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The name of Via Electri

Via Electri is Latin for ‘Amber Road’. The Amber Road was a trade path that connected the lands touched by the Baltic Sea with Mediterranean Europe, atleast since the Neolithic. As the name of the path indicates, the main object of trade was amber, a fossilized resin very common on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea.

This substance is believed to possess magical powers, and for that it was actively sought for and employed not only in ornaments and jewelry but also in contexts of medicine and sacral use. For instance, ancient Greek sources mention its power ‘to calm the mind’, while medieval Lithuanian burials present horse graves decorated with amber beads. In general, all over the Baltics there are similar evidences of amber offerings in bodies of water. Among the names for amber in different European languages we found compounds like ‘northern gold’, ‘sunny stone’, or ‘light of the sea’. The use of this name perfectly embodies the spirit of exchanging knowledge, and travel among all the native peoples of Europe.

Our path, the Amber Road, began centuries ago. Starting from the north-eastern corner, the Uralic tribe of Livonians wore amber, having learned it from the Balts who brought amber gifts to the southern rulers, moving through the territories of Central Europe inhabited by Germanic and Slavic nations. Finally, the Amber Road arrived in Cisalpine Gaul, the ancient name of Northern Italy. From this wedge between the Alps and the Apennines once inhabited mainly by Celts and Veneti, the amber continued its path, arriving at the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Romans.

We choose the Latin name of Via Electri because the Latin language has been the lingua franca of the European continent during the last millennium, and brought together different European traditions already in Antiquity, for instance, with the practise of interpretatio, a sacral study to look for similarities between Gods of different traditions. More specifically, the Latin word electri in turn derives from Ancient Greek word élektron, which lately came to mean the electric energy as we know it.

The analogy of this mineral resin with the most powerful energies present in the world and in the Kosmos was already perceived in ancient times, and expressed through different myths and legends, from both the northern and the southern corners of the amber trade path. It is interesting for us to recall the mythological origin of amber as indicated in two different traditions at the opposite poles of our Via Electri.

At the southern end of the Amber Road, we find this explanation in the Greek myth of Phaethon, son of the Titan designated to the solar aster, Helios. The demigod, in his youth was involved in a challenge to prove his divine origin. To do that, he borrowed the solar wagon with the intention of driving it for one day. Young and impetuous, however, he proved himself inexperienced in managing the wagon’s reins and keeping Helios' horses at bay. So he lost the wagon’s control and it went too close to the Earth, drying its rivers, burning the forests and setting the ground on fire. Zeus – being at the same time the God of Sovereignty and the Lord of Thunder – was shocked by such destruction and struck the chariot with lightning and made Phaeton fall into the waters of the river Eridanos, where he drowned and was mourned by his sisters the Heliades. Subsequently his grieving sisters were transformed into poplars and their tears were made of élektron, of amber. According to some ancient authors, the river Eridanos is none other than the river Po, in Cisalpine Gaul.

At the northern end of the Amber Road, we have another tradition that connects the origin of amber with the water element and with the intervention of thunder. In the Lithuanian folkloric legend of Jūratė and Kastytis, the origin of the amber is, in fact, intertwined with a motive concerning once again the Thunder God, under its common Baltic theonym of Perkūnas. According to this story, once upon a time in the deepest water of the Baltic Sea there was a castle entirely made of amber, where the Sea Goddess Jūratė ruled. Expect that one day she fell in love with a mortal fisherman named Kastytis. This love was unwelcome to the Great Thunderer, who with mighty thunders destroyed the underwater palace bringing its fragments, the amber crystals, adrift on the beaches.

As we can see from the two myths from the opposite ends of the Amber Road, the symbol of amber has evoked powerful symbolism for thousands of years. It has been used for beauty, decoration and healing, but most importantly, it has been given to the Gods as a rare and potent offering. This divine gift has been understood as such by all European peoples who have worked together and traded with each other to honour their Gods. This spirit of the Amber Road is what guides us nowadays in our work to restore balance and order, giving us inspiration through even its name.
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