Tag Archives: Myths

The mystery of the Castle Beverina

Thanks to the enormous efforts of Latvian archaeologists we know the exact locations of various early Latvian castles. But despite of that there is one mysterious place which is only noted in German chronicles, but no one has ever yet found the location of this castle. In the area of possible location there are many possible sites, where locals fiercely defend their rights of the righteous castle location. The academics also put themselves in a complicated discussion of the real location. The question- “Where’s Beverina?” is one of the unsolved mysteries of the Latvian history.

When Crusaders gained full control of the Daugava waterway, they needed the second vital waterway of the river Gauja. The river Gauja never leaves the Latvian present territory, but it serves as an important path to such Russian centers as Novgorod and Pleskau. The Crusaders started their way to Gauja by attacking and enslaving local Livonians. There was an important role for Livonian ruler Kaupo who helped to conquer his own people, but there is more detailed post needed about this controversial person. During the 1206-1212 the Crusaders established their lands across Daugava.  In  1210 the Crusaders started to build the castle of Cesis, the future residence of the Order. In  1212 a bitter conflict between Latgalians of Autīne and Crusaders took place. Local Livonians joined the resistance. This was the final time when Livonians understood completely that the Order wants their land and their freedom. The uprising ended when Crusaders lead by Crusader Albert captured the castle Satesele. The next victims of the Crusaders were lands of Metsepole and Idumeja also Imera.

Next there was a legendary land of Tālava- Latgalian ruled by Tālivaldis and his sons. According to historian E. Mugurēvičš Tālava was located in the district of Trikāta. Chronicle of Henry describes that Talvavians were either Pagans or Orthodox Christians.  The residence of Tālivaldis is called Beverīna according to Chronicler Henry (de Beverin). The name of the castle was mentioned 16 times in the Chronicle, but newer given clear location of it. It was probably in the district of Trikāta because it is stated that in  1208 Estonians attacked and sieged the Beverina castle located at Trikāta district. The citation to find Beverina castle is such: “Estonians retreated from the castle of Cesis, crossed Gauja and took an night rest by the lake which is located near the road of Beverina, but brothers of Cesis [the Crusaders] and Kaupo with Livonians and Latgalians chased them at morning and halted at the same lake to take breakfast and send the scouts and guards forward, some of then returned and informed that Estonians was running away across Imera”.  The Cesis is located at the left bank of Gauja than this means that Beverina road and the castle must be located at the right side of the river Gauja.

What was the lake where Estonians took night rest and the Crusaders took breakfast? And where the road of Beverina was leading? The two largest lakes at this location is lake of Vaidava and Burtnieks. Near lake Vaidava there are two known foothills- the hill of Vaidava and Cimpēnu hill. The Beverina could be located on those hills, but they never were researched by archaeologists to give a clear answer. In a recent publication done by historian Andrejs Lucāns the both hills are not considered as sites of Beverina. Chronicle states that Tālivaldis was baptized into Christianity. And the Chronicler Henry who was a priest, took his part of holy duty at Imera, therefore he mentions Beverina so many times. He praises Tālivaldis for his baptizing and tells how Tālivaldis died: “the Estonians baked Tālivaldis like fish until he passed out and died”. The Estonians killed him at the castle of Trikāta, when he was an old man. In his older years he no longer spent days in castle of Beverina, but with his sons at Trikāta. The historian Indriķis Šterns states that Beverina was not a large castle with large walls. It was only because the Chronicler Henry whose church at Rubene was so close to Beverina, the castle became so important.

But he did not give a clear answer where his beloved baptized king’s residence was exactly located. The Beverina was raised to the ground at year 1216. The name slowly disappeared from people’s memory until at late 19 century and beginning of the 20th century when poet Auseklis restored the myth of Beverina and composer Jāzeps Vītols made the song of the same name.  This started the academic search for Beverina. In year 2008 the historian Andrejs Lucāns made his version that Beverina was located at the city of Valmiera. In year 2009 the new administrative reform made the district of Beverina located near Valmiera. The nearby districts were dissatisfied with this claiming that three joined parishes of Kauguri, Brenguļi does not have any right to be called under Beverina’s name. This shows how unclear legends and statements and various versions becomes a reality. Surely no Latvian historian has not found out the real location of Beverina yet. We can thank the poet Auseklis for his poem “The melodist of Beverina” (1876) for giving the lost castle Beverina in light of knowledge once again.

