Information on Latvian mythology as a functioning phenomenon of everyday life can be found in historical sources dating back to the 13th century when the expansion of feudals and merchants from northern Germany was followed by clergymen and their chroniclers, who included their observations on customs of local tribes in their accounts of battles. Among these reports there are descriptions of local religious concepts, but, unfortunately, from the point view of militant Catholicism, where it is difficult to distinguish actual facts from the fancy of the authors, things seen with ones own eyes and things quoted from other sources. This information can be verified or denied by data from other sources, primarily the folklore materials. The systematic collection of popular art data within the borders of Latvia, the record of all variants found in the course of more than a century gives a versatile view on the prevalence and vitality of mythological concepts (in peoples' minds) as few other nations have.
The authenticity of data found in different genres varies. The most reliable sources are the folk song texts in which archaic motifs, images, concepts and data on rituals are preserved due to the rhythm, rigid rules of composition and traditional poetic way of expression. On the other hand, the principle followed by the collectors of folklore - to note the place of recording of every text - provides insights on the popularity of a certain image, the relevance of it to the whole nation, or just some part of it, as well as on its authenticity. Being an adherent part of both everyday life and rituals, folk songs provide much information on the functions and role of a particular myth or image in the life of the nation. In this respect, folk song data is also useful for ethnographers (researchers of material culture) - it throws light on both the symbolic forms of different objects and ornaments, as well as on different customs (e.g., those connected with work, life events, calendary customs), indicating the existence of relations between the real life and the myth until recent centuries.
Less reliable data for Latvian mythological studies is found in the fairy tales, since their plot and personage are mostly of international character. Tales as stories about ancient reality provide information about mythic beings of the lowest level only, whereas the main plot of mythologic tales describe relations between these figures and human beings.
The data of comparative linguistics is of great importance, too, because it helps to trace the genesis of myth, and the connections of it with the mythology of other Indo-European nations.
Analysing carefully all the above-mentioned sources, as well as the works by scholars - the most significant of which are Peteris Smits, Karlis Straubergs, Ludis Berzinsh, and especially those of Haralds Biezais - criteria permitting the building of a system in which every mythological being had its particular place and function were developed. These criteria meant an opportunity to answer questions about the importance and place of a deity:
1) in the model of the world built up in the perception of a Latvian peasant;
2) in folklore, especially folk songs;
3) in practical activities of a person's everyday life;
4) in different ethnic regions, i.e. the scope of distribution;
5) among the other deities, the specific functions and sacred character of the particular deity;
6) in the system of the mythological concepts of the Indo - Europeans, and structural relations with this system.
According to these criteria there are seven groups of different ranks of deities:
1) mythological beings connected with natural, cosmic phenomena;
2) a universal mythological being - Dievs (the God);
3) deities of fate;
4) personified deities of fertility / deities of fertility having proper names;
5) feminine deities, the so-called Mothers as Juras mate (Mother of Sea), Veja mate (Mother of Wind) etc.;
6) demons and spirits of the lowest level - those guarding the farmstead and family, promoting welfare;
7) evil demons.
The division is somewhat formal, sometimes uncertain, because in the course of centuries both the idea of the roles of different mythological beings and their names have changed.
In the life of Latvian tribes, mythological concepts are not a system introduced by some higher supernatural or social power, which one has to obey without any arguing; it is formed on the basis of the social and economic experience acquired by many generations of peasants and has become a substantial part of their everyday life as both manifestation of social standards and their organization. This refers also to the system of mythological beings, the different deities. It should be stressed that this is not a system of clear subordination such as that of antique and other elaborate mythologies. Every Latvian deity has an independent activities' sphere of its own, which seldom is contiguous to that of others. Genetically a great deal of them come from the deification of natural forces, encouraged by the dependence of ancient people on those forces.
The first level - deities of nature and universe. In the course of centuries the ancient chronicles and other sources have repeatedly recorded that Latvians worship the sun, the moon, stars, thunder, lightning and thunderstorms as gods. This information has been proved to be true by archaeologists with the discoveries concerning the early iron age (A.D. 100-300) -worship boulders, grave donations and ornaments of jewellery.
Ancient chronicles mention Perkons (the Thunder) as the highest deity of Baltic tribes, and archaeologists are of the same opinion. The name Perkons is related to Lithuanian Perkunas, Old Prussian Percuni, Slavic Percun, Hindu Parjanuja and Scandinavian Förgyn, thus providing an opportunity to trace its relationship with the Indo-European mythological system. Functionally Perkons is related to Hephaistos in ancient literature. The heavenly blacksmith of Latvians depicted in folk song texts (e.g., "Latvju dainas", no. 33729, Barons-Visendorfs 1894-1915) is closer to the Old Slavic Svarog (Biezais 1972; Straubergs 1956). The archaic myth (LD 34043; 34047) about the wedding of Saules meita (The Daughter of Sun) and some other inhabitant of heaven (Auseklis 'the Morning Star', Meness 'the Moon', Dieva dels 'the Son of the God'), to which Perkons has come as a guest is the most characteristic of this song cycle (having Perkons as one of the personages). He leaves striking the Tree of the Sun, respectively the World Tree - green or golden oak - thus causing the Sun's mourning for three years. In the majority of these songs Perkons appears (together with his family - sons, daughters, daughters-in-law Perkons is the only Latvian deity having such a large family) as a personification of fertility. In this aspect, the images of Perkons and Dievs have merged; such a syncretic view is maintained by the many beliefs in which Perkons is simply a natural phenomenon - thunder - representing the activities of other mythological beings. When thunder rolls, it is called the scolding of the God or the Old Father, regarded as the sound of God's cart carrying stones, or Devil and God playing games. In fairy tales and legends depicting Perkons as a persecutor of the evil powers (Velns, lods 'the Devil') the impact of Christianity can be seen.
