by Aldis Pūtelis
"Devil." Velns is an extremely contradictory personage. In folksong texts the word is mentioned mostly in idioms and exclamations (i.e., "what the hell/devil"), but the mother of a bridegroom or husband is also called Velna māte, "Devil's Mother," displaying complete demythologization. In general Latvian, the Devil as the evil spirit appears to be a result of Christianization.
There are a few song texts speaking about the Devil, hell, and souls, thus showing direct influence of the Christianity. More information can be found in folktales, but these are also dominated by international motifs. A summary: the Devil is living in a different world, possessing wealth and magic powers which can be earned or taken by wit or force; the Devil tends to kidnap people (mostly young maidens); and the witch Ragana may be his wife.
Again, many of the traits seem to be coming from Christianity. There are some motifs where the Devil is honest and helping the weak and poor; maybe this is some form of syncretism as the evil forces takes those who have been evil. The Devil may at the same time represent some old pre-Christian deity, banned, with changed semantics, but still with something left of the ancient, good "archetype." There is also a group of folktales on the stupid Devil, to some extent similar to the Nordic trolls. This Devil lives somewhere in lakes or fens, is physically strong, rich, but can be outwitted by a simple, small shepherd boy.
A special motif is that of Velns' name. In folktales and folksongs there are cases when knowing his name gives power over the Devil himself or other things in the world, but sometimes it is just a means of protection. The word used to designate the Latvian devil may be related to that of veli, the inhabitant of the otherworld.
Velna māte is also one of the images in the ritual songs. She is the woman who is killed by the hero, which causes the hero's impurity — he has to wash off her blood, which is not easy. This motif is quite independent and can be found in several different myths of Latvian folksongs.
There is a parallel to Velns: Jods. Taking into account the meaning of juodas in Lithuanian, "black," it does not add much to the understanding of this personage, which corresponds with the usual description of the devil. Velna māte is also paralleled with Joda māte.
Therefore, to summarize, it can be said that there could have been no division between the good in the form of God and the evil in the form of Devil in the ancient Latvian mythology, as even Laima may be good or evil toward a particular person. Formation of this image has definitely been influenced by Christianity. At the same time the image has included the notion of hostile minor deities, those of the underworld or any other unexplored and mysterious place treated as such in mythology. On the whole, this image could be of more recent origin.
The word velns is possibly etymologically connected with Velis, the soul of a dead, the living dead (with variant forms like vels, vellis allowing for that).