The location of the present day Beverina district where Beverina could once stood.

Selected Sources:

Šterns,Indriķis. (2002) Latvijas vēsture, 1180-1290: krustakari. Riga: Latvijas vēstures instūta apgāds.

Lucāns, Andrejs. (2008) Ceļš uz Beverīnas pils indentifikāciju. In journal Latvijas Vēsture. Jaunie un Jaunākie Laiki. Nr. 4 (72)

 

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The Latvian Mythology

The painting by Jānis Bīne showing three main Latvian Deities - Māra, Dievs (God) and Laima

The painting by Jēkabs Bīne showing three main Latvian Deities – Māra, Dievs (God) and Laima

Christianity only came to Latvia in 11th Century but was enforced completely by crusaders at 13th Century.  So Latvians were one of the last people in Europe to convert to Christianity. Even when Christianity was the official religion in Latvia, the elements of Paganism remained active even until 18. Century. Latvians managed to keep their Pagan practices and myths and they are very well known to this day. Many grand Latvian intellectuals like Krišijānis Barons recorded the old Latvian folk songs and sayings. Today Latvian mythic folklore is studied by such famous people like Doc. Janīna Kursīte, now a deputy of Saeima and ex president of Latvia Vaira-Vīķe Freiberga. Latvian mythology is a rather complex thing to discuss but I will give the basics in this post.

The first accounts of Latvian Pagan beliefs come from archaeological findings such as sacred objects, amulets and other findings. The written sources, mostly made by German Catholic chroniclers show rather subjective accounts.  The bull (special Papal declaration) by Pope Innocent III tells about “barbarians who gives the God’s honor for dull creatures, leaf trees, clear waters, green trees and unholy spirits”.  The 16 Century Jesuits reports that “everyone here around Ludza and Rezekne is horrific Pagans. They make offerings to Pērkons, Ūsiņš and other fetish. Almost in every house a witchdoctor, shaman and other kinds of devil servants.” The geographer Sebastian Miller (1489.-1552) in his 22 volume encyclopedia “Cosmographia” with an unpleasant surprise finds out that in the ranks of peasants of Vidzeme “are many of those, who know nothing of God and his saints. One worships sun, other- moon, one chooses a beautiful tree to worship, while other a stone or whatever he pleases”. Chronicler Baltazar in his “Livonian Chronicle” (1578), reports that “Livonian Pagans were devoted to many dreadful fetishes, like Sun, Moon and Stars, just as snakes and other creatures. They hold some brushwoods as holy sights, which were forbidden to cut down. Their superstition was so great that one who would cut down a tree in the holy place would be killed immediately”. These are just some of the accounts who tell that Latvian peasants worship god Pērkons, Ūsiņš, and smaller deities. The sources make a conclusion that Latvian Pagan religion was based on natural and cosmic phenomena like Sun and Moon and other stars.  The sources have however given no details about special priests who carry special rituals, the Latvians made rituals themselves. The holy sites were groves and trees. One the main Paganic celebration was Jāņi which takes place on the summer solstice of June 23 to June 24. Jānis is most common male word in Latvia.  Jāņi are officially celebrated today as the summer holiday and are one of the most active Latvian celebrations.

The other sources of Latvian mythology are folk songs, gathered since 19 Century and tales (Teikas), and legends. The ethnographic source like ornaments and symbols gives good information about Latvian mythology. Latvian mythology is full of syncretism’s from Christian beliefs, and traditional customs which affects all Latvian life.

The main groups of Latvian deities are divided into six. 1. The gods of nature and space. 2. The universal being- The God. 3. The gods of human destiny. 4. The gods of fertility. 5. Mothers. 6. The minor deities of various functions.

