Perkwunos (Proto-Indo-European: *perkwunos, 'the Striker' or 'the Lord of Oaks') is the reconstructed name of the weather god in Proto-Indo-European mythology. The deity was connected with fructifying rains, and his name probably invoked in times of drought. In a widespread Indo-European myth, the thunder-deity fights a multi-headed water-serpent during an epic battle, in order to release torrents of water that had previously been pent up. The name of his weapon, *meld-n-, which denoted both 'lightning' and 'hammer', can be reconstructed from the attested traditions.

Perkwunos was often associated with oaks, probably because such tall trees are frequently struck by lightning, and his realm located in the wooded mountains, *per-kwun-iyo. A term for the sky, *h₂ekmōn, apparently denoted a 'heavenly vault of stone', but also 'thunderbolt' or 'stone-made weapon', in which case it was sometimes also used to refer to the thunder-god's weapon.

Contrary to other deities of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon, such as *Dyēus (the sky-god), or *H2éwsōs (the dawn-goddess), widely accepted cognates stemming from the theonym *Perkwunos are only attested in Western Indo-European traditions. The linguistic evidence for the worship of a thunder god under the name Perkwunos as far back as Proto-Indo-European times (4500–2500 BC) is therefore less secured.[1]



The name *Perkwunos is generally regarded as stemming from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) verbal root *per- ('to strike').[1][2] An alternative etymology is the PIE noun *pérkʷus ('the oak'),[3] attached to the divine nomenclature *-nos ('master of').[4] Various cognates can be found in the Latin oak-nymphs Querquetulanae (from quercus 'oak-tree'),[2][5] the Germanic *ferhwaz ('oak'),[6] the Gaulish erc- ('oak') and Quaquerni (a tribal name),[7][5] the Punjabi pargāi ('sacred oak'),[8] and perhaps in the Greek spring-nymph Herkyna.[9][10]

In Albanian, Perëndí (definite: Perëndía) is the name of God, the sky and heaven, and is used capitalized to refer to the Supreme Being. The plural indefinite form is perëndí while the plural definite form is perëndítë, used uncapitalized to refer to the deities. Some dialectal alternative forms include: Perendí, Perenní, Perundí, Perudí, Perndí and Parandí. Perëndí is generally considered a compound of the roots per-en- ("to strike') and -dí ("sky, god"),[11] related to the verb Përkund meaning 'to swing, to sway, to rock (cradle)'.

The theonym *Perkwunos thus either meant 'the Striker' or 'the Lord of Oaks'.[12][13] A theory uniting those two etymologies has been proposed in the mythological association of oaks with thunder, suggested by the frequency with which such tall trees are struck by lightning.[14][3][7]

The existence of a female consort is suggested by gendered doublet-forms such as found in South Slavic PerunPerperuna, Old Norse Fjörgyn–Fjörgynn, and Lithuanian Perkūnas–Perkūnija.[15][16]

The noun *perkwunos also gave birth to a group of cognates for the ordinary word 'thunder', including Old Prussian percunis, Russian perúny (perunъ), Latvian pērkauns ('thunderbolt'), or Lithuanian perkūnas ('thunder') and perkūnija ('thunderstorm').[3][17]


Other Indo-European theonyms related to 'thunder', through another root *(s)tenh₂-, are found in the Germanic Þunraz (Thor), the Celtic Taranis (from an earlier *Tonaros), and the Latin epithet Tonans (attached to Jupiter).[18][19] According to scholar Peter Jackson, "they may have arisen as the result of fossilization of an original epithet or epiclesis" of Perkwunos, since the Vedic weather-god Parjanya is also called stanayitnú- ('Thunderer').[20]

George E. Dunkel regarded Perkwunos as an original epithet of Dyēus, the Sky-God.[21] It has also been postulated that Perkwunos was referred to as *Diwós Putlós ('son of Dyēus'), although this is based on the Vedic poetic tradition alone.[12]



Perkwunos is usually depicted as holding a weapon, named *meld-n- in the Baltic and Old Norse traditions, which personifies the lightnings and is generally conceived as a club, mace, or hammer, made of stone or metal.[22][23] In the Latvian poetic expression Pērkōns met savu milnu ("Pērkōn throws his mace"), the mace (milna), is cognate with the Old Norse mjölnir, the hammer thrown by the thunder god Thor, and also with the word for 'lightning' in the Old Prussian mealde, the Old Church Slavonic *mlъni, or the Welsh mellt.[3][23][24]

Fructifying rainsEdit

While his thunder and lightning had a destructive connotation, they could also be seen as a regenerative force since they were often accompanied by fructifying rains.[25] Parjanya is depicted as a rain god in the Vedas, and Latvian prayers included a call for Pērkōns to bring rain in time of drought.[1][26] The Balkan Slavs worshipped Perun along with his female counterpart Perperuna, the name of a ritual prayer calling for fructifying rains and centred on the dance of a naked virgin who had not yet had her first monthly period.[15] The earth is likewise referred to as "menstruating" in a Vedic hymn to Parjanya, a possible cognate of Perperuna.[16] The alternative name of Perperuna, Dodola, also recalls Perkūnas' pseudonym Dundulis, and Zeus' oak oracle located at Dodona.[15][27]

