Friday, January 2, 2009

55. Latvia’s Profound vs Shallow Traditions [5]

The following series (not exactly serials) concern the importance of self-sacrifice in the creation and maintenance of a community. Do not be put off by the name "Latvia", the name of the country where I live, because you can probably replace the name with that of your own country. I believe self-sacrifice is "religion" without you or me necessarily having to believe in God.

If we do not have a true history, can we have a true God? The answer is—obviously not. Let us take just one example.

In an earlier blog, I wrote of the first (unofficial) Latvian flag, the “Līgo” flag of 1873 , a copy of which was carried at last summer’s Song Festival. The priest at the altar on the flag is known as vaidelotisīvības_piemineklis-Vaidelotis.png , the name stemming from vaide. Today vaide means to moan (vaidēt) or an injury, but formerly it meant to sing. What the priest sang was most likely a bylina, a short epic. This unrhymed poetic form (bylina is a Russian word) was almost lost in Russia and is certainly lost to Latvians, but just as certainly, it is unlikely to have been known to Slavs and not known to their neighbors, the Balts. Moreover, vaidelotis most likely went by the name of John (Jānis) as the word “Līgo”—a refrain of all Johns songs—strongly suggests. Note the zither (kokle) held by the vaidelotis sculpted into the Monument to Freedom in Riga.

In his Christmas speech (2008), the President of Latvia forgot all about the first Latvian flag and that it is vaidelotis and not a neo-Christian priest who is carved into the monument in Riga. In his ignorance of Latvian history or perhaps just as obvious an attempt to lead Latvians in forgetting their history and what some still hold sacred, President Zatlers said: “This evening (Christmas Eve) has come so we all together may once more listen to the Christmas story, how Jesus was born in Behtlehem. This story is more than two thousand years old and is heard in a small country church, as well as in medieval cathedrals. We wish to listen to this story over and over again….” (My translation.)

What in the name of religious freedom is the President of Latvia doing? Did the Saeima elect him to proselytize for Jesus? Is his job to be an iconoclast with regard to the symbols of Latvians at the time of the foundation of their state? Do not Latvians have a right to think of other things at winter solstice, but must think of Jesus? It is true that not all Latvians think the same, and some believe that Jesus is God, but I have suggested in the past (and will again in the future) that the forebears of Latvians knew the winter solstice as Yandahlins (Jandāliņš), a name recalling the Latvian God John, the Goddess Sun, and meaning the Great Ring (Sun) Dance.

It is time for the President Valdis Zatlers to take his job and democracy seriously.

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