The Church of the Divine Earth


Legends and Tales

The Tale of the Castle of Vilnius

According to an ancient Lithuanian legend, Jūratė, the beautiful sea-goddess, who lived in a palace built of amber at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, fell in love with a fisherman Kastytis. When thunder-god Perkūnas, the most powerful of the Lithuanian gods, found out about it, he became very angry at Jūratė for her love of a mere mortal and in a jealous rage, with lightning bolts, killed Kastytis and shattered Jūratė's undersea palace.

Even today, when winds whip up raging storms in the Baltic Sea, one can hear Jūratė's mournful cries for her beloved Kastytis and, afterwards, one can still find small pieces of Jūratė's amber palace among the seaweeds washed out on the sandy shores.

Long ago, the renowned Grand Duke Gediminas, last of the Great pagan rulers, resolved to build a castle of such strength, that no army could penetrate it. And what the Grand Duke resolved would be done--was done, for such a man was he.

He chose a location of the highest hill and the difficult task of construction was begun. Huge boulders and fire-baked bricks were hauled by teams of twenty oxen. Great ditches, were dug and lay gaping and waiting to receive the foundation stones which were piled high and in readiness. At the edge of the wide trench, lay a rock of incredible size--the corner stone.

It was now time to call together the vaidilos, the zyniai, the burtininkai and all the wise priests of the land for the auspicious rolling of the corner stone.

When they were gathered the Grand Duke addressed them, thus:

"Mighty servants of the Gods, interpreters of Their will, burners of fragrant amber and sacrificers of fatted beasts, tell me, what shall I offer the Great Ones, that my castle be the strongest in all the land. What offering will find favor in the eyes of the Gods, that we may gain their protection?"

Deep furrows lined the brows of the wise priests. Their clear-sighted eyes closed in thought. For a long time they pondered and scried into their sacred fires--remembering the ways of the ancestors.

Finally they came forward and spoke:

"Great Ruler of Lithuania! You are a chosen servant of the Gods. You, yourself could divine Their will. But, if need be, that you ask our counsel, then let this be know. The greatest sacrifice, the one that would find the most favor in Their eyes, must be a made by a mother, who would willingly offer her first-born son to be placed alive under the mighty corner stone."

The Grand Duke and his courtiers were awe-struck. Yes, truly, this would be the greatest and dearest sacrifice. But, where would they find such a woman? Such an offering had been hitherto unheard.

Nevertheless, it was commanded that the sorcerers and courtiers search the countryside for a mother who harbored such great love for her homeland and such hatred of its enemies, that she could make this sacrifice.

One woman did bring forth her only son and protector in her old age. He was a young man, handsome to behold and wise.

He loved his mother and did not question her decision, but he wished to test the proclamation of the priests, in order to see if they really spoke the will of the Gods.

He asked the Duke, Gediminas, if he could ask the priests three riddles. If they answered correctly, then he would take it as a sign that, undoubtedly, the priests spoke true. The Grand Duke agreed and so the young man put forth his questions:

"O Wise Ones, tell me what in all of creation is the sweetest, the lightest and the hardest?"
The priests did not think long and soon answered:

"The sweetest substance in all the world in the honeycomb of the wild bees. The lightest thing in all the world is the down of wild birds. The hardest--the sword of our Grand Duke, which can strike an armored knight in half!"

"Not true!" rang out the cry of the young man. "I know of things that are sweeter, lighter and harder."

"Explain yourself, then," said the priests and sorcerers.

"For the babe, his mother's milk is sweeter by far. For the mother, nothing is lighter than the child in her arms. And nothing, no nothing is harder than my mother's heart, if without it breaking, she can offer her only son to such a dire fate."

The priests were quiet. Gediminas agreed with the young man. All the courtiers and people gathered together and decided that this exceptional youth must be set free, for to offer him as sacrifice was surely not the will of the Gods. And so it was done.

But the question of a fitting sacrifice still loomed. So the priests were once again called to divine a fitting offering. This time, they fasted and abstained from sleep for three days. They made offerings, sang their charms, scried and remembered the old ways. Finally, they came forward with this proclamation:

"If the Gods of Lithuania would not accept the youth as their sacrifice, then it is clear that a young maiden should lie beneath the stone; one who is the fairest and most virtuous in the land."

