Veles, also known as Volos or Vlas, is a major Rodnovery deity, a Slavic God of earth, waters, livestock, farmers, and the ruler of Prav - the underworld. He’s wooly, bearded, and dark and is associated with animals, cattle, harvest, wealth, music, magic, and trickery.
Who is Veles?
Veles is one of the most important deities in Rodnovery culture. He is the epithet of the Horned God as he was the protector of the cattle and animals. As such, he was imagined as an old shepherd, or in animal form as a bear.
He was the opponent of the supreme thunder God Perun and as such he was imagined as a serpent that devours. His tree is the willow tree, whose branches are long like snakes.
As the God of magic and trickery, he is compared to Loki or Hermes. His magic aspect is an inspiration to Volhvs the Rodnovery priests. Their name is derived from the name of the deity himself.
Eternal Rivalry Between Veles And Perun
Veles was the opponent of Perun, who is the deity of Thunder and the heavenly domain, Nav, and the first creation of Svarog, the Allfather. The reason for the enmity between these two deities is Veles’s theft of Perun’s wife, Mokosh. An act of challenge.
The depiction of the eternal battle between them is that Veles, in the form of a serpent, slithers his way from the caves of the underworld in the roots of the world tree and coils upwards to the treetop, which is the heavenly realm. Perun retaliates with thunder until Veles flees into hiding, and in the end, Veles is killed. Upon his death, he was released back to the underworld in the form of rain.
The eternal battle is cyclical, repeating itself each year. Veles would reform himself as a serpent and shed his old skin and be reborn in a new body. Although in this myth he plays a negative role in the chaos, Veles is not seen as an evil deity by Rodnovery.
As the two main deities, oaths and promises are sworn in the name of Perun or Veles. When you want to give your word to someone, make a promise, you mention their name and that makes the oath or promise have greater weight.
Perun would punish you if you break the oath with death in battle, and Veles would punish you with a disease.
Ruler Of The Nav, The Underworld
Veles is the ruler of Nav, one of the three realities that Rodnovery acknowledges. In this regard, being associated with shepherds, he is imagined to be a serpent. He lies in a nest of black wool, in the roots of the Tree of the World, where the entrance to Nav is located.
Because of this, he is also called the shepherd of the dead. He browses the deceased in the green lush meadows of the underworld and directs them to their herd. This means he is sorting through the souls of the deceased and reuniting them with their ancestors.
Veles The Protector
Veles was imagined as a bear, which Slavic people considered the Lord of the Forests who took care of animals, forest flora, and the forest itself. He was the protector of all the animals dwelling in these beautiful parts of nature.
As the protector of farmers and livestock, the cult of this deity is widespread in the Rodnovery world. Most of our ancestors were farmers and they often prayed and worshiped Veles for good favor in all their work.
Places Honoring Veles
Not many things survived Christianization, but we can find a lot of places in the Ronovery realms that still bear the name of Veles or the derivatives of his name. He was depicted as Saint Blaise, the patron of shepherds, or Saint Nicholas, that is the giver of wealth and sort of a trickster.
Mainly in Southern realms where Slavic people live, where I also live, we can find a lot of toponyms where Veles appears. The best-known one is the city named Veles in Northern Macedonia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a mountain named Velezh. In Serbia there is a village named Velesnica, in Montenegro there is Velestovo and in Croatia there is Volosko.
One of the unusual places where his name is also found in the Greek city of Volos, and this gives us evidence that Ronovery was present in Greece in the past as well.
How Is Veles Celebrated Today?
Veles is celebrated by Rodnovery Pagans on the 11th of February. During this day the prayers are offered to Veles for the protection of livestock. To win his favor and your kin to be healthier you offer milk as a sacrifice to him.
On this day it’s strictly forbidden to eat veal or beef, especially near the place of worship. The main dish eaten during this day is groats or other similar grains. In bigger Rodnovery communities the celebrations are often accompanied by the organization of ritual fights.
Farmers also have a tradition that is connected to Veles. You would leave the last wheat that wasn’t reaped and keep it in your barn tied together, making a beard shape, like the bearded God. Seeds from this were used as the first seeds planted in the next year, or are also used to make flour for the sacred bread for the celebration of Veles.
Because he is the ruler of the Underworld as well, it’s believed that he can connect us to our deceased ancestors and loved ones that passed away during his day. Sometimes, Rodnovery followers visit the graves of their relatives and honor them, as well as Veles, to get a deeper connection.
Read more about the practice of Rodnovery in our blog.
How Am I Connected To Veles?
Veles is one of the deities I have a greater connection with. I am a pagan that loves the forests and animals, and Veles being the deity of both, was an obvious God I would more likely connect with.
In honor of him, my chosen deity, I grew a beard and never shaved it since. I spend a lot of my free time in forests, hiking in the beautiful nature of the place I live, and connecting with him as much as I can.
The thing that makes the most connection is my enormous love for animals, whose protector he is. I chose to be vegan and eat plant-based for most of the time because of it. I have a lot of animals in my family and a lot of pets in my household that I take care of.
Since I officially became a Rodnovery, I acquired a serpent, a snake as a pet, in honor of Veles, and he is my best connection point for around 7 years now.
If you would like to learn more about corn snakes check out this article.
How Do I Celebrate the Holiday?
As this is one of the most important days for me, I take the whole day off to dedicate it solely to Veles. The day starts with waking up before sunrise to have the opportunity to watch it and soak in the first sunlight as a blessing.
In the first part of the day, I love to go on a hike in the forest, to enjoy the charms of winter in the mesmerizing beauty of the nature that I live near. There is also a small farm in the forest that I visit where I offer my help in feeding the animals or replenishing the wildlife feeders around it, for deer and boars that struggle to find food in the winter.
In the second part of the day, I spend at home, with my loved pets, and tending to their needs while worshiping Veles in unique ways as a solitary practitioner. My sacrificial milk that is offered to Veles is always lactose-free so I can give it to my cats that enjoy it. The beef I don’t, and cannot, eat on this day goes to my dogs in a specially prepared meal. Also, I make a feast for myself and my family and sacrificial bread is a must accompanied by a dessert made with groats!
At the end of the day, I spend time with my snake, connecting with Veles the most. This day is one of the exceptions during the year that I offer live sacrifice to Veles. Snakes are predators, and I dedicate a live mouse for my serpent to have for his meal on this day, allowing him to hunt and be more connected to his natural urges.
This year I also found time to go to the graveyard to visit my late uncle, as he passed away from coronavirus not long before the day of Veles. I used the deity, being the ruler of the underworld, to connect with my uncle and praise him.
This was only a grasp of the greatness surrounding Veles. I hope you can get the feel of the greatness and somewhat uniqueness of the Rodnovery pantheon! May Veles bring you good fortune, and as we Rodnovery say, Slava Rodu!
Guest Author, Marko, is a young pagan from Southeastern Europe, specializing his pagan path in his Native Faith called Rodnovery and dwelling into Wiccan solitary practices. Years of research and practice, from a very young age when curiosity blooms, gave Marko a good level of expertise on the topic of the Rodnovery religion.