Post by Graveyardbride on Jun 23, 2016 21:02:36 GMT -5
St. John’s Eve: Rituals and Traditions
In ancient times, Midsummer bonfires were lit atop hills and cliffs throughout the British countryside, and in some parts of Scotland, remnants of these traditions continued well into the 18th century. The celebration of Midsummer and other “old ways” survived much longer in rural areas where people were more in tune with nature. The summer solstice was the time when people showed their appreciation for their domestic animals by driving or leading them between two bonfires or clockwise (emulating the movement of the sun) around a single bonfire. People also jumped over smaller fires and in some locations, the highest jumper was believed to represent the height the grain would grow that year. In some areas where there were standing stones, it was believed if a person spent the night among the monoliths, he or she would gain the powers of divination. On the other hand, there was the possibility a person skulking about among ancient stones could be spirited away by the fairies or end up mad or dead.
Following the advent of Christianity in Britain, the Church declared June 24 St. John’s Day in honor of St. John the Baptist, incorporating the old Midsummer traditions in the new celebration. But as was often the case, the people weren’t prepared to abandon their joyful old pagan practices. It was believed the veil between the living and the dead were particularly porous on certain nights of the year and soon and it wasn't long before the Eve of St. John became one of those days that the dead walked abroad and mischievous fairies were at their most powerful. Thus, the evening prior to the holy man's birthday was transformed into a night of magic, mystery and witchcraft.
Among the many rituals and traditions associated with St. John’s Eve are the following, some of which are still practiced by voodoo practitioners in New Orleans and elsewhere:
Medicinal and Magical Plants. It is traditional for women to collect various plants on St. John's Eve. The herb that has come to be known as St. John's Wort, believed to be imbued with the power of the sun, is both a magical and medicinal. Since medieval days, it has been hung over doors and windows to repel witches and evil spirits. Its healing properties are well-known and it was used by the Knights Hospitallers, a medieval Catholic military order that preceded the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Among the other herbs and flowers associated with St. John’s Eve are rue, rosemary, roses, vervain, fennel, yarrow and trefoil because they are thought to be at their most potent at Midsummer. In many locales, plants are placed in water and left outdoors, exposed to the night dew, and women wash their faces in the resulting “flower water.” Young unmarried ladies also place rue, rosemary and rose petals beneath their pillows on St. John’s Eve in hopes of dreaming of their future husbands. Yarrow has been used since ancient times for healing wounds and its essential oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also said to ward off evil and is often burned on the Eve of St. John. The minute spores of bracken (Pteris aquilina) sometimes called “brake” or “female fern,” reputedly has the power to render one invisible if gathered on St. John’s Eve at the precise moment Saint John the Baptist was born. Unfortunately, no one knows the time of his birth. In Denmark, the celebration of St. John’s Eve is called sankthans or sankthansaften and it is at this time that medieval wise men and women gathered the special curative herbs they used throughout the year.
Night on Bald Mountain. The original title of Modest Mussorgsky's composition Night on Bald Mountain was St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain. The original version appeared in 1867, revised around 1872, and again in 1880. In the latest version, there is a hauntingly beautiful quiet ending in which church bell announce the dawn and daybreak chases away the evil spirits. Night on Bald Mountain has remained an audience favorite since it was included in Walt Disney’s Fantasia.
Foods Associated with St. John’s Eve. In Connaught, Ireland, it was customary to serve a dish called “Goody” on St. John’s Eve. Goody is made by soaking white bread in hot milk flavored with sugar and spices. Traditionally, it was cooked in a huge pot placed on the communal bonfire or heated over a smaller fire nearby. Those who wished to partake of the Goody were required to bring their own bowls and spoons.
Voodoo Baptisms. St. John’s Eve is still important to witches, neo-pagans and especially practitioners of voodoo. In New Orleans, voodoo baptisms are performed on the banks of Bayou St. John on the night of June 23 and the tradition can be traced to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. According to Alyne Pustanio, "Madame Laveau held a yearly rite on the night of St. John’s Feast, gathering at the shores of the bayou in New Orleans that bears his name. There, she and her devotees would worship the powerful Lwa (spirits) of their belief system with offerings and gifts to ensure a propitious year. The rites have more to do with pagan Midsummer celebrations than with the Church-sanctioned feast of St. John, but because these gatherings were held on his feast day, St. John the Baptist is forever associated with Voodoo – and Marie Laveau – in New Orleans."
Head-washing Ceremony. Each year in New Orleans, Marie Laveau is honored with a head-washing ceremony, a form of voodoo baptism. Those participating (above) dress in white from head to toe, including a white head scarf, and must present an offering to the spirit of the Voodoo Queen. Some of the more popular gifts are hair ribbons and barrettes, pretty hair combs, Creole food, flowers, blue and white candles, small statues of Catholic saints, rosaries and gris-gris bags. According to historians, the head-washing ceremony is often a precursor to initiation. Voodoo priestess Sallie Ann Glassman claims to have traced the head-washing practice to 1719 and contends the ceremony leaves the participant feeling refreshed.
Cleansing Ritual. Practitioners unable to attend the baptism often perform a private cleansing ritual at home. This ritual requires three white candles, white flowers, incense, Florida water, coconut rum, white hair ribbons or ties, perfume and a comb, white head scarf and white cup. A photo or statue of Marie Laveau and voodoo drumming music in he background set the mood. After showering or bathing, set up something on the order of a mini-altar on the edge of the bathtub including the aforementioned items. Line up and light the three candles, light the incense, fill the tub with warm water, adding a full bottle of Florida water and a few of petals from the white flowers. Stand nude before the tub and present your request to the Mother in the form of a prayer. Step into the tub, dip the white cup into the water and pour the contents over your head seven times. Afterward, you may lie down in the water and meditate or pray, but for no more than 30 minutes. When you exit the tub, wrap the white head scarf around your hair and stand in the air to dry. Then dress in white clothing and lie down on clean white sheets. When you awaken, you will feel rested and restored. In gratitude for her assistance, make a donation to a charity in the name of Marie Laveau.
St. John the Baptist Water. Another New Orleans tradition is St. John the Baptist water, which should be made on St. John’s Eve. To keep bill collectors, landlords, the law and enemies away from your door, on June 24, dip water from a river into a bottle while reciting the Lord’s prayer. In New Orleans, the water should come from Bayou St. John. Place the bottle of water on its side with the top pointing toward the door and when a debtor or enemy knocks, ask St. John and Marie Laveau to prevent their entering your home while using your foot to roll the water toward the front door. Once the person leaves, use your foot to roll the bottle back to its original position. Maintain the bottle in its position and never, ever empty it.
Sources: Nicholas Wooten, The Times-Picayune, June 22, 2015; Denise Alvarado, Carolina Dean and Alyne Pustanio, Hoodoo Almanac 2012; and Everything Explained.