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god tree

Dievas

Lithuanian Dievas, Latvian Dievs, Prussian Deiws, Yotvingian Deivas was the supreme god in the Baltic mythology and one of the most important deities together with Perkūnas. Dievas is a direct successor of the Proto-Indo-European supreme god *Dyēus of the root *deiwo-. Its Proto-Baltic form was *Deivas.

In English, Dievas may be used as a word to describe the God (or, the supreme god) in the pre-Christian religion of Balts, where Dievas was understood to be the supreme being of the world. In Lithuanian and Latvian, it is also used to describe God as it is understood by major world religions today. Earlier *Deivas simply denoted the shining sunlit dome of the sky, as in other Indo-European mythologies.

Lithuanian conception of divinity

The conception of divinity in the old Lithuanian religion still is not always clear to modern scholars. A number of them suggest, that Lithuanians applied a pantheistic concept for their religion. This concept, according to the ideas of modern researchers, had to include the following:

  • recognition of a single Divine Being, that is the core entity of the Universe.
  • recognition of multiple divine beings, that are on a different level of the main God or, in other words, hypostases of the single God.
  • recognition of direct participation of the single God in lower levels in shape of lower beings (of manifestations of the God). The known later sources give exclusively human shape of God, but it may be a limitation added by Christianity. The told manifestations of the God have features of modesty, fairness, chastity, delicacy etc., that show some moral priorities of ancient Lithuanians.

However, this understanding excludes conception of a pantheon or of some other possible council of gods in the old pagan Lithuanian religion.

Many well established sources concerning Lithuanian mythology do not contradict this conception, although there is not much data available. The lack of data leaves a wide gap for interpretations, and as a consequence, many scholars do not agree on all of the points above.

For example, a historian of the early 19th century, Theodor Narbutt, took the presence of the pantheon in Lithuanian mythology as an axiom. And, in spite of being subsequently criticized that his sources were unreliable, and that his interpretations not always concur with evident data from Lithuanian folklore, Narbutt's mythology, that was presented in pictorial and detailed way. His works had certain influence on thinking and ideas of some scholars.

Gintaras Beresnevičius noted that Dievas assumed a position of non-active divine being - deus otiosus - therefore his cult among the Balts was doubtful and that sacred places devoted to Dangaus Dievas are not even mentioned in the Baltic mythology.

Concerning the God (Dievas) in the old Lithuanian religion, modern interpretations lack sources too. Regardless, that the conception of the single Chief God was acknowledged by Lithuanians is well documented and is not in doubt. The word Dievas itself seems to be omitted respectfully or changed to its epithets in Lithuanian: Aukščiausiasis ('the Highest'), Visagalis ('the Omnipotent'), Praamžis ('the Eternal one') or Pondzejis ('Lord God') and in Prussian as Occopirmzts.

Manifestations

Many of the descriptions of Dievas are known from early Christian texts from Lithuania, which are presumably not a reliable source for earlier times. No earlier sources that describe Dievas in detail have been found. The myths describe Dievas manifestating in the shape of man only, particularly the shape of an old male sage or an old male beggar. But the linguistic data, e. g. the name for the Southernwood in Lithuanian, Diemedis, literally the God-tree, as well as some hints in historical legends suggest, that the manifestations might be believed to take other forms besides the human, like forms of animals, birds or plants.

Notes

Bibliography

  • Fee, Christopher (2004). Gods, Kings, and Heroes: The Battle for Mythic Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Leach, Maria and Jerome Fried (1949). Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  • O'Connor, Kevin (2006). Culture and Customs of the Baltic States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

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