Stories about the Aitvarai. Nature spirits, dragons and other mystical beings in Baltic folklore. Enjoy )O(
In the Lithuanian mythology Ragana is the primal goddess of magic, witchcraft and shamanism )O( Enjoy
Baltic countries are three countries next to the Baltic sea; Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In this article I focus on stories about fairies told in Latvia and Lithuania.
Fairies of the Baltic lands
Baltic fairy is known as lauma (singular) (plural laumes). Worship of these creatures in Baltic lands dates back to Mesolithic times and belief for them is even older than Baltic pantheon with different gods and goddesses. Laumes were servants of Laimathe Baltic goddess of faith. Laumes were also closely connected to Baltic earth goddess Zemyna. Worship of the mother earth is ancient and dates back over 30 000 years within Europe. Both Zemyna and Laima were some of the most worshiped and respected goddesses in Latvia and Lithuania during Pre-Christian times.
Half Women Half Animals
Laumes were nature spirits connected to different elements. First image of laumes was not very pleasant. Laumes were described to be metamorphic. They were hybrids between human women and animals. They had upper body of a woman, birds claws and middle torso of a horse, bear, goat or a dog. Many times they had only one eye in the middle of the forehead. Some of the laumes were similar to centaurs in Greek mythology. Laumes were believed to be seducers who were extremely dangerous especially to men. Laumes had a dual role in the society. They were protectors of women, children and orphans. Laima the goddess of the faith was highly worshiped especially among pregnant women because she was the one who was in charge of the child´s faith.These early stories about the laumes come all the way from Mesolithic times. Dating all the way back to the time after the ice age when groups of people moved to new living areas. Maybe these early stories of Laumes were inspired by the totemic beliefs of these early people.
Protectors of Nature
During thousands of years the image of lauma changed and became more closer to the idea how we in modern world see fairies. They were no longer hybrid creatures but instead they looked like ordinary women. They were slim ladies dressed in silk. Laumes were not described to have wings but it was possible that some of them did have wings. According to some legends Laumes were spirits of passed away orphans. Laumes were guardians of nature and connected to different elements. Air, fire, water and earth. They lived in forests, lakes, abandoned bath houses, swamps and meadows. These fairies loved to sing and dance. After the dance, when they walked away, their footprints would turn into mushroom rings and flowers. Laumes had the power to invite the rain and create thunder storms. This is probably influence from Slavic mythology where Rusalki the water spirits had similar powers.
Laima Goddess of Faith
Laumes were connected to weaving and spinning. Spinning wheel was the symbol of Laima the goddess of faith and destiny. Thread that she was spinning was the symbol of human life. Laima was in charge of everything that happened in the lives of humans but also what happened in nature. She was told to be a talented weaver who weaved all human lives together. Laima was highly worshiped among humans because she was the one who was in charge of everyone´s final destiny.
Vaiva And The Story Of The Rainbow
There is a beautiful story from Lithuania about a fairy called Vaiva. Perkunas the thunder god was in love with Vaiva but she was in love with a mortal man. A musician called Straublus. Perkunas took Vaiva into the skies and forced her to live there with him. Vaiva had a colorful belt that she threw from the skies to earth to Straublus. This belt was the rainbow. There are other versions of the story and according to one Vaiva was getting married with Perkunas but the moon goddess Menulis was in love with her.
In Lithuania laumes were connected to the woodlands and to the fertility of the land but in Latvia they were connected to motherhood and magic of birth. In Latvia it was believed that if the mother died during childbirth lauma would become the fairy god-mother and the protector of the child. It was lauma´s duty to protect the child during their entire life. In Middle Ages Europe was constant battle field between different countries, cultures and religions. Goddesses like Laima the goddess of faith was demonized and she was turned into an old hag. This was also the time when Baltic society became more patriarchal and warmongering. Ancient pagan belief system in Baltic lands had been matriarchal and goddess-oriented without bashing male deities. All fairies were demonized together with the goddesses. When before Lauma was someone who guarded the child and was the protector of orphans, Now Lauma became evil character who killed the child or purposely killed the mother so that they could keep the child to them-self. Faith that Laima faced was a faith she shared with several other goddesses around the world.
Legacy of laumes still lives in Baltic lands where you can find several ancient pagan shrines. They are under protection and part of the cultural heritage.
Gabija the Lithuanian goddess of fire. Her worship was closely connected to the worship of the thunder god Perkunas.
Sáule (Lithuania) Saule (Latvia) is the goddess of the sun and matriarchal ruler of the universe in Baltic mythology and folklore.
