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Romuva is a contemporary continuation of the traditional ethnic religion of the Baltic peoples, reviving the religious practices of the Lithuanians before their Christianization. Romuva claims to continue living Baltic pagan traditions which survived in folklore and customs.
Romuva primarily exists in Lithuania but there are also congregations of adherents in Australia, Canada, the United States, and England. There are also Romuvans in Norway, for whom a formal congregation is being organized. Believers of Baltic pagan faiths also exist in other nations, including Dievturība in Latvia. Practising the Romuva faith is seen by many adherents as a form of cultural pride, along with celebrating traditional forms of art, retelling Baltic folklore, practising traditional holidays, playing traditional Baltic music, singing traditional dainas or hymns and songs as well as ecological activism and stewarding sacred places.
The terms Romuva, Romovė and Ruomuva came from medieval written sources in East Prussia mentioning the pagan Baltic temple Romowe. The word has meanings of "temple" and "sanctuary", but, further, also "abode of inner peace". The Baltic root ram-/rām-, has the meaning of 'calm, serene, quiet', stemming from the Proto-Indo-European *(e)remǝ-.
Ancient and Medieval Lithuanian faith
Whatever religion the original inhabitants of the Baltic region had predates recorded history. Mesolithic hunters, gatherers and anglers of the region practised a religion focused on their occupations. Marija Gimbutas controversially suggested that agrarian settlers of around 3500-2500 BCE were examples of earth-worshipping Old Europeans. After this, Indo-Europeans entered the area and brought with them their Proto-Indo-European religion. This religion, including elements from the religious past of the region, evolved into the paganism which is attested in the Middle Ages and later.
The adherents of this Baltic religion prospered relatively unhindered until the ninth century when they began to come under pressure from outside Christian forces. The Annals of Quedlinburg mention a missionary, Bruno of Querfurt, who was killed along with 18 men by Yotvingians while attempting to convert the pagans in the area of Lithuania and Prussia in 1009 CE. This was the first time Lithuania was mentioned in written sources. Other sources suggest Bruno had been killed for violating The Holy Forest and destroying statues of gods.
Beginning in 1199, the Roman Catholic Church declared crusades against Baltic pagans. Grand Duke Mindaugas was Christianized with his family and warriors in 1251 so that the Crusades may be ended by the Church. But Mindaugas still worshipped pagan deities as the Hypatian chronicle mentions. He sacrificed to the pagan Supreme god (*Andajus, later Dievas), Perkūnas, *Teliavelis (god of smiths), and *Žvorūna (goddess of forests and hunters). Despite any insincerity and realpolitik in his Christian faith, some subsidiary states of Mindaugas' Grand Duchy rebelled in protest. In 1261 Mindaugas renounced his Christian faith as his official conversion failed to placate the Crusaders.
Even in the face of Crusaders, by the time of Grand Duke Gediminas, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania expanded its influence until it formed the political centre of a vast and prosperous "pagan Empire". Lithuanians thus survived late into history as appreciable representatives of ancient European paganism, preserving this tradition as the official, state religion until the late 14th and early 15th centuries when Christianity was finally accepted by the states of the Grand Duchy, again for political reasons. Lithuanians were thus the last non-nomadic people in Europe practicing pristine Indo-European polytheism. The Sami, who remained nomadic, were the exception, but they did not form a state of their own or speak an Indo-European language. Unofficially, Lithuanians continued in their adherence to traditional paganism.
The Romantic epoch started in the 19th century. This led Lithuanians to look back to their past for both intellectual and spiritual inspiration. The national revival started and Lithuanian intelligentsia idealised ancient paganism and folklore. Some historians wanted to prove the beauty of ancient polytheism and even started creating new aspects of Lithuanian mythology. One of the most famous of these was Theodor Narbutt who edited Ancient Greek myths and created new Lithuanian ones.
In the beginning of 20th century ancient pagan traditions were still continued in folklore and customs. People were celebrating ancient pagan festivals mixed with Christian traditions. Such festivals include Vėlinės (day of dead souls, common with Celtic Halloween), Užgavėnės (festival when winter ends and spring begins), and Rasos or Joninės. For Užgavėnės, people in Samogitia may dress in costumes including masks and burn an idol of an old lady, called Morė or Giltine, goddess of death.
Modern folk religion
The philosopher Vydūnas is taken as a sort of founding father of Romuva. He actively promoted awareness of and participation in pagan festivals. Vydūnas saw Christianity as foreign to Lithuanians, and instead he brought his attention to what he saw as the spiritual vision of the adherents of the traditional Baltic religion. He ascribed to this a sense of awe in their cosmology, as they saw the universe as a great mystery, and respect for every living being as well as the earth in their morality, as they saw the whole world and every individual as a symbol of life as a whole. The Divine was represented by fire, which was as such used ritually to worship the divine and itself held sacred. Vydūnas had given special treatment to this religion of the Lithuanians in his drama Amžina ugnis (An Eternal Flame). Among this and other works, Vydūnas exalted the faith as being on the highest level of spiritual expression, along with other forms which he recognized.
