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Midsummer day

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Midsummer day

FEAST of ST.JOHN – June 24th [ a.k.a. JONINËS]

From ancient times people marked the time of the return of the sun, the shortest and longest night. In olden times it was called the Feast of the DEWS, [ a.k.a. RASOS ]. When Christianity was established in Lithuania, the name was changed to Feast of St. John, according to agrarian folk calendar, the start of haying.

The rituals of the longest day were closely related to agrarian ideas and notions. The mmain aim was to protect the harvest from natural calamities, evil souls, witches and mid summer visitors like draught, hail, downpours of rain and thunder. The ancients worshipped the great Goddess Lada and God of Thunder, the ruler of thunder and lightning. From May 25th till June 25th men visited taverns while women and girls danced in the fields holding hands, sang and sacrificed white hens.

N.Vëlius wrote that the feast of the „Dews“ binds with the feast of God oof Thunder honoring the embodiments of all kinds of powers. Men’s wrestling, a demonstration of their strength can be linked to the feast of God of Thunder. On the longest day of summer, bread must be baked and eaten before ssunrise, saying the following words, “ in the name of the sun and thunder, I order you, fever, and chase you away from people“.

The sun is the first to be addressed, because at this time of year she is most active and most rites are carried out in her honor. This is a holiday allotted to the Gods of Heaven.

Daukantas calls the Feast of St. John the „Wreath Feast“, and asserts that in ancient times it was celebrated during fourteen days.

In the 15th century, visitors to Lithuania wrote that in Vilnius, the celebrations took place in the eastern section of the city, the place of the present day „Rasos“ cemetery. Fires were lit on hills and in ddales. People danced, sang, ate and drank. On the Feast of St John a special role was granted to the sun. The sun is constantly mentioned in songs sung on the longest day of the year.

On this ritual day, farmers paid special attention to water’s special powers in reviving soil and making it productive. Witchings on this day were carried out near and with water, people washed themselves and their animals. Special attention was paid to the dew because iit revives plants at night. At sunrise farmers made their way around the fields, pulling a branch which brushed the dew to fall into the soil and cause a good harvest. Maidens tried to get up before sunrise, collect the dew and wash their faces with it to make them bright and beautiful. They would also get up at night, go outside to wet their faces in the dew and returned to bed without wiping their faces dry. If that night they dreamt of a young man bringing them a towel, they hoped that he would be the one they would marry. Country sorceresses, during that night dragged a towel over dewy grasses, collected the dew, and watered the cows with it in order to increase their milk production.

Flourishing plants were worshipped because it was believed that plants collected on the eve of the Feast of St. John posses magic powers to heal, bring luck and foretell the future. This is an ancient ritual practiced mainly by women. Roses, common daisies, especially the herb St. John’s worth and numerous grasses were some of the main plants collected at this time.

P.Dundulienë asserts that nine plants with healing powers were ccalled „Kupolës“, plants of the Feast of St. John. A festival pole, decorated with flowers and greenery was also called „Kupolë“. Folklore shows that „Kupolë“ was the Goddess of plants, living in aromatic plants, blossoms or in buds in summer and in snowdrifts in winter.

In Lithuania Minor, even in winter before the Feast of St. John, women made haste to collect medicinal herbs, with the belief that after June 24th all herbs lose their healing powers.

Girls returned to the village after picking flowers and singing, wreathed the festival post, „Kupolë“, added colorful fluttering ribbons to it. This festival post was set at the far end of the village, near the grain fields. It had to be defended during two days and nights from young men who tried to steel it. After saving the post, the girls removed the decorative herbs and grasses and divided them amongst themselves because these herbs had special protective powers against evil spirits and illnesses.

In some regions bunches containing nine plants were gathered by women on the eve of the Feast of St. John . Some of the plants were fed to animals before midnight, so they would be protected from evil eyes. BBunches of St. John’s worth were placed behind pictures of saints. If this bunch did not wilt fast, it was believed that it will be a lucky year. Other herb bunches were kept till Christmas, the winter return of the sun, then fed to cows so that they would be healthy and good milkers. Cows’ udders were washed with a decoction made with St. John’s worth. Bunches of nine herbs were kept in barns through Christmas. Other bunches of dried herbs were used to smoke sick people and animals.

It was believed that wreaths concentrate perpetual life’s forces and are symbols of immortality and life. There were many rites and witchings associated with wreaths during this longest summer’s night.

Walk around three fields and gather bunches of nine flowers, twine a wreath and place it under your pillow. You will marry the man, who in your dream comes to take away the wreath. At midnight, twelve wreaths were dropped into a river and observed if they were pairing off. If no pairing off occurred, there was to be no marriage that year. Near the river Nemunas, wreaths were dropped in the water, only when the river was calm and observed

to which direction they drifted. Matchmakers would come from that direction. Releasing the wreath with the current, it will be caught by a young man, the maiden will be his. Should the wreath float away without being caught, the maiden will keep that wreath all year in her dowry chest, as a symbol of luck and health.

In the seacoast region, all during the night, young men and women twined wreaths from ferns, placed candles and set them in streams. SShould both their wreaths swim together, they believed that they would marry that year.

In some regions wreaths twined during the night of the Feast of St. John were placed at crossroads with the belief that ones future will be seen in a dream.

Seacoast fishermen did not go out to fish on the day of the Feast of St. John or even several days after it. According to them, the sea lurks for sacrificial lambs on these days.

The rrites of this day continued till sunrise around bonfires. The site selected for ritual bonfires was always in the most beautiful area, on hills, on river shores and near lakes. In some regions bonfires were lit on future grain fields aand under linden trees.

Those who are not fond of socializing on the eve, hurry and gather along lake shores, light bonfires, place burning poles, covered with tar into trees, so that there would be light all night long until sunrise. Special decorated wheels were lit and were rolled down hillsides, this symbolized the sun’s moving away from the earth and at the same time a request for her return.

In ancient times, the ritual fires were lit by senior priests, “ vaidilos“. That fire was started with sparks coming from rubbing dried roots of medicinal herbs or from flying sparks when striking flint stones. Such fires would protect from epidemics, illnesses, poor harvests, hail and lightning.

Eggs were thrown iinto the fires and animals sacrificed. Later straw dolls were sacrificed in place of animals.

The ritual fires were built up to throw their light over a large area of fields, to assure a big autumn harvest. On the eve of this feast day, home fires were put out and new fires were lit using glowing coals from the ritual fires of that day. It was believed that these ritual fires had special powers, which would protect from misfortunes, bring hhealth and harmony to the family. It was important for newlyweds to light the fire in their hearth with the coals of the miraculous ritual fire. Such a family would be blessed, live well and in total harmony.

P. Dundulienë in her book “ Fire in Lithuanian Folk Culture“, writes that jumping over fires or around it had magic meaning. Ritual bonfires cleansed both physically and psychologically. Sick adults and children were brought to the ritual fires and were pulled through the fire, with the belief that they would be healed. Jumping over the fire was carried out with the belief of making better health, increasing body strength for hard summer labors and assuring better growth of grain and flax. Ritual fires’ ashes, smoldering coals had special powers to increase the harvest and protect it from natural calamities. The coals were dug under in fields, ashes were sprinkled on crops to assure good crop yields. To keep weeds from growing in grain fields, ritual fires’ wood splinter remains , were tied ...

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