In Baltic mythology Veliona is the female personification of death and the death spirits. )O(
In Latvian myths, fairy tales and folklore devil is not an evil character. He is easily fooled by Dievs (God) and by people. He is physically strong but he is a lazy. Realm of the devil was not like Christian Hell. It was more similar to our world. Entrances to his kingdom were in forests rivers, graveyards, swamps, caves, under the rocks and in the sea. It was believed that devil kidnapped people and took them to his world same way as some unfortunate souls of the dead who came back to claim a life of a person they knew in their lifetime.Character of the devil was Christian invention and did not existed in the pagan world view of ancient Latvians. When Christian devil was introduced to Latvians his image emerged from several deities that under the new order were announced all to be ”the devil” and evil beings.
Visits from the dead
Passed away people were buried with items they could trade in the afterlife so that their livehood was secured. Dead were called as Veļi and it was believed that they visited their old homes during Mikeli (Day of St.Michael September 29th) to Martini (Day of St.Martin) November 10th. Souls were invited to the feast. Master of the house would call the passed away relatives by their names. All the dead who had once lived in the house and the living could remember. If it had been a troublesome year he would scold them not taking good care of the house and ask them to do better next year. After the feast souls were chased out and house was carefully cleaned. Dead were invited to clean themselves in the bath house. Similar custom can be found from ancient Finland and Estonia where during Kekri and Mardipäev celebrations families prepared sauna for the souls.
Food was left for the souls into the bath houses, cemeteries, granaries and barns. Candles were left to burn so that the dead could see the food. In some areas bowls of water and clean towels were left so that the dead could clean themselves. It was said that those who did not honor the dead would have poor harvest.
In modern day Latvia Remembrance days in the end of November and in the late summer are dedicated for remembering the ancestors.
Werewolves are common figures in the folklore of all Baltic countries. In Latvia person who could turn into a wolf was called vilkači, vilkati. Person became a werewolf in a ritual. They would take off their clothes and they would not be able to return into their human form until someone would touch their clothes. Stories of the werewolves were common in agrarian societies where people kept livestock and tried to protect it from animals such as wolves. It was believed that werewolves were like actual wolves and stole meat. Some folk stories that belong into the oldest layer of werewolf myths tell that werewolves were dogs of god(s) and fought against evil sorcerer´s who tried to steal flowers of grains. Therefore werewolves were bringer of good harvest. Another opposite tale tells that werewolves were hounds of hell created by the Christian devil. This myth is later origin.
Pūķis the dragon was believed to be a familiar of a sorcerer. They would steal grain and other riches and bring them to their owner. If Pūķis felt that they were not appreciated enough they would burn the house down. Pūķis demanded respect and in each meal Pūķis was fed first. In Latvia and Lithuania belief for the dragons was inspired by fiery meteorites.
Vadātājs was a spirit of a prematurely deceased person. It was a ghost who killed people similar manner to their own death. Vadātājs was equivalent to the devil of the folklore. Devil who attacked travelers, mind their minds dizzy and confused so that they were unable to find their way home. Many times they lured people to follow them to the nearest body of water where they eventually drowned them.
Belief for the evil spirits and witches in Latvia did not begin until the witch hunts in Europe between 16th and 17th centuries. Magicians called burvji and wizards called burnieki and raganas (witches) were told to be working with the devil when in reality they were practitioners of folk medicine. After the demonizaition of witches they were told to steal milk and employing toads and snakes to suck it straight from cows utters.
In some areas Laumas the fairies were also believed to be witches and working for the devil. With help of the devil they could turn themselves into various beings and lure humans. It was possible that spirits of the dead could serve the devil and become sorcerers. Sometimes demons were considered to be independent spirits flying around and causing harm. If a sorcerer passed away and left their body. Their body was burned and this would stop them returning to their body as a demon.
Lietuvens was a ghost child who was doomed to wonder the earth around the time they had died. They tortured people, cattle and horses during the night. Lietuvens is sometimes connected to sleep paralysis being a spirit that causes nightmares.
Aitvaras – Mythical being. Takes shape of a fiery bird or a snake. Protector spirit and bringer of wealth and prosperity.
Alkas – Lithuanian sacrificial place in nature.
Austėja – Goddess of the bees. Protector of brides and pregnant women.
Aušrinė – Morning star.
Burtai – A spell or a magical incantation.
Burtininkas – Practisioner of magic. Witch, wizard, magician.
Dagotuvės – Autumn Equinox.
Dalia – Giver and taker of material goods. Incarnations: swan, lamb, rock, duck and goose.
Dausos – The residence of the souls after death. Souls traveled to Dausos through Milky Way.
Dievas – God of the skies, light, peace, order, justice and cultural values.
Dimstipatis – God of the hearth. Protector of homes from fire.
Egle – Mythical serpent queen. Human-snake shape sifter. Snake goddess.
Ežerinis – God of lakes.
Gabija – Goddess of home and the hearth-fire.
Gabjaujis – God of covered fire.
Giltinė – Goddess of death. Sister of Laima the goddess of faith. One of the three aspects of the faith goddess.
Gyrates – Protector spirit of the forest.
Gyvatė – Snake goddess.
