Indo-European Studies I

What differentiates a culture as Indo-European?

Describe several of the factors that define a culture as Indo-European and how those defining factors are useful in understanding that culture. (minimum 300 words)

J.P. Mallory tells us that some argue for comparative mythology over comparative philology, if we are to gain any progress in Indo-Europeans studies. He implies that straight lexical comparisons are less rewarding when considered alone (Mallory 130). In our identification efforts towards defining what is Indo-European we must look to comparative mythology, linguistics and archeology, through the lens of Dumezilian Tripartition. Tripartition, as Georges Dumezil demonstrates, is the core Indo-European(IE) Ideology.

Following this method, the first thing that jumps out at us is their reverence for the Indo-European’s own social structure, which such reverence is a distinct Indo-European quality (Mallory 130). Tripartition as sacred is unique to the Indo-Europeans and is elaborately reflected in all aspects of life, society, belief, cosmogony, and re-reflected in those reflections (271).

Axes and burial mounds are sacred to Indo-European peoples, evidenced by the Proto-Indo-European(PIE) Striker god and all of his later cognates. Yet warbands with a practice of burial isn’t uncommon to the rest of the non-indo-european world, so we must be careful in our examinations to not include, as Indo-European, any and all axe wielding warband, and qualify our searches with those axe wielding warbands who worshiped horses and whose burials include chariots (Mallory 41). Cultures stemming from, invaded by, and influenced heavily enough to convey this ideology can be considered ideologically Indo-European. Finally, anyone who studies, adopts, proliferates and acculturates to these ideals become Indo-European in my own opinion.

Linguistically, grammatical gender is a trait of an Indo-European language (Malory 157). Also we can exclude any non mound building or non pastoralists as a factor of IE discernment (30). Cultures without fire veneration or without sacred words for fire (122-125) and horses (154) can be excluded as well. When we come across a culture with all or most of these, they have a whole or partially intact tripartition ideology, we can safely consider them Indo-European, however, Mallory does caution that we need at least three cognates, one of them being Asiatic in order to consider the worthiness a Proto-Indo-European(PIE) reconstruction (112). Generally when we see a pastoral culture as a candidate for the Proto-Indo-Europeans themselves, we want to see a very developed pastoral vocabulary, but we want to see only a little agriculture (117). Though in later Indo-European cultures, the amount of agriculture increases. Timelines are always a consideration here. I imagine this is more true the further back in time we are looking. We also want to see strong vocabulary and myth surrounding aspects of cattle raising, for example: butter, possibly cheese, ox, steer, herd, ‘to drive cattle’, and words in the sense of cattle raiding common to Celtic, Italic and Indo-Iranian cultures (117).

Vocabulary relating to fosterage of children outside of one’s own family is a strong identifier of Indo-European communities. We see cognates to other Indo-European words, such as deus, dievas, devas, dias, and tivar (128). There are a certain level of cognates we want to see so that we know that, unlike the Luwainians and the Hurrians of Anatolia, there is more than barely an impact the local neolithic culture.

Another thing we want to find in an Indo-European culture, mythologically speaking, is a final battle. Cath Mag Tuired, Ragnarok, Mahabharata. We don’t need this requirement, however, the more developed IE ideologies reflect this commonality (Mallory 129). The idea of divine twins appears throughout Indo-European mythology over and over, and is reexpressed multiple times in some cultures. Take for example, Airmed and Miach, and Macha Fairywoman’s two children. And we have an Asiatic cognate in both Yemo and Mannus and the Nasatyas (131). We can use this knowledge to ascribe, if we see all Macha figures in the lore as the same, the prominent deity associated of the Nasatyas with Macha’s horse twins, and they can inherit the maintenance of the health of the herders and livestock.

Since Indo-European societies have three functions, and they divide their societies this way, as well as the fact that myth, archeology and linguistics all illustrate the ideological importance of this structure. We can safely assume that the words used by a culture, the myths told by a culture, and the gods worshiped by a polytheistic indo-european culture all reflect every aspect of that culture (Mallory 132). And finally, not only the use of horses but the ideological use of them is very Indo-European, especially in the bronze age. We find the evidence for this in both the words surrounding horse sacrifice, and also includes the user of the word for horse as part of personal names (Mallory 135).

