Lithuanian Religion and Mythology
Lithuanian religion belongs to the Baltic religions and through many
links is related to Prussian and Lettish ones and, along with the old religions of the
Northern and Central Europe (Slavs, Germans and Celts), reflects the realias of
Indo-European religions. It's distinctive feature is a certain social dimension, i.e.:
neither Prussians nor Letts had formed by then a sovereign state, with either knighthood
or warriors formed into a strong social strata; whereas the 13th and 14th century sources,
as a rule, in reference to Lithuanian religion would mention the forms of religion honored
by the warriors and lords. Because of the dominance of these social classes, in the 13th
and 14th centuries it appeared that the most conspicuous is the military-aristocratic
segment of the Baltic official religions. In the 15th - 16th century sources and in the
folklore and the ethnography of the 19th and 20th centuries we trace a very powerful
streak of believes kept by peasants, to some extent this is determined by the spread of
Christian religion among the power-holding part of the society, its subsequent loss of the
national identity and along with this slow conversion of peasantry to Christianity, scarce
network of the parishes and renaissance of the farming mythology for a number of reasons
made the streak even more acutely felt than in the 13th -14th centuries, when the
unbridled Lithuanian peasants were both warriors and the military actions were no lesser
source of living as farming.
Apart from rather dim mentioning in Tacitus' "Germania" of
gentes aestiorum, who worship the Mother of Gods (most likely these were Western Balts)
and some other sources ascribed to the Western Balts (by Wulfstan, Adamus Bremenensis);
reports of the Arabic voyager Idrisius on Madsuna town citizens, who worship fire, could
be attributed to source son Lithuania as well. Apart from the whole volume of reference of
the Baltic tribes in the bulls of popes and other sources, Lithuanian religion is somewhat
more clearly represented by Ipatijus Voluinė’ manuscript fragments speak about gods
secretly worshipped but Mindaugas and were it is said about gods which were besought by
Lithuanian warriors; also a short insertion of the Slavic translation of Malala chronicle
on Sovijus myth, undoubtedly authentic but their interpretation is not clear, many
god-figures cited there are never mentioned in the subsequent sources. A separate group of
sources is formed by the Lyvonic and Teutonic Orders documents, yet they are also very
fragmented and are not concerned with the securing of the authentic material. The sources
increase in density in the period before accepting Christianity and right after it was
accepted; data preserved by Hieronymus Praquensis and Jan Dlugosz (Johannes Longinus),
though idealized, supply a lot of information.
Later renaissance sources, late manuscripts, give the legendary
versions of Lithuanian history where there also emerge religious elements.
"Lithuanian chronicle" speaks about religious innovations that took place in the
early Middle Ages, however, they are not supported by the earlier documents, yet, their
authenticity can be witnessed by the overall religious innovations in the Baltic. Maciej
Stryjkowski in the middle of the 16th century listed 16 Lithuania Gods, J.Lasycki listed
numerous Samogitian gods and some minor mythological figures. These authors can be
considered very reliable, however, they did not speak Lithuania and they were recording
features of deteriorating religion, which was permeated by a number of locally worshipped
"gods" and some encrusted petty mythical figures. This jumble hardly lends
itself to coherent classification. In the end of the 16th century, in the following 17th
century and later Jesuit missions were very active in Lithuania passed a lot, though,
fragmented information about the remains of pagan faith spotted in the province of
Lithuanian, M.Preatorius wrote about the customs and beliefs in the Lithuania Minor
(Mažoji Lietuva), his works are of paramount importance because they bear no comparison
to the fragments found in earlier sources, they bear the character of a comprehensive
ethnographic compilation of the beliefs, mode of life, rituals etc. in the Lithuania Minor
at the end of the 17th century. All these materials matched together can be used for
reconstruction of the Lithuania tradition, however, it is necessary to bear in mind that
all these facts reflect certain stages in the evolution of Lithuanian religious tradition,
its periods of existence and decline, and "mechanical summing up" would not
produce the overall image of the old Lithuanian religion. Also, here we could add some
other group of sources: archeological and linguistic sources, folklore collections
recorded in the 19th-20th centuries and the ethnographic material from the period. Yet, it
is possible to assume that the specificity of different sources defines the answers to the
inquiry we are concerned with; also the chronological factor is very important. Basically
we should define at least 4 stages of the evolutionary processes as seen in the sources:
1. 13-14th centuries. The period of the official religion worshipped by
the knighthood and the warriors; religion is strongly influenced by the "military
mythology". The class of priests is still in function.
2. 15-16th centuries. The upper strata of society are converted to
Christianity. The peasants, who are not touched by the Christianity, pass on the old
tradition. In the more isolated villages the evolution of religion, rather destructive,
continues in a peculiar way. The province produces agricultural Pantheon of gods; in the
villages religious rites continue.
3. 16-18th centuries. Jesuits start to attract to Christianity
Lithuania province and complete the process. The old Pantheon comes to depletion, gods are
being replaced by ghosts, minor mythological figures, whose cult is practiced through
occasional devotional offerings. The old religious ceremonies live through dramatic
alteration, they cease to be community act but are restrained to a family circle.
