Lithuanian mythology and folklore | True Lithuania
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Lithuanian mythology and folklore

Lithuanian mythology and folklore are closely intertwined. While Lithuanians have been the last European pagan great power to Christianise the pagans never had religious books and thus much of the old religion has survived in the folklore alone. What were once deities may have been relegated to mythical creatures or natural forces in later folktales, however.

Lithuanian pagan gods

There are probably as many theories on the historical Baltic pantheon as there are researchers. Many borrow on other faiths to explain it, speaking of "Baltic trinity" or "Baltic Olympus", others make the religion seem almost monotheistic by adding an omnipotent "God" above other deities. With researches based on descriptions by missionaries and archeological digs, the truth may stay hidden forever.

Nevertheless, some Lithuanian pagan gods are well known. Perkūnas (literally Thunder) is the prime god, punishing with his mighty force (lightning). Nearly every major natural phenomenon was considered to be a god or goddess in the Baltic pagan faith, among them Sun (female) and Moon (male), the parents of Earth. Other than that goddesses are better known than gods as it is common to name baby girls after them. They include Žemyna (goddess of earth and fertility), Medeina (forests and hunting), Milda (love and freedom), Laima (goddess responsible for fate appearing as a trinity of Laimas declaring good, mediocre and bad fate), Gabija (goddess of fire and the home fireplace; the latter provided heat and served for sacrifices, its position so important that "home fireplace" is now a euphemism for "family relations" in Lithuanian).

Perkūnas as depicted by the symbolist painter M. K. Čiurlionis in 1909. Little authentic images of Pagan pantheon survive inducing the 19th-century national romantic artists to create their own. Usually, however, the Lithuanian gods are depicted as bearded old men.

Lithuanian mythical and folktale creatures

Lithuanian mythological creatures are rarely plain "good" or plain "evil", most of them are able to be both depending on circumstances. These are the best known of them:

*Aitvaras (plural: aitvarai) may have been the god of water and clouds. Aitvarai may take a form of a bird, a serpent or a tornado. They bring riches to the needy people (yet may take them from the greedy). Aitvaras's riches can be useful but rarely bring happiness; furthermore, Aitvaras may start droughts by drinking rain. Aitvaras presence at home may be unnoticed but such a home would never be poor; however, the prerequisites of "creating" an aitvaras may also be bought intentionally.
*Raganos (witches) (singular: ragana) are antagonist old women with malicious supernatural powers. They are able to transform into any animal but when such an animal is hurt so is ragana (witch) herself. All the Lithuanian raganos (witches) are said to meet annually on certain hills to practice their magic together.
*Laumės (singular: laumė) are female intermediaries between Earth and Sky. They weave endless textiles and gift them to the people, yet they are unpredictable and could even weave a person. A Laumė may both endow a child and kill him/her, she may also replace a baby with her own (an especially introverted kid unable to show affection; arguably a mythological explanation for autism). In the myths, laumės are usually pretty but in newer folktales, they are more witch-like.

Representations (left-to-right) of Laumė, Ragana and Aitvaras in Naisiai museum of Baltic gods. As the descriptions vary and there is no single canon, these are partly artists' imagination. Image ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

*Žaltys (serpent) has been the deity of home and health. As a creature, a serpent is considered immortal, magical and related to rain. Serpents, therefore, used to be cherished and fed.
*Kaukai (singular: kaukas) are very small creatures that may turn into a handful of dust (and vice-versa). If a kaukas settles in a home he makes all the things there to be enjoyed longer.
*Maumai (singular: maumas) are scary creatures living under the well or on the lakebed. Parents used them to scare misbehaving children. Baubai (singular: baubas) are similar to Maumas but they lurk in dark places.
*Velniai (devils) (singular: velnias) are usually smallish evil-yet-stupid creatures who may be tricked by clever men. However, they may take other shapes, and even may help a person when nothing else could. Devils also create hills and stones. Such representations of Lithuanian devil may be seen in the art of Devil museum in Kaunas (they are extremely different from the traditional Christian views).