In conclusion, I’d like to point out the picture for us that is already beginning to surface. From this picture we can extrapolate facts about the culture and contexts from those facts. Knowing they are most likely warbands of chariot riding axe wielding horse domesticating herdsmen and pastoralists gives us a clear picture as to their concrete world. We can in this perspective then abstract their polytheism into our modern worldviews.

Three Functions of IE Societies

George Dumezil's theory of tripartition has been central to many modern approaches to Indo-European studies. Outline Dumezil's three social functions in general, and as they appear in one particular Indo-European society. Offer your opinion as to whether you believe Dumezil's claim that tripartition is central to IE cultures. (minimum 300 words)

First Function: Sovereignty

The first of the three functions is the Sovereign function of the Intellectual philosophers and priests. This class contains those of professions of the wise men and women who likely needed years of collegiate training to perform their practice. This includes the Irish and Gaulish Druids, the Germanic Godi, Roman Flamen, Greek Priests, Vedic Brahmin, Slavic Volkhyv and the Atharvana of Persia (Mallory 131). This function encapsulates and transmits the magico-religious order of society, and deities reflecting these social aspects in ancient myth often come in pairs (132). Odin is the magical leader of the Aesir, while Tyr is his legal pair. Mitra-Varuna are often paired, not only in Vedic lore, but also in Anatolia, otherwise known as Turkey, among the Mitanni and the Hittites (131). Offerings to the sovereign gods usually include rams in various Indo-European cultures.

In Irish culture this is clearly the Bards, Filí, and Draoithe. And everything that Dumezil points out in all of his writings fits with all aspects of Irish culture in my opinion.

Second Function: Warriors and Raiders

This is the function of society to which warriors belong, and it concerns both aggressive and defensive force (Mallory 132). These were the folks responsible for procuring the Cattle in the IE cattle cycle (138). Though Kings come from this function, some argue, they belong to a 5th function, but I argue that there is no 5th function, but rather Kings are transfunctional and what others call the 5th function, represents trans-functionality. Offerings to the warrior gods include bulls in the absence of horses.

The Fianna are the Irish parallel to the warriors of the 2nd function, specifically because they are kept entirely separate from other social strata. And so Dumezilian tripartition, as far as warriors are concerned, pans out.

Third Function: Herdsmen and Producers

The third function consists of herdsman-cultivators. Symbolizing fertility and production, this would include craftsmen and smiths. The gods of this function take on the form of the IE divine twins, Frey, and gods of nature (Mallory 132). The offerings given in sacrifice to these third function gods are often, boars, bulls, or sheep (138). In Ireland the Nobility of this class, would need to exist for Georges’ theories to check out. This is because all three functions are seen as sacred if we are to believe the parts of Dumezil’s theories that rests on Durkheim’s notion that important social constructs work themselves into myths and the sacred. And yet, we find the Bo Aire, the third functional nobility which would not only prove the third function exists, but that it is held sacred and included in nobility.

In conclusion I think Dumezilian Tripartition offers us a method and lens of looking at Indo-
European societies and parsing out patterns for patterns that are eternal and sacred. I think Dumezil’s work stands up to the harshest of criticisms and can be seen easily expressed throughout mythology, linguistics, and archeology. It’s fractally funny how those three studies are a tripartition in themselves. Mythology belongs to the Sovereign castes, Linguistics belongs to the warrior bands who migrated the languages, and Archaeology belongs to the Producers who left behind the artifacts which their artisans created.

Irish Tripartition

Choose one Indo-European culture and describe briefly the influences that have shaped it and distinguish it from other Indo-European derived cultures. Examples include migration, contact with other cultures, changes in religion, language, and political factors. Is there any sense in which this culture can be said to have stopped being an Indo-European culture? (minimum 300 words)

Corded Ware culture’s collapse into several proto-cultures is where the Irish becoming celts first began. The words Gaels and Gauls are linguistically linked and the Gaulish speakers came from the Urnfield culture through the Hallstatt culture and possibly before, at a time where the Iberian Celtic languages were one (Mallory 106). They migrated to Ireland from Iberia. This is historically, mythologically, genetically, and linguistically recorded. The Iberian languages avoided the shift from q-Celtic to p-Celtic, a linguistic shift that changed words like son(Mac) to Map(as in Maponos) (106). The intrusion of Celtic language into Britain and Ireland are ascribed to the first millennium BCE. But one thing to consider when Imagining these invasions, is that it is fallacious to consider the military incursions constant across all migrations, as there were waves of changes in military technology and strategy over the ages. Mallory cautions us not to read later Irish, for example, military symbolism back into what is Proto-Indo-European, and he applies this to all later Indo-European developments (111).

