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.”

2 thoughts on “Paganism Close Under the Surface

  1. There’s a lot of folk memory of old rituals in the Baltic countries. One of my former students, whose father fled Estonia after the Communist takever, told me about revisiting the country with him after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They went to his family’s former estate, where there was a sizeable lake. To her surpries, he began to tell her about how a Goddess lived in the lake, and what the ritual was that his family and the peasantry on their land used to perform for her every year. So, yes, the hunters may well have known what they were about at the end of the video. All this stuff is local in that part of the world. The mythology may be more than local, and a few of the ritual customs, but most of the rituals seem to be tied to this or that specific place.

  2. A ritual hunt like this is unlike anything that I have done as a West Coast Pagan. At this point, I don’t think that I’d take part in one. Too divergent from my own accumulated magical practice and experiences of green spaces.

    Post-WWII Paganism probably inherited its high regard for ancient and recently recovered wisdom from general occulture. Including the notion that folksongs preserve such wisdom. My sense these days is that folksongs offer practitioners useful templates and guides to processes that hold some historic depth. But that are by no means ancient. Maybe not even medieval.

    Still, as a bewildered child of Gold Rush era immigrants, Childe Ballads certainly have shaped my practice and relationships with Deities, Guardians, Entities, Energies, and my home Land.

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