Sunday, November 20, 2011

Searching for Neolithic Eastern Europe's Fairies and Deities

If the Kurgan Hypothesis proves to be correct then the
Proto-Indo-Europeans and the largest Eastern European
Civilization Lived side by side for over a thousand years.
The synthesis of cultures

Its early spring and the ground is still touched by spots of melting snow with little rivulets of water running down between flowers waiting to bud and fields that will soon be ready for planting. A small group of young girls follows these small rivulets of water down to a beautiful cluster of trees which cling to the side of a river as it runs through the countryside. Even here, in the fertile heart of the bread basket of Russia it’s obvious that water is the source of life, the source of fertility. So the girls tie scarves to trees, they perform circle dances while singing and praying to the spirits of the water imploring them to dampen the earth and to keep it damp through until harvest time. The Rusalky comply as they come out of the water and dance through fields damping the ground for the year, bringing their life giving water to what would otherwise be a lifeless earth. Meanwhile the girls cast divinations or swear oaths of eternal sisterhood, as they dance once more free for that moment. Even thousands of years after the Slavic nations had become Christian they still preyed to the water goddesses for fertility.
Somewhere in Christian France and Wales girls approach other bodies of water, a sacred well with trees nearby to which they tie pieces of cloth. They then throw in offerings into the water in hopes that the spirit of the water can help them have children, grant them luck or make their fields fertile. To the North in Iceland a woman is scolding her child for playing too loudly near the goddesses who live in the rocks as she offers food to them for luck. In Ireland the remnants of a story are being told of the goddess of a river who bore the Tuth De Dannon which the Irish believed to be the fairies.
Throughout Europe despite the best efforts of the Christian Church to stamp out the old religions and ideas people still made idols of “corn mothers” to insure a good harvest, gave food to the spirits in the rocks, and prayed to the rivers and wells for luck centuries after their conversion. The gods, goddesses, fairies, and spirits of the world survived not because people didn’t believe in the Christian god but because while it was nice to believe that they would go to the Christian heaven they still had to live, still had to survive with and against the forces of nature much as they had for thousands of years. So while the priests might change from worshiping Zeus, Jupiter and Odin to Christ for the safety of their nation and the soldiers might change their prayers for victory such changes did not affect most people. They would pray to the higher gods of course and hope to get into heaven but after words they would go home and spend the rest of the week asking the natural world for more fertile fields. So it is that most people in a society, the people who work the fields and live in the country will follow the old religion for thousands of years after everyone else’s religion has changed.

Because it’s clear that much of the old faiths of the peoples of Europe’s survived the coming of Christianity it seems likely that these faiths also survived the coming of the Indo-Europeans to a certain extent as well.
There are three very good reasons to presume that at least to some extent the later faiths of Indo-European Europe would resemble at least to some extent those of Neolithic Europe; 

1-Survival of belief among the people
As already pointed out many of the faiths and beliefs remained intact to some extent long after Europe became Christian, there were parts of Slavic Europe that believed in their Vila until the 1960s. The people of Greece still told stories of nymph like spirits until the last century as well. Ancient beliefs and folk magic’s were attested to all over Europe by researches in the 19th century; so even with the threat of the Christian Churches hell fire and inquisition, even with their pastors and the powerful Church doing their best to stamp out such beliefs the beliefs survived for thousands of years. So assuming then that the Indo-Europeans could stamp out the beliefs of the Neolithic Europeans with limited mobility and less organized efforts seems laughable at best.

2- There is a common misconception is that at some point about 5000 years ago hoards of violent Indo-European horsemen poured into Europe bringing with them the invention of war as they quickly decimated Europe’s peaceful and defenseless peoples and cultures. In order to truly come to an understanding of Neolithic European culture we must begin by correcting this mistake because while it’s true that the Indo-European peoples did come to dominate Europe such that perhaps 95 percent of Europe’s population in 1000 AD spoke a language descended from the Indo-Europeans through economic advantage as well as a military invasion it’s unlikely that they completely decimated the culture of the Neolithic Europeans. Rather if we examine the history of Indo-Europeans encounters with other peoples they we see that the Indo-Europeans adopted deities from the peoples they encountered. For example the Germanic peoples seem to have adopted Odin from the Uralic peoples to the North. In Greece aspects of Zeus were adopted from the near east as were Poseidon, Athena and Aphrodite. The Romans adopted so much from the Etruscans that many Roman nobles claimed to be Etruscans decades after they had conquered them in battle. The goddess like women who weave fate which exist throughout Europe seem likely to have been part of the pre-Indo-European belief system. In addition the Germanic peoples spent hundreds of years after they had destroyed the Roman Empire trying to be Roman. The Indo-European migration into Europe was slow taking thousands of years, giving them plenty of time to meet and slowly adapt to new cultures and regions, even if they always seem to dominate them linguistically.