Devil museum in Kaunas is a unique-in-the-world collection of folk art devil statuettes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Lithuanian folktales and legends

Many of the most famous early Lithuanian folktales are actually legends: they explain the creation of various things, towns, and lakes through folk etymology. They tend to be especially popular in the related localities where they may have inspired street names and sculptures.

A famous Eglė the Queen of Serpent folktale explains why some trees are named the way they are:

Eglė the Queen of Serpents

Fisherman's daughter Eglė finds a large serpent in her clothes after swimming in the Baltic Sea. The serpent talks in a human voice and returns clothes only in exchange for a promise to marry it. Thousands of serpents come to her family farmstead the next day. Initially, the family cheats them but then is forced to give up Eglė. Eglė's husband then becomes a handsome young man Žilvinas and they live underwater together, having 3 sons and 1 daughter. Eglė longs to visit her parents and siblings. With a help of a witch, she does so despite Žilvinas's protests. Žilvinas tells Eglė and their children how to call him when they will be coming back: "Žilvinas, little Žilvinas, if you are alive come in a milky wave if you are dead - in a bloody wave". After coming back Eglė's children get tortured by her brothers and the daughter betrays the calling phrase. Eglė's brothers call and then murder Žilvinas. When Eglė calls Žilvinas she sees a bloody wave and learns of the betrayal. Disheartened Eglė curses her children and herself to turn into trees (note: Eglė and her children names are Lithuanian words meaning various trees).

Eglė the Queen of Serpents statue in seaside Palanga. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Yet other Lithuanian folktales are meant to give their listener a lesson. Their characters (human beings as well as anthropomorphic animals, plants, and natural forces) usually have their psychology limited to a few dominating traits. The traits in many cases depend on who the character is. E.g. the youngest one of three brothers is stereotypically stupid while a fox is a trickster.

Some of the most famous folktales/myths (such as the Jūratė and Kastytis love story) are actually much younger than they seem to be, dating to the 19th-century national romantic search for the long-lost "ethnic roots".

Jūratė and Kastytis

Goddess Jūratė was living in an amber palace under the Baltic Sea. She sent mermaids to warn fisherman Kastytis to stop catching her fish. He did not comply and Jūratė came to give the warning in person but fell in love with Kastytis instead. She invited him to her palace, but their love was not approved by the prime god Perkūnas (Thunder) who destroyed the amber palace, killing Kastytis. Jūratė was eternally chained to the ruins. Her moans and cries now cause the sea storms while the Baltic amber is what remains of her palace.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Hi.
    Is there anything correspond to the Lithuanian words: “Melinas paukstely tu dainele giedi”? (Song?) if you know anything about it, could you please let me know? Thanks, Demis
    P.s. According to some of our information, it have to be important. Thanks again.

    • Hi, I don’t know about it and Google search turns out nothing (the correct Lithuanian words are likely “Mėlynas paukšteli, tu dainelę giedi”, which means “Blue bird, you are singing a song” – but this also turns out nothing). However, Lithuania is quite a small country and there is still no extensive online repository for folklore. Therefore it may be so that such song exists but its lyrics and information about it are nowhere on internet – in which case a search on various collected folklore books would be necessary, unless somebody who knows this work of folklore would see this message.

      • Nežinau apie lietuvių folklorą ir ar tai turėjo bent kiek įtakos… Rusų folklore mėlynas paukštis ar paukštė simbolizuoja laimę, yra dainų apie tai. Gal mūsų šalyje tos spalvos irgi turėjo reikšmę?
        Don’t know about lithuanian folklore and if it had taken influence. In russian folklore a blue bird is the bird of luck (I know from songs). Perhaps it was also color-coded in lithuanian? The color had a seperate meaning?

      • I agree i can’t find it anywhere on the internet or in libraries which is saying a lot I believe there should be more of this subject especially for people like me who are doing a project on the history of this country

    • Yes, if you translate that it says, “Bluebird, you sing a song”

    • howdy what to give me your number so we can talk about this later

    • Hi, I came across this very old folk song from the region of Dzūkija:

      The blue bird mentioned in the song is a magpie, a bird that is said to bring news.

