Let me describe someone to you. He rides a chariot that flies in the heavens. He likes to hurl lightning bolts at those who offend him. He is quick both to anger and joy and is generally quite war-like. He can call down fire from the sky. He is called the “lord of thunder.” He sends rain on the farmers that worship him as a divine figure.
You’ve just imagined the face of a certain winged-helmeted figure from Marvel comics, haven’t you?
Except I’m describing not the Norse god Thor, but Prophet Elijah, as drawn by the Russian popular imagination.
The reason for this is that in folk Russia, many aspects of the pagan god Perun (basically the Russian version of Thor) became mixed up with Prophet Elijah. Perun was the commander of the thunder and the rain, which was believed to contain the “principle of fruitfulness” for the soil, so important for a nation of farmers. Prophet Elijah commanded both the drought and the return of the rain. Perun was known to cast thunderbolts at his enemies. Prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his enemies.
Even after the memory of paganism faded from the Russian folk imagination, the Old Testament stories of the holy prophet only strengthened the now ancient connection between him and the Russian people. The legendary qualities of Perun-Thor mixed almost organically with the stern and fiery figure of the prophet who could call down fire from the sky.
Read the rest on my new blog…