- Education and Science»
- Sociology & Anthropology»
- Folklore & Mythology
Fairies in Baltic Myths and Legends
Baltic countries are three countries next to the Baltic sea; Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. In this article I focus on stories about fairies told in Latvia and Lithuania.
Fairies of the Baltic lands
Baltic fairy is known as lauma (singular) (plural laumes). Worship of these creatures in Baltic lands dates back to Mesolithic times and belief for them is even older than Baltic pantheon with different gods and goddesses. Laumes were servants of Laima the Baltic goddess of faith. Laumes were also closely connected to Baltic earth goddess Zemyna. Worship of the mother earth is ancient and dates back over 30 000 years within Europe. Both Zemyna and Laima were some of the most worshiped and respected goddesses in Latvia and Lithuania during Pre-Christian times.
Half women Half animals
Laumes were nature spirits connected to different elements. First image of laumes was not very pleasant. Laumes were described to be metamorphic. They were hybrids between human women and animals. They had upper body of a woman, birds claws and middle torso of a horse, bear, goat or a dog. Many times they had only one eye in the middle of the forehead. Some of the laumes were similar to centaurs in Greek mythology. Laumes were believed to be seducers who were extremely dangerous especially to men. Laumes had a dual role in the society. They were protectors of women, children and orphans. Laima the goddess of the faith was highly worshiped especially among pregnant women because she was the one who was in charge of the child´s faith.These early stories about the laumes come all the way from Mesolithic times. Dating all the way back to the time after the ice age when groups of people moved to new living areas. Maybe these early stories of Laumes were inspired by the totemic beliefs of these early people.
Protectors of Nature
During thousands of years the image of lauma changed and became more closer to the idea how we in modern world see fairies. They were no longer hybrid creatures but instead they looked like ordinary women. They were slim ladies dressed in silk. Laumes were not described to have wings but it was possible that some of them did have wings. According to some legends Laumes were spirits of passed away orphans. Laumes were guardians of nature and connected to different elements. Air, fire, water and earth. They lived in forests, lakes, abandoned bath houses, swamps and meadows. These fairies loved to sing and dance. After the dance, when they walked away, their footprints would turn into mushroom rings and flowers. Laumes had the power to invite the rain and create thunder storms. This is probably influence from Slavic mythology where Rusalki the water spirits had similar powers.
Laima Goddess of Faith
Laumes were connected to weaving and spinning. Spinning wheel was the symbol of Laima the goddess of faith and destiny. Thread that she was spinning was the symbol of human life. Laima was in charge of everything that happened in the lives of humans but also what happened in nature. She was told to be a talented weaver who weaved all human lives together. Laima was highly worshiped among humans because she was the one who was in charge of everyone´s final destiny.
Vaiva and the story of the rainbow
There is a beautiful story from Lithuania about a fairy called Vaiva. Perkunas the thunder god was in love with Vaiva but she was in love with a mortal man. A musician called Straublus. Perkunas took Vaiva into the skies and forced her to live there with him. Vaiva had a colorful belt that she threw from the skies to earth to Straublus. This belt was the rainbow. There are other versions of the story and according to one Vaiva was getting married with Perkunas but the moon goddess Menulis was in love with her.
In Lithuania laumes were connected to the woodlands and to the fertility of the land but in Latvia they were connected to motherhood and magic of birth. In Latvia it was believed that if the mother died during childbirth lauma would become the fairy god-mother and the protector of the child. It was lauma´s duty to protect the child during their entire life. In Middle Ages Europe was constant battle field between different countries, cultures and religions. Goddesses like Laima the goddess of faith was demonized and she was turned into an old hag. This was also the time when Baltic society became more patriarchal and warmongering. Ancient pagan belief system in Baltic lands had been matriarchal and goddess-oriented without bashing male deities. All fairies were demonized together with the goddesses. When before Lauma was someone who guarded the child and was the protector of orphans, Now Lauma became evil character who killed the child or purposely killed the mother so that they could keep the child to them-self. Faith that Laima faced was a faith she shared with several other goddesses around the world.
Legacy of laumes still lives in Baltic lands where you can find several ancient pagan shrines. They are under protection and part of the cultural heritage.