The central position in cosmological myths belongs to Saule 'the Sun'. This conception is greatly similar to that of other mythologies having a cult of Sun with temples and priests (as Egyptian, Assyrian and Incas'). In Latvian mythology, the manifestations of the cult of celestial bodies are found mostly in ethnographic material, especially in ornament and in the calendar custom system as well. The cyclic character of these customs has developed in close connection with the course of the Sun in the sky and the dependence of terrestrial life on it. The vast cycle of summer and winter solstice songs is a part of this system, too; there is no direct praise of the Sun in those songs, but as a part of the cult of fertility influenced by the Sun they, in fact, have this function.
The sun and the other phenomena of the sky have a double reflection in Latvian folklore, and especially in folk songs. Descriptions of them as personified natural phenomena prevail, emphasizing the close connection of them to the everyday and economic life of men as well as depicting the course of the sun and other celestial bodies in the sky. This could be considered as mythology if we regard every personification as a myth.
The second aspect is the description of cosmic phenomena, in which the life of a human serves as a model for the description of the relations between the inhabitants of the sky. At the centre of this stands Saule (the Sun) and Saules meitas (the Daughters of the Sun) and their relations with Auseklis (the Morning Star), Menesis (the Moon) and Dieva deli (the Sons of the God) which bear much resemblance to those of human young ones.
In both these groups there are motifs in which personification has reached the level of a myth and is parallelled by the mythologies of other nations. The most popular common motif is the course of the Sun across the mountain of the sky. In drawings by Egyptians, Asyrians, Incas and Greeks, the deity of the Sun usually drives a magnificent four-horse cart (Ivanov 1986:23), the Latvian Sun has two horses harnessed to her cart or sledges (LTDz 10060-10074) (Drösler 1978). The world's system of myths does also correspond to the idea of the Sun sleeping overnight in a golden boat in the sea or at the end of a reed (LTDz 10147-10165), as well as the narrative of the Sun sleeping overnight or rising at a birch, lime or oak tree (LTDz 10017-10019). Latvian ornament is abundant in depictions of it in the form of Austras koks /Saules koks (the Tree of Dawn or the Sun), and from the aspect of typology it corresponds to the World Tree (Latvieshu... 1979-84) reconstructed in other mythologies.
The myth of the Sun also comprises those of Dieva deli (the Sons of the God) and Saules meitas (the Daughters of the Sun). Typologically and etymologically Dieva deli can be related to the Greek dioskuri or the Sanskrit acvin, and regarded as a substratum of the latter, dating back to the most ancient mythological conceptions of Indo - Europeans. In Latvian folklore, the semantics and functions of Dieva deli are rather varied, this being a proof of a long-term development during which natural-poetic concepts of different ages have merged. The genesis (Mify... 1980A:396-398) of these can be related to the poetic description of different stars, the dawn or sunset glow according to the world perception of Latvian peasants, as well as the standards of poetic expression. Under the impact of Christianity, the common image of Dieva dels also comprises that of the clerical Son of God-Jesus (LD 1340,1; 2764 etc.).
Comparatively varied are also the semantic aspects of Saules meitas (the Daughters of the Sun), the original substratum of which could be found both in the dawn or the sunset glow, the morning and the evening star, i.e. the Venus. The Lithuanian Saules (Dievo) dukryteand the Sanskrit Suryasya duhita, divo duhita (from Rigveda) can be assumed to be etymologically parallel (Kletnieks 1985:166-169). In these images, too, ancient concepts of the Daughter of the Sun or, originally, the Daughter of the Sky belonging to the Indo-European culture, have been preserved.
Saules meitas are often accompanied by Auseklitis (also Auseklite, the difference is between the masculine and feminine forms of the name). Songs name Ausiklitis among the stars, especially emphasizing that the Moon -Menesis - cannot meet him there in the evening. The explanation of his absence reaches the sphere of a myth - he is a guest at Saules meitas marriage - both as the bridegroom or as one of the bride's or bridegroom's people (LTDz 10473-10485). Most research identifies Aus iklitis as Venus. Astronomers (Biezais 1972:469-93) take all these images as a poetic description of the actual situation, original conception of the eclipse, giving the characteristic groups of stars in the way of the Sun the names of golden or silver oak, birch or lime. The arrival of the Sun at the apple garden is explained as its entrance at the group of stars named by Greeks Persais; images of Dieva deli and Saules meitas are believed to comprise the notion of the planets and the fixed stars.
The place of Meness - the Moon - in the system of the cosmic myths is peculiar. Primarily, as an astronomical phenomenon, its cyclical exchange of phases and the great number of beliefs connected with it make it a regulating mythical power in all the spheres of human activities. The beginning of all work in the fields, felling of trees, building of houses, forecasting and foretelling, as well as the healing of diseases, have been coordinated with the phases of the moon. Secondly, in legends, most of the attention is paid to the appearance of the Moon, especially to explaining the origin of the dark spots having mythical factors subjected to the morals (Kletnieks 1985:172; 1986:42).
In a small cycle of Latvian folk song texts, approximately the same as in Old Indian Vedas, Meness is depicted as a soldier in a magnificent dress (LTDz 10444) or as a patron of warriors (LD 32087; 31979, 5; 31945). Mythologies of many nations know the Sun and the Moon as a quarrelsome married couple (the parallels of the motifs are to be found also in the folklore of other nations; see Drosler 1978:45-49). In Latvian myths Meness'' shining or attempts to deprive Auseklis of his fiancee Saules meita (LTDz 10424-10427; 10363; 10378-10383; 10488 etc.) serve as the cause for the quarrels.
