Ancient Latvian signs
Usually it is triangle or hook upside down. When placing it vertically, the top of the hook will point to sky. It marks sky, the manpower, also light and wish to reach sky. Latvian mythology thinks that the oldest light cult object is Sky. Sky is sphere, where lives the most powerful force – God, so because his sign points to sky. Language scientists believe that basically word ‘God’ meant the same as ‘the Sky’. This sign was widely cut on household items. It must be noted, no Christian god is mentioned here.
Most simple way to display this sign is make an equal sized triangle with 90o degree angle upside that looks like roof and symbolizes sky as roof for the earth. Ancient Latvians made their house roofs based on this sign and therefore spent their lives under the sign of God. Widely known variant of sign of God is triangle with little circle or even three circles on the top (Eye of God). Sign is branched or coupled with tree of Austra (ornamental sign – symbolizes the tree of world, based on sign of Mara land’s waters, symbolizes morning of the day) and earth signs (sign of Mara). This sign has a very large symbolic meaning; it attracts godlike and creative powers that can be met widely in the world.
Mara is symbol of material world, defender of women, plot giver and ruler of earth and underground. Goddess – mothers have important meaning in Latvian mythology. After death people are protected by Mother of Earth and its world and this goddess rules over other mother-gods: mother of Forest, mother of Wind, mother of Sea, mother of Milk, mother of Cattle, mother of Velis (Ghosts and Souls). Also by overruling underground world this character is back in the role of Mara.
Sign of Mara is drawn as equal triangle, hook or half-circle with top turned down. By viewing this sign on the horizontal field, the sides of sign is pointed to Northwest and Northeast, and this symbolizes where in Latvia in the summer solstice sun rises and is going down. Sign is related with symbolic roots and is powered with the opposite force like the God sign is, so when taking them together the balance of powers is gained. If draw both of these signs one over another, the six sided cross of Bad Spirit is gained. The cross of Mara can be also with more smaller crosses and stripes. Mara as the symbol has many different ways, so it can be also seen in her sign – and she has the most ways to exist – like triangle of Mara, water of Mara, land of Mara, cross of Mara or cross of the crosses. All of these signs present the basic of beings, security, and relations between Sky and nature powers.
When meaning checks, have to point, that Latvians and other nations understands this sign as symbol of water. Maybe because of it is common, that this sign symbolizes Mara as mother of Seas and Lakes, Rivers etc. It’s believed, that simple horizontal line symbolizes Mara as mother of Land and this sign is called the Land of Mara. Checks are one type of common geometrical signatures, already used in Early Stone Age. The use of check as symbol becomes popular in Iron Age. In the sample artworks of public artists this sign can be found many times. Check symbol is used also as the start of all other signs.
Ancient Latvians come to believe that Mara rules material world, including bread, fire and its process of keeping. Maybe because of this believe, the cross of crosses was drawn on the top of fresh baked bread and in the evenings also into the ashes of fireplace, and this cross was named Cross of Mara. If crossing the ends of cross lines, we obtain sign that points closeness, completeness and also death. Sign is close related to fire, house and productivity (fertility).
That thing, which is over crossed with this sign, symbolically is sacrificed to Mara, in exchange of getting her blessings and supervision over person’s life. Sometimes this cross is also called the Cross of Laima. This cross is also widely used in women’s clothes and jewelry.
Sign of Laima is proved to be the oldest of signs known in Latvian culture. In East Baltic that is one of the common bone jewelries made in Middle Stone Age. Laima is known as people’s life path giver, in folklore that is the being that chooses everyone’s destiny and looks for it is done as expected. Laima represents special kind of gods – Gods of destiny. Latvian folklore has three of that kind – Laima, Dekla and Karta, and in most of the situations Laima alone substitutes two last ones in the latest folklore.
As usual symbol of green nature and life in community traditions, weddings, burial rituals and in compositions till 20th century were fir needle and fir herself. Stick, needle and swab with their symbolic meanings bring happiness and success also to the material values where they are present.
The similarities of sign of Laima with feather of bird makes thoughts, that it is present from the times, when animals were worshipped. Earlier bird was the symbol of soul and Laima is supposed to be protector of souls. So the symbolic view of Laima is also the swab, so when cleaning house to this aspect is pointed the most of its popularity. Laima always had broom as the symbol by her side or close to her, with it Laima swish the newborn child in the bathhouse. The swab of Laima is also common in the ornaments of belts and ribbons. Graphically the swab of Laima is grouped as needle symbol. Swab symbolizes the action that all the worst things and information is driven away from house, also used to call ‘the bad eyes’.
We see Sky in two ways – sky in day and sky in night. The ancient believes of different nations about sky objects (like stars) have different meaning. Latvian folklore specially points that central star of the space is Saule (Sun). Sun is symbol of eternal movement and life. In the line of other stars, Sun is placed in one of the highest hierarchical star rating. Sun sees everything and knows everything. In the territory of Latvia Sun symbols are found on bone tools already in Late Stone Age. Rhomb or cube is also seen as symbol of Sun and is seen on the ceramics of Middle Stone Age.
Moon is presented as husband of Sun and also the Sun has really wide relative list. We can meet father of Sun, mother of Sun, daughters of Sun, brothers of Sun, children of Sun, sons of Sun and so on. Behind other symbols, Sun is placed to be in the most honorable position any symbol can be. It is also because Sun is represented as mother of all children.