Ilgės – Ancient feast day honoring the dead. Later known as Vélinés.
Jorė – Feast celebrating the arrival of spring. Later known as Jurginés.
Juratė– Mythical mermaid queen of the Baltic sea.
Kalėdos – Winter Solstice.
Kalvelis – Heavenly smith.
Kaukai – Mystical powers of magic.
Laukpatis – Protector of domestic animals and farm land.
Lauksargis – Protector of arable land.
Laumė – Aspect of Laima and Ragana. Protector of women, children, pregnancy, orphans and lost children. Goddess of faith.
Lazdona - Protector goddess of nuts, nut trees and nut-groves.
Marša – Protector goddess of cows and birthing calves.
Medeina – Goddess of the forest.
Mėnuo, Mėnulis – God of the moon.
Miškinis, Girinis – God of the forest. Spirit of the woodlands. (from the Lithuanian words miškas, giria meaning forest).
Pagirinis – God of grass snakes. Ancient Lithuanians kept grass snakes as their pets. Pagirinis protected the home and the hearth-fire.
Pavasario lygė – Spring Equinox.
Perkūnas – God of rain, thunder and justice.
Puškaitis – Incarnation of the earth.
Ragana – Goddess of witchcraft, death and dying nature. In modern LithuanianRagana means a witch.
Rasa – Feast of summer solstice.
Samboriai – May festival celebrating the end of spring labours and the re-birth of nature.
Saulé – Goddess of the sun, cosmological mother of all deites in the Baltic pantheon.
Siela – The soul of a living person. Life force of the body. It can leave the body temporarily during sleep and forever at the time of death.
Skalsa – The embodiment of plenty, prosperity and good fortune. Skalsa used to be celebrated in harvest time. Their symbol is the horn of plenty.
Stabas – Idol, image of a deity/spirit.
Žaltys – Sacred serpent. Divine messenger of the gods. It was forbidden to harm or kill snakes in ancient Lithuania.
Žvéryné – Gooddess associated with the evening star. Holds power over animals, the hunt and the earth.
Žemyna – Mother earth, goddess of fertility and fruitfulness. Receiver of death and creator of new life.
Véjopatis – Goddess of the wind.
Vélé – Soul of a death person.
Vélinés – Lithuanian Day of the dead celebration.
Velnias – God of the underworld, receiver of death. Trickster god.
Check out my course on Finnish Mythology and folklore )O(
Žemyna the earth mother
Žemyna was very much beloved goddess by the ancient Balts. Žemyna was the personification of earth. She was the goddess who nourished all life; humans, plants and animals. Everything rose from her and returned to her. Every major celebration began with an invocation to Žemyna. Head of the household filled a ladle with beer and poured some into the ground while saying a prayer. They drank some beer, thanked the gods and the other members of the household. Then he passed the ladle on and everyone got a chance to express their gratitude. In rituals black pigs and multiple slices of bread were left as sacrifice. She was one of the daughters of the sun goddess Saulė. Žemyna had a brother called Žemepatis who protected farmsteads and households.
In the spring time Žemyna was honored as the pregnant mother in festival called Užgavėnės (Spring Equinox) which was celebrated in early March to drive winter away. Žemyna was present in numerous rituals that were connected to first planting because Žemyna was goddess of sustaining life. Žemyna also received the dead. She did not bring death herself but transformed death into new life. Lithuanians made special offerings to Žemyna at funerals. Since the earth was the holiest of all things ancient Lithuanians did not joke with her, spit on her, throw trash on her or disrespected her in any ways. On the contrary they often and regularly kissed the earth especially in the morning before starting to work and in the evenings before going to bed. They also kissed her during important transitional moments in life such as weddings and funerals. Worship of Žemyna was part of every day life and she was the basis of the agrarian cycle of the year. People invoked her when seeking justice and swearing oaths.
Image of Zemyna
Clear image of Žemyna was never evolved. There are amber statues of birth-giving-mothers and fertility figures found from different parts of Europe and Middle East dating back to 30 000 years which might give us hints how people saw her. In Lithuania Žemyna was worshiped at large flat stones that were dug into the earth. These stones represented Žemyna and her powers. It is also possible that many other Lithuanian nature goddesses such as Lazdona (Hazel Nut goddess), Medeinė (forest goddess) and Zvėrunė (animal goddess) are all different aspects of Žemyna the earth goddess.
When the culture became more patriarchal Žemyna became the wife of either Dievas the sky god or Perkūnas the thunder god. Father Sky – Mother Earth duality is a common subject in several mythologies around the world. As wife of Perkūnas, she required her husband´s seed which came down in the form of a rain. No plowing was allowed before the first thunderstorm of the spring. Žemyna and Saulė are connected to all Baltic deities being the mother and the grandmother of all things in this universe.
Artist and Illustrator. Mythology and Folklore enthusiastic. Keen traveler. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea, and such.