Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions
Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.
Today’s religious topic is as follows:
“Baltic Religion”, beliefs and practices of the Balts, ancient inhabitants of the Baltic region of eastern Europe.
The study of Baltic religion has developed as an offshoot of the study of Baltic languages, in some respects the most conservative modern Indo-European language family. Just as these languages—Old Prussian, Latvian, and Lithuanian—correlate closely with the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, so does Baltic religion exhibit many features that conform to Vedic (ancient Indian) and Iranian ideas. Thus Baltic religious concepts help in the understanding of the formation and structure of the oldest phases of Indo-European religion.
The most important divinities in Baltic religion were the sky gods—DIES (the personified sky), PERKONS (the Thunderer), SAULE (the sun [female]), and MENESS (the moon [male]). A forest divinity, common to all Baltic peoples, is called in Latvian Meza mate and in Lithuanian Medeine (“Mother of the Forest”). She again has been further differentiated into other divinities, or rather she was also given metaphorical appellations with no mythological significance, such as Krumu mate (“Mother of the Bushes”), Lazdu mate (“Mother of the Hazel”), Lapu mate (“Mother of the Leaves”), Ziedu mate (“Mother of the Blossoms”), and even Senu mate (“Mother of the Mushrooms”). Forest animals are ruled by the Lithuanian Zverine opposed to the Latvian Meza mate. The safety and welfare of buildings is cared for by the Latian Miles gars (“Spirit of the House”, Lithuanian Kaukas), the Latvian Pirts mate (“Mother of the Bathhouse”), and additionally Rijas mate (“Mother of the Threshing House”).
There are a large number of beautifully described lesser mythological beings whose functions are either very limited or completely denoted by their names. Water deities are Latian Juras mate (“Mother of the Sea”), Udens mate (“Mother of the Waters”), Upes mate (“Mother of the Rivers”), and Bangu mate (“Mother of the Waves”, Lithuanian Bangputys), while atmospheric deities are Latvian Veja mate (“Mother of the Wind”), Lithuanian Vejopatis (“Master of the Wind”), Latvian Lietus mate (“Mother of the Rain”), Miglas mate (“Mother of the Fog”), and Sniega mate (“Mother of the Snow”). Even greater is the number of beings related to human activities, whose names only are still to be found, for example Miega mate (“Mother of Sleep”) and Tirgus mate (“Mother of the Market”).
Also important was the goddess of destiny or luck, LAIMA. The real ruler of human fate, she is mentioned frequently together with Dievs in connection with the process of creation. Although Laima determines a man’s unchangeable destiny at the moment of his birth, he can still lead his life well or badly within the limits prescribed by her. She also determines the moment of a person’s death.
The Devil, VELNS (Lithuanian Velnias), has a well-defined role. He is commonly represented as stupid, and Baltic FOLKLORE often represents the Devil as a German landlord. Another evil being is the Latvian Vilkacis, Lithuanian Vilkatas, who corresponds to the werewolf in the traditions of other peoples. The belief that the dead do not leave this world completely is the basis for both good and evil spirits. As good spirits the dead return to the living as invisible beings is the (Latvian velis, Lithuanian vele), but as evil ones they return as persecutors and misleaders (Latvian vadatajs, Lithuanian vaidulas).
The primary themes of Baltic mythology as it survives in folklore are the structure of the world and the enmity between Saule and Meness. The four-line folk songs called dainas, which resemble Vedic verses, portray the world in dualistic terms, mentioning si saule literally “this sun”‘ metaphorically ordinary everyday human life) and vina saule (literally “the other sun”; metaphorically the invisible world where the sun goes at night,, which is also the abode of the dead). The notion of a sun tree, or WORLD TREE, is one of the most important cosmic concepts. This tree grows at the edge of the path of Saule, who in setting hangs her belt on the tree in preparation for rest. It is usually considered to be an oak but is also described as a linden or other kind of tree. The tree is said to be located in the middle of the world ocean or generally to the west.
Excavations have revealed circular wooden temples, approximately 15 feet in diameter, and a statue of a god may have been erected in the center. The existence of open-air holy places or sites of worship among the Balts is confirmed by both the earliest historical documents and folklore. Such places were holy groves, called ALKA in Lithuanian. Later the word came to mean any holy place or site of worship (Lithuanian alkviete). The usual sites were little hills, where the populace gathered and sacrificed during holy festivals. Another important ritual site was the bathhouse, in which birth ceremonies and funerals were performed. Various places in the home were considered to be abodes of spirits, and each work site had its GUARDIAN SPIRIT, to whom sacrifices were offered.
Special rites evolved for the festivals of the summer solstice and the harvest and for beginning various kinds of spring wor. Such spring work included sending farm animals to pasture or horses to forage for the first time, plowing the first furrow, and starting the first spring planting. The birth of a child was especially noted. Laima was responsible for both mother and child. One birth rite, called pirtizas, was a special sacral meal in which only women took part. Marriage rites were quite extensive and corresponded closely to similar Old Indian ceremonies. Fire and bread had special importance and were taken along to the house of the newly married couple.
Culture: the Balts can be divided into three cultural groups; the Prussians (who are now extinct), the Latvians, and the Lithuanians.
(Comeback on 3/30/15 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Banarsidas”.
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