Dyaus Inter Alia – On The Sky Father’s Major Theonym And The Relative (In-)Frequency Of Its Occurrence Across Various Indo-European Spheres

Something a perspicacious associate [O.R.] observed is that even though each Indo-European mythic sphere may have its Sky Father deific in prominent pride of place … it is only amidst the Hellenic and Roman perspectives that we actually find ‘Dyaus Pitar’ (or, if we are being properly PIE : *Dyḗus ph₂tḗr) theonymics in prominent usage and broad attestation. Zeus Pater and Jupiter being the most familiar (although by no means the only) exemplars, respectively. 

Now we know thanks to the Vedic occurrences for Dyaus that these were once upon a time found in Proto-Indo-European usage. And we also know due to broader theological analysis that the deific hailed via these theonymics has remained salient in each major Indo-European sphere – Odin amongst the Norse, Rudra / Shiva for Hinduism, you get the idea. 

Which leads us to the obvious question: why is it that it’s only the Classical religious cultures where ‘Dyaus Pitar’ cognate theonymics are in regular, day-to-day usage? 

Well, I don’t have a guaranteed answer for that. But I do have a theory. Let’s explore.

Now the first thing to be said is that the actual ‘Sky Father’ formulation itself is, comparatively speaking, somewhat rare. That might seem surprising. But what I mean by this is that we’re much more used to encountering “Zeus” rather than “Zeus Pater” – even though yes, of course, “Jupiter” is both terms right there in one. Similarly, there’s very few actual “Dyaus Pitar” in that exact formulation references in the Vedas. Most Dyaus occurrences are instead either a) one of those ‘Dyu’ formulations aforementioned; or, at a push, b) ‘Dyaus’ … usually because it’s a dvandva with Prithvi.

The situation is further complicated by the (deliberate) ‘ambiguity’ often as to whether it’s Dyaus the God or the (Heavenly) Realm that is intended by a given occurrence (particularly viz. aforementioned Dvandva).

All of this almost makes me ponder another and rather radical postulation (as ever).

Namely … what if … the actual use of ‘Dyaus (Pitar)’ … wasn’t actually that much of a thing in archaic IE religion. Like, in the actual religion itself rather than the ‘pop-mythology’ (that being the religious perspectives of the ‘ordinary people’ outside of initiated religious practitioners, etc.).

It’d be a similar fashion to how ‘Shiva’ works. Insofar as in the Vedic theology itself … one rarely hears ‘Shiva’ (relatively speaking – although it is definitely there), and instead much more often hears quite an impressive array of different Roudran theonyms, dependent upon which ‘quality’ or specific ‘facing’ is being called upon at a given point in time.

And as for why that’s a thing – consider it this way. In our political system (here in New Zealand), it’s entirely normal for a single MP (Member of Parliament) who’s part of the Government to hold multiple Ministerial warrants simultaneously. So, for example, you might have the Minister of Education and the Minister of Defence conceivably being the same individual (albeit wearing different ‘hats’, and with different sets of Ministerial support-staff).

However, if one were to write to said Minister with an otherwise proper, formal, and strongly-likely-to-be-acted-upon request for aid (which is, after all, what a lot of ‘high religion’ rites effectively are) … well, you are going to get a dramatically different style and qualitative difference of response contingent upon whether you ‘addressed’ it to the Minister of Defence or the Minister of Education. Something which might have rather … problematic implications if you petitioned the wrong ‘Facing’. Even though it’s ultimately going to the same God in essence. 

“We need an emergency deployment of additional front-line manpower” may have been intended to procure a few dozen relief teachers to cover unexpectedly high sick-leave … and yet, without distinguishing which Minister it’s actually supposed to be addressed to (since it’s the same person covering both portfolios) – be received and interpreted to mean “send uniformed (or even armed) soldiers”.

Something that, no doubt, may make the ensuing ‘classroom management’ situation a rather more forcefully emphatic one. 

