Guido Segers is a great source of information and inspiration for us metal travellers, since he has the opportunity to visit the Baltic regions quite often. Finally online, do enjoy his (hopefully first of many) article on those fascinating Eastern lands: an interview with pagan band Rumovos, definitely one to watch.
The beautiful photos of the Lithuaninan landscape and ancient Baltic devils are by Justina Lukosiute.
Romuvos is the kind of band you will find only when you start looking for it. Pagan metal, inspired by the ancient Baltic tribes that roamed the lands we now know on our maps as Lithuania and Latvia. One could include the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, though the Prussian Balts are long extinct.
Romuvos is music dedicated to the Baltic pagan traditions and way of life. It has always been in my heart, but only now I’ve come to the point where I express it in song. Thus Romuvos was created, a name that refers to reviving the religious practices and pagan traditions of the Lithuanians and Baltic people before their Christianization.
The Baltic people have preserved their traditions through the ages and Romuva is a direct expression of these unique traditions. It gives a name to the folklore and beliefs that have existed for a long time in the region. I will give you some examples.
This refers to the rituals surrounding birth. Before a child was born, the ancient Lithuanians believed in spirits that would influence the unborn child in a bad way. One never directly referred to someone being pregnant to safeguard the mother and the future child. Expressions are still being used in Lithuania, like “The oven fell apart at Petras” or “It’s joyful at Antanas”.
Once the child was born, it would be inducted into the community. The christening was bound up with various ancient rituals, which tie the new-born to the world, his family and community. These would be performed either at home or in nature when it is the time of the full moon. The room would be decorated with plants and greenery, birds made of straw would be hung from the ceiling and in the middle of the room the hearth would be lit at all time during the ritual. Other materials were prepared, a bowl of water, clean cloth and scissors. The room would be well lit with candles. In the ritual the mother, father, child, name-givers, relatives and other children would be present, together with the priestess - Pribuveja (midwife), who would guide the event and take care of the child.
The child is dressed in a festive linen shirt. A sash woven with folk decorations is used as a waist-band. The feast consists of a cake, brought by the name-givers. The food upon the table traditionally includes eggs, scrambled eggs, bread, cheese, beer and such. Gifts are brought to the new-born and the mother. It’s all part of this important moment.
Vestuves is the word for a wedding, which was not just the concern for the young lovers. The entire community had an interest in the marriage and joining in the celebration. Weddings are so important in the ancient traditions, that there were over 100.000 dainos (songs) for Lithuanian weddings. There’s an extensive set of dances that represent the wedding – starting with the match maker introducing the young couple to each other, the parents agreeing, the young bride weaving her trousseau, and then the wedding ceremony.
There’s a myth of Perkūnas and the Heavenly Wedding: On his way to the wedding, Perkūnas strikes a gold oak – an exorcism to repel evil spirits (Velnias frequently hides under the roots of an oak). When a young bridal couple comes into their new home, before they enter it, the lintel is struck, leaving a “cross” – to ward off evil.
Funeral/Burial – the traditions surrounding funerals are fairly standard the world over. It is a time of mourning, and of friends gathering in support of the grieving family. But, there are some differences. In villages the coffin would lie in “state” for approximately 6 days, and in cities about 2 days. Every evening there would be the singing of laments, and prayers for the dead members of the family for three generations – each one mentioned by name. Every evening after the prayers a funeral meal is served, prepared by the best cook in the community. If the family has a pig, it is slaughtered for the occasion.
In villages the dead are usually buried in the morning, with final kisses being bestowed upon the loved one.
Velnias has given much more info on the pagan traditions in ancient Lithuania. For the sake of readability, you will find these at the bottom of this article. He mentions the yearly calendar, essential in the pagan rites, and the deities that the ancient Balts worshipped. One deity he goes into very elaborately, the one he takes his artistic name from: Velnias.
The folkloric devil in the ethnic legends creates the world together, either alone or with God or only God (there are different versions). God is in some traditions his brother. They both have the same goals in creating the world, but also some opposingones, mainly all the bad things are explained by interference of Velnias. The God creates useful animals and the devil creates ones that harm people and are useless. Velnias is also connected with horses, oxen and cows, of which he would keep herds. In the legends he often harnasses and rides the horses. From the wild life, the wolf, rabbit and bear are closest to him and he assumes their forms.
Generally Velnias is close to humans, it is not difficult to find him or call him he also comes without any invitation, let's say if people decide to play ripka or other games. He often offers his services in farming, to clear the field and such. The manifestations of the devil have a sense of music, often they contract a violinist, play musical instruments themselves and dance. Both life and death are under the jurisdiction of the devil. He is an intermediary or guide for the living, but also was involved with the fertility of people and the land. The harvest was also his. He is inbetween the world of the living and the dead, between earth and the underworld. Therefor he received the patronage of the people who are connected to the both parts of this worlds (i.e. priests, magicians etc). Also, musicians, poets and artists, who are inspired by both worlds fall under this patronage, as they are set in an old Indo-European tradition that associates them with magic and the devil.
I have mentioned my interest in the Baltic history and that is a big part of my music. It’s something I grew up with, the tales told by my grandmother, the sculptures and paintings in my childhoods home. Those inspired me since the day I was born. When I put this to song, the subject is a bit more general and I try to make it larger than life.
You released the record through No Colours Records. What kind of label are they and how did you get in touch?