  2. Sveiks, Ponas Zemaitis! I have a piece of Lithuanian artwork which I am hoping I can e-mail you a picture of, to see if you know the “story” behind it. I was given this piece many years ago by a relative who has since passed on, and at the time, she told me what the piece signified, but for the life of me I cannot remember the details. Basically, the piece (made of amber and colored stones on an etched, wooden background) is of a prince (I believe) holding a maiden, and there is – if I recall correctly – the equivalent of a convent in the background on top of a hill. I think if you see the piece, it might be helpful. Is there any way I can send a picture of this to you via e-mail? Please let me know. Aciu, ir viso geriausio! Tadas

  3. It seems that all Lithuanian tales are very sad and full of sorrow. Aren’t there any stories/poems which still have moral but are not of such deep frustration?

    • Lithuanian culture is quite pessimistic. Happyends are rare even in modern Lithuanian literature and cinema.

      This goes beyond art: the phrase “valley of tears” is used as an euphemism for “the world”, whereas Lithuanian suicide rates were the world‘s largest for many years. Maybe such views were forged due to a rather sad history of Lithuania where hopeless wars, occupations and discrimination were common.

      Therefore indeed most of the best loved Lithuanian literary works (including folk ones) are tragic or at least not happy.

      There are some brighter ones, but they have not reached the level of fame of the likes of “Eglė žalčių karalienė” or “Jūratė and Kastytis”.

  4. My given name is Danutė. The family lore is that she was a pagan princess who, having lost her lover, walked into the Baltic Sea and drowned. Her tears are supposed to be the source of amber. I cannot find any references to this mythological being – any help would be appreciated.

    • I don’t know of such legend myself and a search online of related keywords (in Lithuanian) also provided no results. However the Lithuanian folklore has no definite and complete source(s), in a way Greek mythology or Norse sagas have. That is, there are many stories, many of them local (e.g. one-to-several villages), passed through generations (after being probably invented by some generation and then “expanded” by others). Some of the stories became better known during the national romanticism of 19th century, but not all.

      Also there has been a major “kraštotyra” (ethnography) movement in the 20th century that collected such stories (and songs) accross Lithuania (by travelling accross villages and asking old people to tell them). However, their total collection results are not yet available online to my knowledge. It would certainly be interesting if they would be available.

      • Dānu, a Hindu primordial goddess, is mentioned in the Rigveda. The word Danu described the primeval waters. In Sanskrit & Proto-Indo-European ‘danu’ also means ‘dew-drops’ or fluid’. It is the source of river names such as Danube.

    • Are you the Dana (Danute) Paramskas who led an Experiment in Int’l Living group to Norway in 1969? I was a member of the Sola group and remember you well. I was back in Norway two years ago and reconnected with my host family in Stavanger!

    • Well you can use Sanskrit to decode your name. Dana means gift, it is the same word from even the English donate is derived. Param in Sanskrit means ‘highest’. When I looked at your name – I thought hey there is ‘Highest Gift’. Thats what your name means in Sanskrit and all Indo-European languages.

    • Jūratė and Kastytis
      Goddess Jūratė was living in an amber palace under the Baltic Sea. She sent mermaids to warn fisherman Kastytis to stop catching her fish. He did not comply and Jūratė came to give the warning in person but fell in love with Kastytis instead. She invited him to her palace, but their love was not approved by the prime god Perkūnas (Thunder) who destroyed the amber palace, killing Kastytis. Jūratė was eternally chained to the ruins. Her moans and cries now cause the sea storms while the Baltic amber is what remains of her palace.

  5. Are there any books in english where it is possible to read about lithuanian mythology and folklore? It’s really fascinating.

    • Lithuanian mythology is indeed interesting. However, it has not been documented to the extent of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Celtic or Norse mythologies, especially in the West.

