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Baltic Gods of Sky, Thunder and Death

Updated on March 30, 2018
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Folklorist and a story teller who loves to explore myths from all corners of the world.

Dievas god of the sky

Ancient Baltic tribes worshiped a sky god called Dievas (Lithuania) or Dievs(Latvia). There is not much revealed about the physical characteristics of Dievas. He was told to be a young man who dressed in silver, felt and silken clothing and he carried a shining silver (sometimes) green sword reflecting the outlook of Baltic dukes of the past. He was told to wear a white shirt and a gray coat. Sometimes he veiled himself so people would not consider him as a ruler. Dievas had ability to turn himself into an old man and in that form he visited people from house to house and from village to village giving gifts and helping them.

Home of Dievas

Dievas was seen as the creator god. Not as the creator of all things but as the creator of cultural values of humans. He was the god who legislated law and order in the world. People believed that Dievas lived in a farmstead of his own which was located at the top of high, silver mountain. His farm was rich earthly farm which included fields, gardens, houses and a pirtis (Baltic sauna). Dievas had a golden or a silver wagon or sleigh which was pulled by two dappled steeds called Dievo žirgai. Sometimes these steeds appeared as black dogs or as black ravens. Dievas also rode with his steeds. He rode down from his heavenly mountain to increase the fecundity of the fields. His slow ride down from the mountain was used to explain the approaching of spring and summer. His appearance accompanied the cycles of the sun and he was closely connected to the sun goddess Saulė. Sometimes depicted as her husband, her brother or her close servant. Both Dievas and Saulė were celebrated during Rasa the Summer Solstice festival.

Horse God

Dievas was closely connected to horses and was widely considered as a horse god. Ancient Balts believed that horses were sacred gifts from Dievas. He was a god who helped horsemen and gave advices on raising and taking care of the horses. Dievas was also connected to the triple-aspect goddess of faith Laima. In some stories Dievas even appears as the father of Laima. Since Dievas was the god of cultural values and law and order he had direct contact to the human world at births, weddings and deaths. He was summoned into ceremonies to witness oaths and promises. Both Laima and Dievas were seen as deities of faith. There are many folk tales describing arguments and conflicts between Dievas and Laima. She won the arguments most of the time. When Baltic lands were converted into Christianity in the late Middle Ages name of Dievas was chosen to represent the Christian god. This was because among the pagan Balts Dievas was very much liked and respected god and he was considered as one of the leader god-figures in the Baltic pantheon.

Perkūnas god of thunder

In many cultures sky god and thunder god are considered as one and the same but in Baltic mythology Dievas and Perkūnas are two independent, separate figures. Name of Perkūnas comes from the word Perk which is proto-Baltic word meaning oak. In Latvian his name is Pērkons and Perkuns in Prussian. In Finland one of the old names for the thunder god Ukko was Perkele. Perkūnas was the god of fire, thunder, order and chaos. All over Lithuania Perkūnas had sacred lands called Alkos. There were sacred fires kept burning to Perkūnas in these forests and ladies protecting the fire were called vestals. Hills and oaks that were ”touched” by (hit by Perkūnas a lightning) were considered holy. Tree or a rock stuck by Perkūnas protected from evil and diseases.

God of Nature

Perkūnas brought the rain with him so for the farmers he was the god nature controlling the lightnings and the weather. He sent rain and revived the fertility of the earth. Thunder was seen as a holy phenomenon. Each spring people waited for the first thunder and it was forbidden to till the soil before that. For Perkūnas awoke the earth and everything began to grow. If the first thunder became before Easter it was bad but if it became after Easter it was good.

Symbolism

Memorial candles called grauduliné were burned to symbolize Perkūnas in different rituals. Sacred day of Perkūnas was Thursday. Connection between Perkūnas and Thursday probably was inspired by Germanic myths. Image of thunder god shares similar features across the world. In his human form Perkūnas was described to be an angry man with copper beard, carrying an ax or a bolt of lightning. Perkūnas had a dual role. He was the god of order and at the same time he was god that ruled chaos. He had the ability to create harmony and to shatter it. Two headed ax was the symbol of that. It depicted his creative abilities and his destructive powers. In folktales Perkūnas is described as a god who fights against evil powers. There are many stories where he pursues Velnias the god of the dead. Perkūnas had many holidays throughout the year. Perkūnas Day Grauduliné (Candle-mass) on the second of February, Pelenija (Mardi Grass), Joré the first bloom (Easter), June 24th the fire of Perkūnas and 29th of June Perkūnas Day.

Velnias God of the Underworld

Name of Velnias comes from the word vélé meaning a spirit of the departed. In Baltic myths stories about Velnias are some of the most popular ones. He was the god of the underworld but he was also associated with trade, hunting and agriculture. He worked closely with the sky god Dievas either as an assistant or as an antagonist. He shares similar features with Prussian god Patula, Scandinavian Odin and Hindu gods Varuna and Vritra. Being one of the most popular characters in Lithuanian folklore Velnias is often mentioned in superstitions, beliefs, poems and songs. After the introduction to Christianity his character was transformed to portray the Christian devil.

God of Controversy

Velnias had ability to appear in different shapes and forms and in general in Baltic folk tales shape sifting is one of the most common elements. Velnias appeared in the shape of different animals, birds and reptiles. He could take form of people of different ages and professions. Velnias relationship with humans was rather complicated. At times he seek their friendship, love, acceptance or help. He helped people to till their land, build bridges, houses and churches. Helped those who needed assistance such as black smiths and hunters. He could also harm people in various ways. Tempted them to commit sin, entered into their soul and seduced them, mocked them and made fun of them.

Bringer of Life and Death

Velnias was the guardian of the dead. He was patron god of animals through shape sifting and re-carnation. He was also patron of the shepherds and herdsmen. In folk tales Velnias was described as a physically attractive man who seek love of women and sometimes even married them. Stories about Velnias and his relationship to women were very much disproved by Christians which later on increased his questionable reputation. In many countries and cultures in the creation myth the creator(s) has an assistant who helps them to materialize their ideas. Very often the assistant is unwilling or trickster who causes conflicts. Velnias was the assistant of the gods but his legend contains more than that. In the earliest layer of Baltic mythology Velnias was seen as one of the cosmological creator beings as one of the creators of the material world. His connection to death and re carnation dates back to prehistoric times and Baltic ancestral worship.

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