The second level is represented by Dievs - the deity having the greatest number of and the most manifold appearances in the Latvian mythological system, being found in all folklore genres. From the point of view of etymology, Dievs is a part of the common system of Indo-European concepts, together with the Old Indian deva 'the God' and dyaus 'the sky', Latin deus 'the God' anddies 'a day', Greek Zeus (gen. Dies), Lithuanian dievas, Old Prussian deivas, etc. all having in common the basic idea of deiuo 'bright sky of a day' (Mify... 1980B:79). In the course of historic development, Latvian Dievs 'the God' has undergone specific ways both of preserving original features and gaining particular ones. For the most ancient semantic aspect of the notion Dievs is taken that of dievs as 'the sky'.
Various proofs for the identity of Dievs and the sky (Biezais 1961:13-28), although given in many studies, are not convincing because of the lack of authentic sources. The most reliable of them are loanwords of Baltic origin in languages of other nations, e.g. the Estonian taevas, tovaz of Livs, Finnish taivas - all meaning 'the sky'. An indirect testimony is to be found in folk song texts, where he is a parallel personage to Saule or Perkons, and he is also used instead of them in descriptions of him driving down a hill, passing over a field of rye while giving blessing to all the soil. In these songs, Dievs appears as a personified being whose affiliation to the sky can be guessed by his adorned, shining dress as well as his participation in the quarrelling of Saule and Meness, the wedding of Saules meita and the settlement of the relations between Dieva deli and Saules meitas.
Dievs as the most ancient and most popular mythological being is confirmed by several factors. Primarily by the frequent appearance of Dievs in all the genres of Latvian folklore, especially and most variedly - in folk songs. In the collection "Latvju dainas " by Krishjanis Barons there are approximately 9750 texts mentioning Dievs (or 4.4 per cent of all the texts). Secondly, the word 'Dievs' is frequent in phraseology: Dievs dod; dod, Dievini (May the God grant (smth)' or 'Grant me. God'); nedod dievs ('May it never happen' or, translated literally, 'Don't give it, God'); Dievs palidz ('May the God help') and the word paldies 'thanks' originates from the phrase; ardievu 'adieu'. All this shows the permanent presence of this notion in the mind of the people and gives ground to speculations about Dievs as an embodiment of general rules, a power to which all the surrounding nature and man as a part of it is subjected. Dievs determines both the course of the stars in the sky and the victory of good over evil (of light over darkness), as well as the destiny of man and his welfare. In forming the destiny of man Dievs parallels Laima, who has priority in this sphere.
The fact of Dievs being the Creator is testified to mostly by lexical data found in such phrases as Dieva dots ('Given by the God') and Dieva laists ('God created'), both of them being more connected with the wild, uncultivated nature, e.g. Dieva laists ezers 'a natural, "God created" lake' as a contrast to an artifical pond (Shmits 1918:11; Biezais 1961:37-38; Drizule 1986:100); Dieva dots or Dieva laists cilveks 'an undeveloped man'. (The verb laist is an ancient word from the language of the Baits (see ME 111:413;
Ullmann 1872:133) (originating from the layer of the common Indo-European language and is related to the word Laima).
In folk songs, the creative function of Dievs is regarded as secondary, attention is mostly drawn to the subjects of man's everyday life and morals:
|I didn 't kick a dog,|
|nor a firewood burning:|
|A dog is God created as well|
|as is the firewood.|
|LD 3034 (1).|
|If God had created|
|a boy and not a girl|
|never would my father 's land|
|be a fallow.|
Dievs possesses hills, which are "made" or "grown" by him, and the forests as well, the name of Dieva suns 'the dog of the God' is given both to the wolf and to hairy caterpillars, Dieva gotina 'the cow of the God' is the ladybird etc. Description of Dievs as the Creator of the World in legends and fairy tales is a more recent phenomenon displaying a strong influence of Christianity.
In Latvian mythology Dievs appears as a personified being, whose activities touch upon all the cosmological levels, mainly the sky and the earth. The underground world is outside the zone of essential influence of Dievs. In the sky Dievs is both the ruler of the real celestial bodies as well as the arbiter of interrelations among mythological beings. In such situations, Dievs seems to personify the rule of inheriting everyday life traditions, the idea of Dievs seems to summon reflections by common people who are closely related to nature and perceive themselves as part of a system created by some higher power. Life as a whole is taken as the destiny determined by Dievs, unseparable from nature and not affectable by people. The course of the life of an individual is mostly subjected to Laima and her particular decision especially at the moment of birth. There are few texts in "Latvju dainas ", describing the discussion of Dievs and Laima on Kam bus mirt, kam dzivot shai balta saulite 'Who is to die, who is to live in this white world' (LD 27 684). But the appearance of Dievs is rather frequent (mostly in the form Dod, Dievini! 'Grant, oh God!') in folk songs dealing with the choice of spouse, betrothal and wedding and the period of life after it. It is especially so in songs about rumours, about hatred among people and about hardships of life as a whole, e.g.:
|Grant me, oh God, joyful nature,|
|if you don't grant good destiny:|
|sang a little, cried a little,|
|seemed as if experienced nothing (bad).|
|LD 124 (2).|
|Wish me good, oh God,|
|people don't wish me good:|
|they wish me to stay without bread,|
|without a horse and without a ploughman.|
Still, in such situations, Dievs is mostly mentioned together with Laima as having the same capacities. The merging of the roles of Dievs and Laima can be observed by studying the frequency of verbs used when speaking about the determination of destiny: liek, lemj, vel, nevel, noliek, nolemj; there are only two verbs - dod, nedod - used exceptionally with Dievs (an impact of Christianity is possible). In folklore, mostly in orphans' and widows' songs, but especially in fairy tales, Dievs appears as the recognizer of people's moral standards (from the point of view of wish) - the defender of the weak and poor, the punisher of evil.
