Jonas Trinkūnas, founder of Romuva, receives award from Lithuanian President

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 13, 2013 — 14 Comments

[The following is a guest post from Andras Corban Arthen. Andras Corban Arthenis the founder and spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, an international religious and educational organization, established in 1977, which is dedicated to the preservation and development of Earth-centered spirituality, culture and community with a special focus on the indigenous European pagan traditions. He currently serves on the executive committee of the board of trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the oldest and largest interfaith organization.]

Andras_and_Jonas

Jonas Trinkūnas & Andras Corban Arthen

EarthSpirit recently sponsored a series of performances in Massachusetts and Vermont by Kulgrinda – the ritual performance group of Romuva, which is the name given in modern times to the revived ethnic pagan religion of Lithuania. Jonas Trinkūnas, the krivis (supreme priest) and founder of Romuva – who took part in those performances – is an old friend, someone I’ve known and respected very highly for some twenty years. Jonas attended Rites of Spring back in the nineties, and I have visited him, his family, and his community in Lithuania. In 2008, when the Parliament of the World’s Religions put me in charge of finding representatives of the indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe to attend the upcoming Parliament in Melbourne, Jonas’ name was the first on my list.

A few days ago, on 6 July, Jonas had the distinction of receiving the prestigious Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas, one of Lithuania’s top civilian honors. The award was personally bestowed by Dalia Grybauskaitė, the president of Lithuania, who praised Jonas for his involvement with the underground resistance against the Soviet regime which ruled Lithuania for over forty years, as well as for his work in preserving traditional Lithuanian religion and literature.

(l. to r.) Inija Trinkūnienė, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Jonas Trinkūnas

(l. to r.) Inija Trinkūnienė, President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Jonas Trinkūnas

Lithuania was the last country in Europe to officially become Christian – a change which took place mainly for political reasons, and which was not completed until the beginning of the 15th century. The pagan religion co-existed with Christianity for a very long time beyond that, and continued to survive even after Catholicism became dominant and gradually attempted to assimilate and eradicate the remaining pagan practices. But paganism still lived on in the countryside: a large sector of the peasantry, though nominally Catholic, kept alive their traditional pagan spiritually which was deeply ingrained in their everyday lives. A very strong folkloric movement which began in the 18th century helped to keep alive, in the urban centers, an awareness of Lithuania’s pagan roots.

Kulgrinda

Kulgrinda

Jonas Trinkūnas immersed himself from an early age in the myths and folklore of his native land, and by the time he’d finished his university studies in the early 1960s, he had published a number of articles as well as a dissertation on pre-Christian Lithuanian religion. He became a researcher and professor of literature and ancient cultures at the University of Vilnius, and during that time he founded a very popular folkloric organization which presented a variety of traditional folk music and dance events; he also began making extended visits to the countryside, to learn directly from rural villagers what still survived of the original pagan traditions.

Jonas’ activities brought him afoul of the Soviet authorities, who feared that his religious and folkloric pursuits were fomenting nationalistic sentiments which could lead to acts of sedition. He was interrogated by the KGB, and subsequently dismissed from his teaching position at the university, and forbidden from holding any kind of teaching job; for many years, he was forced to do various kinds of menial work in order to support his growing family. His folkloric organization was officially suppressed, and he could only engage in his religious practices clandestinely.

Romuva and President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Members of Romuva and President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

Finally, with the loosening of Soviet government controls brought about by glasnost and perestroika in the late eighties, Jonas was able to resume his public activities and to bring Romuva out in the open. Since 1990, when Lithuania achieved its independence from the Soviet Union (the first of the former Soviet republics to do so), Romuva has grown steadily and has achieved a strong presence in Lithuanian culture, though it has not yet managed to gain official government status as a traditional religion.

It may have been an unprecedented event for a pagan leader to be awarded a high honor by the president of his country – it’s certainly something that should make all pagans around the world very proud. Let us hope that the bestowal of the Order of the Grand Duke Gediminas upon Jonas Trinkūnas signals a growing willingness by the Lithuanian government to grant Romuva the official status it has long deserved.

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  • Nick Ritter

    This is good news! Mr. Trinkunas’ work is very important and this honor is well-deserved. In addition, the music of Kulgrinda is superb, and when listening to it, I often wish that Heathenry had music like that.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      What about Wardruna?

      • Nick Ritter

        I’ve heard a little of Wardruna, and while I’ve liked what I’ve heard, it isn’t quite the same. What I like specifically about Kulgrinda is that their music is firmly rooted in Lithuanian traditional music. I like traditional music and old songs, and I especially like when someone unearths and performs an old song with at least a trace of pre-Christian sentiment.

        These sorts of songs may well be more abundant in Lithuania given the lateness and incompleteness of their conversion, and I’m aware of musicians in the genres of Nordic Roots (Gjallarhorn) and German Neofolk (Waldteufel) who have performed traditional songs with a few things changed here and there to make them a bit more Heathenish. While that sort of thing is nice, too, their music does not sound traditional (with a few exceptions). Kulgrinda makes much of their music specifically for ritual performance, and it sounds *old*, even timeless. I would be thrilled if someone went through, say, the copious English folk music corpus, or the even larger German folk music corpus, and found and recorded songs like that.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          There are bands and artists that do that. There is a very strong folk music scene in the UK.

          I admit that Wardruna do use some modern instrumentation (notably synth), but they do have a lot of instruments that have been reconstructed based on finds from the Viking Age. Also, their songs are firmly based in Heathenry – they are about the runes.

          Aside from that, I can think of these guys, who make reconstructions of historical instruments, and play them, also:
          http://www.ancientmusic.co.uk/sounds.html

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            I can see what Nick Ritter is saying here; when you listen to Kulgrinda there is a powerful, primitive quality (and I don’t mean primitive in a pejorative way) that you rarely find in the neofolk groups (and this is coming from someone who is a big fan, in general, of neofolk-type music).

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I can appreciate that. I just kind of did the knee-jerk, ‘fanboy’ defence of one of my favourite bands. ;)

            I like the term Wardruna initially was give: ‘Archaeofolk’. It’s a brilliant concept that I would love to see more of.

          • Nick Ritter

            Yes, precisely, and I don’t mean to belittle neofolk at all; I quite like that genre myself.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I must confess, I am not overly familiar with the various sub genres of Folk music.

            As I said, I heard Wardruna being described as ‘archaeofolk’, and have heard of other bands/artists being described as ‘dark folk’. Beyond that, most labels seem to be based on place of origin for the sound.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Here’s hoping that this is the first of many honourings of Pagans.

  • Jersey Mary in Minnesota

    As a person of Lithuanian ancestry who is drawn to the spiritual traditions of my forefathers, I am thrilled with this news. His work is beyond valuable.

    • Nick Ritter

      Say, are you around the Twin Cities, and if so, are you aware of Baltic Imports?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    This honor to Trinkunas reflects a growing awareness in Europe of its Pagan roots. May this proliferate!

  • Obsidia

    How abSOULutely wonderful! Lithuanian Paganism is some of the most beautiful on the planet. I first discovered it in a little pamphlet in the library many many years ago. The pamphlet was written by the great Marija Gimbutas, who was born in Lithuania in 1921. I still use some of the wonderful songs and poems from that Pagan liturgy in my celebrations. Here’s a nice little page on some Lithuanian customs for the Summer Solstice:
    http://blog.massfolkarts.org/blog/index.php/2012/06/lithuanian-summer-solstice/

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    What a nice story and what a well-deserved honor!