Seeing the swarming dead: Of mushrooms, trees, and bees

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Lithuania, Indigenous religion, Baltic, Environment

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Religion


The dissertation's main argument is that Lithuania's indigenous religiosity expresses itself most vitally in everyday material culture through a continuation of an ancient Baltic tradition into today. Though ancient Baltic religion ceased to function on the large-scale social level, such apparently secular, materially-oriented practices as mushroom-gathering, woodcarving and beekeeping survived because they have been deeply grounded in ancestral tradition. Passed from generation to generation, these practices continue to carry unspoken ancestral sanction. When examined in the light of the ancient Baltic ideas of the souls of the dead ( veles ) and reincarnation, the continuation of these practices proves to be based on human kinship to trees, mushrooms and other aspects of nature. From an Indigenous religions perspective, these bonds are religious bonds. Certain modern practices, environmental changes, desacralized understandings of nature, and changing human values have had an unsettling effect upon Lithuania's relationship with its environment. Indigenous sensibilities that are inherent in Lithuanian culture are competing with powerful globalizing forces. This dissertation is concerned with, and seeks to alter environmental degradation. A possible resacralization of nature through Lithuania's Indigenous religious perspective may promise the renewal of values that are necessary for the future.

The dissertation argues for the necessity of introducing the category of Indigenous religions to Lithuanian studies because only an Indigenous religions category can adequately describe traditional Lithuanian culture. At the core of the ancient Baltic tradition are indigenous sensibilities that effectively legitimate vital environmental and cultural values. However, these indigenous sensibilities are currently immobilized by the limited array of current academic categories that do not have the social power of effective legitimization. In a Lithuanian context, the categories of folklore or ethno-culture cannot address urgent cultural or environmental issues because of their strong associations with the past. The category of Indigenous religions is most appropriate to address current critical environmental and cultural issues in Lithuania today.


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