The nonGerman peasants have grown up without religion or the service of God, and they have only what the Devil has given their forefathers with idolatry in groves and forests and other magic. [Bulov, 1565 church visitation proclamation (Straubergs, 47)]

Trejdeviņas burvenes, trejdeviņas raganas, skreita uz melon jūru! Tur jūs ēdat,tur jūs dzerat, tur jūs sprāgstat pa vidu pušu. (LBV I: 388)

Thrice nine magician women, thrice nine witches, run to the black sea! There you eat, there you drink, there you burst into half. (incantation against witches – the black sea = the swallowing destroying cosmic sea)

Baltic peoples are sometimes known as "the last pagans of Europe." Lithuania became officially Christian at the end of the 14th century with the marriage of Jogaila to the Polish Christian princess Jadviga. Among the common people in the countryside, vernacular beliefs dominated until the 15th – 16th centuries with the era’s aggressive Reformation efforts, enforcement of Christian law, and translation of the Bible into the vernacular. Substantial vernacular belief system that is not Christian persisted and was documented in the 19th century. Baltic mythology has a potential, largely unrealized significant value to an understanding of Eurasian vernacular belief systems whose roots predate Christian ones in the area.

Primary data sources, each requiring its own methodology and each with important limitations, are found in archaeological, historical documents, folklore, and linguistics including archeolinguistics, etymology, and toponymy. The historical sources are mostly those of unsympathetic outsiders. Nevertheless, in a surprising number of cases sources from various fields corroborate some old layers in the dainas and other folklore, such as archeology corroborating pre-Christian burial rites, which continued to be described in the dainas long after they were no longer being practiced. Variants of a song contain different details that placed together form a concept with mythologically significant information. The myths that emerge from the dainas have in effect been formed from mosaic pieces, rather than long narratives.

The most thorough compilation of historic records is found in Wilhelm Mannhardt’s work, and the most thorough bibliography as it pertains to Latvian mythology is found in the works of Kārlis Straubergs (incl. LTB I-II) and Haralds Biezais; additionally Pēteris Šmits made the classical compilation of Latvian folk beliefs (Latviešu tautas ticējumi I-IV). Belief systems, cosmology, and mythology are difficult to contain in genre, as they are abstract superstructures throughout the modalities of culture, in addition to being on-going dialogue throughout society. Interlibrary effort at time of writing did not yield access to the most recent scientific bibliography compilation of historical sources, so I resorted to the laborious old method of crosschecking classic secondary sources in addition to the primary compilation of Latviešu Tautas Ticējumi and Latviešu Tautas Buŗamie vārdi I-II. Kokāre, Kursīte, and Vīķis-Freibergs have published scholarly books on mythology in the 90s, also designed for a wider, more popular Latvian audience. My summary comments are drawn from a lifetime interest in the subject and an extensive personal library of commentary and primary sources.

Propp and the structuralists, such as Levi-Strauss, consider an underlying distributed semantic within a culture to link different types of narrative as sources for myth. In Latvia the primary sources of myth, however, are lyro-narrative songs in addition to the folk tale and other folklore, such as riddles and sayings. Without going into the intricacies of A.J. Greimas’s complex structural analysis of myth, in simplified terms Greimas considers wedding to be an example of the resolution of conflict and a means of restoration to an original state of a contract, a state of order (in this case equilibrium) in which the new can be reintegrated. (For a summary discussion of Greimas’s structural analysis and selected list of his publications cf Eleazar Meletinsky’s article “Structural-Typological Study of Folktale” in Soviet Structural Folkloristics.)

Lithuanian scholars have done much of the current research on historical Baltic culture. The range of material is extensive, including archaeological, ethnographic, folkloric, historical, and mythological sources. Marija Gimbutas originated the idea of the interaction and only partial fusing of concepts from two historically different peoples in the Baltic, the original Old Europeans and the incoming Indo-Europeans. In mythological orientation the first were oriented to the female, to water, stone, vegetation, moon, snakes, and toads. The second were oriented to the male, to the sun, the sky, and horses. However, in the Baltic, the female element held its ground to the point that a primary symbolic interaction is between water and light or fire. The female orientation is so strong that where most Indo-Europeans have Dawn goddesses and only some, such as the Hittites, have strong solar goddesses, in the Baltic the Sun goddess becomes of central importance. Thus, the two active creative forces are female: water as the Great Cosmic Female Generative Source inherited from the Old Europeans and the Indo-Euroepan fire (Fire Mother) and Sun Mother-Daughter. Both fire and water are associated with the creative/ sexual act, and either magical or ritual activity seems implied in such daina motifs as building a fire in the stream (straumē kūru uguntiņu).

Mythologist Norbertas Velius in his interpretive search for underlying organizational patterns in his The World Outlook of the Ancient Balts (1989) devotes much of his efforts to establish basic cognitive and ideological oppositions, related to the location of the Baltic tribes, on the gross level divided into west and east and mediated by a central location. Cognitive slots are open-ended, though not unlimited or random, and some oppositions, such as up/ down, high/ low, right/ left, east/ west, top/ bottom, south/ north, white/ black, day/ night, moon/ sun, male/ female, old/ young seem to be fundamental cognitive experiences in the sense of Lakoff, Johnson, and other constructivists. Velius, having divided the Baltic tribes into eastern, western, and central makes some interesting generalizations. Thus, dowry chests are lowest in the west and highest in the east, with grave burials corresponding as below ground in the west and above ground covered by a barrow in the east. (p. 24-26) He notes the opposition of water (western Balts) to fire/sun (eastern Balts) as mediated by plants (central Balts), and with the center as generally representing an area of reconciliation and balance. (p. 27) The play between fire or sun against water (which is associated with moon) is strong in Latvian daina poetics, with such examples as the sun daughter washing her steed or the paired sun horses coming out of the cosmic sea. One of the favorite and striking color combinations is the dark blue mēļš of a woman’s cloak set off with gold-colored bronze inlay patterns. Similarly black, night, the male moon, the elder age set, the left, and female orientation are the special focus of the western Balts. The eastern Balts are associated with white, sky, day, female sun, younger age set, right, and a masculine orientation. (p. 32-49). But the threesome and the twosome alternate, as when sky and the number one associated with the eastern Balts becomes opposed to the earth and the number two of the central Balts rather than water of the western Balts. One problem is that the historical sources are later, from the 16th century for the western Balts, even though in many ways the culture seems to relate to still older more female-oriented patterns, but sources for eastern Balts go back to the 13th century.

However, Velius implies that the balanced values of the central peoples came to dominate later historical periods, while the west as the smallest area largely disappeared, but not before leaving certain basic patterns, most significantly a female-orientation. The female orientation, however, is also very strong among the central peoples, notably the importance of Laima (Fortune), earth, the dawn goddess, queens in stories, and erotic joking. (p. 94) The earth is female, though Velns who comes into the Baltic with Indo-European herders as a god of cattle represents a simultaneous alternative acquiring earth god characteristic. Thus two different conceptual cultures meet, but do not totally fuse. The more patriarchal eastern peoples, coming originally from the upper Dniester area with a stronger herder culture and a male cattle patron Velns contrast with the western peoples who have a female cow patron with attributes later absorbed by Māra. The eastern peoples begin to make a strong cultural impact in Vidzeme by the 6th –7th centuries. (Leinasare: 75)

Indo-European focus on sky and fire never totally completes domination of the Old European sphere of deities in the Baltic. As in other traditions, the already marked sky god (Dievs), becomes God reflecting syncretic Christian influences. As farming becomes the primary economic activity, the shift is more toward earth rather than water. Most of the deities remain female, the male gods representing different aspects of sky and atmospheric phenomenon (dark sky -Jods, thunder -Pērkons, wind -Vējš). Among some more martially inclined peoples or classes Pērkons comes to the fore of Dievs. The cattle herder god Velns becomes totally chthonic, and the primary opponent of Pērkons. Apparently an old view of the Otherworld as a pasture with flock has been retained in the dainas where the dead sister is described as herding shade cows. Velns retains his associations with a number of animals.

One deity has an interesting past presumably both in the Old European and the Indo-European belief systems, the bee goddess known as Austeja among Lithuanians. Apparently the bee was considered a model of an ideal working community, with bees splitting up to go on honey raids, but returning with nectar for the hive. Associated with that was a social kinship, known as a bee brotherhood bičiulis (trusted friend) who shared honey from swarms that went into another’s territory. In the association of bee, honey, light, sun, and amber there is also the aspect of life and regeneration.

There are a number of websites devoted to contemporary practice of native Baltic religions, such as http://www.romuva.lt/jonas.htm. This site stresses that the different ways of practicing Baltic religions are the natural result of different period influences, starting with shamanism in the oldest, followed by a focus on the feminine divine, and most recently swinging to a more masculine divine.



The loosely organized neopagan revival movement Dievturi (literally "keepers of the way of Dievs") is a native religion with active groups of practitioners in most countries with sizeable populations of ethnic Latvians. Dievturi practice private family rituals and ceremonies that draw from research on how such rites were conducted in the pre-Christain Baltic. Larger, public ceremonies called daudzinājumi are held at major song festivals and attract other Latvians who wish to experience Latvian cultural roots. The Dievturi have had a disproportionately large influence on Latvian culture, and are actively interested in current traditional research. They are more oriented to practice than dogma, and the writings of the 20’s and 30’s, which launched the movement are recognized to be in need to updating and revision (R. Spurs, personal communication).

After a traditional dievturi evening celebration of the "time of the ancestor shades" (veļu laiks), held in 1998 at the meeting house Dievsēta, located in central Wisconsin, some participants met the next morning to discuss how they felt about innovations and changes that had been made:

(We) spoke also, if it was necessary to keep strictly a definite, unchanging tradition, or to allow it to change and develop further. After all, we can only operate with the possibilities and views of today. Innovations are added, (such) as the passing of the candles around the ceremonial table that allowed (the possibility of) a word to each in turn, to call or not to call out an ancestor shade. (It was decided:) most important is to maintain an appropriate tone (noskaņa). (Lelis, no pg.)

