I know of two other people who actually work with Velnias. He’s not exactly a common Godfriend to have. We all agree, he smells like musk and rot in a really good way.
His Tinder profile would probably be something like:
Works as: Christian Devil in Lithuania
Studied at: the University of the Beginning of the World
Located at: your nearest swamp
Likes to: dance, hates thunder
Into: magic, sex, cattle, wealth, and tricking people
Bad boy exterior but on the inside is wise crazy making sage
If you’re looking for a good time Velnias is your guy, as long as a good time involves paradox, complication, sweat, tears, and rot. Looking for swamp witches, vulture culture nuts, men, women, and especially those who live somewhere in the middle or on another axis of gender altogether.
Welcome to the the Jungle!
Velnias is an intriguing character, both good and bad. He teaches the first witch, and co-creates the world with the Sky Father God Deivas. He is tricked as often as he tricks, and seems to tolerate such things with good will. There was no revenge against the woman who tricks him into teaching her His magic, and no grand revenge against Dievas for tricking Him into doing the dirty work of creation.
There are many tales of Velnias, and of the smaller velnias, or devils, that hide from Perkunas the thunder god. Perkunas is constantly trying to strike Velnias with his thunderbolt, and he in turn is always hiding in places. You don’t want him hiding in your house when Perkunas is looking for him. Velnias likes to mess up weddings, cause mayhem, chaos, and upset the right order of things. Perkunas does not enjoy that at all. If Perkunas is an “A” type go getter ESTJ, Velnias is a “Q” type ENTP. “Q” can stand for quirky or queer or queen. Your mileage may vary.
So when I started to get trancework where a horned swamp thing asked me to dance, I was pretty wary. Back then I lived on a couple of acres of land that connected into a much larger system of parks and nature preserves. I was working deeply with the land spirits there and had made good friends with them. Some of them were more friendly than others, the spirit of the land itself seemed most like Ludo from the movie Labyrinth. He was slow and friendly and a little monstrous. There were other spirits, haughty elves, angry squirrels, helpful mosses. But then there was something new. I smelled it first. A hint of something like an animal in rut, a hint of spring mud where there was none. He was careful and polite. Eventually we danced. It was lovely, and time went on.
Wherin I Learn what it Feels Like to be Gay and Flirty
I am not gay. I am not a man, I am not trans. Sometimes I get a little genderqueer in a butch lesbian kind of way, but that’s it. So this was a little weird for me. A few years ago at my grove’s annual retreat we had Shauna Aura Knight come in and teach a ritual intensive for us. It was super intense and very cool. We learned a lot and I totally recommend her. We worked to incorporate ritual elements of her style into an ADF structure and decided to have three people represent three deities that were important to our grove. The first and second choices were easy peasy: Gabija the goddess of the hearth, and Perkunas the protector. We kind of stumbled around the third, until I piped up with an idea that was pressing on the base of my skull.
“How about Velnias?”, I said.
Well you all know what happens when you open your mouth. That’s how one gets responsibilities. I got the responsibility of channeling the energy of Velnias. We were careful and respectful, did divination first to make sure that Perkunas and Velnias would be okay, placed their altars out of sight of each other. We put Gabija in the middle like the good child in the backseat of the stationwagon. She’s very patient. I was isolated behind a wall with my Velnias altar as the ritual began, and I veiled myself as part of the process. In my mind I sank down into the earth and prayed to Velnias, allowing myself to drift deeper into trance in preparation for my part in the ritual.
I was to challenge the participants as they came and visited me during the open format part of the ritual. They were to wander from station to station interacting with each altar and individual. I was worried I might be ridiculous or unuseful, but when that first person came up to me everything snapped neatly into place. The self that was me-ness stepped aside politely and let that dance partner twirl gracefully to the front of my consciousness. I don’t really remember a whole lot of the words anymore, mostly the emotional reactions of the participants. One in particular was very odd indeed.
We have a number of gay members of our grove. One of them came up to be challenged by me and I found my body shifting into a contrapposto pose like a greek statue. I tossed out a hey baby kind of statement, and he smiled and flirted right back. We went back and forth for a moment, I winked and grinned under my veil. He seemed to get the idea. It was a fun, sexy moment. Then he moved on and the next person came up to me. They got a totally different reaction, stern and magical. Each person was challenged on their own terms, according to their own needs.
After the ritual the individual and I stopped and talked about what had happened. We both laughed at the strange experience of being attracted to each other for that hot minute. I learned that day that Velnias finds many people attractive and that when he and I were sharing a brain, I got to share that as well. Channeling deity can be weird.
