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by John McCannon
The Slavic god of cattle and horned livestock (skotyi bog). Veles also became associated with commerce, wealth, and prosperity; merchants often sealed their agreements by swearing upon his name, and legal documents sometimes concluded with oaths to him. This second attribute has led Roman Jakobson to speculate that, as an older, Indo-European deity, Veles absorbed some of the functions of the Vedic god Varuna, who was seen in part as a protector of world order and a guarantor of promises. B. A. Rybakov argues that Veles emerged during the neolithic era as a "master of the forest" – presiding over the souls of wild animals killed for food – then underwent a transformation to a "god of flocks" as Slavic societies made the transition from hunting and gathering to a more settled, agricultural existence. Some Baltic groups worshipped Veles as well, but connected him more with the underworld and the dead; the Lithuanian root vele means "shade of the deceased" or "shadow of death."

After the Christianization of the Slavs, Veles's identity was absorbed into the new religious order in several ways. In some places, he disappeared altogether. In others, Veles was depicted as the devil; the fact that he had often been pictured as a horned god made this equation natural, and as late as the 16th century, the Czechs referred to Veles as a demon. On the other hand, most Orthodox Russians identified Veles with St. Vlas (Blasius), who became the patron saint of livestock. Icons of St. Vlas were placed in cattle sheds, and on the saint's name day (February 12), cattle were treated to special feed.

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