Latvian pagan movements, such as the dievturi, have been involved in reconstruction efforts for to use in practice. Ludvigs Ādamovičs (1884-1943), a church historian hostile to the dievturi movement, wrote one classic mythology summary with a bibliography (1937) as did Pēteris Šmits (1918, 1926). Lutheran minister Jānis Sanders (188-1951) tried to retain basic Christianity with Latvian form and spirit, wearing an amber cross rather than silver, singing dainas instead of hymns, and avoiding words that couldn’t be translated into Latvian, such as “Amen”. A Latvian native religion based primarily on daina material developed and was registered in 1925. It survived the war to become active in helping create summer camp intensives in exile and returned to Latvia, so that there are now three dievturi churches, one in Latvia and two in North America. It attracted numerous artists, writers, and educators.

Adamocičs, emphasizes, without serious subsequent contention, that Latvian native religion seems to have developed its sense of immanence more rationally and less mystically than in India, closely connecting it to active work practices. (p.53) He also explains Latvian resistance to the concept of abstract evil with the lack of severe contrasts in the geography. (p.53-4) As an example, Hell with brimstone and eternal fire and punishment of sinners that is common in Christain beliefs, is a latecomer in Baltic mythology and doesn’t succeed in eliminating earlier beliefs.

The dievturi movement in present day Latvia has incurred new hostility from Christian and moral majority groups. One line, instead of looking at contemporary dievturi practice, judges the movement from articles written by the movement in the 1920’s and 30’s (cf Bula, 1998). Others attack it in terms of alignment with "amoral modern movements" such as "phenomenology" (!). (cf Kuchinskis) As of time of writing, there had been no engagement of a serious nature addressing actual issues of dogma and practice. Unlike the period of 1989 when old Latvian traditions were an expression of patriotism, many of the current young generation consider this "graveyard" study in contrast to recently available hipster culture.


Regional Differences

The different Baltic religions historically vary considerably, and even in Latvia, there are marked differences that can be broadly divided as western and eastern, pretty much following old tribal divisions even to the material recorded recently. Thus the Jesuit Peter Culesius in 1599 in his visitation account of Rēzekne in western Latvia speaks extensively about a pagan “priest” and an essentially dual division of sky and earth gods, but more hierarchical than other documents in that he speaks of the earth “god” as being lower (who may be either Earth Mother or Velns since female divinities may be termed “gods” and can be identified as to gender only in context of other texts). Historical information about different deities can be mapped out in time and place and links between different deities resemble links made between daina-songs. Thus in 1789 A. Hupel (Topographisce Nachrichten von Lief- un Ehstland 1-3, IV, Riga, 1789: 382) links the earth mother to yet another male deity, mājas kungs (house spirit) noting that cult details are similar. An essentialist would become discouraged with Baltic mythology as only general patterns can be easily observed. Descriptions by Culesius suggest a more gender-divided and patriarchal religion in eastern than in western Latvia, and this distinction seems to be strengthened by archaeological evidence as to some broad geographical differences. According to him, women worship the mother of gods, Ceradis, and there is a fall festival where women sacrifice a hen (strangely beating it to death with hardened bread sticks while also drowning it), while the men sacrifice a rooster in separate ceremonies. Families have sacred space in the forest with sacred family trees, where at least some ceremonies appear to be communal for both genders, though women worship at the linden and men at the oak. However, Lasicius and Strykovski state that both genders worship together and the priest is an ordinary farmer. Sudavian texts mention that both sexes participate in the feast of souls, but sit apart. The evidence on gender division is incomplete, but in any case, in the daina world, perhaps because of constraints imposed by the manor system, both attend all celebrations, the one clear exception being the spring pasturing celebration by male herders. J. Stribingius Jesuit report from 1606 states outright that the gods are different depending on place, people, and needs. The west does not appear to have strong gender division in cult practice, where the earliest cult practices seem to be either mixed or markedly female-oriented. Zemgalian women were buried not just with jewelry, but also with their tools, hoes and sickles, just like the men with their tools, and otherwise the archaeological evidence speaks for gender egalitarianism. (Vasks, Vaska, & Grāvere: cf 128)

There are a number of attempts at a “Baltic world view,” such as Norbertas Velius, basing his work on V. Toporov, V. Ivanov, and J. Lotman, who considers “the ancient Baltic world outlook, based to a considerable extent, on the mythical conception of nature and society” (p. 10) to “reflect the views and beliefs prevalent in different periods beginning with the remote Stone Age” (Ibid) in spite of the fact that much of the material was collected in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ivanov and Toporov consider semantic oppositions associated with time, space, and social life to be deep structures of Baltic belief systems. (Dini: 223) Velius stresses the fact old beliefs are not simply replaced, but "new conceptions to the old surviving beliefs" are added. (Ibid) Thus the binary system of oppositions is later subsumed with a ternary system. (p. 12) Furthermore, he considers three different geographically related outlooks, "each dominated by a different opposing member of a great number of oppositions," (p. 15) with the outlook of the central Balts and their emphasis on west-east dominating. (p. 14)


Daudzināšana or apdziedāšana (celebration) of all creation

They worship all of creation – sun, moon, stars, thunder, birds, and even four-legged creatures down to the toad. They have their sacred forests, fields, and waters in which they dare not cut wood, work, or fish. (Peter of Dunsburg, circa 1400)

Six hundred years later an Australian Latvian summarizes her study of religion in dainas:

We can be placed within different religious systems, but God for us is Latvian. We don’t have a stern god, an angry god. Our God is benign, appearing as a bright, white light, and helpful. We find him all around us and in us, in nature and its processes." (Muižniece, 1997)

This is the default conclusion, about the fundamentally benign and helpful nature of deities, focusing sight on the good, and avoiding invoking the dark forces. Differences arise in interpretation: if dainas are fundamentally treated, say, as a woman’s genre, or if they are the genre of a suppressed and oppressed people, or if what is important is their different strands of nonChristian and Christian syncretism. Modern neo-pagan and nature religion movements in the Baltic are also strongly associated with ecological movements. While the sources agree that worship took place in forest groves, on hills or by a water source, archaeologists have uncovered evidence that at least some Baltic peoples also had sacred buildings.

Durkheim’s (1915) classical position that the primary function of religion is one of social control and value upkeep has been challenged, problematized, and elaborated. For one, different social segments have differential access to symbols of a society. They may have very different experiences, interpretations, and uses of what may be seen as shared cultural symbols in a total set only theoretically and analytically. Expected differences would fall across primary social divisions, such as gender, class, or education. However, the Marxist uptake of Durkheim that some segments exert dominant normative pressures on others in terms of cultural symbols because of their economic and political hegemony is still broadly relevant. This, particularly since dissenting and alternative forces and even systems, counteracting such symbolic imperialism, are also recognized. In the Latvian case, there is considerable compression of information of the available sources. This is balanced by the fact that in early times the societies were not highly differentiated and later, after conquest, differentiation was constrained by the ethnic group also being the lower serf class. The most significant differences, then, would fall along regional and gender lines. There are many common Baltic and common Latvian concepts.


Ecological Wellsprings of Baltic Mythology

The earliest sources about the Baltic peoples note that they worshipped natural forces around them in the forest, waters, fields, and in the sky. Certain plants, especially trees, and animals (elk, bear, snake, toad, bee, birds), were singled out as particularly sacred. There are numerous collective spirits, such as laumas (in later Lithuanian tradition confused with raganas – witches) and velni who are both spirits of nature and etymologically and narratively related to the dead. The former are female spirits haunting forest and waters, sometimes said to be drowned girls, akin to Slavic vila or rusalki. The second are archetypically male, inhabiting swamps and deep forest pools or the netherworld, and etymologically related to veļi, spirits of the dead. Sometimes velni have mothers and daughters, which suggests that laumas and velni are something like two clans. However, since they do not seem to intermarry with each other or even appear together, though both laumas and velni may have human partners, they seem to belong to separate, alternative, and nonmerged traditions of the dead. The forest, the original place of burial, before burial was mandated in graveyards by law, is also in the realm of the Other World, whose location varies depending on various traditions. The word velis (shade) is etymologically related to the word velns (devil), a being who resides most commonly in the forest swamp or pond, but also in the netherworld. Veļu māte (Shade Mother) rules the land of the dead and Velns (Devil) in some systems of belief may have been her consort or brother. (cf Adamsons: 62) In Latvian tradition Velns doesn’t actually appear together with Veļu māte, unlike Lithuanian Veliona, an example of unfused belief systems. However, as an individualized deity or demon, Latvian Velns often has a female associated with him, a mother, a wife, or a daughter. It is possible to speak to the dead at their burial place, most commonly in the dainas under a white sand hill, historically the dominant burial form. The alternative of burning, which becomes popular in the Iron Age, involves another belief system with the dead released with the smoke to go the way of the Sun across the sea. Because different, mutually non-integrated belief systems are simultaneously at play, there is no point in trying to force them into an unambiguous, logical, noncontradictory theological system. The structures move around freely enough that a trickster effect may appear to be at play even when there is no deliberate trickster figure being created. The exception is the dual Velns/ Dievs pairing where Dievs tricks the more primitive and gullible Velns out of his creations, possessions, and treasures – most of the great artifacts of civilization (including fire, cattle, tools).

On one of the listserves I talked about the subject with a woman in Latvia acknowledged as knowing the traditions well:

Aija: Each soul (dvēsele) more or less remains on earth. That is known as civilization.

Ausma Ābele: That could be. For instance among Latvians the shades (veļi) never appear in individual form, but as a group – the shades, not even as the shades of this farm and the shades of the neighboring farm.

There are, of course, different ways to interpret and recontextualize what is available of past belief systems. Vycinas (1990) in his study of traditional Baltic (pre-Aistian and Indo-Europeanized Aistian) worldviews speaks of a relationship that is something like Heidegger’s Da-Sein [Unbounded Being Open to the World] (Vycinas: 3). The Great Godess, who appears in different guises throughout different Baltic historical eras, is an "ultimate reality," nature surrounding one in a time when myth, art, and life were less differentiated. (Vycinas: 5) Vycinas draws heavily from Gimbutas’s massive work on what is called the Old European (around 7000 B.C.) heritage, which is focused on rebirth as other forms of life, but particularly trees, birds, reptiles, and forest animals. Vycinas points out that, for instance, in a transition period that lasted millenia, the shrine poles of Indo-Europeans replaced in symbolic significance Old European living trees, which among others, included grave markers and depictions of the world and the sun tree. (Vycinas: 29) The positive relationship to bird, serpent, toad, and tree symbolism that persists to the present is seen as a continuous presence.

