Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Le Solstice et La Fête de la Saint-Jean
Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning "sun" + "to stand still" during the longest day of the year.
The Celts, whose archaeological culture dates back to 800 BCE (Before Common Era), had already migrated to France by 450 BCE bringing with them their culture, language and rituals. The Celtic language still survives in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales Cornwall and Brittany, France.
The Celtic culture and language spread throughout France and, by the time the Romans invaded, the Celts, then living in what today we know as France were called Gauls. You've read a little Asterix and Obelix, n'est-ce pas?
Druids were the Celt's priests, religious officiants, judges, teachers, lore-keepers and sacrificers who performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the benefit of the community. The Romans reported that the Druids held their ceremonies in sacred groves, at sacred pools and near votive pools.
One of the Celtic rituals in France was the celebration of the Summer Solstice; it is thought to be a time of magic (just ask Shakespeare), a time when evil spirits are said to appear. The Celts gathered magical plants and healing herbs (Saint John's Wort, Vervain, Yarrow, Fern and Mugwort) one of the most effective being Saint John's Wort. B
Today's Druids celebrating at Stonehenge.
As is the case with many Christian rituals and celebrations, the Pagan Summer Solstice was taken and transformed into La Fête de la Saint-Jean. This Catholic festivity in celebration of Saint John the Baptist takes place on the 24th of June as opposed to the 21st. Bonfires are traditionally lit and people dance around them and leap over them.
Here is a macabre piece of information: in France, from the 17th century right on through the Renaissance, people partook in Cat-Burning during Le Solstice et Fête de la Saint-Jean.
"In this form of entertainment, people would gather dozens of cats in a net and hoist them high into the air from a special bundle onto a bonfire. According to Norman Davies, the assembled people "shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized."
"It was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck. The French kings often witnessed these spectacles and even lit the bonfire with their own hands. In 1648 Louis XIV, crowned with a wreath of roses and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the fire, danced at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town hall. But this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the midsummer bonfire in Paris. At Metz midsummer fires were lighted with great pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker cages, were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people. Similarly at Gap, in the department of theHautes-Alpes, cats used to be roasted over the midsummer bonfire."
Happily, the modern-day French have elected to celebrate Le Solstice with big music festivals throughout the country. From the 21st to the 24th, music is heard all night long, covering both Le Solstice et Fête de la Saint-Jean.
I tend to appreciat the magical feeling of the Summer Solstice, the idea of new beginnings and welcoming fertility in thoughts, concepts and everyday life, the pleasure in welcoming in the longest day of the year.
Another quote (gentler!):
“Legends describe the solstice as a time when the doors to enchanted castles and the underworld were cast open and mortals could mingle with fairies and imprisoned princesses and explore hidden caverns. Shakespeare set his silly and brilliant comedy on this night, depicting the collision of three very different worlds in a magic forest where fairies work romantic mischief on sleeping couples, while bad actors rehearse a Roman play about doomed lovers. The youth of today may not pause to think that they are reenacting ancient midsummer celebrations or mating rituals when they get debaucherous at the many music festivals that kick off around the solstice, but the primal desire to be outside dancing and carousing late into the night is irrepressible at this time of year.” - Megan Cytron, Salon.com
Bon Fête du Solstice et de la Saint-Jean!!
Gros bisous et a bientôt.