Perëndi is especially invoked by Albanians in incantations and songs praying for rain.[28] Rituals were performed in times of summer drought to make it rain, usually in June and July, but sometimes also in the spring months when there was severe drought. In different Albanian regions, for rainmaking purpose, people threw water upwards to make it subsequently fall to the ground in the form of rain. This was an imitative type of magic practice with ritual songs.[29]

A mythical multi-headed water-serpent is connected with the thunder-deity in an epic battle. The monstrous foe is a 'blocker of waters', and his heads are eventually smashed by the thunder-deity to release the pent-up torrents of rain.[30] The myth has numerous reflexes in mythical stories of battles between a serpent and a god or mythical hero, who is not necessarily etymologically related to *Perkwunos, but always associated with thunder. For example, the Vedic Indra and Vṛtra (the personification of drought), the Iranian Tištry/Sirius and Apaoša (a demon of drought), the Albanian Drangue and Kulshedra (an amphibious serpent who causes streams to dry up), the Armenian Vahagn and Vishap, the Greek Zeus and Typhoeus as well as Apollo and Python, or the Norse Thor and Miðgarðsormr.[30]

Striker and god of oaksEdit

The association of Perkwunos with the oak is attested in various formulaic expressions from the Balto-Slavic languages: Lithuanian Perkūno ąžuolas (Perkūnas's oak), Latvian Pērkōna uōzuōls ('Pērkōn's oak'), or Old Russian Perunovŭ dubŭ ('Perun's oak'). In the Albanian language, a word to refer to the lightning—considered in folk beliefs as the "fire of the sky"—is shkreptimë, a formation of shkrep meaning "to flash, tone, to strike (till sparks fly off)".[31] An association between strike, stones and fire, can be related to the observation that one can kindle fire by striking stones against each other. The act of producing fire through a strike—reflected also in the belief that fire is residual within the oak trees after the thunder-god strikes them—indicates the potential of lightning in the myth of creation.[3] The Slavic thunder-god Perūn is said to frequently strike oaks to put fire within them, and the Norse thunder-god Thor to strike his foes the giants when they hide under an oak.[3][32] According to the Belarusian folklore, Piarun made the first fire ever by striking a tree in which the Demon was hiding.[33]

The striking of devils, demons or evildoers by Perkwunos is another motif in the myths surrounding the Baltic Perkūnas and the Vedic Parjanya.[34][3] In Lithuanian and Latvian folkloric material, Perkunas/Perkons is invoked to protect against snakes and illness.[35]

Wooded mountainsEdit

Perkwunos is often portrayed in connection with stone and (wooded) mountains; mountainous forests were considered to be his realm.[36] A cognate relationship has been noted between the Germanic *fergunja ('[mountainous] forest') and the Gaulish (h)ercunia ('[oaks] forests').[37][6][7] The Old Russian chronicles describe wooden idols of Perūn on hills overlooking Kyiv and Novgorod, and both the Belarusian Piarun and the Lithuanian Perkūnas were said to dwell on lofty mountaintops. Such places are called perkūnkalnis in Lithuanian, meaning the "summit of Perkūnas", while the Slavic word perynja designated the hill over Novgorod where the sanctuary of Perun was located. Prince Vladimir the Great had an idol of Perūn cast down into the Dnepr river during the Christianization of Kievan Rus'.[38]

In Germanic mythology, Fjörgynn was used as a poetic synonym for 'the land, the earth', and she could have originally been the mistress of the wooded mountains, the personification of what appears in Gothic as fairguni ('wooded mountain').[36] Additionally, the Baltic tradition mentions a perpetual sacred fire dedicated to Perkūnas and fuelled by oakwood in the forests or on hilltops. Pagans believed that Perkūnas would freeze if Christians extinguished those fires.[33][39]

Words from a stem *pér-ur- are also attested in the Hittite pēru ('rock, cliff, boulder'),[40] the Avestan pauruuatā ('mountains'),[41] as well as in the Sanskrit goddess Parvati and the epithet Parvateshwara ('lord of mountains'), attached to her father Himavat.[42][43]

Stony skiesEdit

A term for the sky, *h₂ekmōn, denoted both 'stone' and 'heaven', possibly a 'heavenly vault of stone' akin to the biblical firmament.[44][45] The motif of the stony skies can be found in the story of the Greek Akmon ('anvil'), the father of Ouranos and the personified Heaven.[46] The term akmon was also used with the meaning 'thunderbolt' in Homeric and Hesiodic diction.[47] Other cognates appear in the Vedic áśman ('stone'), the Iranian deity Asman ('stone, heaven'), the Lithuanian god Akmo (mentioned alongside Perkūnas himself), and also in the Germanic *hemina (German: Himmel, English: heaven) and *hamara (cf. Old Norse: hamarr, which could mean 'rock, boulder, cliff' or 'hammer').[47][23][44][48] Akmo is described in a 16th century treatise as a saxum grandius, 'a sizeable stone', which was still worshipped in Samogitia.[49][50]

