3 Feb 2012

Baltic Culture; Introduction

this post is mapping characteristics of Baltic culture, including religion and art as well as other considerable and exclusive aspects.

 "The same way that Scandinavians are proud of being descended from the Vikings, the Irish – from the Celts and Germans – from the Germanic peoples, Lithuanians, Latvians and the Old Prussians can be proud of their ancestors – the Balts – and the reflections of their world-views in contemporary culture(A. Butrimas; "The Baltic Art" project)

The Balts or Baltic peoples (People who live by the Baltic Sea), defined as speakers of one of the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family. For thousands of lakes and swamps in this area contributed to the Balts' geographical isolation,  the Baltic languages retain a number of conservative or archaic features.

Over time, the huge area of Baltic habitation shrank, due to assimilation by other groups, and invasions. So the Old Prussians, Yotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, Galindians and Curonians are now extinct and Among the modern Baltic peoples are Lithuanians and  Latvians.

In ancient written sources Baltic countries were described as swampy, mysterious lands, dotted with wooden castles, ever flaming holy fire, strange traditions.

The Old Baltic Religion
Pre-Christian religions and cults.

Its most characteristic feature –cosmicality, exclusion of human nature. The god for Baltic people was evident in all the phenomena of space and nature, on which humans depended, such as , vegetation, wildlife and life force. In Baltic see the world separated in two poles: Men's - Sky and its effects (light, fire, sound), together with the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, stars) and a female - the Earth, its plants, forests, fields, hills, rocks, water. Interaction between these poles stimulated life. This view gave the base for major Baltic religious ritual forms and mythology.

 In the old Baltic religion characters' features, their importance and the degree of individualisation is given the order of 7 mythological levels:

The 1st level has ten most important gods:

Ukapirmas and Thunder,
Patrimpas (god of rivers)
Patrimpas and Autrimpas (sea gods)
Pickles / Patrimpas (underworld god)
Pergubris (spring, vegetation god)
Puskaitis (ground elder personification)
Aušautas (survival, the god of life)
Pilvytis (asset-bearer).

Level-III includes creatures performing abstract functions such as happiness, fate, death - or characters that are known primarily from folklore, these would be Sun , Moon, Venus, Celestial blacksmith, Stars and others and so on.

Level V  characters from tales and spirits – forest, water , fields’ spirits and so on. Such examples would be Lauksargis (protector of home), Gabija (personified fire), 

Level VI often un-anthropomorphasized (not resembling a human) spirits. These would be  pixies, witches, giants, mythological bear, wolf, snake images and others.

Level VII - covers mythological hypostasis (underlying essential foundation) of a man . This level encompasses priests (Vaidilas), various symbols and ritual objects, sacred places and temples.

However, there seems to be no understanding of nothingness pass ones death. They believed that when man died, his soul passes into another body in a form of smell, steam, bird, butterfly, calf, and keeps the individual characteristics of the deceased. Or go to a high mountain and live the same life, or become a tree.

7 core principles of Baltic religion :

1.The world is generally alive. Life is understood in its wider form: trees and sun, water, rocks, are seen to be as a live as a man himself.

2.Principle of Harmony (darna). Balts see harmony (darna) prone to extinction , therefore it is vital to continuously reach for harmony.For this  traditional songs play a vital part as mantras for reaching harmony.

An example of such songs is Kulgrinda's Uztekeja Saulala Raudona ( Red sun has risen)

3.Respect to the order of Gods. As described before, there is a system of gods, some to be more important than other, but all of them to be greatly respected. Man can choose deity's, which a closer to his needs and hart.

4.The World is eternal . According to Baltic mythology, the world is constantly recreated by two opposing gods of light and darkness who create and change the proportion of Darna (harmony)

5.The Golden rule of Darna (harmony). The rule is inviting one to behave and act in a way one himself wish to be treated like from others. The rule is aiming to create space for unselfish love, compassion, refusal of revenge and at the end, darna (harmony).

6.Respect for Ancestors. Lots of rituals is dedicated in the name of remembering and thanking the ancestors.

7.Nature is Sacred.
Nowadays Romuva is the Lithuanian Expression of Baltic Faith.

Baltic Art:
To get acquainted with Baltic Art, here is material from  relevant books, websites and museums  presented  :

IV-VII was the centuries of emerging  Baltic applied art: decorative horn mouth, openwork belt switchboard or other details, horse bridles, pins and quotes.
Metal plastics is rich with zoomorphic decorations. Galloping moose, flying or sitting birds, twisting snakes, horses, and sometimes decorated with images of fantasy animals.

Complex ornamental compositions of Animal and human images in Baltic Metal plastics were probably created for magical ritual use.

Daily peasants, both men and women's footwear was bass Wysz 's pint. It is also popular with the birch, alder or similar solid, but lightweight wood-carved clogs. Leather shoes (čeverykos) was considered as a holiday footwear.


Probably the most distinct feature is the appreciation of 'Sun Stone' - Amber. In 98 AD Tacitus in 'Germania' describes  Baltic tribes living near the Baltic Sea as amber gatherers.Baltic people saw Amber as a magical stone which was connected with their rituals.

When Burnt, Amber is spreading a pleasant fragrance and when taken to hands is always warm. They have created legends around Amber . He was believed to have magical healing powers and to be a protector from evil. It was widely shaped into ornaments, amulets, ritual articles, related to the solar cult.

Traditional Clothing of 19th century
(selection of Lithuanian tribes)

The old Baltic culture has polytheistic religion with a  rich system of gods and deities, where people are invited to show great respect to them and choose gods closer to their needs. Their belief is reflected in their art works with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic ornamenting, ritual-dedicated tools and so on. Amber is particularly appreciated and taking a special place  for  it's spiritual, artistic and economical value . Also, mantra-like songs, such as 'Leliumoj'  are valued  as meditation practices.

Next Posts will be looking closer to Baltic Pixie and analyse some sources to understand the context of this character.