My Favorite Lithuanian Gods and Goddesses: Part One
In honor of my Lithuanian language course ending this week (nooooo!), I'm coming here today with something that's been inspiring me for as long as I've lived in Lithuania.
Let me explain.
Walking through the hallways of the picturesque Vilnius University - a Lithuania institution since 1579 - something particular has been catching my eye every Trečiadienį - I mean, Wednesday! And what could possibly inspire so much of my imagination once a week?
Immediately before stepping into my classroom, I'm welcomed into a foyer with ornate tiles made up of several Lithuanian gods and goddesses. When I tell y'all I gasped the first time I entered this room! Some names I recognized as personal favorites - Medeinė, Gabija, Žemyna, Laima - while others weren't as familiar to me. Not coming from this culture but immersing myself in it nonetheless, these tiled images felt like a small Universal nod that I may have made it to the right place.
So today, I thought it might be fun to venture out and learn more about some of the coolest Baltic gods and goddesses. I've dabbled in it before, but never committed an entire post to this fascinating topic. I certainly won't be able to get into all of them today, but I've got a few in mind. Let's jump in, shall we? It's for science. ;)
Medeinė - Consider Medeinė Lithuania's answer to Diana or Artemis, the huntresses. But the best thing about Medeinė isn't just her huntress abilities. She isn't just protecting you; she's protecting the forest from you. (Epic!) I've seen numerous internet sites state that her sacred animal is the hare, but she's usually depicted with a pack of wolves. Case in point: if you remember, back in January of this year, The Scientist and I hiked around Molėtai and stumbled upon a wooden carving - shocking! - of this goddess effusively surrounded by wolves. Living so close to the forest, I like to imagine she's hanging around my currently snow-drenched forest, making sure no one litters or something. Maybe someday she'll show up with her hares... I'm sure Audrey would have a field day with that! Let's move on...
Žemyna - Similar in disposition to Gaia or Mother Earth, Žemyna's name comes from the Lithuanian word for earth, žemė. (Just now wondering if there are any lost gods named Pasaulis, the Lithuanian word for the world.) One of the Vilnius University tiled goddesses, Žemyna is a main goddess - but interestingly, I haven't met any people with her name! (Sometimes people name their children after gods and goddesses here!) As with many things in Lithuania, once Christianity took over, she may have transformed into the Mother Mary. (See my past posts on this, um, conversion.) I find Žemyna fascinating due to her dual nature: fertility, for obvious reasons, but also death and transformation, almost like a snake, another creature revered in this country. Cool, right?
Gabija - The goddess of fire, I definitely know a few people named Gabi or Gabija. (Shout out to y'all if you're reading this!) And her name is popular for a reason, as she protects the home and family members. She reminds me a bit of Vesta in Roman mythology for that reason... I think of Gabija pretty often, actually, because I've been to numerous Lithuanian folk ceremonies and sites with an ever-burning candle. This Lady in Red isn't always mentioned by name, but I'm sure her presence is felt by the people performing these rituals. Even more than Gabija, I know plenty of people named Ugnė, another word for fire. This, too, makes me wonder if there was once a team of fire goddesses that has been lost to time. Basically, I think she's a badass. Let's get into a couple of male gods!
Perkunas - Perkunas is interesting because he can be found in both Lithuanian and Latvian mythology. (Love a good crossover moment!) Adjacent to Thor, he's the god of thunder, lightning, the sky, fire, fertility, storms, and a whole lot more. I see him mentioned often around Romuva circles, and absolutely heard his name more than once at Mėnuo Juodaragis. Why? The altar space at the festival emanated around a beautiful oak tree, and oak trees are especially sacred in relation to Perkunas. If you've got any cool Perkunas stories, send them my way! I'm interested to learn even more about him.
Ragutis - Who doesn't love a beer god!? Actually, that answer isn't so rhetorical, since I'm not a huge fan of the taste of beer. But hey, I love that beer brings people together, and Ragutis does this same thing in the center of Vilnius. As I mentioned with Gabija, he's got his own altar in Old Town with an ever-burning candle - right next to little tchotcke stalls! In fact, you'd pass right by it if you didn't know where to look. This stone was discovered by archaeologists, and, well, it's not going anywhere, so if you're in Vilnius, you should check it out! I just think it's cool that Lithuanians were like, "hey, why not a god of beer?!"
I could continue with my list but I'm okay with saving some for another snowy day. Walking down the street, I'd be willing to bet a number of Lithuanians don't often remember this link to their mythology. At the very least, they're not talking about it every day. But when they do talk about it with me or on social media, it's with reverence and care, like an old tale whispered to them by a grandparent. It's ingrained in their spirits. They don't need to talk about it - it just is.
And that's why I'm soaking in every moment of being here, even though I go days without seeing the sun. Learning new fractals of this culture and placing them against my own Lithuanian ancestral story keeps my inner sunshine well-fueled like, well, a ritualized eternal flame.
As per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me (tomorrow!) on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!