Pagan Pantheons of Europe besides the Greek, Roman and Norse?
November 24, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Everyone knows about the Greeks and the Romans and the Norse, but what are some of the less well known pantheons and pagan religions from Europe?

I've been reading about myths from european cultures that converted late to Christianity like the Basques and the Lithuanians. What are some other pagan mythologies that we don't often hear much about? I'm particularly interested in ones that were kind of isolated and weren't just analogues for the traditional indo-european set of gods.
posted by empath to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 71 users marked this as a favorite
You've boned up on your Irish mythology, right? I never really got into it until I visited Ireland and realized how small it was -- the size of Alabama -- and that the Cattle Raid of Cooley, stripped of its epic verbiage, might have in fact happened in Alabama amongst my Scotch-Irish ancestors.

Unfortunately, most of what was lost is well and truly lost, thanks to wars and the interpretatio graeca. We can only catch glimpses in, say, the Krampus traditions of Germany.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:51 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Growing up in Russia, I had storybooks featuring the Slavic pantheon. It was mixed in pretty heavily with folk tales from post-Christianized Russia, however.
posted by griphus at 2:52 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

You've boned up on your Irish mythology, right?

No, I didn't even think of that, and I'm Irish Catholic. That's embarrassing, isn't it?
posted by empath at 2:58 PM on November 24, 2010

The Sami, who are an Indigenous group found in Northern Scandinavia, Finland, and Western Russia, had their own pagan religion before Christianity was introduced. It emphasized Polytheism, Ancestor Worship, and the involvement of Animal Spirits: Sami Shamanism
posted by spinifex23 at 3:03 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Finnish mythology, especially in Kalevala
posted by Free word order! at 3:14 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Carthaginian, perhaps. Carthage itself was not in Europe proper, but the Carthaginian empire extended throughout Southern Europe.
posted by The World Famous at 3:15 PM on November 24, 2010

Welsh myths are very interesting, and have served as a springboard for a lot of literature.

I'd also recommend the countries of Eastern Europe -- Romania, Hungary, etc. Proto-vampires and evil fairies galore.
posted by kyrademon at 3:16 PM on November 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Religion in the Hellenistic period [Wiki link, but it's a decent start] is one of my passions. The classic Greek pantheon was still around, but due to political circumstances and the expansion of the Greek world in all directions, religion went kind of haywire. New gods were invented (Sarapis, Harpocrates), old Eastern gods were repurposed (Isis, Dionysus to an extent, Bes, Cybele), and gods and their cults moved around with merchants (see: Isis worship in Europe, which has stuck around through today with the name Isidore, which means "gift of Isis"). It's not a coherent pantheon in any sense, but there's plenty of mythology and iconography.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:30 PM on November 24, 2010

Seconding Slavic deities. They are so lost to cultural imperialism that while we're sure that Czernobog was a God of Darkness, we are unsure as to whether Belebog was another aspect of the same entity, a loan-god from Zoroastrian-Manichean cultures, or something made up in the 12th century to help the Slavic pantheon fit in nicely with the biases of the contemporary Christian scholars of pagan theology.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:32 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tengriism was the ancestral religion of the early Bulgarians and perhaps also Hungarians, and while it's not practiced in Europe any longer, is still a living religion in Central Asia, and among some ethnic minorities in Turkey.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:48 PM on November 24, 2010

posted by smoke at 4:06 PM on November 24, 2010

Have you tried the Encyclopedia Mythica? The Europe page includes Basque, Etruscan, and Latvian mythologies, among others.
posted by bentley at 4:11 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hungarian mythology is interesting and so is Finnish paganism.
posted by Kattullus at 4:13 PM on November 24, 2010

The Thracians had some pretty interesting gods. In particular Zalmoxis is a strange figure, in that some sources call him a god while others call him a man.
posted by vlsd at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2010

Try and find a scanned PDF of the AD&D Deities and Demigods books. That's the only reason I know anything about Finnish or Celtic mythology.

Also check out Turkish mythology.
posted by benzenedream at 4:47 PM on November 24, 2010

The Cattle Raid of Cooley is more often referred to as The Tain (or even An Tain) in book form. There are a few different translations out there. It's a very interesting story...
posted by Slothrop at 6:07 PM on November 24, 2010

There's always Druidism.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:29 PM on November 24, 2010

I think you'd find that Latvian mythology is very similar to Lithuanian - hardly surprising considering they're the only surviving cultures of the Baltic language group. Incidentally, these trace back quite directly to proto Indo-European, so you may be closer to the traditional Indo-European set of gods than you think. Perkons (thunder), for example, is analogous to Zeus, Thor and Indra.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:45 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done a post on a set of famous illustrations for Thomas Kinsella's translation of the Tain; that edition might be a pleasant start. Another seminal text of the Irish myth cycle is Lebor Gabála Érenn, sometimes translated as The Book of Conquests, which is the title Jim Fitzpatrick used for his lavish 70s pop-art version.
Sticking with my arty Celtic theme, Alan Lee did some beautiful illustrations for an edition of the Mabinogion, a major source for the Welsh tradition, though I presume Lady Guest's translation has been superseded.
posted by Abiezer at 7:58 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bernard Cornwell's spin on the Arthurian cycle has a lot of what we've been able to reconstruct of Druidic Celtic practise (and Mithraic cults, for that matter).

The Old Prussians were a relatively late-surviving European pagan region; unfortunately the genocide of the Prussian Crusade means we don't actually know that much about them.

We have bits of the pre-Christian beliefs of the Sami.
posted by rodgerd at 8:01 PM on November 24, 2010

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