In the studies of Latvian mythology, the problems of the relations of Dievs to other mythical beings, their subordination, the family of Dievs, Dievs as a proper or a common noun, has been under discussion a lot. The versatile analysis of sources proves that Dievs, although being the most ancient and the most popular of Latvian deities, is not the ruler of other mythological beings nor has any family at all. Sometimes, because of the analogy with the ancient Ouranos and Gaia as a married couple, Dievs (also: debesu tevs 'the father of heaven' or Primtevs 'the original father') has been considered as having some kind of similar relations to Zemes mate 'Mother of Soil', nevertheless this opinion cannot be based on folklore data (ME I-IV). The activities of Dievs in the heaven usually have more to do with Saule 'the Sun' (Saules meitas and Dieva deli acting similarly to mates meitas 'the daughters of mother', usual designation of young maidens, and Teva deli 'the sons of father', that of lads); the earthly ones being connected with Laima and the determination of man's destiny. Zemes mate, on the contrary, is one of the matrons characteristic to Latvian mythology and has functions related to the cult of the dead.
More sophisticated is the problem of Dievs being a proper or a common noun. The primary consideration is the group of words Dievu Dievs 'the God of the Gods', which is to be found in 25 thematically different texts as part of the introductory formula Paldies Dievu Dievinam 'Thanks to the God of Gods'). The analysis of the texts (Dnzule 1986:37) proves that the phrase under discussion has substituted more popular ones, such aspaldies saku / devu Dievinam '(I) say/give thanks to the God' ,ai Dievini, ai Dievini 'oh, God, oh, God' ,paldies Dievam, Dievinam 'thanks God' (it should be mentioned, that the diminutive form Dievini is a means of poetic expression, not carrying the semantics of 'a smaller one'), etc. Thankfulness in these texts is emphasized by the repetition of the word the same way as used to express the intensity of some emotions or to substitute an abstract notion. Secondly, nearly all folklore genres contain data proving the existence of many mythic beings having the word dievs or dievins attributed to them, possibly - only recently. Legends mention deities of soil, farmyard, threshing barn, oven and stove, all addressed dievs; proverbs, folk songs and riddles speak about veja, augsto un zemo, savu, musu, manu, viru dievs (god or deities of wind, high and low, one's own, our, my god, god of husbands). It is pointed out that in olden times every mistress of the farm had a deity of the living room, of the oven, of her own. These terms are used to denote the mythological beings of the lowest level (dii minores) -the house protection spirits. It is believed t-hat dievins is used also to denote the souls of the dead, veini (this problem is more thoroughly discussed by Biezais 1971:30; Berzinsh 1900:248; ME 1:484). It has no genetic connection with almighty Dievs - a deity of the highest level.
In Latvian folklore and chronicles there is no reliable information on the cult of Dievs - temples and priests, sanctuaries, prayers and sacrifices. The tradition of sacrifice in Latvian mythology is not studied yet. Still there are allusions to the existence of sacrificial sites and rituals both in the archaeological material, accounts of church visiting and tales as well. The latter refers to the spirits of the house or Catholic saints having taken their place. There is only one text (LD 1096, eight variants of it) in which one of the highest deities - Dievs, Laimaz or Maga - is given a golden ring to assure safe childbirth. Dievs, characterized in folklore as the creator granting all goodness, seems to be satisfied with the prayer consisting of an introductory formula Dod, Dievin! 'Grant, oh God!' and an explanation of the particular need. Because Dievs - the God of Latvian peasants, although sitting on the top of the heavenly hill and ruling his possessions - is much the same as the earthly landlord and understands the peasant without sophisticated prayers and large donations (if a ritual meal on different occasions is not considered a donation).
The third level - deities of destiny. Mythologies of different nations show faith in destiny determined by one or several deities (Biezais 1955:82, 280-293 ; Negelein 1912:61-66; Brunenieks 1940; Mify... 1980B: 471-474; Shmits 1936:170). Ancient Indo - Europeans may have known three deities, as it is proved by the three Greek moyras, Roman parces, nornes of Germans, sudichky of Czechs, etc. Latvian mythology, too, mentions three rulers of destinies: Laima, Dekla, Kärta. H. Visendorfs is the first to point it out in his essay on Latvian mythological folk songs. J. Lautenbahs (Lautenbahs 1894) dealt with it in a special treatise; the existence of those is ascertained by P. Shmits as well as other scholars.
The analysis of folkloric, ethnographic and linguistic data shows the difference of status of Laima, Dekia and Kärta in the life of Latvians. Statistics are as follows: Laima is adherent in 3100 texts of those published in "Latvju dainas", Dekia - in 165, Kärta - 12; all the other texts mention Laima only.
Laima as a word common to all Balts is known all over Latvia. There are some forms of the word to be found in sources dating back to the 17th century. But in dictionaries of the 18th century edited by J. Lange and G. F. Stender, Laima is characterized as a heathen deity stressing its role at the birth of a child and in the destiny of newly bom. Phrase Laimas likums is translated as 'destiny' (das Schicksal). Different written sources and folklore materials also show diminutive forms Laimina, Laimite, Laimutina, more infrequently - Laimes mate ('Mother Laime' or 'Mother Luck').
Etymologically as emphasized by linguists and mythologists, these names are connected with the root lam-, which is common for the Balts, Lithuanian lemti and Laime as well as Latvian Laima, laist and lemt being derived from it.
