Last year at Harvestfest, during Mr Brian’s “Celtic Goddesses Rite” I made a boast of sorts, to show peeps that there are indeed pagans and even people (shocking I know) east of Germany. Yes, a huge swath of Europe has been ignored (about half of it to be exact) or forgotten by not only those who follow earth-based religions, but by scholars themselves .. is it because much of the history has not be translated into English? Is it cos people just don’t care and truly believe that Eastern Europeans have not contributed much to European history? I don’t know.
Anywho, I made the boast and made a few people giggle (in particular one acquaintenance, MC). So, here’s my attempt.
Velines is a time of remembering ones ancestors, reflecting on our relationships with those still with us and those who have come before us. Here’s a write up by Audrius Dundzila, former Elder for Romuva USA, which can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/2810
Velines: Feast for the Dead
by Audrius Dundzila, Ph.D.
First published in “romuva/usa”, Issue #6, 1991.
Velines is the ancient Lithuanian holiday to commemorate the dead. Traditionally, it began after completion of all the fall harvest celebrations and used to be celebrated for four weeks in October, culminating on the first weekend in November. Under Christian influence, the festival was forcibly reduced to one day, November 2nd.
At home, memorial meals used to be repeatedly held to remember the dead of the family or of the village. Since for centuries Lithuanian farmers lived in the same homesteads as their ancestors, it was believed that the veles of the ancestors protected and helped their children and blessed their lands. Therefore, the head of the household with candles in hand circled the family lands or at least the family house in preparation for Velines.
As with all holidays, the pirtis or sauna bath preceded the meal. The pirtis is a wood-stoked steam sauna heated by hot rocks. The oven of the pirtis is heated for 3-4 hours, making the rocks inside red-hot. Men precede women and children in the pirtis. Hot water is poured on the rocks, filling the room with hot vapours. Entering the pirtis alternates with swimming in a river or lake several times. While in the pirtis, people beat themselves with vantai (birch tree) branches to stimulate circulation. During the last visit to the pirtis, people wash with soap. For Velines, the pirtis was re-heated after the women left and everything was left for the veles to bathe.
The guests gathered at the table in silence. The meals always began with invitations of the veles into the home and prayers to them, requesting health for the people and animals, and a bountiful harvest for the fields. In some places this ritual took place in total darkness, in other places by candlelight. A door or a window to the outdoors would be left open in order to give the veles a method of entering the home. In ancient times, the zynys (semi-prophetic Pagan priest in charge of funerals and Velines celebrations) led this part of the ritual. The following prayer was recorded in Lyda: “Veles of the dead, whom we still remember in this home; respected ancestors of our family; honoured women and men worthy of eternal remembrance; especially my grandmother and grandfather, mother and father (naming specific names as appropriate); also relatives, children and all, whom death took from this home, we invite to our annual feast. May it be as pleasant for you, as your memory is for us.” In some places, all those present named all the dead they wished to remember.
The invocations included beer libations. In ancient Lithuanian religion, beer was the sacrificial drink. At Velines, everybody -rich and poor- acquired beer, even if they could normally not afford it. A prayer would be said and dainos for Velines would be sung, then some of the beer would be sacrificed by pouring it on the ground. The libation included the words: “This is for you, vele,” or similar words. After that, everybody present drank from the special cup, used only for commemorations of the dead. In some parts of Lithuanian, this ritual was very complex.
The meals would normally contain no meat or fish, although some parts of Lithuania insisted on blood sausage, pork and poultry being served in the meal. Dark and red dishes (symbolizing blood) made with beets would be served along side grain, legume and cheese dishes. The grain and legume salad sweetened with honey know as kucia would be served. In Lithuanian folklore, this is the traditional dish for feeding veles. In some locations 12 or 13 dishes would be served, symbolizing the solar or lunar year. Pancakes and small rolls- one for each living and dead family member- were popular in some parts of Lithuania.
The dead would be called to eat, as follows: “Sit and eat as the Gods allow.” After some silent time, the living would sit down at the table to eat. The first morsel from every dish would be sacrificed to the veles. In some places, this meant “pouring” it as a libation on the floor. In other places, the food was placed on a special dish. This dish would be placed at the corner of the table or on a table in the honoured corner of the room. Food would also be offered to the dead by sacrificing it in the hearth. In Vilnius, the prayer read as follows: “Remember the ones who burned to death, who drowned, who died from falling trees or from lightning bolts. Remember those exiled to foreign lands, the tired and those who died in accidents. Come, veles, drink and eat with us.”
This prayer was obviously directed to Gabija or Gabjaujis, the Goddess of the Hearth Flame or the God of the Protected Fire. Aromatic grasses would also be smouldered.
In addition to members of the family, lonely persons and elgetas (beggars) would be invited to the meal. The elgetas survived by living off donations and by wandering from village to village. They were once viewed as religious hermits who could easily contact the veles and the Gods. An elgeta did not have to be poor. Even rich people took up being an elgeta for periods of time, during which they lived off alms they received. Other elgetas were the wandering poor and homeless. Food for the elgetas as well as for the wandering veles would be placed on the house porch or outdoors underneath the kitchen window. Folk wisdom says, “What you do for an elgeta, you do for a vele.”
During the meal in ancient times, the zynys would watch for signs from the veles in attendance. In later times, one could see veles in the steam rising from food, in the reflection on the window, in the reflection on the inside of rings, and in dreams. The meal concluded with Velines dainos and folk dances, in which the veles also participated.
After the meal, the dead would be asked to return whence they came with the following or similar words: “Grant us, veles; be healthy, Godspeed, bless our relatives, peace to this home! Return to where destiny leads you, and remember not to do any harm to our yard, garden grove, and fields.” Then everyone would repeat: “There is, there is not even a spirit here.”
During Velines, people would also visit the graves of the dead. Cemeteries used to be located in villages, indication a close relation between the living and the dead. numerous candles would be lit at the graves of the dead, as still is done today. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, food from the Velines meals would be placed on the graves of the dead, again to feed the veles.