enough, ‘Vritrani’ – that is to say “Vritras”, the word “Vritra” performing double duty for both ‘obstacles’ in the general sense (for example, to the free flow of waters as part of the orderly cycle of creation in accordance with Cosmic Law), and ‘adversary’ especially ‘demon dragon(s)’ in the more specific intonation. That ‘Friend to Man’, ‘Helper of (Pious) Man’ theological element is quite consistent across many of the manifestations of the (Proto-)Indo-European Striker/Thunderer Deific – however more upon that, perhaps some other time.

The Sanskrit ‘Gwhen’ formulations are quite pervasive, and we shan’t go through all of them here. Suffice to say that they are so endemic in association to certain figures that we do not merely see ‘Ahann Ahim’ [‘Slew the Serpent’] as a phrase, but an entire field of theonymics built around the concept. Vritrahan, Vritraghni, etc. – as seen, for instance, in RV VI 61 7: वर्त्रघ्नी वष्टि सुष्टुतिम (‘Vritraghni Vasti Sustutim’) … translated by Griffith as ‘Foe-Slayer, Claims Our Eulogy’, although given that the Deity being hailed there, Vak Saraswati, is also stated to play the key role in slaying the Vritra (in a manner not unrelated to Athena making Herakles and Iolaos able to slay the Hydra in Hesiod etc.), it is also quite feasible to interpret this more directly as well, as hailing Vak Saraswati as the enactor of Gwhen ‘gainst the demon-dragon Vritra.

This genus of theonymic provides the evident source for the Zoroastrian ‘Verethragna’, as well as the broader Iranic Vahram, Bahram, etc. and Armenian ‘Vahagn’, although in the Armenian case I would surmise that the Vishapakagh epithet for Vahagn is effectively a doublet for the forename. Vahagn is a direct cognate for Vritrahan / Vritraghni [i.e. ‘Slayer of Vritra’ / ‘Smiter of Resistance’], a Vishap is a (venomous) serpent/dragon in the Armenian Indo-European mythology, and ‘-akagh’ would seem an obvious phonetic (multilingual pun there, potentially, for Ancient Greek ‘Phonos’) coterminity for our relevant Sanskrit ‘slayer’ element. This is important, because it represents a fundamental distinguishment between the Armenian Vahagn, and the Zoroastrian Verethragna – as Verethragna does not have a dragon-slaying element to his myth. The reasons for that curious discrepancy likely have to do with the convoluted process of the Zoroastrian Heresy’s congealment – wherein Indra was demonized (as Indar / Indra , a ‘Daeva’) and thus removed from worship amongst them, but much later on (perhaps due to sustained pressure from the cultic context of the Zoroastrian warrior class) a sort of genericized and imitation-brand off-label and much more ‘controllable’ Striker figure was (re-)incorporated utilizing this name … albeit missing the key conflict against the demon dragon, and the Vajra (both elements of which having been apportioned off elsewhere in the course of the Zoroastrians’ general mess-up slash “editorialization” of Indo-Iranic religious post-orthodoxy to fit their own changing needs as they saw fit).

In short – we can therefore show that the Armenian Indo-European mythology is NOT, contrary to what some might have you believe, merely some sort of Persianified ‘Zoroastrian Lite’ sphere : but rather, had likewise carried forward authentic and archaic elements which were not occurrent in the Zoroastrian model they’d wound up in contact with later on. There are other elements we could mention with regard to this, including the most intriguing direct parallel involving the Striker/Thunderer in the Stalk which is also co-expressed in the Vedas with regard to Indra (and with some elements also occurrent in relation to Thor in the Husdrapa, for instance), but more upon that some other time.

Indra is, of course, an incredibly prominent bearer of such accolades, although in addition to Vak Saraswati, Agni is also hailed in similar terms – RV III 16 1: राय ईशे सवपत्यस्य गोमत ईशे वर्त्रहथानाम (‘Raya Ise Svapatyasya Ghomata Ise Vrtrahathanam’), rendered by Griffith as ‘Lord of wealth in herds of kine; Lord of the battles with the foe.’ I am sure by now that I do not need to point out which portions of ‘Vritra + Hathanam’ are in the last few words of that translation! We likewise find Trita Aptya engaged in a ‘Gwhen’ derived strike against His adversary in RV X 8 8 – the Tricephal [Trisiras] that links to Geryon, Cacus, etc. (as well as, in a certain sense, the Hydra due to some mythic conflation occurrent perhaps amidst the Greeks) in the Classical sphere.

