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.
Artist, illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Gryffinclaw. Comes from Finland. Likes cats, tea and period dramas.
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