As one increasingly is immersed in a study of Latvian (Baltic) mythologies, one becomes aware of some of the different multiple traditions and influences that percolated to the Baltic or developed there, as well as peculiarities that make it difficult to link to other traditions even when it is obvious the link exists. The Indo-European base, for instance, seems to often be in an either incipient or fragmented state, so that one has to be careful to be informed by, for instance, Dumezil’s findings, rather than using them as a template. The sun goddess (PIE*sawel - sun), for instance is both elusive, and archaic with a prominence that is closer to the Hittite sun goddess of Arinna, especially in her relationship aspect to the thunder god, than what is known of the Celtic Sul. There is a dawn goddess (PIE*aswos – dawn) Austra, but also a regional god of light Ūsiņš who may be etymologically related. As among other IE peoples, there is a focus on the Sun or Dawn Maiden as the cosmic bride more than a goddess, reflecting the patrilocal transference to the husband’s clan. There is a Celestial Smith, such as in the Caucasus, which is not overly surprising, since the Baltic peoples derive from Indo Europeans who left the original homeland not through the Balkans but skirting the Caspian Sea. The celestial hierarchy is incipient, with the sky god Dievs in a fairly egalitarian cosmic society. The thunder god Pērkons may have risen to prominence among some Balt warrior societies, and amulets similar to Thor’s hammer have apparently been found in eastern Latvia. As with all Latvian deities, even the Thunder god’s agricultural role is uncharacteristically emphasized over other functions compared to the more warlike use of the theme by neighboring peoples.

Characterization of Daina-world Mythology

Baltic mythology is more akin to poetry before the development of formal philosophy by a specialist priest class. The dainas as poetic expression are closer to the early Vedas than the later Upanishads of India. No systematic theology was developed in Latvian mythology, nor a specialized priest class, and cult rituals were pretty much decentralized. The dainas also represent different voices from different times and places fixed by different collectors. Accordingly, while one may find semantic correspondences with the classic mythologies, there seems much to compare with the syntactic organization of nonwestern mythologies that have low levels of social hierarchy and specialization. While the fundamental structures of Levi-Strauss’s mythemes seem helpful, I have not found anything particularly remarkable. Thus raising a child up to the sun is a sign of giving it life and fortune corresponding to up and right as positive. Down and left are negative, and throwing down into the water or sinking below the earth are signs of destruction. Thus infanticide is suggested when the child implores to be lifted up into the sun and not thrown into the water, (compilation of dainas related to infanticide in Mežāle, 1998: 26-40) as the people of India also put it, “to be washed back into the universe” (Glassie, 1989: 231).

Duality seems mostly apparent on the local level. Thus, consistent with Indo-European duality white/light is positive, while black/dark are negative. But there is an alternative tradition, which would be consistent with the “Old European” of Gimbutas where black is wealth, insight, fertility and rebirth associated with the earth. White on the other hand bleaches bones and represents certain illnesses. Thus, ultimately both black and white represent death, life, and rebirth in alternative traditions. Vīķis-Freibergs notes that white is “not...a single, unified semantic marker.” (1980: 219). Ultimately both black and white each represent death, life, and rebirth in different contexts and alternative traditions.

The deities are not highly anthropomorphicized, and their proper name is often still identical with the physiological element. Thus, even in the 19th century the sun with a feminine ending (saule) as the deity is Saule (Sun-Woman) or Saules meita (Sun Daughter). Thunder is "Thunder" (Pērkons), and the name for the sky-god Dievs is etymologically related to the “shining daylight sky” (PIE*dyeus – sky,IE *dei-, *deiwo- dī – see Karulis, I., p. 216). The structural spheres of deities and songs and stories about them follow the deeper structuralizable divisons fairly closely. They are still invoked in art and poetry, as in a song sung at Song Festivals, "Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” by M. Brauns using the words of Rainis: “Saule - our mother, Daugava (River)– nurse of our pains. Pērkons - striker of Velns - he is our father.”

Religious reflections don’t center on a cosmogony, though there are cosmological narratives (legends, tales), which, are difficult to align with the mythopoeic daina world or other folklore, such as incantations, as to some degree belonging to different belief systems, the daina one being the most vernacularly original and oldest. The Earth Diver theme of two companion gods, one master of water and the other master of sky, is well represented in the Baltic, most often associated with Velns and Dievs. However, there are also fragments about celestial eggs and primal waters, which suggest Finno-Ugric affinities. There is a tripartite as well as dual division of the cosmos but different metaphors and specifics. There is a cosmic tree and a cosmic hill. The nether world may be part of the earth, not equally divided under it, as in the cosmic egg model with the earth a floating yolk island.

The cosmological concepts of rhythmic and cosmic motion, notion, order, esthetic, and right have to be inferred, rather than being worked out. This fluid state lends itself to a modern reworking in terms of shifting and partial truth, tied to shifting and partial perception of reality, a philosophy suggested by Heraclitus and Aristippus of early Greece rather than highly sophisticated thought of the Far East. It lends itself well to Wittgenstein in the impossibility to speak of wholes or universals except in metaphor and except what one has chosen to bind in hermeneutic categories and focus upon. Finally, it can lead to the concept of belief tolerance, of a continuous need to adjust or attune to the rhythms of the other, and to being in harmonious relationship with all that surrounds one. Meaning can be seen more in the process of living, specifically metaphorically linking singing and working, and the dynamic interaction of different threads or paths of life. Along the way to this desired balanced state, there is aggressive confrontation of the potentially threatening foreign other, expressed in apdziedāšanās.

Mother cult

Another characteristic of Latvian mythology in addition to strong animistic aspects is a strong mother cult, noted in 16th century sources (a zoomorphic Milk mother appearing as a toad). The "mothers" include those of wind, fire, water (including sea, river), forest, field, and animal in addition to more highly individualized deities. The mothers often have not acquired a strong individualized personality but are understood as the generative source, power, or force ("mother") of something. The focus is not genealogical, or on the offspring, but on the creative forces directly. Thus, Meža māte appears opposed to Meža tēvs but is more often invoked and represented. The mother/ daughter duality is markedly represented, though the emphasis is on two aspects of the goddess rather than on genealogy. Saule appears as mother or as daughter, as well as mother and daughter(s). Sometimes the daughter aspect is poorly represented, if at all, as in Laima. Laima’s daughter is more likely a human favored by her, an honorific similar to calling festival celebrants “children.” Sometimes it seems there are two different conceptual systems, with an emphasis on either male or female, such as Vējš (Wind) appearing alternatively with Vēja māte (Mother Wind), or Velns with Velna māte (who may be related to the death deity Shade Mother - Lithuanian Veliona or Latvian Veļu māte). Where the male god is clearly the dominant figure, such as Pērkons (Thunder), sometimes there is nevertheless besides the sons a powerful daughter (who is singled out in Lithuanian tradition from her brothers) or wife. But what stands out in particular are the very many mothers, such as those of sea, water, fire, field, and so on. Rivers are generally seen as female. Tacitus in 98 AD says that the Aestians (western Balts) worshipped a mater deorum and the figure of a wild boar was carried into battle. The female orientation of divinity, while not classically Indo-European, is characteristic of at least some Baltic belief systems. Esther Jakobson argues that as among the Siberian Ket people "elements of the natural world-earth, sun, moon, water, and so forth-are personified as female" the female-oriented belief system is common among pre-shamanic more egalitarian Eurasian nomads in contrast to Indo-Europeans who do not have a spirit world that is dominantly female. (Jakobson: 184, 187) Scholars (most lately Kokare, 1992: 45) have noted the significant association of "two deities with a predicate in the singular." Among the Siberian peoples, as in Latvian dainas, the sun and the earth appear together as associated female figures. (Jakobson: 219) It may suggest a duality of parallel descent as even more unusual (archaic) than the duality of male and female household. One can imagine a historical change from female oriented to male oriented as: "mother-daughter =>mother-father=>father-daughter and father-son. Latvian mythology, though having all examples, has retained a strong mother-daughter schema.

Within this complex relationship are echoed ancient tensions between an archaic understanding of the cosmos organized by reference to a omnipotent, unvanquishable and complex female principle on the one hand, and, on the other, a social and political order centered on human energy and order, particularly on that of males (Jakobson, 201)

However, such scholars as McGrath (on the Indo-European Sun goddess) and Agrawala have argued that Vedic texts and religions developed by priest classes in general distort even Indo-European practice among common people. Agrawala points to Vedic textual evidence on Aditi showing her to be the Great Goddess par excellence even in the Vedic period. (Agrawala: 17) The dominantly male nature of the Indo-European sky is problematized by pointing to an archaic alternative Dyaus-Aditi (Dawn) pairing. Agrawala notes that while the hymns of Rgveda do not give female divinities high significance, in a few passages Sky is addressed as female. (Ibid: 45) Additionally Heaven and Earth, while usually spoken of as a male/ female pair, are also rarely and strangely called two mothers or two maidens. (Ibid) Aditi is known as the infinite sky goddess with Dawn being her face, the mother of gods, and the primordial cow – nourishing mother. This, and the Hittite sun goddess and thunder god pair, suggest that the ascendancy of the sun goddess in the Baltic had very old roots and a complex history that is important in not underestimating the conceptual strength of the feminine principle. There are only a few dainas about a mother of God(s), and they are not particularly informative. However, this, though scanty information can not simply be dismissed to fit a preconceived model. It is an excellent example of how oversimplistic generalizations and inferred and deduced characteristics about belief systems in patriarchal societies can be misleading and false.

Unlike the Finno-Ugric runic and regi-songs (cf Aado Lintrop, <http://haldjas.folklore.ee/folklore/vol11/oak.htm>), the Latvian material doesn’t appear to have many examples of sister-brother deities or heroes stated as such, even though the sister-brother connection is important on the social level in the daina world.

Animism is sufficiently strong that trees, animals and just about anything focused upon may have human-like characteristics and marked gender, to a degree forced by the choice between a masculine and feminine ending (the neuter having dropped out of Latvian). One of the strongest dualities is within the tree cult where the oak is seen as emblematic male and the linden as emblematic female.