4. 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries. Deliberate repetition
of the ancient religious elements is not observed or almost not observed. Old mythological
images and rituals developed naturally enter the field of Christian faith. In the church
services, festivals and folklore there abound elements of the old tradition but they are
tinted with Christian meaning (or rather embedded in Christian mythology). On the one hand
this situation can be conceived as the ultimate victory of Christianity against the old
faith and the old mythological vision, on the other hand we can speak of an obvious
penetration of the old tradition into Christianity. The result is religious syncretism
sprung due to the victory of the Christianity, in reality the adaptation of the
Christianity to the invincible tradition. This fusion was programmed ever since the middle
of the second millennium and finally brought to life in that period.
The 13th Russian manuscripts mention gods worshipped by Lithuanians.
Ipatij's manuscript around 1252, documenting the baptizing of Mindaugas insists that the
royal baptizing was feign and Mindaugas would continue present offerings to his old gods:
to the chief Nunadievis and Teliavelis and Diviriks and to the God of
Hares and to Medeina (BRMŠ I 260-261). Approximately round 1258 it is recorded
that Lithuanians were beseeching their gods Andajus and Diviriks (ibid). In
the translation of chronography of Jon Malala, 1261 and its insertion, it is said that
Sovijus imposed sacrifice to Andajus and Perkūnas, thunder, to Žvorūna,
a canine bitch, and Teliavelis, an iron-monger who coined the sun for him to light
the earth and swung it into the sky. (BRMŠ I 266-268). This is a very wide description of
the Pantheon and it is considered trustworthy because both sources complement each other
and confirm the information.
In reconstruction of the Lithuanian Pantheon of the 13th and 14th
centuries it cannot escape attention that the chief Gods of the Pantheon even in the same
source may be referred to by different names, e.g. in Ipatij's manuscript (else known as
Voluinė manuscript), while recording Mindaugas baptizing about 1252 and speaking of the
Gods worshipped by Mindaugas the first comes to be mentioned Nunadievis, around 1258,
speaking of the gods worshipped by Lithuanian warriors the first is Andajus, the
researchers practically agree that in both cases we read of one and the same god, the
supreme god in Lithuanian. Only he is referred to by two names. In the same sources
speaking of Mindaugas' gods we come across another similar case, god Diviriks, who
most likely meant Perkūnas (he is in the mentioned also in the insertion of Malala
chronicle). Diviriks must be understood as the bishop of the gods (Dievų rikis)
i.e. the bona fide god of the gods, because the supreme god in Lithuania has a strong deus
otiosus genus. Diviriks corresponds to the Indo-European realia as the god of
Celts Teutates who is sometimes known as Toutiorix "the ruler of the nation, the
bishop". Celtic gods in the written sources are often referred to by different names,
too, i.e. one god may have several names, one is clearly a name while the others its
attributes or euphemisms. To this manner of double naming belongs the name of the only
Lithuanian goddess from the 13th century. In the manuscript of Ipatij she is mentioned as
Medeina, in Malala chronicle as Žvorūna. It is quite possible that these are also two
different names of the same goddess both are attributes and appear to be related to
hunting, because Žvorūna else is referred to as a canine bitch and also recalls hunting
through the word "žvėris" (beast), and a bitch here is read as a hunting
hound, Medeina is related to the trees (medis); Lithuania word "medžioklė"
indicates that hunting is associated with a forest, trees (cf. Polish polowac, Russian
polovanije "to hunt", "hunting" from the Slavic word
"field"). Thus Žvorūna-Medeina could be a name of one and the same goddess
associated with hunting.
Double naming of gods could be interpreted differently. On the one hand
the god could really be named by a few names, each would be brought up, let's say, in
regard to the circumstances. Double naming could appear because Lithuanian gods in
different regions of Lithuania could have local or "dialect" names. But the most
plausible appears to be the explanation that he real names of the gods were not to be
announced were "taboo" and in the history of religion this is not uncommon. The
real name of the god could be announced only on very exclusive occasions or else never
uttered at all because of respect or of fear to bring the proximity of deity. This could
be supported by the many names of other known gods in Lithuanian folklore and their
number. This is Perkūnas named Dundulis, Bruzgulis, Dievaitis, Grumutis etc. Velnias
- kipšas, pinčiukas, vokietukas etc.
Still the highest position in the hierarchy of Lithuanian Gods belongs
beyond any doubt according to the 13-14th century’s sources to Andajus and Nunadievis.
Both names could be regarded as euphemisms.
Lithuanian God, Prussian Deywis, Deiws, Latvian Dievs is derived from
the Indo-European name of god Deivos. At some time this word was to describe the lighted
dome of sky, cf. old Indo-European deva "god" and dyaus "sky"; Latin
deus and dies, cf Lith. god and day; these words stem from indoeuropean root deiuos,
that means both God and the sky, divine heaven etc. Baltic Dievas, Dievs, Deivs is
related to Greek Zeus, Dzeus (cf. Lith dialect Pondzejis), avest. Daeva, luvian Tiwat,
German Tivaz. From the Balts the name of God was borrowed by Finns, Finnish and Estonian
taivas, taevas "heaven". As is believed in the Baltic Dangaus Dievas, the
god of the Heaven, shows a number of Indo-European features - it lives in the heaven, and
is related with luminous bodies in the sky, but this is more characteristic of Latvians,
it is pictured as a bright luminous person ruling the fates. Yet the researchers of
mythology may paint Dangaus Dievas too abstract, unintentionally trying to make it
more akin to the Indo-European image of the God of Heaven. In Lithuanian ethological sagas
the connection between the God and the lustrous dome of sky aren't numerous. The god here
appears in a very concrete shape.