After the Celts invaded Ireland, the Irish remained an Indo-European culture up until the popularity of Christianity in Ireland started to increase. We see not only horseworship, horse sacrifice, tripartition, chariot mounted warrior bands, but also a reverence for sovereign magico-religious roles. However, the Irish deities simply feel more obscured away from the original PIE gods and other IE pantheons. For example, An Dagda is clearly the Good Stiker, along with Lugh(thats another story), the Irish cognate to the PIE perkwunos, the Slavic Perun, Anglo-Saxon Thunor, Norse Thor and Vedic Indra. Though he has a club and one of his epithets is Cerre which is linguistically linked to the PIE word for striker(Jones), none of the Irish lore suggests he’s associated with lightning or thunder, nor the second function. Rather he’s a first function Striker with second function leanings, which is as strange to me as a cleric tank in a fantasy video game. Strange is good, odd is what appeals to mystery.

Conceptually he’s considered by some reconstructionists to be a combined cognate to the gaulish Taranis and Seculos. Almost all of the Irish gods are like this in some way. I cannot say whether the Irish culture itself has stopped being Indo-European. Religiously, however, I’m sure somewhere, the ideals of the druids converted into priests and fili worked their way into Celtic Catholicism, or maybe not. When Ireland’s own brand of the catholic religion was replaced by the original program from Rome, which was enforced around 630CE, the 5 Great Trees of Ireland were cut down shortly after in 665CE(Ellison 495), and so this culture, at the state level, would begin the transition toward a cessation of Indo-Europeanness and what Irish pagans would ‘put their hearts to’. Over the next millennium, the pagan beliefs and practices of the folk in the countryside would diminish, but not disappear entirely. They never ceased being Indo-European in spirit, and on the village or home levels, but with the cessation of the venation of the functions, I don’t personally consider them ideologically Indo-European. Even if Celtic language dies entirely, they’d still speak english which is an amalgamation of indo-european languages built on an Anglo-saxon foundation. So when talking about if the Irish are still Indo-European or not, language wouldn’t be a factor.

Vedic Tripartition

Choose one other Indo-European culture and compare and contrast it to the culture discussed in question 3 above with respect to each culture's Indo-European nature. (minimum 300 words) 

The early Vedic period began 1500 BCE, when the Indo-Iranian Sanskrit speakers moved into the region we now call North India. They encountered the local population and setup aristocracies there. The local people became the third function so we can conclude the warriors and druids who split from the main group they were previously joined with, subjugated the local farming communities either by force or technological trickle down economics. Thus gods like the Asvins were added to their theology while local gods like Sarasvati was added to the overall tripartite pantheon that formed. Generally a third function female figure is prominent, like Anahita and Sarasvati, we see Freya emerging into this role in Germanic areas (Littleton 12).

In northern India, there is an Indo-Europeans speaking people divided into four castes: The Brahmanas(Priests), the Kshatriyas(Warriors), the Vaishyas(Cultivators), and Sudras(Slaves and Indentured Servants).

If we look up to the sky, we see this structure reflected in the pantheon of gods. At the highest level among divinities, Varuna and Mitra reign as sovereign gods. In this first function of Sovereignty, there are two divisions. The first is Mitra who is the god of oaths and contracts, an aspect of the Brahman caste concerned with law. The second is Varuna who is the magico-religious reflection of the same caste(8).

Mitra and Varuna operate the cosmic scale of supernatural labor(7) along with their assistants, or lesser deities which include Bhaga and Aryaman(8).

On the second level of the three, the Second Function of Force in Indian society are ‘young virile warlike gods’(8) such as Maruts, the storm deities in Hinduism, and Indra who acts as a striker god. Striker gods often have a special magical weapon and sometimes even bear the name of striker. The striker god is usually pivotal in the winning of a divine war(8) and releasing the waters.

On the third level of the three, the Third Function of Nourishment was fulfilled by the the Asvins or other gods like the goddess Sarasvati (9). This level’s main goal is to promote the fertility of plants and animals, and to ensure the harvests are abundant.

