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Time: 800 years ago

Place: Latvia

In the Hall of Perkons—Thunder—the Old Gods of Latvia have gathered to discuss a terrible danger that threatens their beloved land and people.

It is this: the Pope of Rome has declared a crusade against the “pagans” of the Baltic Lands, and sent evil and rapacious men called the Teutonic Knights to enslave all of Latvia.

This would be Europe's first genocide.

The Old Gods—Earth, Sun, Thunder, Moon, the Winds, the Rivers, the Gods of Field and Forest—all swear to stand by their people, to guard and nurture them, each in his or her own way. Thunder himself swears to send the people a mighty hero who, with Thunder's own protection, will lead them against their foes.

So begins the story of the Bearslayer (Láchplesis), the Latvian national epic.

There is much here to tell; I will soon be reviewing Arthur Cropley's 2006 translation of the work. But for now, let us observe how this story addresses an important question which surely every thoughtful contemporary pagan must ask herself: Where were the pagan gods during the Christian centuries?

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In the Halls of Heaven, the gods are meeting in council to discuss a problem of utmost urgency.

Perkons, god of thunder, tells the gods the ill tidings. Evil, power-hungry men, called “Christians,” have enslaved all the world; now they are coming to enslave Latvia as well.

As the gods weigh what actions to take to protect their people from this terrible threat, the goddess of the Daugava River arrives. She tells them of a handsome youth with the ears of a bear whom she wishes to take into her crystal palace at the bottom of the river.

“This is the youth himself!” cries Thunder. “He is the very hero who will protect our people from the slavers!”


So begins the tale of Láchplesis, the Bearslayer, Latvia's national epic. Folklorist Andrejs Pumpurs (1841-1902) wove together—à la Kalevala—old Latvian folk tales that tell of the time, 800 years ago, that the Teutonic Knights, in a crusade against Europe's last pagans, conquered the Baltic states with fire and sword.

The Bearslayer is a fine, romping tale of love, friendship, and treachery, filled with monsters, evil enchantresses, and magicians. Characters include the Bearslayer's true love, daughter of Fate the beautiful Laimdota, his best friend the hero Koknesis, and Kangars, the traitorous pagan priest who seeks to betray his people to the Christians.

The Bearslayer rallies the people and fights the good fight, protecting Latvia from enslavement for many years, but in the end he himself is betrayed.

Through the treachery of Kangars, the renegade pagan priest, the Black Knight learns the secret of the Bearslayer's strength: his furry bear's ears.

In a sword fight, he lops off both ears. As they grapple, locked together, they topple from a cliff into the waters of the mighty Daugava, and are never seen again.

So begins Latvia's 700 years of enslavement to a foreign people and a foreign creed.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Well, I was wrong: there is an English translation:
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    I wish that my Latvian were up to the task, alas. Let me consult with a Dievturiba (= Latvian pagan) friend of mine. Stay tuned.
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    If that story Lachpleshis gets translated please let us know. I for one would like to read it.

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Tree of Dawn

In Latvian lore, not much is remembered of Austra—the goddess whose sister-selves include the other Dawn goddesses of the Indo-European diaspora: Ushas, Eos, Aurora, Ostara, Easter, among others—except for her name and her symbol.

Each of the Old Gods of the Baltic pantheon is associated with a particular sigil that has been faithfully transmitted through folk-art—in particular weaving and embroidery—down to our own day. Saule (Sun) has a sun-wheel, Mēness (Moon) a crescent, Pērkons (Thunder) the thunder-cross (fylfot), and the like (Dzērvītis112ff.).

Since Austra, by her very nature, does not readily lend herself to depiction—how does one draw a picture of light, of color?—her symbol is Austras koks, “Austra's tree.” This makes eminent sense, since trees capture both the first and last light of the day, even when the Sun is not yet (or is no longer) above the horizon. In Latvian lore Austra's tree is said to have copper roots, silver leaves, and golden branches (Dzērvītis 115).

Read figuratively, this describes the colors of the great Tree of the East as it shines with the new light of dawn. Read literally, the image may sound to the modern ear both artificial and unnatural. But to the ancestors, for whom the natural was commonplace and artifice precious, the image would have expressed the transformation of the everyday into the extraordinary.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    "Dawn, shining raccoon...."
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I remember seeing some mornings back in high school when the early light shown down through the trees. I never met a pretty girl

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The next divinity from the “God Graveyard” list is the very well documented Lithuanian Perkunas.  He is very similar to Zeus and Jupiter.  One website described him as a cross between Odin and Thor. 


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