This first of all is a figure of an old man. In the ethological sagas
the god is an old, grey crooked, clumsy person; he hurts his toe on the stone, cannot
chase a dog, his appearance often is funny and he is ridiculed. Generally in the image of
the God as Old man figure the old age is being hyperbolised to the verge of grotesque, yet
this is quite understandable, because the first and the oldest god has to be old, because
he is the oldest person in the whole world. However, the appearance should not fool anyone
because the Old man-god is far from helpless.
The Old man-god is often being depicted on the background of daily
life, realias of daily peasant existence. He lights the fire and smears his face with soot
etc. He enters the village cottages and cabins and eats, rests and stays for the night
i.e. he acts as an ordinary peasant and this is justifiable because the image of God is
here transferred through the signs of the environment understandable for the peasants.
The Old man-god is also very powerful, he enjoys enormous creativity
power and this power occasionally is used for explanation of the creation of the existing
facts. While the God washes himself a drop falls on the ground and a man is born. The god
hurts his toe on the stone and the stone stops growing. The God visits the homes of people
in disguise, in the attire of an old vagabond. Those who let him in and give him food are
usually rewarded and those who reject the vagabond with disgust give him neither shelter
nor alms are turned into animals: pigs, polecats, bears, wolves, dogs, geese, storks etc.
This positions the god in the care of the norms of ethics, but his sentence often is
exceedingly severe. For a simple breech of norm, e.g. a hearty laugh from the Old-man god
he may turn the person without any hesitation into an animal. This rigor of the Lithuanian
God is close to the god Varūna from Rigveda period in India, also the highest and
relentless god who portions punishments in compliance with the strictest code of law. In
some ways Lithuanian god Old-man reminds Indian god Avatar or sometimes Greek God Zeus
also prone to appear incognito, it may appear that this kenosis of gods is generally a
feature known to all Indo-European tradition.
Perkūnas is the most important Lithuanian god, though God 'Dievas'
(in lith. Dangaus Dievas, Dievas senelis) is nominally the highest person, Perkūnas
is the central figure in the Pantheon. Perkūnas is mentioned in the 13th century
sources, he is known to Prussians and Latvians (Percunis, Perkons). In Russia his
equivalent is Perun, the main god of the Dukes' army, the analogues are seen in the figure
of Pirva the main god figure of Hetits, in the figure of the Indian rain and storm cloud
goddess Parjanya, cf Germanic version of the name Toro Porr. The etymology of Perkūnas
is not entirely clear. He is associated with the Latin quercus "oak tree"
(the tree of Perkūnas), also is derived from the word "strike" (in lith.
"smogti") and "beat" (in lith. "perti, mušti") etc.
In Ipatij manuscript Perkūnas is always called Diviriks,
most probably the bishop of gods and this name suits him very well: the central temples,
sanctified places are associated with the fire and the so called cult of fire", or
else the figure of the god is central (in the tradition of Prussian tales). Perkūnas
in the 13-14th cc. must have been firstly a god of warriors (in Ipatij manuscript the
Lithuania warriors turn to Andajus and Diviriks, in a versified version of Lyvonia
chronicle .It is said, that Lithuanian warriors cross frozen Riga bay, and Perkūnas
ruled over that, here Perkūnas combines his military function with the
atmospheric). Also in folklore Perkūnas usually is being depicted as a militant,
quick-tempered, armed (with an axe, knife and arrows), he fights Velnias and the
malevolent spirits. Folklore usually emphasizes that Perkūnas is a patron of
weather, he lives between the heaven and the earth in the clouds, he commands the thunder
and lightning. Thus Perkūnas occupies the center of the structure of the universe,
becomes the master of the atmosphere (God is correspondingly associated with the heaven
and the devil - Velnias with the earth, underground, water). Perkūnas
possesses a two-wheeled cart harnessed by two goats or horses (cf Tora), and rides through
the sky , the sound of the wheels often causes thunder. The God empowers Perkūnas
to strike and chase the devil or devils, though often it is said that this animosity is
based on personal grounds because of a certain act the devil committed (theft, insult,
abduction of a woman).
Perkūnas simultaneously is given the function of the patron of the
fertility, when he roles his thunder for the first time in spring the grass starts
growing, the processes of vegetation begin, Perkūnas also appears in the wedding
symbolism. In this way Perkūnas is rather close to Baal of West Semitic god rather
than Tora Scandinavian god, but this similarity must stem from Perkūnas Baal
function in the agricultural culture. One other function of Perkūnas is keeping
justice. He chases devils but he also punishes bad people, fights evil spirits and keeps
the order given by God.