So – what we tend to see in the ritual / liturgy side of things is a greater ‘speciation’ for the means of ‘referral’. Which means theonyms, first and foremost. Often conceived of as almost different ‘personas’ – which, with the passage of time and subsequent ‘innovations’ by authors, may be forgotten to actually be the same God viewed in different ways. And it is only that which we have in the ritual manuals or other heavier-grade theological source-material that helps to keep things ‘tethered together’ – informing and reinforcing the understandings of those whose business it is to know this to be the case. 

Except the average ordinary person doesn’t need to concern themselves so much with all of that – it’s Why They/We Have Priest Caste – and so instead the simple shorthand is prominent instead. Which means that they’re much less likely to come into contact on any sustained basis with a lot of this more nuanced, granulated, and co-identificationary conceptry. Instead just preferencing the simple and straightforward and familiar-to-them. And therefore further reinforcing what’s going on in the ‘public sphere’ and ‘pop-mythology’ as being somewhat distinguished from the ‘high religion’ theological and ritualine corpus. 

An interesting example of this ‘in motion’ comes to us from, oddly enough, the modern Hindusphere. Wherein there is absolutely no question, theologically speaking, that Rudra and Shiva are the same God. You’ll often find ‘Rudra’ used quite explicitly in texts that are commonly known to be Shiva tellings, to identify the Shiva that is at the heart of these mythic perspectives. Except even despite the significant frequency for ‘Rudra’ in these materials – you’ll still find most people will ‘think first’ of Shiva in relation to the God. Because that is the ‘facing’ or ‘quality’ or ‘epithet’ they’re most immediately familiar with. 

The situation has even gone so far in some quarters that you semi-often encounter a minority opinion being expressed online by rather misinformed (yet … persistent) sorts, who attempt to insist that Shiva and Rudra are different deifics altogether. And that is something that has happened despite there still very much being a ‘living’ religious culture and basically intact textual canon to go with, with which to anchor theological understandings. You can just imagine how much further that sort of thing could go in the absence of either of these factors. 

Now, where I’m going with this …

We know from the Greek sphere that, in addition to the ‘Di-we’ etc. style Linear B … there’s an array of other theonymics for the Sky Father that are in circulation – whether during that most archaic of eras and more especially as time goes on. Poseidon, Dionysus, Hades, Wanax, Diktaios, and who knows how many others as well.

So – a ‘profusion of names’, yet the names are relatively distinct. Which is – relatively speaking – not exactly unlike what we find in the Vedic sphere (wherein we have Parjanya, we have Agni, we have Bhava, Sarva, Pashupati, and so forth …).

These shall presumably have been accompanied – in similar fashion to what happens within Vedic religion – by various ‘understandings’ and codified theological commentary sources (and the occasional direct ‘in-line citation’ in hymnals) which help to keep track of which single theonymics link up with which other ones. That is to say effectively ‘networking’ Who is Whom. 

However, the pattern we tend to see in later texts is a bit different (i.e. those which post-date the Vedas, although are of other Indo-European religions – as applies what we’re looking at here). 

In the Hellenic sphere, for instance, it looks like we often tend to find Zeus + ‘Epithet’. So you get Zeus Horkios, in relation to Oaths (ref. Latin ‘Orcus’); Zeus Lykaios [‘Wolf Zeus’],  Whom we have taken a few looks at in recent weeks; Zeus Ikmaios, in relation to the favourable provision of moisture; Zeus Boulaios (‘Zeus the Counsellor’) – particularly prominent at not only an assembly of the Councilors of Athens (the Five Hundred), but also at Dodona (Zeus Dodonaios), assumedly due to the oracular potencies exhibited therein; Zeus Areius (‘Ares-ian Zeus’, ‘War-like Zeus’); and many other theonyms, often heavily localized, besides. Truly, a Facing of the Sky Father for every occasion. 

