The Church of the Divine Earth

Baltic tradition


Baltic traditions took shape in a vast territory, encompassing the southeastern shores of the Baltic sea and huge forest, lake and river areas, which today are divided into Baltic and Slavic lands. This division which was mainly initiated by the world's new religions and its plundering politics, even now is creating confusion and hampers this area's solidarity. Many residents of this land, not withstanding the many different nationalities, all have same world outlook, moral and esthetic values, the richest folklore and a continuance in various forms or their ancient, native faith.

Our ancestors lived on this Earth for ages, struggling for their existence, seeking to understand and give meaning to the world around them. Until historical and written times they had already created their most significant cultural objects - language, world outlook, accumulated art and other things. Not everything survived, many cultural and home life objects vanished - musch of it due to constraining and undermining forces. Aggressive religious and political forces tried to conquer nations and to thrust upon them their own life style, even their own world-outlook. Language and religion were most sensitive to these constraints and forces. Having lost these spiritual, cultural feelings, the nation or ethnic community would loose its identity and become a different community of impoverished people. Yet in the thirteenth century, the leader of pagan Lithuania, Gediminas, proclaimed that every nation a right to its own distinctive perception of the world and its own way of worship. Vilnius was a city of diverse religions, and Lithuania was a multinational kingdom, where everyone lived relative harmony and agreement. This sensible way of life, unfortunately was not able to hold out against fierce and aggressive conditions of that time.

Baltic tradition is the world outlook, ancient beliefs, traditions, folklore and the like. Romuva symbolizes the solidarity of these traditions. There is information from the fourteenth century, that in the center of Baltic lands (today the Kaliningrad region), there existed a special Romuva sanctuary, which was revered by all Baltic peoples. The eternal fire burning there cast her light and peace (that is the meaning of the word Romuva), throughout the entire Baltic coast and even further. Until now, Belarusians have folk songs about Romuva, and call themselves Krivicians, followers of the Romuva’s high priest Krivis. Unfortunately, this fire was snuffed out by the new religions propagators, and very soon hard times fell upon the natural beliefs and ancient traditions. Worship and reverence of ancestors, nature, land and ancient gods was fiercely forbidden and persecuted. Today, the time of awakening has arrived and the revival of ancient beliefs is unavoidable. Similar events are taking place in Europe and in other nations, all worn out and exhausted by civilization. People yearn for comfortable unaffectedness, intercourse with nature, communing with trees, stones, rivers, namely with those things that were habitual to our ancestors, who knew how to find and create harmony. We also understand that today, every person has the right to choose or not to choose his faith.

The old faith was very diverse. Its forms and emotions were bound within the historical period, which was peaceful and pleasurable but also at times brutal and tormenting. Farmers had their particular gods, the military had theirs and the wizards had different ones. There were many common efforts which formed the ancient and rich totality of cultural foundations. Today historical chronology or ideas of progress and evolution do not possess the same significance which they did in earlier times. Everything is contemporary, which is appropriate to us - which satisfies our searches of thought and desire of soul. M.Gimbutas captivated by all this, wrote and recounted the culture of Ancient Europe - its fundamentals of peace, creativity and femininity - ideals especially needed today. It all went on thousands of years ago, but the same ancient ideals and cultural forms can become examplary aspirations today.

Romuva is the contemporary movement successive to the ancient faith. It differs from its predecessors of this and last century in that it bases its faith on local mythology, folklore and ethnic heritage, thus avoiding invented religious expressions. The heritage of different ethnic and linguistic groups is inexhaustible, full of holiness and implicit faith. This faith survived in many forms, regardless efforts of the Christian Church, until these times - nation’s traditions, songs, language and morals. Only the consciousness and ethnocultural development of profound people will reveal and explain the meaning of the nation’s heritage, its dependence on the ancient fairh.

Faith is based on knowledge, beliefs and a way of life. This cannot be attained by some form of membership or christening. Only a patient and consecutive awakening of the inherited religion, cleansing of the heart from temporary stains will and can bring a person to Romuva - the heart’s inner sanctuary, attained by our ancestors. Faith and religion are understood to be man’s harmony with sanctity and holiness, also relations with God and the gods. It was perceived that the world and existence are manifestations of mysterious powers and holy life. The concept of the Christian God is not able to embrace the world’s diversity. If it had been able to - why such brutal wars against other religions and spiritual traditions? The ancient religion’s most characteristic aspiration is to feel and perceive that diversity, leaving room for mystery, insights and differing emotional attitudes.

