Archive for the ‘Romuva’ Tag

Maa-usk and Taara-usk — Estonian Paganism   Leave a comment

Indigenous spirituality draws its strength from what makes it “indigenous” — it comes from inside, not outside. It arises naturally on the land where we live, in the daily and sacred encounters people experience who live there. We breathe it in the air, and drink it in the water. No founder or prophet needs to arrive to announce its truth; no sacred scripture needs to proclaim its right way to live. These are other things, not “wrong”, but also not the same thing: they’re rooted in belief rather than practice.

We start where we are, by paying attention. That’s one reason so many common elements exist world-wide in indigenous forms of spirituality — why elders from different tribes, communities and nations can gather together and recognize in each other similar experiences of the power and spirit of place. They can speak with “one voice” because the Land does. It says similar things wherever we live. Listen! Do you hear its Song?

The Jumiois, a stylized cornflower and a symbol of Estonian nature spirituality. It is also the logo for the research and preservation efforts of Maavalla Koda “House of the Native Land”

I’ve written before about Romuva, the indigenous Lithuanian spirituality. To the north of Lithuania and Latvia, due south of Finland across the Baltic, lies Estonia, with its own flavours in Maausk “land-faith” and Taarausk “taara-faith“.

Like many of the nations that once comprised the Soviet bloc, with the fall of communism and its official atheism, Estonia enjoyed a re-opening to older native traditions and a revitalization of its national culture. Because a significant part of indigenous spirituality is “paying attention to where you live”, it’s also possible for humans to ignore place for a time, but that doesn’t cause place to disappear or cease to matter. For the same reason, we can always re-connect: it’s still there.

Entrance to Taamealusa Hiis, a sacred site (hiis) near Samma, Estonia, May 2019. / Photo courtesy of Religion News.

Encounter and learn the local gestures and practices, and you keep finding links to practices elsewhere. Sometimes journalists who help raise awareness about such connections are themselves perplexed by them, even as they report them. “While pagan and folk religions may seem archaic to the wider world, they are thriving across the Baltic states” notes a writer for a 2019 Religion News article. But often the “archaic” is part of just what people are seeking — something profoundly, instinctively human that we’ve been doing for centuries and millennia, out of a timeless natural awareness that the sacred is all around us. In that sense, the “archaic” is indeed “thriving”:

“Hiis” means “sacred grove” in Estonian. Past another wooden board with a runic symbol carved on it — it is customary to knock on this board — is a green clearing where visitors have tied ribbons around trees and placed eggs at their bases as a gift and left the dark remnants of a fire.

“All that is brought there has to be eaten there or burned in the ritual fire,” said 28-year-old Tõnu Rehela, who has been a member of Estonia’s nature-oriented, neopagan Maausk community since he was 16. “Through the fire, the gods eat. Through the holy tree, the gods drink.”

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Romuva Update

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Jonas Trinkunas, modern founder/reviver of Romuva

I’ve written before about Romuva, the native Pagan faith of Lithuania and the Baltic region [see here]. While there’s not a lot of information available in English, there’s some, and it’s worth looking at for several reasons. I’ve included two images from that previous post because they speak to the spirit.

First, Lithuania was Pagan until the late 1300s, far longer than other European nations. Many old songs remain, and a few sacred spots survived, notably the paleo-astronomical observatory with reconstructed wooden pillars at the Sanctuary of Žemaičių Alkas in the resort town of Šventoji. The names of many Romuvan gods have also survived: Perkūnas, Aušrinė, Žemyna, Austėja, Ondenis, Patrimpas, Patulas, Velnias, Leda, Saulė and Mėnulis.

Second, in spite of obstacles like the refusal of the Lithuanian parliament to recognize the faith, Romuva persists. Anyone interested in North American Romuva can find English translations of a few articles by Trinkunas and contact info here [alert — the Tripod site brings annoying pop-up ads unless you have an ad blocker].

Third, with the help of supporters with means, the related Latvian faith of Dievturība (“people who live in harmony with Diev”, the Baltic supreme deity) has made substantial gains, establishing a beautiful island sanctuary, the Lokstene Shrine of Dievturi, pictured below.

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Lokstene Shrine/Wikipedia image

Here’s a video in Latvian with some stunning pictures of the interior and exterior of the Lokstene shrine during a holiday celebration, with the Latvian caption Priecīgus svētkus! “Happy Holidays!” After some commentary by one of the Dievturi elders (also worth watching for the sound of the language and the images interspersed throughout), around the 1:30 mark the celebration begins. You begin to get a marvelous sense of what such revivals can mean.

 

Finally, like many revivalist faiths and practices, Dievturi also has hidden resources in its people. Here’s an April 2020 video of Dievturi practitioners singing a short (40-sec) chant of strength.

 

A somewhat awkward Google translation of the Latvian lyrics:

All roads are full of fire
All roads are locked
We’ll pass right through them all
With a little help from a friend
We’ll pass through the fire
We’ll break the locks in half.