Velnias, Devil GodAs I mentioned, in the Lithuanian language, devil translates as velnias, and I get it. He gets smote a lot, hangs out in buggy, stinky swamps, makes witches, steals the sun, he’s clearly the problem brother. The thing is, he’s the creator god’s bro. When the Lithuanian language translates God in the biblical sense, they use Dievas, which linguistically is related to Dyeus Pater, Dyàuṣpítaḥ, and Tyr. If we look at the Indo-European roots of all these names, it becomes clear that Deivas is a reflection of the IE sky father, and that’s what his name means. The etymology of Velnias is slightly more difficult. The root of his name is Vele, which translates as soul. He could be seen as the god of souls, and is connected with the underworld and wealth. The Slavic equivalent is Volos another underworld god of swamps. Interestingly, there’s a Norse concept connected to all of this: Vallhalla. There’s also a bunch of cattle words connected to these *val or *wal words.
So how do we get from swamps to cattle?
I actually know the answer to this. Awesome, right?!
So, this gets into archeology, domestication, and the beginnings of pastoralism. Long long ago, there were people in the middle of the Eurasian continent who eventually became pastoralists which means that they didn’t farm and they didn’t hunt. They were basically ancient cowboys with chariots. Their horses were how they fought and herded, and the thing they herded was cattle. They also herded goats and sheep, but mostly cattle. They moved around and didn’t have any permanent settlements. The limiting factor on those huge herds of cattle was winter grazing. The steppes of Eurasia are harsh, and while it’s impressive that an animal can turn grass into food, clothing, shelter, and materials for tools, they can’t eat snow. That’s where the swamps come in. The swamps didn’t freeze and the plants didn’t die back there. They were lowland, wet, and there were things for cattle to eat. Specifically tall reeds of a couple of species and marshmallow roots. Mmmm. Delicious, for cattle at least. This all began during a cold and dry period about 4,500 years ago. But there it is, and basically we just described Velnias.
He’s a god of cattle and swamps. He’s a god of wealth, because in that ancient memory of a time when you didn’t have stored grain, your wealth was your cattle, and winter swamps were the way you kept your wealth alive. He’s a god of death too, because winter is hard.
So we have a complex set of ideas swirling around here, with swamps at the root of it. Swamps are dangerous and magical. They trick you. They can kill you if you go wrong. However they are the land of winter survival. There is also evidence that Velnias is connected with winter storytelling, which makes a great deal of sense if you consider his swampy food origins.
Velnias, partner of the Sky Father
Our friend the devilish Velnias is said to have co-created the world in Lithuanian myth. Dievas tricks him into getting a bit of earth from under the primordial ocean, (who’s the tricky one after all?) The sky father makes all the nice things, the grass and the sun, the nice animals like birds and horses. The swamp father makes the biting things and the creepy crawling things. (all the things that live in swamps, eh?) From the perspective of an ancient pastoralist, who lived summers on the wide grassy star lit plains and winters in the buggy swampy lowlands, that all makes a lot of sense. It does leave Velnias as the less fun brother, hanging out with Hades in the no-fun corner of the Indo European Pantheons.
Velnias In Modern Practice: Bringing it Home
So why do we care about an ancient creation partner of the lowlands? Because swamps are vital to our survival and we love to forget their magic. Swamps are stinky buggy places that only Yoda could love, right? That’s the thing, swamps aren’t for humans. They are an ecosystem that we only exploit rarely and that is usually dangerous to us. There are more tales about the monsters that live in swamps than the blessings. There is the will-of-the-wisp that leads humans astray, the water spirits with cow tails that drown their victims, the swamp thing that lives among the reeds with the unseen things. The swamp is chaos and danger.
We live in times where we have the powers of the gods. We are mountain shapers and world enders. With great power comes great responsibility. Swamps might be irritating and dangerous for the individual human but they have great gifts to give to ecosystems. Swamps are stinky because they are are great decomposers. They are fonts of biodiversity because they are filters and purifiers, capturers of energy and nutrients. I might not want to think real often about my kidneys and colin, but without those things I’d be in rough shape. Likewise without swamps we lose a great deal. I live in Michigan which could easily be called Northern Dagobah. We like to forget that most of Michigan was a swamp at one point, but the evidence is still there in the wet basements and little ponds near mall developments. It’s common practice for developers to fill in wetlands and then create little ponds with perfectly manicured sod nearby where the fill dirt came from. It’s “pretty” and “clean”. But in reality it’s just destructive. It would be like removing chunks of your large intestine in order to be skinnier and more beautiful. Someone has probably done it, but it’s a horrible idea.
So I worship the devilish swamp god Velnias, in all his dangerous, magical, musky power. I give thanks for anaerobic decomposition and the blessings of both acidic and stagnant water. I send praises downward for the rising flights of waterbirds. I pray to my ancestors that we learn to live in harmony with the Earth our Mother. Love your local swamp. Pray there, learn the shapes of the plants and animals, and support policy that protects floodplains and lowlands.
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