Daily Motivator for Sept. 29th – Great power

Great power

You have great power, yet much of that power can easily be wasted on trivial,  meaningless things. Imagine what would happen if you devoted more of your power  to the truly important, meaningful things.

In the moments that fill each day, in your thoughts, words and actions, there  is great power. When that power is purposeful and well focused, you can do  amazing things with it.

Every little action you take changes the world in some way. Over the course  of a day, a month or a lifetime, you end up taking a whole lot of actions.

Momentous achievements come from countless small acts all taken in the  service of a specific purpose. That’s the power of purpose, and you most  certainly have it whenever you choose to use it.

Don’t let the great power of your life be drained by what doesn’t matter.  Make the choice to make intentional and meaningful use of that power.

In the life you live there is great, effective, world-changing power. Find  your very own unique and beautiful way to put it to use.

— Ralph Marston

The Daily Motivator

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Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way

by Mark Dalton

It was a sunny early evening on Midsummer’s Eve, years ago when I was a footloose young college student. My friend Dace came bursting through the door of our communal hippie household with a couple quarts of beer clanking in a paper bag and announced, “We’re going to a Latvian party tonight — it’s St. John’s Eve!”

I should explain about Latvians. Latvia is one of the Baltic countries, three small nations along the Baltic Sea, on the cusp between the Germanic lands of western Europe and the Slavic peoples to the east, and between the northern lands of Scandinavia and the plains of central Europe. Latvians saw a lot of traffic and heartache during the twentieth century, as they moved from Russian domination, to a brief flowering of independence following World War I, to German occupation during World War II, to becoming a Cold War republic of the Soviet Union, to an eventual, ecstatic return to independence after the collapse of the USSR. Many Latvians fled to the west as refugees when their country was overrun by the Soviets at the end of World War II. Sometimes after years in western European resettlement camps, they came to the United States — particularly the Midwest, where large, settled communities of German-Americans welcomed them like long-lost cousins.

My city in Nebraska was no exception, and I grew up with so many Latvian friends I sometimes felt as if I had been adopted into the tribe. Latvians as a rule are friendly, outgoing, smart and often creative people. My friend Dace (say it “Dot-suh”) was a sunny art major with blond hair streaming down her back and an air of sophistication and mystery. She seem wise beyond our years, which was then about 20. She was a great dancer and loved James Brown and the Motown Sound, having spent her teens in Detroit. Dace showed me Diana Ross’s senior picture in her high school yearbook. A home economics major, Diane, as she was then known, was voted by her classmates as “most likely to succeed.”

I’d been to a number of Latvian college parties by that time, either with Dace or other friends, and they were invariably a great time, always with plenty of beer, music, dancing and good-natured fun. “Where’s the party?” was my question. “This one is out in the country” was the response. “I’ve got the directions.” We polished off one of the quarts, and then piled into my old station wagon as dusk started to set in, driving quite a ways out of town down those Nebraska gravel roads. Fragrant breezes wafted around and through the open car windows, with the sounds of crickets and cicadas making Midsummer Night’s music as we drove along.

“So what’s the deal with St. John’s Eve?” I asked.  “Well, it’s the night of the Summer Solstice — you know, like in Midsummer Night’s Dream? The fairies and goblins come out, and everybody parties? In Latvia, St. John’s Day is a big deal. Everybody named Janis [Latvian version of the name] gets to lead the celebration.” Anyone familiar with the Latvian community knows that Janis is an extremely popular name, so it didn’t surprise me that they had their own holiday — but more about that later.

At this point, Dace was counting mailboxes as we drove along, and she suddenly yelled “Here! This one! Turn in here!” so we did — pulling perhaps 500 feet down a winding dirt drive, coming into a clearing where there was already a large crowd of kids milling around, rolling beer kegs out the back of a pickup truck — and also working on a large pile of brush, tree branches and logs in the middle of the clearing. “You always gotta have a bonfire on St. John’s Eve,” said my hostess. “The bigger, the better!”

