LITHUANIA

Hi Gary,

The reason why I travel as much as I do is purely because I like it.
I have been on the road since I was 18 and i am 41 now and plan to continue with that a few decades more. I earn my living from doing freelance jobs in tourism. This is both as a tourleader, as a consultant and as a lecturer. I am showing some tourists around the Azores at the moment and when that is done then i take 3 months off for a round the world trip taking me to Turkey, Malaysia, Borneo, Brunei, the Phillipines, Vietnam and California.

The soil was collected on a roadtrip I did with some people I met through the travel site www.virtualtourist.com. It´s a travel tip sharing website, but it has a very good community spirit too and we were 6 persons from 5 different countries who did this trip very spontaneously after a chat in the travel forum on virtualtourist.com. We visited 7 countries in 7 days (Finland, Estonia, Latvia. Lithuania, Belarus, Poland and England) and in all the countries we met up with people we got in touch with through virtualtourist, so it was a bit of a party trip.

The biggest challenge when collecting the soil was that we did the trip in january and the temperatures were around minus 30 degrees celcius and the ground was frozen solid.
But we got it up with tools we borrowed from locals and the soil in Estonia was collected from just outside the train station in the old university town "Tartu".

In Lithuania I got the soil from a Park in the center of Vilnius and in Belarus we got the soil from a little forest next to the train station.

It was a little tricky in Belarus as we were actually refused entry because we did not apply for visas in advance, but we had to wait 6 hours for a train to deport us so I had time to get the soil in the little forst next to the train station.

That was my 5 cents.
Just write me if you need more info.

Claus

"Bread, Blood, Books"

By Jheri St. James


A Lithuanian Prayer

“That I may love and respect my mother, father and old people; that I may protect their graves from rending and destruction; that I may plant oaks, junipers, wormwoods and silverweed for their rest in cemeteries. Those who do not love and respect their bearers will await hardship in their old age or will not grow old at all.

“That my hands may never become bloody from human blood. That the blood of animals, fish or birds may not soil my hands, if I might kill them satiated and not hungry. Those who today kill animals with delight will tomorrow drink human blood. The more hunters live in Lithuania, the further fortune and a happy life escapes us.

“That I may not fell a single tree without holy need; that I may not step on a blooming field; that I may always plant trees.

“That I may love and respect Bread. If a crumb should accidentally fall, I will lift it, kiss it and apologize. If we all respect bread, thee will be no starvation or hardship.

“That I may never hurt anyone; that I may always give the correct change; that I may not mistakenly steal even the smallest coin. The Gods punish for offenses.

“That I may not denigrate foreign beliefs and may not poke fun at my own faith. The Gods look with grace upon those who plant trees along roads, in homesteads, at holy places, at crossroads, and by houses. If you wed, plant a wedding tree. If a child is born, plant a tree. If someone beloved dies, plant a tree for the Vele (shade) of the deceased. At all holidays during all important events, visit trees. Prayers will attain holiness through trees of thanks. So may it be!”

This prayer was smuggled and hidden during the Czarist prohibition of the Lithuanian language in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1938, Pranas Antalkis recorded the recitation of this prayer by Elzbieta and Marija Palubenskaite. The text was edited by Jonas Trinkunas, Seniunas of the Vilnius Romuva. Romuva is the name of the most important sanctuary of the Prussians, which was destroyed by crusaders in the 13th century. The symbol of pagan Romuva is a stylized sacred oak tree with three pairs of branches, topped by a sacred flame. The Baltic faith does not negate other religions and Gods, but emphasizes the sacredness of nature first and foremost. The core of the faith is harmony (Darna). First, darna aspires to inner harmony; people at peace with themselves. Second, it endeavors to create harmony at home and in the community. Third, it pursues harmony with the ancestors. Finally, it quests for harmony with the universe, life and divinities.

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Castle at Trakai

The Republic of Lithuania is an ancient land located in Northeastern Europe. The largest of the three Baltic States situated along the Baltic Sea, it shares borders with Latvia north, Belarus southeast, Poland south, and the Russian exclave of the Kaliningrad Oblast southwest. This obliquely heart-shaped country entered into the annals of European history when first mentioned in the German Quedlinburg Chronicle on February 14, 1009. The official coronation of Mindaugas as King of Lithuania on July 6, 1253, marked its recognition by Christendom, and the official recognition of the Lithuanian statehood as the Kingdom of Lithuania.

