Veles, The Balto-Slavic Lord of *Uel

[Note: This is not my writing, but rather that of one of our men – O.R. – produced in mid-2020, and reproduced here with permission. Some understandings have, of course, developed further in the interim (hence my annotations where marked), and due to recent developments we do mean to revisit this subject in the very near future – particularly around the notion of a Serpentine Form to the Sky Father deific. And, of course, more Slavic (and Baltic) sphere IE mythology.
[-C.A.R.] ]

Who is the one-eyed god, a seer, furious and treacherous, lord of the Wild Hunt, lord of the dead, whose sacrificial victims are hanged or stabbed by spear?

If you answered Odin, you are right, but this is actually also a description of Odin’s Baltic cognate Velns/Vėlinas, whose Slavic cognate is Veles/Volos, the lord of the eternal pastures.

Baltic priests of Vėlinas often sacrificed one eye, and in Lithuania Minor there was actually a sacred well into which these sacrifices were made, in almost exact ritual repetition of the myth preserved not among the Baltics, but among the Norse about Odin’s sacrifice of his eye at the Well of Mimir.

It comes as no surprise that after Christianization Velnias became the indigenous folk Christian term for the Devil. Same happened with Veles after the Christianization of Western Slavs, and although among the Eastern Slavs he made it into the pantheon of the Saints as St. Blasius, he was under his name also considered to be a devil.

Despite some of the “odinistic” features being less pronounced in Slavic Veles (as compared to Baltic Velns) and his strong connections with wild animals and the wilderness (that make him seem like a reflex of Shiva Pashupati), Veles is still recognizably “odinistic” enough, being a god of the dead, the trickster god, god of the trade, god of riches and also the god of magic. Both gods had also important agricultural dimension, that was kinda lost among the Norse, but is attested from continental Germania where in Bavaria it was a custom to sacrifice to Wotan corn-ear in a ritual that is also attested from early 20th Century Russia to Veles.

His idol and sacred place was usually located at the marketplace.

[Note from C.A.R.: we would observe the situation of Rudra (Tryambaka) being propitiated in relation to journeys for the securing of Wealth; and the direct resonancy for the relevant ritualine understanding (the Tryambakah rite of the Crossroads) in post-Christianization recorded Odinic (folk-)rites with precisely the same objective (i.e. the increase in wealth) in mind [-C.A.R.]]

And also, like Norse Odin, Veles is a god of poetry. Slavic bards were called “grandsons of Veles” and they were instrumental in keeping the old ways alive in the Folklore after the Christianization.

According to Roman Jakobson name of Veles comes from PIE *ṷel- + *esu- (that echoes also in Indorianian “asura“). The variant name Volos comes from second root being in zero degree and thus a regular change happened from – el – to – olo -. The root ṷel- (wel-) has a large semantic field: to die, grass, to see, to want, to turn, to cull, tepid and also hair, wool, forest as well as to deceive (perhaps magically). All these meanings are actually related in some way or another to Veles, whose name can be interpreted as Lord of *ṷel-.

[Note from C.A.R.: we would be particularly interested in relation to the ‘Wool’ interpretation – it goes with a certain ‘cattle’ understanding (viz. Sheep, obviously) … yet also we would infer, may have saliency for Rain and Rainfall – that other necessary ingredient to the fertility and richness of the land (viz. Parjanya form of Rudra, etc., Zeus Ikmaios). Wool resembles Clouds, after all. I may go back and dig up some comments on Serpents in relation to Rainfall (in a positive sense, rather than the ‘obstructor of flow’ demonic one) from Vedic etc. spheres in due course, and see how this may pertain to utilization of Wool in Soma preparation [-C.A.R.] ]

PIE root *ṷel- is also connected with proto-Germanic *walaz that is reflected in Old Norse valr, valkyrja and Valhǫll, all notions connected with Norse god Odin who is also Valfǫðr. It also reflects in Baltic vėlės/veļi (the spirits of the dead), and of course in the Baltic name(s) of this god – Vėlinas/Velnias/Velns. It is also interesting to note that from PIE root *ṷel- comes PIE *ṷélsu-, meaning “meadow, pasture“ (from this comes Greek Elysium – the fields of the blessed dead).

