Our religion, for several centuries, since the days of Janušas Radvilas (or as he is known in Poland, Janusz Radziwil) (1612-1655) has been Reformed Protestant (Ian Hus, Zwingli). Until the times of Jogaila (a.k.a. Jagiello), which practically means 15th century, Lithuanians were pantheists. Their gods were the trees, sun, moon, earth. Jogaila christianized or rather catholicized Lithuania, at least formally so. All for a woman – which is to his credit; for Jadwiga, the teenage Polish princess. In the 17th century, the Radziwils came and, again formally, turned Lithuania, much of it, over to Luther and Hus. (…) The mighty Swedes, on one of their hunting expeditions (they hunted Poles and Lithuanians, for sport), destroyed the Radziwils, and with them went Luther and Hus, they carried them away to Stockholm. Lithuania returned to Catholicism, at least formally. Only a few villages around the old Radziwil castle remained Protestant. A few thousand families, that’s all. (…) Although Christianized, Lithuania, particularly the western parts of it (…) remained pantheist. There are many records in the Vatican, going back as far (or as close) as the second half of nineteenth century, of the Bishops complaining about the rampant “paganism” of Lithuanians. In the middle of the nineteenth century there were parts in Lithuania where people kept sacred serpents in their homes which they worshipped or at least kept in great respect, and fed with fresh milk. As for the sweet Jesus, Lithuanians seem not to have taken to him. The main Christian deity in Lithuanian became Mary, Jesus’ mother. They built, they carved, they sculpted thousands of little shrines for her throughout the villages; they sang hymns to her, she took the place of God and Jesus in practically all religious (Catholic) ceremonies, and they called her Saint Mary of the Gates of Dawn, Our Lady of Vilnius. This may be for the reason that Earth (žemė) and Sun (saulė), two of their main pantheist gods, in Lithuanian are of feminine gender; the Moon (mėnulis) is masculine. The feminine principle (Earth and Sun) won over the masculine principle of Jesus. What they did with Jesus was this: they made him (Him) into a subject of folk sculpture of a very special kind. He is always portrayed as sitting (very rarely on the cross!), leaning His head on the right palm and looking at the landscape with the face very sad. There are thousands of them, sitting by the roadsides and looking very very sadly at the passers-by.

(…) The Lithuanian devil is never evil. The Lithuanian devil, as portrayed in thousands of folk tales, is rather mischievous, faun-like, an elf who likes fun, helps people out, then gets into trouble for it. Simply put: he has a weakness for people. In Lithuanian homes, it means luck and happiness to have many sculpted little devils around the place.

From Jonas Mekas “I Had Nowhere To Go”, Black Thistle Press” New York City 1991

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