The linden, or lime tree (Tilia cordata, Latvian: liepa)...and the oak (Quercus robur, Latvian: ozols) are considered the national trees of Latvia. The oak and the linden tree are characteristic elements of the Latvian landscape. Both trees are still widely used for medical purposes. Medicinal infusions are made of linden blossoms as well as oak bark. Latvian dainas (folk songs) often reflect ethical and moral concepts of earlier times. Amongst other trees, these folk songs most often mention the oak and linden tree. In traditional Latvian folk beliefs and folklore the linden tree is looked upon as a female symbol, but the oak - a male symbol. The nation’s reverence for these trees, which in earlier times were considered sacred, can be witnessed, for example, in a landscape where, in the middle of a cultivated field there still remains a lone large, sacred oak or linden tree. http://www.latinst.lv/li_symbols.htm

To understand the dainas it is necessary to have knowledge of the symbolism involved, such as that of the linden standing for a woman:


Sasēda liepiņa, ar ozoliņu;

Mūžam sasēda, ne vienu dienu. (LD 16078)

Linden sat down with the oak tree.

Forever sat down, not for a day. (wedding song)

This is true in particular for the erotic dainas, many of which are double entendres, such as a "linden crotch" standing for the female vulva in 35056,1. Other trees also have gender, but they do not usually appear as a couple. The fir or pine may be seen as a girl, the bird cherry as a wife, and the apple tree as a mother. Similarly among animals, the cow is marked within the female sphere, and opposed to the horse in the male sphere, rather than cow/ bull and stallion/mare.

It is rather unproductive to try to set up the kinship structure of the deities as they relate to each other, since they are fluid, but the deities can be seen in terms of recurrent or stable relations of alternating contest and cooperation among them. The sky deities appear to be involved in a wedding drama, though the actual hieros gamos is not emphasized, even though there is evidence that such, or betrothal, is being celebrated at Midsummer. There also isn’t strong evidence for a cult of a dying and reborn god, though the Sun daughter does appear to drown, go to the netherworld, and be reborn and some have argued that Jānis is such a sacrificial god. There is no one primary combat myth, though there are feuding gods and feuds, especially of sky gods against darker ones.

Saule in her aspect as sun maiden appears as the bride variously of any of the sky suitors (Dievs, Mēness Auseklis, Vējš, Pērkons or even some of their sons). L. v. Schroeder identified the sky wedding to be a primary myth of the Indo-Europeans in 1923. Saule is also consistently involved in various cosmic feuds with different deities. The grand sky myth appears to involve the breaking of a betrothal or marriage contract as well as courting, feuding, marriage, and death, divorce, or betrayal followed by resolution and rebirth. Saule is also the central marker, if not always the focus of associated myths, with the seasonal holidays. Saule’s return in the spring and wedding or betrothal in the summer is characterized with her spinning, changing colors, and dancing. People observe her rising. They bathe in streams running east, or in the dew. Waters penetrated by the sun’s light is magically curative; there are many poetic dainas about the dancing of light on water. McGrath proposes that the Sun brought down to the hearth becomes the hearth goddess. She proposes as a fundamental Indo-European conceptual scheme the sexual magic of fire/water with fire representing the feminine and water the masculine, associated with the moon. (McGrath: 147) In contrast to Dumezil, she proposes a structural relationship: Sun [red, female, hot, blood, fire, summer]: Moon [white, male, cold, semen, water, winter] (p. 179) This, of course, is almost an inverse of Robert Grave’s White Goddess scheme (white moon goddess, red sun god) but does fit the Baltic material better, except the specifics are much more fluid, white, for instance, being associated with sky divinities generally and blood, alternatively either as female menstrual blood or as male warrior blood, but opposed to honey in turn associated with gold or amber.

The sun/ moon couple appears in wedding games as an ideal pair and the stars may be considered their children, but in mythology they quarrel and separate. The estrangement or feuds between Saule and Mēness is explained either by differences as to their respective spheres (“daynight” division into day and night, and of summer and winter) or by the Moon’s adultery with the Morning Star. In the dominant Latvian versions strongest in eastern Latvia, gender is reversed and Auseklis, the male Morning Star has a problematic relationship with the Sun’s daughter. In some versions the female Morning Star is conflated with Dawn, but the theme of either adultery or conflict between suitors remains the constant and relatable to other Indo-European belief system structures. In the recurrent theme of Saule’s feuds, the hostilities seem to be over the proper place of each deity or over the breaking of a marriage contract. Saule is involved in hostilities with Dievs or his mother, usually in relation to their offspring’s courting behavior. She is also involved in the quarrel of rain and sun as to who should predominate when. She argues with the moon who should light the night and who the day, but this quarrel is settled amicably. She becomes the target of Pērkons’s striking and shattering a cosmic tree whose branches she must gather, or a jug she is washing (the jug having both cosmic and sexual meaning). Alternatively, she is defended by Pērkons who slashes Mēness for his affront to her. In some dainas Saule herself punishes and strikes Mēness with a sword or throws a silver stone at him. The theme of two feuding sky deities representing different families or spheres of influence, many related to the cosmic wedding cycle, appears to be of major structural cosmological importance.

The feuds and divorce of sun and moon do not prevent focus of most dainas on the joyful courtship activities or identification a human couple with the sun and moon.


Mēnestiņš kulti gāja Ar sidraba sprigulīti;

Saules meita līdzi gāja Zvaigžņotiem vaiņagiem. (Tdz 55019)

Moon went threshing with a silver flail;

Sun daughter went along stars in her wreath.

Saule also appears in the "two mothers" theme with Earth or with a human mother:


Mother, my dear mother! You are not my mother for life.

This sun, this earth. They are my eternal mothers.

Sun, Sun; Earth, earth With me are at odds.

With Sun I made agreement; With Earth I could not

Until I gave her my body. (27579)

When Sun and Earth appear together as mothers, Sun is in the position of giving life, while Earth of taking it. Together they complete a simple version of the archetype of the Great Goddess. The identification and contrast of this and that sun in the form of the shade mother’s daughter as well as the sun daughter holding keys to the grave is linked to the contrast of rain and sun:


Lietus līst, saule spīd, Veļu māte kāzas dzēra;

Veļu bērni dancodami Dzelžu kurpas noplēsuši. (LD 27799)

Rain is raining, sun is shining, Shade mother is drinking a wedding.

The shade children dancing have worn down iron shoes.

The term "to drink" meaning "to celebrate" suggests the forming of a contract or alliance if one also remembers that magic users were initiated into the craft by drinking together. Two contrasting states, that of raining and that of sun-shining, appear in a liminal world of contradictions, where a wedding (=life) is celebrated among the dead (if the dead one is a young unmarried person who did not marry and have children on earth).

One interesting local feature of the Baltic is that there is no patriarchal style goddess of war, though there is a barely anthropomorphicized war mother (kaŗa māte). Though a source of feuds and wars, she is not a goddess of sexual love, such as the Ugarithic Asheroh. All the goddesses are involved with the full range of female life, especially birth-giving, rather than specializing in just one function. Even Laima is not confined to casting fate or apportioning assets or wealth (bagātība). Latvian mythology appears to have a strong female perspective, as well as presence.

Another deity Velns is involved in hostilities with both Dievs and Pērkons. Besides Christian influence demonizing Velns as the Devil, there also appears to be an older antagonistic relationship of the dark wet earth or netherworld and the bright sky as separate from the antagonism of bright/ shining to stormy/dark mostly expressed as atmospheric phenomenon. The darkest and wettest part of earth (swamp, deep forest lake) is the dwelling place of velni, an archaic location of the netherworld. It appears to be a negative opposite of a positive marital relationship of Sky and Earth, or Thunder and Earth. One Baltic tradition positions Sun and Moon as the first parents with Earth as their daughter, though the male sky/ female earth duality does not seem to be clearly worked out in Latvian tradition. While the different tribes and their descendants who formed regional cultures had alternative, though intersecting, beliefs and myths as suggested by differing and similar burial practices and archaeological artifacts, some major structural lines can be seen as similarly underlying the different versions.

Dyadic interaction and dual structure (opposition, apposition, doubling, twining) are means of organizing a largely fluid, rather weakly anthropomorphicized, and mostly nonhierarchical Latvian mythology. The sky twins (Dieva dēli) are a significant example of the use of the doubling concept. They are similar to the Greek dioskuri and court the Sun maiden and try to save her from drowning, or maybe even rescue her from the land of shades in the tales of the underground princess. Sometimes the sky brothers appear as the Morning and Evening sun, at other times as the two horses of the sun, and Saule even goes hunting with two hounds.

The dominant view that has developed is that strong hierarchy seems to be a later Christian phenomenon. As summarized by Kokare: "Neither hierarchy, nor subordination are characteristic of Latvian mythology, but spheres of activity and function, divided with large strokes." (Kokare, 1992: 57) Kokare agrees with the classic academic view, as expressed also by Vīķis-Freibergs: “Most of the mythology has older roots and “can not be tied to a Christian lexicon.” (Vīķe-Freibergs, 1997: 122) The dyad appears as two aspects, the mother and daughter representing two stages of a life, or they may be more strongly opposed as the idea of the tree being rooted in the earth with the branches reaching to the sky. Dual opposition is strong in a large group of cosmological tales with Velns and Dievs as the co-creators of the features of the world. Antagonism is a common feature and it is usually Dievs who takes on the role of culture hero who steals fire, cattle, and many culture objects from the gullible, more primitive giant Velns. Velns is a god of animals, especially of cattle, or their creator in the tales where Dievs steals them, especially the cattle, away from him. The earth diver tale type is well represented in the Baltic. Velns, but in some cases simply a “water being,” is the earth diver helper to Dievs. (Latviešu tautas teikas. Ancelāne, 1991)

. Scholars have differentiated belief system layers parallel to diachronic language studies, as common Indo-European (for example the shining sky Dievs related to Sanskrit Dyaus), common Baltic (Laima, Pērkons found among all of the Baltic tribes), belief systems particular to the different tribes in the Baltic (the light god Ūsiņš among the eastern Balts, Milk Mother in the form of a toad among all Latvian tribes), and detailed regional differences, such as what kind of mother spirit dominates.