Further the Indo-European society itself was heavily stratified with three basic castes, and each of these casts had their own separate concerns. So while the Indo-European peoples might conquer a people and thus become the kings, warriors, and nobility the agriculturalists and pastoralists would continue to primarily be made up of the original peoples of Neolithic Europe. As was the case in later years this peasant cast likely had a separate set of deities which most closely resembled those of Neolithic Europe.

3-Proximity to each other
There is this strange tenency to think of Neolithic Eastern Europe and the Proto-Indo-European societies as developing in some form of isolation, as being extremely separate from each other. Europe is not isolated, however, rather it’s another part of the Eurasian landmass and its largest mountain ranges would tend to isolate only small portions of it. There is in fact a direct entrance into Europe through the Eurasian Steppes and Anatolian that offers very little barrier between peoples as attested to by the number of raids made into and out of Europe through these two points. It makes no sense then given the Indo-Europeans proximity to Europe to presume that they had a drastically different set of beliefs. Their different lifestyle of pastoralism vs agriculture fit their unique environments but it seems likely that they swapped religious ideas, myths and fairy tales for thousands of years that they were neighbors with each other before the Indo-European Migration, and it may even be that many of their ideas evolved from the same source.

According to the Kurgan Hypothesis the Yamna culture, known from the way they buried their dead and their other cultural artifacts most likely represents the Proto-Indo-European society. As you can see from the map other than two seas to the south they have few barriers surrounding them so it’s likely that they were influenced by and influenced their neighbors greatly. Indeed the Proto-Uralic people which bordered them to the North have a number of loan words in their language from the Proto-Indo-Europeans. To the East lies more people of the steppes possibly the later Altaic peoples but this is uncertain, to the south are the peoples of the Caucuses and to the West lays the Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture. There is evidence not only of extensive trade between the Proto-Indo-Europeans but that for thousands of years they shared some of the same territory.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian Culture had massive cities for their time with some as large as those of the Fertile Crescent. The Yamna and the Cutcuteni-Trypillian cultures began to live side by side around 4500 BC. It’s important to remember that at this time there likely weren’t borders in the sense that we have to day so communities of peoples from different cultures would have traveled side by side. Over time the successors to the Yamna seem to have become more dominate, however while the Cutcuteni-Trypillian built walls there are no real signs of a major conflict and their culture didn’t fade away until 2,750 BC. This means that they and the Proto-Indo-Europeans lived side by side for 1,750 years. Hardly what one would expect if the Yamna were a purely warrior culture bent on conquest and the Cutcuteni-Trypillian were purely peaceful.
The extensive amount of time that the two cultures had in contact with each other is likely to have influenced the later Indo-European Cultures. Indeed similar contact such as the ones between the Romans and the Germans for example ended with the Germanic people adopting Roman Christianity. The Romans before this adopted a number of Etruscan religious and cultural ideas and for centuries after they defeated the Etruscans some Roman nobles still proudly proclaimed that they were related to Etruscans. The Greeks adopted many elements from their neighbors to the near east and the chief deity of the Norse and Germanic peoples adopted many elements from the Uralic people. Yet all of these people fought a number of wars with and occasionally eliminated the societies of the peoples they emulated all together. So while it’s impossible to say of how much of the Cutcuteni-Trypillian culture the Proto-Indo-Europeans would have adopted given that they left no written records to indicate what they believed the written history that we can surmise or read of the Indo-Europeans in Europe seems to indicate that they adopted a lot of cultural elements from their neighbors.



Anonymous said...

My post on Dānu, the Indo-European River Goddess and rivers around the Black Sea/Caspian region that arenamed after the deity.