The Samogitian Sanctuary, a reconstructed Pagan observatory and sacred place in Lithuania (Wikipedia).
I post a lot about old and new Pagan movements in the Baltic nations, a region that I have never visited, although some of my family members have.1)One of my older sisters lived the last couple of years of her life in Kaunas, Lithuania, but that had nothing to do with Paganism although I believe her choice had a strong “karmic” element. So here is an interview with the Britsh historian Francis Young about a forthcoming book,Pagans in the Early Modern Baltic.
The Baltic peoples of Prussia (Lithuania Minor, today’s Kaliningrad Oblast) and Lithuania were almost unique among European nations in retaining their ancestral pre-Christian religion until the late Middle Ages. While the conversion of the Prussians was the justification for the Baltic Crusades, which brought Prussia and Latvia under the rule of German military orders, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania not only remained officially pagan but also expanded into a vast Central European empire. Although Lithuania formally converted to Christianity between 1387 and 1413, according to some accounts the nation was not fully Christianised until the eighteenth century.
Paganism in Lithuania was curiously–and perhaps preternaturally– resilient. Notably, it persisted in the wilder regions of the Baltic state until the eighteenth century. For this reason, as Young has pointed out, descriptive texts by contemporary observers of its key rites and mores might be the “closest we can ever get to encountering an ancestral European paganism as an unbroken tradition”.
Read both posts to get a broader picture. And don’t forget to watch The Pagan King.
Here is a Google-translation of the article’s first paragraphs:
46 members of the Seimas [parliament] voted for the recognition of [by?] the State of Romuva on Tuesday, before 19 were abstained and 18 members abstained.
The project was mostly voted by “peasants” and “policemen”, and abstained – the conservatives and representatives of the Polish election campaign, the votes of the liberals and social democrats on both sides.
There is still one vote on the adoption of the resolution.
MEPs who voted to vote on the project stressed the role of Romuva in Soviet times, the freedom of people to confess their beliefs, argued before the speech that worldview cannot be recognized as a religion.
“I am thrilled to vote for freedom. We often talk about freedom in this room, but in some cases we do something different. Leave people free to decide for themselves, especially since the community Romuva has proven to the public for almost 30 years that it is completely harmless and, on the contrary, nurtures ethnic traditions, ”said peasant Robert Sharknick.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Here 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.
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.
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.
Inija Trinkuniene was born in 1951 . . . in 1969 graduated from high school in 1974 . . . at Vilnius University has gained a master’s degree in psychology. Since 1974 she has been working sociologist Academy of Philosophy and Sociology, since 2001 – at the Institute for Social Research, now called the Lithuanian Social Research Centre.
¶ “Perhaps the future Carthaginians were like the Pilgrim Fathers leaving from Plymouth – they were so fervent in their devotion to the gods that they weren’t welcome at home any more.” But do not let that sentence give you any warm feelings until you have read the rest.