Proto-Indo-European religion

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Ancient anthropomorphic Ukrainian stone stela (Kernosovka stela), possibly depicting a late Proto-Indo-European god, most likely Dyeus, the thunderer.
Indo-European languages
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Armenian | Baltic | Celtic
Germanic | Greek | Indo-Iranian
Italic | Slavic | Tocharian
Language | Society | Religion
Kurgan | Yamna | BMAC | Aryan
Indo-European studies

The existence of similarities among the gods and religious practices of the Indo-European peoples suggests that whatever population they actually formed had some form of polytheistic religion. This theoretical religion therefore would have been the ancestor of the majority of the polytheistic religions of pre-Christian Europe; of the Dharma Faiths in India; and of Zoroastrianism in Iran.

Enough tantalizing hints of this ancestral religion can be detected in commonalities between languages and religious customs of Indo-European peoples to presuppose this ancestral religion did exist, though any details must remain conjectural. While similar religious customs among Indo-European peoples can provide evidence for a shared religious heritage, a shared custom does not necessarily indicate a common source for such a custom; some of these practices may well have evolved in a process of parallel evolution. Archaeological evidence, on the other hand, is difficult to match to a specific culture. The best evidence is therefore the existence of cognate words and names in the Indo-European languages.



Proto-Indo-European religion would have been maintained by a class of priests or shamans. There is evidence for sacral kingship, suggesting the tribal king at the same time assumed the role of high priest. Many Indo-European societies know a threefold division of a clerical class, a warrior class and a class of peasants or husbandmen. Such a division was suggested for the Proto-Indo-European society by Georges Dumézil.

Examples of the descendents of this class in historical Indo-European societies would be the Celtic Druids and the Indian Brahmins.

The Germanic tribes may have been an exception in allowing women to become priests: the Völvas (see also witches).


  • *Dyeus Ph2ter(1), the god of the daylit sky was the chief god of the Indo-European pantheon. He survives in Greek Zeus (also Dias), Latin Jupiter, Sanskrit Dyaus Pita, Baltic Dievas, Slavic Div and Germanic Tyr (also Tiwaz) (c.f. also deus pater in the Vulgate, e. g. Jude 1:1)
  • *Plth2vih2 Mh2ter (Dg'hōm) was the (Mother) Earth.
  • *Velnos, maybe a god of the night sky, continued in Sanskrit Varuna and Greek Uranos (which is also a word for sky), Slavic Veles.
  • *H2ausos was the goddess of dawn, continued in Greek mythology as Eos, in Rome as Aurora, in Vedic as Ushas, and possibly also in Germanic mythology as Eostre and in Lithuanian mythology as Aušra or Auštaras.

There also seems to have been a god of thunder, maybe originally identical to Dyeus, but later known under other names, as Thor, Taranis, Tarhunt, Perun, Perkūnas and Indra. The thunderer wielded the vajra or thunderbolt.

They may have distinguished between different races of gods (Jotuns, Titans), and (Aesir, Vanir, Asuras, Ahuras).

Note 1: See Proto-Indo-European language for the transcription used to represent reconstructed words.


There seems to have been a belief in a World tree, which in Norse mythology was an ash tree (Yggdrasil),in Hinduism a banyan tree, in Lithuanian mythology Jievaras. There is also a Greek folk tradition about the World Tree, which is being sawed by the Kallikantzaroi (Greek goblins).

It is also likely that they had three fate goddesses, see the Norns in Norse mythology, Moirae in Greek mythology and Deivės Valdytojos in Lithuanian mythology.

See also

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