New Pagan Temple in Latvia

Photo: Ugis Nastevi?s / www.ugis.info

A new Pagan (Dievturi) temple has been built in Latvia, according to this article (in Latvian). Relying on Google Translate, I read,

Crowded opening event alongside Latvian pagan exile pagan representatives and sanctuary creation of the people involved was also attended by other ancient white dievest?bas common to both the Latvian and Lithuanian and Belarus, as well as the folklore group “curbs”, “Werewolves”, “Delve”, ” boat, “” torque “and” P?rkonieši “.

“Monasteries and environmental objects layout vision developed by the pagan organization working group Valda Celma lead. Building architect is Ainars Markvarts, sculptor – J?nis Karlovs, room design authors – Andrejs Broks and Egons Garkl?vs, the costs incurred by the operator Dagnis ??kur, “reveals the organization’s representatives.

Lokstene temple keeper of the Latvian Dievturu Sadraudze that combines ancient white dievest?bas successors contemporary Latvian.

Sources tell me that the temple is on an island in the Daugava River. “Operator” Dagnis ??kur is a businessman who owns a group of bakeries and who paid for the temple. That is very traditional, if you think about it.

Paganism Close Under the Surface

In central and eastern Europe, and maybe elsewhere, there is a tradition to end a group hunt for deer, boar, and other animals with a ceremony. I have never seen the like in America, but then all my hunting has been with individualistic Westerners — which is not to say that sometimes informal rituals are not performed, but not with everyone lined up and flaming torches.1)Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.

The Baltic people were the last old Pagans in Europe, Christianized at sword point in the Middle Ages.2)The Last Pagans in Europe.”  Their Pagan reconstructions in the 1920s–1930s, such as Dievturiba in Latvia, assumed that folksongs etc. preserved the Old Religion, a common assumption among 20th-century Pagans. Maybe, maybe not — is every tree in a folksong really the World Tree in disguise? Certainly the new Paganisms, with their strong ethnic and nationalist components, have gained respectability quickly.3)Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”

The hunt in the video was a women’s hunt — in Latvia as here, more women are taking up hunting than did a generation or two ago. The description at the International Conference Women and Sustainable Hunting’s Facebook page reads,

At last in Latvia we now have a chance to make lady hunters more pro-active. And we had the chance to organise first ever in Latvia a driven hunt for ladies – ladies are shooting, guys are helping. Now we are in the process of creating our own Lady hunting club under Latvian Hunters’ Association.

Watch and you’ll see lots of tramping in the snowy woods, but right at the end — wow. That’s an altar, folks. Folk-memory or reconstruction, they are tapping into Old Stuff. I suspect that they know what they are doing.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Clifton’s Second Law of Religion: If there are no torchlight processions, it’s not a real religion.
2. The Last Pagans in Europe.”
3. Baltic Diaspora and the Rise of Neo-Paganism.”

Core Books in Pagan Studies

I recently completed an article on contempoary Paganism for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, so when it appears, I can at least say that I have been published by Oxford UP. Yay me. But is there still a market for academic encyclopedias in this day when undergrads must be taught how to use reference books? Someone must think so.

As to the article, instead of writing another “it all started with Gerald Gardner” article, I decided to give more space to (a) the Romantic movement and (b) the Latvian and Lithuanian reconstructionists of the 1920s and 1930s, that two-decade space when their nations escaped centuries of German and Russian colonization before being dumped in 1940 back into it—the Third Reich and then the USSR.

magical religionThe editors wanted a brief bibliography, of course, with primary and secondary sources, so I just went along my Pagan-studies bookshelves, grabbing this and that, including some titles that I think have always been under-appreciated.

Jim Lewis’s edited collection Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft was published twenty years ago, yet it is still relevant in the questions that it raises. Some of the chapters later turned into books, such as “Ritual Is My Chosen Art Form: The Creation of Ritual as Folk Art among Contemporary Pagans,” by Sabina Magliocco.researching paganisms

Likewise, the collection Researching Paganisms (2004) discussed issues of “religious ethnography” that every scholar of  religion should read, not just those studying some form of Paganism. From the description:

Should academic researchers “go native,” participating as “insiders” in engagements with the “supernatural,” experiencing altered states of of consciousness? How do academics negotiate the fluid boundaries between worlds and meanings which may change their own beliefs? Should their own experiences be part of academic reports? Researching Paganisms presents reflective and engaging accounts of issues in the academic study of religion confronted by anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, historians and religious studies scholars?as researchers and as humans?as they study contemporary Pagan religions.

paganism readerHere is the rest of the bibliography. I do not claim that it is complete, but it is representative. For example, if you look into the The Paganism Reader, which Graham Harvey and I compiled, you will see material from ancient centuries up into the early twentieth, for example, so it covers a lot of ground. Pity it got such a boring cover.

Primary Sources

Buckland, Raymond. Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft. St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1986.

Clifton, Chas S., and Graham Harvey, eds. The Paganism Reader. London: Routledge, 2004.

Gardner, Gerald B. Witchcraft Today. London: Ryder and Co, 1954.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948.

McNallen, Stephen A. Asatru: A Native European Spirituality. Nevada City, Calif.: Runestone Press, 2015.

Murray, Margaret. The God of the Witches. London: Sampson Low, 1931.

———. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1921.

Valiente, Doreen. The Rebirth of Witchcraft. London: Robert Hale, 1989.

Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon, ed. Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal. Franklin Lakes: New Page Books, 2009.