Later during 1316-1430, the state occupied the territories of present day Belarus, Ukraine, and part of Poland and Russia, becoming the largest country in Europe by the end of the 14th century. In 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single dual state, which was dissolved in 1795 when this land was forfeited to Russia, Prussia and Austria, under duress. Over 90 percent of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire, and the remainder into Prussia, until 1918 when Lithuania reestablished its independence. Then in 1940, at the beginning of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Lithuania, later coming under German occupation during which around 190,000 or 91 percent of Lithuanian Jews were killed, one of the worst death rates of the Holocaust. When the German army retreated, Lithuania was re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. During the Soviet and Nazi occupations between 1940 and 1954, Lithuania lost over 780,000 residents, an estimated 120,000-300,000 killed or exiled to Siberia by the Soviets, others choosing to emigrate. The last Russian troops left the country on August 31, 1993 and in 1991 Iceland became the first country to recognize Lithuanian independence and Sweden the first to open an embassy in the country. Lithuania joined the UN in 1991; in 2001 it became the 141st member of the world Trade Organization; in 2004 a member of NATO and on May 1, 2004, Lithuania joined the European Union.

HILL OF CROSSES

Just outside the industrial city of Siauliai on the road to Joniskis stands the Hill of Crosses, a national pilgrimage site, where thousands of crosses have been placed in memory of those deported to Siberia. In the Soviet era the crosses were repeatedly bulldozed, but always mysteriously reappeared. Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in September 1993.

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Bread, trees, life and death (the heart; blood)—Lithuania’s story is reminiscent of many other countries’ narratives in this area of Eastern Europe, and on the globe. But Lithuania’s story has always been told in the Lithuanian tongue, however much other powers have attempted to erase that language. Nowhere else in the world was a nation forbidden to use its native language to pray, teach its children, publish and read newspapers and books. Lithuania alone smuggled books, an activity unknown to the rest of the world.

For whom did the book smugglers bring books published abroad in a forbidden language? Obviously, not for the townsfolk, who spoke Yiddish, Polish, Russian or German. The books were sold in the villages; ploughmen read them under their thatched roofs during autumn and winter evenings. Lithuanian villages were never as ignorant and illiterate as claimed in Soviet textbooks. There was always a Lithuanian book on a countryman’s table beside a loaf of bread, and bookcases were unknown only because books were often kept in lofts, hollow tree trunks, beehives, granaries, or other hiding places. Public book burnings have been rare, but books have gone up in flames without fire and without smoke. The wind rustled schoolbooks that lay scattered in the yard of people who had been exiled; a Latin grammar, exercise books, history and geography books. Sent into exile with their parents, the secondary school pupils continued their studies not in classrooms, but in cattle cars. Libraries continued to be purged of books even after Stalin’s death. No book at all was allowed to remain that could remind the reader of Lithuanian identity, country, national state, God. (Source: “Books, Which Are Like Bread” by Roman Sadauskas, 1997. http://pirmojiknyga.mch.mii.lt/Leidiniai/kngduon.en.htm).

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‘Tis not the balm, the scepter and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running ‘fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill’d and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm’d with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus (Sun), and all night
Sleeps in Elysium (Bliss).
                                                           -(Henry V, William Shakespeare)

St. John’s Night is a midsummer night’s festival including a bonfire, refreshments, singing of Lithuanian songs about youth and love, and telling Lithuanian folktales about witches, demons, and the fern blossom’s magic.

The origins of the witch is a famous old Lithuanian tale: Once upon a time, a young woman went off into the woods to pick mushrooms and with her she took her new hope chest. While she was searching for mushrooms, it began to rain very hard. She quickly removed her clothes and placed them in her hope chest; then stood naked under a tree, until the rains subsided.

Later, she dressed and continued picking mushrooms, until she was spotted by Velnias (Horned God of the Underworld). Velnias asked if she had been picking mushrooms during the rainstorm and, if so, how had she remained dry? The young woman replied that she had a secret that prevented the rain from touching her.

Velnias was intrigued and pressed the woman for her secret. The young woman agreed to tell him, but only if he revealed all his magical arts. So a bargain was struck and Velnias taught the woman all that he knew of magic and healing. It was then that the woman told Velnias how she had avoided the rain. Velnias spit and flew away, raging and screaming that he had been tricked. Thus, the woman became the first witch and passed on her teachings to others and from that time on witches flourished.

