June 21, 2014

So Many Choices

Summer Solstice today.  Researching "solstice" the words: pagans, neo-pagans and new agers are tossed out like candy on Halloween ( or should I say Samhain).

Having discovered lately (finally) that life does not have to be either/or, I have decided to celebrate solstice with an international-interfaith flavor this year.

In Lithuania it is called Saint Jonas' Festival. I will sing and dance and tell tales (this being my first of the day though the singing and dancing has already begun!) In true Lithuanian fashion, a fine hello to all Jonas, Jone and Janina's out there! By the way, the holiday was supposedly high-jacked and adopted as John the Baptist Day, so hail to you John. ( so I guess blessings go out to you Johns, Jons, Juans, Juanitas, and Joannes and Ivans)

Speaking of Ivan's, it is also Kupalo Night or Ivan Kupalo Night, the shortest night of the year. Ivan is the John in Slavick languages. Again, the adopted by Christian religions to celebrate John the Baptist. John, Ivan, Juan, JoAnn, all those names, when deciphered into their basic roots mean "bathing". It kind of makes sense that baptism and John would be celebrated at this time of year. It could actually be one of those what-came-first-the-egg-or-the-chicken kind of things!

So many cultures celebrate the longest-day aspect of the solstice but I am intrigued by the "shortest night" view of the Slavik people. Bonfires are built and the revelers jump the fire to prove their courage; couples are encouraged to jump the fire holding hands. If they break their grip their relationship is destined to be short lived. Think of the lawyers fees that would be saved if we made bonfire jumping part of premarital counseling!

Some of the celebrants search for fern flowers and magical herbs; maidens create small wreathes to float down rivers and would-be suitors try to snag the wreathe of the one they are smitten with.

It is also a day to celebrate fertility. I would imagine if you were one of the lucky ones to find a fern flower, capture a sodden wreathe and jump a bonfire with the wreathes creator without letting go of hands and still had time in the shortest night of the year...well, you might soon be celebrating honey moon. That, in itself, is another fertility holiday and rite.

p.s. ferns don't flower! If someone brings you a little blossom and tells you it is a fern flower, cut them off from the mead....they've certainly had their fill!

In Poland, the day (or night ) is called Noc Kupalo. All the rituals mentioned above are observed with the addition of telling fortunes. I am guessing that the most accurate fortunes would be those predicting burned feet, lost wreathes and a few hangovers. ("The cards tell me you will awake in the tall grass, toes crispy and feeling as if Ivan Kupalo is in your head banging to get out!)

 Finland built huge bonfires too and called the longest day of the year Ukon Juhla. The Fins are very astute people, as they usually built their fires on the beach of a lake or the sea. Two birch branches would also be placed on either side of the entrance to the homes, welcoming visitors. Heavy indulging in spirits is also part of the Finnish ritual...and I am not talking ghosts! It is now called St. John's Day but still celebrated with bonfires and booze! Go Finland!

Fete de la Saint-Jean is what the French call the day. They, too, build bonfires but in the past it was called Cat Burning Day.  Moving on.......

Greece celebrates the day as Klidonas which translates to "Sign of the Oracle". Now that is a culture that saw John the Baptist coming!  The day is considered a fine time for unmarried woman to find their true love. Wreathes are also involved, but unlike other cultures, Greek doors are been decorated with wreathes for two months and they find this a grand day to burn them (the wreathes, not the doors). Like many others, bonfires, drinking and dancing are a must and after several "Opa's" there is the mandatory jumping of flames to prove your manliness and courage!

Photo by kostaskatsanis.blogspot.com
Many Western hemisphere cultures laid out a banquet for the Sun Gods, hoping they would be rewarded with good harvests.  I don't find that jumping flames was a popular on this side of the globe either.

I, for one, will try jumping the fire pit prior to building the fire. I will jump the flames prior to consuming any alcohol and I will definitely shave my legs to prevent any singeing. I may build a wreath and see if Frank retrieves it (which I am sure he will to prevent it from being swept up by the pool sweep) and he will be justly rewarded. At the stroke of midnight, eastern standard time, 9 p.m. here, I will take my pseudo-midnight swim, knock back a toast to the Sun Gods, Moon Goddesses, John the Baptist, Fire-jumpers, and all the Johns, Jons, Ivans, etc. I will dance sky-clad only until I reach my towel (shame to scare the neighbors on such a festive evening).

Climbing into my bed, I will know that somewhere, my ancestors will be smiling down on me and asking each other, "WTF?"

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