The semantics of the word as it can be observed in colloquial use as well as in different folklore genres contains double meanings: 1) laime 'luck' ~ success, luck, good living conditions, 2) Laime - a deity, ruler of destinies, determining a more or less happy life of a man. It is obvious from different folklore genres, e.g. proverbs mention laime mostly in the sense of luck or success.
In fairy tales and folk songs, extended descriptions of Laima as a deity of destiny prevails. It can be subdivided into three cycles according to themes and functions. Primarily, the songs concerning the birth of a child (his coming into the society); these songs most obviously show the peculiar function of Laima - determination of a new family member's destiny, characterized by words muzhu laist; likt; lemt; velet; rakstit (the life to be 'let, put, decided, wished, prescribed'). The second cycle in which the appearance of Laima is frequent has the title Dzives launa puse, bedas un asaras 'The evil side of life, troubles and tears'. These songs express reproach to Laima for her decision of life uz asaru avotina 'on the spring of tears' (LD 9190), even a threat to make her sit uz degoshas pagalites 'on a burning firewood' (Tdz 40556-40558), to drown her (LD 9189) or to take revenge some other way (LD 9203, 9267, etc.). The third cycle - the songs of orphans - is one in which Laima acts as a figure who supports, helps and sympathizes, as well as helps the orphan to get married. There are songs mentioning Laima in other cycles, too, e.g. those connected with the traditions of wedding and marriage and those of women's work, especially flour-mill songs. As it is obvious from the explained above, Laima deals with humans (especially women) and their destiny only.
Dekla. A typical deity of Kurzeme (western Latvia): only 14 of 165 songs having named DekIa come from Vidzeme (central Latvia). There are different opinions on the etymology of the word and the functions of Dekla. The first to mention it was the superintendent of Kurzeme, P. Linhorn, who wrote in his "Historia Lettica" (1649) that Latvians have one other goddess (besides Laima) called Dekla (Dackia), rocking the new-bom children, this being her main duty. This idea is repeated later in many other surveys.
Information given in the dictionary by J. Langius (1685) corresponds more with the data of Latvian folk songs. And this dictionary says: Dähkla, Fortuna-luck, worshipped by Latvians in a heathen way, the following phrase often being said: ka Dähkla nokährus (literally - 'as Dähkla has hanged or erected') (Nicas un... 1936:43(23)). This explanation contains two essential facts: Dekla is compared, equally to Laima, and, second, the phrase ka Dekla nokarusi denotes the peculiar function - determination of one's destiny (not rocking the child!).
In their turn J. Lange (Lange 1777:75-77), A. Hupel (Hupel 1774:515) and G. F. Stender (Stender 1783:262) admit DekIa being the goddess of the breast-feeding and nursing women, granting them health and sleep, deriving the name from deht - global, kopt 'to save, to take care of and espe-cially puppi debtdot krutizist 'to breast-feed'. J. Lautenbahs (Lautenbahs 1894) gives a similar explanation, pointing out that the root of the word is similar to the Sanskrit dha- 'to suck'. All this is summarized by Janis Endzelms (Latvieshu valodas vardnica, vol. 1:462). Unfortunately all three authors deal with the etymology of the name, not touching upon the functions attributed to this deity in folk song texts. This is done thoroughly by H. Biezais; analysing every text, he states that Dekla is a parallel deity, with no particular functions. H. Biezais does not consider Dekla as one of ancient Latvian deities, regarding the name Dekla as a derivation from St Tekla, which has come into Latvian from a German dialect in which d frequently substitutes fort, e.g. Latvian dalderis, German Taler and dialect dalder, the same as Latvian dikis 'a pool', German Teich, dialect dik (Biezais 1955:361-377).
Most of the songs speak about Dekla not in connection with breastfeeding and nursing, but with the determination of destiny, usually called liktena karshana (having this phrase used only with Dekla in folk song texts) as well as the realization of this destiny, the wedding - i.e. the beginning of a new life. Linguist Birgita Bushmane has recorded from an elderly woman in Nica that in their neighbourhood the word dekla was used to denote a matchmaker woman. This gives more reason to consider the word Dekla not as a derivation from the Sanskrit dha - Indo-European dhei-, Latvian del, but with the derived forms pad ekiis, deklis hen's nest', relating it also to the phrase dores det erect apiaries'. It can be associatively related to the beginning of a new life. Possibly this is the context to throw light on the frequent phrase dekla laime: *
|Sit, girl, don't worry,|
|your dekla laime doesn 't sit;|
|Dekla 's horses are covered with sweat|
|of looking for place for you.|
|LD 6629 (5).|
|People my dekla laime|
|drowned in the water;|
|my dekla is on the surface|
|sitting in a silver boat.|
|LD 9223 (1).|
Distribution of the songs mostly in Kurzeme and Zemgale seems to prove the more recent origin of them if compared to the texts mentioning Laima, which are to be found in all regions of Latvia. On the other hand, references of the name Dekla, dating back as early as the 17th century when Christianity had little impact on the Latvian peasants, seem to be contrary to the opinion relating Dekla with the holy Tekla; the doubts are also strengthened by the productiveness of the root dekl- in the Latvian language.
The analysis of both song texts and linguistic data found in various sources allows the conclusion that Dekla is an authentic Latvian deity, a parallel one to Laima to be found in Kurzeme. The third one to be considered to be a deity of destiny - Karta - is mentioned only in 12 variants of song texts, all of them being variations of texts with Laima as the main figure; these texts come mostly from the districts of Ventspils and Liepaja (Kurzeme - western part of Latvia again).