And an incredible bonfire it was that night — the sun went down as it crackled into life, sending flames and showers of sparks high into the sky as the keg foamed, the music rocked, and we danced in a great circle under Dylan’s diamond sky. Later in the night, as the fire simmered down and the crowd mellowed, I was sitting with some of the guys when they jumped up and said “Come on, man! Tonight you’re going to leap over the fire with us and become a real Latvian!” Sure enough, there was an unruly line forming to one side of the somewhat tamer, but still vigorous blaze. “You jump the fire on St. John’s Eve, you’re gonna have good luck with the women all year long!” said my mentors. And so I did. And that delightful night was my introduction to the survival of real pagan ritual in the Western world.

The thing about Latvia and the other Baltic countries is that Christianity never really triumphed there, certainly not to the extent it did in western Europe and the English-speaking world. The Baltic countries were never a part of the ancient Roman Empire, and they were not incorporated in the later Holy Roman Empire until well into the fifteenth century (and then only after great reluctance and resistance). For hundreds of years, Latvia’s neighbor Lithuania, which had converted its local folk-pagan beliefs into a powerful and coherent pagan state religion, served as a buffer between the Baltics and the advance of Christian Europe.

Baltic and Latvian paganism was an earth-centered set of beliefs. Around the year 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote “[Latvians] worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Important deities in the Baltic pantheon include Dievs, the sky god; Mara, goddess of earth and water; Laima, the goddess representing destiny or fate — and Janis (John), son of Dievs, the fertility god of the summer solstice!

In spite of the official “Christianizing” of Latvia and the other Baltic states, pagan beliefs were neither eliminated, nor outside the major cities even driven very far underground. The language of Christianity was Latin, and later with the rise of Luther German, and they were also, as in many nations, the language of the oppressor. Latvians, in response, perpetuated their folk customs and pagan beliefs through songs and celebrations in their native language. Early in the twentieth century, the pagan oral tradition of Latvia was collected and published in six volumes (the “Laviju Dainas”), followed by the collection of sacred Latvian folk songs in the 1920s (the “Dievturi”). These works offer invaluable documentation of the survival of pagan beliefs and folkways down to the present time. Lithuanian paganism was again officially recognized in 1967, and since 1988 a shrine-site at Romuva has again become a place of pilgrimage and celebration for modern Baltic pagans. Similarly, after a long period of repression under the Soviet Union (including a total ban on Midsummer festivities), modern Latvian paganism is experiencing a rebirth under the name “Dievturi,” after the sky god, and has become a national movement, “Dievturiba.” Again, in Latvia, the Midsummer’s Eve festivities, or “Jani,” are back on a large scale!

Indeed, the reality of Latvian paganism and its survival into the twentieth century very closely matches Gerald Gardner’s description of Wica (as he spelled it) in the British Isles:

“Although its adherents might be of any class of society, they were mostly drawn from the peasant population of outlying districts. These people lived close to the earth, and their livelihood depended on the fertility of animals and crops. Hence they continued to do what they had been doing from time immemorial — namely, to follow a religion of nature and the fertility thereof, and to hold regular festivals at which the concept of cosmic fertility was worshipped, and the attempt was made to induce it by ritual to manifest upon the earth.”

Now, we understand that, in Latvia, as across the nominally Christian nations of Europe, St. John’s Eve is commonly and officially associated with John the Baptist. But the association of the Baptist with the “John” (or Janis) of midsummer is one area where the clever syncretism of the Christian church is thinly veiled. St. John himself has often been clearly associated with the pagan Oak King, all across Europe, and in fact, many existent statues show him with little horns! (Pan the Baptist!) This persistent association of the Baptist with nature and the rustic shrines offered up to him through the ages offer substantial clues to the more ancient reasons for his attachment to a powerful pagan holy day.

In the Latvian midsummer festival, for example, the arrival of Janis is heralded by much music-making, and he is pictured as tall and handsome, with a wreath of oak leaves on his head. The use of oak, birch and other leaves, branches and flowers is very important to this celebration, as Latvian men, women and children bedeck themselves and their homes with wreaths and garlands to celebrate the arrival of this beloved deity of fertility and plenty. The villagers gather to sing songs to and about Janis — and there are many of them, all ending with the same word, “ligo,” meaning good cheer or to make merry. As the bonfires are lit, the more amorous couples in the village tend to slip off into the night at times in search of a magickal (and possibly mythical) pure white flower that blooms on this night — and even if the flower isn’t found, the search is reportedly sure to be enjoyable! As the song goes,

“Here comes Janis on Janis’ eve, with his steed all adorned;

“Run little sister and open the gates, so Janis can ride into our yard!”

