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 main 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 of 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 sunrise, 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. The most archaic tradition of this day is tall poles with wheels at their top, set on fire. The wheel symbolized the primitive farmers' attitudes to the sun or her travel cart. This tradition is related to myths about the sun's travels by cart or by boat. The tradition of boating on lakes and rivers in flower and wreath decorated boats, in which a fire was lit, symbolized the floating sun and was widespread throughout Lithuania.
The feast of St. John is connected with summer weddings and their rituals which were bound to affect family living and population increases. Should a pair become friends this night, there will definitely be a wedding.
The night of June 24th is the shortest night of the year, filled with bird sounds and luxuriant vegetation. Darkness substitutes light unnoticeably, night is full of miracles due to fire reflections and shadows. It was believed that activity during this night of supernatural creatures or female witches was ill disposed towards men, animals and plants. To keep animals from their malevolent actions, animals were put in barns before sunset and were fed bread with salt for protection. Mountain ash branches and wheat sprays were hung on door posts for protection against evil spirits
In some regions clogs were placed in front of a mirror. Witches would step into the clogs and run away upset by their frightful image in the mirror.
In Samogitija, "Šatrija" was the most famous witches' hill, where during the night of the Feast of St. John, witches party and rage all night and invent all kinds of enchantings. This is why one could not do without " witches burnings". Young people tied a barrel filled with tar and sawdust to a high pole, sprinkled it with salt so that the witches would crackle. The barrel was set on fire while the young people sang and danced merrily. Next morning the cow herd was driven through the remaining ashes , with the belief that witchings will no longer be harmful.
During the night of the Feast of St. John, the miraculous fern bursts into bloom. It is difficult to catch sight of this bloom, however this difficulty can be overcome by going to the forest the day before, cutting down a mountain ash, pruning the branches and cutting off the top. Then pulling the tree backwards, walk about one hundred steps without looking back, toward the side to which the cut tree fell. Look back after the hundred steps and then you will see the devil sitting stuck in the ash tree. The devil will ask for your help to get off the tree and for your help will tell you where to find the blooming fern. When you locate the blooming fern, ghosts will attack with butting horns whirlwinds will howl and cats will cry. Then take a cane made of mountain ash, draw a circle around you with it, spread a linen cloth and stop being afraid. The fern blossom will fall on the cloth. Some say that the fern bloom is like birch dust, others describe it as round and white like carp's scale.