DANCING AROUND a blazing fire with garlands of wildflowers in their hair, members of Lithuania's Romuva neo-pagan community mark the summer solstice-

As the Baltic state undergoes a revival of pre-Christian beliefs.

Skipping to the steady beat of drums, other singing revelers at the feast, known locally as Rasa, pass under an arbour decorated with flowers before throwing salt on an alter as an offering to ancient  Baltic gods.

"It's a beautiful tradition  .......at this time of the year, everything in full bloom and we feel close to nature,"says Virginja Micelene, a 40-year-old  florist attending the solstice celebrations in the lush Verkai Park, just north of Lithuania's capital, Vilnius.

The last nation in Europe to be converted to Christianity at the end of the 14th century, many Lithuaninans are still deeply attached to pagan customs. Thousands celebrate Rasa each year and controversial moves are afoot in Parliament to accord Romuva the legal status of a religion in the predominantly Catholic country.

"Our religion is based on historical sources, archaeological discoveries and traditional culture transmitted orally,"Romuva high priestess Inija Trinkumiene tells AFP, as she presides over Rasa rites.

Dressed in a white cowl and dark green robe covered by a flowing white cape embroidered with traditional red and green geometric designs, Trinkuniene looks as if he has stepped straight out of the Middle Ages.

"More and more are discovering our practices and find that they feel close to them because it's something very Lithuanian,'' she told AFP, surrounded by similarly-clad Romuva believers both young and old.   

For sociologist  Milda Alisauskiene, the  Romuva ''religion is in fact a reconstruction......it is part of a  global phenomenon in reaction to globalisation that emphasis the desire to preserve local traditions.

"Some people may see this movement as a kind of patriotism, but it is a religion for me, and we emphasise  the importance of both the male and female essence.

''In the Christian religion,  God created the  human being and God is a man,'' says the young mother, who discovered  Romuva as a teen. [Agencies].


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