The Balts were the most northern of the original IE expansion, and they retained many of the features of a less specialized society in their belief systems. Perhaps their mythology did not develop as in many of the IE warrior states. In any case, an IE patriarchal military state is not what appears in the daina world. The speculation is that what is represented correctly as Indo-European, is not necessarily emblematically Indo-European typical of militaristic, heroic, and patriarchal prototypes.

Among all the Baltic peoples bees are seen as sacred communal insects, compared to diligent and productive sisters. Since the Mesolithic, there are cult objects relating to the snake (zalktis and Lith. gyvāte), symbolically and etymologically related to the term for "life" (dzīve) and other animals, such as elk and bear. Their continued appearance, with an efflorescence of grass-snake motifs in the "crossbow" brooches of the 5th – 9th centuries (Latvijas PSR arheoloģija, 1974: 171) and into modern folklore suggests some artifactual continuity of chthonic mythology. In the Latvian case, the chthonic is more concretely associated with swamp, deep forest pools, and the wild aspect of the earth than a more abstract underground.

Sun, sky, and light phenomenon mythology was brought in by Indo-European herder cultures starting with 2100 B.C. as evinced in archaeological objects, such as jewelry and amulets with sun symbols (circles, wheels, and further elaborations). (Zemītis,: 16-22) The sun remained the focus of mythology into modern times as the measure of cosmic time and festivals. Paired variously with different deities, she overshadowed the male moon, the default husband, and appeared as a double with her daughter (also in the plural). Even though in Latvian folklore the sky god Dievs retains the status of first among gods rather than giving way to Thunder, Pērkons is one deity whose sacrificial cult remained to modern times in the Latvian area: “What shall we give to Pērkons for the summer harvest? A measure (lasti) of rye, a measure (lasti) of barley, another measure (pusbirkavu) of hops." (LD 28 818) Work remains to clarify by region how the mythology may have differed between Eastern and Western Balts on the coarsest level, and regionally thereafter. In Latvian mythology the relationship between the different sky gods who all are linked to Saule or her daughter(s) as suitors and/or husbands, indicate shifting differentiations and associations (Sky with or as represented by Thunder, Sky with Dark Sky as Bright Sky, Sky with or as represented by Moon). Though Sky and Earth are only weakly linked in the dainas, the duality is strong in incantations. The focus is rather of sky deity interrelationships on the one hand, and of moist earth and water deities on the other hand without a particularly strong sense of intermarriage between the two groups. Intermarriage of different classes of deities, in fact, unlike in the south of Europe, does not appear to be a strong motif. It is as if the different classes retained some independence and insularity, rather than being merged into a hierarchical system. While formulaically the possibility exists of all deities to have families, in terms of frequency, they are mostly seen by themselves or paired with another deity, not always a spouse. Powerful male deities are more likely to have families appearing with them than powerful female deities (except for the mother/ daughter pairing).

One of the most powerful dualities in Latvian mythology is that of mother/ daughter in parallel to father/ son. It is strong enough to think of parallel descent, daughters born of mothers but sons of fathers. All the female deities have either developed daughters, or such by theoretical extension. The mother/ son theme is not well developed. Similarly when fathers have daughters, it is more weakly developed than the sons. Thunder does have a daughter who is placed in contrast to her brothers. In contrast, Pērkons conspicuously appears with his whole family including a powerful wife and/or daughter in addition to a number of sons - all of them involved in thundering and rain-making. The number five seems particularly associated with the Thunder clan. A number of the female deities are sometimes said to be the daughters of the Sky god. Even the syncretic pagan-Christian deity Māra has only a relatively few songs with a son. Jesus essentially has not entered the daina tradition.

The triune concept (Maiden/Bride, Mother, Crone) is weakly developed if at all in the Latvian materials, but perhaps the witch-grandmother generation has been split off with the effect of demonization, or else dainas may simply be following the rule of ideally only two appearing on the stage at any one time. Attempts to place the Laimas in a threesome pattern (Laima, Dēkla, Kārta) have not been successful. Differentiation by age seems to be absent.

In addition to parent/ same sex child (Saule, Saule’s daughter; Sky, Sky sons) two conjugally unrelated deities with interest in the same activity and therefore in conflict (Sky and Thunder, Sky and Fortune, Fortune and Fortune or Fortune and Misfortune, Sun and Thunder) appear. Sky sons may also appear in the multiple instead of as twins. On the edge of Latvian - IE evidence, there is a dim link of Thunder’s wife to the Sun, just as another links Sun to the Midsummer god’s wife. In addition to fragments of master myths, one senses alternative regional versions, syncretism of different pagan systems, and pagan systems with Christian. What sifts out is the Sun as the central focus of the heavenly deities and a Sky-who-has become Chief God helped by Christian and/or monotheistic influence, but only emergently so in a still largely democratic society where other deities retain their sphere of influence even as Dievs encroaches on it. The goddess Māra attests to the power of pagan traditions to integrate the Christian Mary into a largely pagan semantic field (Earth goddess, but also encroaching on Laima’s sphere of influence, tending to absorb other goddess functions). The Baltic pagan influence was, in fact, so strong, that debates as to the pagan or Christian nature of Māra, both as to name and characteristics, continue even today.

To my knowledge there has been no serious attempts at a definition of “myth” or “mythical” in Latvian literature. It is not attempted in the two books published in 1999 by two of Latvia’s eminent folklorists: Janīna Kursīte’s Mītiskais folklorā, literatūrā, mākslā (The Mythical in Folklore, Literature and Art) and Elza Kokare’s Latviešu galvenie mitoloģiskie tēli folkloras atveidē (Primary Imagery in Folkloric Rendering/Performance). In the 1998 Myth Colloquium at Indiana University William Hansen raised the question if myth is necessarily sacred narrative, pointing to Malinowski’s association of myth and sacred ritual as the source for the generalized philological view. I asked if there was any evidence that the Greeks did not associate mythos with the sacred prior to Xenophanes:

I am thinking of Eliade’s contention that the Greeks are the prime example of people who emptied mythos of religion and contrasted it to logos and later historia. Eliade implies with his use of "emptying" and with his other example, the Judaeo-Christian one, that peoples generally considered myth as sacred prior to their (at least formal) development of what would be equivalent to logos and historia.

Prof. Hansen responded that:


Other societies have stories that appear to be the same sort of narrative in terms of structure and content, and that are not connected intimately with ritual and therefore, it seems, are not regarded as sacred...I did not see the presence of evidence for the Greeks regarding myth as sacred story…there are Greek myths…that have no known connection with ritual and do not seem to be treated with any special awe or constraints. At the same time, there are some Greek myths that were part of ritual, some of it very sacred such as the Eleusinian rites, some of it apparently much less so. So ‘sacred’ doesn’t seem like a good word to describe Greek myth in general.

Krišjāns Barons, for the most part, chose not to separate out the mythological dainas from the others, considering the course of life and the cycle of seasons as fundamental and the primary organizer. The word for “folklore” dzīves ziņa (life-knowledge) goes back at least to Ludis Bērziņš who in 1940 wrote an essay with dzīves ziņa in its title. By implication, clear distinctions as to which dainas are sacred and which mundane is not made. However, there have been attempts, such as by Michel Jonval’s Les chansons mythologiques lettonnes (1923) to isolate mythological dainas primarily by isolating those naming deities involved in mini-narrative. Even though the dualism between sacred (Viņsaule) and mundane (Pasaule) seems fundamental in Latvian materials, there is considerable fluidity what goes into each category. There are many parallel dainas where the subject changes if it is sacred (a deity or spirit) or mundane (a person) or unclear (an animal) so that a practical classification would always tend to be arbitrary. Vīķe-Freibergs has classified the sun daina corpus in three parts as cosmological (cosmic realm in contrast to mundane), physical (cosmic time piece), and metaphorical (teiksmainās – mythical, legendary, sun as goddess) but acknowledges some arbitrariness as inherent in the attempt. (1997). Sources before the transitional 15th and 16th centuries, during which time the Lutheran church decisively set out as its mission to eradicate abgottliche zeuberei (Godless magic), are sporadic. During this period witchcraft, sorcery, and werewolf trials pushed pagan practices largely underground and introduced Christianity in earnest, although it first became genuinely successful only with the Moravian Brethren. They, as the Catholics, were more successful in a more thorough syncretization, although in the case of the divinity Māra in the Catholic areas of western Latvia, the balance apparently went to the native, rather than the Christian. One problems with the 15th and 16th century sources is that not only did they collapse regional beliefs, but they lumped the beliefs of the different Baltic peoples together, which encouraged the adoption of Old Prussian or Lithuanian deities by 19th century romantics and has been a continuous source of derision since. Some Latvian deities can be historically identified as previously regional: The male light god Ūsiņš in the area of ancient Sēlija, the twin fertility deity Jumis mostly in Zemgale, and Māra in the few Catholic areas of west Latvia.

Of primary interest are J. Stribingius for eastern Latvia in 1606 and P. Einhorn for western Latvia in 1627 and 1649. V. Mannhardt’s Letto-Preussische Gotterlehre, written in 1870, but published in 1936, and Die lettischen Sonnenmythen (Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 1875) are the classic compendiums of many of the older historical sources. Straubergs (1939, 1941) and Šmits (1040-1941) list many primary sources by outsiders, including the church visitation protocols of the 17th and 18th century. Historical sources, however, are supplemental to the sources collected from the Latvian people, mostly in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly the folk songs.

Needless to say, it is highly problematic to try to infer a belief system that precedes the time of texts recorded. However, there are many vernacular nonChristian practices described in dainas that were no longer practiced at the time of recording, such as holding a wedding celebration following the death of an unmarried person: "My kinsmen remained in this sun without (bridal) gifts; bring the dowry chest to the (burial) hill, pass out gifts to the kinsmen." (27811) There are also dainas that suggest active belief at the time of collecting of, for instance, a spirit or god behind the stove or in a bush in the yard, probably referring to the house spirit (LD 34 368, LD 13 232) and denials that the person is a witch, only a herbalist. There are dainas that speak of giving sacrifice, a gold ring to Laima, so that a birth may be successful (LD 1096).