With bonfires on hilltops throughout the land, the celebration of St. John’s Eve, or Jani (John’s Days), on Midsummer’s Eve goes on throughout the night across Latvia, and wherever the sons and daughters of Latvia congregate. And wherever you are on this holy night of celebration, love and thanksgiving, please give a good thought to the Latvians and their Baltic neighbors, for their bravery and tenacity in keeping the spirit, joy and sense of oneness with the natural world of pagan religion alive and intact, and join them in communion with the glory of our beautiful universe!

References

Books

  • Gerald Gardner: Witch, by J.L. Bracelin
  • A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Web sites

This Day In History, Thursday, April 26th

Today In History. What Happened This Day In History

A Timeline Of Events That Occurred On This Day In History

A chronological timetable of historical events that occurred on this day in history. Historical facts of the day in the areas of military, politics, science, music, sports, arts, entertainment and more. Discover what happened today in history.

April 26

757   Stephen II ends his reign as Catholic Pope.
1478   Pazzi conspirators attack Lorenzo and kill Giuliano de’Medici.
1514   Copernicus makes his first observations of Saturn.
1564   William Shakespeare is baptized.
1607   The British establish a colony at Cape Henry, Virginia.
1865   Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the Army of Tennessee to Sherman.
1915   Second Lieutenant Rhodes-Moorhouse becomes the first airman to win the Victoria Cross after conducting a successful bombing raid.
1929   The first non-stop flight from England to India is completed.
1931   New York Yankee Lou Gehrig hits a home run but is called out for passing a runner, the mistake ultimately costs him the home run record.
1937   The ancient Basque town of Guernica in northern Spain is bombed by German planes.
1941   The first organ is played at a baseball stadium in Chicago.
1968   Students seize the administration building at Ohio State University.
1983   The Dow Jones Industrial Average breaks 1,200 for first time.
1986   The world’s worst nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet Union.
1994   Nelson Mandela wins the presidency in South Africa’s first multiracial elections.
Born on April 26
1718   Esek Hopkins, first commodore of the United States Navy.
1785   John James Audubon, artist and naturalist.
1812   Alfred Krupp, German arms merchant.
1822   Frederick Law Olmstead, landscape architect, designed New York’s central park.
1875   Syngman Rhee, South Korean statesman.
1893   Anita Loos, novelist and screenwriter (Gentleman Prefer Blondes).
1894   Rudolf Hess, Nazi leader.
1900   Charles Richter, physicist and seismologist.
1914   Bernard Malamud, novelist and short story writer (The Natural).

Historynet.com

Of Witch’s Work, and Child’s Play

Of Witch’s Work, and Child’s Play

Author: Moly

“Yes, the spirits are real. Yes, the spirits are imaginary. Most of us, however, cannot imagine how real our imaginations are.” — Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford.

There are times when our study of the Great Work changes the way we look at life. That is, after all, why we study it. There are other times, perhaps rarer, and certainly more precious, when everyday life turns our understanding of Spiritual Alchemy entirely on its head.

When I was fresh out of college, I found myself working in a daycare, changing the diapers of two and three year olds. It was unglamorous, but the daily drudgery of mopping the floor and applying band aids to tiny fingers was offset by the very real joys of play, and being with people for whom the entire world was new.

The true downside was the lead teacher. She was a behemoth of a woman, an ex-professor of some hard science like thermodynamics who had gotten her degree in the Soviet Union, and who, despite having experience personally designing jet engines, had to start her education all over again, and was none-too-pleased at becoming a school marm. Everything about the job made her angry, and her misery was contagious. Anything out of the ordinary caused her to yell at the top of her lungs, and I, being possessed of a slightly nervous disposition, lived in fear of her wrath.

One day, during naptime, I was left alone with the children while the lead teacher, we’ll call her Marya, went on break. My instructions were simple but absolute: kids stay on mats. Clean the counters. Barring a natural disaster, I intended to follow these instructions.

The room was dark when Marya left, and the children were sleeping peacefully — or so I thought. I turned my attention to my chores.

