Religion in Ancient Lithuania


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Lithuanian ancestors – the Balts believed not in the Christian God, but in many gods, each ruling their element or sphere of life. This Baltic polytheistic religion was later called paganism by Christians. They also referred to all non-Christian people as pagans. Even long after Lithuania was baptised, the ancient pagan Baltic religion remained practised by the majority, but finally Christianity replaced paganism over time. The ancient pagan rituals may seem strange nowadays, but they were held because of a strong belief that pagan gods bring success and misfortune to people. The fields of responsibilities of those gods are similar in many different pagan polytheistic religions.

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Pagan Gods


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Perkūnas (Thunder) - Governs the atmosphere and the nature.
Pikuolis (Picollus) - underground, darkness, anger, disaster god.
Patrimpas – god of harvest and war.
Praamžius – god the Creator, the universe arbiter and guardian
Patelas – god of the flying spirits.
Milda – love, the goddess of freedom.
Gabija – fire goddess
Žemyna – fertility goddess
Aušrinė – morning dawn goddess
Laima – goddess of fate.
Ragana – forest guardian
Medeina – Lithuanian forest goddess
Velnias – Underground spirit who protects the hidden people, forsaken treasures.
Atrimpas –god of sea and water
Viršaitis – home, property and animals
Dievas –sets and ensures the order worldwide and protects the morality
Giltinė – Death goddess
Laumės –guardians of diligence and morality

WHEN WAS LITHUANIA FIRST ENHABITET BY PEOPLE?

The last iceage covered the current territory of Lithuania by thick crust of ice for many thousands of years. When the warming started, the glaciers retreated from our region to Scandinavia and left a place suitable for people to live. Therefore, only tenthousand years before Christ, in the paleolite (the old stone age) the first inhabitants came to Lithuania and started creating the history of Lithuania that continues for 12 thousand years.

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HUNTING IN FORESTS AND THE SEAS

Our ancestors hunted both in forests and in the sea. There used to be many animals in forests which we still know today: a beast-elk, a wild boar, a red deer, a roe deer, a lot of fur animals – a beaver, an otter, a fox.Later our ancestors also learned to hunt the largest beasts of the forest – bisons and stumbruses.The first domesticated animal by the hunters was a dog which then was a well respected animal .In Scandinavian countries people used to put even more expensive shroud to a grave of a dog than of a man.

ANIMAL WORSHIPPERS

The people of Nemunas and Narva cultures weren‘t wild. They had their religion. Hunter peoples around the world since the ancient times worshiped gods of game and beasts, so did the Balts. They worshipped the lord of beasts. The oldest main occupation of our ancestors was hunting and so they worshiped the lord of beasts, although different tribes envisioned him in many different ways.
Baltic tribes by the seaside worshipped the lord of the beasts Elk as the highest deity. Elks were great, noble, most common of all forest animals in Lithuania at that time. Because of that they had to be the most respected. People used to draw paintings of elks, also used to make and wear sculptures of elks, put them to graves, hunters used teeth of elks to make amulet collars. Our ancestors made those sculptures of bone, horn and amber. There were found several sculptures of heads of an elk. One of them was a ritual staff with she-elk‘s head.
These staffs were used during religious rituals by priests. They used to hold the staff high in their hands, representing their role as a mediator between men and the lord of the beasts. When a priest died, these ritual staffs were usually put in their graves. One such case was found in the tomb of the former Birzulis lake on the island. A young priest was buried with their female companion. She was buried at the feet of the priest. The tomb was poured in red ocher – natural dyes used for ancient rituals. There was a collar made of elk‘s and bison‘s teeth. The priest was a powerful person, and remained feared even after his death. Teeth of those animals symmetrically cover the eyes, ears, and were inserted deep into the nose, nostrils and the mouth. That was done so that the priest coudn‘t see, hear or otherwise sense the world anymore, therefore lose his power and not threaten those remaining alive.


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The ancient Baltic Religion

It is very difficult to recover the image of the ancient Baltic religion. The most important sources of information for the study and the understanding of the ancient religion are archaeological findings, particularly old villages, hills and works of art.


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Burial traditions

Ancient Balts used to bury the dead in hills or in settlements. Later, the new tradition of wooden coffins emerged. Also, some burial traditions changed: the body wasn‘t curled in the coffin as it was usual before. However, following the old indoeuropean traditions, they still sometimes bent the legs of the dead body.
There was a strong tradition of offering to the Baltic gods. They had special fireplaces for offerings. One of them was later found by archaeologists in the village of Nida, another one in Donkalnis. These sacred fireplaces were used many times, so there were many findings inside: burnt bones of animals, pots, amulets. They used to burn pinewood for the sacred fire. After burning the sacrifice, they poored some sand onto it, and later used the same fireplace for other offerings. The very same fireplace in Donkalnis was used for 2000 years, approximately till 0 AD.

Ancient Balts not only burnt, but also drowned their sacrifices to gods. There were found about 500 amber works, such as necklaces, buttons, small statues of people of animals in the Curonian Lagoon.


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What gods were worshipped by the Balts

The ancient Balts worshiped the lordo f beasts and the lord of waters. They continued making sacrifices to these gods, but they were slowly pushed to lower importance, as the new Lord of Heaven – the God emerged. In Baltic lands, as well as throughout the Central and Southern Europe, we find clay or drawn statues in the same posture of worship.
The ancient Balts tried to understand the world around them, on the basis of a millennium long experience from their ancestors. Hunters and fisherman had to orientate well in space and time during their long journeys. From amber disks and ritual pottery that were found in graves, we see how complex and beautiful ancient Baltic ornamentation was. The earth was already divided into 4 parts (4 directions), marked by the cross symbol. The world was divided into 3 parts: the sky, above which lies inexhaustible supplies of water, and therefore you can beg the Lord of the heavens to rain. Below were the imagined life of the earth. The Balts loved the numbers - 3, 6, 9 in their ornaments, and had a triple counting system.
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Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is the last day before the lent, the day of farewell to the winter and welcoming the spring. It was known even in the time of paganism. In the past it was called Ragučio holiday.
It meant not only scaring away the winter, but also inducing fertility.
Current Mardi Gras traditions – the ancient rites of celebration, which were used to determine the harvest, also reached our days.
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Easter

Known as Velykėlėmis. Until now, a symbol of Easter and the main dish - egg. Why? egg from the pagan era symbolised by the emergence of life, fertility, space. Eggs - our ancestors attributed many healing powers
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