Forthwith, the Grand Duke issued a command that the sorcerers and other lower-ranking priests must search the country for just such a maid and that she be brought forth as a fitting sacrifice for the Gods, so that their homeland could gain divine protection.

The priests and sorcerers did not have to search for long. There were many beautiful maidens in Lithuania, but the one that they brought to Vilnius was as lovely as a wildflower blossom, with deep, sky-blue eyes and a purity of spirit that shone like rays from her being.

In her white bridal robes and with a wreath of rue about her brow, she stood smiling innocently and admiring the bouquet of blooms that she held in her small, white hands. Quietly and with an air of tranquility, she stood, seemingly unaware that a great boulder would soon crush her enchanting frame.

Everyone's heart went out to the fair maid. But, what could they do if such was the will of the Gods?

The crowd hushed, all lowered their eyes and quickly a hundred hands pushed the mighty rock, that the inevitable deed could swiftly come to pass.

The boulder rolled its great weight into the ditch and all was quiet and still. The Grand Duke was the first to stir. He bounded to the edge of the pit and peered below with apprehension. Suddenly, his countenance became bright and a smile shone from his face. With great joy, he exclaimed:

"The Gods, themselves, have chosen the sacrifice most favorable in Their eyes!"

The crowd rushed to the edge. There below, next to the stone, stood the maiden, alive and well. As before, her eyes shone in unfearful innocence. But, on her cheeks glittered two diamonds--tears for the flowers that had been knocked from her hands and crushed by the boulder.

And so, the virtuous maiden's sacrifice found the greatest favor in the eyes of the Gods and the castle of Vilnius became the strongest in the land.

Soon after, the Grand Duke wed the fair maiden and as for the wise youth; he became a member of the Duke's council and advised him for the rest of his days.

Translated from the Lithuanian: "Vilniaus Pilies Pasaka", Gintaras, Vl. Vijeikis Press, Chicago, 1961.

~~First printed in "Sacred Serpent: Journal of Baltic Tradition", Summer Solstice, 1994.

 

Gediminas

Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, (c.1275 - September 28, 1314) made Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. He spent most of his life defending his country from the onslaught of the Christian Teutonic Knights. He was a life-long pagan and was cremated according to Lithuanian custom and then buried on a hill within the sacred forest in Vilnius.

Gediminas was lauded as one of the greatest rulers of Lithuania. He established diplomatic and economic links with Europe and invited many artisans and merchants to Lithuania. His reign was marked with tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness. He extended his invitations to all peoples to come and settle in his capital, including Jews and Christians. As a result, so many synagogues, temples and yeshivas were built and flourished in Vilnius, that at one time, it was called the "Jerusalem of the North".

He welcomed Christian clergy also, but demanded that they do not behave like the Christian monks already in Lithuania, who were acting immorally and selling the donations they received for personal profit.

In his letters, he repeatedly explained that Lithuania rejects Christianity because of the "heinous offences and numerous treacheries undertaken by the knights."

~~Repeated in part from, ROMUVA/USA, issue #5, fall 1991.

Commentary

Foundation sacrifices were well known in Lithuania, as archaeological digs testify. But, at some point they stopped and perhaps this legend attempts to explain why or bears witness to the actual reason.

It also gives us an idea of the role of priesthood in those days. Differentiation is made between 'priests' (kriviai) and zyniai (sorcerers-magicians-diviners-sages). 'Vaidilos' were another group - bardic priests who played the kankles. In this tale, they served Gediminas, the 'kunigaikstis', or priest-king ( kunigas- Lithuanian modern 'priest' and 'kunig' is comparable to the German, 'konig' - king).

It would appear that the old priesthood was not infallible; nor, in this case, do they seem to lay any claims to infallibility. There is even a hint of reluctance on their part to come up with a fitting sacrifice for the Grand Duke, as they remind him that he could divine the will of the Gods just as well as they could. Gediminas is, after all, a 'chosen of the Gods'.

