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Baltic Goddesses of the Earth and the Sea

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​Žemyna the earth mother

​Žemyna was very much beloved goddess by the ancient Balts. Žemyna was the personification of the earth. She was the goddess who nourished all life; humans, plants and animals. Everything rose from her and returned to her. Every major celebration began with an invocation to Žemyna. The head of the household filled a ladle with beer and poured some into the ground while saying a prayer. They drank some beer and thanked the gods and the other members of the household. Then he passed the ladle on and everyone got a chance to express their gratitude. In rituals, black pigs and multiple slices of bread were left as sacrifices. She was one of the daughters of the sun goddess Saulė. Žemyna had a brother called Žemepatis who protected farmsteads and households.

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Pregnant Mother

​In the springtime, Žemyna was honoured as the pregnant mother in a festival called Užgavėnės (Spring Equinox) which was celebrated in early March to drive winter away. Žemyna was present in numerous rituals that were connected to first planting because Žemyna was the goddess of sustaining life. Žemyna also received the dead. She did not bring death herself but transformed death into new life. Lithuanians made special offerings to Žemyna at funerals. Since the earth was the holiest of all things ancient Lithuanians did not joke with her, spit on her, throw trash on her or disrespected her in any way. On the contrary, they often and regularly kissed the earth especially in the morning before starting to work and in the evenings before going to bed. They also kissed her during important transitional moments in life such as weddings and funerals. Worship of Žemyna was part of everyday life and she was the basis of the agrarian cycle of the year. People invoked her when seeking justice and swearing oaths.

Baltic Folklore Mash Up

Image of Zemyna

​A clear image of Žemyna never evolved. There are amber statues of birth-giving mothers and fertility figures found from different parts of Europe and the Middle East dating back to 30 000 years which might give us hints about how people saw her. In Lithuania, Žemyna was worshipped at large flat stones that were dug into the earth. These stones represented Žemyna and her powers. It is also possible that many other Lithuanian nature goddesses such as Lazdona (Hazel Nut goddess), Medeinė (forest goddess) and Zvėrunė (animal goddess) are all different aspects of Žemyna the earth goddess.


When the culture became more patriarchal Žemyna became the wife of either Dievas the sky god or Perkūnas the thunder god. Father Sky – Mother Earth duality is a common subject in several mythologies around the world. As the wife of Perkūnas, she required her husband´s seed which came down in the form of rain. No ploughing was allowed before the first thunderstorm of the spring. Žemyna and Saulė are connected to all Baltic deities being the mother and the grandmother of all things in this universe.

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Goddess of the Sea

Lithuania lies next to the Baltic sea and the mythology also includes stories about mermaids and sea goddesses. The story of the sea goddess Jurate, explains the origins of natural elements from the Baltic Sea and like many stories about sea goddess around the world, sadly this story does not have happy ending either.


Name of the sea goddess was Jurate coming from the lithuanian word Jura meaning the sea. Jurate lived in the Baltic sea in an underwater palace that was completely made of amber. She was the goddess of the sea and the sea animals.


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One day a handsome fisherman called Kastytis was fishing close to her palace. During that day he managed to catch a great amount of fish. This angered Jurate, who believed that he was disturbing the calmness of the ocean, by taking that many of it's inhabitants. She wanted to punish him, but when she was actually face to face with him, the sea goddess fell in love and so did the mortal fisherman.

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Forbidden Love

For some time they lived happily together in her palace, but Perkunas the god of thunder and the most feared god, who also happened to be Jurate's father, found out that his daughter was having an affair with a mortal man. He was angry, for a divine being should not enter into a relationship with a human, because gods were superior beings, but also because Jurate was supposed to marry the god of water Patrimpas. In his anger, Perkunas killed Kastytis with a lightning bolt and at the same struck Jurate's amber palace which shuttered into millions of pieces.

Jurate stayed in the ruins of her destroyed palace and legends say that still today she mourns what happened to her beloved. This myth also explains why pieces of amber often wash into the shore and beaches of the Baltic sea. They all come from Jurate's palace. Pieces of amber that have the shapes of tears are said to be the most precious, they are the tears of Jurate, that arrive on the shores after the days when the storms have shaken the ocean.

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The story of Jurate and Kastytis is one of the most popular legends from Lithuanian folklore. Originally the story was passed orally from one generation to another. It was first recorded in 1842 by writer Liudvika Adomas Jucevicious. The story has been very popular among different artists and it has been adapted several times into poems, ballet and operas.

In Latvia, Jurate is known as Juras Mate, her name literally means ”the mother of oceans”.In folklore, Jurate is the goddess of mermaids and sea life and she is also the goddess of healing. This might be related to the symbolism of water, being the element where life was born.

The majority of the world's amber is found in the Baltic Sea, Amber is a fossilized tree resin that has been appreciated for its colour and natural beauty since Neolithic times. In the Stone age, people even used pieces of amber as money. Amber can be easily found on the shores of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, especially after storms.

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Amber In Fairytales

Amber often appears in sea-related Baltic folktales. In the Latvian fairytale the Bulbulis the bird, three princes set out on a quest to find a magical bulbul bird, but the youngest of the brothers is the only one who succeeds. Two older brothers are envious and they cast the youngest brother into the sea, but he is saved by the sea goddess, Juras Mate, who takes him to the underwater amber palace. In Polish mermaid stories, mermaids with amber-coloured hair live with their father, the Amber king at the bottom of the ocean.



Sources:

Trinkunas, Jonas. (1999). Of Gods & Holidays: The Baltic Heritage. TvermeÌ.

https://www.balticrun.com/the-legend-of-jurate-and-kastytis/

© 2023 Niina Pekantytar

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