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The 4th Awakening
12 Lihgo, John Whoever ! (1918)
If in 1873 a Latvian artist could still believe that when drawing a representative figure of a Latvian, he could do no wrong by portraying Latvis as John, by 1888 this was no longer true.
Came 1888, the Latvian poet Andrejs Pumpurs published the pseudo epic “Lāčplēsis" (Bear Slayer). Borne on wings of fictitious history (composed 1872-1887), Bear Slayer soon replaced John, Son of the Sun.
The origin of Pumpurs’ Bear Slayer figure is uncertain. While Latvian schoolbooks claim that the origins are to be sought in Latvian folk tales, it is more likely that the folk tale is a variant of mythological figures popular in the middle ages. One such figure appears in Martin Luther’s illustrated Bible, another is an illustration by the famed medieval artist Lucas Cranach. In both instances the figure is named Samson, the Lion Slayer.
Following the example of Pumpurs, another Latvian poet, Rainis, wrote “Uguns un Nakts” (Fire and Night), a play in the sing-song style of Latvian folk songs. The political function of the play, published in 1905, was to confirm Bear Slayer (see Prologue) as a true figure of Latvian mythology. Because Rainis was a member of the Socialist Democratic Workers Party, he, like Pumpurs, had little use for the religious notions of Latvian pa-yans (pagans). Pumpurs, an officer in the Tsars army, who fought against the Turks alongside the Serbs, was declared by Rainis to be a Latvian “peoples’ soldier”. Thus, it came to be that on the symbolic level the first Bear Slayer Medal of Honor (Lāčplēša ordenis) was awarded by a poet to a poet, by Rainis to Pumpurs.
Rainis subtitles his play “old songs sung to new melodies”. In fact, the play is anything but an old song. The name of John or Johns (Jahnis in Latvian) does not make an appearance. Instead, the Bear Slayer is Pumpurs’ and Rainis’ version of the German Siegfried.
As soon as Bear Slayer is invented, he makes haste to take John’s place. This happens with less ado than when Jacob tricks Esau http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esau out of his birthright. All that is remembered of Johns by Pumpurs is “Lihgo”. Indeed, Pumpurs has Bear Slayer and Laimdota (Good Fortune) marry—would you believe it?—on Johns Day without John ever being mentioned. Instead of the name of “John”, we hear “Lihgo” and “Lihga”.*
Privileged by hindsight, we see today that though Bear Slayer had the brawn to jump on the wagon of history (however Pumpurs-Rainis, et al perceived the trend of events at the time), it did not take long for the cart to spill Bear Slayer into a ditch.
In terms of long-term history, Bear Slayer, a man not reluctant to use violence, brought with him disaster. Not that this was perceived at the time of Bear Slayer’s creation. The failed Revolution of 1905 was nursed back to health by the intelligentsia using as salve not words of love, patience, and wisdom, but words full of patriotic gore urging violence. The disconnection between the psyche of the Latvian people (which was and remains embodied in the endearing word) and the intelligentsia was near total.
Following the failed revolution of 1905, the critical mind ought to have perceived that the Latvian “New Current” movement had constructed (on the heels of repressed Herrnhuters) a nationalist monster called “Mythical Historical Narrative”. There ought have occurred a return to the narrative of actual historical events. However, the failed revolution helped the nationalist wagon to uncouple itself from the long-haul train moving toward an educated and critical society. The uncoupled wagon was soon romanticizing violence and hurtling down a sidetrack toward renewed social chaos. The spark that ignited the Pandora’s box of the Western world arrived with the outbreak of WW1 (1914).
Baumanu Kahrlis, the Latvian artist who drew the first Latvian as John (1872) and wrote the Latvian national anthem (also 1872), gives clear evidence that his mind was divided between choosing John or God. Not surprisingly, God was the winner. Since the secularist military forces with neo-Christianity in their tow had succeeded in putting up God (no one quite knew what God was or stood for) as their leader [I am thinking of the Wehrmacht belt buckle on which we read “Gott mit uns” (God with us)]—the secular forces, military or otherwise, could do whatever they wished. Apparently intimidated, Baumanu Kahrlis stopped using the name of John and used the name of God in place of the unknown travelers (see Blog 11).
The repressions encouraged by the Lutheran (and Protestant) zeitgeist guaranteed that the name of John would not recover. The name remained in use only in so far that it identified the midsummer festival as an event specific to Latvians. But because the origin of Johns was wilfully mystified and its sacred function denied, today the festival is little more than a picnic on midsummer’s day. The neo-Christian churches, having blended their respective institutions with those of secular power, deny that they have anything to do with the murder.
The great fortune (or could it be misfortune?) of the nationalists who fell out of their zionationalist wheelbarrow was that they lost consciousness the moment they fell to the road. When the zionationalists recovered consciousness, they did not wish to recall the catastrophe (the long-term social disorder that followed the 1918 declaration of independence) and were only too happy to forget that God had once been known among Latvians (and many other people) by the name of John or Johns. Moreover, the Children of Johns (Jāņu bērni) and their leaders, the latter once known as Krstjans (Krišjāņi) or Keyjohns, too, had by this time lost consciousness of themselves as an organized community.
The Johns whom we once greeted “Good day, John”, and who answered “A good day to you, John, too!”—that John (or Jane-Zhane) was you and me. It was through the murder of these Johns that a trans-nationalist culture was murdered. This is why the holy snake known as “zalkts” (the common grass or garter snake) of the Balts is twisted around itself in a knot of pain to this day. It is not allowed to be itself.
More specifically, the reason “John” was not written across the first Latvian flag was because the tsar, the barons, and the neo-Christian church forbade it. They knew that the Children of Johns were not only loyal to their own community (nation), but transcended it, and could encompass and be encompassed by a much larger entity. In effect, the Children of Johns were proto-Latvians with a mission.
One should not be surprised if the penalty the tsar rendered anyone recollecting the name of the Children of Johns was to send them to
Siberia. Of course, by this time the Russian tsar was described as the very opposite of what the name “Ivan” meant to his early forebears. By a process of inverting the sacred into the secular, Ivan the Sacrifice became Ivan Grozny.
The Latvians celebrate their Independence Day on the 18th of November. As happy as the Latvians may be over their forebears’ success at establishing a space for their community, they remain very much under the sway of supernationalists, political powers who are heirs to the zionationalist abandonment of their forebears’ religious orientation. The worship by the Latvian zionationalists of the superficies of the Latvian language, all the while ignoring the substance of it, is the knot laid across the road and prevents the Latvians of our day to succeed to a better day.
Asterisks & Links of Interest
* Pumpurs, Bear Slayer, Fifth Canto, first 4 lines, re:
Par gadskārtu Līgo nāca/ Savus bērnus apraudzīt -/Tad pa visām latvju ārēm/ Līgo, Līgo skanēja!
Every year Lihgo comes/ to see his children./ Then all over
/ one hears sing Lihgo, lihgo! Etc. Latvia