Some aspects of nonChristian belief system seem clearly expressed. Thus, for instance, the association of the life principle with women, and concretely with yoni female sexual organs, still had strong basis in practice and belief at the time of folklore collecting. (cf Adamsons: 55) Lifting up skirts and mooning were ways of both fending off hostile magic and increasing fertility. The Midsummer Mother would walk through the field with raised skirts, as Saule is depicted doing in the folk songs. A Latvian listserve member (Sveiks, 1999) remembered lower class uneducated old farm women to have mooned each other when extremely angry during a quarrel. Ritual coupling in the fields to ensure its fertility can be inferred in the more distant past from the historical accounts. (cf Adamsons: 55). Trees and greenery seem to be an especially favored symbol of fertility. Thus green as perhaps a stronger color of fertility, although red is the preferred color after the primary white, and the combination of white and red is seen as especially good. The term zaļā dzīve (green life) today has acquired some sense of living on both the innocent and wild side as typical of youth. Wreaths, as worn on Midsummer by even animals, are sign of fertility and the efflorescence of nature. The spirits of fertility in the fields include the regional Jumis, often paired with his wife Jumala, and the gausas or sāta spirit sometimes depicted as one of the mother spirits. Wild vegetation and the forest generally are seen as sources of primeval power and therefore are the gathering place of those involved with the supernatural - witches, sorcerers, and werewolves. Holy groves were those whose vegetation was to be left growing undisturbed and even breaking a branch was forbidden.

Christianity selected the sky god Dievs to be the Latvian name for God. If he had supreme god status at the time, it would have reflected a "best among equals" rather than absolute power. Hierarchy and centralization were still weak even in the 13th century, and because of subsequent depression into a serf class, full hierarchical ascendancy wasn’t complete even in the 19th c, except as outsider hegemony. One would expect that mental organization of the supernatural would be related to socio-cultural experience and reality.

Deities seem to be foregrounded and invoked as need for them arises. Vycinas periodicizes the importance of Baltic deities according to historical era. He considers Zhemyna (Latvian Zemes māte) of the Marshes to have characterized the earliest period before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans 3000 B.C., followed by an ascendancy of Cereal Zhemyna and an increase in the importance of Perkunas (Latv. Pērkons) or Thunder and a differentiation of Veluona (Latv. Veļu māte) or Shade Mother as well as Medeine (Latv. Mežu māte) or Forest Mother and Patrimpe (Latv. Ūdens māte) or Water Mother from Zhemyna of the Marshes. There are some archaic connections of different sacred animals, such as snake and bee, “A black snake came into my bee garden. That was not a black snake; it was the bee mother.”

Vycinas notes that in the Aistian world, even during the era of Perkunas after the second Indo-European invasion, unlike the Greek Olympians, the supremacy of Sky over Earth was never completed. Zhemyna’s importance to farmers matched that of Perkunas, even though he was predominant in the warrior layers of Aistian society. Mother Earth continued to be honored for giving birth to everything, even gods of the sky. (Vycinas: 61)

The strong matric focus of Baltic religion of early peoples in the area, and the emphasis of Indo-Europeans on sky and fire apparently fused, causing changes in Baltic religion. It seems that the importance of the original hearth fire goddess Gabija (Latv. Uguns māte) contributed to the importance of the solar goddess, associated with fire in the sky. Unlike the Dawn goddess who in many Indo-European religions was important only as the bride whom the sky god suitors seek, the Sun as Mother and Daughter acquires powers characteristic of a powerful solar deity. However, the warrior function increased, as Slavic tribes from the 5th century on began to press into lands where the Balts lived. This, and related changes in agricultural production, tilted religion and society to a stronger patriarchy, but without the hostile take-over sense of one group of gods over another that one senses in archaic Greek and Scandinavian religion:

The Indo-European invasions were primarily non-destructive. On the contrary, they contributed to the cultural growth of the native Aistians by merging with their deities and by assimilating their own Sky gods and forming thereby a mutual mythical religion. Nothing like this can be said of the Slavs...The Aistians had co-existed harmoniously with the Finnish peoples, who had inhabited areas north of the 60th parallel and northeast along the eastern side of the upper Volga, extending southwards to the middle Volga...the Finnish languages, although totally different from those of the Aistians, contain, nevertheless, many Aistian loan words...the result of Aistian influences through common agricultural practices and implements. (Vycinas: 64-65)

The Baltic clans of the east who first come in contact with the Slavs are also the ones who exhibit martial and patriarchal characteristics most strongly. Even in the 19th century, the western, especially the area of Zemgale, like the bordering area of Zhemaitija in Lithuania, seems to have preserved more matric elements, such as women presiding over rituals in which both sexes participate. (cf Adamovičs: 104) Vycinas considers the latest phase of Baltic religion to be the era of Laima (Fate, Destiny). Although an ancient deity, an “original daughter of the Great Goddess,” (Vycinas: 104) she became foregrounded as the result of changes in the fortunes of the Baltic peoples, which included the conquest and subjugation of the peoples who became Latvians. Indeed, an unofficial Latvian “hymn” prior to the second independence, often sung outside of Latvia by émigré Latvians, included the words, “Laime decree over us, give (protect) our land. One tongue, one soul, one land ours.” In many dainas, however, Laima is barely personified, or is individualized as each person’s Laima.

The Sun as a Central Marker in the Calendar:

The sun is a central reference point in the calendar (its holidays, the division of the day) even though both the lunar and solar calendar were known and used, and in basic concepts of space (saule, pasaule, viņsaule, aizsaule).

Direction is seen dually, rotationally "ar sauli" (with the sun path, clockwise, analogous to the motion of grinding with a quern, constructive magic) and pret sauli (against the path of the sun, counterclockwise, destructive magic), opposites canceling the other out, as well as reversing action being fundamental in magic incantations. The motion of turning a quern is likened to the clockwise movement of the sun. Ritual dancing and magic motions involve running around a field, a tree, a building usually "against the sun". Circular dance-moves, rolling the yule-log, and creating a magic circle are examples of magic circular motions. Orientation is often important, as the differing burials with the head pointed in a particular direction reflecting changing concepts among the different Latvian peoples, sometimes the sexes in reverse. Sunrise (east) /sunset (west) seem more important than north and south, often characterized in terms of winds. In the daina world western orientation seems to be the strongest, this being the direction of the Baltic Sea and it is here that the island in which the sun rests is depicted as well as the sky Otherworld. Locations of the Otherworld change with different belief systems. The land Vāczeme (Westerland) is also applied to modern Germany, though earlier it referred only to the land of the Old Prussians. In many songs it is not possible to know if the reference is mythical or realistically geographical.

While the subject of Viņsaule and the calendar has been covered in numerous articles and essays (cf Zicāns, Klētnieks, Pakalns) the most recent work on cosmology was a result of the work of Vaira Vīķe Freibergs and her husband Imants creating a sun daina corpus as a computer accessible database). Her interest in the calendar as it relates to human life continues the tradition established by Barons and continued with elaborations.

The cosmological division into realms of apposition and opposition, This Sun That Sun as the concrete everyday world vs the world outside the farmstead, including the psychological realm of the sacred, dead, and divine is characterized in a daina as: “This sun I know, that sun – I do not known.” The dying recently dead, severely ill, or person in mortal peril is said to be between two worlds, as in dainas about the woman giving birth: “ Now my bride is sleeping between two suns.” (1122) Some dainas (49519) mention two suns, anthropomorphicized as Mother Sun and Daughter Sun(s). The earth is etymologically related to the sun (saule) as "undersun" – pasaule. In the dainas, the two sometimes appear bound with one predicate "this sun, this earths...she." Since the sun is feminine, and the mother of the family is compared to the sun, and females are sometimes compared to daughters of the sun (Goba, 1990, stating that females were ritually called such in eastern Latvia). The result is an unusual asymmetry with a female sun ordinarily more powerful and important than a male moon.

Time is also differentiated as to saules mūžs (sun, cosmic time, shared also by two images of long-lasting -water and stone) and mūžs (finite time, applied to humans, animals, trees, and others having an observably finite. ("For the water, for the sun, for them to live a sun’s life.") The length of a person’s life is seen as similar to the path of the sun climbing and descending a hill or the course of the day-night unit ("two ways the sun runs").

Division into two carries over into the mundane world of humans. A bride is likened to the sun, the bridegroom to the moon and the sun is most often addressed as "mother" and takes special interest in women. The work of the homestead is supervised by the saimnieks (pats) and saimniece (pate, pati). A son being unable to take over charge of the homestead from his father before he has not taken a wife suggests the concept of master as complementary to the mistress. Annas (26th of July) was one traditional day when a new mistress took charge; it may suggest an earlier wedding time than the common fall period when the harvest allowed a more resplendent feast. Other oppositions include rīts, rīt (morning, tomorrow) and vakars, vakar (evening, yesterday), both of which also serve as in-between times.

Another basic dual concept is that of pats, pati (ones own) = īsts (real, concrete, immediate) contrasted to svešs (foreign, strange, other). It is most elaborated in two large song corpuses that have the concept of "two mothers", the orphan songs and the in-law songs as the contrast between ones "real" (īstā māte) mother and "other mother" (svešā māte). While the orphan acquires a stepmother, the wife in a virilocal marriage acquires a mother-in-law (also vīra māte – husband’s mother), both of whom are the most relevant female powers in the household. The Gypsy figures as the archetypal, frequently romantic fantasy Other, one who unlike the peasant, travels over the world (pa pasauli), and is imagined to have freedom and lack of responsibility that the peasant can only dream about. The free city of Rīga functions similarly as a world in contrast to the one inhabited by the peasant.

Of particular interest is the apposative, “Viena saule, viena zeme” (One sun, one earth) formula common to a number of dainas as the sphere common to all humans, divided differentially. In addition to two mothers the relationship of sun and earth may also mythologically be that of mother and daughter, one giving birth to the other (with alternate versions of who is the mother, but sun also logically dominant), and the concept of sun (saule) and earth (pasaule) are also linked etymologically since "earth" is literally "under-sun":


Viena saule, viena zeme, Nav vienāda valodiņa:

Pār upīti pāri gāju, Jau savāda valodiņa. (LD 21129)

Viena zeme, viena saule, Nevienāda pasaulīte: Citam zelts, sudrabiņš, Citam gaužas asariņas.

One sun, one earth, not the same language:

I only crossed the river, already a different language.


One earth, one sun, uneven world:

One has gold, silver, another bitter tears.

