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The Indo-European Balts—Lithuanians, Prussians, and Letts—revered a harmless green snake, the Lithuanian zaltys. A symbol of fertility, the gentle serpent had a place in every house: under the bed, in a corner, even at table. Zaltys was loved by Saule, the sun goddess, and to kill it was sacrilege. This deity seems to have been a weeper. The sight of a dead zaltys brought tears to her eyes; the red berries on the hill were her tears. The Balts regarded the sun as jug or ladle, her light a golden liquid. Another mysterious, wealth-bringing animal was the Aitvaras, a flying zaltys which emitted light. After the formal conversion of Lithuania to Christianity in 1387 the peasant belief in the green serpent continued unabated, so that in folklore encountering a snake meant either marriage or birth. This notion represents a survival of the general prehistoric worship of snakes.

Subjects: Religion.

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