Alright, What's With Lithuania's Interest in Bees?!
I've been creeping around this post for a while, but I guess today's the day I'm committing it to paper. If you're familiar with my blog, you're well aware how intrigued I am with Lithuanian culture, but particularly their Baltic mythology and animism. So today, I'm taking a moment to delve more deeply into one goddess, the culture around her that reverberates to this day, and why the heck Lithuanians are so into bees (bitė). Alright, let's fly right in!
As soon as I got here, I noticed - how do I put this? - a curious plethora of bee iconography, beeswax candles, and most of all, honey. So much honey. And then, a sweet friend of mine randomly said, "You know, we're kinda into bees here... They're really important to our culture." I laughed and responded that I'd definitely taken notice. A month or two into our time here, some other friends gave us homemade honey as a gift. I was intrigued to learn that instead of calling a group of bees a colony, Lithuanians use šeimas, the word for family. And when talking about close friends, Lithuanians use the word bičiulis, which essentially means: bee friend. (I have a few of those now!) I mean, they even have an Ancient Beekeeping Museum up in Stripeikiai - more on that later. The point being: it's definitely a thing here, and it goes hand in hand with friendship.
It didn't take long for me to learn the name of the Baltic bee goddess, Austėja. Austėja, protector of bees, her name coming from the root word austi, "to weave," as bees harmoniously weave honeycomb. When the high priestess of Romuva, Inija Trinkūnienė, graciously welcomed me into her home a couple of weeks ago, she shared that her ceremonial group, Kulgrinda, had made an album dedicated to this exact bee goddess, Giesmės Austėjai. So, of course, I bought a copy and listened to it at home. According to the CD booklet (hey, remember those!?), "the perfect order inherent to the bee community of Goddess Austėja encourages us to follow those same sorts of rules. Their harmony, care for their family members, and untiring work along with the value of the fruits of their labor amazes us and instills respect within us." Ah, so revering Austėja and bees mirrors love for family, integrity in work, and harvesting sweet friendships.
Alright, I get it now. That's kinda sweet and endearing.
Image: Roman Babakin/Alamy
But back to this Ancient Beekeeping Museum (Senovinės Bitininkystės Muziejus). Beeswax and honey used to be main Lithuanian exports (and still are?), and bees have continued to hold large importance in Lithuanian shamanism and folk medicine, so it makes sense that a beekeeping museum would exist. (In bee shamanism, beeswax candles stand as a symbol of spirit.) And although many locals of the area engaged in beekeeping at different times throughout history, it seems to have emerged as a national pastime. You know, I'm really looking forward to taking a tour of this museum when time allows.
I think the interesting thing about Lithuania's relationship with bees is how much it says about their relationships with each other - clearly loyal, caring, and willing to work hard for a greater cause. (I mean, at least my friends!) And whether Austėja was really worshipped in ancient times isn't the point. I know at least one Lithuanian named Austėja, showing that bees and the bee goddess still persist in local folklore and culture. Maybe someday I'll have the opportunity to gift some honey to a new-to-town friend. What a full circle flight that would be...
The next time I head up to the seacoast, I'm planning to check out Palanga's Žemaitiu Alka, a Romuva-built and -inspired sanctuary featuring sculptures of many of the deities I've mentioned in my posts, including Austėja. I'll let y'all know once I make that happen, as well as the Beekeeping Museum.
Until next time, viso gero! Happy Spring Equinox - Laimingo Pavasario Lygiadienis! Be safe and be kind.