Veles Picture

Veles is one of few Slavic gods for which evidence of offerings can be found in all Slavic nations. The Primary Chronicle, a historical record of the early Eastern Slavic state, is the earliest and most important record, mentioning a god named Volos several times. Many etymologists, however, suppose them two different gods. Here, Volos is mentioned as god of cattle and peasants, who will punish oath-breakers with diseases, the opposite of Perun who is described as a ruling god of war who punishes by death in battle. In the later half of 10th century, Veles or Volos was one of seven gods whose statues Vladimir I, Prince of Kiev had erected in his city. It is very interesting that Veles' statue apparently did not stand next to others, on the hill where the prince's castle was, but lower in the city, on the marketplace. Not only does this indicate that Veles was connected with commerce, but it also shows that worship of Perun and Veles had to be kept separate: while it was proper for Perun's shrines to be built high, on the top of the hill, Veles' place was down, in the lowlands.Ancient Slavs viewed their world as a huge tree, with the treetop and branches representing the heavenly abode of gods and the world of mortals, whilst the roots represented the underworld. And while Perun, seen as a hawk or eagle sitting on a tallest branch of tree, was believed to be ruler of heaven and living world, Veles, seen as a huge serpent coiling around the roots, was ruling the world of dead. This was actually quite a lovely place, described in folk tales as a green and wet world of grassy plains and eternal spring, where various fantastic creatures dwell and the spirits of deceased watch over Veles' herds of cattle. In more geographical terms, the world of Veles was located, the Slavs believed, "across the sea", and it was there the migrating birds would fly to every winter. In folk tales this land is called Virey or Iriy. Each year, the god of fertility and vegetation, Jarilo, who also dwelt there during winter, would return from across the sea and bring spring into the world of the living.Veles' nature for mischief is evident both from his role in Storm myth and in carnival customs of Koledari shamans. In his role as a trickster god, he is in some ways similar to both Greek Hermes and Scandinavian Loki, and like them, he was connected with magic. The word volhov, obviously derived from his name, in some Slavic languages still means sorcerer, whilst in the 12th century Russian epic The Tale of Igor's Campaign, character of Boyan the wizard is called Veles' grandson. Since magic was and is closely linked to music in primitive societies, Veles was also believed to be protector of travelling musicians. For instance, in some wedding ceremonies of northern Croatia (which continued up to 20th century), the music would not start playing unless the bridegroom, when making a toast, spilled some of the wine on the ground, preferably over the roots of the nearest tree. The symbolism of this is clear, even though forgotten long ago by those still performing it: the musicians will not sing until a toast is made to their patron deity.Veles' main practical function was protecting the cattle of Slavic tribes. Often he was referred to as skotji bog, meaning "cattle-god". One of his attributes, as mentioned, were horns of bull or a ram, and probably also sheep's wool. As stated already, Veles was a god of magic, and in some folk accounts, the expression presti vunu (weaving wool) or, particularly, crnu vunu presti (weaving of black wool) stands as allusion to magical crafts. In some of surviving Koledo songs, Koledari sing they are coming along and "weaving black wool".
Thus, being a "wooly" god, Veles was considered to be a protector of shepherds, which reveals one additional trait of his enemity with Perun, who, as a giver of rain, would be god of farmers. Veles, however, did have some influence over agriculture, or at least harvest. Among many Slavic nations, most notably in Russia, a harvest custom persisted of cutting the first ear of wheat and tying it in a sort of amulet which protected the harvest from evil spirits. This was called 'tying of the beard of Veles', which also indicates Veles was imagined to be bearded. In several South Slavic languages, witty expressions such as puna šaka brade (full fist of beard) or, particularly, primiti boga za bradu ("to grab a god for [his] beard", the forgotten god in this expression most likely being a pagan Veles), allude to exceptionally good fortune and gaining of wealth.After the advent of Christianity, Veles was split into several different characters. As a god of the Underworld and dragons, he, of course, became identified with the Devil. His more benevolent sides were transformed to several Christian saints. As a protector of cattle, he became associated with Saint Blaise, popularly known among various Slavic nations as St. Vlaho, St. Blaz, or St. Vlasiy. In Yaroslavl, for example, the first church built on the site of Veles's pagan shrine was dedicated to St Blaise, for the latter's name was similar to Veles and he was likewise considered a heavenly patron of shepherds.As mentioned already, in many Eastern Slavic folk tales, he was replaced by St. Nicholas, probably because the popular stories of the saint describe him as a giver of wealth and a sort of a trickster.
It is remarkable that Veles managed to hold so many versatile attributes in ancient Slavic mythology and was not split into more characters until the arrival of Christianity; by contrast, his opponent, Perun, was never venerated as nothing more and nothing less than a god of thunder and storm, a very narrow sphere of influence compared to Veles' versatility. In other Indo-European mythologies, similar gods were schematically divided into several different deities.
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