Given the strong association of the Striker/Thunderer with this ‘Gwhen’ term and its derivatives, it should therefore come as no surprise that in addition to the broad and general verbs for ‘Killing’ or ‘Striking’ (consider Ancient Greek ‘Phonos’ ( φόνος )and ‘Theino’ ( θείνω ) respectively), we also find rather more hard-edged developments more specifically salient for His general forms of usage. Sanskrit हन्ति (‘Hanti’) includes in its ambit ‘striking’ in the sense of beating and hammering , as we might strike a drum to produce a ‘beat’ (‘beating’ and ‘pounding’ are certainly in there as well). घन (‘Ghana’) is an operationalized noun – referring to a killer, a slayer … but also a percussive weapon such as a mace or a hammer specifically.

However, it should come as no surprise that ‘Gwhen’ can also be utilized by deific figures engaged in an entirely different type of killing. RV I 114 has the plea to Rudra – आरे ते गोघ्नमुत पूरुषघ्नं कषयद्वीर सुम्नमस्मे तेस्तु (‘Are Te Ghoghnamuta Purusaghnam Ksayadvira Sumnamasme Teastu’), rendered by Griffith as ‘Far be Thy dart that killeth men or cattle: Thy bliss be with us, O Thou Lord of Heroes.’ The relevant words there being ‘Ghoghnam’ and ‘Purusaghnam’ for ‘Cow-slayer’ and ‘Man-slayer’ respectively.

This would inform a rather useful English presentation of what is going on here with ‘Gwhen’ – namely, the ‘Bane’ of those affixed to it when we look at ‘Vritraghni’, ‘Purushaghnam’, etc. And I mean that quite directly, as ‘Bane’ in modern English is likewise derived from this very same ‘Gwhen’ root. Specifically, it is from an adjectival form for ‘Gwhen’ – PIE ‘Ghwonos’, which also provides that Ancient Greek ‘Phonos’ (‘Murder’, ‘Slaughter’) we had met earlier. This leads us to Proto-Germanic ‘Bano’ and ‘Bano’ (with slightly different pronunciation on the ‘-o’) to mean a ‘Murderer’, or a ‘Battlefield’. The latter is of additional interest to us, not simply because it implies that the ‘battlefield’ is in fact really more of a ‘Killing Ground’ in the archaic Germanic world-view (as implicitly referenced by Sabaton in their English translation of the song ‘Ett slag färgat rött’ (‘A Battle Coloured Red’), detailing the clash of the Swedish Caroleans under Rehnskiöld against the Saxon and Russian forces at the Battle of Fraustadt, where the armies of the latter were lured out of a superior position via a feigned Swedish retreat and into .. well … a more than fourteen to one kill-to-death ratio in favour of the Swedes), but also due to the other meanings for the term as a ‘space cleared’, a ‘path cleared’, etc. – which is rather on-point for the Sanskrit understandings for Vritrahan etc. in the sense of clearing away obstacles and obstructions to forge a path.

The former sense of ‘Bano’ as ‘Murderer’ obviously informs the later Germanic interpretations of ‘Bane’ as ‘Killer of something’. So, for example, we have the reasonably straightforward ‘Mannsbani’ in Old Norse, meaning ‘Man-Bane’ or ‘Man-Slayer’; and the mention for the wolf-demon, Fenrir, to be Odin’s Bane due to the proceedings at Ragnarok.

Slavic and Celtic languages provide additional highlights from the potential meaning-field for PIE ‘Gwhen’ and its derivatives. Irish has the obvious ‘Goin’ (‘Wound’ / ‘Sting’), whilst in Welsh, we find ‘Gwanu’ to mean ‘piercing’ … or ‘raiding’ (all of these are from Proto-Celtic ‘Gwaneti’; which oddly enough, doesn’t appear to provide the root for ‘Gawain’, the famed knight).

Meanwhile, Proto-Balto-Slavic gives us ‘Guntei’, meaning ‘To Chase’; which thence provides an array of terms directly relevant for this and setting things in forceful motion (consider Lithuanian Ginti and Latvian Dzit (with this Latvian term apparently deriving from an expression around ‘hammering’ a nail) as well as Polish ‘Gnac’ (which adds ‘rush’), all of which mean ‘to drive’ or ‘to chase’); as well as in some cases ‘to persecute’ / ‘prosecute’, as seen via Proto-Slavic ‘Goniti’ (and its derivatives such as Serbian ‘Goniti’ ( го̀нити ) and the very similar Old Church Slavonic term with much the same meaning); or the specific ‘Hunt’ terms such as Czech ‘Hon’, Silesian ‘Gon’, and Russian ‘гон’ (‘Gon’), all of which are from Proto-Slavic gònъ.

A ‘Hunting Gun’ and a ‘Nailgun’, indeed.