In short, Joint sovereignty is shared by a pair of gods, one juridical and the other magico-religious.

This all relates to the Celts severely, and if you consider Ellis’ notion that the legal system, especially traditions surrounding taboos and hunger striking there isn’t much to contrast between Vedic paganism Celtic Paganism.

Tripartition is vibrant among Hinduism today, so you could say that since they still practice an evolutionary form of their native religion which includes this ideology, and speak and Indo-European language, that they have never ceased to be Indo-European in any way.

Tripartition in Modern Pagan Reconstructionism

From its beginnings, ADF has defined itself in relation to Indo-European pagan traditions. What relevance do you think historical and reconstructed IE traditions from the past have in constructing or reconstructing a Pagan spirituality for the present and future? (minimum 600 words)

We must define ourselves by our field of study. As reconstructionists of a form, we create in a modern context these practices, and ideologies and uphold them in our cultural expressions of ritual and song. But, ADF took an interest earlier on, prior to many reconstructionist groups which do what we do. And as many of them began to study academic works and myth for constructs they could build into a modern paganism, it wasn’t long before they ran into the study of comparative mythology and Dumezilian trifunctionalism.

That fact that other groups don’t draw more strongly from these ideals is benign, the interesting thing is they actively resist the dissolution of the uniqueness of their own paganism through the acknowledgement of commonalities.

However, as any ADF person or reconstructionist goes to filling the holes in Celtic paganism, holes that in other neopaganism have vibrant practice, you must eventually study the deep roots of Indo-European religions. One cannot understand the gods without understanding their previous incarnations. You can’t know Tyr fully without knowing about Deus Ptr and his variants, IE Mitra et al.

And so our perimeter between what we do and what anyone else does is that we inform our Indo-European paganisms with ideological tripartition.

I think these patterns and forces which protrude out from the subconscious are innate within us. Everyone has a 2nd functional warrior minded person who represents unbridled force that can be seen in Starkadr, Hercules, Finn Mac Cumhail, Indra, and Tullius(125). The First Functional groups codified into sacred myth, their tales of defiance and transgressions against all three functions due to excesses in temper. This projection of social behavior onto the sacred realm is clearly an act of trying to communicate that these excesses weren’t tolerated when injurious to the social order (120). I think these myths exist to remind warriors, and those sacred people who defend and attack on behalf of the sovereignty of the tribe and protection of the folk to introspectively monitor their actions.

That these patterns of behavior survive within us today, that the number three feels complete and whole, and that things like the american government’s branches follow similar patterns of creation, enforcement, and judicial sovereignty. In America we have a social order which contains traces of this ideological center. And so why wouldn’t American polytheism benefit from these patterns.

When I speak poetically at events and use totemic symbols of thunder, axes, horses, sidhe mounds and the other indo-european traits, I incite physiological responses among those present for sacrifice. Our liturgies are organized into these patterns and I have performed them hundreds of times for our group and dozens of times as guest ritual performers. I can say without a doubt that the break of the monotony that adf ritual provides is due to more than just being different but rather tied to cultural constructs which lie dormant in the human psyche of Indo-European speaking peoples, regardless of nationality or ethnicity.

I really feel like having a laity, some sort of warrior sept and a body of clergy well balances our our public paganism. We can include first responders and anyone who takes on the Hero's role by putting their life on the line for ordinary everyday people. And so we exonerate and exhort the production of the laity, the sacrifice of the warriors, and the learnedness of our Clergy.

Moving forward as we lay claim to new realms in space, our paganism can leave our planet with these ideals intact. We can enact rituals using a bouquet of herbs like Vedic Vasishtha and the Roman Fetiales priests who secured the sudhatu, or the “well based” sovereignty of disputed lands (129).

We can move into the future laying claim to our ancestry aligning our inner cultural landscapes and organization toward a central ideology that focuses on one discovering where they fit in these cosmos and the development of skill for the benefit of all.

"Theology, mythology, sacred literature, sacerdotal organization, as well as ritual are all subordinated to something more profound which unites them into a meaningful whole.This 'something more profound' is an ideology." (115).


Ellison, Robert Lee. Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. Tucson, AZ: ADF, 2007. Print.

Jones, Mary. "An Dagda." An Dagda. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2017.

Littleton, Covington Scott. The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumezil. Berkeley: U of California, 1982. Print.

Mallory, J. P. In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003. Print.


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