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Hallows, and Revisiting Romuva

Happy All Hallows’ Eve! (Do we truly mean ALL Hallows? Will we honor ALL holy things?) A “hallow”, historically, is a saint (from Old English halga), not just any holy thing. But I’m taking the word in the latter, larger sense of any expression of the numinous or sacred. It could be the day, but also your cat, your neighbor, or that rock in your back yard. Even, occasionally, in the church down the road (though out of negative experiences, many Pagans would draw the line there, as if the holy could be found everywhere but there. And of course the churches often return the favor. Aren’t we all just hot messes?!).

That’s too much holy, I mutter. Give me one holy thing, and I can (mostly) handle it. But everything holy upsets my sense of “mostly profane, with dollops of holy here and there, if I’m lucky”. Yes, it’s hard to live on the heights all the time.

Finding your holy thing can be a bundle of work. But we keep giving each other hints, and from time to time the holy still peeks out at us from the eyes of things, from each other, and also from sun-rises and -sets, moons, fires, songs, mountain-tops, fogs and clear days, moments of connection and intimacy and kindling.

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I’ve written before about Romuva, the Baltic Pagan religion that managed to survive and has been growing again. The local analogue to Hallowe’en is Vėlinės — you can see an image and read about the holiday here.

Here’s a video of Romuva chant and ceremony by Kūlgrinda, the musical group founded by the late reviver of Romuva, Jonas Trinkunas (1939-2014), in a public celebration. The group forms one of the symbols of the Romuva religion around the 4:03 mark. The minor-key singing can send a pleasurable shiver up your spine.

“Mirth and reverence”, says the Charge of the Goddess.

May you know both, and find and share them in the coming holidays, the Hallowtides.

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Posted 31 October 2019 by adruidway in Druidry, Halloween, ritual, Romuva, Samhain, Samhuinne

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Romuva — Baltic Paganism

romuva_flag[Updated 2 June 2020: see my Romuva Update of May 2020.
14 Dec 2018: minor editing.
29 Dec 2016: two links added: a tribute to Trinkunas and a video of Kulgrinda, a music group he founded.]

One of the expressions of love of the earth relatively unknown in the U.S. is Romuva, Baltic Paganism. It is better known but similar to Druwi, another Baltic Pagan practice whose name itself shows its obvious connections with Druidry.

I first encountered this mostly Lithuanian pre-Christian religion about a decade ago, and I’ve followed news of it intermittently since then. Lithuania was one of the regions that held on to its ancient Pagan roots longer than most of Europe. Pagan observances still flourished into the 1400s. A series of crusades over several hundred years aimed at stamping out such lingering practices were largely successful, but even in the 1400s under Grand Duke Gediminas, Lithuania was still officially Pagan.

While much has undoubtedly been lost, Romuva imagery, song, symbol and practice were and still are intertwined with Catholic observance to a considerable degree, and folk memory and practice has preserved much material, particularly songs and dances. The roots of modern Romuva date from the Romantic period that sparked Lithuanian nationalism and an interest in indigenous culture, as it did for so many other regions of Europe.

Like many cultural phenomena of the last few hundred years, Romuva as it exists today owes a great deal to one person — in this case, ethnologist and krivis (Romuva priest) Jonas Trinkunas, who was born in 1939.

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Jonas Trinkunas

Trinkunas, who passed almost three years ago in early 2014 (you can find a tribute at the Wild Hunt here), was a folklorist and university lecturer in Vilnius, Lithuania. He founded the “Society of Friends of India” (Lithuanian Indijos Bičulių Draugija), and the similarities of practice he saw in “the traditions of India were what pushed him to search for the roots of Lithuanian culture and its spiritual meaning”, notes the Wikipedia article on Trinkunas.

Hounded during the Soviet period when Lithuania lay under Kremlin authority, he was barred from academic life for 15 years, and only with Lithuanian independence could he resume that work. But in that interval he continued to travel his country and collect songs and lore that nourished his commitment to Romuva practice.

Once the Soviets were gone, the first festival observance he organized was Rasos — the summer solstice — the Lithuanian name literally means “morning dew”.

On the outskirts of Žemaičių Alkas, a Lithuanian resort area with a historical town center, carved wooden pillars mark the close intermingling of Pagan and Christian observance. Note the runes on the middle pillar.

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The archaism of Lithuanian practice extends to language as well: to cite just one example from literally hundreds available, Lithuanian dieva “god” comes from Proto-Indo-European *deiwos, and is related to Latin deus, Germanic Tiw (English Tue’s Day, Tuesday), Sanskrit deva, etc.

For a taste of Romuva in action, here’s a 4:28 video of a Romuva handfasting, with several dainas (traditional songs) sung as accompaniment to the images. I suspect most Druids would feel right at home here.

Finally, a link to Kulgrinda, a traditional music group Trinkunas founded:

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Images: Romuva flagTrinkunas at fire; carved wood pillars at Žemaičių Alkas.

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