True Lithuania

Romuva (Neo-Paganism) in Lithuania

Romuva is a neo-pagan community that attempts to restore Lithuanian paganism. Only in 1387 was Lithuania officially Christianised, the last European state to abandon paganism. In spite of this few credible sources describe the pagan Lithuanian practices which have long since died out. Therefore many historians regard the 20th-century attempt to restore Lithuanian paganism to be a mere speculation which must be quite unlike what the real Lithuanian faith used to be. This is why unlike other old religions Romuva does not enjoy the traditional faith status in Lithuania.

For Romuva adherents, however, their religion is the one that the Lithuanians should follow. Many of them regard Christianity as having been forced upon Lithuania and also not well suited to the Lithuanian nation.

While traditionally Lithuanian nationalists used to be Roman Catholic, today many young nationalists choose to be neo-pagans instead by claiming that this religion is the one original to Lithuania.

Žemaičių alkas (literally the Samogitian pagan shrine) in the coastal resort of Šventoji is among the few pagan religious structures in Lithuania. It was built in 1998 with the aim to reconstruct a 15th-century shrine that used to stand on the Birutė hill in Palanga. Based on archaeological finds it is a group of variously shaped wooden poles, each of them representing a different deity. A sacred fire is lit between the poles during the ceremonies. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Romuvan celebrations take place outdoors near sacred fires and are led by vaidila, while krivis is the leader of the whole community. There is an extensive pantheon of gods and goddesses, most of them related to particular forces in nature, such as the thunder (Perkūnas), or to lifetime events. Like other neo-pagan faiths, Romuva has no scriptures and relies on historical tradition instead. It accentuates the link between the man and nature and sees other polytheistic traditional faiths, including Hindu, to be more acceptable than either monotheism or atheism.

Note that sometimes it may be hard for an outsider to distinguish a historical re-enactment from a real religious practice. For instance, pagan bachelorette parties are chosen not only by pagan brides.

Neo-pagans are the fastest-growing religious community in Lithuania. Its membership increased from 1270 to some 5100 between censae years 2001 and 2011. With 0,2% of the population its followers, neo-paganism is now the country's 6th largest faith.

A Romuvan mid-winter (Pusiaužiemis) celebration in Vilnius, here celebrated inside around an improvised bonfire made of candles. Krivė (female Krivis) stands in the middle. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Not every Lithuanian neo-pagan is a Romuva adherent, however. Because of the scarcity of exact knowledge of prehistoric Baltic religious practices, there are various interpretations or guesses, sometimes conflicting with each other. The questioned facts range from the existence of top gods/goddesses to the inclusion of certain esoteric or New Age practices, suggested by some non-Romuvan neo-pagan groups.

See also: Lithuanian mythology and folklore, Top 10 pagan places and activities in Lithuania

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