It is also noteworthy that the common man is free to protest and question the priests and their interpretations of Divine will. The magical three riddles or challenges also comes into play and a battle of wits ensues. Riddles are an integral part of Baltic lore.

We note too, that it is not the priesthood, but the people and their leader who decide the fate of the young man. The priest and sages act as advisors to the ruler who considers their words but does not appear bound to obey them in any way.

In the end, the Gods, themselves, chose their own sacrifice and let Their will be known and to the surprise of all, a blood-offering was deemed unnecessary - to the visible relief of Gediminas.

Times change and so does the world view of human beings regardless of culture or creed. We keep what is useful, what works and has validity and discontinue practices which have little or no beneficial value -- spiritually and/or practically.

Although some lament the loss of past customs and rituals, we prefer to regard the process of loss as natural. What works; survives. If it didn't, then there was possibly a very good reason, with the exception of loss due to wars, persecution and foreign invasion.

This Lithuanian tale reminds us that traditions and religions are altered, constantly; as people, their lives and their outlooks change. Does deity change or do we?

 

The Origin of Witches

Once upon a time, a young woman went off into the woods to pick mushrooms and with her she took her new hope chest. While she was searching for mushrooms it began to rain very hard. She quickly removed her clothes and placed them in her hope chest; then stood naked under a tree, until the rains subsided.

Later, she dressed and continued picking mushrooms, until she was spotted by Velnias (Lithuanian Horned God of the Underworld). Velnias asked if she had been picking mushrooms during the rainstorm, and if so, how had she remained dry?

The young woman replied that she had a secret that prevented rain from touching her.

Velnias was intrigued and pressed the woman for her secret. The young woman agreed to tell Him, but only if He revealed all His magical arts. So a bargain was struck and Velnias taught the woman all that He knew of magic and healing.

It was then that the woman told Velnias how she had avoided the rain. Velnias spit and flew away, raging and screaming that He had been tricked.

Thus, the woman became the first witch and passed on her teachings to others from that time on. And so, witches flourished.

 

The White Wolf

In this story, a king has three daughters, the youngest of whom is the most beautiful. Before departing on a trip, the king asks his daughters what presents he might bring them upon his return. The elder daughters request jewels and finery, but the youngest princess asked for a blanket of living flowers.

The king easily obtains the first two gifts but has difficulty fulfilling the youngest daughter's request.

Unhappily, he begins his journey homeward, when he encounters a magnificent white wolf in the forest bearing a blanket of blooms. To obtain the flowers the king must promise the wolf the first thing that greets him on his return. The king promises and, fatefully, the first to greet him is his youngest daughter.

A servant girl is sent in place of the princess, but the wolf discovers the deception; demands the true princess and finally, gets her.

He then carries her off on his back to his beautiful manor where she lives alone for one year. At that time, the wolf returns and lets her know that her eldest sister is marrying and that he will take her to the wedding but she must promise to come to him as soon as she hears his howls. She does so; returns to the wolf's manor and lives alone for another year.

At the end of this period, she is told that her elder sister is marrying. This time the wolf accompanies her to the feast and afterwards to the bedchamber where he sheds his wolf-skin and emerges as a beautiful youth.

The old queen spies how the wolf shed his skin, grabs the fur and throws it into the fire. Immediately there is a great howling of winds; the young man changes back into a wolf and flees, leaving the princess heartbroken.

The princess searches long and travels far in her quest to find her wolf. She requests the aid of the four winds, Star and Moon. They do not know of the wolf's whereabouts but they gift her with a magical pair of shoes that can travel great distances with a single step.

Finally, Mother Sun, who is sympathetic to the prayers of young women, tells her that she will find her betrothed high on a mountain. At the side of the mountain she will find a smith who will affix her hands and feet with iron so that she will be able to climb the mountain. The princess also receives a gift from the Sun - a magical wheel that spins moss into silken threads.

The princess does as instructed and finds her way to the manor of the wolf, just to discover that he is about to wed another maiden. She finds work in the house as a spinner where the second wife-to-be notices the princess' wondrous spinning wheel. She asks for this magical wheel which the princess agrees to give if she is granted an audience with the wolf-master.