All drawings of Sun are always circle typed (egg, ball, golden acorn etc), who symbolizes the Sun’s trajectory in the sky. At the simplest level, Sun can be displayed as circle. All the detailed Sun projections have one common point – the center of this circle is always double crossed or specially pointed out. The detail count of Sun symbol are countless, for a common is supposed to be detailed multi-angle – eight-sided symbol, but also there are simple four-angle symbol.
In Latvian art the motive of Sun is displayed on every possible items. If Sun is displayed more than few times in one row, it symbolizes special magical productivity and warmness rituals. Symbol of Sun is specially used in women’s clothes and jewelry, most of the Sun symbols are also found on those tools that is used for own goods made.
Jumis and Sun signs in various combinations at Idumea river coast, found on 1986. Nearly is located ancient castle-hill.
Moon is one of the central astrological star symbols and is present in all ancient civilizations. In Latvia this sign in known from Late Stone Age century. Moon sign is used with Sun or other star symbols. The background story of Moon is to take care of other stars kind of taking the role of father. So sweet as mother Sun Moon is not, but still it has high respect. Our forefathers used Moon calendar to plan their week. Symbol of Moon is close related to agriculture cult. Peasants knew, that Moon affects food growth, that’s why they worshipped Moon. Growing or decrescent Moon is also sign of growth and disasters. Moon is also supposed to be protector of soldiers and with this symbol was present in the clothes of men who had to fight in battle.
The simplest visualization of Moon is half circle; many more difficult forms are possible. The traditions of symbol drawings testify, that symbols which are related to skies and around them, were presented in celebration clothes and were the highest valued symbols. Sign of Ūsiņš (God of spring and productivity) is also thought to be one of the versions of Moon symbols. In Latvian ornamental order is also available so called cross of Moon – around the circle placed four Moon symbols so that they would make cross. It is supposed that this cross symbolizes the four stages of Moon. This cross is thought as protective sign.
This is third important sign if lining Sky symbols. It has huge dark and underground evil protective meaning. The drawings of stars have a magical meaning in Latvian folklore – sign is protecting from evil. If your bed sheet is covered with star symbols then bed sheet protects the sleeper from bad spirits. Star symbol is commonly in straight or turned cross style.
Simplest form of star is simple cross. Cross symbol for several nations symbolizes fire and light. In pagan believes and magical rituals this symbol often has a great meaning. Cross symbol in Latvian folklore has eight or six stars.
Thunder is one of the oldest ancient gods and is also called as the Old Father. In Latvia Thunder cross is mentioned from 3-4 century (proved in archeological digs). In early iron century it is forged in bronze accessories.
This symbol has several names – cross of Thunder, cross of Fire, Branch cross, etc. This symbol means: happiness, energy, fire, thunder and wind. This sign has huge display variants. Fire cross is related to Sun, Laima and Thunder, so this sign was popular to cut into the beds of children and to interweave into belts for newborn children to wrap them in. In Latvia up to this day it is used for shirts, gloves, socks for protection against evil eyes.
The sign of Thunder is well known in whole world over 5000 years, starting from Asia up to Northern America. Negative factor is that this sign is also known as symbol of fascism. No doubt that Hitler gave bad popularity to this actually very good sign for a long time, but we must split the use of Thunder cross or Swastika for the different uses – where it is used to popularize neo-nazism or where it is used to show own nation’s cultural heritage. More of the sign origins you can read here.
This sign popularizes growth, and is used for rituals to produce growth of plants etc. Graphically this symbol reminds character ‘W’. One explanation of this symbol could be in joining Mara’s and God symbols. This sign is found on very old items, also on sacred stones.
Jumis is a mythical being that is supposed to live in two together grown flowers or nuts, traditionally also two ears. Jumis do all in double. Jumis if found was held in the most valuable place at room. As for graphical drawing, this symbol has various models from whom several are hard to recognize. Sometimes Jumis symbol is placed on the rooftop of house, presenting the healthy living under the roof.
It symbolizes wiseness and crafts. Supposed to be saint animal, thus has access to worldwide knowledge. The white ones are the most powerful. It is signed for one of the Mara’s sign group, because Mara could transform into snake. Also this sign is available on women’s clothes and bathhouse things.
This sign is like two E characters, only placed together with their backs. From folklore, Ūsiņš is responsible for horses and light and is their God. Sometimes he is like father, also there are mentioned his sons and horses. Ancient believes say that Ūsiņš is one of the Sky’s gods. But mostly Ūsiņš is related to spring, the new working year start for peasants and their care about horses.
This sign is usually in glove’s ornaments and they preserve the glove wearer special luck for trips. The day of Ūsiņš is celebrated in 23rd April, when the horses were freed at last from their barns in spring. In this day, a rooster was sacrificed for Ūsiņš and organized a horse market in the name of Ūsiņš.
These signs are the most important from Latvian magical symbols. Of course it still doesn’t say all about other signs, because there still exists many and different kinds like cross of Bad Spirit (Lietuvēns), Well sign, Bird sign, rooster of Martins, Moon cross, Krivulis. There are also many combinations possible from the existing signs. Total count is more than thousands of signs and their variations.