The Church of the Divine Earth


Understanding Baltic Religion

 

The interpretation of the ancient Baltic religion, as well as its Prussian, Latvian, and Lithuanian successors, presents four fundamental theoretical problems.

First, as with the ancient Germanic religion, the Indo-European tripartite division of sovereign, warrior, and agrarian functions remains in dispute. Focusing especially on the sovereign function and in part on the warrior function, scholarship has neglected other aspects of the comprehensive Dumezilian theory. Furthermore, scholarship has not yet reached any likeness of a consensus on the sovereign and warrior functions. 

Second, Gimbutas' analysis of Old European civilization, by placing special emphasis on Lithuanian and Latvian religion, induces the desire to distinguish Indo-European elements from Old European ones. Such a differentiation, indeed, enables a more complete and careful analysis of Baltic mythology. Unfortunately, few scholars have applied Gimbutas' theory in their work. 

The third problem stems from pre-Christian biased scholarship which also appears in other Indo-European contexts. The fundamental prejudice of such scholarship involves the belief that Baltic religion had reached its zenith, and was waiting for the next stage of its development--Christianity. 

Consequentially, some scholarship and popular literature incorrectly assumes that ancient Baltic religion was monotheistic. For example, in Latvia, monotheism was envisioned in Dievs, who heads a large family of divinities. Furthermore, a great deal of scholarship has neglected to distinguish Christian elements from non-Christian ones, in effect interpreting a corrupt catalogue of Baltic religion. 

The fourth problem counters the problem of definition: what is mythology, what is folklore, and what is the difference. Most of the underlying research of Baltic mythology occurred in a folklore context. Folklorists, collect, categorize, and publish source materials. Folklore studies tend to interpret myth from a 20th-Century synchronic perspective, i.e., myth in its collected and recorded form, regardless of discrepancies and inconsistencies. 

In contrast, religious studies and comparative mythology divides myth into its successive layers, producing a set of synchronic pictures in diachronic perspective. This approach seeks origins, influences, and a developmental history. It does not hesitate to research historical, linguistic, and etymological sources for supportive information. It also attempts to explain significant variance, as well as consolidate it in an overall mythological structure. Often the two approaches--folklore and mythology--contradict

--- First published in "Romuva", Issue #10, 1992, by Audrius Dundzila, Ph.D.