It’s not a universal pattern – as we can demonstrate viz. the circumstances aforementioned around Poseidon, Hades, Dionysus (well .. that one might be a partial exception, due to the first particle in the name being that familiar ‘Dyaus’ cognate), etc. – wherein we find the ‘different theonyms’ approach favoured rather than the ‘different epithets’ one. In fact, ‘different theonyms’ – as we shall explore in a moment – that have become so very ‘differentiated’ as to turn into ‘different theoi’ in the minds of many (although never all. The archaic remembrance that these were all ‘Faces’ to the same God was still kept alive in various parts, as we know from trace hints here and there about localized practices around same). 

And there are certainly various occurrences in poetic or liturgical verses wherein only an epithet is utilized. Although often this is rather easier to distinguish and identify, as applies these textual sources, precisely because the context makes it admirably clear just which deific is being spoken of. Hence, we can encounter ‘Kataibata’ in the Orphic Hymnal to Zeus (number 15) without it being directly adjacent to a ‘Zeus’ and not be confused as to the identity of the figure. Which may seem like a relatively minor thing (particularly given ‘Zeus’ is indeed directly present only a few words earlier in the line) – but then we encounter a ‘Seisichthon’ a mere few lines later, and must ‘adjust’ our expectations from ‘Earth-Shaker’ being a solely Poseidonic hailing (notwithstanding, of course, that both Zeus and Poseidon are Sky Father deific expressions – and directly connected via the Zeus Triophthalmos conceptry). 

But overall, it seems to me that the ‘Dyaus’ style theonym (i.e. ‘Zeus’) is more prominent in the Greek sphere precisely because it presented a relatively ‘convenient’ way to ‘keep track’ of which deifics or deific-facings were intended to be Zeus. A practical necessity given the significant size and fractured nature of the Hellenic (and generally eastern Mediterranean) sphere.

Yet one which the ‘unifying’ feature of the Vedas may have rendered relatively unnecessary in India. Everybody is, quite literally, ‘singing off the same song-sheet’ at the core (Even though yes, yes obviously there are particular recensions of the major Vedas, and more especially the Brahmanas, that are more prominent or much less known in particular areas).

Although to speak of the Brahmanas: I would also suspect rather strongly that the ‘cognate’ documentation within the Hellenic or broader Classical spheres has often not come down to us – at least not in complete format. Thus producing a situation not entirely dissimilar to how early European ‘stumbling about’ with the RigVeda went. Wherein you will find commentary about Parjanya, for instance, because there are two RigVedic hymnals in His Name – so the deific (or, we ought say – the deific facing) is known. However, in the absence of the Shatapatha Brahmana (etc.) having been translated and made available, this leads to the actual true identity for Parjanya (a Sky Father – and more specifically, Rudra – Facing) being obscured. And so Parjanya gets spoken of as a separate deific. 

Something which, as applies the Classical theologies, we are less able to ‘correct’ – precisely because we simply don’t have more than those fragmentary elements aforementioned that help to ‘connect the dots’ for ‘behind the scenes’ usage. It is left to Pausanias recording the belief pertaining to Zeus Triophthalmos prevalent at Argos, or Heraclitus observing the coterminity of Hades and Dionysus with relation to the observances of a local Phallic processional. We are forced to rely upon those ‘external’ (indeed, ‘pro-fane’ in the older Latinate sense) brief and almost tangential annotations, in confederation with the painstaking work of ‘linking up’ mythic ‘double-ups’ (for example, the situations of Dionysus’ conception involving either Persephone or Demeter in serpent form, contingent upon which myth we are referencing), shared theonyms, and other such elements in order to try to ‘reconstruct’ what must surely once have been ‘cultic knowledge’ carefully preserved within the initiated sphere. 

So, phrased another way –

I do not mean for a second to use ‘plebian’ in the sense that certain self-declared would-be-wise-men (on the internet, of all places) so often should(‘nt) seem to …

… but it does seem to me that the strong emphasis upon ‘Dyaus’ style theonymics as the major way to refer to the Sky Father within the Classical spheres is something that speaks to what we can more charitably term a “more accessible” theological paradigm being what’s come down to us in the main.