Suddenly, I heard rustling. Two children, Anna and Jon, age three, were up off of their mats, and were apparently attacking the wall, throwing invisible stones, or maybe swinging invisible swords. Marya wanted kids on mats, so, dutifully, I went over to try and right the wrong.

“Anna and Jon, back on your mats, now.” I said. Jon did not pause for a moment to acknowledge me, but Anna turned her huge dark brown eyes on me, her small, light-coffee colored face filled with grave seriousness, and shook her head vigorously.

“No. We have to get the blug before it gets all the children, ” she explained. Reflexively, I scanned the area that Jon was attacking, but detected nothing that I recognized as magical, and certainly no kind of entity that I had ever encountered. I did not discount the possibility that something was there, but judged it harmless due to the low level of energy in the area. Ana continued to explain — very loudly– about the “blug” and how all the children were in danger. I steered her away from the sleeping children.

“Ana, kids are sleeping, you can’t shout like that.”

Ana was not listening. Jon had stopped hurling the invisible stones, and was frozen in place. He and Ana seemed to be looking at the same point on the wall, following some invisible something as it moved slowly along the wall over the sleeping children. Each child in turn shuddered in their sleep as whatever it was passed over them. I realized that I was not feeling “nothing, ” what I sensed, I realized, was the energy and color of a “pretend” thing.

In a daycare, there are thousands of these baby thought forms. A plastic dish has an artificial elemental spirit shaped like a steering wheel stapled to it. There is a stationary “godform” of Princess Jasmine near the dress-up area. Teddy bears are “consecrated” to keep away monsters. But as a discerning practitioner, I fancied that there was a real, functional difference between the pretend things fashioned by adults, and those dreamed up by children. One was “magic, ” the other, fantasy. I had taught myself to screen out flights of fancy from my radar.

“The blug is real, and I have to go help Jon-Jon now.”

“I believe you, ” I said, “just let me take care of it.”

“No, you can’t!” Ana was on the verge of hysterics, her eyes darting back and forth between me and Jon. ” You’re a grown-up”

The blug, whether real, pretend, or both, was a problem I wasn’t going to be able to solve through a brutal application of authority. I taped together two Popsicle sticks with masking tape and handed it to her. “Here, take my sword, it has a plus six against blugs.”

She nodded, and took the sword, but we were too late. As I watched, Jon was suddenly blasted backward, as though hit in the chest by some unseen force, lifted off of his feet by the impact. He fell to the ground and onto one arm. Ana wasted no time to explain, but dashed and stabbed at the ground twice.

Jon did not get up. I was shocked. I don’t exactly remember if I said anything, or if I ran over, or walked. I remember taking his vitals, checking for injury or concussion, opening his eyelids and shining a light to see if his pupils were dilating unevenly. He was breathing and apparently uninjured, but I did not dare move him. He was not twitching, there was no sign of seizure, but he was completely unresponsive.

Ana stood, looking over my shoulder as I did this. She said, “I didn’t hit him, I swear. He falled down by hiself.”

“I saw, Anna.”

“I didn’t hit him, ” she repeated, more quietly. “Tell Marya I didn’t hit him.”

I called 911. About thirty seconds before the ambulance arrived, Jon woke up, and immediately started crying. You will be happy to know that Jon was fine, and that the Children’s Hospital found nothing wrong with him. Still, this incident drove home for me the deadly power of the human imagination.

At times, those of us who practice magic have difficulty separating mystical experiences from imaginary ones. That is because, in a very fundamental way, they are the same thing. We bring order to these experiences, magical, religious, fantastical or imaginary, by playing games. Whether we are playing the game where you are the fire-man and I am the doctor, or the game where you are the hierophant and I am the neophyte, the game where we put out a chair for our imaginary friend “flopsy, ” or whether we are pouring out a libation for our “imaginary” friend Odin, we are accessing the same –very human– faculty.

As seriously as we take our religions, I assure you, children are just as serious about the games that they play.

The “Gloria Mundi” discusses the Prima Materia (that First Thing, which the Alchemist must find before any Alchemy can take place at all) , saying that it is…

“Familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God, yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing upon earth and has the power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things.”