Viewing of these texts in their functional and semantic context proves the correctness of J. Endzelins' opinion, saying that Karta is just a synonym or even epithet of Laima (K. Mülenbach, J. Lndzellns, "Latvieshu valodas vardmca", vol. 2:201). On the other hand, the analysis of the poetic structure makes us believe that these texts are more recent, being more poetic than religious and more or less consciously striving to make Latvian mythology resemble more that of other nations, having three deities of destiny. Actually, there is only one deity - Laima, common deity of all Latvian (and Lithuanian, too) tribes, having a parallel one - Dekla - in Kurzeme.
Maga plays a special role in this group. The greater number of scholars studying mythology and religion consider it to be formed through a merging of the Christian idea of Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, and that of several Latvian heathen deities. The beginning of the process is documented by P. Einhom in his treatise "Reformatio Gentis Lettica" (1636), saying that Latvian peasants say prayers at the same time to the Holy Virgin Mary and lopu mate 'mother of cattle', being convinced that both of them can help.
At the beginning of the 20th century, different men of letters and artists proposed the idea that Mara is the most ancient Latvian all (Bruninieks 1927; 1938; Zaitie 1985; Kursite 1988). This opinion is based on etymology, connecting the word with Indo-European root mr-, Latin mors, mortis. Old Slavic s''-mryt'', Serbian smrm, etc. The same root is to be found in the names of death deities and evil demons of different nations, regarded as close to Mara, e.g. Old Indian Mrtyu, Buddhist Mara, Slavic Morena or Marena, Morehena, etc. (Mify... vol. 2:109-11). The second line of phonetic analogues permits connections of Mara with water: Lithuanian marios, Latvian mare, German Meer - 'sea'; Moor -'moor', etc.
Attempts to reconstruct possible genuine images of Latvian Mara, based on the similarity of words and etymologies, finds no proof in folklore and ethnographic material; phonetic similarity is not convincing enough. All this has already been analysed by H. Biezais in his above-mentioned treatise on Latvian goddesses as well as in the article in the journal "Gramata ", stating that:
|Modern linguistics has greatly freed itself from the view that it is possible to explain the semantics of a concept by the means of etymology. The idea expressed by a word depends not on its historic origin and relations to other languages, but its actual use in a certain cultural context (spaced out by E. K.). Without knowing the latter, the meaning of the word is incomprehensible. (Biezais 1990:37).|
The analysis of data on Mara's functions in Latvian culture (found in folk song texts) leads to the following conclusions. First, Mara, the same as Dekla, is mostly found in Kurzeme. This is obvious from statistics (Kalninsh 1988) 796 songs published in "Latvju dainas " mention Mara, of these 52 have no indication of the place where they were recorded, 476 (62%) come from Kurzeme; at the same time Laima is mentioned in 3072 texts and only 322 texts were recorded in Kurzeme. In other words, in Kurzeme there are 1.4 times more texts mentioning Mara than those mentioning Laima, but in the rest of Latvia the numbers are quite the reverse -there are ten times more of Laima's texts. These statistics are also proof of Laima's priority in Latvian mythological concepts, and proof of another conclusion.based on song text analysis - most of the "Mara's songs" are just variations of those having Laima as the main figure. The same is indirectly indicated by K. Barons in "Latvju dainas " by placing most of these "Mara's songs" as versions or variations to texts with other deities who in these versions are substituted by Maga, e.g. Laima, Dievs, much less frequently Dekla, Jam mate (Jani Mother), Zemesmate (Mother of Soil), and also a witch. The formally independent texts can also be related to those of Laima.
Mara's activities fall into two groups. First and foremost, taking care of the newly bom and his mother, their health and future welfare (this makes Mara resemble Laima), as well as active sympathy for women, especially orphans, assisting in overcoming the hardships of life, which means that Mara is regarded as a deity of destiny. Second - care for cattle, usually considered as women's object of care (especially the cows). The functions of Mara resemble those of Marshava and thus relate Mara to the patrons of fertility, i.e. deities of the lowest level of mythology.
Functional and semantic resemblances between Mara and the Christian Virgin Mary cannot be established, although every sixth song text has some connection with Christianity.
The fourth level - deities of fertility being given proper names and forming considerably lower category.
Marshava and Mara - the deities promoting cattle-breeder's work - have linguistic resemblances, but their functions and distribution areas are different. Marshava as a Latvian cow deity is mentioned in the 17th century Jesuit reports as well as in 50 song text variants in "Latvju dainas" recorded in Vidzeme Upland and eastern Zemgale only. The majority of the texts speaking about Mara as a patron of cows comes from the same region, although Mara as a deity of destiny is to be found in texts two thirds of which have been recorded in Kurzeme. Marshava in folklore has no connection with the particular work of the cattle-breeder; it is the bearer of blessing, welfare, and promoter of fertility. Connections with the images of beetles, black snake or grass-snake which are attributed to the deities of house, farmyard and soil (Velius 1986) suggests considering Marshava as a genuine Latvian deity of fertility, having the name Marshava attributed to it in a small part of Latvia.
Mara, usually with the epithet mila, sveta 'dear, holy', appears in 150 texts of "Latvju dainas " having connections with cattle-breeding, e.g. 82 variants of one text (LD 29167) in which Maga paints the cows in pasture on a Sunday morning. The rest of the texts show Mara herself shepherding and singing, meeting the shepherds, feeding and milking the cows or calling the maids to do it; caring for the reproduction of the herd, throwing golden bunch, golden red, mittens into the cattle-yard, taking part in all cattle-breeder's everyday work. Mara's epithet sveta 'holy' in song texts, but especially incantations (Mila lopu Marija, Jezus Kristus mate - 'Dear cattle Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ' (LBV 344); Mila Marina, sveta sievipa, parmet svetu krustinu - 'Dear Marina, holy woman, cross with a holy cross' (LBV 345)), suggests a conclusion that this could be a Christian influence. This idea is also backed by P. Einhorn, a 17th century German priest, who has emphasized in several of his works that the religious concepts of the native, non-German inhabitants is dominated by a total chaos and confusion of religions, because they say prayers both to the Virgin Mary and the saints as well as their own deities; e.g. to ensure the welfare of their cattle they say O Maringa darga, o lopu Matiet bagata 'Oh, Mara dear, oh wealthy Mother of Cattle', believing that both of them - the Virgin Mary and the heathen deity - could help them.
