Dear Reader, before I begin my tale, let me say this: I tell you a story. It is not true, nor is it untrue. It is a path I have taken from my learning and love of the gods to this place. It is not the only way, it is only my version and fleshing out of a Lithuanian story that we know in fragments from a Catholic Monk who went to the Lithuanian Grand Duchy to convert the pagans.
Long long ago, in a time before time, when all things were not formed as they are today, the Gods walked the land. This was when the worlds were freshly made, from the body of the Great One who came before us. The worlds were all close by each other then, strung like shining beads on a cord. Easy to cross through and clear as day.
The Dawn pulled the light into the sky as she did each and every day. She kindled the sacred fire at the eastern edge of the sky, knowing that her sister Vakarinė would carefully bank it at the end of day on the western edge of the sky. Only the wood from the sacred trees could be fed to this fire, for it was truly sacred. Within it dwelled the God Ugnis and next to it lived the Sweet Goddess Gabija. The fire that was the beginning of all flame and the fire of humanity could not be allowed to go out.
Before Saulė the sun could ride forth on her chariot journey across the sky the Sons of God must be harnessed to the great disk of light. This too was the Dawn’s task and she whistled and sang to calm them. One moment they appeared as handsome young men, grinning and joyful, the next minute a pair of roan stallions frisking and playing coy. But in the end, the sound of the singing of Dawn was enough to get them to submit to the harness that they might again pull the Sun disk across the sky. Then Saulė Sun Mother, steady in her work would come to take the reins of the chariot and drive across the sky as she does each and every day. Her light beamed down upon everyone equally. She shined steady in her work, never taking a day to rest.
And so the worlds turned upon their axle and fate spun out her threads as was right and good. The balance was kept.
But balance is in the eye of the beholder, and fate can only do so much. And so we travel downward in our journey, to the lands below the blossom lifter’s soil. Downward we go to the dark realms where the God of Swamps dwells. Velnias was the name the humans called him. He was the God of magic and wealth, co-creator of the worlds, knower of the secret names, maker of and keeper of the beings that ate rot and kept the worlds clean and healthy. Sometimes he felt like a maid, cleaning up after everyone else.
It was in one of these moments, that he decided to do it. It was a fit really. A rash insanity. The desire to reach out and break the axis of the worlds and how they spun. Fate and creation had handed him his lot and he was done with it. He acted and with that act he changed the warp and weft of fate.
And so Velnias snuck upward, he crept as a mouse, he flew as a fly, he lept as a frog, taking the forms of the life he had made, he snuck up into the sky, to seek his dark path, to ease the emptiness within him. He sought the light, without consideration for if the light would seek to be sought.
And as the story is known in many lands, he stole the sun, like Ravana stole Sita, like the wolf that would devour Sunna, he snatched Saulė from the sky and took her to a tower of stone far under the earth with great layers of rock above and caverns of lava below. He hoped that she who carried the flaming ball of the light would appreciate the glow of the earth mother’s blood as it flowed in molten rivulets through her mountainous veins.
Saulė did not appreciate it. She shook the earth with her anger and worry. The plants would wither without her, the earth would be cold and alone. No reflected glow of lava could replace what she gave to the folk above.
“Your selfishness will destroy us all!” She shouted. “Let me free, to follow my darna, my work, my fate. This is nothing but foolishness.”
But Velnias was powerful and listened only to himself. He had co-created this world after all, surely he knew better than those who were part of it. He knew better than this burden bearer, woman that she was. He knew better than she did what was needed. All she did was carry the sun here and there, a glorified errand girl.
The Thunderer saw his beloved Žemenya’s pain, he felt the sacred order of things and knew the careful balance that kept the world alive had been broken. He rose up above the rolling clouds and rain to where the atmosphere thinned and called to the Žvaigždės, the star gods to assist him. They came in great numbers. The daughters of the sun, the planets they came: Indraja known as jupiter, Sėlija known as saturn, Žiezdrė known as mars, Vaivora known as mercury, and of course Ausrinė and Vakarinė the twins, morning and evening star. The Zodiac rose up as well, the Horse and the Deer, the Warrior and the Hunter, The Crane and the Firebird, the Goat and the Rider, the Twins, and the Bird, The Spear Thrower and the Smith. They took up their weapons to follow Perkunas the Thunderer in his warband.
Downward they traveled in with only their own faint starlight to guide the way. Perkunas held his hammer high and guided them into the deeps. The host of Velnias rose up to block them, and the stars did battle with the powers under the ground. It was a mighty battle that rocked the earth and she did moan in pain.
Our heroes came to the tower far below made of thick stone impenetrable even to the powers of the Sun Mother. But Perkunas took his hammer and with the power of frozen fate behind him, with the need of the worlds to come to rights, he struck the tower and broke it open. His strike was so powerful that he shifted Žemenya herself, the axis of the earth forever after tilted, and this was how the seasons came to be, the trial of winter and the blessing of spring.
But there was one last task before the turning of the seasons and days could take place. The light of day flowed out from the cracks Perkunas had made and pooled at the foot of her Daughters and the Twins. Saulė was almost faded to nothing. She was almost gone, there was almost none of her left. The hearts of all trembled and thought that they had come to late. Velnias saw what had become of her and shame filled his heart.
All was almost lost.
It was the Smith, Kriukis who gathered up the light of her soul who forged it anew with the fires of the earth, he took Perkunas’s hammer and with song and with skill he created the Sun as a brilliant disk. Perkunas took the blinding Sun Disk and flung it towards the heavens, She shot upward like a comet that day and her Daughters the planets and the Zodiac sped after Her.
Darna, the sacred harmony, had been brought back into balance, but changed. No longer was the sun as steady as she had been. Because of Velnias’ longing the seasons of winter and summer came into existence. Each year the Smith reforged the Sun’s Heart so that she would have the strength to continue Her work. The kins of green and red, and all the spirits of the land learned to sleep deeply during the winter times and learned to store up the bounty of the summer for winter’s lean times. And what did Velnias, Swamp God learn from this lesson?
After the Celestial Warhost returned to their places, after Perkunas set down his great hammer, after Žemenya was healed and the Sun had almost forgotten what it had been like to be caged, Velnias thought. He saw how his emptiness had not been healed by his actions. How the warmth and light of Saulė had not served him well, and how he had harmed her with what he had done. He watched the suffering of the folk of the land and sorrowed that he had caused them pain. And so he walked through the snow and cold taking the form of a human. He went to their villages and their homes and told them the stories that only he knows. And so the legend of an old man who came bringing gifts and stories during the dark of the solstice began.
May the blessings of the gods and spirits be upon all of us in our dark times, and may we see that the way to find brightness is to find our own light. Blessed be.