In some hypotheses Perkūnas appears rather late in the
universal evolution after the archaic Gods, God of Sky and God of Thunder separate (cf
Zeus, Jupiter, who are both the patron-rulers of the sky and of thunder). Lithuanian God
of the sky and Perkūnas must be two split parts of the same archaic god (L.Von
Schroederr, J.Balys). This split must have taken place a long time ago because Perkūnas
and the God of the Sky in Lithuanian, and in Prussian tradition are distinctly different
Teliavelis is met both in Ipatij manuscript where he come second
only after Nunadienis, in Malala chronicle insertion he comes in the fourth position, the
last, but he is known as the smith who forgered the sun and sent her into the sky. This
situation allows us to interpret Teliavelis as a Lithuania folklore devil close to
God. IN Ipatij list he is counterpositioned to Nunadienis, in Malala insertion he is
mentioned at the end of the list, these are the positions usually secured for the
representatives of chtonic sphere. His contact with the sun does not turn him into a
heavenly character, Lithuania folklore very clearly insists that the first to introduce
smithy were devils and only much later people learned this craft. Teliavelis name
was explained through different attempts - the god of the Road (A.Bruckner), the God of
the Flock (from Telias "calf"), the god of the Earth from tel "earth
(N.Vėlius) or a borrowing from Scandinavian mythology (Tialfi - V.Toporov). True, Teliavelis
name may invite different interpretations but the second root of the word vel-, the
function of a smith and his position the divine lists makes him a veritable representative
of a chtonic world, akin to the old Lithuanian Velnias or Velinas, folklore devil.
It is possible that Teliavelis is a rather old figure in Lithuanian Pantheon, who
made its appearance when the cult in creation of the state was centralized and the classes
of nobility and warriors emerged. He is an active character with the features of a culture
hero, close to Velnias but he is not identified as Velnias in the official
list of the national Pantheon. Velnias does not make its appearance in the national
Pantheon because of the excessive power of Perkūnas, because mythologically Velnias
is the opposite of Perkūnas. In Lithuania after Christening the evil spirit in
Christian religion was given the name of Velnias, it proves that Velnias in
the prechristian period and most probably in the last period of Christianity was strongly
demonized (M.Gimbutienė), and this process of degrading Velnias started in the era
of the Indo-European pronation (N.Vėlius). Therefor a representative of a chtonic sphere
is chosen Velnias but he is not solely identified with Teliavelis (or only
partly identified). Speaking of Teliavelis it is important to mark that the myth
about a forged and cast in to sky sun shows that there was no cult of the sun in
Lithuania. The Sun was seen as a hot lump of metal (this was also a Greek philosopher
Velnias in Lithuanian folklore is the character that is met most
often and the proimage of this character the old god Velnias or Velinas. He must
have been related with the animals, the dead, the underground, the underground wealth, and
the sphere of economy as well as with magic, conversions, and wizards.
Lithuanian devil of the folklore in the ethological legends creates the
world in the company of the God, the devil himself is either created by the god or in the
older tradition) is a God's younger brother. The God and the devil creating the world are
partly guided by the common goals and partly by the opposites; what is created by the god
the devil attempts to damage, distorted and partly he succeeds. All the bad, disorderly
and inconvenient things on earth are explained by the interference of Velnias into
the process of divine creativity. The God creates useful animals, the devil - the animals
that harm people useless creatures.
Velnias is associated with low wet locations, moors, lakes, he
may make his appearance in the forest. His living place can be under the earth inside the
mountain, behind the water. On the other hand the devil may appear in the air, may fly and
on those instance he is identified with a storm, a hurricane. In the tales and legends the
relation between the devil and the stones is emphasized (he sows them or carriers) with
some trees, birch trees, fir-trees (he hides under a fir-tree from Perkūnas). On
some occasions the devil is identified with the lower part of the tree trunk, with a
hollow, with a stump, e.g. he sits on a stump (the reference to the chtonic world, the
lower part of the Tree of the World). The devil is connected with the animals, especially
with the horses, oxen and cows, he keeps herds of these animals in some ethological
legends it is stressed that the devil created animals and that he created horses and
goats. In the legends the devil often rides and harnesses horses. From the wild life the
closest to him is wolf, rabbit, bear and he may assume the image of any of those.
The devil often appears among women (at the village parties devils
dance with the village girls or the devil would celebrate a wedding with a hanged woman
and dances with her.) and, in general, he is interested in the weddings also the funerals.
He often appears when a person dies to take his soul. The devil under the influence of
christianity becomes the ruler of the hell (in lith. "pekla") and their
he rules the dead mostly in shape of the animals.
Generally the devil is close to humans, it is not difficult to find him
or call him he also comes without any invitation, let's say if people decide to play ripka
or other games, he often offers his service sin the farming, to clear the field form the
stumps and he lets being hired for an arm. Devils have a sense of music, often they
contract a violinist, play musical instruments themselves and dance. Both life and death
functions are under protection of the devil, he is an intermediary or a guide, to use
N.Vėlius term: “the same mythical character devil in Lithuanian mythology was
associated with the dead and with the living ones and with the death and with the
fertility, harvest (with both opposites death - life) and he was probably thought as an
intermediary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, between life and
death between the earth and the underworld. Therefor he received the patronage of the
people who are connected to the both parts of this worlds (i.e. priests, magicians etc)".