Upon his arrival, the wolf recognizes his princess and claims her as his true bride for she has proven her love for him despite hardships and sorrow. The spell is now broken and he can once more be a real man. Their wedding is held the following day and the festivities last for nine days.

 

Eglė, Queen of Serpents

In another time, long ago lived an old man and his wife. Both of them had twelve sons and three daughters. The youngest being named Egle. On a warm summer evening all three girls decided to go swimming. After splashing about with each other and bathing they climbed onto the riverbank to dress and groom their hair. But the youngest, Egle, only stared for a serpent had slithered into the sleeve of her blouse. What was she to do? The eldest girl grabbed Egle’s blouse. She threw the blouse down and jumped on it, anything to get rid of the serpent. But the serpent turned to the youngest, Egle, and spoke to her in a man’s voice:

-Egle, promise to become my bride and I will gladly come out

Egle began to cry how could she marry a serpent? Through her tears she answered:

-Please give me back my blouse and return from whence you came, in peace.

But the serpent would not listen:

-Promise to become my bride and I will gladly come out

There was nothing else she could do; she promised the serpent to become his bride.

After three days the family saw that every serpent in the land had come to their farm, bringing with them a wagon. The whole family was scared, while all the serpents began to slither around in wild abandon. One of the serpents entered the house to meet with the old man, Egle’s father, and to discuss the terms of the union. At first the old man hemmed and hawed, refusing to believe that this could be happening; but when all the serpents in the land have gathered in one man’s farm it does not matter how one feels, so he promised to give his youngest and most beautiful daughter over to the serpents. But the old man held treachery in his heart. He asked the serpents to wait a little while; as quickly as he could he ran to the local wise woman and told her everything. The wise woman said:

-It is easy to trick a serpent, instead of your daughter give him a goose and send the wedding presents.

The old man did as the wise woman advised. He dressed a white goose in Egle’s clothing, and together father and ‘daughter’ climbed into a wagon and began their journey. A short while later they heard a coo-coo bird in a birch tree, singing:

-Coo-coo, coo-coo, you have been tricked. Instead of a bride, he has given you a white goose. Coo-coo, coo-coo!

The serpents returned to the farm, and angrily threw the goose out of the wagon and demanded the bride. The parents, on the advice of the wise woman, dressed a white sheep up. Again the coo-coo bird sang:

-Coo-coo, coo-coo, you have been tricked. Instead of a bride, he has given you a white sheep. Coo-coo, coo-coo!

The serpents return to the farm in great anger and again demanded the bride. This time the family gave the serpents a white cow. The coo-coo bird tells the serpents of the father’s deception and again the serpents return -but this time in a towering rage. The serpents threatened famine for the disrespect shown by the parents. Inside the house, Egle cried. She was dressed as was appropriate for a bride and was given over to the serpents. While taking Egle to her future husband the serpents heard the coo-coo bird sing out:

-Drive, hurry, the groom awaits his bride!

Eventually Egle and all her chaperones came to the sea. There she met a handsome young man who was waiting for her by the beach. He told her that he was the serpent that had crawled into her sleeve of her blouse. Soon, they all moved to a nearby island, and from there they descended underground, under the sea. There could be found a lavishly decorated palace of amber. It was here that the wedding was held, and for three weeks they drank, danced and feasted.

The serpent’s palace was filled with guests, and Egle finally calmed down, became happier and completely forgot her homeland.

Nine years went by and Egle gave birth to three sons -Azuolas, Uosis and Berzas – and a daughter -Drebule – who was the youngest. One day while playing the eldest son asked Egle:

-Dearest Mother, where do your parents live? Let’s go and visit them.

It was then that Egle remembered her homeland. She remembered her parents, brothers, and sisters. And she began to wonder if life was good to them; are they healthy? It had been a long time and maybe they were all dead. Egle desperately wanted to see her homeland. It had been many years since she saw that land of her birth; she yearned to see it again. Her husband, the serpent, did not even want to listen to her entreaties.

