Friday, October 15, 2010

Full or partial entries of my blogs may be found at LatviansOnline + Forum Home + Open Forum – The 4th Awakening. If you copy this blog for your files, or copy to forward, or otherwise mention its content, please credit the author,, or

I suggest you look at the links imbedded in these blogs or at the end of the blog as an integral part of my argument.

The 4th Awakening

This new series of blogs by Eso Anton Benjamins, aka Jaņdžs, introduces itself with three redacted blogs from a previous series, re “The Not-Voter”. One of the theses underlying “The Not-Voter” is that it is better for a voter who does not know the history of his-her nation to cast an empty ballot (not-vote) than presume to vote. The republication of these blogs as an “Introduction” is meant to give the reader a quick overview of what is—despite deliberate avoidance of the subject by the media and politicians—unique about Latvia.

3 Blessings from Herrnhut

When in 1729 one Christian David came from Herrnhut (about 90 km east of Dresden, Germany) to Livonia, one would think nothing would come of it. The behavior of the German barons had made Latvians skeptical of all Germans, and why should this one be better?

Yet by 1736, when Graf Ludwig Zinzendorf, a German nobleman who took the plight of the peasants (aka as pagans and paYans) seriously, and was the man who had sent Christian David as a scout ahead of him, himself came to Livonia, the Livonian paYans were ecstatic.

Though Zinzendorf came at the invitation of General and Countess Hallert of Wolmar (Valmiera), his concern over the dismal conditions of the paYans was genuine. Though Zinzendorf’s journey included visits to other towns and cities [Konigsberg, Riga, Tartu (Tallin)], it appears that Wolmar or Valmiera was the focal point.

One ecstatic paYan wrote to Ludwig (letters were written on a first name basis): “My heart is ashamed to send you this message to your heart. Although I do not know you [, Ludwig,] by physical appearance, yet I have felt your language and your witness. My spirit is craving to see you face to face as you are God’s priest and blood-witness.”….

Another wrote to Ludwig: “I feel that it would be unbearable to live without the Lamb. ‘The wounds that filled with blood [and of which you speak] are dear to my heart.’” *

These and many other letters speak of a people suffering from what in our day is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though PTSD is generally discussed with regard to soldiers exposed to violent combat, it also affects millions of people who are not only stressed by military violence, but must endure physical hardships almost beyond endurance even as a “normal” civil society. The Livonian peasants (Estonians and Latvians) were so affected not only by the Great Northern War, but by the German barons who had survived the war and now desired to prosper again.

However far we may be today from the experience of the Livonians whose misery compelled them to embrace the Herrnhuters, we cannot doubt that the despair of the rank members of the movement was as real as a stigmata--if not yet on one’s body, then constantly in one’s mind eye.

The message of salvation brought to the Livonians gave the paYans hope that however mysterious “salvation” may be (and whatever it means), the fact that it was spoken and offered by a noble, was hope worth solid gold. As wrote yet another movement member: “…Although being under fierce rulers over me, and also knowing my own feebleness, nevertheless I am holding on to the Man of wounds and blood [, Ludwig]; and all the daily tests and even slavery count very little when the Lamb is my strength….”

In their enthusiasm that someone was interested to come and “save” them, some Herrnhuters tore down the symbols of their forebears. Members of the Herrnhuter church (they met in the guest room of traveler inns) cut down the holy trees of their forebears. It was barely noticed (and we are taught not to notice this even today) that names of ancestor Gods mentioned in folk songs changed their name. Perkons became Peter; Laima became Māra; Saulīte or Saule became Dievs. The friendly Latvian Dieviņš was also renamed Dievs. Jānis or John was no longer known as Saules dēls (son of the Sun), but Son of God.

In spite of the changes in their theology, the Herrnhuters grew in self-awareness. Their emotions are so earnest that it is only with difficulty that one returns to “normal” space and is able to reflect on and regret the loss of the people’s former culture. It is clear that the people themselves were glad to suffer its loss if it helped them to escape their misery and pain.

The Herrnhuters gave the struggle of the paYans the name “Awakening”. If the English synonym of “Awakening” is “Revival”, the latter no longer adequately describes the sense that the word “Awakening” had for the Livonians. In Latvian it was a word that meant not only awakening for a day, but for life and to the community.

The literary activities of the Herrnhuters, who taught reading and writing, brought nightmares to the orthodox Lutheran clergy. The latter succeeded in persuading the secular authorities to confiscate and destroy many of the Herrnhuter books. In 1843, Empress Elizabeth I, Peter the Great's daughter, ordered the Herrnhuter brotherhood closed. While the brotherhood hung on and the order to close the shop was relaxed, the movement never fully recovered from the openly practiced repression by the secular and religious authorities.
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