The sun, or her daughter, keeps the keys to the grave (Otherworld), which links it with the other sun and the apparent drowning or wading through the sea of the sun. The Shade Mother is mentioned as meeting the dead person at the gates of the Other World and the dead person must first sleep in the liminal in-between area of the two worlds. Burial with head toward the west suggests that the dead person is following the path of the sun, as does the popular song about the orphan asking the sun to take many good evenings to her mother. The existence of alternative burial rites gives an insight as to changes and diversity of belief in existence following mortal death.

One regional difference is the shift in gender of deities. One regional apposition where the male solar aspect is brought out is the opposition of the light god Ūsiņš (etymologically related to female light deities with the root *aus-/ūs-, Karulis I: 91-2) as associated with spring and rebirth in balance with and opposition to the declining autumn god Mārtiņš, whom Karule even calls a “dying sun symbol” (1996: 303)

Ambiguity rather than ethical duality

Another characteristic of Baltic religion is the prominence of symbols, which are ambiguous in contrast to their being evil in the development of Western belief systems. Thus the snake represents rebirth, intelligence, fertility, and strength. (cf Stikāne: 186-7) and the toad represents the Milk Mother. Wasson in his classic work on the Amanita muscaris notes that the Baltic is one of the few places that views mushrooms positively, rather than as toadstools or poisonous ones. Velns (Devil) and velni (devils) don’t become ethically evil even in the most recent times. Dualism doesn’t become ethical dualism and the two polar opposites never totally separate out but remain as co-defining.

A fundamental division is between Light (shining heavens, day) and Dark (night, stormy and dark heaven) as well as between Sky and Earth/Water. With the widespread entry of Christian symbolism from the 17th – 19th centuries, the archaic unitary Other world is divided into Heaven and Hell. Opposition of Sky/ Heavenly Light::Earth/Water appears to be a local and age-old distinction. In this older view the dwelling pekle of chthonic beings velni (Christianized to "devils") was not strongly differentiated from the earth, but was the wettest and wildest part of the outside – swamps and deep forest pools. Hell is not a place of punishment up to the most recent layers of belief. Of interest is that the possible corresponding anthropomorphicized mythology of these forces so strongly focus on the sun that conspicuously the treatment of the Earth Mother/ Father Sky opposition is weak. Earth Mother often seems to give birth autochtonously, while the Sky is listed as one of the many bridegrooms (Moon) of Sun or her daughter (Auseklis specifically associated with daughter only).

The absence of a Zoroastrian type of ethical absolute good and evil may have to do with distance from the concept’s homeland as well as with the very late entry of a Christian concept of Satan. Mythologist Elza Kokāre states strongly what others have noted: “There is no authentic, archaic deity in Latvian mythology that embeds in itself the principle of evil.” (Kokare, 1999, p. 193) The dangerous deities appear to be ambiguous deities with the negative side foregrounded, and this apparently a recent occurence. They include: Velns, Velna māte (Mother of Velns), velni, Juods, Juoda māte (Mother of Juods), Pīkols, Nelaime (Misfortune), Lauma, Laumas meita (Daughter of Lauma), laumas (dangerous forest or water fairy), raganas (witches), vilkači, vilkata (werewolves), skauģi (thieves using magic), burvji (magicians), vilces (snake-like thieving spirits), and spīganas (much like vilces). Fairies are described as having to discard their skins or clothes when shape-shifting to human-like appearance. Sometimes Viesulis (Whirlwind) and Vējš (Wind) are associated with Velns, and witches are identified as being able to start storms. All of these forces or deities are disruptive or associated with chaos, marginality, solitariness, in-between and wandering characteristics. All of them possess power and force, but dark or violent, not evil. Kokare notes that even Misfortune, when seen as the opposite of Fortune, is analyzable more in terms of a negation of fortune, its lack, rather than Evil with characteristics of its own. (Ibid). Similarly Juods (the Black One – Lith. juodas, Est. Juudas, Finnish Juutas) who is sometimes opposed to Dievs, is in fact, more the dark, stormy aspect of the sky, than its opposite. The dangerous spirits seem to be related to the dead: velni (etymologically related to veļi – shades), jodi or kāvi (spirits of dead warriors who can be seen fighting as the Northern Lights, and laumes or svētas meitas (spirits of drowned girls). The most clearly negative characters in the dainas are those who use black magic to harm people and disrupt society, as "Who cursed with magic (nobrīnēja) my far-carrying (skaņu) voice? (436) Gossip (aprunāšana) and those who are critical of others (pēlējs) are condemned.

However, already in 1973 Jaan Puhvel raised the question if in their diligence to throw out pseudo-mythology linked with primarily Old Prussian sources, the first Latvian and Lithuanian mythologists hadn’t thrown out the baby with the bathwater. He noted the persistence and consistency of the Old Prussian sources about the dark, dangerous, and angry deity known as Patollus, Pykullis, and the like resonated with Lithuanian sources. In 1974 Marija Gimbutas pointed out that C. Szyrwid in 1629 had equated "Velnias yra Piktis" and Karulis notes that the adverb pikts (hostile) is related to the Latvian mythological being Pikuls, Pīkals, Piktulis, Piķis, Pakols (Karulis, II: 47). Vīķe-Freibergs (1997: 91-94) reviewing these sources, focuses on K. Polis’s equation of Latvian piķīts with peķīts as the personfication of the female vagina, which together with the Estonian term for the fertility deity Peko/ Piken, underscores the fertility aspect of the dark deity known in Latvian as Piktulis, Piķis and identifies him with Jupis and Velns. Thus, none of the sources is irreconcilable with Kokare’s contention of the absence of an abstraction of evil in archaic Baltic tradition. The potentially hostile Baltic deity that lives in dark, moist places, probably an amalgm of several concepts, as in his association with the ancestor shades (Lith. veles, Latv. veļi), the Baltic and Slavic patron god of cattle Volos/ Veles is also the primeval source of endless fertility and riches. (Beldavs: 1984) In fact, it is possible to consider that in these Baltic asymmetric yin/yang interrelationships, there is a tendency for the dark to be seen as the more primeval from which light separates out and emerges than the reverse.

Even in the more international and male-oriented corpus of folktales and stories, Velns (translated and equated with "Devil") runs a gamut of meanings, including helper (just as velni associated with the dead are ambiguous – sometimes dangerous, sometimes helpful). Kokāre points out that many songs also take an ironic stance toward Velns and Juods, and the invectives do not have the force of terror: “Skrej ar Dievu, skrej ar Vellu, Diženais tēva dēls! (LD 15749) “Velns par mani gan bēdāja, Es par Velnu nebēdāju: Es sasitu Velna galvu Deviņos gabalos. (LD 34082) “Velns was concerned about me, I was not concerned about Velns: I slashed the head of Velns in nine pieces.” However, while only a few in contrast to folk tales there are some interesting dainas where Dievs and Velns meet and fight. In the context of tales where the two, similar to the Scandinavian male god pairs go on sometimes raucous adventures, there is a sense of an old layer of two brother gods who may come into conflict, rather than good vs evil forces.


Velns ar Dievu cīkstējās Vinja meža maliņa;

Gana grūda, gana rāva Dieviņš Velnu lejiņā. (54776)

Velns and Dievs were sparring at the other end of the forest;

Mightily Dieviņš pushed, mightily he pulled Velns down (the hill).

The image of sparring – pushing and pulling as to who goes down the hill is similar to the calendar god imagery, where the spirit of the season is defeated as another ascends. The image is also used in reference to hostile forces (Nelaime – Bad Luck, Ļauna diena – Bad Day, or hostile people) trying to push someone down the hill or into the water, while in contrast helpful forces (Laima – Fortune, Dievs) pull them back up the hill, out of the water, offer a plank to cross the water or hole, and even offer a chair:


Es negāju to celiņu, Kur nogāja ļauni ļaudis.

Ļauni ļaudis, ļauna diena, Tie ved mani lejiņā;

Ņem, Dieviņ, tu pie rokas, Uzved mani kalniņā! (9118,1)

I didn’t go that path where hostile people went,

Hostile people, bad day; they lead me downward;

Take me, God, by the hand, lead me up the hill. (The older deity in other versions is Laima)

The calendar and the daynight embody the ambiguity of dual exchange and alternative replacement. While one succeeds the other endlessly, the darker forces have a different value, and are viewed with apprehension even in an ethic that is stoic and accepting of the inevitable. The dual relationship is in this sense inherently asymmetrical even if it does not develop to the level of ethical dualism of good and evil.

This study does not focus on the in-between per se, but acknowledges it as inherent in duality. Of the many oppositions and appositions, there are the expected basic prototypical ones such as up (hill) and down (water, valley), earth and sky. Conceptually there seems to be more of a sense of space between discrete units, occupied by such divider markers as fences, road crossings, thresholds, fences, and borders. (Olupe 1989: 29) and others have noticed that among the expected basic elements seen outside of human time (earth, sky, fire, and water) one finds also such nonclassic ones as "stone." (Ūdeņam, akmeņam tiem dzīvot saules mūžu. It is for the water, for the stone to live the time of the sun.)

Dainas also acknowledge that two realms are intimately connected and influence one another. Thus the dance tune equates fertilizing thunder bringing the fields summer rain to the dancing that is done in celebration of the resulting harvest in the dwelling of the farmer. The stamp of feet and the jingling of the metal platelets attached to the boots of the men and the skirts of the women recalls and honors the gift of the Thunder god:


Pērkoniņis rūcināja Visu garu vasariņu;

Lai rūc mana istabiņa, Jele šādu vakariņu.

Thunder-god rumbled all the long summer;

May my dwelling rumble this one night.