In addition to witches, many goddesses are celebrated in Lithuanian myth and lore. Some of them are:

Lazdona (lahz-DO-nah) – Hazelnut Tree Goddess.
Medeine (meh-DAY-nay) – Goddess of Woods and Trees.
Milda (MIL-dah) – Goddess of Love and Freedom, portrayed as a nude woman who drives a chariot pulled by doves.

Ragana (RAH-gah-nah) – Witch Goddess
Ragutiene (rah-gu-TEAH-nay) – Goddess of Beer
Rugiu Boba (ruh-GIUW BOK-bah) – Old One of the Rye

Lithuanian Gods include:
Distipatis (di-STI-pa-tis) – Household God, Guardian of the farmstead
Gabjaujas (gahb-JOW-jas) – God of Fire in the Threshing Basrn
Giraitis (ghi-RIHE-tis) – Grove God
Pushkaitis (push-KYE-tis) – God of the Elder Tree
Ragutis (rah-GUH-tis) – God of Beer.


Sculpture of Vytautas, Lithuanian Priest/Poet

Today’s Lithuanian writers and poets continue to celebrate many of the images and icons of the past. Stasys Jonauskas uses the metaphor of grain to symbolize the endurance and the powers of resurrection in his long-suffering land:

They cannot grind it all,
Nor drive by force from home.
It sprouts anew and is green again
As if there never was a war.

Grain serves as a metaphor for agricultural Lithuania, giving the same meaning to the endless historical cycles of death and resurrection as the farmer’s ordinary labor, giving the country’s stubborn patience an aura of natural invincibility.

Then Stasys Anglickis writes:

Motor vehicles have stabbed and slashed the cities
The ugly heads of the computers
Are bursting through into the cosmos . . .

Such is the halo of the end—
The fish are choking in the Northern
Sea, are gasping in the river Nemunas –
Their convulsions cramp their gills.
The victory of man,
In the struggle for survival—
The start of the death of nature,
The wake of the suffering soul.

This time the words of the poet bring us up to date in Lithuania. We remember the Queen of Serpents story, the White Wolf fairy tale with nostalgia. But Lithuania is a part of the 21st century now. And in 2003, prior to joining the European Union, Lithuania had the highest economic growth rate amongst all candidate and member countries, reaching 8.8% in the third quarter. In 2004 and 2005 growth in GDP reflected impressive economic development. Most of the trade Lithuania conducts is within the European Union.

By UN classification, Lithuania is a country with a high average income. The country boasts a well developed modern infrastructure of railways, airports and four-lane highways. It has almost full employment, with an unemployment rate of only 2.9%. According to officially published figures, EU membership fueled a booming economy, increased outsourcing into the country, and boosted tourism. The litas, the national currency, has been pegged to the Euro since 2002 and Lithuania is expected to switch to the Euro in 2009.

Vilnius, Capital of Lithuania and a view of St. Ann’s Church there.

With a population of 3.4 million, Lithuania is a full participant in the 21st century, with all the blessings and curses that entails: television studios number 27, airports 95, cell phones 3,421,500. The capital city, Vilnius, boasts a new financial center, a symbol of rapid economic growth.

The state emblem of the Republic of Lithuania is the Vytis (the White Knight). The heraldic shield features a red field with an armored knight on a white horse holding a silver sword in his right hand above his head. A blue shield hangs on the left shoulder of the charging knight with a double gold cross on it. The horse's saddle, straps, and belts are blue. The hilt of the sword and the fastening of the sheath, the charging knight's spurs, the curb bits of the bridle, the horseshoes, as well as the decoration of the harness, are gold. The charging knight is known to have been first used as the state emblem in 1366.


The White Knight charges forth into Lithuania’s future. May she always enjoy plenty of bread and if perhaps a crumb drops now and then, will her people lift it, kiss it and apologize? Will they always plant trees? Remember their witches, gods and goddesses? The obliquely heart-shaped country of Lithuania has a soil that is in this instance only identifiable as an important addition to the soils of our Great Mother Earth, the producer of bread and sacred trees, the source of books and money. Will there always be a book on the table? Will its natives always respect their parents, avoid killing unnecessarily? Give correct change? Avoid stealing even the smallest coin? Respect others’ beliefs? The Romuva prayer cited at the beginning of the journal entry contains maxims that could change the world if everyone minded them.

Our collector, Claus Andersen, is a Dane who kindly picked up some of this dirt in his always mysterious and anonymous travels. Thank you, Claus. Thank you, Lithuania. The word for peace in Lithuanian is Taika.



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