Archive for Druid

Latvian Folktale: “The Wild Horseman”

Posted in About me, On the Gods with tags , , , , , , , on February 26, 2015 by Tyrienne
Latvian Horse: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Latvian Horse: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Once upon a time, the country now known as Latvia was under the rule of German Barons.   The Latvian people were given homes, and the ability to have small gardens in addition to the farms and shops they tended.  However, beyond that, the people were predominantly farmers who produced grains, other crops, and trade goods of which, most were sent to Germany at the end of each growing season before the arrival of the heavy snows of Latvians winters.

The Mansion of the German Baron in Latvia was a huge place, even though he seldom lived within it- with stables larger than several houses of the Latvian farmers put together, and filled with every sort of horse, from beautiful show-horses with manes that flowed like rivers that pulled the carriage of the rich Baron and his family on Holidays, to the humble, homely, (but intelligent) plow horses for use of all farmers,  as well as native Latvian horses that had brown fur that looked to burn like fire in the sunlight.  For all these horses, there was only one young stableman, they only needed one- for he was so excellent at his work with the animals that he even slept in the loft to be near them.

His name was Janis- just as his father before him as well as his father’s father.  Janis was the name of their favorite ancestor, who was celebrated as a  God who was responsible for the coming of Spring herbs and flowers as well as bringing leaves to the trees and warmth back to the air.  Like his namesake, stableman Janis felt most at home in the woods where, often he would take the herd to forage for days when they were unneeded for other purposes- for living in such a country with a short growing season all grain was valuable and to be saved as much as possible.

The German Baron, despite his palatial accommodations, preferred to remain in Germany for much of the year only coming to Latvia to collect the produce from the Latvians to bring back to Germany- the journey was long in those days and unpleasant, however, the Baron was also responsible for taking census of the people for the Germans are a very taciturn and organized people who considered the Latvian farmers as simply an extension of their already vast empire.  However, despite this, Latvian tradition held that people did not have surnames.   The villages were very close-knit even if the houses were far apart, therefore, it seemed unnecessary in those days to have more than one name in the minds of the people.

So, on one particular visit to what is now Latvia, the German Baron was tasked to give each Latvian in his jurisdiction a surname for more accurate census purposes.

The Baron arrived and announced that all citizens, without exception were to come to the Mansion and be given surnames by German custom, based on profession. With reluctance, the Latvians lined up and were given German last names: Metzger for the butchers, Backer for the bakers, Bauer for the farmers, as well as countless other names to each family.  With each region, the Baron would try to keep the sames similar for greater organization.

Many people were absent- some were in Riga at the time trading, others too sick to come to the mansion, and Janis was in the woods foraging with his horses.

The Baron returned to Germany with his list of names to hand to the Landgrave-Count of the entire region (of which the Baron’s land was only a small part) and was met with displeasure.

“This list of names is too short and does not match the census! You must go back and knock on every door of each home to tally the elderly, the ill, and young as well!”

The Baron, frustrated, rode to Latvia once more reluctantly with a small band of his kindest soldiers.  Again, he asked for all Latvians to report to his mansion, and he sent his men into the villages to knock on the doors of each small home and gave them, too, the authority to name.

Janis, once more, was in the woods with the horses.

“Where are my horses?” asked the Baron to the local elder.
“We were not expecting you, so Janis took them to the woods to forage.” the elder replied.
At this news, the Baron exclaimed in frustration:

“My horses are tired and need tending! Who will tend to them?”  Janis was sent for, but could not be found- for as vast as the fields were, so too, were the woods at that time.

So, they found a family nearby who owned a horse of their own to tend to his horses for his stay, which lasted for several days since the farmland was vast and many houses were far-flung.   Since they only owned one horse of their own, caring for the horses of the both the Baron and his men was an overwhelming task. The horses were fed well and watered- but they did not shine as brightly as the grooming of young Janis.

After several weeks of searching, naming, and reporting, the Baron and his men returned once more to the Landgrave-Count to deliver their report.

Once more, he was met with screaming: “This list is STILL incomplete!  There is a single name missing of a young man- and all people MUST be named- you must go back to Latvia to find the missing man and name him!”

With so many people to keep track of and his exhaustion from so much heavy travelling, the Count was dismayed: He would have to return to Latvia one more time and discover the identity of the missing man, then, ironically, name him….and wintertime was drawing close.

This time, he brought three times as many men, sending them to houses as well as other local towns and Barony’s nearby seeking the last remaining Latvian without a last name, before even reaching his mansion, hoping that he could be done with this and return home as quickly as possible.  Even knocking on doors himself asking each person, young and old, if they had last names for a day and a night without rest… returning to his Mansion in Latvia exhausted, where he was met with, once more, empty stables and the kind family waiting to care for his horses as well as they could…. but not as well as Janis.

It was then the Baron realized who was missing.  The Stableman- who, once more, was in the woods with the horses watching them as they foraged.  Out of anger and frustration, he demanded that Janis be found and both he and the horses returned immediately.

After a long search in the woods, Janis was found with the horses with him in a clearing- coats gleaming, and well-fed- but Janis ran back into the woods, leaving the Baron’s men to return the horses to the stables without Janis.

The Baron, out of frustration, took out his ink and wrote: Janis Vilde on his census sheet as well as nailed a wooden sign on the inside of the stable doors with his decision.  “Vilde”, translating to “Wild” or “Unruly” at that time.  No one could treat the horses as well as Janis, so he did not wish to punish him since he was, technically, only doing his job.  The horses were all gentle, well groomed, and fed well, and the Baron knew Janis could not hide in the woods forever.

After a good rest, he and his men left Latvia just in time to avoid the first snowfall, not to return again….since Latvia was often a disputed land between many different rulers.

Janis did return from the woods on foot to the stables as soon as he observed the Baron and his entourage had left, for he cared for his horses as kindly as he would for family.  There, he  found the sign. “Your name, Henceforth is Janis Vilde, by order of the Baron”- signed and sealed.

The elders of the town came to Janis as soon as they heard of his return and they asked him why he hid from being named.

To which, Janis replied: “Having one name has been good enough up until now- and I did not want my future children to be forced to do my line of work if they did not wish to do  it.  When I saw that everyone was being named after their professions, I hid.  I did not want to be labeled, and I did not want my descendants to be trapped either.”

“But what do you think of your new name, “Janis Vilde”?

Janis replied: “I like it, it will let my children be free and wild just as I was in the woods!”


Actually, this is an “prettied up” story based on true-facts provided by my grandma on how our family was named Vilde.  I didn’t change the facts, but simply added historical details and read the story back to her and added and subtracted details until we were sure it was accurate.  The only fact that was changed, was HOW MANY times he hid in the wood- it was only once, however, in traditional story telling, the number “Three” creates a fuller, more vibrant tale.

Since then, the Latvian people have changed their surnames from German to Latvian words, however, my family kept “Vilde”…even I changed my name to a version of it years prior to my marriage.

The tradition of Storytelling has been an integral part to all polytheistic cultures all over the world, and I encourage all of you who read this, to please, also, write down the stories of YOUR families so that they may be shared with the rest of our community and told to our children so that these wonderful pagan histories are never forgotten.

Thank you to my Grandma Vija for helping write this as accurately as possible and her willingness to share this story…as well as several-times great-grandfather Janis Vilde. 🙂