Holiness - is that unnamed vital power and spiritual strength, which occurs in people and nature. Baltic traditions preserved the ancient concept of holiness which differs considerably from the Christian concept. Holy are the rivers, springs, trees, stones and others - all part of the ancient prechistian legacy, connected primarily with nature and not so much with the people. The mysterious, creative strength is personified so that through visible feeling and understanding, it shapes man to draw him nearer to divinity. God the creator, as written by S.Daukantas, had many names among the Balts. Owing to this holy, world creating force - the world spreads, grows, taking forms which do not loose the link with their source, thus the world resembling a tree. Thus a tree - a significant sign and image of ancient religion explains the world’s structure. In Lithuanian and Ukrainian harvest time songs, it is sung:

A sycamore stood by the side of the road
From below the roots - the sounds of kankles
In the center - buzzing bees
Falcon’s children at the summit

Roots - underground, death, the past, water - beginning and spring of life. In the middle, the buzzing bees - the world of the toiling people. The summit, the top of the tree - light of heaven and the future of life. Death and life - an uninterrupted linking of evolution. A tree, even though it drops its leaves in the autumn, goes into sleep in winter, but its life goes on and its soul remains alive. Such is man’s path - through birth, death and rebirth.

In the ancient faith - holiness or divinity manifested itself in both male and female shapes, which at different times outweighed each other. Today, Romuva’s statutes maintain the tradition that balance of the male and female divine manifestations is characteristic of the ethnic faith. The ancient mythology speaks of many gods and their families. Every locality, river, mountain and tree has a soul or deity within. These people of the ancient faith knew how to observe and name such deities. The idea of one god, rightly affirming the world’s unity, however, often prompted the appearance of slave ideologies and dictatorial powers, forcing their subjects to become submissive like sheep. The people of Romuva should learn, as Vydunas stated, to be "persons-to-themselves", truly self-dependant.

The experience and creativity of our forefathers is the most important source for the continuity and growth of the Romuva movement. Respect for nature, gods, home and ancestors, relationship with holiness, these are all very important in the faith of Romuva. In Romuva’s worship rituals, Dainos (chants) and various folk songs play a special part, and like other traditional customs and symbols they take on holiness, power and meaning. Daina - song, to the Baltic nations has always been the most important means of spiritual expression. Balts, a land of songs, have their own holy scripture - songs / Dainos. Our kinsmen, the aryans, in their holy text the "Avesta", use the word "daena", just as the word daina, song, of the same origin, - its meaning - "faith, inner essence and the spiritual me". Daina, song is life giving to the essence of man and shows man’s vitality. Old and young, men and women, all sang while working, merry making and grieving. Songs have been handed down from one generation to another as the greatest treasure, as the eternal fire.

Nature, gods and man are all part of one, woven existence. S.Daukantas wrote: "Everyone knows that nations living in one place from immemorial times, expand out, such that mountains, rivers, swamps and all of the land where the people and their gods live, are almost, I say, not only meshed with religion but also with man’s disposition, so he who is secular and he who is spiritual cannot be distinguished".

People who gather in the Romuva community recognize essence and significance of the ethnic faith. Many people have this inner, spiritual intuition, but the dominating, religious dogmas often fall heavily on the natural feelings. The Romuva communities can help people find forgotten or suppressed ancient traditions. Nature worshippers’ christenings, weddings, burials, calendar feasts and other customary, are today possible because of the Romuva communities. A member of Romuva, honoring the holiness of traditions, approaching nature’s sacredness can achieve darna, harmony - the conjugation of man and the world’s unity, hapiness of life and knowledge of life's purpose.

Honoring of ancestors - is a link with dead family members and relatives, remembering them on special days. Family, kinfolk, tribe - without contrasting the living and dead, has a perpetual, indivisible connection. Language, songs, customs, feelings, thoughts, are all just a part of this connection. After death, the deceased finds himself among his dead relatives, and during religious and traditional rites, the living and the dead meet. It is a strong field of unity, and oneness, for which the link with earth and native land is very important. In Lithuania it is said "the souls of the dead are the guardians of their living relatives, or their close ones, especially dead parents, who are guardians of their orphan children". Ancestors are important, whom in honoring we refer to as the original mother (pramote), forefather (sentevis) and others. The dead become caretakers of fields and farmsteads. The living and the dead interrelate, unite through nature and earth. Funerals used to take place in nature. Only later they were moved indoors. G.Beresnevicius wrote "The day for commemorating the dead is a large exposure, when our dead ancestors and parents advance towards us, the living. The gates of eternity open and once again we see and feel a huge torrent of love, before which we must stand, keeping lit and burning candles and feeling that they still love us, such as we are. During every hardship in our lives, we feel their help, support, for they are and their existence is real, just like the participation of the living." Emigrants who left their native land, should return to it, and in doing so they will rebuild the most important connection. The life and death ring of family turns in such manner that the roads of both living and deceased create one, single path.

