Breaking the Chains

Page 13

In order to distinguish between any religions native to north-west Europe and Germanic or Celtic introductions, two more Indo-European speaking peoples (Slavs and Balts) become unavoidably mentionable. Slavonic speakers inhabited parts of the area between the Baltic Sea, Adriatic Sea, Black Sea, and White Sea. The Slavonic branch of Indo-European language is traditionally divided into three groups: South Slavonic, East Slavonic, and West Slavonic. Group one includes Church Slavonic, Slovene, Serbo-Croat, Bulgarian, and Macedonian. Group two includes Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian. The third group includes Polish, Czech, and Slovak. Balts live in Lithuania and Latvia, on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The Baltic branch of Indo-European languages (many of which are now extinct) include Lithuanian and Latvian - of those which became extinct only Old Prussian left any written records. Baltic is more closely related to the Slavonic, Germanic, and Indo-Iranian branches of Indo-European languages than to any other branches of Indo-European languages. Of the Baltic languages that still exist Lithuanian is of special note: its dialects are the most archaic of all living Indo-European languages.

Study of ancient Slav cultures is problematic owing to the late arrival of Slavs onto the historical stage, and a scarcity of artefactual evidence and reliquiae. All available information on Slav religions is based on Christian observation. In his ‘Chronica Slavorum’ the 12th century missionary Helmold of Bosau reported a deus otiosus (inactive god) tradition amongst some Slavs in the Baltic region, and a Black God tradition amongst some Eurasian Slavs. In primitive Slav tradition spirits were significant. There was a lightning-wielding spirit called Perun, a forest spirit called leshy, a field spirit called polevoy, and domestic spirits called domovoy, ovinnik, and gumenik. The moon (mesyats) may have been the most important Slavic divinity. Some Ukrainian Slavs certainly thought of the moon as their God, and Bulgarian children were taught to call the moon ‘Uncle God’ and ‘Uncle Lord’. Although the moon was thought of as male the Sun was usually depicted as female, and the Russian word for Sun (solntse) is probably derived from an ancient feminine title conferred upon the Sun. Bog is the Slavic term for God. Some scholars assert it is an Indo-Iranian word meaning ‘good fortune’ which displaced from Slavonic languages the name of the Indo-European sky god: Deivos, Deus, Deva, Dievas, Ziu, etc.

Prevailing opinion indicates Balts preserved material affined to Iranian and Vedic concepts and representative of the most remote stage of Indo-European religion. Analogous to Iranian Daeva and Vedic Dyaus, the Lithuanian name for the prime Baltic sky god is Dievas. The Balts envision Dievas as a king residing on a farmstead in the sky (or upon the sky mountain). He has two sons, the morning and evening stars, known in Lithuanian as Dievo suneliai. Balts also acknowledge a sun-goddess called Saule. Saule lives next to Dievas on the sky mountain, and her daughters play, work, and fight with the sons of Dievas - when the sons of the sky god break the rings of the daughters of the sun-goddess, Saule becomes angry with Dievas. In Baltic art Saule is portrayed as a daisy, rosette, wheel, crown, red apple or ring, and even though she is deemed comparable with the Indian sun-god Surya it is the Vedic sun-god Vishnu who is shown holding a ring or mystic circle (chakra). The Lithuanian name for the Baltic moon god is Menuo. Known primarily as the principal suitor of Saule, Menuo functions as a war god. In Latvian tradition Menuo is called Meness and is depicted as a rival suitor of Auseklis (morning star) for a daughter of the sun-goddess. In Lithuanian tradition Auseklis is Ausrine (goddess of dawn), with whom Menuo had an adulterous relationship. As punishment for his crime Menuo was cut to pieces by Perkunas (Thunderer), who is related to the Slav Perun, Norse Thor, and Greek Zeus.

The religion of the Balts is primarily an agricultural religion, some aspects of which could have been introduced into Europe during the Neolithic period by farmers from Anatolia. If exposure to Anatolian influences is suggested by the habitation of Baltic deities, exposure to influences emanating from ancient Ukraine is implied by the equitation of the same deities. The horse was first domesticated in Ukraine about 4350 BC. It is plausible that the famous association of horse and Indo-European began in Ukraine.