No “Neos” Here, We’re “Ethnic”

The flag of Romuva (Wikipedia).

A letter from one of the leading Hellenic Pagan groups to the government of Lithuania supports a request by the Lithuanian Romuva for state recognition.

Just as the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, Romuva is by no means a “neo-pagan movement” or a “new religious movement”. It belongs to the category of religions that the Religious Studies of the last 150 years name “ethnic” and “indigenous”, as it consistently refers to the recorded in the historical sources ancient Lithuanian traditions and, most importantly, to the living tradition of the indigenous religion, values and symbols, carried forward from generation to generation through the customs, songs, folklore and polyphonic ritual singing – sutartines. Romuva promotes the ancient Baltic Religion, cherishing in our days the traditional culture of the ancient Baltic ethnii as a spiritual, cultural and social heritage.

Do I buy that? Not totally. It’s a reconstructionist movement, making the claim that the folk songs contain encoded Pagan spiritual content. Is every tree a World Tree? In other words, it was started in the early 20th century but claims access to the 13th century, when German knights brought Christianity to Lithuania at the point of the sword. (And ended up controlling the land, oddly enough.)

To a scholar of new religious movements, Romuva would in fact be a new religious movement — and all religions are NRMs at some point.

It would be like saying that the English song “Greensleeves,” which goes back to the 16th century at least, contains encoded goddess religion. Or maybe it’s just a love song.[1]OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

But let Baltic Paganism bloom. As a friend of mine noted, one day “Romuva are going to get their own Hutton,” and some of these historical issues will be sorted out.


1 OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

4 thoughts on “No “Neos” Here, We’re “Ethnic”

  1. Here is how I look at it. My Paganism begins with me, in this moment. I know I lived in ancient times, and my far memories fill me with a nostalgic bittersweetness which adds to the joy of being alive in this moment, in this lovely world I share with the Gods. That is my religion, and with that I am content.

  2. I know we’ve had this discussion before, but my grandfather (b. 1888) was koldun in Byelorussia and continued some of the old ways in the US. My grandmother was from Vilnius, my other grandmother was from Kiev. Believe me when I say some of the old ways were continued despite the Christian overlay and they can be found underneath that overlay if you know how to look. Just as Santeria has overlaid Christian names for the old gods, same happened in eastern Europe which has a much stronger link to the old ways than that of western Europe.

  3. Folk music probably does offer us inspiration and guidance about our occultural past. But probably not a historical chronicle. Border ballads stir up all sorts of magical feelings and insights within me and about my ancestral past. I tell folks to listen and learn. Even so, I do magic with Coastal Rewoods because a bunch of my ancestors moved to a new land. They didn’t.

    I suspect that what survives is occultural shards. Not encoded near wholes. The music legacy does not provide me with a reliable guide to re-becoming who, where, when my ancestors came from. [I’m more a Craft and Pagan scholar than devotee.]

    Still, claims about the occultural past that assist in legitimating Pagan religions are helpful, even when they complicate scholarly work.

  4. Pingback: Neopagão? Pagão? Politeísta? Étnico? – Bosque Ancestral

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