No, Fjörgyn Does Not Descend From Perkwunos – It’s Literally The Other Way Around

In the wake of discussion spurred up by that … curious assertion from a popular (neo-)pagan youtuber about two Nordic deifics allegedly having ‘swapped genders’ and this being demonstrable via linguistics – we encountered a comment asking if Fjörgyn might be something like this, predicated upon the often-encountered notion of Fjorgyn being somehow linguistically descended from Perkwunos. 

Because I’ve seen this postulation come up a few times, here’s a few points on the matter. Showing why that claim (as seen on Wikipedia, etc.) is rather unlikely to be correct. Particularly in the specific formulation the commenter had contemplated of Perkwunos somehow having changed genders to become Fjörgyn. (Also, no disrespect to the commenter in question is meant to be implied here – we can all ask interesting questions, after all, and we are all always learning)

First and foremost – Fjörgyn is encountered as part of a pair, alongside Fjörgynn.

There are two potential ways to explicate this.

Either:

i) This is part of a pretty standard Indo-European pattern (as I have covered extensively elsewhere) for ‘His and Hers’ style theonymics. It’s pervasively common in the Vedic / Hindu end of things [viz. Rudra & Rudrani, Kaal & Kali, Shiva & Shivaa, etc.] , for example.

or ii) it’s part of another rather standard IE theonymic pattern wherein we find the daughter of a particular figure referred to via some form of their father’s name. And the major examples which spring to mind are, of course, Parvati (Daughter of Parvat), or Himavati (Daughter of Himavat (Himalaya)), or others of this typology. I’ll explain why I went in that direction in a moment.

So, even if *Perkwunos *were* the root for the deific in question – then we would be on relatively good grounds in presuming that no gender flip had occurred. Instead, it’d be a male deific in PIE => => => a male deific in the late Germanic / Nordic sphere … that also has either a similarly named wife / female counterpart or a similarly named daughter.

However … while I’m aware that there’s a claim out there about Fjörgynn resulting from PIE *per-kwun-iyā – this doesn’t really make sense for a number of reasons.

We’ll start with the overarching theology.

*Perkwunos is a Striker/Thunderer deific – a la Thor, Herakles, Indra, etc.

Fjörgyn is attested as Mother to Thor. That is to say, Jörð – ‘Earth’. Rather like ‘Prithvi’ – or, for that matter, a closely related typology for the Wife of the Sky Father having a strongly ‘Mountain’ associated form. Mountains, after all, being rather impressively raised up ‘earth’ after a sort.

So, prima facie, it would be unlikely for *Perkwunos to have somehow turned into His Own Mother.

However, that doesn’t necessarily answer the linguistics.

What does, perhaps, is the observation that Fjörgyn looks suspiciously like Proto-Germanic *fergunją, whence Old English Fiergen . ‘Mountain’.

These come from PIE *pérwn̥-yo-m – from the same PIE stem *pérwr̥ (‘rock’) that, via *pérwn̥-to-s, turns into Parvat (Mountain) – and Parvati.

Now, to be fair, academically speaking it’s not impossible that another PIE stem – *perkʷ- – may have been involved. However the issue here is a different one. Namely, the presumption that *perkʷ-, as in ‘tree’, would therefore entail quite specifically not only a) ‘Oak’, but also b) the Striker/Thunderer deific with an Oak association.

This … is a long bow to draw. Not least because we have a rather intriguing suite of typological evidence for the Wife of the Sky Father in ‘arboreal’ form – as a Tree, as associated with Trees, indeed with quite some ‘crossover’ of ‘Tree’ and ‘Mountain’ conceptry even. (c.f Axis Mundi as an example of a potential crossover – sometimes a Mountain, sometimes a Tree, you get the idea) (although I’d probably be citing the various Meliae examples to actually show a ‘Wife of the Sky Father’ dynamic wherein .. yeah, Ash Tree is most directly pertinent. Long story)

Anyway, last point i should probably make is that the occasionally seen attempt to ‘buttress’ a *Perkwunos => Fjörgynn development via Vedic Parjanya … is, again, a case of mistaken identity and linguistics.

Theologically speaking – Parjanya is quite explicitly identified as a Sky Father deific expression [although for some reason this never seems to come up in the academic literature .. I can only presume because the Shatapatha Brahmana, which points this out, wasn’t available in translation at the time academia made up its mind about the subject in the late 1800s, and nobody seems to bother reading the direct re-statements of it in later Puranic accounts for some reason] ;

Linguistically, the actual etymology identified for Parjanya isn’t from the root providing *Perkwunos – but rather, from PIE *(S)Pergh (‘To Sprinkle, To Sow’)[and/or PIE *Sperh]; with that *(S)Pergh effectively indicating, the ‘sprinkling’ of rainfall or the ‘sowing’ of seeds for germination. Which is exactly what Parjanya is depicted doing in His major RV appearances.

And is eminently logical for a Sky Father deific expression.

However, because for some bizarre reason some commentators seem to think that there’s only a single PIE deific equipped with thunder and associated with rainfall, the situation of Parjanya keeps being artificially linked to that of the PIE Striker/Thunderer deific ,rather than His Father.

And then because it looks kinda like Fjörgynn and helps with the *Perkwunos claim *there* , Fjörgynn also gets bundled up into the same effort.

We can but hope that one day soon, a broader and yet more nuanced understanding for the pertinent (Proto-)Indo-European theology can begin to seriously displace its less illustriously-proving forebear. 

One thought on “No, Fjörgyn Does Not Descend From Perkwunos – It’s Literally The Other Way Around

  1. Pingback: No, Fjörgyn Does Not Descend From Perkwunos – It’s Literally The Other Way Around – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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