Also, according to N.Vėlius, musicians, poets, people who were inspired from the outer
world from the world of the dead with whom they had a link were in the old Indo-European
tradition associated with magicians and the devil stands in between these two classes with
his passion for music.
Ipatij manuscript mentions Medeina and Malala insertion speaks
of Žvorūna, who appears to be the one and same goddess and the patroness of the
animals and could be called both these names as correspondingly to Artemis, Diana
in the antique mythology. Her accession to the highest level of the national Pantheon must
have corresponded to the needs of the warriors; this goddess also could represent a minor
goddess also reflecting some needs of the warriors, as could be believed the goddess of
earth Žemė, Žemyna, which is met in the later sources as the realia of
peasant religion. Yet, we only witness that he 13th century sources show a heavily
militarized official pantheon, it must be a really late formation to match the needs of
the army and the dukes' religious interests, cf. reformed pantheon of Kiev (with the
exception of Veles or Volos a Slavic version of the devil Velnias).
Hare God appears only once in Ipatij manuscript speaking about the gods
worshipped by Mindaugas, he is never met in the later sources. Speaking about the Hare God
problem we should consider the intention of the manuscript writer which clearly attempted
to diminish the meaning of Mindaugas christening and to show his pagan fallacies. If other
gods mentioned in the Ipatij manuscript are traceable in Malala chronicle translation
insertion but it does not contain the Hare God. It seems that Ipatij manuscript used Hare
God to explain some very abrupt behavior of Mindaugas in certain circumstances.
The structure of Pantheon in the 13 -14th centuries. The Quartet of
The material of Ipatij manuscript and Malala insertion speak rather
comprehensively about Lithuania Pantheon structure however it is worth remembering that
her we mention the official religion of royal and knightly court, about the religion of
the army and the warriors that has specific features and very little minds peasant and
land farmers religion. On the other hand warriors religion must have been of primary
importance in the 13th and 14th centuries in Lithuania involved in unfinishing wars. IN
one way or the other among these lists we spot a quartet of gods, with a clear cut
structure. It is reflected in Lithuanian Folklore too since Andajus and Nunadievis could
correspond to the folk God. The Old man-god, Diviriks, Perkūnas, Teliavelis
- Velnias. Medeina and Žvorūna seem to stand for the hunting
goddess, which is quite befitting a warrior pantheon.
It appears that here we also come close to indoeuropean beliefs_ a
goddess copulating with all gods from a given mythological system or group, as for example
Scandinavian Freya and Indian goddess spouse of Asvin gods. It is possible to remember
another parallel four gods known both for Indo-European and for gods from the Near East,
i.e. the masculine triad and the goddess, cf. Shumeran quartet: Anas, Enlilis, Enki and
the mother of gods Ninhurzag, Caesar's sequence of the Celtic gods as is given in interpretatio
romana Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, Minerva and Germanic gods as enumerated by Tacitus
Mercury, Mars, Heracles and Izide (the so called Vodan, Tiu, Donara, Freya). We must note
that the quartet make its appearance in Lithuanian mythological sources, i.e. Malala
insertion speaks of the gods brought in by Sovijus: Andaj, Perkūnas, Žvorūna, Teliavelis;
in Voluinė chronicle, if ignore the Hare God introduced for the purposes of exotic
decoration and confusion, Nunadievis, Teliavelis, Diviriks and Medeina.
The first official decline of the pantheon period is related to the
Lithuania and Samogitian chronicle (we will speak about it later), it is reflected in the
report of Hieronymus Praquensis (BRMŠ I 588-597), Jan Dlugosz chronicle (BRMŠ I
542-585). First of all the religion after having lost the cast of prophets continues to
exist in a different shape. The loss of the cast means the irreparable blow to the
tradition. the subterranean tendencies, magical phenomena emerge. Yet a couple of
subsequent generations continue to live in the religious field out of inertia, except one
generation by way of "Chinese whisper" passes authentic tradition to another and
make sit wither and shrink.
The Middle phase of the Pantheon decline. The Partitioning of gods
Stryjkowski in his work "Kronika Polska Litewska Zmodzka i
Wszystkiej Rusi" (1582 r. Wg wydania III, Warszawa 1980, t.I s.XIV.) among others
listed 16 names of "Lithuania and Samogitian " gods. The list is compiled rather
randomly, there is no congruity in it, but many divine names appear to be reliable, with
the exception of the god under the name of Didzis Lado, who may have been include
because of a certain misunderstanding and in other sources does not appear, also not a
known god patron of birds Swieczpunscynis (possibly "Šventpaukštinis"
or similar); Pušaitis mentioned by Stryjkowski at the bottom of the list is a
Prussian god not Lithuanian.
