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2. Religion and mythology of the ancestors of the Baltic nations

Assimilation of local people by the immigrants resulted in a rather compact culture with a specific religion and mythology. According to Gimbutienė [2], female deities of the Balts originate from the peaceful Nemunas and Narva cultures; they are characterized by their chtonic nature, close relation with water, earth and the Moon and have life-generating powers. Male divinities show predominantly the elements of the war-oriented Indo-European culture. They represent fire, light, thunder and heavenly bodies.

Together with the Indoeuropean invasion, desacralization of the world was taking place. If earlier all nearby trees and waters were populated by spirits, and the dead were buried near the habitation sites, now the after-world turns into an abstract "lagoon" or "heavens" and is located somewhere far away, devynių upių (across nine rivers), už devynių kalnų (over nine mountains) or underground. The surrounding world is set free for human activity, since the world of the dead becomes set off first by a stone circle of the burial mound, then by a gravestone and, finally, by a cemetery wall.

It is quite probable that at that time (2000-1500 B.C.) the Pamarians and other Baltic ancestors already had a rich mythology and cosmological views. However, the culture of the local farmers and hunters has affected to some extent the mythology of the cattle-breeding immigrants. The agricultural aspect of the Pamarian culture is evident in pottery ornaments (Fig. 4) found in excavations of the Nida settlement dated 1700-1500 B.C. and described by Rimantienė [13]. Nida pottery decorations are very close in type to the drawings of the Dnieper farmer culture dated 2000-4000 B.C. and interpreted by Rybakov [7]. According to him, the horizontal lines drawn on pot necks represent unlimited supplies of the heavenly waters. The clusters of vertical or oblique lines falling down from the horizontal lines depict rain which waters the fields and nourishes the crops and animals. Under the rain are the men standing with upraised hands in a position of worship or ecstasy.

Fig. 4 Fig. 4. The agricultural aspect of the Pamarian culture (see the text).

Water is of exceptional importance in the cosmological myths of many nations, among them also in the oldest Lithuanian tales and folk-songs, a large collection of which has been recorded and is housed in the folklore archives (see [18, 19]). According to those tales, in the beginning there were darkness and chaos: land was mixed with water. In vast expanses of chaos wandered the God, who commenced dividing the universe into the separate elements: water, earth, air and fire. Almost all Lithuanian legends feature two divinities, the highest god and, assisting him, the younger god, in some legends called his brother, in others, velnias (a devil). Water seems to be the first element which was isolated from chaos and formed lagoons. By orders of the highest god, the younger god dived many times to the bottom of the lagoon and brought to the surface the seeds from which the earth grew.

The Lithuanian letter ž is pronounced as zh or (as in word "usual"), the letter š as sh (as in word "shine"), the letter č as ch (as in word "chair"), the letter ė as e in a stressed syllable (as in word "bed" but with longer e).

3. The concept of the World-Tree

Along with myths describing the origin of the world, its schematic symbolic representation appears. Many nations, especially Indo-Europeans, have the notion of the World-Tree. Some nations call it the Cosmic Tree or the Life-Tree. The vertical structure of the World-Tree, and thence the world model, as represented in the Lithuanian folk painting, was analysed in detail by Dundulienė [20], and Vėlius [21]. The World-Tree usually is shown as a powerful tree with wide spread branches, with its top reaching heaven and its roots going deep into the earth. The tree-top is the dwelling place of heavenly bodies and eagles, while in its branches other birds live; under the tree are men and animals and, still lower, is the dwelling place of snakes and other reptiles. From under the roots spurt springs of life and wisdom. Thus, the World-Tree represents the world as an indivisible entity, uniting the three spheres: the heaven, the earth and the underground. The mythical imagery of the Baltic World-Tree is probably a reflection of the holly oaks and ash-trees, as it may be concluded from the falk-tales [22].

The World-Tree is a widely spread image in the Lithuanian folk painting, and some hint of it is also found in the Lithuanian and Latvian folklore. It is frequently engraved or painted on the objects of daily use among peasants: dowry chests, cupboards, towel holders, distaffs, laundry beaters, crochet works, etc. (Fig. 5). Wood engravings of the World-Tree sometimes contain two segmental symbols of the Sun, surrounded by a circle of stroked squares, triangles and rhombs. The latter are symbolic imagery of tilled earth and sowed fields. The upper Sun shines in the daytime and gives warmths, while the lower one was believed to cross the underground lagoon from the west to the east in a small boat, bringing dew to grass and crops [23].

Fig.5 Fig. 5. The World-Tree (artist's painting according to the folklore information).

The oldest grave monuments in Lithuania are wooden krikštai, made from a board incised in the form of a tree. They used to be erected at the dead man's feet, perhaps in a hope to make his access to the heaven easier. To the World-Tree imagery belong Lithuanian memorial crosses and wooden roofed poles (chapels), also. Such roofed poles used to be (and still are to our day) erected at farm-steads, roadsides and cemeteries. They may have originated from the ancient ritual poles at which sacrifices were offered to gods [24]. The idea of such sacral objects is to direct the path of the prayer towards the dwellings of gods. Very common are three-storied roofed poles, where each storey represents a separate sphere of the World-Tree [25].