Calendar Feasts of the Pagan Balts
Pusiaužiemis, January 25th
Mid-Winter Festival, though in some parts of Lithuania they celebrate Kirmeline instead, whcih means Day of Serpents. It’s the day when symbolicly the snakes wake up from their winter slumber. Food and milk is put out for them, and if it’s gone later it will be a good year.
Perkūnas Day, February 2
Gabija Day, February 5
Užgavenes, March 1st
The exit of Winter essentially waits for Spring and helps prepare for the new season. The holiday consists of processions, costumes, tomfoolery, games, and plays. The main parts are: receiving guests with treats; rides and races; processing the More statue and then destroying her by fire; plays with people costumed as animals, strangers and mythological beings; performing the war of Winter with Spring symbolized by the Lasininis (the bacon-being) with the Kanapinis (the hemp-being); portraying weddings or funerals; spraying people with water; fortune-telling.
Velykos, Spring Equinox
Christianity incorporated Lithuanian equinox traditions into Easter, and replaced the ancient Lithuanian name for the equinox with the Slavic word 'Velykos', i.e. Easter. 'Pavasario lyge', meaning Spring equinox, remains the only non-Christian name for the holiday. The week before equinox, called the Velykos of Veles (souls), concludes the annual cycle of commemorations of the dead. As during Kucios (Winter Solstice Eve), families remember their dead and leave their dinners on the tables overnight for the veles to eat.
Jorė, Spring Festival
Samborai, Spring Festival
Sambariai, which names the ritual meal at the conclusion of sowing, or Paruges, which means the day by the rye. Households gathered on their fields with food and drink, where an open-air ritual meal was held. Households held the ritual separately; it was not a community rite. The ritual included ancient sacred songs called dainos and ancient ritual rounds or sutartines that blessed the grains. Families would prepare for Sambariai by stocking up on food, especially meats, and by brewing a special beer (traditional ritual drink and libation beverage). If the ritual was held at home, the house would be decorated with fresh-cut birch branches. Occurs at the end of May, after the planting of rye and other grains is finished and the seed has grown. This tradition survived undisturbed until the beginning of the 20th century in parts of Lithuania. Sambariai also once marked the start of the swimming season.
Rasa, Summer Solstice
Order of celebration: (1) dancing around the gates, (2) dancing around the kupolas, (3) misc. games, predictions, circle dance, (4) vaises (ritual meal), (5) greeting the setting sun, (6) lighting the bonfires and offerings, (7) visiting and blessing the fields and trees, (8) principal bonfire, burning of the More (straw doll symbolizing the old), circle dances around the bonfire, (9) swimming and bathing, a boat with a bonfire sails to shore, symbolizing the nocturnal trip of the sun, (10) casting the wreaths (11) greeting the moon and the stars, (12) worship of the rising sun and bathing in the morning dew.
Žolines, August 15
In honour of Žemyna, Earth Goddess. Associated with Rugiu Svente.
Rugių Svente, Rye Harvest
Beginning with the end of July and throughout August -- depending on the growing conditions each year -- the Lithuanian farmers start to harvest rye, the single most important grain cultivated in Lithuania. Rye is a divine grain; its fields are sacred. The harvest begins with the ritual Festival of the Rye, which expresses thanksgiving for the harvest. Women and men wear their finest white linen for the ritual, and harvest the rye in these clothes.
Dagotuves, Winter Rye Planting Finished
Velines, All of October
Velines is in honour of the Veles, the shade of the ancestors – either of the family or the village. Because families would live in the same house/village for centuries, Lithuanians came to believe that the veles acted as guardians for the family and for the village. This is when the veles would enter the family home for the rest of the winter – leave at Velykos to go into the fields, to encourage the fertility of the land.
Kučios/Kaledos , Winter Solstice Eve – Beginning of the Year
Marks the end of the year, when the world returns to darkness and non-existence. However, as death begets birth, the two holidays also herald the rebirth of nature and the return of the sun. The Lithuanians distinguish the two subsequent days, now celebrated on the 24th and 25th of December, with a variety of ritual customs.
Here are the gods and dieties of the pagan Baltic people. Mind that the perception of Gods was/is different than that of current day Christianity.
Dievas: Supreme God
Lada: Great Mother
Perkunas: God’s Scourge, Sky/thunder
Patrimpas: Spring, joy, peace, earth
Pikulas/Velnias: God of the underworldSky Gods: Menulis: moon Saule: sun (the planets and stars are their daughters).
Zemyna: earth, birth, growth, ripening.
Domnestic Gods: Nonadieve/Dimstipatis/Zemepatis/Gabjauja
Laima: fertility, newly-born, pregnant women
Giltine: death, ordained the end of a life
Fertility Gods: Puskaitis: fruits of the earth and grains, lives under sacred elder tree. Pergubre/Pergubris: Goddess of blossoms and field work.
Kupuole: Field vegetation, her daughter Rasyte would water the plants with dew.
Vaisgamta: Stimulating growth.
Jurate: The queen of the Baltic Sea was a beautiful mermaid.
Kastytis: A son of the earth.
Siaurys: The North wind.
Aitvara: Considered to be divine creature, regulates relations and wealth
Pilnytis: The wealth god.
Kovas and Junda: War gods.
Ausaitis: The health god.
Ganiklis: The schepherds' god.
Keliukis: God of roads.
Milda: Godess of freedom.
Krumine: Godess of corn ears.
Nijole: Wife of the underworld god.
Medeine: The goddess of woods and trees.
Austeja, Bubilas: The goddess and the god of bees.