      There are some English books on the issue, however, I don’t think there is one definitive encyclopedic-like book I could recommend. Many works tend to focus on just one particular interpretation (of the author). Maybe however somebody else knows good books that exist.

    • I just discovered a book called “Lithuanian Folk Tales” among my grandmothers belongings published in 1958 and 1959 by Stepas Zobarskas and illustrated by Ada Korsakaite. It tells 36 folk tales but has no interpretations of them. Very interesting to read though. The library of congress catalog # is 58-13716

  6. I have been using this website to research Lithuania and it has been the best one I’ve seen thank you for making it

  7. Is there any Lithuanian urban legends/creepypastas? I’ve been Googling for Lithuanian urban legends, but nothing but other countries’ creepypastas. Can you guys make this Lithuanian urban legends, please? I’d be very appreciated.

    • Not sure if these are Lithuanian-only but I heard those from my grandmother as having had happened “to her friend” and later it turned out that many people have heard the same as having had happened “to their friend” or “friend of a friend”, which is the characteristic of an urban legend. They seem to have been popular in Lithuania (under the Soviet occupation at least).

      1. “My co-worker” was not a very clean person. One day, she felt a growth growing on top of her head. The days passed, and the growth grew bigger. It was soft and painful. The “co-worker” went to a hospital and they cut the growth with a scalpel. It turned out the growth was hollow and full of live lice.

      2. I had a forgetful “friend”. “That friend” once was ironing clothes. Then, a phone rung. “My friend” mixed up the phone with the iron and put the hot iron next to her cheek and ear, burning them! She immediately put it down and wanted to call an ambulance. However, instead of going to the phone, she picked up the iron once again as if it would be a phone and put it to her other cheek in order to call the ambulance!

  8. Any information on the Lithuanian kitchen witch

    • Unfortunately, I do not know such a mythological character. Could you describe what is said about her, or perhaps you know her Lithuanian name?

  9. I’ve hit a road block when it comes to interpreting Lithuanian folk symbols. They have descriptions but they are in Lithuanian, and google translate can’t help me at this point. If you have any advice for me please let me know!

  10. Hello. This is a fascinating article! I was wondering what your sources were and whether or not any of those are in English. I have a podcast on world folklore and I’m doing a series on the Baltic states, starting with Lithuania.

    • Thank you! Unfortunately, there are very few sources on Lithuanian mythology available in English.

      • That’s a hurdle I often have to jump with this podcast – thankfully, with my series on Nordic folklore and Slavic folklore, I had some native speakers who did a bit of translation.
        Well, I would be VERY interesting in more article along these lines if you’d be up for writing them 🙂 I want to learn everything I can about Lithuanian folklore – I’m very interested in creature lore.

      • Sorry to bother you again! I was wondering though what is meant by the fact that an Aitvaras can be created?

        • In Lithuanian mythology, people could create Aitvaras by themselves by performing various acts (e.g. in a somewhat similar fashion as a homunculus in alchemy).

  11. Hello! I am writing a thesis paper that uses Egle queen of serpents as an example of human to tree transformation. I’ve been trying to find a text source of this story to reference in my bibliography, but have been stumped at every attempt. What source did you use for Egle? Or do you have a source that you recommend? I’ve grown a little desperate! Thanks!

  12. Hello, my siblings and i are the great grandchildren of the first lithuanians to immigrate to australia. Our surname was anglicised and we are so excited to finally have the correct spelling and pronunciation for our family name! I am also soo excited to find Zemyna, the earth mother goddess, i am pagan and she is everything that my earth goddess beliefs embody!

    • Very cool to know this information. Mu grandma is very tight lipped about my grandpa. He died when my father was 10.

  13. Hello, I’m trying to find out about my father’s father my grandpa. I did a DNA test and found out he is from the baltics. Where can I find out more?

    • You can find more about Lithuania in this website, and more on Latvia on .

      If you need archive search in Lithuania, we may offer such services, however, for that, you would need to know more “seed” information such as dates and names.

