Religion News Service: Baltic Pagans Spurred by Conservation

People gather at the Lokstene Shrine, where Latvian Pagans hold ceremonies and annual celebrations, on May 6, 2017, in P?avi?as Municipality, Latvia. RNS photo by U?is Nastevi?s

A new article from the Religion News Service, which does not normally acknowledge polytheists, describes the long-standing Pagan revivals in the Baltic republics:

The pagan [sic] religions have been spurred especially by a growing awareness of climate change and the rise of conservation movements that tap into a deep local connection to nature and a desire to protect sacred spaces.

“In Lithuania there is a strong movement against deforestation,” said Trinkuniene.

Outside Tammealuse Hiis, the sacred grove in the Estonian forest, a sign states that as late as the 1930s people would converge on the area to meet relatives, play music and dance. “The long tradition of get-togethers died during World War II, but the power of the sacred site continued,” wrote local author Ahto Kaasik, a folklore researcher, director of the Center of Natural Sacred Sites at the University of Tartu and key figure in the movement on the sign.

Rehela often celebrates Munadepüha, a folk equivalent of Easter, at the grove. During this event his community holds rituals where members strike knives on axes to make bell-like noises, and the ritual leader gives a speech to the old gods and their forefathers.

Baltic Gothic: A Quick Review of “November”

In rural 19th-century Estonia, as depicted in the film November, people did not merely put out food offerings for the Dead on All Souls Day — they fed them. And talked to them. And if the Dead wished to enjoy a sauna, a fire had already been lit. And then things get weird.

November is a beautifully photographed black-and-while film (with a little infrared too?). Sometimes it is such a series of images that I felt as though I was watching someone’s curated Instagram feed or Tumblr blog, until the snowman started talking or the Devil twisted someone’s neck and took his soul.

Maybe instead of “Baltic Gothic,” we should call it “Estonian Hoodoo.”

Things you will find in November: shapeshifting; wolves; dirty doings at the crossroads; servants who steal from German aristocrats justifying their thefts in the name of Estonian nationalism; people stealing from each other; sleepwalking; the Plague personified as a beautiful woman, a goat, or a pig; lots of folk magic (with some spectacular failures); dreams; visions; love; and death.

The society depicted is nominally Christian but the other elements justify the label Pagan-ish. In fact, it made me think of a novel that I had read, The Man Who Spoke Snakish, which is set in medieval Estonia at the time of Christian crusades against the Baltic Pagans.

Color me surprised. November is based on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk, who wrote The Man Who Spoke Snakish as well. This novel was Rehepapp ehk November (Old Barny aka November), and I am not sure if it has been published yet in an English translation.

If you liked The Man Who Spoke Snakish or the 2015 movie The Witch, you would like this one. Read more reviews at IMDB.com.

Being “Nones” in a Pagan Society?

Sacrificial pine tree of Lalli in Tartu county - photo by Pille Porila

Sacrificial pine tree of Lalli in Tartu county – photo by Pille Porila

In Estonia, as with many Eastern European countries, the native Pagan religion is entertwined with national pride. Conquerers from the medieval Teutonic Knights to the Soviet Union have tried to supress it.

According to this writer, many—perhaps a majority—of Estonians are spiritual-but-not-religious in a Pagan sort of way:

Taaraism [native Paganism] went against the ways of Christianity and focused more upon the belief of nature. Because of the disbelief in Christianity, Estonians maintained a traditional culture of neo-Paganism that has continued to affect Estonian culture, beliefs and traditions to this day.

What I think might be happening can be explained by the good old 80-20 rule. Even if there is a “traditional culture of neo-Paganism” (Isn’t that a clash of adjectives?), at most only about 20 percent of  people really care about the daily business of religion, while the rest, to use an old phrase, mainly want it when they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched” — and for festivals.

Despite Estonia’s well-maintained churches and other medieval tourist attractions, Estonia is considered to be one of the least religious countries in the world, with 78% of Estonians saying they do not use religion as part of their daily lives, according to the 2006-2011 Gallup polls.

This is the normal condition of humanity, when you leave people to their own devices and do not demand that they line up in neat rows every seven days (on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) and say their prayers.

More from the article:

Those who had hoped Taaraism to become Estonia’s national religion during the first independence period in 1918-1940, saw their prospective success squashed by the Soviet occupation, as the atheistic and collective Soviet Union didn’t take any religion kindly, let alone a stand-alone national one, which would give too many independent ideas and thoughts.

Today, the population of Taara or Maausk followers is extremely small. However, according to the 2000 census, only 29% of the total Estonian population is at all religious, but in 2005, the Eurobarometer poll found that 54% believed in some spirit or external life force.