• Proto-Indo-European Religion
• Indo-European Languages
• Proto-Indo-European Goddesses
• Proto-Indo-European Myths
• Proto-Indo-European Rituals
• Festivals, Food and Farming
|There are several languages
in the Baltic language family, including Old Prussian which is no longer spoken, and
Lithuanian and Latvian which are the spoken languages of their respective modern
History and Geography
The oldest Baltic language attested in any detail is the Old Prussian language which is known from some reports about the traditional customs of the people, made by Christian missionaries such as the Prüssische Chronik by Simon Grunau (1530) and similar reports from the 1600's. Unfortunately, the Teutonic Knights, who were German Christians, methodically exterminated the Prussian people and replaced them in the geographic area with German-speaking people, and the Prussian branch of the language family has been extinct for centuries. However, it turns out that people of Prussian heritage have set out to reconstruct their form of Paganism and they have a site on Facebook. There is also a good site discussing the reconstruction of the Old Prussian Language written by Mikkels Klussis.
The Germans were equally hostile to the Lithuanians and Latvians but they did not manage to wipe them out. Their languages are hardly attested at all until the 1600's when German Lutherans began to translate Christian texts into Latvian in an attempt to compete for converts with the Catholic church and later the Russian orthodox church both of which flatly refused to produce religious texts in a language that anyone could understand. The Balts weren't interested, but in a brief window of political freedom they managed to make collections of dainas, traditional folk songs sung by the people as part of their daily lives. Thousands of such poems are published in two series of volumes. The Lithuanian collection of dainas runs to 13 volumes and the Latvian collection is 7 volumes. These songs are rarely translated into English but the languages are so regular that they aren't difficult to learn. Both Lithuanians and Latvians have very active Pagan communities with discussion groups on the internet.
The Baltic states include Estonia, with its own language Estonian which is not an Indo-European language--it is more closely related to Finnish. Since it is not an Indo-European language, I do not address it here, but in broad terms, much of the culture and traditions, and many elements of the old religions are continuous across the northern cultures. This must be at least partly because the Indo-European speakers learned customs and ways of life from the older indigenous culture, while linguistic study shows that elements of Indo-European culture and religion were borrowed into the far north as well.
Some attempts were made starting in the 16th century to christianize the Balts, but the religious authorities (Catholics, Lutherans and Russian Orthodox) were seen as representing hostile governments, mainly Germany and Russian who turned the Balts into serfs in their own country. Consequently the Balts considered Christianity part of the hostile military regime of foreign invaders and ignored it whenever they could. The only schools in many areas were religious schools and the Balts wouldn't even send their children to school long enough to learn to read and write. During the Russian occupation of the Baltic countries, it was illegal to write or publish in the native Lithuanian or Latvian languages or in the Roman alphabet. These restrictions had the effect of conserving the language and culture that they were intended to destroy.
The old pagan religion is more or less continued in the Baltic states today, but it often has influences from the more shamanistic elements of neopaganism, and some factions in the Old World are right-wing to the point of being fascist and anti-Semitic. This is partly a legacy of the Soviet regime, but even that is a simplification of a complex situation that is still changing, since the three republics (including Estonia) only became free in 1990. However that may be, for many Baltic people the traditional customs and songs at the seasonal festivals are just part of the fabric of everyday life. Lietuvos Romuva is the name of the pagan religion in Lithuania, while the Latvian version is called Dievturiba. Both have websites with members in the Old World and wherever there is a substantial diaspora, as there is in the United States.
The Baltic Pantheon includes Dievs, a grain god; the horse twins; the Sun maiden and many other deities that correspond linguistically and in their general characteristics to Indian gods and to the Indo-European gods in general. The reason for the very close correspondence to Indian religion is not known though it is thought to be related to the very conservative quality of the culture of the Lithuanians and Latvians which was isolated geographically and politically. Most native speakers could not read or write and they lived in comparative isolation in the countryside. Under these circumstances, the only cultural influences people had were other villagers like themselves, often members of their own families, so that culture was conserved over time in the same place.
Aside from the sacred songs recorded in the nineteenth century there are plenty of native speakers now who know the proper way to do things. It seems that Baltic Paganism still has some special features. Worshiping trees either directly or as repositories of the souls of the dead is a major part of their belief system.
References for Baltic Religion and Languages
There are excellent books on folklore including dance and music, but they are
usually in the native languages without translations. Many of the dainas are
still sung from memory and the rituals and dances have been recorded in writing
and on film. There are professional folk dance groups that perform them in the
United States and in Europe.
General References on Indo-European Linguistics
This page was originally published at pierce.yolasite.com/baltic but Yola was hacked on Nov. 22, 2011 so the page has been moved here.
© 2009, last updated 2/12/2012, piereligion.org/baltic.html