Congress of World Ethnic Religions
Latvia ~ June 19-21, 2007 ~ during summer solstice
Trinkuniene, Lithuania, "Romuva"
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
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,
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
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
“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”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
5. Dzuku melodijos, Vilnius: Vaga, 1981, p. 146; CD “Prussian
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.
8.Landsbergis V. Apie baltu ir ikikrikscioniskosios Lietuvos
muzika, Naujasis zidinys Nr. 10, 1999, p. 37.
Jonas Trinkunas from "Romuve"
Inija Trinkuniene from "Romuve"
movement in Lithuania
Dalya Urbanaviciene from "Romuve"
movement in Lithuania
Prudunce Priest Kapelle from "Romuve"
movement in the USA