The Church of the Divine Earth

The folkloric tradition as the Substance of Ethnic Religion

10th Congress of World Ethnic Religions 
Latvia ~ June 19-21, 2007 ~ during summer solstice

Inija Trinkuniene, Lithuania, "Romuva"

The article is based both on the recent representative sociological research into the attitudes of the population of Lithuania towards the traditional culture carried out by the Institute for Social Research in 2004, and the investigation and analyses of the activities and main principles of the Ancient Baltic religion community Romuva.

The conquest the Baltic lands by crusaders was lead by extermination of an ancient spirituality. Christianity fought the local spiritual traditions. Unanimous traditional culture was divided into separate exanimate fragments and Christianity replaced the prosperous traditional culture. The new coming religion had brought artificial spirituality, which replaced the old natural one. Newcomers had destroyed homogenous tribal societies that flourished before Christianity – societies in which every aspect of life was integrated into a holistic system and was full of holiness. Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be Christianized, therefore had partially escaped the deserted Christian influence and the folklore had preserved its original sacredness and spirituality.

Even till the end of 19 century, Baltic countries had the traditions of the veneration of the Sacred Fire. The fire ritual was provided both in family and calendar celebrations: “…In many places … the sacred fires were still not extinguished; and Christian missionaries in 1584, in the district of Ukmerge, discovered idols of pagan deities still present in peasants’ homes. Even in the 17th and 18th centuries, Jesuit missionaries pointed out in their reports the lamentable state of affairs: peasants did not attend churches, did not accept the Holy Communion, the ”superstitious and barbaric rituals” were still alive, various animals were worshipped as deities, etc…”(1).

The history of folklore meant the loss of one of its most important aspects – the sacrality. This loss is connected with the general evolution of civilization and specific domination of expansionistic religions. These would be the most general reasons that contributed to the desacralization of folk tradition. That process was going on gradually. Many folk texts were a part of sacred rituals in ancient times. The process of desacralization in Lithuania became more intensive in XIX age. Folklore acquires more and more an entertainment meaning in XX age. The folklorists, studying the customs, define the process of change of the customs: “the ritual meaning of the custom (custom of lalavimas – the ritual visiting of households during Easter) died out, and the ritual became simply an entertainment, being still repeated as a hallmark of the holiday” (2).

Exactly for that reason ritual songs were more and more forgotten and family and life entertainment themes taking its place. Living folklore beyond any doubt was made poorer by such a process. Traditional folklore was not able to compete with entertaining city music in such conditions of civilization; therefore it was condemned to die out. However, at the same time, efforts were gathering to stop that decline. The work of the salvation of folklore had several directions. There was concern about the sacral forms of folklore. The process of restoration at the beginning had protected that family/home folklore, legitimizing its existence, but rising aesthetical and worldly requirements were making higher demands for sacral folklore. Sacral folklore is the folklore of ancient Baltic rituals. Its larger part consists of songs, customs and music from family and calendar festivals cycle. Sacral folklore can be found in tales, incantations and in other bits and small pieces of folklore.

Nobody argues that Baltic folklore reflects the ancient worldview, which is the accumulation of the main principles of human life. The main principles of life represent the system of values in ancient tradition. The system of values is passed over the centuries as verbal tradition, mostly in poetical forms as folk songs, tales. The main principles, until now, are not named, articulated and recognized in clear and understandable way.

The investigation of ethnocultural expression of Lithuanian population, based on the representative research carried out by Institute for Social Research in the fall of 2004, provides the conclusion of the positive attitude of the majority of Lithuanian population towards the ethnical culture and streaming to preserve and to continue the living tradition by the institutional means: teaching the subject of ethnical culture at schools. The respondents request both theoretic (Lithuanian folk customs, mythology, symbolism) and practical (Lithuanian folk songs, dances, traditional arts, crafts) disciplines. This clearly expressed position enables to require the obligatory training of ethnical culture at school. While conscious about the importance of preserving the uniqueness of their country, the respondents consider the ruling Lithuanian institutions (and school as well) to be the main institutions to preserve the uniqueness of Lithuania.

Two thirds of the respondents entrust the preservation of the singularity of Lithuania to the governmental organizations and schools. One third of respondents relate the preservation of traditional culture with the initiatives of nongovernmental organizations, family and personal initiatives. The minimal percent of inhabitants of Lithuania perceive the mass media as an agent of maintenance of the ethnical identity. The citizens of Lithuania do not associate the European Union with the possibility of preservation of ethno-cultural uniqueness. There are some differences in age groups. Young people have more expressed expectations regarding the European Union as the way of keeping cultural uniqueness and heritage. The requirements of population directed to preserving ethnical culture are connected with the arguments of increasing globalization. The survey of the representative investigation of different forms of ethno-cultural expressions enables the conclusion that there is dominating the occasional character of ethno-cultural expression. The celebration of traditional festivals – Easter, Yule, Mardi Gras – constitutes the substance (base) of it.

