Mēness: The Moon in Latvian Mythology

Latvian symbols have been known since Neolithic times. Roman historian, Tacitus (CE 56-120) knew of Baltic deities as far back as 98 CE (common era) The Balts, the last pagans of Europe weren’t Christianized until the early 13th Century. Couronians (Kurzemnieki) and Semigallians (Zemgaļnieki) were especially resistant to enforced Christianization. Therefore it’s a mistake to try to associate Dieva dēls (God’s son) Jānis with John the Baptist or the goddess Māra with the Virgin Mary. Latvians had their own nature gods and goddesses. Even today they have not been completely banished from Latvian culture.

Illustration by Ansis Cīrulis, 1883-1942

The Pantheon of Latvian nature deities with Mēness in the center. On his right is Saule (the Sun) and one of her daughters. Pērkons (Thunder) is on the black horse. The first figure on the left is Auseklis (the Moning Star) The next three figures are the trinity of major gods, Dievs (God) Laima (Fate), and Māra, the Mother Goddess.

Mēness is one of the major deities of the Latvian pantheon. One of Dieva sons.

Ruler of the night.

In many mythologies, the sun is depicted as male and the moon as female. In Latvian mythology, it’s the other way around. The sun, Saule, is female and the moon, Mēness, is male. As in all mythologies, the beliefs and depictions are inconsistent.

Mēness (the moon) is the god of war, clad in silk and silver, wearing a starry cloak, carrying a sword at his side, and mounted on a white horse. The moon is the guardian of men and boys. Soldiers are his special concern. Mēness lends his light and protection to those who have to work or travel by night. When the moon isn’t riding his white horse, his chariot is drawn by the morning and the evening stars.

Protected by Mēness.

At first, Saule and Mēness were happily married. They were inseparable rising and going to bed at the same time. Together they had many children, the stars. In other tellings, Mēness was a rake and a rambling boy who courted Saules daughters (Saules meitas)

In different versions of the myth, Mēness is the guardian of the stars. He counts them every night. Having noticed that Auseklis (the morning star) is missing Mēness decides to steal his bride. When Saule discovers her husband’s adultery she grabs her sword and chops him into bits and pieces. Again, depending on the variation of the myth, she just whacks off half his head. That’s how the formerly happy couple winds up in their separate realms, he at night, she during the day. Never p*** off the sun. She may be a warm and loving mother but has the fury of hell when she’s betrayed.

The sun’s flares of temper.

Mēness has a more benevolent side. He is fondly known as Mēnestiņš, “dear little moon.” The moon is the deity of the entire human life cycle, of agriculture, of fertility and growth, of perpetual motion.

The waxing moon attracts and increases energy.

Everything that grows above ground should be planted when the moon is waxing. Root vegetables should be planted when the moon is waning as its energy, is also waning at this time. The symbol of the waning moon is used for healing to make the illness grow weaker and wear away.

Perhaps because the moon is so changeable, it also has its feminine side, Mēnesnīca, moonlight. I was unable to find anything more specific about mēnesnīca except that she’s the light of the moon.

The moon over the park at the Latvian seaside resort, Ķemeri. Mēnesnīca.

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The Sun in Latvian Mythology

A Benevolent Mother

Winter sun reflected on ice, Snake Lake.

The sun, Saule, in Latvian mythology is a female. A mother goddess. Her husband is the moon. Their children are the stars. She is reborn on the 22 of December. 

Saule has the attributes of a mother, a protector, a comforter, someone who warms you. She ensures the fertility of the earth and the humans who dwell on it.. Not surprisingly, considering the duties of mothers, she is the symbol of perpetual motion. Saule symbolizes honesty, compassion, inner strength, and vitality. She is the guardian of the helpless and unfortunate, especially orphans and young shepherds (in Latvia the duties of shepherds fell to children)

Those of us who live on Earth live under the sun. The souls of the deceased pass beyond the sun.

Sun symbols appear on all sorts of Latvian objects–clothing, jewelry, ceramics, wood engravings, and on the tools used by women. When a young woman marries she is supposed to present her groom with a pair of mittens, which she has knit, that incorporate the sun symbol.

The simplest of the sun symbols is a circle. Because of the sun’s importance, there are many variations of her symbol, each more ornate than the other. Some are so fancy that it can be hard to recognize them for what they are.

Saules zīme — teorija. Vizuālā māksla (Skola2030), 1. klase.
These are all sun symbols
The eight rays of the sun symbol represent the annual holidays: the summer and winter solstices at the top and bottom, the equinoxes from left to right, and in between the cross-quarter days which fall midway between an equinox and a solstice. February 2, Candlemas, is an example of a cross-quarter day.
These are sun symbols, in white, on a weaving I got in Latvia
The sun symbol on a sash that goes with a Latvian folk costume, like the ones in the Solstice video and also in my blog’s logo.
This is the photo from my laissez-passer, a passport issued by the UN to stateless persons. I am wearing a sun brooch made by my father in the DP camp where we lived.