Stryjkowski mentions Prokorimos as the first among gods, the highest
god (here we encounter euphemistic tradition again; this divine name is mentioned below)
however later gods of special function are listed: Ruguczis, a god of pickles and sour
food; Ziemennik - a god of earth, in his honor grass-snakes are given milk; Kruminie
Pradziu Varpu ,a god figure providing corn crop; Lituwanis - the rain sender; Chaurirari
-the god of horses and the war, which is compared by Stryjkowski to the Mars and who is
being worshipped astride in the saddle; Sotwaros - a god of animals; Seimi Dewos - a god
of the family; Upinis Dewas - the god of rivers; Bubilos - the god of bees and honey;
Dzidzis Lado - the great God; Gulbi Dziewos - the correspondence to the satires and fauns;
Swieczpuscynis - the god of hens, geese, ducks and other tamed and wild animals; Kielu
Dziewos - the god of the travel; Puschaitis - the god of earth. Stryjkowski tells what
sacrifice was to be given to what god, most often these are domestic foul.
It is noteworthy, teat the gods enumerated above mostly belong to the
economic sphere. Their list is rather accidental, there is no visible structure or
hierarchy (cf. right after Prokorimas, the superior god, there comes the god of pickles
and sour food Rugučis), besides Perkūnas who would grace all lists is not
included. The gods are very clear ascribed to a function, significant to etch daily life
of a peasant, and it appears a s a typical list of a farmers or peasants pantheon. The
system is not transparent the relationship between gods not traceable. Simply an area of
economy has its own patron. However, these gods are rulers of relatively broad areas, if
we compare Stryjkowski list the list of Samogitian gods from approximately the same
Jan Lasycki (Jan Lasicius, "De diis Samagitarum caeterorumque
Sarmatarum et falsorum Christianorum". Basilea, 1615) around 1580 compiled a list of
Samogitian Gods of 76 in number, defined their functions and gave information about the
rituals of Samogitians of the period (Lasycki book was published long after the death of
the author). The very sources rather reliable, except his application for the mythological
research is hampered by the divine names with a lot of spelling mistakes and poor
transcription, and this technical problem is further aggravated that some gods are
mentioned only in Lasycki's books and they never are know previous or in later to his
book. It may appear that in most cases Lasycki noted highly specific and very often very
local, known for a few villages only or even less in one family or the divine beings
(spirits, patron spirits) kept. In the form the point of view of the history of religion
the growing number of gods is a completely natural process, mostly active in the period of
religious decline, and the situation in Samogitia was very uncertain, Christianity was
very superficial and the late tradition of the pagan priests without reinforcement went in
to degradation. It is safe to assume that both in Samogitia and in Lithuanian province in
separate provinces there could shape individual models of destruction, local
transformations of the old tradition, variants of decline with the local thesaurus of the
divine names and a bit diverse ritual religious. Therefore Lasycki most probably noted
down only one "religious county" and its pantheon. Therefor Lasycki deserves the
following treatment: reliable in principle, but defined by many circumstances and,
primarily, local destructive tradition. Lasycki mentions from the previous religious
sources the known names of gods: Percunas, Modeina, Tavvals, possibly related to the
relict of Teliavelis. The Superior position for the God was named in Samogitian Auxtheias
Visagistis, which would stand in line with the euphemistic tradition of the main God
names, but is quite possible that by the name "Aukštasis Visagalis" or
"Visagalįsis" they referred to the Christian God (on the other hand, these
euphemism could be used in reference for both Gods, blending in to one image). Lasycki
mentions authentic in later sources reiterated names - Žemyna, Žemėpatis, Aušra etc
(Zemina, Zemopacios, Ausca). There are some very narrow function gods and spirits:
Numeias, could be interpreted as the god of home or a goblin, Austheia is a goddess of
bees, but these become even more specified when we speak about gods whose names are:
Slotrazis, Tratitas Kirbixtu, Aspelenie, Kurvvaiczin Eraiczin etc. It presents more
difficulty in trying to find out about the gods: Orthus, Miechutele, Pessias, Tiklis,
Klamals, Kremara etc. Some confusion is seen in the places the very same god is named by a
few names, i.e. Gabie, Matergabie, Polengabia.
Most of the gods mentioned by Lasycki are related to the realias of the
peasant life, they have very narrow and specific function and this situation in the
pantheon could have been formed in two ways: either through decline of important gods with
wide function, when their epithets and function euphemisms acquire the status of the
proper names and correspondingly the status of new gods, or else, through decline of the
old official religion the focus of attention shifts to etch old peasant tradition formerly
overshadowed by the peasant mythology. Both the first and the second assumptions are
rather speculative but the idea that these two reasons worked together would be safe. IN
either case we trace here obvious destruction of the mythological system.
There are no Lithuania Myths in the classical sense of the word. One
exception the Sovijus Myth recorded in the 13th century in the Slavic Malala insertion to
the translation of chronography. There are no Lithuanian holy scripts, quite believable
that they did not exist at all, mostly because of the existence of the spoken tradition.