A person - Žmogus, his name shows a direct connection to the earth - žeme, Žemyna - mother of earth, žmona - wife, he is a child of the earth. Because of this the most important symbol for man is a tree - medis, whose beginning is the earth. But, like the tree reaching for the heavens, so a man also has heavenly elements - it is often said in folk songs "Sun - mother, Moon - father". This shows man’s connection with the world. This relationship links man with everything that surrounds him. Firstly - his family, his close ones, the dead, after that - home and native land, trees, animals, birds and the like. Man differs from his surroundings not because he is smarter, more worthy or better but because of his obligations to others. His behavior governs his fate and that of his numerous "relatives". If a tree or an animal grows only to satisfy man's needs, and is suitable only for lumber and meat - the Bible preaches such a utilitarian outlook - in a case like that the family of man has no future. Herein lies man’s large responsibility to nature. In each action, and even intention or thought, there are many unforeseeable consequences, good and bad. Obviously, this is why in the ethnic tradition not every man was called human - zmogus. This name was given to those with important human values within family and community, and harmony in general. Thus, the purpose of faith is to help man find a truthful and suitable road to life and humanity.

Man’s birth and happiness in life depend on Fate (Lemtis) as well as on the goddess Laima. Laima knows man’s destiny. She can help. Man’s life is spun like yarn, when the spindle is full, the man dies as the thread breaks. The goddess Laima is both spinner, weaver, and - spoiler, cutter. Songs mention her sitting in a golden chair. The souls of the dead continue family and kinship lives in the " house of souls" - in nature.

Dead man’s further existence is understood as the combined existence of both heart and soul. Siela - heart and soul, eternal force of life, which does not leave earth but reincarnates as trees, flowers, animals and the like. Vele - the soul of the dead, carries on the existence of the family of man, from time to time visiting the living. Both Siela and Vele remain eternally and closely related to the living. Each man’s destiny and his posthumous life are inseparable from that of his family or tribe. Only in their midst can he hope for immortality. The Baltic understanding of life after death is not simple, we see that from our ancient tales. It is a wide and intricate subject. The question of man’s heavenly guardians is very significant. According to our mythology, such guardians are the goddesses Laima or Dalia, but without doubt such guardians are also the deceased, who through dreams or other means warn of approaching danger - they advise and soothe.

An aging man who feels death approaching prepares for the trip to the next world. He diminishes connections on this side, and pays more attention to his dead family members. It is said that after death a man will travel and will be reborn among those whom he loved and thought of while on this side.

The gods of different peoples and localities are not just the divine forms of the nature’s vital powers. Their power grows and spreads together with people who have strength of faith. The god of Thunder, Perkunas, has been worshiped from antiquity. In the spring, as nature and earth awaken, people await for the first signs of Perkunas and they pray to him. When warriors marched to battle, they asked for strength from Perkunas. This power of Perkunas remained for a long time, even after it was forbidden to worship him. We know that in the honor of Perkunas, a perpetual fire burned in the valley of Šventaragis in Vilnius. Ugnis - the fire has been worshiped up to the present times. Oak trees rustled in the honor of Perkunas. P.Dlugosz, in the 15th century wrote that the most important Lithuanian deities were: "fire, which was considered eternal, was lit and tended by seers and burned through night and day, - forests, holy groves, which were worshipped and kept inviolable, and - serpents and grass snakes, because it was believed that god lived and hid in serpents and snakes". Ugnis - Fire, was allotted to Thunder and to other gods, fire is intermediary betweenn god and man. Grass snakes are embodiments of our ancestors or gods. The holy groves were also intermediaries - our connection with gods and forefathers.

The ancient gods, after many years of silence are slowly returning to their people, especially through the rebirth of the ancient faith. We are starting to feel the spirit of our home and our native land, and are visited by the gods of our regions. We must learn how to strengthen that feeling, and we will be helped by our ancestors’ experience.

Since ancient times, the Mother Goddess - Mother of nature and life has been worshipped. Love, dutiful subordination and deep feeling for the goddess and her children - goddesses and gods and living nature remained a characteristic feature during all of Baltic historical times. Our ancient goddesses, Laima, Gabija, Medeine, Austeja and others are the daughters of the Goddess Mother. Her children are living beings, people included. The very earliest of all was the Mother of the Gods, who was mentioned in the first century by the roman historian, Tacitus. Later, changing the relationships of values, male gods and their warlike characteristics came to eb more prominent. Žemyna - goddess of the holy earth remained important. Converted to Christianity, people were forced to ignore the goddess of the holy earth and were made to honor the virgin Mary, who was the mother not of the gods, but of one God. In Christian teachings Mary was not a deity, but just an instrument of God. Looking into folk traditions and art - we can see the true idolization of the goddess. The return of the ancient goddess is unavoidable, it is demanded by nature and peoples’ conscious disposition. We begin to understand that we are the children of one Mother - people, animals, trees, plants, and that the Mother lives here, near us. Let us remember the words of M.Gimbutiene, "All that is alive - is a sign of the earth’s kindness. Every earth born object is full to the brim with life’s strength, granted by mother earth. Tree, flower, stone and man - all from the earth. They are all full of earth’s power, although in each, the power is of various shape and form."