The analysis of folklore and ethnographic material provides proof that the merging of the Christian saints and ancient Latvian deities has been merely formal - only the name of Mary was included to Latvian mythology, furthermore - it was changed into Mara (related with Marsava) and incorporated in certain ritual processes in peasants' economic activities.
The other patrons of cattle - Usinsh, Jurgis, Martinsh, Tenis - are connected with the same region - Vidzeme Upland and eastern Zemgale.
Usinsh as a deity of horses is mentioned for the first time in the report of the Jesuit Stribing in 1606. In the written sources dating back to the 18th century jsinsh is equated with holy Jurgis (St Georg; April 23). Gothard Stender (Stender 1783:271) has interpreted it as a deity of bees, seeing the etymology of the word Usinsh in a word of German origin uzas 'pants', i.e. the yellow pollen "pants" on the back of a bee. This interpretation is unacceptable because of the following:
1) it is hard to believe that Latvians have given their deity a name coming from the conquering language;
2) there occur no other cases where the name of a deity has been derived from one feature of its appearance;
3) song texts give no proof to the idea of Usinsh as a deity of bees.
There is a theory (R. Aunins (Aunins 1881), H. Biezais) based on the etymology of the name Usinsh (relating it to Sanskrit Ushas, agvin) that Usinsh originally is a deity of light. Such a suggestion has indirect evidence in the fact that words like u sen', ovsen'', mavsen' (pronounced as: ousen, ovsen, tuvsen) are known in central Russia as refrains of spring ritual songs (Toporov 1988; 1990). On New Years Eve some Mordvinian tribes have worshipped Tavunsiai (tuvounsyay), a patron of pigs, the songs of the rite having the name of Tavunsiai and they are similar to the Latvian songs of similar rites (Smorodov 1980:64), showing the relation with solstice.
Admitting the possible original connection of Usinsh with sky and light, it has to be pointed out that according to Latvian folklore material Usinsh is related to the rituals of spring equinox, suggesting an interpretation of this deity either as a personification of spring or as a genuine Latvian deity connected with it. Under the influence of Christianity Usinsh has been equated with St George. There are several features of Usinsh characteristic to a deity of the spring equinox - it is connected with the first day of shepherding, first night-watching of horses on the pasture, the beginning of sowing; April 23 was the beginning of the economic year, when farmhands changed the landlords with whom they served. Markets of Usinsh or Jurgis were organized on that day with horses being the main object of trade. As well as Mara and Marshava, Usinsh has particular functions: currying and feeding of horses, going for their night-watch. Roosters, eggs and beer have been donated to Usinsh. But in autumn, when the season of night-watch comes to an end, Martins is named as the patron of horses (LD 30220).
St Anthony has been transformed into the patron of pigs Tenis. Tenisinsh, but the number of texts in "Latvju dainas " mentioning it is very small.
The deity of cornfield fertility - Jumis or feminine Jumala - is known in Vidzeme, Latgale and partly in Zemgale (central, eastern and southern parts of Latvia). It has etymological ties with the Indo-European root ieu- or iem-, fitting in the Indo-European original language also semantically implying the notion of two elements associated (Neuland 1977:18; ME II: 117-118). The symbol of Jumis is a bifurcate ear. Originally the cult of Jumis manifested as a ritual of sowing the crop of that peculiar ear, therefore ensuring the continuity of fertility. If no natural Jumis was found, an artificial one was made - an uncut cluster was left in the middle of the field, the ears were tied in a knot, a wreath was made of them and kept until the next sowing season. The cult of Jumis is closely related with the process of the work itself- the end of harvesting described in texts as the chase of Jumis resulting in ceremonial making of the last sheaf. Cyclical continuity, flow of transformations, repetitions typologically connect Jumis with the deities of fertility of ancient nations -Adonis, Demether, Persephone, Osiris, Dionysus.
Each one of these fourth level deities has its particular functions in the flow of peasant's life, but they have also some common basic features allowing them to be grouped together. The mentioned features are:
1) particular, limited sphere of functions;
2) regional limitations - Vidzeme Uplands, Jumis being the only one known also in Latgale and Zemgale;
3) submission of the landlord (or landlady) of a farm, and the possibility of concluding a treaty with them;
4) donations to these deities, sometimes taking the form of a ritual meal (e.g. blood of a black rooster has been poured on oats in a trough as a donation to Usinsh or Jurg'is or Martins on the first or the last day of the night-watch of horses, its meat is eaten by the male members of the family; also the meal celebrating the end of crop-harvesting has connections with Jumis);
5) greater impact of Christianity and connections with the calendric days of clerical saints, if compared to the other mythological beings.
