Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hyvää Juhannusta! and some pagan christian ramblings...

Paganism was widespread throughout Europe in early times and Finland was no exception. Up until the year 1316 (and so I've read, even into the 1800's of orthodox southern Karelia) the time now reserved on Finnish calendars as Juhannus was actually a celebration of nature and especially of Ukko, the sky and weather Thunder God.

The time then was called Ukon juhla. There would be Thunder festivals of light, fertility and for guaranteeing the abundant harvests. The creation of beer and the consumption of it, would hail his honour. The people would set bonfires, many, many of them and the largest would be the bonfire of Ukko itself, in Finnish it was called the Ukko-kokko. It was also a time for cleansing of the soul, in the fight against evil, as well as to celebrate the summer solstice.

This bonfire example was found on the area website.

Mikael Agricola, (c. 1510 – 9 April 1557) the father of the Finnish written language and devout christian reformist wrote in poetry about the pagan times pre-Juhannus. You can tell he didn't think much of the revelry!

Ja kun kevätkyntö kylvettiin,
silloin Ukon malja juotiin.
Siihen haettiin Ukon vakka,
niin juopui piika että akka.
Sitten paljon häpeällistä siellä tehtiin,
niin kuin sekä kuultiin että nähtiin.

Roughly translated as:

And when the Spring plowing was sown,
a toast was drank to Thunder
Thunder was sought by the bushel,
(an old measuring term for dry corn and harvest of)
maidens drunk like old women.
Then there was a lot of shame done,
as well as heard as was seen.

At the same time however, the R.C. church held the day in memory of John the Baptist and when Christianity swept the country, rather than disband the day, the old celebration was simply renamed. John the Baptist washed over the old least in name, for many celebrations continued and survived the reformation... even until this day. St. John's day however was translated into Finnish as Juhannus.

One might well ask, why St. John the Baptist was feasted on that day? It's a quarter day celebration and just as Yule time, or the now christian christmas, marks the birth of Jesus, Midsummer marks the birth of John the Baptist. Which is interesting really, to me anyway - because most Saints are remembered for their day of death (or their birth into heaven) rather than their birth into this world. Apparently his birthday is based on the Gospel of Luke and because he was said to be the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce Jesus' arrival. Hence why, John the Baptists birthday is celebrated exactly six months before Christmas. John acts as his sacrificial twin, he the dark twin of midsummer and Jesus the light twin of the winter solstice.

Being that I have pagan leanings, I find pagan shifts of dates to christian calendars interesting and I like to see the reasonings behind them... and how, in reality, the pagan aspects are still afoot! For instance in paganism the sun has two energies or personalities... there is the light and the dark god, the Oak King and the Holly King. They, as nature itself, battle over the seasons, the favour of the Goddess and the light that pervades this world through the aeons.

Some well known pagan writers have identified Jesus as the Holly King and John the Baptist as the Oak King. Remember the christmas carol... The Holly and the Ivy? There is a line which says..."Of all the trees that are in the wood, the Holly bears the crown" ...interesting eh? Anyway..I digress...

The Juhannus of todays generation is a popular time for festivals, parties and gatherings of any kind, weddings especially. Most families will, if they have one, disappear into the forests, to their summer cabin and the towns, at first maniacally busy on the day prior to Juhannus, then become suddenly and incredibly quiet! Shops are closed early at midday at the latest of Juhannusaato (Juhannus Eve) and then are closed all the day long of Juhannus. It is also, of course, a Finnish flag day, in fact it is the longest time the flag is raised during the year, as it stays up from 6pm on Juhannusaaato to stay up all night - and doesn't come down again until 9pm on the evening of Juhannus itself.

In areas close to rivers, there are bonfires set - and whilst many do not question or even realise why this happens.. it is of course harkening back to the festivals in honour of Ukko the Thunder god.

Sauna and the magical cleansing that this brings is a fond way of spending time together. In previous days, youthful, tender, verdant green Birch tree branches will have been collected from the forests and made into what is called a vasta or vihta. Or one can cheat and buy them from the supermarket, fresh...or even frozen in the freezer compartments!

These are gently whipped onto the hot naked skin, to improve circulation, it also brings a fresh, forest like aroma to the sauna. I personally love the smell of Birch. Its nice also added to the sauna water in the form of Birch oil.

Then of course... there is the manic heavy drinking that goes on at Juhannus! Being that this is the land of a thousand lakes, it is popular to go out on your boat - especially when completely plastered. Naturally, for those of us, with half a brain... this is a totally lethal combination and annually the police get prepared for the loss of life. Its always on the news at Juhannus.

Of course with Juhannus over.. the winter spirits are turning again in their sleep.. the days, now filled with 24 hour daylight in Finland will gradually, gradually lessen.. the wheel will turn and summer will give way to autumn and autumn very quickly to the snows of winter.....Holly and Oak will battle again.... but for now.. there is sun! Happy, lovely sun! Hyvää Juhannusta!

Want to make your own Juhannus vihta?

And here..just for fun some totally Finnish Juhannus alcohol recipes!
I am sure you will get the joke!

"Atlantic salmon eye"
1 glass of Koskenkorva vodka
1 blueberry......

"Reindeer Tears"

A glass of Koskenkorva vodka
A couple of cranberries.....

"Koskenkorva Coffee"
1 sugar cube

Put a sugar cube in your glass. Pour a little coffee until the sugar dissolves.
Pour Koskenkorva until the sugar cube is seen again!

Now, it has suddenly gone very dark there is also some thunder rumbling - as I finish this piece! Yay! How appropriate! Hail Ukko! (but please don't knock my internet connection off!)

DOUBLE Hyvää Juhannusta! ;D

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