Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father
Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father
By Raven and Carrion Mann
Most modern Neopagans are familiar and comfortable with the concept of an Earth Mother, whether she is viewed as the Earth itself, or as a more localized goddess of sovereignty. We strive to connect with the powers of the Earth to ground ourselves and draw upon its life-giving magic, but what about the powers of the Sky and the ability to balance and center ourselves within our cosmos?
As ADF Druids, we are not unfamiliar with the illuminating magic and creative spark of Sky power for we attune to it frequently, but pay little attention to the source of this power. As modern polytheists, we worship deities of the Sky, those of the storms, of the sun and of the moon, yet we make no mention of a Sky Father.
Why has this being, which held such prominence among our Indo-European ancestors (Winn 20-21), been so intentionally overshadowed within modern Indo-European derived spiritual paths, such as ADF and how is it that we reclaim this being of such importance?
In my opinion the why begins in that many individuals have found their way to Neopaganism as a reactionary movement away from their perceived oppression of the Abrahamic religions. The Abrahamic religions are most obviously grounded in patriarchy, venerating exclusively a male deity, who is perceived at times by Neopagans as an ‘angry Sky God'. The Neopagan revival offered a gentle alternative to the concept of ‘angry Sky God' in a variety of Earth based, Earth Mother driven spiritual paths.
The Neopagan religions also offered a liberating alternative to many women feeling oppressed by the patriarchy of the Abrahamic religions (Adler 22). Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father has been met with quite a bit of resistance and controversy largely due to being misperceived by modern Neopagans as the ‘angry Sky God' they fled when leaving the Abrahamic religions.
Additionally, the Indo-Europeans were most definitely a patriarchal society and this only further adds to the difficulties that many Neopagans face in embracing a Sky Father deity. It is extremely unfortunate that the peaceful nature of Indo-European Sky Father has been stereotyped in such a manner.
Among all natural deities, the concept of an Earth Mother and Sky Father seems to have traditions that are rooted deep within ancient history. For some of these ancient cultures it is this couple that was actually responsible for the creation of the universe (Keith 80). As these cultures developed, however, the size of each pantheon grew, overshadowing the most ancient and primal of these beings.
Despite the fact that there is currently no evidence for a universal Indo-European Sky Father, evidence of Sky Father deities exists in all Indo-European pantheons. "There are a few cases where the parallelism existing among the words used by the different Indo-European peoples gives us the right to conclude the existence of common worship" (Keith 37).
However, the existence of the Indo-European figure, ‘Dyaus Pitr', is one such case (Keith 37). Linguistic evidence links the root words for "day", "sky" and "god" in all classical Indo-European languages and the name for the God of the Sky descends from the Proto-Indo-European word ‘*deiuo' or ‘*deiwo' meaning "clear sky" or "day light or day sky" (Winn 20-23).
Within each Indo-European culture, the Sky Father deity was the head of the pantheon and one of the most ancient male deities of the Indo-European peoples (Winn 81). As the Indo-Europeans, moved away from the Black Sea and swept across the steppes in search of new lands, this peaceful god of the clear sky moved with them.
Upon settling in a new territory, the Sky Father wed the Goddess of that land or the Earth Mother deity and in the minds of the early Indo-Europeans the relationship between the Sky Father and localized Earth Mother was as simple as, the Sky Father fertilized the Earth Mother, which in turn gave birth to all living things (Keith 80).
For several of the Indo-European cultures the Sky Father was not only the supreme god, ruling over the entire pantheon, but he also commanded the skies and the heavens. It is also believed that individuals of all social classes venerated the Sky Father. The Sky Father's primary function was to maintain religious/cosmic order, yet he also possessed legislative and warrior functions (Winn 82).
The Sky Father, however, is not to be confused with the Sun God, who was also given precedence in Indo-European culture. Actually, it is the Sky Father and Earth Mother that are often the parents of the Sun, Moon and Storm Gods of Indo-Europeans.
Unlike the concept of "Lord and Lady" honored in many Neopagan traditions, the Indo-European Sky Father and Earth Mother deities are not beings whose children are aspects of them. While some Neopagan traditions prefer to reduce all Gods to one God and all Goddesses to one Goddess, this was not the case for our polytheistic Indo-European ancestors. Such a primal pair, as Danu and Bile can most certainly be made to fit into this dualistic world-view, but this world-view cannot be made to fit into the world of the ancient Indo-Europeans.
