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.
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.
When I first started to study Baltic mythology I did not know what to expect. I was profoundly moved by the beautiful connection that the ancient Baltic tribes had to the earth and the way they respected the earth. There is very strong feminine aspect within Baltic mythology which leads all the way back to ancient goddess cults of the pre-historic world.
Goddess of the Sun
Great sun goddess Saulė (pronounced as Sow-ley) was the queen of heaven and earth and the matriarch of the universe. She was extremely popular goddess among both Latvians (Saule) and Lithuanians (Saulė). Saulė was celebrated during summer Solstice festival called Rasa. It was believed that Saulė ruled the world during the summer day and when winter approached she weakened. Many rituals and spells were performed to strengthen her. Lithuanians began waiting the return of the sun around November 30th and festivities to celebrate her return lasted until 6th of January. Later times this time period of waiting Saulė ´s return became the Christian advent. Saulė was portrayed as a golden haired woman. Dressed in golden silk, golden shawl and crown. She drew her chariot to the heavens, pulled by two white horses called Asviniai. These horses were sons of the sky god Dievas. Saulé is closely connected to the sea where she was believed to ride at the end of her daily journey and bathe her steeds. During the night Saulė visited the underworld embracing her dark aspect.
Being the mother of all heavenly family Saulė was believed to be the mother of the planets. Her daughters were Vaivora (Mercury), Ziazdré (Mars), Indraja (Jupiter), Aušrinė (Venus), Selija (Saturn) and Zemyna (Earth). According to some sources ancient Lithuanian tribes named their planets even before Greeks and Romans.
On December 13th Saulė pauses her return and dances with her daughters. She also dances on Velykos (Easter) and Rasa (Summer Solstice). According to some of the myths Saulė was married to Mėnulis (the moon) but divorced him because of his infidelity with their daughter Aušrinė. In the moment of anger Saulė scratched his face and this is why the moon only shows one side of him to the earth. Saulė is also connected to the magical blacksmith god Kalvis. It was told that Kalvis created the sun and placed her into the heavens. This story is very common among Finno-Baltic cultures and can also be found from Finnish, Estonian and Latvian folk tales. Worship of Saulė leads all the way back to ancient goddess cults in Europe. Saulė was seen as the nurturing mother goddess who loved all humans. Good women were often compared to her. In her presence all the demons and evil spirits would flee and humans were free to return to their tasks while feeling protected.
Legend tells that Saulė lived in a magical heavenly garden that was situated in the west. It was filled with apple trees bearing golden fruits that were made of gold, silver and diamonds. In traditional riddles and folk songs Saulė was referred as the golden apple. In Latvia her symbol was the red apple which symbolized drowning sun. Her sacred animals were horses and žaltys the sacred serpents, white cows, white goats and birds. Her sacred tree was the linden and her sacred flowers were roses and daisies. Saulė was connected to the wheel and the agricultural wheel of the year. Sometimes she was referred as ridolele the rolling sun. In Latvian songs she is referred as ligo; ligot meaning to sway and rota from rotat to hop or to roll. Saulė's symbols were burning Solar wheels and Solar crosses that were especially made during Rasa festivities. On the morning of Summer Solstice people woke up early and gathered together outside to see the first sun rays. Everyone wanted to see sun dancing and the way she shone in all various colors bringing warmth to the earth. We can find depictions of these festivities from Latvian songs ”The sun dancing on the silver hill, has silver shoes on her feet”
Protector of the Lost Ones
In Lithuania Saulė was especially worshiped by the shepherds who considered her as their protector goddess and they had many devotional songs and prayers dedicated to her. Saulė was also considered as the protector of women especially single mothers and she was closely connected to healing and motherhood. Saulė also played kanklės (traditional harp-like instrument) and she was a goddess connected to arts and music. In Latvia Saule was protector of the orphan children and the people who faced difficulties in their lives.
Saulė has been described to be married with Mėnulis the moon, Dievas the god of the skies and Perkūnas the thunder god. Yet in the end Saulė remains independent matriarch of the heavens. Idea of sun goddess is universal and there are several cultures with female sun deities as in Finnish, Japanese, Hindu, Scandinavian, Saami and many Native American cultures. Thanks to the sun life in this earth is possible and this was vital for the people who lived in the ancient world. Saulė as the personification of the sun was the personification of life it self in all it´s beauty for the ancient Balts.
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Folk tales in Latvia and Lithuania are filled with magical and mysterious stories about gods, goddesses and mythical beings. Pantheon of Baltic deities is very matriarchal in both countries. Saulé the cosmological mother is ruler goddess of the Lithuanian pantheon and in Latvia every little thing that occurs in nature and in the life of humans has their own mate the primal mother. Oldest layers in the myths tell us a lot about the worship of the ancestors, world view that was based on the idea of re-carnation in nature. Earth was sacred for the Balts and it was something to respect. This list contains most well-known Baltic deities, pagan holidays and festivals connected to agrarian wheel of the year, minor nature spirits and the symbolism connected to them.
Auseklis – God of the dawn. Morning star.
Biezputras Diena – Porridge day. In the old times symbolical porridge was replaced with water and taken up to hills. Water was used to initiate new shephards to their tasks.
Cela Mate – (Mother of roads) Protector goddess of roads and travelers.
Darza mate – Protector goddess of gardens.
Dekla - Giver and taker of material goods. Incarnations: swan, lamb, rock, duck and goose. Dekla was specially important goddess in western Latvia. She is one of the triple aspects of Laima the goddess of faith.