Though the investigation shows mostly positive attitudes of the Lithuanian population towards the ethnical culture, the field of its expression is rather contracted. That means that the traditional culture less and less becomes the part of identity of the population. The research shows the inadequacy between the positive attitudes towards the ethnical culture and the expressions of it: the positive attitudes do not find the affirmation in concrete activities. The relation of the majority of the population with the traditional music has the character of passive consumption: more respondents tend to listen to music and singing than to sing by themselves.

When comparing different festivals, the respondents give priority to the traditional festivals rather than to state festivals or the new ones. The results of correlation analyses show differences between groups of age evaluating the festivals. Young people more often tend to accept new, not traditional, festivals such as the Halloween and the Day of Saint Valentine. Anyway, the youth tend to maintain the national and ethnocultural identity less than elder people. They do not incline to give their children Lithuanian names or celebrate festivals according to traditional Lithuanian customs so often.

The studies and reflection of traditional values were done by mythologists, folklorists and philosophers, but it was mainly scientific speculation which has no purpose of evaluation and practical use. Nevertheless, it was the base that enabled the ancient faith followers to draw suitable generalizations and apply them in texts and practice.

Romuva -- Old Baltic religion community -- continues the spiritual tradition of ancestors and brings to life the lost sacral and spiritual dimension of folklore. Romuva reflects the system of traditional values. The ancient and contemporary Lithuanian folklore is one of the sources of Baltic religion.

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.

There are several characteristics that indicate the high spirituality of Baltic folklore. They are found in the Baltic folklore and are accumulated and expressed in a concentrated form as the main principles of Romuva. Until now it’s the most exhaustive representation of the system of traditional values. There is the description of the main principles that represent the Old Baltic religion.

Darna – one of the highest values and substance of the ancient Baltic religion. “We strive for Darna or harmony in all spheres of the life of human and nature: in the family, in the community, in the nation, in the connection with the ancestors and the nature, with the whole cosmos. Darna is not stable: it inclines to decrease and vanish, therefore we need to create and spread it. The evil appears when the darna is disturbed. The obligation of the men is to seek the harmony (darna), to preserve it and to maintain it. The rituals are used to maintain the Darna” (3).

Darna -- the rule of harmony -- has always been of significance in the ancient faith. Man lives and the world exist 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 of 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.

The harmony or Darna between the people creates the luck or fortune. To make darna means capacity of living together. The family life is the sphere of the activity of harmony. “The dainas (chants), which represent the singing tradition, allow us to reconstruct a metaphysics in which the highest aim of a human life is to live in harmony with the will of the gods, with the rhythms of Nature and with the other members of society” (4).

The expressions of Harmony (Darna) is the most visible aspect of folklore. Different aspects of darna: darna with nature, darna with cosmos, darna with the people round about, harmony with nature – the most visible in folklore chants. The contents of chants creating the worldview where the life of man and nature is common, devoted to the cosmical order: “Oh, where shall I ride, my brothers this misty morning; Maiden, I am searching for my sorrel horse; Without father, mother like a poor orphan. Bright Sun upon the sky that’s my mother; bright Moon upon the Sky – that’s my father; bright stars upon the sky – these are my sisters; green oaks in the forest these are my brothers; bright dawn upon the sky – that’s my maiden” (5).

This and similar texts in Lithuanian tradition describe the typical situation: the searching for the spiritual family in the sky or cosmos. The nature and nature objects are perceived as very close relatives, as family members: the family members have their symbolic representatives not only in the sky, but also in the surrounding nature. The trees are the family too: the oak tree in most cases is the representative of father, the linden tree – mother, the rue – sister, beach tree – brother.

The semantic analysis of the texts of dainas or chants has shown the existing widely expressed parallelism between the life of human beings and the nature. Both the nature objects and human personalities are perceived of the equal importance.

Principle of the vitality means that the universe is alive; the life must be respected and cherished. The grows is the main principle of the existence of harmonious life, the harmony of the world depends on the capability to preserve the harmony. The vitality is typical both to the fauna, flora and to other phenomenon of nature: sun, moon, water, tree, stone, etc. The old Baltic religion is the religion of the vitality. The song below shows the willow as the representative of vital earth energy. The song is devoted to Patrimpas – one of the manifestations of God Perkunas. Patrimpas – the god of vitality, prosperity and the spring:

“You willow, green tree, You grew up so tall, One branch, Another crown, Two three gates. In the first gate The Sun rose, In the second gate The Moon rolled, In the third gate The stars twinkled. God Patrimpas Give us the breath, So the rye will be stacked, so the flowers bloom, The waters will flow” (6)

The sacredness of nature is one of the main principles and values of Romuva. The nature is sacred and the sacredness is the most perfect characteristic of the world. 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 prechristian 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.

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. Languages, 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, forefather 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” (7).

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.

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” (8).