Detailed exploration of the Indo-European cultures yields Sky Father deities, whose names are not unfamiliar to most Neopagans. From the Greek and Roman cultures Zeus and Jupiter, respectively, are the only two Sky Fathers that have maintained their prominence as the Chiefs of their pantheons. They, however, retain their prominence largely due to their Storm God functions (Burkert 126).
Zeus is not only the father of humankind and the Gods, but also the Cloud Gatherer and Thunderer and likewise, Jupiter is the Roman God of the Sky and the God of Thunder (Winn 93). In the Indic culture, Dyaus, father of Indra and Agni, is recognized as the Sky Father of the pantheon (Keith 95), but unlike, Zeus and Jupiter, Dyaus did not retain his position as head of the Indic pantheon (Puhvel 59), but was usurped by Indra, most likely due to climatic and political changes.
"Dyaus has the honour of being the only Indo-European god who is certainly to be recognized as having existed in the earliest period, and he has been claimed for that time as a real sovereign of the gods, much as Zues among the Greeks" (Keith 95). Similarly, in the Norse pantheon Tyr can clearly identified as the Sky Father of the pantheon; however, Tyr, like the Indo-European Sky Fathers of many other cultures, is eventually, overshadowed by Odin (Ellis Davison 215).
It is evident from just a few examples that as the Indo-European cultures migrated and developed, the need for deities of weather and war became a necessity for survival in their new lands and the peaceful God of the Clear Sky willingly faded into the background of many pantheons, yet he remains a calm, consistent presence, perhaps a largely untapped resource for order in our chaotic world.
Eventually, in most Indo-European cultures it is the children of the Sky Father that would replace or share his role within Indo-European tripartite structure. In time the original function of the Sky Father deities seems to most often be divided among his children as in the Vedic case of Mitra and Varuna.
Varuna becomes the guardian of truth and cosmic order, while Mitra reigns over human contracts and covenants (Winn 83). This pairing of deities divided the functions in to light/ordered and dark/chaotic. With this division the Indo-European obsession for dualistic choices becomes apparent. "Global dualisms which exaggerated the distinction between Indo-European and non-Indo-European assert themselves all too easily: male and female, patriarchy and matriachy, heaven and earth, Olympian and chthonic, and intellect and instict" (Burkert 18).
This bipolar system of the world is also reflected within Indo-European cultures when the new gods overthrow the old, "or as the Indo-European Sky Father takes the Mediterranean Mistress as his bride" (Burkert 18).
It is easy to look to honor the more active deities of our pantheons, as the Sky Fathers watch over their children in peaceful silence. In the mundane world the clear sky seems to hold no great interest for us and is virtually unimportant until it is filled with the threatening clouds of the Thunderer or the brilliance of the Sun.
However, to become not only grounded, but also centered in our world; to really achieve balance; we must look to the sacred and inseparable union between the Earth and Sky for our example, for one can not exist without the other. We must realize the potential and need for the spark and illumination of the clear sky and therefore, we must reclaim and restore the Indo-European Sky Fathers to our worship.
In conclusion, for the early Neopagan movement it made perfect sense for individuals to seek to follow the gentle Earth Mother because she had lain forgotten for nearly 2000 years, maligned and oppressed by the Abrahamic religions.
Since that time, it is the Sky Father that has lain forgotten, maligned at worst and at best ignored within Neopagan spiritual paths because he has been stereotyped to be of a similar nature to what became the Abrahamic Sky Father.
We have now reached a point within our history as modern Neopagans that we must seek the balance between the Earth and Sky, and for ADF Druids a balance that is driven by the Earth Mothers and Sky Fathers of the Indo-European pantheons.
- Alder, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1986.
- Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985.
- Ellis Davidson, H.R. Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions. Syracuse: University Press, 1988.
- Keith, Arthur B. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads (part 1). Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1989.
- Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, Maryland: The John's Hopkins University Press, 1987.
- Winn, Shan M. M. Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1995.