Romuva: Lithuania’s Ancient and Alive Pagan Culture
One of the most compelling puzzle pieces that drew me to Lithuania from the United States was this country's long-standing appreciation for nature. And more than that, I was impressed to learn that Lithuania was the last European country to fall to Christianity, something I've mentioned before. Multiple Lithuanian friends have told me that once Christianity took hold, it was to keep the peace - politically motivated. In other words, people were still practicing the beliefs native to their hearts.
And in a way, that hasn't shifted. There's a whole movement of people aiming to reclaim their pagan practices, whether in Lithuania or part of the diaspora around the world. The movement is called Romuva, meaning "temple" or "sanctuary," and while it hasn't been officially recognized as a state religion in this country (yet?), it's certainly making a case to become one. While I know this recognition would mean a lot to its practitioners and I'm rooting for them, I'm more intrigued by the core of this culture and what it means, especially for its practitioners in the diaspora.
As a (spiritual) Ashkenazi Jew now living back in the heart of it all - truly, the Jerusalem of the North - I'm curious about the ancestral healing and validation it brings people. Is it as full circle for them as it feels for me?
As that article I linked to states, people began to return to their ancient faith and its practices as a way to reclaim a sense of national identity. But that hasn't always been easy, with occupations, deportations, and straight up being in survival mode - something my cells can relate to, once again. Even just in my short time here, I've seen how Lithuanians have woven their pagan and naturalist traditions in with Christianity to ensure they survived - Žolinės and the Assumption of Mary, Vėlinės and All Souls Day, and on. Romuva is unique among Lithuanian folk religions because it's working towards that acknowledgement, but as a whole, Lithuania has done well to preserve its culture. I can hear it in the trees - but there's still more work and honoring to be done.
So, what makes Romuva unique, and how does it validate its practitioners' spiritual lives?
From my own perception: I've seen a strong emphasis on fire altars and the universal aliveness of, well, everything, even just walking through the forest in Vilnius. Once while hiking down from the Trys Kryžiai (Three Crosses), I came across a clearly ritualized space - a circle of stones with a fire in the middle. This space was created to be respected and honored. I could imagine people singing dainos, ritual songs, to their respective gods and goddesses, and I offered my own blessings to the space. Here it is below:
And, as with so many celebrations in Lithuania, there seems to be an emphasis on ancestors - honoring ancestors, welcoming ancestors, healing relationship with them. I mentioned this in my Halloween post, but people here appear to have a relationship with their ancestors year round. The veil is always thin - and this faith understands that concept. I haven't yet been lucky enough to go to a Romuva gathering or festival, but I hope that changes soon. I'm part of a few Romuva social media groups, and multiple acquaintances in the diaspora have confirmed my thoughts that Romuva connects Lithuanians to their country, the natural world, their ancient rituals and practices, and their own ancestral healing or lineage. And, those in the diaspora continue to look for ways to celebrate different festivals either on their own or with other practitioners. It makes me realize how lucky I am to actually be here in Lithuania - at the heart of so much lived life, from the Vilna Gaon to the forest and its prayers. Next stop: Užgavėnės.
If you're a Romuva practitioner that has happened upon my post, feel free to share what Romuva means to you in the comments. I'm grateful that Romuva caught my eye back in America, because it's been incredibly fulfilling to learn more about this country's pagan traditions now that I'm here. It's beautiful to see how these traditions have been employed by Romuva practitioners, but also just random people I see walking down the street. They are very much alive here, and I'm hopeful Romuva gets the acknowledgement and support they desire in the near future. If Romuva is any indication, I have an inkling that more people will soon be turning to their ancestors and lineage for support and healing. You feel me?
Until next time, friends: viso gero!