The worshiping of nature was shown by wearing special jewels and amulets- crosses, rounds, snakes and special axes. The main cosmic god as noted by many sources is Pērkons (The Thunder), same god is also known to Lithuanians as Perkūns, Prussian Perkun, ancient Indian Parjanja, Scandinavian Fjorgin. He is close to ancient Greek god Hephaestus. He is the Skyforger who rides across the sky hitting Suns word tree making sun cry (an explanation for thunderstorm), when Pērkons roars the god angers ridding the stone carriage. He is also a fighter against the Devil and other evil spirits. The main symbol of Pērkons is the swastika. The swastika is one of the most oldest religious symbols found in India, Russia, Europe and even America, long before Adolf Hitler made swastika as the symbol of evil. The swastika is Pērkoņkrusts (Thundercross) in Latvian. When you see a swastika used in Latvian traditional celebrations and dresses it has nothing to do with Nazi ideology. At the time of the Republic of Latvia before the Second World War swastika was a popular national symbol and was associated with Nazism in very rare cases.

The Sun cult was associated with the cycles of time. The Sun got children- the Moon, Auseklis and Sun Daughters. The Sun raided a carriage around the sky and took sleep at the sea at night.

Latvian Signs and Symbols and their explanation according to Agne Liesma

Latvian Signs and Symbols and their explanation according to Agne Liesma

The main ruler of everything is God or Dievs as called in Latvian. The name is close to ancient Indian deva meaning God and dyaus meaning sky. He could be close to ancient Greek Zeus. The name Dievs is close to other Baltic languages and the name comes from the word deuio- the shining sky of the day. The name Dievs is recorded in 9750 texts of Latvian folk songs (Latvju Dainās). The God is the rightful ruler of all the guider of stars, nature and humans. The God is a fighter against evil the judge of human destiny. The God is personified, but he got no children or family. There are no direct offerings to God but God could be prayed like the Christian God. Māra is not close to Christian Virgin Mary.

The dieties of destiny are Māra and Laima (Happyness, luck), and other minor deities. The Laima regularly persists in Latvian tales as a guider and judge for individual human destiny.

There are numerous minor deities for all kinds of spheres of life. The Ūsiņš was the god of horses. Jumis is the God of fertility. Māršava and Māra helps the cattle breeding activities.

There are many Mothers as the Deities of many natural and spiritual aspects. There are Forest Mother, Sea Mother, Garden Mother, and Wind Mother. There is even War Mother.  One of the main Mothers is Mother of Dead Souls (Veļu Māte) which takes care of dead humans in their afterlife. There is a belief that at certain nights the dead souls come to their lifetime houses to visit them. They must be greeted with the goods or the souls could get angry and bring bad luck to present day housemates.

There are more minor spirits- Dieviņi. They need offerings to bring good luck. One of the best known spirits is the god of the fireplace who takes care for every single family.

Jānis is the deity of fertility he could be close to the Roman god Janus. The leader of evil is the Devil (Velns, Jods), who is to blame for bad happenings and calamities, however it is not clear whether the Devil comes from Christian beliefs, because there is no Latvian universal deity of evil.

Latvian Paganic beliefs persisted so long because Christianity was not fully introduced to them. They were baptized by force, but there was little done to explain the basic teachings of Christianity to them. All ministrations and Holy texts were in Latin- the official church language, which was unknown to simple Latvian peasants. Only in 16-17 century when the Reformation came to Latvia the first ministration and holy texts were translated into Latvian. During the 18 century the movement of the Congregation of Brothers or Hernhutism made a large effort of teaching Christianity to Latvians.  At the end of 19th century Christianity finally defeated Latvian Paganism. Despite that the old beliefs and customs were kept for generations until this day. At 20th Century there was a neopagan movement like Dievturība which is a new Latvian religion based on the Latvian mythology. It’s not very popular among Latvian and faced repressions during the Soviet Era but lives until this time.  The Latvian old rituals are carried at special dates by folk groups and bands and active nationally minded Latvians.  Latvian mythology is a complicated subject to discuss but some aspects here had been witnessed and probably will appear in future posts.

Selected Sources:

Akmentiņš, R. (Ed.) (1994.) Mitoloģijas enciklopēdija : Pasaules tautu mitoloģiskās būtnes un priekšstati. (2. Vol) Riga: Latvijas Enciklopēdija.

Kursīte, Janīna. (1999). Mītiskais folklorā, literatūrā, mākslā. Riga: Zinātne.


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