Morality is very close to darna or Harmony. Such type of morality is called human, because of nonviolent human nature. That means the avoidance of violence and assassination, unselfish love and sympathy to all living beings. The man improves his spiritual life by his truthful and selfless life.

The understanding and evaluation of the spirituality of the folklore leads to the converse process: with the help of the folklore to bring, to restore the former spirituality of the contemporary life: that means resacralization versus materialism; folk/traditional culture versus mass culture; natural social order versus an artificial hierarchy based on wealth; the tribal community versus the nation-state; stewardship of the earth versus the “maximization of resources;” a harmonious relationship between men and women versus the “war between the sexes;” handicrafts and artisanship versus industrial mass-production.

The nowadays life is striving to escape the spirituality. Monotheistic traditions had closed the spirituality in the churches, removing it from the everyday life. However even in our days Lithuania, which is officially declared a Catholic country there are a lot of witnesses of so called pagan or prechristian heritage.

Today we appreciate Romuva and other spiritual life searches as conscious efforts to restore disappearing spiritual dimension. Folklore gives us many possibilities according to this viewpoint. These possibilities are still not appreciated and not perceived enough by our society. There is a certain effort made to evaluate them, but we can only estimate this as a process, at the beginning of which we appear to be.

The change of evaluations depends on evaluating a group’s taste, viewpoint, attitudes, values and needs fulfilled by folklore. However, even from the functional point of view, these functions and needs can conform to one or another aspect of folklore. Even though it can be affirmed that individual parts of folklore at different times haven’t had the same significance, the viewpoint towards it has changed depending on what society’s group’s needs it fulfilled.

The theoretical background of the reconstruction of the religious singing tradition lays on the predisposition that the religious music of the prechristian times of Lithuania was restricted to folklore and survived till our times. The ritual folklore group “Kulgrinda” explores the most archaic layers of traditional folklore and serves as an example of a successful attempt at continuing traditional culture. In this case the goal of Kulgrinda is to restore the lost harmony using the universal sounds, sounds from the very past, that were created by our ancestors.

The pagan ideology is expressed in lyrics, music, and in the outfits of the group. It is closely connected with the Vilnius Ancient Baltic religious community ‘Romuva’ and its activities are based on Romuva’s ideology of Darna or harmony. The activities of ritual folklore group Kulgrinda is the unique case in the European context. The tradition of prechristian religious singing suppressed or lost years before become actual again. It is because of a growing number of people that attribute themselves to ancient spiritual tradition. On the other hand, the other argument is that Lithuanian population still didn’t loose the touch with their indigenous religion. The same survey of population had shown that the 26% of population believe in Deities of Nature.

The reconstruction of the religious singing tradition confirms the fact that “Folklore has the element of constancy, element of ‘preservation’ and therefore the memory about the so called ‘childhood’ of mankind that is encoded into folklore and never is lost. In this case we can speak about the tradition, about the belonging (submission) to the common order of the community and consensus regarding examples of the beauty as well” (9).

We can notice one very important regularity in the life of folklore as expression of traditional culture: it’s decline, analyzed by researchers of ethnic culture, linked with the general evolution of civilization, had one very important moment – ethnic culture tended towards losing the spirituality. Spirituality was an integral aspect of traditional culture, which has embraced humanity’s existence, is more and more institutionalized and separated from everyday life. It’s renascence and existence of full value today becomes possible by restoring the lost level of spirituality.


1.  Bugiene L. Water in Lithuanian folklore: Archaic Survivals and Christian Influences, Studies in Folklore and Popular religion, vol. 2, Tartu, 1999, p. 209.

2.  Daugirdaite V. Changes of the lalavimas custom in the secularization process, Folklore studies XVIII (XXV), Vilnius: Lietuviu literaturos ir tautosakos institutas, 2003, p. 47. http//

3.  Freiberga V.V. The lyrical and epical in Latvian and Finnish poetry, Of Gods and Holidays, The Baltic Heritage, Vilnius: Tverme, 1999, p. 170.

4.  Bartshsas Ch. Dainu balsai, Vilnius: Lietuvos muzikos akademija, 2000, p.73.

5.  Dzuku melodijos, Vilnius: Vaga, 1981, p. 146; CD “Prussian chants”, 2005.

6.  Beresnevicius G. Lietuviska meditacija ir kontempliacija. Ivadas. Siaurės Atėnai, Nr. 674, 2003 p. 5.

7.  Dundzila A. Trinkunas J. Darna as a principle of morality, Of Gods and Holidays, The Baltic Heritage, Vilnius: Tverme, 1999, p. 149.

8.Landsbergis V. Apie baltu ir ikikrikscioniskosios Lietuvos muzika, Naujasis zidinys Nr. 10, 1999, p. 37.


Jonas Trinkunas from "Romuve"
conference founder

Inija Trinkuniene from "Romuve"
movement in Lithuania

Dalya Urbanaviciene from "Romuve"
movement in Lithuania

Prudunce Priest Kapelle from "Romuve"
movement in the USA

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