-Fine, he said, go and visit but first spin this tuft of silk, and he showed her the spindle.

Egle was at the spindle. She spun during the day, she spun all night. Spin, spin but it would not be spun. She saw that she had been tricked. Spin, spin but it will never be spun. Egle went to an old woman who lived nearby, a known sorceress. Egle lamented:

-Grandmother, dear heart, teach me how to get that tuft of silk spun

The old woman told her what to do and what was needed for the task

-Throw it into a fire when next it is kindled, else ways you shall not be able to spin the silk.

Having returned home, Egle threw the silk into a bread oven, recently fired up. The silk went up in flames and in the center of the oven where the silk once was there was a toad. The toad was creating silk, from its body. Having woven the silk, Egle returned to her husband pleading to allow at least a few days for a visit with her parents. Now, her husband drew out from beneath his bench a pair of metal boots:

-When you wear these down, then you shall travel.

She put on the boots and walked, stomped, and even dragged along the stone floor, but the boots were thick, hard and were not at all worn down. Walk or do not walk the shoes will forever last. Going back to the sorceress, she pleaded for more help. The old woman said :

-Take them to a blacksmith and ask that he wear them down in his furnace.

And Egle did as she was instructed. The boots were heated well and within three days, Egle had worn them down.

Having worn the boots down she approaches her husband so that he may allow her to visit her homeland.

-Fine, said the serpent, but for the journey you must bake at least a rabbit-pie for what shall you give to your brothers and their children?

In the meanwhile the serpent ordered that all the cooking utensils be hidden so that Egle not be able to bake the pies. Egle began to think how shall she bring in water without a bucket and make the dough without a bowl. Again, she returns to the old lady for advice. Grandmother says:

-Spread out the sifted leavening, immerse the sieve into water, and within it mix the dough.

Egle did as she was instructed; she mixed, baked and had the pies ready. Now, she bid a farewell to her husband and went out with the children to her homeland. The serpent lead them part of the way, and got them across the sea and said that she be no longer than nine days in her homeland and that she is to return at the end of those nine days.

-When you return go alone, just you and the children and when you approach the beach then call for me:

-Zilvine, Zilvineli,

If alive, may the sea foam milk

If dead, may the sea foam blood….

And if you see coming towards you foaming milk then know that I am still alive, but if blood comes then I have reached my end. While you, my children, let not the secret out, do not let anyone know how to call for me.

Having said that, he bid farewell to his family and wished for them a swift return.

Returning to her homeland, Egle felt great joy. All her relatives and in-laws and neighbors gathered round. One after another asked many questions, how did she find living with the serpent to be. She just kept describing the many aspects of her life. Everyone offered their hospitality, their food and good talk. She was in such great spirits that she did not even feel the nine days pass.

At this time Egle’s parents, brothers and sisters began to wonder how to keep their youngest amongst their midst. They all decided -they must question the children, how their mother having arrived at the beach would call for her husband. So that they could go down to the seashore, call for the serpent and kill him .

Having agreed upon this, they called upon Egle’s eldest, Azuolas and praised him. They cornered him and questioned him but he said that he did not know. Having failed they threatened the child to not tell his mother of their actions. The second day they led out Uosis, then Berzas, but from them too the adults could not get the secret. Finally they took Drubele, Egle’s youngest, outside. At first she did as her brothers, claiming to not know the secret. But the sight of rod frightened her, she told all .

Then all twelve brothers took their scythes with them and went towards the sea. Standing at the shore they called:

-Zilvine, Zilvineli

If alive, may the sea foam milk

If dead, may the sea foam blood…

When he swam up, then all the brothers fell to chopping the serpent to pieces. Then, returning home, they kept the secret of their deeds from Egle.

Nine days passed. Egle, bidding farewell to all the family and friends, went off to the sea and called for her serpent.

The sea shook and floating towards Egle was foam of blood. And she heard the voice of her beloved husband.

-Your twelve brothers with their scythes cut me down, my call was given to them by our Drebule, our most beloved daughter!

