First Myth of the Proto-Indo-Europeans

Many Pagans find their religious inspiration from the ancient Romans, Greeks, Norse, and Celts, among others. But before many of these peoples had the distinct cultures from which we can draw upon today, their ancestors shared a language and a culture. Remnants of their language, culture, and even their religion hide within our own.

Before time was time and before the Earth itself, there were twin brothers, Manu (Man) and Yemo (Twin) who traveled the Universe with a Giant Primordial Cow.  Manu and Yemo came upon a place in the Universe where they decided to settle and Manu sacrificed Yemo (in some myths, the cow) to the Sky Gods (Sky Father, Storm God of War, Divine Twins) for their assistance in forming the Sun, the Moon, the Wind, Sea, Earth, Fire, and (perhaps from the cow) all the peoples of the Earth (maybe the animals too? …or at least cattle).  With this, Manu created the ritual of sacrifice and became the first priest.

After the making and ordering of the world, the gift of cattle was given to Trito (third man).  Things were looking good for #3, until a serpent with three heads stole the cattle from Trito.  Desolate, he implored the Storm God for assistance.  With divine assistance, Trito went to the abode of the monster (either a cave or a mountain) and killed it.  Trito took back his cattle and became the first warrior. Having rescued the stolen livelihood of his people, he gave a portion of the cattle to the priests whose sacrificial fires ensured that the gods were also given their share. And so the cycle of reciprocity continued.

(The above is a summarized and adapted (and in some snippets, quoted) version of the “first myth” of the proto-Indo-Europeans, retold by myself, from chapter 8 of The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony, below are direct quotes from the author about this myth.)

“These two myths were fundamental to the Proto-Indo-European system of religious belief. *Manu and *Yemo are reflected in creation myths preserved in many Indo-European branches, where *Yemo appears as Indic Yama, Avestan Yima, Norse Ymir, and perhaps Roman Remus (from *iemus, the archaic Italic form of *yemo, meaning “twin”); and Man appears as Old Indic Manu or Germanic Mannus, paired with his twin to create the world. The deeds of *Trito have been analyzed at length by Bruce Lincoln, who found the same basic story of the hero who recovered primordial lost cattle from a three-headed monster in Indic, Iranian, Hittite, Norse, Roman, and Greek myths. The myth of Man and Twin established the importance of the sacrifice and the priest who regulated it. The myth of the “Third one” defined the role of the warrior, who obtained animals for the people and the gods.”

“For the speakers of Proto-Indo-European, domesticated cattle were basic symbols of the generosity of the gods and the productivity of the earth. Humans were created from a piece of the primordial cow. The ritual duties that defined “proper” behavior revolved around the value, both moral and economic, of cattle. Proto-Indo-European mythology was, at its core, the world view of a male-centered, cattle-raising people–not necessarily cattle nomads but certainly people who held sons and cattle in the highest esteem.”


About thalassa

Occasionally doting wife, damn proud momma of two adorable children, veteran of the United States Navy, semi-steampunk bohemian beach addict from middle America, Civil War reenactor and Victorian natural history aficionado, canoeing and kayaking and paddleboarding fanatic, Unitarian Universalist and pantheistic Pagan, devotee of various aquatic deities, and practitioner of bioregional witchery View all posts by thalassa

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