Fairies in Baltic Mythology and Folklore

Half Women Half Animals

Laumes were nature spirits connected to different elements. The first image of laumes was not very pleasant. Laumes were described to be metamorphic. They were hybrids between human women and animals. They had the upper body of a woman, birds claws and middle torso of a horse, bear, goat or dog. Many times they had only one eye in the middle of the forehead. Some of the laumes were similar to centaurs in Greek mythology. Laumes were believed to be seducers who were extremely dangerous, especially to men. Laumes had a dual role in society. They were protectors of women, children and orphans. Laima the goddess of the faith was highly worshipped especially among pregnant women because she was the one who was in charge of the child´s faith. These early stories about the laumes come all the way from Mesolithic times. Dating all the way back to the time after the ice age when groups of people moved to new living areas. Maybe these early stories of Laumes were inspired by the totemic beliefs of these early people.

Protectors of Nature

​Over thousands of years, the image of lauma changed and became closer to the idea of how we in the modern world see fairies. They were no longer hybrid creatures but instead, they looked like ordinary women. They were slim ladies dressed in silk. Laumes were not described to have wings but it was possible that some of them did have wings. According to some legends, Laumes were spirits of passed away orphans. Laumes were guardians of nature and connected to different elements. Air, fire, water and earth. They lived in forests, lakes, abandoned bathhouses, swamps and meadows. These fairies loved to sing and dance. After the dance, when they walked away, their footprints would turn into mushroom rings and flowers. Laumes had the power to invite the rain and create thunderstorms. This is probably influenced by Slavic mythology where Rusalki the water spirits had similar powers.

Fairy Godmothers

​In Lithuania, laumes were connected to the woodlands and to the fertility of the land but in Latvia, they were connected to motherhood and the magic of birth. In Latvia, it was believed that if the mother died during childbirth lauma would become the fairy godmother and the protector of the child. It was lauma´s duty to protect the child during their entire life. In the Middle Ages, Europe was a constant battlefield between different countries, cultures and religions. Goddesses like Laima the goddess of faith was demonized and she was turned into an old hag. This was also the time when Baltic society became more patriarchal and warmongering. The ancient pagan belief system in Baltic lands had been matriarchal and goddess-oriented without bashing male deities. All fairies were demonized together with the goddesses. When before Lauma was someone who guarded the child and was the protector of orphans, Now Lauma became an evil character who killed the child or purposely killed the mother so that they could keep the child to them-self. Faith that Laima faced was a faith she shared with several other goddesses around the world.

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Niina's Fairychamber

Niina's Fairychamber

Illustrator, writer and a folklorist. Likes cats, tea and period dramas. Currently writing a book about Finnish mythology. A host of the Little Women Podcast.