Now of course, there is far more I could say about … quite an array of these elements, as you can no doubt imagine. I may, in future, look at some of the implications of particular terms and term-sets in the context of both our Operation Jarjara [the revitalization / re-illumination of Indra Worship, and the Striker/Thunderer deific more generally, particularly as viewed through that lens] and our escalating Proto-Indo-European-anchored liturgy / ritual reconstructive efforts. But more upon those some other time, perhaps.

There’s another pair of terms which do deserve our more immediate attention, however, and not only because I’ve left Latin strikingly under-utilized here. Offend and Defend , Offence and Defence. These come down to us from, surprise surprise … PIE ‘Gwhen’.

Latin took ‘Gwhen’, and via Proto-Italic we have ‘Fendo’ – meaning ‘to hit’, ‘to thrust’. Defend is, therefore, in the manner of Latin Defendo (which means exactly what you think it does), the prefix ‘De-‘ (which, again, means significantly the same in both English and Latin – ‘from’ / ‘away from’) affixed to ‘Fendo’; just as ‘Offend’ is likewise the Latin prefix ‘Ob-‘ (‘against’ / ‘toward’) plus ‘Fendo’. ‘Defendo’ would therefore either entail striking away a blow, or deflecting one (and Latin ‘deflecto’ is, similarly a ‘de-‘ plus ‘flecto’) – so ‘striking’ against, or being against the ‘striking’ (or, more likely, both – a ‘parry’, we would  think of it as). Offendo being to strike towards, or  to strike against the target.

How does all of that pertain to our modern English ‘Gun’? Well, as with PIE ‘Gwhen’ in subsequent descendant languages … it’s all a matter of how you use it.
And as for how we use it – well, rapid-fire sustained heavy bombardment in the mytholinguistic sense and with a literally intercontinental range would appear to be the fire-plan.

So the next time somebody looks to criticize my ‘techno-theology’ with specific view to the notion of the Striker/Thunderer deific wielding a firearm (or, perhaps, artillery-piece) … I shall be able to point out that, at least by intentional essence-of-meaning, the God with a Gun is mytholinguistically apt. And then we can point to that fine Indian painting of Krishna [Himself an expression of the Striker/Thunderer deific as we have previously demonstrated] hefting a rather massive cannon in the defence of a fortification in Bengal several hundred years ago.

Oh, and as for the image I’ve chosen to accompany this piece? Well, you see – one of the derivations for PIE ‘Gwhen’ in Proto-Germanic is ‘Banjo’ (‘Wound’ – verbal form ‘Banjona’). And ‘Banjos’ and ‘Folk Music’, well .. I’m not suggesting the instrument has such an effect, nor anything about the players of such, either. Does go nicely with the notion of the effective empowerment of the Vajra and other such Divine Weaponry as being Song (‘prayer’ would perhaps be a slightly closer translation – invocation?), too (with some suggestion that the ‘Ghana’ utilized to refer to Brihaspati’s ‘Thunder-Speech’ might be similarly ‘Gwhen’ derived).

As attested in AV 11 10, “An Incantation For The Destruction Of A Hostile Army”:
‘Sarvahllokantsamajayan Deva Ahutyanaya. Brhaspatirangiraso Vajram Yamasincatasura- Ksayanam Vadham.
Brhaspatirangiraso Vajram Yamasincatasura- Ksayanam Vadham. Tendhamamum Senam Ni Limpami Brhaspate’mitran Hanmyojasa.’

Which, as you shall note, concludes with our friend, the ‘Gwhen’ particle – in the specific form of ‘ हन्मि ‘ (‘Hanmi’), the meaning of which ought be clearly apparent.

Or, phrased in a perhaps more approachable speech, if a less immanently resonant one:

‘All worlds did the Gods completely conquer by means of that offering [‘Song Calling To’ – ‘Invocation’] — the thunderbolt which Brihaspati of the Angiras race poured, a Demon-destroying weapon. The Thunderbolt which Brihaspati of the Anngiras race poured, a Demon-destroying weapon — therewith do I blot out yon army, O Brihaspati; I slay the enemies with force.’

One thought on “The Way Of The Gun – The Surprising Re-Development Of A Proto-Indo-European Term Into Modern English … And its Comparative Cognates Considered In Both Ritual And Conventional Phraseology Across The Indo-European Sphere

  1. Pingback: The Way Of The Gun – The Surprising Re-Development Of A Proto-Indo-European Term Into Modern English … And its Comparative Cognates Considered In Both Ritual And Conventional Phraseology Across The Indo-European Sphere – Glyn Hnutu-healh: Histor

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