Lithuanian Dievas, Latvian Dievs, Latgalian Dīvs, Prussian Deywis, Yotvingian Deivas was the supreme god in the Baltic mythology and one of the most important deities together with Perkūnas. Dievas is a direct successor of the Proto-Indo-European supreme god *Dyēus of the root *deiwo-. Its Proto-Baltic form was *Deivas.
In recent Lithuanian and Latvian, this word may refer to the deity of any kind (Pagan, Christian, fictional and the like).
In English, Dievas may be used as a word to describe the God (or, the supreme god) in the pre-Christian religion of Balts, where Dievas was understood to be the supreme being of the world. In Lithuanian and Latvian, it is also used to describe God as it is understood by major world religions today. Earlier *Deivas simply denoted the shining sunlit dome of the sky, as in other Indo-European mythologies. The celestial aspect is still apparent in phrases such as Saule noiet dievā, from Latvian folksongs. In Hinduism any deity is known as Deva, a result of shared Proto-Indo-European roots.
Lithuanian conception of divinity
The conception of divinity in the old Lithuanian religion still is not always clear to modern scholars. A number of them suggest that Lithuanians had a pantheistic concept to their religion. This concept, according to the ideas of modern researchers, had to include the following:
- recognition of a single Divine Being, that is the core entity of the Universe.
- recognition of multiple divine beings, that are on a different level of the main God or, in other words, hypostases of the single God.
- recognition of direct participation of the single God in lower levels in the shape of lower beings (manifestations of the single God). The known later sources give an exclusively human shape to the God, but it may be a limitation added by Christianity. The told manifestations of the God have features of modesty, fairness, chastity, delicacy etc., that show some moral priorities of ancient Lithuanians.
However, this understanding excludes the conception of a pantheon or of some other possible council of gods in the old pagan Lithuanian religion.
Many well-established sources concerning Lithuanian mythology do not contradict this conception, although there is not much data available. The lack of data leaves a wide gap for interpretations, and as a consequence, many scholars do not agree on all of the points above.
For example a historian of the early 19th century, Theodor Narbutt, took the presence of the pantheon in Lithuanian mythology as an axiom. And, in spite of being subsequently criticized that his sources were unreliable, and that his interpretations did not always concur with evident data from Lithuanian folklore, Narbutt's mythology was presented in a pictorial and detailed way. His works had a certain influence on the thinking and ideas of some scholars.
Gintaras Beresnevičius noted that Dievas assumed a position of a non-active divine being - deus otiosus - therefore his cult among the Balts was doubtful and that sacred places devoted to Dangaus Dievas are not even mentioned in the Baltic mythology.
Concerning the God (Dievas) in the old Lithuanian religion, modern interpretations lack sources too. Regardless, that the conception of the single Chief God was acknowledged by Lithuanians is well documented and is not in doubt. The word Dievas itself seems to be omitted respectfully or changed to its epithets in Lithuanian: Aukščiausiasis ('the Highest'), Visagalis ('the Omnipotent'), Praamžis ('the Eternal one') or Pondzejis ('Lord God') and in Prussian as Occopirmzts.
[Note: in terms of the Lithuanian conception of supreme sky divinity reference can be made to the sun goddess Saule for whom there is a vast corpus of popular lore, ref. Saulė]
Many of the descriptions of Dievas are known from early Christian texts from Lithuania, which are presumably not a reliable source for earlier times. No earlier sources that describe Dievas in detail have been found. The myths describe Dievas manifesting in the shape of man only, particularly the shape of an old male sage or an old male beggar. But the linguistic data, e.g. the name for the Southernwood in Lithuanian, Diemedis, literally the God-tree, as well as some hints in historical legends suggest, that the manifestations might be believed to take other forms besides the human, like forms of animals, birds or plants.
- Proto-Indo-European Roots
- Dictionary of Yotvingian language
- Beresnevičius, Gintaras (2000). "Lithuanian Mythology". In Jurate Baranova. Lithuanian Philosophy: Persons and Ideas. Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Change; Series IVA: Eastern and Central Europe. 17. Washington, DC: Council for Research in Values and Philosophy. ISBN 1-56518-137-9. OCLC 45248219.
- Gimbutas, Marija (1963). "Religion". The Balts. London: Thames & Hudson. p. 198. OCLC 1247359.
- Fee, Christopher R.; Leeming, David Adams (2004). Gods, Heroes & Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain (1st paperback ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. p. 78. ISBN 978-0-19-517403-8. OCLC 64023503.
- Leach, Maria; Fried, Jerome (1949). Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 631. OCLC 3856950.
- Nav saulīte dievā gaiša, Latvian Daina (traditional Latvian folksong)
- O'Connor, Kevin (2006). Culture and Customs of the Baltic States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-313-33125-1. OCLC 62281692.