The main mythological counterpoints appear in mythology through ethological legends, most
of which still carry mythological connotation, but are met not in the religious but in the
Lithuanian ethological legends speaking about the creation of the
world, mostly state that at first there was nothing but water", and on the shore of
it, on the water the God was walking, at first two gods are mentioned Dievas and Velnias,
though sometimes the creation of the very Velnias (in the legends named as Liucius)
is described. Liucius appears when the god spits or when he rubs two stones and from the
sparkles sprang Velnias (the motive of the sparkles is known in Rigveda). Later on
God's command Velnias goes down into water and brings handfuls of dirt, clay or
sand (in one very archaic version a duck substitutes Velnias), but he also puts
some dirt in to his mouth. Dievas receives dirt from the hands of Velnias
and puts it on the water and the earth begins to spread; so does the dirt in the mouth of Velnias,
he cannot keep it any longer and coughs it up, vomits it and in this way the rough surface
of the earth appears, the lakes, pools of water, stones et al, though in God's project the
earth gad to keep level.
Later Dievas lies down to sleep and Velnias grabs him by
the feet and drags to the water in the attempt to drown Dievas. Yet, the land
expands proportionately to the distance Velnias drags the figure of Dievas
and in this way the primordial spot of land develops in the Earth. Further Dievas
produces angels from the sparks of the stone and Velnias in imitation produces more
devils. Both Dievas and Velnias create animals as if in competition with
each other, but Dievas creates good, useful creatures while Velnias -
These legends show collaboration of Dievas and Velnias
though controversial yet the world as we know it is a product of a joint attempt of Dievas
Lithuanian ethological legends speaking about creation of the man
occasionally state Dievas made a man from the dirt or clay and then inspired spirit
in to the form. This motive does not differ in any detail from the Biblical story. It is
quite truthworthy that even before Christianity Lithuanians had a version of the first
"Molding" of a man, because it exits in many other isolated nations; the
"dirt" version of the human being is also seen in the parallel between the words
"Žmogus" (a human being) and "žemė" (earth), cf.
Latin Homo-humus, Hebrew Adam-Adama. Possibly the idea of a human being stemming from
earth irrespective of the Biblical influence exists in many agricultural nations. However,
though Lithuanian version of molding must have existed some time ago, it became
obliterated by the Biblical version in the legends, therefor it is impossible to
discriminate it and to prove that it really existed.
However for Lithuanian tradition undoubtedly belongs human appearance
from the Gods' saliva version: the God has walking along the water and spat and on his way
back saw some creature, which as it turned out appeared from his saliva. In one legend
this is the way how two people appear: a man and a woman, in other places just a human
being and still in other instances Liucius (Liuciperis). These legends are rather
numerous. One rare legend, true states that Dievas in stirring fire place smeared
his face and started washing, a drop of water while he was washing fell on the ground and
in this way the man appeared. A similar motive is stored in shanty and mansiu tribes and
in arctic and Siberian mythologies. In either way the overall picture is still here, human
being springs from the matters related to the God hitting the ground.
In Lithuanian tales this creativity is completely accidental. Dievas
did not intend to create human being, he just spits, without any intention and in seeing a
being appear is surprised himself and in some tales he addresses the new creature:
"Who are you?", and, of course the answer is that it does not know. Dievas
had to wreck his head for a long while before he remembers that before some time he spat
here. This legend is a reflection of a very ancient ideology, Dievas is not
interested in the human being and does not intend to create it.
Some motives speaking about the creation of the world have some archaic
tradition motives, which differ conspicuously from the biblical insertions. These are the
images of nails. It is asserted that "people used to have a robe on their body
similar to what we wear on the ends of the fingers. It never wore out and used to be
permanent. People turned in too lazy and used to lie somewhere in etch shade and did
nothing. Therefor Dievas took off the robe and left the nails on the finger
tips". In another tale it is said that Adam and Eva in etch paradise live with robes
which are made from the same material as the nail. It appears that here we have our
version of Lithuania "Garden of Eden" version: the first people, who were
destined to live forever, because they were protected by the cover, protected from all
troubles. Then something happened and people lost it, possibly after the sin to etch
Lithuanian tale about the paradise lost would remind to many isolated
nations the known myths about the fact that the first people as the snakes could have
changed their cover. IN their old age they could have shed the old it and rejuvenate.
However, because of some fatal misunderstanding or a misdeed they lost the quality and
therefore only snakes live forever (they still shed and their skin).
"Paradise nails" still had theological meaning and
continuation. Lithuanian legends and tales speak about human death when in the next thing
awaiting would be climbing into the high slippery mountain of ice and glass and at whose
top there resides divinity. In this climb we need nails, one's own a or the animals'
(bear's, lynx's). Lithuanian superstition state that this climb has to be prepared in
advance, do not throw away cut nails but burn them (in this way it would become easier to
redeem them in the other world). Older people awaiting death would not cut nails at all,
sometimes keep their nails in special bags. All these ides and customs are rather strange
but their meaning is deeper than the literal meaning of the superstition. The man after
his death returns back to the paradise or else in the world of Dievas through the
application of the fragments of the paradise lost.
Sovijus myth tells about the dead the first dead who found the route to
the under world and who passed it around that the best way to bury is not to dig the body
into the ground or place in to the tree but to burn it. This myth explains the tradition
of burning the deeds in Lithuania and other Baltic countries.
