The early Slavs and Balts remained hidden from
recorded history for far longer than their Indo-European cousins in
Even basics such as tribal names are very hard to
pin down until at least the sixth century AD, while their religious
practices are virtually unknown. Only an analysis of later Slavs is
able to reveal anything about them during their 'dark' centuries of
The religion of the early Slavs - and that of the
closely-related Balts - seemed to retain some elements of
proto-Indo-European religion, but they were isolated for such a long
period of time in the forests to the north of the Pontic steppe (the
northern Black Sea coast) that both Slavs and Balts drifted away
from a worship of the wider collective of shared deities to that of
a majority of unrecognisable names.
Although there does seem to have been a continuity
of characteristics in their deities, most of the names were replaced
with others that were recognisable as words to Baltic and Slavic
speakers as their language changed across the centuries.
A few survivors are notable. There is the female
goddess whose name was derived from Deiwos, the proto-Indo-European
chief god, surviving in its altered form as 'Devana'.
There was also a male deity in the Baltic language
of the Lithuanians named Dievas. A male deity named Ognebog
(literally 'fire god') appears to derive from the Vedic deity, Agni.
Another male survivor was the Baltic god, Perkūnas, and the Slavic
god, Perun, both cognate to the Indic god, Parjanya in Rig
The original proto-Indo-European word seems to have
a double meaning of 'broken, splintered' and 'oak' tree. From this
is derived the Latin word for an oak tree, and also the classical
Greek word for a thunderbolt. Was the deity based on the original
worship of an oak tree that had been shattered by a lightning
Browse a list of Slavic deities and it quickly
becomes apparent that the names are mostly Slavic. You find Slavic
names translatable as 'black god' and 'white god' for example
(seemingly a favourite device for Slavs who later had
classifications that included White Ruthenians (Belarussians) and
Black Ruthenians (Lithuanians)).
One odd deity stands out with the name of Vida. One
has to wonder whether this deity is related to the Norse god, Vidarr
('Vida' plus the Norse nominative suffix '-ar/-r'). What could
possible cognates be? Could it be a borrowed name? But if it is then
in which direction was it borrowed (into Slavic from others, or out
of it by others)?
Soon after the middle of the fifth century AD the Hunnic
empire crashed into extinction, starting with the death of
Attila in 453. Hunnic unity was destroyed very soon
afterwards, clearing the way for the Slavic tribes to start
migrating outwards (click or tap on map to view full sized)