Rather than much more nuanced, granular, specific hailings of a more ‘functional’ or ‘quality’ contingent basis – of the sort that we should more prominently expect to find within ‘high religion’, ritualine usage. Which, as I say, we have not been fortunate enough to have nearly so much of preserved from when these were ‘Living Religions’ as we should like – and very definitely not nearly as much as the Vedic sphere has provided of a similar or even grander antiquity. 

Although we can, perhaps, ‘confirm’ some level of my thinking viz. this  ‘accessible’ versus ‘enclosed’ paradigm by looking at relevant archaic materials.

We have already mentioned some of those otherwise ‘curious’ occurrences wherein an exterior observer does make mention of  a then-current (if often rather localized) co-identification of what we know to be Sky Father facings [e.g. Hades and Dionysus, or the Zeus Triophthalmos conceptry viz. Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, etc.] which is out-of-keeping with the ‘popular mythology’ (which would hold these to be separate deities). 

That is to say – we have evidence demonstrating there were local or otherwise ‘restricted’ understandings as to coterminity which had no trouble ‘moving under the surface’ of the more conventional mythological perspective … yet running on a deepa logic still.

There are also literal litanies of material to be found ‘off the beaten track’ in more esoterically inclined textual elements and their fragments. Which tend to ‘raise the eyebrow’ of those reading and writing upon them precisely because they contain connexions that are ‘unexpected’ from the perspective of the ‘popular mythology’ that we’re all so very much more used to. 

All of this brings us to the other major Western Indo-European (i.e. ‘European’) sphere: that of the Nordic / Germanic peoples.

And here, we have a ‘similar-but-different’ set of terrain to navigate. We have, as it happens, far less of the actual religious materials themselves than we do for the Classical spheres. At least, in direct form. Yet we have inherited an incredible wealth of poetry and other materials; and these also include texts which either present, or at the very least draw from, religious understandings that were potently present pre-Christianization. Even if their codification, occasional (re-)arrangements, and some potential amendments appear to be post-facto.

Of course, there’s also one rather important difference – and that’s that the Skaldic paradigm of poesy is significantly composed of sometimes impenetrably intricate kennings and heiti which therefore militate potentially rather extensive listings with which to keep track of at least the broad strokes of their building-blocks and likely intended meanings. That is to say – something that would, in the Hindusphere, be done by these elements found in the Brahmanas etc. … here is also done outside the ‘high religious sphere’ proper, in texts pertaining to what we might loosely regard also as being ‘popular-culture’ sphere. 

The major exemplar for this, of course, being the famed Skáldskaparmál compiled by Sturluson in the decades post-Christianization in order to preserve numerous of these understandings and identifications. Something that by necessity also entails situation of various of these in context – either by paraphrasing the relevant mythology, or simply quoting particular Skaldic verses.

Of course, adding to the complexities specific to the Nordic / Germanic sphere are not only the significant ethno-linguistic distances involved (between, say, Old Norse, Continental Germanic languages, and Anglo-Saxon, etc.) with accompanying potential for both linguistic and religious differences … but also the rather important fact that, at least as applies the Sky Father Himself (since this is, after all, a piece looking at His major (direct) theonym) – well, when it comes to the Nordic perception, He makes active use of quite an array of deliberately (not-necessarily-) obscurative theonymics.

Hence why we find Odin’s concluding verse in the Grimnismal [‘Sayings of the Masked One’] being His rattling off a perhaps uncoincidentally eleven strong list of His occasionally encountered hailings .. before concluding, as the Bellows translation has it: “and all, Methinks, / Are names for none but Me.” Or, perhaps more to the point, why the Skaldskaparmal aforementioned includes not only a section on Odinic referrings where various of these are presented ‘in-context’ – but also literally dozens of Odin theonymics cited ‘out of context’ within the þulur and its ‘Óðins nöfn’ component. And that is before we get into all of the further pertinent references for Odin in the various additional sections to the Skaldskaparmal which hint to other, now-lost theological understandings. 

But I Digress.

