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Lithuanian Paganism Today

The premises of Lithuanian Paganism include respect for the ancestors, the sacredness of nature, and the search for harmony. The home shrine is the household ancestral shrine. In the countryside, where families live in the same house for centuries, relatives welcome all new-borns and take leave of the dead at the shrine. Newlyweds go first to the home shrine after their wedding. Every ritual pays the ancestors respect. Their Veles (vay- LAYSS) --shades of the dead -- continually visit the living. The annual cycle of agrarian feasts accompanies the Veles as they come home in fall, visit their progeny in winter, and return to the fields in spring. There they protect and bless the harvest.

Paganism does not differentiate between the sacred and the profane: all of nature is sacred. The Earth herself is the universal mother. She is treated like a human mother. She is kissed, no one dares hit or strike her, gifts are given to her daily as well as at holidays Forest and trees, especially oaks, pines, firs, lindens and birches, are holy dwellings. Some Veles take up their residence in trees, while many Goddesses and Gods live in the forests, in the fields, under rocks, even in homes. Water and fire are both inherently pure and sacred elements.

Lithuanian Paganism seeks harmony, called darna. First, darna aspires inner harmony: people at peace with themselves. Second, it endeavours harmony at home and in community. Third, it pursues harmony with the ancestors. Finally, it quests harmony with the universe, i.e. with life and with the divinities.

Lithuanian Paganism differs from American Neo-Paganism. Superficially, it dearly adheres to its ages-old traditions, which are not set in stone. Lithuanian Pagans adapt their traditions to their circumstances. They learn songs, practices, and the elements of ritual. Then they select the materials to create the appropriate ritual they need for the particular holiday each year. Everybody celebrates the same ritual, but everybody does it differently. What one group does this year, another group may have done a decade ago--- or a a century ago.

Lithuanian Paganism relies on a vast heritage and wellspring of materials. It does not need to create much, but studies what it has. This includes songs, myths, dances, skills, practices, invocations, prayers, and crafts. Learning does not involve memorization, but implementation and practice. It seeks not facts, but experience, intuition, and comprehension. Ultimately, it seeks to invest a way of life.

Most Lithuanians accept Lithuanian Pagans and their festivals as something natural and folkloric. In spite of their current professed Christianity, Lithuanians are staunchly proud of their Pagan past. When asked about religion, they always boast that they were the last Pagans of Europe to be christianized. Most Lithuanians eagerly participate in ethnic Pagan festivals and rituals because they consider it part of their cultural heritage. Most also repeat the myth that Pagans and Christians coexisted peacefully in Lithuania for centuries (Pagans know better and do not spread such outrageous Christian propaganda). Although zealot Christians overtly detest Lithuanian Pagans, they are so busy attacking all their varied antipathies, that they do not have much time for Pagans.

by Audrius Dundzila, Ph.D. First published in "romuva/usa", Issue #8, 1992.

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