When I consider the disdainful way that many of by pagan colleagues discuss the imaginary, or when I think of my own mother telling me to get my head out of the clouds, I could believe that the imagination really is “esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things.” Has it pulled down Kings and Princes? Imagining one’s self richer, or more powerful, or in possession of more land certainly has. Children certainly play with it, and if our everyday retail worker is the modern day equivalent of a servant maid, then for certain, I have seen many in this field so tired, crushed and frustrated by their work that imagination no longer had a space to breathe.

Everyone, though, rich and poor, has a flight of fancy, at least daily. And indeed, if you subscribe to the idea of a Creator, how could such a being create without first having imagined the end product? Possessing an imagination may be what is meant when it is said that we are made “B’Tzelem Elohim” or “in the image of the divine.”

Considering all this, I realized that the purpose of spiritual alchemy, for me, was the refinement of the imagination. It’s purpose was to gain control over flights of fancy, not only so that I could make better godforms, or craft stronger elementals, but so that, in casting a spell, or even in preparing for a board meeting, my imagination would not conjure up images of failure, and thereby undo all of my handiwork.

That which is dangerous is powerful, that which is powerful is dangerous. Be careful what you dream, because your dreams just might come true.

Calendar of the Sun for February 10th

Calendar of the Sun
10 Solmonath

Anahita’s Day

Colors: Black and silver
Element: Air
Altar: Lay a cloth of black studded with silver stars, and on it set many white candles, and a great six-pointed silver star, a chalice of white wine, and a tray of star-shaped cookies.
Offerings: Paper stars written with reasons to hope.
Daily Meal: Star-shaped breads and cakes. Vegetables sliced into stars. Cold raw food.

Invocation to Anahita

Lady of the Morning Star
Who sings us awake
With a song of hope
For the daily road ahead,
Never let us fail
In our ability to keep faith.
Lady of the Evening Star
Who sings us to sleep
With a song of peace
For the nightly struggle,
Never let us fail
In our ability to dream.
Lady of the starry sky
Whose womb birthed the universe
That we might one day come to be,
Never let us fail
In our ability to hope
For the future of this world.

Chant: Ai ya Ai ya Anahita Anahita

(One who is chosen to do the work of the ritual comes forth with the cakes and passes them around, saying, “Taste matter and manifestation.” Then s/he comes forth with the white wine and passes it around, saying, “Taste the spirit that brings it to life.” The rest is given as a libation. Afterwards, all present place their paper stars on the altar and meditate on hope.)

On this day…….

On this day…

July 7: Independence Day in the Solomon Islands (1978); Tanabata in Japan

Victims of the 7 July bombings trapped underground

  • 1834 – In New York City, evangelical Protestants began four nights of rioting against abolitionists.
  • 1911 – The United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and Russia signed the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention banning open-water seal hunting, the first international treaty to address wildlife conservation issues.
  • 1963 – The police of Ngo Dinh Nhu, brother and chief political adviser of President of South Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem, attacked a group of American journalists who were covering a protest during the Buddhist crisis.
  • 1983 – After writing a letter to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov, American schoolgirl Samantha Smith visited the Soviet Union as Andropov’s personal guest, becoming known as “America’s Youngest Ambassador”.
  • 1994 – Troops from the former North Yemen captured Aden, ending the Yemeni civil war.
  • 2005 – Suicide bombers killed 52 people in a series of four explosions on London’s public transport system (victims trapped in train pictured).

On This Day……

On this day…

July 1: Canada Day; Independence Day in Rwanda and Burundi (1962)

Remington No. 1 typewriter

  • 1770 – Lexell’s Comet passed closer to the Earth than any other comet in recorded history, approaching to a distance of 0.015 AU.
  • 1874 – The Remington No. 1 (pictured), the first commercially successful typewriter, went on sale.
  • 1963 – The British Government revealed that former MI6 agent Kim Philby had engaged in espionage for the Soviet Union.
  • 1999 – Legislative governance of Scotland was transferred from the Scottish Office in Westminster to the Scottish Parliament.
  • 2002 – Bashkirian Airlines Flight 2937 and DHL Flight 611 collided in mid-air over the towns of Owingen and Überlingen in Germany, killing all 71 people aboard both aircraft.
  • 2008 – Rioting erupted in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, in response to allegations of fraud surrounding the recent legislative elections.

Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way

Celebrating Midsummer Eve the Latvian Way

article

by Mark Dalton

It was a sunny early evening on Midsummer’s Eve, years ago when I was a footloose young college student. My friend Dace came bursting through the door of our communal hippie household with a couple quarts of beer clanking in a paper bag and announced, “We’re going to a Latvian party tonight — it’s St. John’s Eve!”

I should explain about Latvians. Latvia is one of the Baltic countries, three small nations along the Baltic Sea, on the cusp between the Germanic lands of western Europe and the Slavic peoples to the east, and between the northern lands of Scandinavia and the plains of central Europe. Latvians saw a lot of traffic and heartache during the twentieth century, as they moved from Russian domination, to a brief flowering of independence following World War I, to German occupation during World War II, to becoming a Cold War republic of the Soviet Union, to an eventual, ecstatic return to independence after the collapse of the USSR. Many Latvians fled to the west as refugees when their country was overrun by the Soviets at the end of World War II. Sometimes after years in western European resettlement camps, they came to the United States — particularly the Midwest, where large, settled communities of German-Americans welcomed them like long-lost cousins.

My city in Nebraska was no exception, and I grew up with so many Latvian friends I sometimes felt as if I had been adopted into the tribe. Latvians as a rule are friendly, outgoing, smart and often creative people. My friend Dace (say it “Dot-suh”) was a sunny art major with blond hair streaming down her back and an air of sophistication and mystery. She seem wise beyond our years, which was then about 20. She was a great dancer and loved James Brown and the Motown Sound, having spent her teens in Detroit. Dace showed me Diana Ross’s senior picture in her high school yearbook. A home economics major, Diane, as she was then known, was voted by her classmates as “most likely to succeed.”

I’d been to a number of Latvian college parties by that time, either with Dace or other friends, and they were invariably a great time, always with plenty of beer, music, dancing and good-natured fun. “Where’s the party?” was my question. “This one is out in the country” was the response. “I’ve got the directions.” We polished off one of the quarts, and then piled into my old station wagon as dusk started to set in, driving quite a ways out of town down those Nebraska gravel roads. Fragrant breezes wafted around and through the open car windows, with the sounds of crickets and cicadas making Midsummer Night’s music as we drove along.

“So what’s the deal with St. John’s Eve?” I asked. “Well, it’s the night of the Summer Solstice — you know, like in Midsummer Night’s Dream? The fairies and goblins come out, and everybody parties? In Latvia, St. John’s Day is a big deal. Everybody named Janis [Latvian version of the name] gets to lead the celebration.” Anyone familiar with the Latvian community knows that Janis is an extremely popular name, so it didn’t surprise me that they had their own holiday — but more about that later.

At this point, Dace was counting mailboxes as we drove along, and she suddenly yelled “Here! This one! Turn in here!” so we did — pulling perhaps 500 feet down a winding dirt drive, coming into a clearing where there was already a large crowd of kids milling around, rolling beer kegs out the back of a pickup truck — and also working on a large pile of brush, tree branches and logs in the middle of the clearing. “You always gotta have a bonfire on St. John’s Eve,” said my hostess. “The bigger, the better!”

And an incredible bonfire it was that night — the sun went down as it crackled into life, sending flames and showers of sparks high into the sky as the keg foamed, the music rocked, and we danced in a great circle under Dylan’s diamond sky. Later in the night, as the fire simmered down and the crowd mellowed, I was sitting with some of the guys when they jumped up and said “Come on, man! Tonight you’re going to leap over the fire with us and become a real Latvian!” Sure enough, there was an unruly line forming to one side of the somewhat tamer, but still vigorous blaze. “You jump the fire on St. John’s Eve, you’re gonna have good luck with the women all year long!” said my mentors. And so I did. And that delightful night was my introduction to the survival of real pagan ritual in the Western world.

The thing about Latvia and the other Baltic countries is that Christianity never really triumphed there, certainly not to the extent it did in western Europe and the English-speaking world. The Baltic countries were never a part of the ancient Roman Empire, and they were not incorporated in the later Holy Roman Empire until well into the fifteenth century (and then only after great reluctance and resistance). For hundreds of years, Latvia’s neighbor Lithuania, which had converted its local folk-pagan beliefs into a powerful and coherent pagan state religion, served as a buffer between the Baltics and the advance of Christian Europe.

