Category Archives: Customs

The Rain of Wodan

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We previously remarked on the similarities between Wodan and wodz – “leader”.  We speculated that a wodz did wodzil, meaning led around his people (ziehen) because fundamentally, people travelling in the old days needed water to survive.  So you went along the rivers.  Thus wodzic ought to mean just to walk along, to or around water.  The person who led that became a “wodz”.

That is probably also the origin of the word “wander” or the German wandern (notice, for example, the Old Prussian wenda for “water” – which also suggests that the Veneti were – in some “Baltic” language simply “those who dwell or travel on/by water”).  Thus:

  • woda (Sla) > wodzic > wodz
  • udens (Balt Lat)
  • wenda (Balt Pr)
    • also compare with wędka [vendka] or wędzić [vendit] or wędlina [vendlina]
  • vanduo (Balt Lith)
  • [wasser] (Germ) > wandern

Notice too that “to wander” is the roughly the same as “to meander” – both are done by rivers and both may be undertaken by people travelling along rivers or on rivers.  These names indeed suggest the very life style of certain tribes.  The fact that Slavs are recorded (Procopius) as worshipping water spirits kinda fits.

From this you could also construct wojewoda as in the one who leads “woje” or “warriors”. Incidentally, the word woje means the same as boie.  The Boii were supposedly a Celtic tribe but it is not known what language these “Celts” spoke.  (Incidentally, in this version, the Germanic Heerzieher becomes a translation of the Slavic wojewoda – not vice versa).

We’ve also mentioned the curious fact that “one” in Slavic languages is jeden/odin.

But Wodan’s name itself suggests a Slavic (or Baltic?) source word of woda (or udens in Latvian) meaning “water”.

Wodan was – perhaps (this is unproven) – the same as Mercury.  Mercury was not really a water god but a god of trade.  On the other hand, during the Mercuralia, apparently, merchants sprinkled water from Mercury’s sacred well at the Porta Capena in Rome…

All of this may suggest that Wodan (whoever he was initially) was or at some point became a “rain god.”  This raises the possibility that Wodan was the same as Piorun.  Both are, in effect, storm gods – one’s name may mean “water” – the other’s “thunder”.  The fact that wuetend then came to mean the same as “raging” naturally follows from that.

Also the ending of

  • syllable then -n,
  • as in -on, -an, -un

seems rather fashionable among Europeans:

  • Jasion
  • Piorun/Perkun (or Perkun-as)
  • Wodan, Woden

Numerous other examples abound (they are typically viewed as Greek if in the form of -on but this may just be because of the fact that Greeks could actually write – see also Simon, Jason and others such as Chasson – the Slavic protagonist of the Miracles of Saint Demetrius.  BTW Josippon is a Greek word).

As we already pointed out, piron in both Greek and Venetic (!) means “fork” which naturally suggests the physical image of electricity streaming through the sky.

For other interesting factoids you can see that Vaduz – the capital of Lichtenstein – was first recorded as de Faduzes and this too refers to water.  Although the etymology is supposed to be Rhaetian (Rhaeto-Romanic) from aqueductus, it might just as well be Germanic or even Slavic.  That wadi means “river” in Arabic should also suggest that IE languages (or something similar) were much more widely spread (in the Old World) than previously thought.

Incidentally, os means “mouth” or “estuary” and is obviously cognate to the Slavic usta.  Likewise, os, as are cognates with the idea of motion jazda and all, for obvious reasons relate to water – jezero meaning “lake” – or Tamissa meaning Thames River, Izera and many others.

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June 16, 2017

Reports of the Slavs From Muslim Lands Part III – Hearth & Home

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In part I of this series originating from Muslim lands, we have discussed the political description of Slavic lands as set out by Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub.  In part II, we have discussed some aspects of the Slav trade.  In this part III we will discuss some customs of the Slavs as observed by Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub as well as by Ibn Rusta – both of whom were introduced in parts I & II.  In part IV, to come, we will conclude where we began with the political description of Slavdom (along with some historiography)  from Masudi – who wrote some 20 years before Ibrahim.

[As a side note, we note that Arabic, like Hebrew, does not always use vowels meaning that some of the names reconstructed below are necessarily approximations since the translators had to fill in some blanks].

Ibrahim Ibn Ya’qub on the Customs of the Saqaliba

“The lands of the Slavs are the coldest of all the lands.  The greatest cold is when there is full moon at night and the days are cloudless.  Then frost increases and ice increases.  The ground hardness like stone, all liquids freeze, wells and puddles are covered with a hard layer so that they become like stone.  And when people breathe out, there forms on their beards a coat of ice as if it were glass…”


The Hrad where the Slavic Superchieftain “S”vetopolk made his home (artist’s rendition)

“They have no baths but they use log cabins in which gaps are stuffed with something that appears on their trees and looks like seaweed – they call it mech (original mh = moss)… In one corner they put up a stone stove and above it they open up a hole to let the smoke from the stove escape.  When the stove is good and hot, they close up the opening and close the door of the hut.  Inside are vessels with water and they pour out of them water onto the hot stove and steam comes from it.  Each of them has in his hand a tuft of grass with which they make air circulate and draw it to themselves.  Then their pores open up and the unneeded substances from their bodies come out…”


Slavs in a bath – their pores are about to open up

[This kind of a banya was likely where the Princess Olga had the leaders of the Drevlians burnt alive in 945 as reported by the PVL]

“The major tribes of the north speak the language of the Saqaliba because they have mingled with them.  These are such tribes as the Germans, the Hungarians, the Pecenegs, the Rus and the Khazars.  In all the northern countries famines occur, not because of lack of rainfall and continuous drought, but because of over-abundant rain and continual damp.  Drought is not devastating for them, because he who is afflicted by it does not fear it, since their country is so damp and the cold is so great.”