Fig.6 Every pole has the following elements: (a) a metal top with the symbols of heavenly bodies; (b) a small chapel with a wooden statuette of a god; and (c) the lower part of the pole framed by snake-shaped supports (Fig. 6). The dwellings for Samogitian (a Lithuanian ethnic group that lives in western Lithuania near the coast of the Baltic sea) gods used to be erected on top of a pile of stones or fixed to a separate huge round boulder. The stone was a symbolic border between the living world and the undeground world of the dead [26].

Fig. 6. A roofed pole near the Molėtai Observatory in Lithuania.

The upper part of every roofed pole is a filigree forge-work with symbols of heavenly bodies. In this symbolism we can distinguish the following ideas: the unity of the heavenly and earthly fire (the encircled cross); the ties between the Sun and vegetation (the sun rays ending in plant leaves); and the flow of time (the three phases of the Moon). Below the symbol of the Sun there is an image of the boat in which the Sun, having set in the Baltic sea in the evening, goes back from the west to the east, across the underground lagoon, in order to rise again in the morning for another day's journey across the sky.

4. Religion and mythology of the ancestors of the Baltic nations

Along with roofed poles, symbolic representation of the Sun, Moon, stars and other celestial phenomena can also be identified in folk-art artifacts of wood and crochet pieces (Fig. 7). The same archetypes have ben preserved throughout millennia, which is confirmed by grave finds of amber, bronze and iron artifacts and also ornaments and crochet works used in the attire of the dead. In Fig. 8 the symbolic representation of some heavenly bodies and atmospheric phenomena is shown.

[7]Fig. 7 A distaff decorated with symbols of the cosmological meaning. Fig. 8

[8]Fig. 8 Symbolic representation of heavenly bodies and atmospheric phenomena used by the Balts. The symbols of the Moon and its phases in the ornaments of wooden, metallic and crochet artifacts imply the flow of time and are a first step to the calendar [9][27]. Of particular interest is the cyclic repetition of the three phases of the Moon alongside other symbols, observed in the Baltic woven patterned sashes. These sashes were used to girdle an infant at christening or an adult on certain occasions when the individual was extending the best wishes for the other member of the community. The sash symbolizes the continuous flow of time and offers wishes for a long life. This interpretation is strongly supported by the well-known Latvian Mara's sash (Fig. 9) which was made in the 18th century. It has 49 different symbols, which correspond to the number of the phases of the Moon in a year, thus is some kind of the lunar calendar [10][28]. In this calendar the year starts with the spring, i.e. with the beginning of the new life cycle of nature. The main holidays of the year are denoted by special signs. A Lithuanian version of such a sash exists, with 12 symbols. The sequence of symbols in a sash in Lithuanian is called _raštas_. The same word is used to denote the idea of "writing". Therefore, the ornament of a sash can also be understood as the remains of a pictographic writing which might have been used long ago [11][29]. Fig. 8

[12]Fig. 9 The Latvian Mara's sash (fragments). Along with the symbols of heavenly bodies and atmospheric phenomena, more complicated geometric patterns, cosmograms, are observed in woven sashes and also on the decorated Easter eggs (Fig. 10). In the centre of such a composition sometimes we see a square, the sacral space, one's own village or the native farm-stead. At times the square is stroked, which symbolizes the sowed land. In the Lithuanian folk songs this sacral space is called as _tėvelio dvaras_ (daddy's mannor). From the central square, four perpendicular arms, drawn in the form of a tree, stretch out to the four directions of the world, as a sort of projection of the World-Tree onto the horizontal plane. Square corners point to the other four directions which, in the Baltic area, correspond to the extreme azimuths of sunrise and sunset on the days of the solstice [13][27]. Fig. 8

[14]Fig. 10 A collection of decorated Easter eggs. In the textile patterns such cosmogram is strongly geometrized and, therefore, less obvious. The Latvians call it _Auseklitis_ [15][30] (Fig. 11). This pattern has been chosen as a symbol of the Latvian national rebirth. Somewhat similar symbol, called _Laumės kryžius_ (the Witch Cross) has been used by Lithuanians for the protection of buildings from the evil spirits. Fig. 8

Fig. 11 The Latvian cosmogram Auseklitis with astronomical interpretation of the world directions (Kletnieks [16][20]). Another cosmogram, also associated with the Sun's journey across the sky, is called _žirgeliai_ (the stallions). It is a triangle whose sides have bent extentions at the top. The origin of this symbol is related to the gable decorations of a Lithuanian house where the bent extentions closely resemble horseheads (Fig. 12). These are the mythical twin horses, _Ašvieniai_, that draw the Sun's charriot across the sky all the day long. In this the Baltic mythology shows a striking coincidence with the Indo-Aryan Vedic imagery (Aswins). This means that _žirgeliai_ may be a 3000-year old relic. When used in ornaments, this symbol may mean the world roof, i.e. the sky. Fig. 8

[17]Fig. 12 The "twin-horses" cosmogram, a wooden gable of a Lithuanian house.

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