With certain precautiousness the central figure of the summer solstice customs - Janis - can be included in this group. It has parallels both in Russian and Lithuanian folklore. Etymologically it can be related to the Roman double-faced deity Janus. Functionally it can be included in the group of fertility deities, as discussed above, but Janis differs from those deities in his wider sphere of functioning. While Usinsh, Marshova and Jumis "take care" of only one sphere, Janis gives blessing to fields, cattle, man's family and nature as a whole. Connection of the ritual worship with a certain period can be considered as a common feature of Janis and the deities discussed above, yet a diversity of the ritual actions, the great number of texts devoted to Janis, as well as the number of active participants of the ritual exceeding that of all others places Janis above all these deities. Distinct from other promoters of fertility, being recorded in a limited region, possibly inhabited by some particular tribes, Janis is known all over Latvia. All this proves Janis to be a genuine and very ancient Latvian deity. H. Biezais, regarding the name Janis as a derivation from the Christian John the Baptist, proposes a hypothesis that originally Janis could be the Sun itself or God of the Sun, this ancient name having been forgotten later (Biezais 1972:353-375). To prove this, more profound studies from the point of view of comparative mythology are necessary, as well as the incorporation of data obtained in neighbouring fields of study.
The fifth level of mythological beings comprises mates - 'the mothers', being more than fifty (see Greble 1957:733-736) and giving rise to many problems about their authenticity, functional semantics, distribution, possible genesis, as well as the place and role both in the context of Latvian and international mythological systems. Mates may originate from the great respect towards women and especially mother as the bearer of life characteristic to the Latvian mentality. Such dignifying is manifest in attributing the name Mate 'the Mother' to processes in nature or human life which are the most important. This could be the explanation for the most of the cases when there are only a few texts displaying the attribution of the name Mate to some object or phenomen, i.e. this peculiar case being without any wider social function. The majority of them have connections with the personification of natural phenomena and can be considered just as a respectful reference.
Data on the many deities having the name Mate attributed to them dates back as early as the 17th century. As P. Einhom has stated, Latvians have worshipped Lauka, Mezha, Juras, Darza, Veja, Cela Mate (Mothers of Field, Forest, Sea, Garden, Wind, Road), emphasizing that he himself has heard peasants praying to and mentioning them either while working or in their songs. J. Lange and G. F. Stender add Puku, Zemes, Uguns, Udens, Meslu, Kara Mate (Mothers of Flowers, Earth, Fire, Water, Manure, War).
Some of them have become deities due to a misunderstanding, e.g. Kara Mate (Mother of War), found in several texts of "Latvju dainas", connected with mockery songs at the wedding ritual (LD 18603, 18604,20827, 23261, etc.). (This ritual includes a "war of singing", a kind of contest between the people of the bride's and the bridegroom's houses, one attributing to the other different vices, exaggerating some features, mocking "the other part". This can be a transformation of the hostile relations of olden times, e.g. kidnapping of the bride, though song texts describe it all just as a ritual, necessary but without any actual hate.) The above-mentioned texts show the use of Kara Mate as a description of the bride, mother-in-law or any quarrelsome feminine person. J. Lange in his dictionary (Lange 1777:287) has interpreted her both as a deity of quarrels, swear-words and a shrew (ein zänkisches Weib). But there are no folklore materials found revealing any characteristic mythological functions of Kara Mate.
So the question arises whether the mention of "mother" in the song text should be considered as a mythological being or is it just a personification of natural powers or a phrase that has served as an expression of admiration for some natural phenomena, e.g. Meza Mate (Mother of Wood). There are data to be found in tales showing that the name Meza Mate has referred to the oldest and the most beautiful tree in the whole forest - spruce, pine, lime or oak which was given a donation on a certain day. Song texts depict Meza Mate as the hostess of wild flora and fauna, guarding and taking care of them, but also as a matron of hunters.
Among all these matrons Velu Mate plays a peculiar role because of both her authenticity and number of references (125 variants published in LD), bearing the evidence of her popularity, clarity, poetic density of the image, and higher level of personification. As a mythic image Velu Mate (Mother of the Dead Souls) has a major connection with the burial of the dead. Ideas of the ancientness of its origin, parallels with concepts of many other nations is suggested by its involvement in a widespread international motif of raining during sunshine (LD 27798) (Kuusi 1957).
As functional synonyms of Velu Mate both Zemes Mate and Kari Mate (Mother of Soil, Mother of Tombs or Cemetery) are found in song texts.
Some scholars (see Smits 1936:168; Drizule 1988:75) try to interpret both Zemes Mate and Maga as the feminine origin of the world, Original Mother (Pirmmäte) as a counterpart of the God the Original Father (Pirmtevs), as well as the wife of the heavenly ruler (as a parallel of Ouranos and Gaia in Greek mythology), with the last interpretation being a 'Goddess of fertility'. Latvian folklore offers proof to none of these hypotheses. In song texts Zemes Mate and. Kari Mate personify mostly the guard of the resting place of the dead, having the key of the tomb and the body of the dead under her control. Tales mention Zemes Mate in connection with different donations; obviously this name has been attributed to a matron of a family or it has appeared in the process of documenting.
The structure of Latvian mythological concepts has evolved in the course of thousands of years, still active in all the spheres of human life as late as the 19th century. Because of such active character of mythology, numerous documentations of ritual activities and concepts were made during a long period of time (400 years) and on a wide regional scale (all the territory inhabited by Latvians), therefore it allows the tracing of the development of mythology, at the same time still advancing the problems concerning the distribution of different structures, whereas some of them are characteristic to only one or two tribes or regions, and others were generally known. As it is a system of universal concepts of a secluded peasant society, Latvian mythology is a unique phenomenon in the Indo-European culture, and its place in this context continues to be studied.
Latvian Folklore Archives. Riga, Latvia
* The phrase dekla laime is difficult to translate because of its obscure, ambiguous meaning in Latvian. As it can be observed in the songs, both dekla laime and Dekla functions in these texts. The phrase could be understood as 'luck of deklis', or as a group of two words dekla and laime, cf. the meaning of 'deklis', 'dekla'. (Translator's note.)
LTDz = Latvieshu tautasdziesmas (Latvian folk songs).
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