Perun. One of the principal deities in eastern and northern Slavic mythology. In pre-Christian Kyivan Rus’ this was the chief god—the god of thunder, lightning, and rain, the ruler of the heavens, and, later, the god of war. According to the Primary Chronicle, when the pagans of Kyivan Rus’ entered into an agreement with Byzantium, they swore an oath to Perun. In 980 a wooden statue of Perun with a silver head and golden moustache stood on Perun Hill in Kyiv. Perun's feast, celebrated with sacrifices, took place in July. On a clay calendar from the Cherniakhiv culture in the Kyiv region Perun's Day (20 July OS) is marked with the sign of thunder—a six-spoked wheel. Human sacrifices to Perun (one boy and girl) were chosen by lot. After adopting Christianity Prince Volodymyr the Great ordered Perun's statue to be cast into the Dnieper River and on its site built Saint Basil's Church. The cult of Perun, however, survived among the common people for many centuries. In Western Ukraine traces of the cult could be detected in the 20th century. The Lemkos still consider the expression ‘May Perun strike you dead’ as the most terrible curse. The Christian church replaced the cult of Perun with the cult of Saint Elijah (feast day: 2 August, or 20 July OS), to whom all of Perun's qualities were transferred.

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]

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