Darna - the rule of harmony has always been of significance in the ancient faith. Man lives and the world exists due to harmonious interactions rudimentary to life and through man’s own correct and moral behavior. Such differing pairs like light - darkness, fire - water, man - woman and others, do not necessarily imply a good - evil relationship. These opposite pairs are not static. They not only interact but also change and grow. From the human standpoint, there are neither absolutely good nor absolutely evil gods or goddesses. Goodness is born from interaction of differing but not of hostile forces, with man’s interactive participation. Blogis - Evil is harmony’s downfall, the absence or inability to restore harmony. This is most evident in nature’s devastation, man’s activity against nature and her order. The idea of Darna (harmony) lies in origins of Baltic culture. The communities of man and nature and of family and community bear the fruit or create dora (morality) and darna (harmony). Darna is the most important nature’s and man’s ideals, attained and maintained with constant work and toil. Darna is not a steady and unchanging happiness, good fortune. It depends heavily on the efforts and concerns of man and his gods. Baltic Darna - harmony is very close to the Hindu Dharma - the principle moral order of the world.

Nature worshippers' morals are full of respect for nature, life and man. The simplest and universal moral proposition is to invite man to do to other men or living beings, that which he would want to be done to him. Since it is difficult and almost impossible to avoid killing of living creatures, trees, plants and animals, because of nature's ways, one should employ the ancestors' experiences: to perform such killings only in dire necessities. In ancient times, when cutting down a tree or slaughtering an animal, one would beg forgiveness for such an action. Such behavior would slow down the unlimited use and destruction.

Jonas Balys wrote: "There is no evidence to affirm that ancient Lithuanians, before the introduction of Christianity, had known of evil gods or evil spirits. It looks like the same gods could help man and also harm him. This is why the gods had to be appeased and made to be well disposed towards man by means of sacrifice to the gods."

The ancient calendar feast days are special because they help man experience the main segemnst of life: birth - maturity - old age - death. Such calendar helps man realize and live through the circle of life, all the while preparing for the trip to the other side. Folk calendar songs and rites reveal the secrets of the circle of life. The sun's rebirth beginning at Christmas is also the beginning of the rebirth of the world. Creation of the world and its dispersion, is celebrated in an ancient Lithuanian Christmas song:

A pear tree stands in the middle of the field, Kaleda
Oh! And a spark fell, Kaleda
Oh! And the blue sea spilled over, Kaleda
On that sea - a ship is sailing, Kaleda
In that ship - a chair stands, Kaleda
On that chair - a girl sits, Kaleda

Historical sources tell us that in the ancient faith there were prophets, wizards, and high priests (žynys, krivis, burtininkas), both men and women. They accumulated and protected spiritual experience, perfected their abilities. They were the first to be attacked and victimized by the conquerors and the christianizers. The tradition of the prophets - zyniai was continued for a very long time by natural healers, travelling mendicants and choristers. However, experience shows the negative side of these spiritual leaders. The prophets were known to usurp power in communities, and use people for their own selfish needs. In such communities, the members became true slaves, submissive creatures - unable to act for themselves, helpless instruments. In such societies only the spiritual leaders could communicate with God or gods. The purpose of Romuva is to draw together persons with knowledge of ancient traditions and with their own opinions. It is desirable that the community member would know how to perform rights on his own, sing, etc.. Of course, not everyone naturally posesses such abilities. This is why Romuva recruits people who are interested and know how to perform such rituals. This does not mean that the leaders of these rituals can order people around or that they have more power in the community. Every member of Romuva has his favored activity and ability which he seeks to perfect. The Romuva community creates favorable conditions for this.

Religious experiences strike harmony and feelings of love for the world, experienced during rituals or other moments. Romuva does not seek collectivism or mass excitement. It is more important to experience this for each human being individually, in nature, near an oak or linden tree, near a stone or fire. One can know the time and place, where these feelings are the strongest and deepest. There are people who can sense these locations particulraly well. Sanctuaries, alkai were founded in these special places. It is known that folk songs sung in a group also create a deep experience. A group of like minded, kindred spirits, are able to create a strong, spiritual field.

The Romuva of today - is the total of several Baltic traditions, continuing the universality of the ancient Prussian Romuva. The members of Romuva love and honor the ancient spiritual traditions of the Baltic lands. They also perceive the urgency in the revival of the world.

The Romuva movement is part of the movement of rebirth of ancient spiritualities in Europe. This renaissance is occurring very naturally and regularly, because its time has come. We can rejoice that the Baltics and other European nations have preserved the richest resources for this movement - their ethnic cultures, which will serve faithfully in the movement of nature worshipers in Europe.

Jonas Trinkunas