Albanians believed in the supreme powers of thunder-stones (kokrra e rrufesë or guri i rejës), which were believed to be formed during lightning strikes and to be fallen from the sky. Thunder-stones were preserved in family life as important cult objects. It was believed that bringing them inside the house could bring good fortune, prosperity and progress in people, in livestock and in agriculture, or that rifle bullets would not hit the owners of the thunder-stones.[51] A common practice was to hung a thunder-stone pendant on the body of the cattle or on the pregnant woman for good luck and to contrast the evil eye.[52]

The mythological association can be explained by the observation (e.g., meteorites) or the belief that thunderstones (polished ones for axes in particular) had fallen from the sky.[53] Indeed, the Vedic word áśman is the name of the weapon thrown by Indra, Thor's weapon is also called hamarr, and the thunder-stone can be named Perkūno akmuõ ('Perkuna's stone') in the Lithuanian tradition.[54][46][55] Scholars have also noted that Perkūnas and Piarun are said to strike rocks instead of oaks in some themes of the Lithuanian and Belarusian folklores,[56] and that the Slavic Perūn sends his axe or arrow from a mountain or the sky.[39] The original meaning of *h₂ekmōn could thus have been 'stone-made weapon', then 'sky' or 'lightning'.[57]



The Hand of Perkūnas by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1909). Note that Perkwunos should be represented with a thunderstone, as the depiction of the hand holding the thunderbolt is of Near Eastern origin.[58]

The following deities are cognates stemming from *Perkwunos or related names in Western Indo-European mythologies:

Thunder-god's weaponEdit

The name of Perkwunos' weapon *meld-n- is attested by a group of cognates alternatively denoting 'hammer' or 'lightning' in the following traditions:

Another PIE term derived from the verbal root *melh₂- ('to grind'), *molh₁-tlo- ('grinding device'), also served as a common word for 'hammer', as in Old Church Slavonic mlatъ, Latin malleus, and Hittite malatt ('sledgehammer, bludgeon').[84]

19th-century scholar Francis Hindes Groome cited the existence of the "Gypsy" (Romani) word malúna as a loanword from Slavic molnija.[95] The Komi word molńi or molńij ('lightning') has also been borrowed from Slavic.[96]

Heavenly vault of stoneEdit

A metathesized stem *ḱ(e)h₂-m-(r)- can also be reconstructed from Slavic *kamy ('stone'), Germanic *hamaraz ('hammer'), and Greek kamára ('vault').[97]

Other possible cognatesEdit


Louis Léger stated that the Polabians adopted Perun as their name for Thursday (Perendan or Peräunedån), which is likely a calque of German Donnersdag.[122]

Some scholars argue that the functions of the Luwian and Hittite weather gods Tarḫunz and Tarḫunna ultimately stem from those of Perkwunos. Anatolians may have dropped the old name in order to adopt the epithet *Tṛḫu-ent- ('conquering', from PIE *terh2-, 'to cross over, pass through, overcome'),[20][123] which sounded closer to the name of the Hattian Storm-god Taru.[124] According to scholarship, the name Tarhunt- is also cognate to the Vedic present participle tū́rvant- ('vanquishing, conquering'), an epithet of the weather-god Indra.[125][126][127]


Scholarship indicates the existence of a holdover of the theonym in European toponymy, specially in Eastern European and Slavic-speaking regions.

In the territory that encompasses the modern day city of Kaštela existed the ancient Dalmatian city of Salona. Near Salona, in Late Antiquity, there was a hill named Perun.[128] Likewise, the ancient oronym Borun (monte Borun) has been interpreted as a deformation of the theonym Perun. Their possible connection is further reinforced by the proximity of a mountain named Dobrava, a widespread word in Slavic-speaking regions that means 'oak grove'.[129][130]

Places in South-Slavic-speaking lands are considered to be reflexes of Slavic god Perun, such as Perunac, Perunovac, Perunika, Perunićka Glava, Peruni Vrh, Perunja Ves, Peruna Dubrava, Perunuša, Perušice, Perudina, and Perutovac.[131] Scholar Marija Gimbutas cited the existence of the place names Perunowa gora (Poland), Perun Gora (Serbia), Gora Perun (Romania), and Porun hill (Istria).[132] Patrice Lajoye associates place names in the Balkans with the Slavic god Perun: the city of Pernik and the mountain range Pirin (in Bulgaria), as well as a location named Përrenjas in South Albania. He also proposes that the German city of Pronstorf is also related to Perun, since it is located near Segeberg, whose former name was Perone in 1199.[133]

The name of the Baltic deity Perkunas is also attested in Baltic toponyms and hydronyms: a village called Perkūniškės in Žemaitija, north-west of Kaunas, and the place name Perkunlauken ('Perkuns Fields') near modern Gusev.[134][135]


  1. ^ Louis Léger mentioned that Kott's German-Czech dictionary cited Slovak alternate forms Baram and Param, as well as verb peruntati "frapper de la foudre" and adjective perunský "qui a rapport à la foudre".[71]


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Further readingEdit

General studies
For the etymology of the Indo-European weather-god, see
For the association with "stones", "mountains" and "heaven", see