Czech Republic Europe Floods

Given the Slavs’ superior highway system, the frequent flooding was not even irksome

“They sow during two seasons of the year, in summer and in spring, and harvest two crops.  Their principal crop is millet.  The cold even when it is intense, is healthful to them, but the heat destroys them.  They are unable to travel to the country of the Lombards because of the heat, for the hear there is fierce and they perish.  Health among them is only achieved when the elements that make up their constitutions are frozen – when these elements melt and boil, the body desiccates and the result is death.”


Slavic Chieftain Tang-o-mir – after only a few minutes in the Lombard sun – or was it erysipelas?

“Two diseases afflict them all; scarce anyone escapes at least one of them.  The diseases are erysipelas and hemorrhoids [ehhh…].  They refrain from eating chicken, asserting that it exacerbates erysipelas, but they eat beef and goose, both of which agree with them.  They wear ample robes, although the ends of their sleeves are narrow.  Their kings sequester their women and are very jealous of them.  A man can have twenty or more wives.”


While the Slavic 1% may have had 20-plus wives, the Slav peasant typically had to do with only two

“The most common trees in their country are apple, pear and peach.  They have an unusual bird its back is green and it can imitate the sounds made by men and animals.  It has been found [] they hunt it and it is called saba (original sb – “szpak”? = starling or “sowa” = owl?) in the language of the Saqaliba.  They also have a fowl called tatra (wood-cock).  Its meat is good and its call can be heard from the tree-tops at the distance of a forsake [parsec?].  The most common are of two kinds, one black and one varicoloured; the latter more beautiful than a peacock.  They have different kinds of wind and string instruments.  They have a wind instrument more than two cubits long, and an eight-stringed instrument whose sounding board is flat, not convex.  Their drinks and wine are made out of honey.” [mead – medos?]

Ibn Rusta on the Customs of the Saqaliba

(c 903-913)

“It is ten days’ march from the lands of the Pecenegs to the lands of the Saqaliba.  The first town encountered after crossing the frontier is Wabnit.  To reach it, one crosses steppe and trackless wilderness, with springs and thick forest.”

“The country where the Saqaliba dwell is flat and heavily forested.  There are no vineyards or cultivated fields.  They have a sort of wooden box, provided with holes, in which bees live and make their honey; in their language they are called the ulishaj.  They collect around ten jars of honey from each box.  They herd pigs as if they were sheep.”


Some beekeepers (like these Polish bartniks) operated in airborne units

“They burn their dead.  When a woman dies, they cut her hands and face with a knife.  The day after the funeral of a man, after he has been burned, they collect the ashes and put them in an urn, which is buried on a hill.  After a year, they place twenty hives, more or less, on the hill.  The family gathers and eats and drinks there and then everyone goes home.  If the dead man had three wives, and one of them says she loved him, she raises two lists near the tomb, and sets another horizontally across them.  To this cross beam she attaches a rope and ties the other end round her neck.  When these preparations have been made, they remove the stool she has been standing on and she strangles.   Her body is then thrown in the fire and burnt.”


Typical Slavic funeral

[recall what Saint Boniface said of the Wends – also in agreement Thietmar of Merseburg regarding Poles]

They all worship fire.  [Svarog?] Their chief crop is millet. At harvest time, they place a few grains in a dish and hold it up to the sky, saying: ‘Lord, it is you who give us our daily bread: continue to show us your benevolence.‘”


Mieszko I’s coin with, ahem, a fire symbol

[incidentally, it has been suggested that the above coin is from the reign of Mieszko II – however, it seems to us more likely a pre-baptismal issue, i.e., pre-966 – given the “embroidery”)

“They have different kinds of lutes, pan pipes and flutes a cubit long.  Their lutes have eight strings.  They drink mead.  [medos?] They play their instruments during the incineration of their dead and claim that their rejoicing attests the mercy of the Lord to the dead.”

“They have very few mules, and even notables possess very few horses.  Their arms are javelins, shields and lances; they have no others.”

“They obey a chief named subanj [zhupan?] and carry out his orders.  He dwells in the middle of the land of the Saqaliba.  Their supreme lord, called ‘chief of chiefs’, however, is named Svetopolk [of Moravia?].  The subanj is his lieutenant and viceroy.  This king has many cattle and lives exclusively on their milk… He has splendid, finely woven and effective coats of mail.”


Svetopolk with the characteristic “S” (for Slav) was not only a mighty Slavic warrior but also an early milk adopter and promoter

“The name of the town in which he lives in is [jarwab or jarad or grad?] .  For three days every month a great market is held there and every sort of commercial transaction takes place.”

“The extreme cold which afflicts the country is so harsh that th inhabitants are forced to construct underground dwellings, roofed with wood like a church and completely covered with earth.  The head of the family builds one of these for his family and relatives.”


Slav “zemyanki” while seemingly small and nondescript from the outside…

“They bring firewood and stones, light the wood until the stones turn red hot and then throw water on them.  The steam released warms the room and the inhabitants take off their clothes and live in this shelter till spring.”


… were surprisingly cozy & roomy on the inside

“The ruler levies fixed taxes every year.  Every man must supply one of his daughter’s gowns.  If he has a son, his clothing must be offered.  If he has no children, he gives one of his wife’s or concubine’s robes.  In this country thieves are strangled or exiled to Jira [Yura by the Urals?], the region most remote from this principality.”

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January 19, 2015