All of this might sound – even by my standards – rather heavily … arcane. And yet, it is something which has had a rather pertinent to consider impact upon things. At least, within the realms of comparative Indo-European theology – and also in the European efforts to endeavour to understand Vedic religion. 

How so?

Well, consider that rather bemusingly prevalent annotation for Dyaus Pitar being a so-called  ‘Deus Otiosus’. That is to say a God that had ‘faded out’, was no longer active, had been superseded, you get the idea. 

It’s not something one can say about the Sky Father overall. Nobody would dream (with the potential exception of Macron at the start of his first term in setting out his intended style of Presidency) of declaring Jupiter nor Zeus to be an ‘Inactive God’, so remote and removed as to have faded off out of seemingly all salience and relevance. Quite the opposite. And yet exactly this labelling was applied to the Vedic figure of Dyaus Pitar. 

Why so? Because the (outsider) people doing the analysis … were looking for a Dyaus Pitar called Dyaus Pitar in most if not all instances – just as they were familiar with from their ‘baseline’ terrain of the Classical Indo-European pantheonic perspectives. Where you most definitely can find a ‘Dyaus Pitar’ called “Dyaus Pitar” … or, at least, the loka-lized cognate expressions on both sides of the equation – in the aforementioned forms of Zeus Pater and Jupiter. 

What did this mean? Well, when they came to the Vedic corpus of texts – or, we ought clarify, some of the Vedic layerings of text, but often not the rather handy ones for exactly this kind of in-depth theonymic exegesis … they saw only a very few mentions for Dyaus Pitar (usually only either in Dvandva format with His Wife, or appearing as a brief mention where another deific was the main subject – such as His Worlds-Winning Son, Indra), and drew the obvious induction that this meant Dyaus Pitar wasn’t a very prominent God at all. 

Which, given the significantly greater saliency for Jupiter and Zeus (Pater) – quite logically meant that something had ‘shifted’ within the Vedic religion to de-emphasize Dyaus. 

They just made the presumption that ‘linguistic cognate’ and ‘functional cognate’ are always one-to-one; and therefore that as Zeus Pater / Jupiter and Dyaus Pitar are cognate linguistically … the much less prominent position of the theonymic ‘Dyaus Pitar’ in the Vedas meant the deific had become de-emphasized – rather than there merely having been a difference as applies the specific labelling for Same. 

Now that’s … perhaps not un-understandable. It is something that I have observed to be the sort of oversight which may all too easily occur when the people doing the interpretation of scriptural (or other religious) elements are not, themselves, religious (or, at least, ‘Indo-European religious’) – but instead are more ‘academic’, ‘linguistic’, etc. in their inclinations. They do not have the requisite ‘feel’ for the Myth. The Theology (such as it is) does not ‘live’ and ‘breathe’ for them as it does for the properly pious man. One reason why, I choose to believe, Arya Akasha seems to keep doing so well with elements that puzzle others who have only the academic frame of referencing to draw from. We have always sought to combine both pious devotion and academic toolsets, after all. And believe the Gods to be real – which, as it turns out, helps with these sorts of things immeasurably. But again I digress.

The situation of Dyaus not being de-emphasized should have nevertheless still been detectable even by those early generations of scholars who were acquainted only with parts of the Samhitas to the Vedas (i.e. not the Brahmanas – yet, and in comprehensive formulation). All they would have to have done is make note of those occasions wherein Rudra is identified as Dyaus – either expressly, or via inference when there are clearly shared elements as to the relevant theology (such as the points around paternity to the Asvins, etc.). This would straightaway have shown that there was rather more to Dyaus Pitar than an obscure and near-extinct theonymic. Even afore proper comparative Indo-European theological analysis was deployed – and it became readily, ruddily apparent just how pervasively within the Vedas the Sky Father deific complex very much could be enduringly demonstrated to be. Something considerably availed via those aforementioned Brahmana etc. sections which ‘do the job for us’ through fairly direct statements upon the subject.