  14. Hi. I want to learn more about Baltic deities and paganism. Do you have any book suggestions? Also, I read that Ragana was the Goddess of witchcraft, death, owls, etc. Besides being the name for an actual witch, is there any truth to that? Some sources cite her as a goddess, others as a demon, others as just a name for witches. Thank you for any insight! There isn’t much information out there.

    • Due to the Christianization of Lithuania at the time, there was still no real local historiographical tradition, many things about the local mythology are speculative (based on foreign sources that were compiled by outsiders who themselves understood little, e.g. Christian missionaries).

      You may read works by Lithuanian-American Marija Gimbutas, although they are just one of the systems of guesses based on relatively few primary sources available (compared to e.g. Roman or Greek mythologies).

      Ragana has many meanings. In the current speech, the word means “witch”. Some folk doctors may also be called this way (in which case it is less pejorative). According to some speculations, it may be so that this was a goddess or a more positive character in the traditional Lithuanian mythology that was made negative during the Christianization. Ragana may have been responsible for diseases and cures.

  15. Hello! I have recently been researching the Goddess Medeina after a three day stay in deep woods. Could you point me towards a book? So far online has been sparse, thank you for ll of your work and hope you are all safe!

  16. Why do you keep claiming that Lithuania was the last European people to be Christianized when even to this day Mari people in the Volga region of European Russia continue an ancient faith complete with a priesthood , sacred groves in the forest , holy mountains and Animist Gods ??? The Udmurt all so maintain this but to a lesser extent and the Mordovians & Chuvash were converted after the Lithuanians .

    • It said “The last pagan nation to Christianize”. To be clearer I have now edited it to say “The last pagan great power to Christianize”, as the word nation” may be ambiguous.

      The idea is that, by the time Lithuanians christianized, there were still some pagan ethnic groups remaining, none of truly had their own major states (i.e. were nations).

  17. Do you know the meaning of my name, Giedre? My mom said it was a laume for bringing fair weather, and others have told me it meant a storm. And is there an English word for laume? I was little when we were forced to flee Lithuania, and I am sorry to say I did not ask enough questions while my parents were still alive. Now, my kids ask me questions, and I don’t know the answers. My kids’ names are Daiva, Rimas, Lina, Arvydas, Aidas, Darius, and Laima. Do they have special meaning. Well, I know Aidas means echo and since he is the younger of my twin sons, I named him Aidas. But not sure about the rest.

    • Giedrė is derived from “Giedra” which means a non-cloudy weather when the sun (or moon/stars) are visible.

      Darius became popular in Lithuania after the surname of Steponas Darius, though it is also an international name (e.g. Persian king Darius).
      Aidas is echo.
      Lina is from “Linas” (linen).
      Rimas means rhyme.
      Laima is the Baltic goddess of fate, her name derived from Laimė – luck.
      Arvydas is of unclear origin (either Prussian or Scandinavian).

  18. I have a wooden statue of a man in clogs carrying a large pair of scissors under his arm. I remember my grandmother telling me it was from Lithuanian folklore but cannot find anything on the internet about it. Have you heard of this scissor wielding man’s story? Thank you!

  19. I am writing a novel about my Lithuanian grandparents (grandmother a peasant and grandfather a landowner) who met in the US via a matchmaker. He was said to be a great storyteller who recognized a supreme being–Gamta (nature). Two stories my mother recalled were of “Jodadukr” and “Genovaite.” Do either of these sound familiiar to you? Jodadukri might be Jurate. Also, he told a story of a parent telling his child about taking the old grandfather into the forest in a little wagon. The father comes back alone. The child asks about building a wagon for him (the father). I would like to know if these are common Lithuanian stories or just ones made up by an imaginative grandfather.

  20. I have heard family stories of great-grandparents who would kiss the stove or kiss her fingers and touch the stove every time she came into the house. has anyone heard of this tradition as I can’t find anything about it on the internet. AI says it exists but won’t give me specific info on it. Can anyone help?

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