Dievs - God of the skies, light, peace, order, justice and cultural values. In Latvian mythology leader of the gods is both masculine and feminine. Feminine side of Dievs is the goddess Mara.
Dveselu diena – Day of the souls. Latvian all hallow´s eve when spirits of the ancestors had ability to visit their living friends and relatives.
Gaušu mate – Goddess of slowness and lazyness.
Jani – Summer Solstice. Feast dedicated to Janis, god of summer. Fire festival that included lots of love spells. Still celebrated in modern day Latvia with good food and bonfires.
Janis – God of summer. Bringer of abundance and plenty. Connected to summer solstice. Son of the sky god Dievs.
Jekaba Diena – 24th of July. Start of the harvest.
Jumis – Latvian god of skies and fruitfulness.
Juras mate – Protector goddesss of water, goddess of sea. Protector of sailors.
Jurģi - 23rd of April. Feast to celebrate god Usinš. Shape sifter god who in Autumn time became god Martinš. Jurgi was happy day for farmers. Festivities included food, dance, music and casting spells. Mead, bread and beer was sacrificed for nature spirits. In earlier times there was a custom to sacrifice a black rooster for the god.
Kalvis – Heavenly smith.
Kapu mate – Protector goddess of graves. Protector goddess of graveyards and cemetaries.
Karta – One of the aspects of Laima the goddess of faith.
Krumu mate – Protector goddess of bushes.
Kuka mate – Goddess of wine. Protector of drinking and smoking.
Kustonu diena – 17th of March. Day connected to insects. Time to till new plants and trees.
Laima – Goddess of destiny and faith. Protector goddess of mothers, children, breast feeding, giving birth, marriage life and pregnant women. Triple aspect goddess. Sometimes she is told to have two sisters; Dekla and Karta.
Lauma – (Plural Laumes) Fairy or an elemental in Latvian folk tales. They lived in forests, streams, lakes and in abandoned bath houses. Laumes were strong and unbeatable in battles.
Lapu mate – Protector goddess of leaves. Spirit who colors the leaves in autumn.
Laukumate – Protector goddess of fields. People made sacrifices for Laukumate in the hopes of good crop.
Lazdu mate - Protector goddess of nuts, nut trees and nut-groves.
Lieldienas – Spring Equinox. Festivities lasted four days. They included parties and dances. Lieldienas was dedicated to fertility goddesses. In modern day Latvia Lieldienas also means Christian Easter. Like in many countries also in Latvia Christian symbolism is mixed to old pagan rites.
Lietus mate – Protector goddess of the rain.
Linu mate – Protector goddess of cotton.
Lopu mate – Protector goddess of livestock.
Majas Kungs – Brother of the earth goddess Zeme Mate. Protector of farmsteads, orchards and gardens.
Mara – The highest of all deities. In Latvian mythology the leader of all gods is both masculine and feminine. Mara´s masculine side is Dievs.
Māras, Māra - 15th of August. Feast to honor the goddess Mara. She was the protector goddess of women, children, women´s work, fertility and farming. She was the goddess of the earth so when person passed away Mara took their body and Dievs took their soul.
Martini – Celebration to honor the horse god Martinš. Festivities included masquarade parades, sleigh riding, dances and preparing lots of food. Start of winter.
Martinš – God who ruled autumn and winter time. God of horses and protector of livestock.
Meness – God of the moon and warfare.
Meteni – Winter spirits who drives a magical sleigh.
Meteņi, Metenis – 23rd of February. Celebration of the god Meteni. Some of the traditions include sleigh riding, eating well and dancing.
Meža virs – God of the forest and protector of wolves.
Mežu tevs – Protector of domestic animals and farm land.
Miglas mate – Goddess of the mist.
Mikeli – Autumn Equinox. End of the harvest festival to celebrate Jumis and Mikelis. Celebrations included festivals, harvest markets, good food and dances. Festivities laster for three days.
Mikelis – God of astronomy, abundance and divination. Son of the sky god Dievs.
Pelnu Diena – 24th of February. Ash Day. Latvian New Year. Bride gathered all the ashes from their parents fire place and took them to the fire place of the groom.
Pērkons – God of thunder and the rain.
Pirts mate – Protector goddess of pirts (Baltic saunas/ bath houses).
Ragana – Goddess of witchcraft, protector of seekers and divination.
Saule – Goddess of the sun. Protector of orphans and unfortunate.
Smilšu mate – Goddess of sand, ruler of death.
Sniega mate – Protector goddess of snow.
Tirgus mate – Protector goddess of market places.
Udens mate – Protector goddess of waters, small ponds and streams.
Upes mate – Protector goddess of rivers.
Urbanas diena – 25th of May. Planting day.
Usinš – God of light, horses and bees.
Veja diena – Windy time period in February when all kinds of rituals are performed to cast away destructive storms from the upcoming summer.
Veja mate – Protector goddess of wind, forest, birds and sailors.
Zalktis – Snake god. Symbol of wellbeing, plenty and abundance.
Zemes mate – Goddess of the earth and fertility.
Ziedu mate – Goddess of flowers.
Ziemassvētki - Winter solstice celebration / Latvian Christmas. Candle is burned to honor the return of the sun god Dievs.
Zvaigznes diena- January 6th the Epiphany. also known as Paganu Svetdiena the pagan Sunday. This day includes lots of superstitions and divination's. End of Christmas time. Yule tree is taken away.
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Pronounced as Nee-na.
Artist, illustrator, writer, watercolorist and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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