Baltic and Latvian paganism was an earth-centered set of beliefs. Around the year 1400, Father Peter of Dunsberg wrote “[Latvians] worship all of creation… moon, stars, thunder, birds… they have their sacred forests, fields and waters in which they dare not cut wood, nor work, nor fish.” Important deities in the Baltic pantheon include Dievs, the sky god; Mara, goddess of earth and water; Laima, the goddess representing destiny or fate — and Janis (John), son of Dievs, the fertility god of the summer solstice!

In spite of the official “Christianizing” of Latvia and the other Baltic states, pagan beliefs were neither eliminated, nor outside the major cities even driven very far underground. The language of Christianity was Latin, and later with the rise of Luther German, and they were also, as in many nations, the language of the oppressor. Latvians, in response, perpetuated their folk customs and pagan beliefs through songs and celebrations in their native language. Early in the twentieth century, the pagan oral tradition of Latvia was collected and published in six volumes (the “Laviju Dainas”), followed by the collection of sacred Latvian folk songs in the 1920s (the “Dievturi”). These works offer invaluable documentation of the survival of pagan beliefs and folkways down to the present time. Lithuanian paganism was again officially recognized in 1967, and since 1988 a shrine-site at Romuva has again become a place of pilgrimage and celebration for modern Baltic pagans. Similarly, after a long period of repression under the Soviet Union (including a total ban on Midsummer festivities), modern Latvian paganism is experiencing a rebirth under the name “Dievturi,” after the sky god, and has become a national movement, “Dievturiba.” Again, in Latvia, the Midsummer’s Eve festivities, or “Jani,” are back on a large scale!

Indeed, the reality of Latvian paganism and its survival into the twentieth century very closely matches Gerald Gardner’s description of Wica (as he spelled it) in the British Isles:

“Although its adherents might be of any class of society, they were mostly drawn from the peasant population of outlying districts. These people lived close to the earth, and their livelihood depended on the fertility of animals and crops. Hence they continued to do what they had been doing from time immemorial — namely, to follow a religion of nature and the fertility thereof, and to hold regular festivals at which the concept of cosmic fertility was worshipped, and the attempt was made to induce it by ritual to manifest upon the earth.”

Now, we understand that, in Latvia, as across the nominally Christian nations of Europe, St. John’s Eve is commonly and officially associated with John the Baptist. But the association of the Baptist with the “John” (or Janis) of midsummer is one area where the clever syncretism of the Christian church is thinly veiled. St. John himself has often been clearly associated with the pagan Oak King, all across Europe, and in fact, many existent statues show him with little horns! (Pan the Baptist!) This persistent association of the Baptist with nature and the rustic shrines offered up to him through the ages offer substantial clues to the more ancient reasons for his attachment to a powerful pagan holy day.

In the Latvian midsummer festival, for example, the arrival of Janis is heralded by much music-making, and he is pictured as tall and handsome, with a wreath of oak leaves on his head. The use of oak, birch and other leaves, branches and flowers is very important to this celebration, as Latvian men, women and children bedeck themselves and their homes with wreaths and garlands to celebrate the arrival of this beloved deity of fertility and plenty. The villagers gather to sing songs to and about Janis — and there are many of them, all ending with the same word, “ligo,” meaning good cheer or to make merry. As the bonfires are lit, the more amorous couples in the village tend to slip off into the night at times in search of a magickal (and possibly mythical) pure white flower that blooms on this night — and even if the flower isn’t found, the search is reportedly sure to be enjoyable! As the song goes,

“Here comes Janis on Janis’ eve, with his steed all adorned;

“Run little sister and open the gates, so Janis can ride into our yard!”

With bonfires on hilltops throughout the land, the celebration of St. John’s Eve, or Jani (John’s Days), on Midsummer’s Eve goes on throughout the night across Latvia, and wherever the sons and daughters of Latvia congregate. And wherever you are on this holy night of celebration, love and thanksgiving, please give a good thought to the Latvians and their Baltic neighbors, for their bravery and tenacity in keeping the spirit, joy and sense of oneness with the natural world of pagan religion alive and intact, and join them in communion with the glory of our beautiful universe!

References

Books

  • Gerald Gardner: Witch, by J.L. Bracelin
  • A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Web sites