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.