With great sorrow and thundering anger Egle turned to her children and said to Drebule:

May you turn into a willow,

May you shiver day and night,

May the rain cleanse your mouth,

May the wind comb your hair!

To her sons:

Stand, my sons, strong as trees,

I, your mother, will remain a fir.

As she commanded so it came to be: and now the oak, ash and birch are the strongest of our trees, while the willow to this day will shake at the slightest whisper of a wind for she quaked before her uncles and gave away her true father.

 

Gediminas' Dream

One day Grand Duke Gediminas, ruler of Lithuania from 1316 to 1341, went hunting in the forest of Šventaragis' Valley. Lithuanian forests were renown for their primeval state and abundance of game - a true hunter's paradise. Before Gediminas realized how late it was getting, night fell and he had to spend the night in the forest. During the night he dreamt about a large wolf in iron armor howling with a voice of a hundred wolves on a nearby hill.

In the morning, puzzled by the dream, Gediminas sought out the help of Lizdeika, a local sage, to interpret the dream for him. Lizdeika told him that the wolf's iron armor and loud voice meant that a powerful fortress would be built on the hill and that its fame would spread far and wide.

Gediminas promptly gave orders to build a fortress on the hill and moved his headquarters to this new site. The city of Vilnius, the current capital of Lithuania, grew up around it.

 

Perkūnas vs. Velnias

In Lithuanian folklore, the struggle between the forces of good and evil is often portrayed as a conflict between the thunder-god Perkūnas and the god of the underworld Velnias, both of whom often roam the Earth in human form, interacting with ordinary people.

In their conflict, Perkūnas is perceived to have the upper hand and is feared by Velnias and by all evil spirits. To protect themselves from Perkūnas' lightning strikes they try to hide under big rocks and in hollows of large oak trees.

In his interaction with people, Perkūnas is usually seen as a benevolent figure. Velnias, on the other hand, is a cunning deceiver who tries to ensnare people with false promises of wealth, beauty, etc, and one needs to be cautious in dealings with him.

With the conversion of Lithuanians to Christianity, Velnias began to be perceived as the Devil, master of Hell and all evil spirits.

 

Witches of Šatrija

In Samogitia, the western region of Lithuania, near the city of Telšiai, there is a hill named Šatrija (pronounced: "shah - tria") on which, at certain times of the year, all witches of Samogitia gathered. It is said that the hill itself was built by witches mounding earth over a local Christian church. The purpose of these gatherings and what the witches did are shrouded in mystery.

It is known that on Šatrija in ancient times on the third Saturday of July of every year, pagan Samogitians celebrated the cult of Gabija, their goddess of a home's hearth. Before the invention of matches, the damp Lithuanian climate made it difficult to start a fire for heat and food preparation and people appealed to Gabija to preserve live charcoal in the hearth.

 

Jūratė and Kastytis

According to an ancient Lithuanian legend, Jūratė, the beautiful sea-goddess, who lived in a palace built of amber at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, fell in love with a fisherman Kastytis. When thunder-god Perkūnas, the most powerful of the Lithuanian gods, found out about it, he became very angry at Jūratė for her love of a mere mortal and in a jealous rage, with lightning bolts, killed Kastytis and shattered Jūratė's undersea palace.

Even today, when winds whip up raging storms in the Baltic Sea, one can hear Jūratė's mournful cries for her beloved Kastytis and, afterwards, one can still find small pieces of Jūratė's amber palace among the seaweeds washed out on the sandy shores.

 

Birutė and Kęstutis

Although Birutė is an important historical figure, much of what is being said about her is legendary.

It is believed that like the vestal virgins of ancient Rome, she dedicated herself to the preservation of the eternal flame at a pagan sanctuary on a hill near the resort town of Palanga on the Baltic Sea eastern shore. About the year 1349, Kęstutis son of Grand Duke Gediminas, while hunting in the vicinity, saw the beautiful Birutė, fell in love with her, took her to his castle in Trakai and married her. Their eldest son, Vytautas, later called the Great, became the ruler of Lithuania and a very important leader in Central Europe.