Which, to illustrate directly … we may turn to Shatapatha Brahmana VI 1 3 [Eggeling Translation]:

“10 He [Prajapati – i.e. Brahma] said to Him, ‘Thou art Rudra.’ And because He gave Him that name, Agni became suchlike (or, that form), for Rudra is Agni: because He cried (rud) therefore He is Rudra. He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

11 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Sarva.’ And because He gave Him that name, the waters became suchlike, for Sarva is the waters, inasmuch as from the water everything (sarva) here is produced. He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

12 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Paśupati.’ And because He gave Him that name, the plants became suchlike, for Paśupati is the plants: hence when cattle (paśu) get plants, then they play the master (patīy). He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

13 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Ugra.’ And because He gave Him that name, Vāyu (the wind) became suchlike, for Ugra is Vāyu: hence when it blows strongly, they say ‘Ugra is blowing.’ He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

14 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Aśani.’ And because He gave Him that name, the lightning became suchlike, for Aśani is the lightning: hence they say of Him whom the lightning strikes, ‘Aśani has smitten him.’ He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

15 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Bhava.’ And because He gave Him that name, Parjanya (the rain-god) became suchlike; for Bhava is Parjanya, since everything here comes (bhavati) from the rain-cloud. He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

16 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Mahān Devaḥ (the Great God).’ And because He gave Him that name, the Moon became suchlike, for the Moon is Prajāpati, and Prajāpati is the Great God. He said, ‘Surely, I am mightier than that: give Me yet a name!’

17 He said to Him, ‘Thou art Īśāna (the Ruler).’ And because He gave Him that name, the Sun became suchlike, for Īśāna is the Sun, since the Sun rules over this All. He said, ‘So great indeed I am: give Me no other name after that!’

Which, as you can see, is a whole lot more efficient to have stated right there in the Shruti – than me going and arguing ‘the long way around’ upon the basis of iconographic and mythic cognate coherency that, say, Parjanya is a Sky Father deific expression etc. etc. etc.

All in all, the Vedic situation reminds me of the old pop-cultural misinformation concerning the alleged claim that Eskimo have “fifty words for snow”.

Which is, strictly speaking, not exactly correct. 

Instead, what they actually have is … a word for snow you can safely walk across, snow that you can’t safely walk across, snow with gravel in, freshly fallen snow, I presume also ‘yellow snow’, etc. etc..

All in fact different (yet overlapping) concepts which do demand rather precise differentiations – precisely because it can literally be a matter of ‘life or death’ to correctly grasp just what kind of ‘snow’ (or, in our case, another ‘environmental feature’ that pertains to the major topography we traverse – theological elements … theonymics and Divine Facings and Qualities and Portfolio-Areas) is actually being discussed at the time.

It is only once you get out of that environment that the ‘luxury’ of a catchall term such as ‘snow’ as the major paradigmatic understanding becomes majorly viable.

While you’re within it – as we have said, actually having the correct (and more precise) differentiation of theonymics can, quite literally, be a matter of Life or Death. (Whether yours or somebody else’s – well, that is contingent upon which liturgy formulation and purpose to the invocation, now, isn’t it)

In essence, we can do little better than to quote Great Odin Himself:

Immediately (and aptly) before introducing Himself as ‘Grimnir’ (The Masked One) in the eponymous Grimnismal, He pointedly declares: 

“Einu nafni hétumk aldregi /
síz ek með folkum fór” –

“By one name I have never been known /
since I went among the people”

So should it appear viz. Dyaus.

2 thoughts on “Dyaus Inter Alia – On The Sky Father’s Major Theonym And The Relative (In-)Frequency Of Its Occurrence Across Various Indo-European Spheres

  1. Pingback: Dyaus Inter Alia – On The Sky Father’s Major Theonym And The Relative (In-)Frequency Of Its Occurrence Across Various Indo-European Spheres – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. Pingback: Subsequent Comments On Sky Father Theonymy – The Baltic And Luwian Situations Briefly Considered | arya-akasha

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