Further Reading

Aitamurto, Kaarina, and Scott Simpson, eds. Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Studies in Historical and Contemporary Paganism. Durham: Acumen, 2013.

Berger, Helen. A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.

Berger, Helen, and Douglas Ezzy. Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2007.

Blain, Jenny, Douglas Ezzy, and Graham Harvey, eds. Researching Paganisms. The Pagan Studies Series. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2004.

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. The Pagan Studies Series. Lanham, Md., Altamira Press, 2006.

Davy, Barbara Jane. Paganism, 3 vols. Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. London: Routledge, 2009.

Doyle White, Ethan. Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2015.

Eller, Cynthia. Living in the Lap of the Goddess: The Feminist Spirituality Movement in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1993.

Harvey, Graham. Animism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Hutton, Ronald. Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

———. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

———. Witches, Druids and King Arthur. London: Hambledon and London, 2003.

Johnston, Hannah E., and Peg Aloi, eds. The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture. Controversial New Religions. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Lewis, James R., ed. Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Magliocco, Sabina. Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Myers, Brendan. The Earth, the Gods and the Soul: A History of Pagan Philosophy from the Iron Age to the 21st Century. Winchester: Moon Books, 2013.

Pike, Sarah M. Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community. Berkeley, University of California Press, 2001.

———. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Rountree, Kathryn, ed. Contemporary Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Europe: Colonialist and Nationalist Impulses. New York: Berghahn, 2015.

———. Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-Makers in New Zealand. London: Routledge, 2004.

Salomonsen, Jone. Enchanted Feminism: The Reclaiming Witches of San Francisco. London: Routledge, 2002.

Weston, Donna, and Andy Bennett. Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music. Studies in Historical and Contemporary Paganism. Durham: Acumen, 2013.

Wise, Constance. Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought. The Pagan Studies Series. Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2008.

York, Michael. Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

How They Celebrate the Summer Solstice

From 2012, a BBC piece on how Latvians celebrate the summer solstice:

It is not a complicated festival. All you have to do is head out to the countryside, get a fire going, stay up all night waiting for the sun to come up and drink lots and lots of beer – which, I can only assume, is why it is called Ligo, the Latvian word for “sway.”

I have been feeling the energy boost from more sunlight, but I live at just past 38° north, whereas Riga, Latvia’s capital, is at almost 57° north. So even the “shortest night” is longer here.

What do you do?

A Quick Encounter between Fire and Thunder

ogle_002_sm

Jekabs Bine (1895–1955) “Perkons (Thunder),” 1941. Oil on canvas, 53 x 65 cm.
The Janis Rozentals Saldus History and Art Museum, Latvia.

The next issue of The Pomegranate will include a special section on the revival of Paganism in Latvia, a revival that blossomed in that Baltic nation’s first period of independence, 1917–1940, or between the Russian Revolution, which released Latvia from the old empire, and the beginnings of World War II, when the small nation was scooped up first Soviet Union, then by the Third Reich and then by the Soviet Union again, a crushing embrace that lasted until 1991.

I was partway through layout on an article by the Latvian art historian Kristine Ogle on Pagan themes in Latvian art before World War II, when M. came in from the veranda, saying that she could hear the emergency siren from down the valley.

Drop editor persona, assume volunteer firefighter persona.  Over my clothes I put on my “wildland interface” jacket and pants, since the sheriff’s dispatcher was saying this was a report of smoke, not a structure fire. I grabbed pack, radio, helmet, and was off, soon to be driving one of our brush trucks (wildland engines) up a county road that might lead to the site. But nothing.

Eventually we ended up with another firefighter and me in the brush truck, two more following in personal vehicles, a sheriff’s deputy, and an engine from the Bureau of Land Management. We split up to investigate different muddy ranch roads — still nothing. So after an hour, we called it off.

It had already hailed briefly in the morning, and soon after I came home, another little thunderstorm went through. So it seemed reasonable not to worry too much, not this week. People are still jumpy after the fire last October that took out 15 houses near mine—a wisp of low-hanging cloud might have looked like smoke.

Back at my computer, I continued where I had left off on the article. I had been just about to place a graphic in the file, and you can see it up above — the god of thunder.

Thunder has been much in evidence today here in the Wet Mountains, but given the painting’s date, you have to wonder if the dark clouds over the peaceful Latvian farmstead were more than thunderheads.

The Secret Police as Ethnographers

The next issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies will be devoted largely to new forms of Paganism in the Baltic countries, if all goes as planned.

One article that I have been reading is entitled “The Dievturi Movement in the Reports of the Latvian Political Police, 1939–1940.”

This movement itself started in the 1920s—and promptly fissioned. (Insert “Peoples’ Front of Judea” joke here.) But that origin does make it an old-timer in contemporary Paganism.

Latvia gained its independence in 1919, following the collapse of czarist Russia and Latvia’s own factional war. It became a republic, but a politician named Karlis Ulmanis dissolved Parliament and seized power in a bloodless coup in 1934. His authoritarian nationalist government lasted until the Soviet Union occupied Latvia in 1940.

During that time, however, the political police were spying on all political, dissident, and unusual groups, including the Pagans. I don’t want to steal Prof. Anita Stasulane’s thunder, but she made an interesting discovery in the national archives: notes on Pagan meetings and rituals made by a police “mole” in the group.

There is so much there: who attended the meeting, what was talked about, what songs were sung, how the altar was decorated . .  .

Imagine, for example, if someone had infiltrated that Yeshua ben Yusef’s group two thousand years ago — and that the scrolls had survived and been re-discovered. New Testament studies would sure look a lot different.