With the meaning “to see“ that is a part of the semantic field of * ṷel- is connected the name of seeress Veleda.

Veles has also a Sarmatian cognate deity Afsati. Similarly to Veles being called “skotiybog“ (god of the cattle), Afsati was said to be lord of great herds which are being called Afsatiyi fos (cattle of Afsati). In both cases though the “cattle“ is not domesticated cattle but all wild animals living in the wilderness.

[Note from C.A.R.: the situation of Pashupati would originally refer to ‘Lord of Cattle’ – this is reasonably directly attested in the Shatapatha Brahmana conceptry around the theonym & Rudra more generally. The extent to which it’s domesticated cattle, we can debate (it’s somewhat relevant for the underlying sense to ‘Pashu’ as ‘Leashed’ or ‘Fettered’); but it goes handily with a ‘Lord of Wealth’ situation [viz. Pashu in cognate coherency relative to Proto-Germanic (and Runic) *Fehu] – I mention this in part because of the aforementioned situation of a ‘Lord of Wild Animals’, viz. Roudran ‘Mrgapati’ [-C.A.R.] ]

Similarly to descriptions of Odin and Vėlinas, Afsati is described as one-eyed old man with mighty white beard, living on a high mountain. Similarly to Veles who is connected especially with bears, Afsati changes sometimes into a white bear. Like Velnias Afsati has a magic flute and some possible associations with music.
Veles is explicitly a patron god of poetry, like Odin, and there is close connection of magic and poetry.

[Note from C.A.R.: we would be reminded of the ‘Bear’ conceptry occurrent in relation to the Rsis – the SaptaRsi constellation that we would know as Arktos, Ursa Major, is Rksa (Bear – ऋक्ष) in Sanskrit, and points toward an archaic ‘Bear’ / ‘Seer / Priest’ coterminity arguably fragmentarily recalled also in a passage of the Ynglinga Saga pertinent also for Odin and Odin’s Men. As applies the One Eye in the Sky … well, c.f the situation for the Sky Father deific in other IE spheres described in very similar terms – whether by Day (with the Sun) or by Night (with the Moon). [-C.A.R.] ]

The Slavic magician-priests were called volchvi, vlъsvi and volъsvi. These were not priests of the elite religion, which was centered around god Perun (Baltic Perkūnas), but rather seers and practitioners of extatic magic, inspired poets, soothsayers, magicians and sorcerers, and also healers and herbalists. And although the name volchv is most probably connected with the verb vlьsnąti, meaning to mumble, to murmur, on the level of folk etymology volchvs were probably connected with Volos.

The most iconic volvch is a hero of the epic bylinas Volkh Vseslavievich (also called Volga Svyatoslavich), one of the elder bogatyrs representing the three primeval Indoeuropean functions/castes (Volkh also called Volga represented the first function/caste, that of the Spiritual and Sovereign Power, Svyatogor represented the second function/caste, that of the Active “Physical“ Power, and Mikula Selyaninovich represented the third function/caste, that of the Generative Power) who the paragon of the younger bogatyri Ilya Muromets was forbidden to fight with.

Slavic Veles/Volos and Baltic Vėlinas/Velns derive both etymologically as well as mythologically from common proto-Baltoslavic deity. The reflections of this deity can be found both among Germanics (Odin) and Sarmatians (Afsati), although they are not etymologically related to Baltoslavic Veles/Vėlinas (although around Odin there is a semantic field of various terms related to *ṷel-).

However the god is named, we are dealing with White/Grey-bearded Old Man, Drighten of the Dead, Master of Magic and Patron of Poets.

You can learn more about these deep connections between Germanic Odin, Baltic Velns and Slavic Veles in Jaan Puhvel’s Comparative Mythology.

[-C.A.R., posted on behalf of O.R.]

One thought on “Veles, The Balto-Slavic Lord of *Uel

  1. Pingback: Veles, The Balto-Slavic Lord of *Uel – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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