Birutė and Kęstutis stayed faithful to the ancient Lithuanian religion throughout their lives and both are widely respected and loved by the Lithuanian people, especially by Samogitians of western Lithuania, among whom Birutė's memory has reached almost a cult status.

 

Pilėnai

In late February of 1336, a large crusader army consisting of Austrian, French, and German contingents and numbering about 6,000 fighters, guided by a force of Teutonic Knights, invaded Lithuanian territory from East Prussia with the goal of destroying the Pilėnai hill-fort, a key part of the Lithuanian defensive line of forts along the Nemunas River. The fort was filled with local residents seeking shelter for their families along with Lithuanian defenders commanded by Margiris, brother of Lithuania's ruler, Grand Duke Gediminas.

Burning and killing as it went, the crusader army reached Pilėnai, surrounded the hill-fort and commenced bombardment to breach the defensive walls. When the defensive walls started to collapse and the fall of the fort became certain, to deny the crusaders booty and prisoners, choosing death over a life of slavery, the defenders lit a large bonfire, burned all their valuable possessions, killed all their women and children and then killed themselves.

Gaining the inside of the fort, the crusaders were shocked and disappointed to find only the charred remains of bodies and goods and had to return to Prussia empty-handed.

For their bravery and their stubborn refusal to surrender, the names of Margiris and Pilėnai have become legendary and inspirational to succeeding generations of Lithuanians.

 

Ringaudas

Father of Mindaugas – several sources mention that he was a powerful duke, but do not give his name. 16th century genealogies gave him the name of Ryngold or Ringaudas

The genealogy of Mindaugas, the first and only king of Lithuania, is not known and this mystery prompted stories about a powerful ruler of Lithuania who preceded Mindaugas and may have been his father by the name of Rimgaudas (or Ringaudas, Ryngold).

It is said that Rimgaudas saved Europe by stopping the advance of the Mongol army of Genghis Kahn and seriously wounding his eldest son Jochi in a duel. Jochi died in 1227.

It is well known that the Mongol forces appeared in southern Ukraine in early 1223 and kept moving northward subjugating Ukrainian and Russian territories. It is quite likely that eventually they reached Lithuanian territories as well.

The Mongols were superior horsemen and archers. They were masters at warfare on the open plains. Lithuanian territory, however, consisted mostly of wet, bog-filled primeval forest and Lithuanians were skilled as forest fighters. The Mongols were at a disadvantage in this to them unfamiliar environment and it is quite possible that Lithuanians were able to stop them at the forest's edge.

It is, however, fairly certain that Ringaudas was not alive by 1219 and that Mindaugas was consolidating his power in Lithuania at this time and would have been responsible for stopping the Mongols

 

St. John's Night

The time of midsummer festivals, celebrated by most pre-Christian cultures, closely matches St. John the Baptist's feast day, on June 24th of the Christian calendar. It is little wonder then that many of the pagan midsummer customs and beliefs persist on this special day even after the people's conversion to Christianity.

Because of its northern location, in Lithuania St. John's night is so short, that as soon as the last light of sunset disappears in the west, the sky in the east starts to brighten with the first signs of dawn. This night is believed to be special, filled with omens and magic. It is said that ferns bloom only at midnight on this night and whoever is lucky enough to find such a blossom will gain special powers: to understand the languages of birds and animals, to be able to foretell the future, to know where treasures are buried and many others.

Young and old alike go out on this night to look for fern blossoms. For the young this is a rare opportunity to romp around in the fields and woods at night. Many marriages result from encounters on this night.

 

Šventaragis' Valley

Šventaragis' Valley at the confluence of Vilnelė and Neris rivers in Vilnius, Lithuania was the legendary cremation site of Lithuanian rulers prior to the adoption of Christianity by Lithuanians. It is reported that this tradition was established by Lithuanian Duke Šventaragis, who asked his son Skirmantas to help transport his soul to the world of the departed by cremating his remains together with his favorite horse, hunting dogs and hunting falcons at this site. Lithuanians believed that the departed continued life "beyond the hills" in the style that they were already accustomed to and, therefore, needed to be sent there with all of their most treasured possessions. Great rulers were accompanied on their final journey even by their favorite servant.