by Aldis Pūtelis
A recent Latvian religious system belonging to the group of the so-called "new religions" and neo-paganism. Established in 1925 by a group of artists and men of letters. The system is based on Latvian folklore, mainly folk song texts, incorporating data of other genres and much comparative material. It is claimed that this is the actual ancient religion of Latvians, having preserved much of the original Indo-European rituals and mythology, as well as culture and worldview. It is admitted that it is re-organized for more convenience in modern situation.
The main figure in the early days of Dievturība was Ernests Brastiņš (1892-1942), a remarkable personality. An artist by education, Brastiņš was interested in history and folklore. He was the leader of the archaeological fieldwork teams working for several years in all ethnographic regions of Latvia documenting ancient settlements and castles. He prepared the Index of Mythological Notions of Latvju Dainas. Most of his knowledge was autodidactic, acquired during amateur research, but still it was quite vast. The historical situation of Latvians, existing as a nation but having had no national state until very recent — the second decade of the twentieth century — suggested that the national identity of Latvians should be strengthened by any means accessible. Having strong nationalistic views, Brastiņš came to the conclusion that there was a necessity for some form of "national religion" to preserve the nation's identity in more or less hostile circumstances. Thus nationalist ideas play an important role in the system of Dievturība.
The very structure of the Catechismus Teoforii — the catechism of Dievturība — is determined by the permanent comparison to Christianity, denying the latter as a religion of other nations and unsuitable for Latvians because of many factors. Opposition to Christianity is also very strong in Dievturība, since Latvians were Christianized by German crusaders — invaders coming with fire and sword and covering their actions by "bringing light to the ignorant." Actually it is hard to determine which was the main factor in this denial.
The mythological system of Dievturība includes several trinities: the trinity of deities (Dievs, Māra, and Laima, three deities of fate) and the three-partiality of a human being (consisting of flesh, soul and velis, astral body). Taking into account that "3" is considered to be a magic number in not only Latvian tradition — the triads of Hegel were already known by that time — it seems likely that these trinities are substantial constructions, as most of them (if not all of them) cannot be proved by source material.
The main concept of the system is the idea of a single god, refusing any rights of the heavenly bodies mentioned in the folklore texts. God is the origin of the world, inexplicable and cannot be described adequately. He is present in the world itself; everything tangible, visible or audible is a manifestation of God.
Still the monotheistic system becomes more complicated with the introduction of three appearances of God: Dievs (God, heavenly ruler, the original idea), Māra (the ruler of the material, a female goddess[?!]) and Laima (the ruler of the fate, goddess of destiny). If the system is monotheistic, then these separate manifestations of God become ambiguous, even more with the fact that Dievs is just a part of this trinity at the same time being the whole constituted by them.
According to Dievturība the human being consists of three parts: miesa, dvēsele, and velis (the flesh, the soul and — causing the greatest problems in translation — the astral body). At the same time the last two notions correspond to some extent with the German Seele and Geist. According to Dievturība, the soul is eternal, it comes from the god and goes back to him after the death of the body where it lives according to the experience and deeds during the human lifetime. The astral body is more material, it stays near the body, gradually melting and disappearing; it is what we may perceive as a ghost. The notions of dvēsele and velis in the folklore material are so intertwined that actually it is not possible to separate them and determine their meanings exactly. At the same time any interpretations may be taken for equally valid.
These are the main concepts recognized by all adherents of Dievturība. Still, differences in treatment of different concepts are to be found. As well as changes in the course of time.
Based on Dievturu cerokslis jeb teoforu kat'isms. Riga, 1932.