Laima (Fortune) as the Creative Connecting Principle

In dievturi neo-pagan theology, the third of the fundamental deity triad consisting of the dual Sky (Dievs) and Earth (Māra) is Fortune (Laima). While there are a number of studies addressing Laima in terms of philosophy and theology, including that of Biezais, the momentous, classic, or definitive study has still to be done as many of the fundamental issues have not been adequately addressed in terms of how the relational concept of laima has operated in folk psychology and philosophy regionally and historically. A common consensus is that dominantly Laima prescribes the overall gross limits and bounds for individual will, which exercises significant choice and carries considerable responsibility. The Baltic concept of laima ranges between the fatalistic and completely heroic, and sayings and proverbs illustrate a broad gradient (each the forger of his luck, don’t wait for laime with your decorated mittens on, laime as a grain for a blind chicken, misfortune comes without greeting but calling fortune won’t bring her, laime spotted as the stomach of a woodpecker, turn to the sun so the shadow remains behind you). Also, there are numerous dainas that acknowledge laima not to be equal opportunity, some getting mostly tears, while a few lucky ones can boast, "Laima is my mother I am Laima’s daughter. Whatever life I wanted, I chose it myself." Although Baltic religion has been compared to the Vedic religion of India, there is clearly one major difference. Baltic religion focuses on an interactive experience of the surroundings in an involved way, such as singing to it, and seems to give little consideration to contemplation. It has been described as a practical, rather than mystical religion.

Kokare in passing in her discussion of the ethnogenesis of the local Kurzeme deity, Dēkla, who appears to function alongside Laima, or is her synonym, discusses the etymology around the stem dēt and the concept dēklis. (Kokāre, 1992: 61 –62). Two concepts in particular seem divergent, dēklis as an egg, which is left in a nest so the hen will continue to lay eggs (dēt olas) and smelted iron that is used to repair old iron tools, like ploughshares. In the first, there is an attractor, something like a crystal seed or center that attracts and coalesces substance around it. It is consistent with the daina descriptions of space around the homestead being "round" as if a compass is drawn around a center. The second image is of broken pieces being mended by a molted substance or glue that hardens to hold the pieces together. The mythological dainas include a number of images of shattered jugs, shattered trees in "nine pieces," which some deity must gather and put back together, apparently a commentary on the problem of One and the Many. There is also the phrase in beekeeping dores dēt, which has to do with preparing a dwelling for the new bee swarm. Finally, there is a song:


Sēd, meitiņa, nebēdā, Nesēd tava dēkļa laime;

Dēkļai zirgi nosvīduši, Tev vietiņu meklējot. (LD 6629,5)

Stay, girl, don’t fret, your dēkļa fortune is not sitting; Dekla’s horses are in one sweat finding for you a place.

In this daina the local Kurzeme deity Dēkla, who has the same functions as Laima, is most likely finding a suitable young man whom she can join in marriage to a suitable young woman, and preparing the space the woman is to inhabit as a married woman. Kokare points out that I. Bušmane’s folklore recording in 1987 in the Kurzeme region of Nīce yielded the explanation that an older woman with a gift for language acted as match-maker and was called a teicēja (literally, sayer, meaning recommender, the same term used also for a recitative song-leader). She would recommend the pair (ieteikt) to each of the sides. The various meanings of dēkla, then all have the sense of bringing together at least two discrete entities into a stable apposition. Even in the case of the egg dēkla, the seed acts to attract others, or in the case of the man-made bee-tree hollow, it is supposed to attract the swarm.

Disputation as a theme also appears in the semantic field of laima, as well as division into parts. Laima more often appears as a pair than in triplicate. As a pair it is more likely to be adversial than as two cooperating sisters (Laima and Laima). This is emphasized by the opposite being a negation: Laime and Nelaime – (Fortune and Misfortune). The distinction is reinforced with Laima appearing on a hill and Nelaime is in a low place. [Laima sits on a hill; Nelaime in the vale. LD 1220,5] Alternatively, usually seen as Christian influence, it is God (Dievs) who disputes with Laima over the life and death of an individual: "The whole day passed for Dievs speaking with Laima: who will die, who will live in this white sun." (27684). "Dievs and Laima on my account are feuding. Dievs gave me cropland, Laima denied me a ploughman." Songs that name the place of each emphasize that the deities each control their own discrete sphere: "To Dievs the hills, to Laima the vales, to the bee the oak trees green."

In songs about the woman about to give birth, two deities are often said to know if the woman will emerge into the sun, usually picked from the pool of Laima, Dievs, and Māra. Finally Shade Mother may be opposed to Laima, making ready a place, depending if the person will live or die: “Not for everyone does Laima make a place…For some Shade Mother makes a place” (LD 9246). But in the funeral songs a human acknowledges another asymmetrical dualism between the human temporal and the cosmic eternal:

Māte, mana mīļā māte, Ne tā mana mūža māte;

Tā saulīte, tā zemīte, Tā ir mana mūža māte. (27729)

Mother, my dear mother, you are not my eternal mother;

This sun, this earth, she is my eternal mother.

But in another sense, it is Laima who predominates as the creative and destructive force or principle of the universe. The word laist is etymologically related to Laima and describes the activity with which she creates as releasing from something that already exists in another sphere as if separating out a quantity of water from the reservoir. Laima is the most powerful goddess, associated with verbs of creation, destiny, and fortune: laist, likt, lemt, vēlēt, rakstīt (Kokare, 1992: 41). That is why even when the sky god Dievs acquires a status of first among gods and is identified with the Christian God, Laima retains enough of her power that Dievs is forced to consult with her on fate, fortune, and destiny. Laima is present at birth and at that time casts the broad outlines of someone’s life, and she also is present at all the rites of passage as a personal goddess, barely anthropomorphicized beyond her function:


Tu, Laimiņa, laidējiņa, Tu mūdiņa licējiņa.

Ka neliki laba mūža, Liec man ilgi nedzīvot. (LD 1210)

You, Laima, releaser, you a life-caster.

If you cast not a good life for me, let me not live long.

Vycinas referring to the most characteristic activity of Laima, laist ("to let be, to destine, to create") states that human creativity and fortune are but aspects of the cosmic force: "Laima as diviness – the ultimate reality – was Nature in her everlasting, eternal course of creativity – of construction-destruction." (Vycinas: 108)

One may say, however, that the basic operative force of Laima is a dual Latvian Yin/Yang equivalent, represented more digitally than analogically. Thus, Mazulāns in his work, simultaneously pragmatic and philosophical, in deriving the basic geometric patterns from the intertwining of two strips observes: “One is without rhythm. One large or small remains one without impression or meaning. Two create rhythm and the impression of change. Two and more lines, forms or colorings in a rhythmical harmonic change create a rhythmic, harmonious physiological impression...it is a positive and life-enhancing force.” (Mazulāns: 196)

The overall impression is that Latvian folk art stresses discrete units in their combinations, almost entirely geometric, with only some more fluid designs and those with a tendency to geometrization. One particularly fruitful area is that of mitten design as this is an easily accessible, still commonly practiced craft that uses designs and compositions in miniature found elsewhere. Variety is achieved in the concept of endless combinations. Thus, Rita Drīzule speaks of adaptation of values, “Just as practically gene combinations do not repeat, so there are endless combinations of values in a culture.” (Drīzule: 7). This can also be said of stringing together chains of dainas for solo singing and of the relationships of elements within any one-daina stanza. How these elements fit together is expressed in the concept of saskaņa (harmony) or saderība (concord). Thus when one says, "sader miezis ar apini vienas mucas dibenā” (the barley belongs with the hops in the bottom of the barrel” there is a sense of placing them side by side harmoniously in addition to this being right, belonging. The idea of connection or link between discrete units is expressed by the concept of laipa (plank, footbridge) even more commonly than that of tilts (bridge). Drīzule decodes its symbolic value as, “A laipa (was) symbolically thrown in front of the bride as she walked into the in-law courtyard in order to confuse hostile forces. A linden laipa...as a spiritual plank is something one generation throws to help the next. The concept of laist (emanate, differentiate) is used in the creative process in which Laima or Dievs are involved. Pasaulē laist is a form of birthing or forming into this world from the Otherworld.

Vīķe-Freibergs notes that both the finite and plentitude model can be found in the daina world, with the latter dominating. The first considers a limited number of goods available to humans, so that increasing one’s own welfare is at the expense of someone else. This results in the skauģis (the jealous one) who attempts to steal through the use of magic. The second model considers that an endless supply of good is available from the Otherworld, so that it is unnecessary to steal from others. (Vīķe-Freibergs, 1997: 142)

The asymmetrical relationship of the familiar human world and the greater surrounding world of nature is also both accepted in that ultimately the human world is a part of the greater world, but it is also contested. In modern terms humans create greater space for themselves as a group, if not as individuals, by creating greater organization within greater forces of entropy. In daina terms, human activity ornaments nature. The transformative function of humans of nature to culture is positively recognized and evaluated in terms where this activity is seen as part of nature, as its ornamentation, not its destruction:


Koša pļava, kad nepļauta, Vēl košāka kad nopļauta,

Tad palika vēl jo koša, Kad samesta kaudzītē.

The meadow is bright uncut, brighter yet when mowed,

Even brighter when the hay has been thrown in stacks.

The pre-industrial agricultural homestead or hamlet nestled as an island within a greater expanse of forest and marsh, and the fields and meadows created by man appeared to ornament and amplify nature, rather than destroying her.

Various Latvian movements which find vernacular spiritual belief systems to be of fundamental importance, neo-pagan, dievturi, Christian with a provincial orientation, or New Age seem to use a common ground in what is known as living ancestral inheritance. or presence. They find meaning in textile, especially woven belt, geometrics. Or as already did Old Europeans , they find meaning in stones viewed as sacred on sacred hills or by sacred healing and wisdom springs, as well as places marked by geo-energy "water and fire lines" identified with dowsing. Going to press, an article, "Kā būtu, Kā nebūtu: Svētceļojums uz Pokaiņi (How would it be to be or not to be: Sacred Journey to Pokaiņi)” by Daila Rotbaha (Literatūra un Māksla Latvijā, March 15, 2001) appeared about a particularly geo-energetically marked number of related sacred sites in the Pokaiņu Forest of Zemgale. It is here that the lines of fire and of water seem to coincide and are felt to communicate patterns of wisdom and healing. Sacred sites are endangered as ecology has come under attack by market forces, especially in the clearing of forests for lumber sale with a loss to future generations. The sites may have been the destination of pagan pilgrimages from other lands to the Baltic as recorded in the oldest historical documents before the Teutonic conquest. The Pokaiņi Forest site is felt to be most sacred. It recalls the Zemgale area of Latvia where the last pagan resistance took place, and where in historical times werewolf bands were rumored to have assembled from over the Baltic as the time of witch-hunting began. Ivars Vits’s book, Trejdeviņi Latvijas Brīnumi (Three Times Nine Wonders) also discusses endangered sacred sites (2001).