Domas Šidlauskas-Visuomis (1878–1944) began to create Vaidevutybė (Baltic paganism) in 1911. At the same time the Latvian folk religion movement Dievturi was started by E. Brastinis. The main problem was that the first movements were based on limited folklore sources and influenced by Far Eastern traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. Even so, the idea of Romuva didn't die during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.
The Lithuanian pagan movement was stopped by Soviet occupation in 1940. The Soviet Union forcefully annexed Lithuania in 1940 and renamed it the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Due to the nationalist nature of Romuva, the faith was suppressed during the Soviet occupation and many practitioners were executed or deported to forced labor camps in Siberia. After Joseph Stalin's death the cultural life became freer.
A clandestine Romuva group is known to have existed within a labor camp in Inta, Russia. After the members were released and returned to Lithuania around 1960, some of these practitioners, along with Jonas Trinkūnas, formed the Vilnius Ethnological Ramuva and began organizing public celebrations of traditional Lithuanian religious holidays, starting in 1967 (the ancient Lithuanian festival Rasos was made). In 1971 the Soviets expelled the members from the university they attended and exiled the leaders. By 1988, when the power of the Soviet Union was waning and Lithuanian independence was on the horizon, Romuva groups began reorganizing in the Baltic nations and practising their religion in the open.
Romuva was recognised as an Ancient Baltic faith community in 1992 after independence in 1990. Under the auspices of the Law on Religious Communities and Associations which was passed in Lithuania in 1995, Romuva gained recognition as a "non-traditional" religion. Lithuanian law requires a minimum of 25 years of existence before such a religion can receive the state support reserved for "traditional" religions. Romuvans argue against this, claiming that Romuva dates back even farther than Christianity, not only in Lithuania but in the world in general.
Romuva is a polytheistic pagan faith which asserts the sanctity of nature as well as the practice of ancestor veneration. Adherents of Romuva believe that the souls of those who die continue to exist in the afterlife and stay with the living family and descendants, prior to reincarnation. Confession is based on preserved Lithuanian pagan customs and archaic pre-Christian folklore.
Romuva feasts are based on traditional archaic Lithuanian customs preserved in authentic form, folklore. All these feasts are based on rhythms of nature and contain ancient agrarian rituals. Year is a circle marked by two sun solstices and two equinoxes and thus is divided into 4 periods. During these periods intermediate feasts are celebrated.
- Pusiaužiemis (celebrated in January) is the change of nature (cosmos) in winter. All the hibernating creatures wake up and declare about possible climatic conditions. The Grass-snake is important mythological creature which crawls on a festive table and hallows food. This means a good yield and luck is coming in the new year. Romuva officiates rites to thank Gods and dances traditional grass-snake dance as preserved in folklore.
- In February Romuva celebrates the day of Gabija (family and household goddess), the day of Perkūnas (Thunder-god), Užgavėnės and the day of Pilėnai.
Užgavėnės is one of the most ancient Lithuanian folk feasts celebrated since prehistoric times containing worship of totem animals and ancestors.
Ancient Užgavėnės rituals:
- Eating of festive fat food and masquerade.
- Horse race.
- Destruction of feminine or masculine kind of idol symbolizing bad winter spirits.
- Fighting of two spirits Lašininis and Kanapinis symbolizing fight of winter and spring. Kanapinis always wins.
- Play of funeral and wedding.
- Various folk magic practices.
Important mythological figures in Užgavėnės are Bear, Heron, mythical deities and spirits of underworld or connected with death and spells: Ragana and Velnias (deities of underworld), witches, demons, animals-spirits, ethnic minorities symbolizing strangers from the other side.
The day of Pilėnai symbolizes old Lithuanian faith against Christianity and crusaders.
- In March Spring equinox is celebrated.
- In April Jorė is celebrated. Jore is the festival of spring Thundergod Perkūnas who awakes nature and fertility.
- In May Milda festival is celebrated. Milda, probably invented in the 19th century, is a Lithuanian love goddess, for whom traditional May feasts are connected with love, delight and youth. In villages Gegužines are celebrated during the whole month. An important mythological creature during May feasts and Milda is Cuckoo. She has zoomorphic shape or is the symbol of Laima, goddess of birth and destiny. She is one of the most important deities in Lithuanian folklore, similar to ancient Greek Ananke (mythology) and Moirai when Laima appears in trinity.
- In June Summer solstice (Rasos, Kupolinės) is celebrated.
- In July the day of Mindaugas crown is celebrated.
- In August Žolinė (the day of Grass) is celebrated. This feast was adopted in Christianity and marked as Mary assumption. In Lithuanian tradition Žolinė was the day of natural vegetation and Mother Earth – Žemyna.
- In September the autumn equinox and the day of Perkūnas is celebrated. In Lithuania the autumn equinox is marked as day of Baltic solidarity.
- In October the day of Krivis (Lithuanian pagan supreme priest) is celebrated.
- In November the Day of all souls is celebrated. It is an ancient Lithuanian winter feast containing the worship of the ancestors' spirits.