The main motive, recurrent in the descriptions of the holy places-
fire. The eternal fire on the mountains and the sacral places was maintained by the
priests, there are features, that there must have been women who took care of the holy
fire, vaidilutės, vestal virgins. They could be either virgins or, it seems,
widows. There were fireplaces in the sacred grounds where the offerings to the gods were
There were no temples in Lithuania, similarly as in other Baltic
places; we should speak about holy grounds. They had some structures (e.g. J.Dlugosz
mentions a tower on the riverbank with the eternal fire kept on the top of it by the
priests). J.F.Rivij's chronicle with unidentified authenticity gives rather detailed
description of Perkūnas temple in Vilnius. In whose basement grass-snakes were
kept in a special niche there burnt fire, there stood Perkūnas effigy and next to
it there stood a pyramid-like twelve tiered square altar, every tier was dedicated to a
different sign of zodiac. The structure had no roof, this holds true to all cult
structures in the Balts, they were either open at the top, or else they were replaced by
the holy fire, a tree (most often) an oak -tree, holy grove. As far as we can judge, in
the archaic period all cult buildings by the Indo-Europeans were open at the top, the
temples were built under the influence of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian religions. In the
North Europe this was the tradition before the very entrance of Christianity. Later
sources, after in the introduction of the Christianity write about the continuing
offerings on the mountains, forests, under the oak-trees, next to the stones, considered
holy (or straight on them).
Many old religious rituals developed in to etch festivals in course of
which in still in the 17th and in the first part of the 18th century the ancient gods were
mentioned. Among calendar festival winter and summer solstices wear most often celebrated.
The holidays of the year a Christmas Eve (Kučios), Christmas (Kalėdos), the New Year and
the Magi (Trys karaliai) reflect the cult of the dead, cosmogonic character, chaos and its
overcoming fortune is being guessed and future determined. During St John's day (or else
Ilgės, Rasa) the ritual related to fire was carried out, the bonfires set, poles burned,
celebrations would take place on the hills, castle hills, and expeditions set outing
search of the so intended blossom of the fern, the one who finds it can see through the
earth and find the wealth etc.
Shrovetide (Užgavėnės) is celebrated with a lot of noise, gangs of
redressed people walk around, they pretend to be foreigners, animals, mythical beings, the
winter is chaste away. Easter is celebrated with painting the eggs, they are rolled as is
believed that the sun on the Easter morning get sup and rolls around in the sky and jumps.
Processions round the church are held, people strata all kinds of races, tell fortune, and
sanctify thee ire. A big celebration is the Day of All Dead and All souls day. The soul of
the dead are given food, it is believed that on that day the dead souls visit their homes
and relatives. All these celebrations are still kept these days with the emphasis on both
etch archaic and the Christian elements of the tradition.
The concept of the Life after Death
It is the horizon of death that makes the cuts the figures of the most
important gods in Lithuania in the myth of Sovijus (Sovijus with his veneration of the
dead foresters veneration of the main gods of the Lithuanian tradition). On the background
of death the cult is being codified. It seems that death was not seen as the catastrophic
end of life, it most probably was a natural exhaustion of life and its continuation in
As it is possible to decide in the case of the warriors and the
nobility the journey of the dead would start from the incineration fire, yet some believes
still observed till not long ago, prove that between the death and the moment of the other
world there appears a certain gap in time which makes the dead linger in this world. It
was believed, that Dievas allows the human beings to live a certain score of years
and if the person cannot live fully the whole stint, e.g. perishes, commits suicide, dies
a premature death he has to live on this earth till the designated date if death entering
the shapes of plants, most often the trees, into the animals, or birds. There was also a
believe that the dead can leave this earth only once per year on the All souls Easter,
i.e. Shrove Thursday or the other version says that this was All souls day and before this
date the dead has to linger on earth. Therefore there is a certain part of people who live
on earth. Because of the influence of the Christianity these souls became identified with
the repenting sinners the purgatory, thus purgatory, in practice was gravitated to the
Earth. Certainly, to take faith in these images was assisted by archaic metempsychosis
system, whose relics in the Lithuanian vision of the after life are plenty. Let us say
that the dead in the hell are turned in to working horses and oxen, they carrier heavy
burdens, another instances the soul of the dead make appearance as a flock of sheep. In
the paradise the dead can be turned in to birds.
The central image of after world is the mountain, on top of which is
inhabited by the God or Perkūnas. Behind it or else from the top of it there
starts the residence of the dead, it is light and warm, with beautiful garden, with a lot
of singing birds. Sometimes it is conceived that the dead has to climb the hill after
death with the help of personal or animals' nails. At the bottom of the hill there lives a
serpent here a devil’s space stretches out and it seems that the hell is right under the
mountain, i.e. under the heavenly residence of the dead. It seems that the dead live in
the parts where the birds fly to stay over for the winter and the birds know their rout e
by Milky Way. Possibly the Milky Way was seen as the mythical mountain cosmic or as its
slope, which had to be conquered by the humans, and the birds could fly to it.
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Mierzynski W. Zrodla do mytologii litewskiej. T. 1-2. Warszawa, 1892-1896.
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Translated by Lora Tamošiūnienė.
This text was taken from http://ausis.gf.vu.lt/eka/mythology/relmyth.html
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