Latvian Earth and Water Deities

Laima (Goddess of Destiny):

The name Laima derives from the word laime, which means "happiness", "luck", or "fate". Laima is the goddess of human destiny. Laima determines whether one's life will be short or long, fruitful or poverty-stricken, carefree or worrisome. She also determines the moment of a person's death, sometimes even arguing about it with Dievs.

There are several symbols connected with Laima. One is called the Fir-Twig (skuja):

Another is a broom or brush, called Laimas Slotiņa, which she uses to save people from drowning:

As well, the serpent (zalktis) was was a sacred creature protected by Laima. To harm one brings terribly bad luck. The serpent/snake is a symbol connected with general well-being, often seen on the borders of shawls, furniture, leatherwork and jewellery:

Māra:

(Goddess of Birth and Death; Protector of Women and Children; Goddess of the Hearth; Goddess of Earth and Water)
Māra had a number of functions. Considering how complicated a deity she is, it seems likely that her many functions are the result of a syncretism of several deities (possibly including the Virgin Mary!).

She is strongly associated with childbirth; children are said to enter the world "through the gates of Māra". She is the protector of women, especially mothers, and children. She is also the goddess of the hearth.

Māra is also linked with death, and often takes the form of black animals such as ravens or black hens.

Finally, she is also the goddess who was responsible for the land, the waters, and every living thing.

Māra has several symbols attributed to her. Māra's Sign (Māras zīme) looks something like God's sign (which represents the sky, as a roof over the earth), but Māra's Sign is an inverted version:

Māra's Cross (Māras krusts) is also called the Cross of Crosses (krustu krusts or krustu krusta raksts). This cross of crosses is composed of four crosses, and was often hewn into the sacrificial stones. It was said to have significant magical powers in ancient Latvian times. It was used from the Bronze and Iron Ages into historic times in Latvia.

Ancient Latvians believed that the godess Māra was the provider of bread and fire and, through this belief, Māra's Cross has also become the symbol of hearth and home.

Māra's Wave (or Māra's Zigzag) represents water, as Māra is also the goddess of the rivers, lakes, and seas:

Ūsiņš (Celestial Charioteer):

Ūsiņš was apparently first known as the god of light, but later he became the keeper of the horses, and bees. On Ūsiņš' Day, which falls in early May, the animals are let out to pasture for the first time. His sacrificial offering was a prize rooster.

Ūsiņš has a connection with Mārtiņš: Ūsiņš takes care of livestock in the summer while Mārtiņš does so in the winter. However, Ūsiņš is known more as the driver of horses, than as an actual Horse God. Ūsiņš is said to drive the chariot of the Sun across the sky with his two horses. (Thus, Ūsiņš was probably originally a Sky Deity, who came to have earthly duties as well!)

The symbol of Ūsiņš seen below is only the most basic form: usually it includes a diamond centered at the bottom. The diamond would represent the Sun's chariot, while the two E's are the horses:

Mārtiņš (Keeper of Horses):

Mārtiņš is the Latvian Keeper of Horses. He guards the horses and other livestock during the winter. Mārtiņš' Day in November is the compliment of Ūsiņš' Day and represents the end of outside work on the farm and the beginning of indoor tasks.

Since toward the end of fall the marshes and rivers of Latvia began freezing over, this was also the beginnig of raids by faraway tribes. Therefore Mārtiņš was also the protector of warriors who guarded the farms.

The symbol of Mārtiņš brings to mind two fighting cocks; it may be a permutation of Jumis sign. This symbol is commonly found (archaelogically) in the highlands of eastern Latvia (Vidzeme and Latgale), around the Daugava river. The symbol was intricately repeated on borders of textiles and such.

Jumis (Deity of the Fields):

Jumis represents the fertility of the fields, which is symbolized by a two-eared stalk of grain. He lives in the fields and at the end of each harvest (during the autumn festival Miķeļi) a special ritual, the "catching of Jumis," was performed so that the fields would prosper.

Jānis (Summer Solstice Deity):

Jānis was sometimes referred to as a son of Dievs; he was apparently a fertility god. His festival (which is called Jāņi, and which takes place on the evening of June 23rd) is the most important festival of the year for Latvians. However, considering this fact, very little is actually known about his characteristics.


Country of Latvia | Travel in Latvia | Latvian Language | History of Latvia | Latvian Cuisine | Latvian Folklore and Folk Costumes | Latvian Music, Songs, and Dances


This page created and maintained by
A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 18, 2008