- In December Kūčios and Kalėdos are celebrated, also the day of Praamžius (God Of The Beginning) during the winter solstice.
The Baltic aukuras or "fire altar" is a stone altar in which a fire is ritually lit. Participants wash their hands and face before approaching the aukuras, and then they sing dainas or ritual hymns as the fire is lit. Food, drink, grasses and flowers are offered to the flame as the group sings the dainas. After the primary offering, participants offer their own verbal or silent contributions which are carried to the Gods and ancestors with the smoke and sparks of the flame. See also Rig Veda hymns to the fire altar.
Most of ritual hymns are preserved in Lithuanian folk tradition as folk calendar ritual songs also Romuva reconstructed some hymns for rites of gods worship. Reconstruction is based on ritual texts found in written sources, like Matthäus Prätorius and traditional archaic folk melodies. Some hymns of gods worship survived in folk tradition.
- Laima - The Goddess of Fate
- Žemyna - Mother Earth
- Perkūnas - The God of Thunder
- Dievas - The supreme god
- Velnias - A God of the Dead
- Saule - The Sun Goddess
- Menulis - The Moon God
- Gabija - The Goddess of Fire
Žemaičių Alka was originally planned to be rebuilt on Birutė hill in Palanga but was not agreed to by the mayor of Palanga. Instead, it was built on a hill near Šventoji which also has 11 sculptures of pagan gods. There are four main festivals in a year:
- 23 March – Vernal equinox
- 22 June – Summer solstice
- 21 September – Autumnal equinox
- 20 December – Winter solstice
Romuvan and Hindu groups have come together on numerous occasions to share prayers and participate in dialogue. These events have taken place in Lithuania, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Boston, Massachusetts, Epping, New Hampshire, and elsewhere. Close relations are maintained with various Hindu groups.
- Baltic religions
- Slavic religions
- Dundzila (2007), pp. 279, 296-298.
- Dundzila and Strmiska (2005), p. 247.
- Ignatow (2007), p. 104.
- Dundzila and Strmiska (2005), p. 278.
- Saulėgrįža Londono Romuvoje
- Londono Romuva kviečia
- Rasos šventė Londone
- Baltų Krivule Kurtuvėnuose 2011.06. 5.
- Dundzila (2007), p. 294.
- Dundzila and Strmiska (2005), p. 244.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), p. 246.
- Ignatow (2007), p. 102.
- Indo-European roots
- Dundzila (2007), p. 280.
- Dundzila (2007), p. 287.
- This series of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica is not recognised
- Clark (2004), p. 196
- Alfredas Bumblauskas, "Lietuvos tūkstantmetis". (Source is doubtful, Lithuanian reader needed to judge.)
- Dundzila (2007), pp. 287-288.
- Dundzila (2007), p. 288.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), p. 242.
- Dundzila (2004), p. 290.
- Waldman & Mason (2006), p. 492.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), p. 244.
- Barr (2010), p. 179.
- Dundzila (2007), pp. 279 & 292.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), pp. 245-246 & 258.
- Dundzila (2007), p. 321.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), pp. 258-270.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), pp. 258-260.
- Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), p. 361.
- Dundzila (2007), p. 292.
- Bagdonavicius (2000), p. 96.
- For most of the claims in this paragraph thus far, see Dundzila (2007), p. 293. For Trikūnas' involvement with Ramuva, see Dundzila & Strmiska (2005), p. 246.
- Faith-based organizations | Education | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Unesco.org. Retrieved on 2013-07-28.
- Romuva movement
- Indo Romuva Cultures Conference Announced
- [Dundzila & Strmiska, "Romuva: Lithuanian Paganism in Lithuania and America" in Strmiska (ed)., Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (ABC-CLIO, 2005), p. 288.
- Turning to the East: The Influence of Eastern Religions on New Religious Movements in Lithuania
- Bagdonavicius, V. "Vydunas: the Essential Features of his Philosophy" in Baranova, J. Lithuanian Philosophy: Persons and Ideas (Council for Research in Values, 2000).
- Barr, M. Historians and Nationalism (OUP, 2010).
- Biezais, H. "Baltische Religion" in Stroem & Biezais Germanische und Baltische Religion" (Kohlhammer, 1975).
- Clark, T. D., "Lithuania" in Frucht & Ellington, Eastern Europe(ABC-CLIO, 2004).
- Dundzila & Strmiska, "Romuva: Lithuanian Paganism in Lithuania and America" in Strmiska (ed)., Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives (ABC-CLIO, 2005).
- Dundzila, V. R., "Baltic Lithuanian Religion and Romuva" in TYR vol. 3, (Ultra Press, 2007).
- Ignatow, G., "Cultural Heritage and the Environment in Lithuania" in Transnational Identity Politics and the Environment (Lexington Books, 2007).
- Waldman & Mason, Encyclopedia of European Peoples (Facts on File, 2006).
- Sacred Serpent Romuva-Canada
- Lithuanian Mythology and Religion
- Lietuvos Romuva
- World congress of Ethnic Religions: Romuva
- Romuva (religion) at DMOZ