Rituals of Saint John 's Eve in hispanic and portuguese world.


Saint John's Eve takes place on the night of June 23 to 24, and the birth of John the Baptist is celebrated. However, it is only a transposition of the summer solstice festival, which takes place between June 20 and 22, in the northern hemisphere, and from December 20 to 22 in the southern hemisphere, and which represents the shortest night of the year.

Although the Celtic world is usually associated with Litha, the truth is that this determination was given by Gerald Gardner, a key figure in the development of Wicca and neo-paganism, to set a pagan date for the solstice. However, it has always had equivalents throughout the Eurasian territory and also in precolonial Africa and America. For example, it is known as Midsummer or Midsommer (Sweden), Ivan Kupala (Slavic world), the Midnight Sun (Alaska and Finland), Xiazhi (China), Geshi (Japan), or simply as the solstice, especially in those places that have archaeoastronomic landscapes (Egypt, United Kingdom), although these festivals do take into account the exact date and not the 24th. But in many countries, influenced by Christianity, the name they receive refers to the Christian saint (Saint John, São João, Saint Jean, Sankt Hans...) This extends to the American territories. The connection of this date with the saint is due, according to some, to the contrast between the birth of Jesus on December 25, and because there was a six-month age difference between them.

For this article we will only review some of them, and we will focus on Hispanic, Portuguese, Hispanic American and Portuguese American rituals, since each culture keeps its specific symbolisms; However, there will be references to rites that, due to immigration or territorial proximity, have also found a place in tonight's practices. In any case, these dates have always been important for all cultures, not only because of the astronomical situation, an indicator since prehistory of the beginnings of the harvest and collection, but also because of the fact that the sun, deity or not, begins to weaken. In Western Europe, the most common symbol of both the solstice and Midsummer's Eve is the lighting of fires and bonfires, intended to give more strength to the aging sun so that it is able to be reborn. Not in vain, although the days are getting shorter, there are still several months of good temperatures, and after the winter solstice, the days will begin to lengthen. Bonfires have multiple meanings within folklore. The most recurrent for this superficially Christianized festival are the image of light defeating darkness and the purifying character of fire.

It is a common belief that this night the doors of the supernatural world, of spirits, of a world different from ours, magical, are opened and that therefore you can find elves, fairies, nymphs, xanas, gnomes, devil's horses, and many others. beings from folklore that can interact with humans for good or evil purposes. An example of them would be the Lady of the Cave, in Almería, who asks questions to humans and rewards or punishes their answers, or the so-called "charms" in Mexico, in which someone is dazzled by the beautiful images that are shown to them. , enters those "charms", and is trapped until the following year, as long as she does not eat or touch anything from the other world, or she will become part of it. Obviously, for magic practitioners, it is the ideal night to work with elemental spirits and elements.

Rituals with fire

There are different traditions around these bonfires. The best known is to jump over it, as a purifying act when crossing the smoke and the danger posed by fire. There are those who say that the tradition was widespread throughout Europe, having testimonies that the Romans jumped over fires and made their cattle pass between them (Ovid, Fastos IV). It is also a propitiator, filling the person who jumps with the same energy as the sun, and a protector, since that energy from the sun, it is believed, remains impregnated in the person. Nowadays it is common to see jumping, even as championships, in squares and beaches. Although jumping once is enough, there are those who believe that the more you jump, the more purified you become, or that you should jump an odd number of times, seven or nine, others say four, one in each direction, or only in the direction of sunrise.

It is not common in Europe, but it is common in North Africa, to redirect the columns of smoke so that they cover the crops, considering that it protects and blesses them, and clothing or household utensils, pets and beloved objects also pass through the bonfires. Likewise, they also incense homes with herbs burned from the same bonfire. In Europe, although the doors are blessed with burning herbs, the care of the crops is done in another way, passing the torches along the edges of the fields, as in ancient Roman purification rites, or, further north, throwing straw wheels set on the hills. Some scholars consider that this use of fire on crops is actually related to the controlled burning of weeds or stubble.

Likewise, it is customary and accepted to jump over the embers, and there are those who keep a piece of burned log until the following year, as well as, traditionally, lighting it when there is a storm. Many people, especially where the bonfires or figures are of considerable height, dedicate themselves to dancing in circles until the body gives in to fatigue, believing that then they will have gotten rid of the bad and will find themselves receptive to the good.

Figures, rag dolls and wooden towers are also set on fire, which usually symbolize scapegoats or incarnations of evil or the past, which are destroyed and banished through fire. It is also common that night to burn, written on paper, the bad experiences of the year in the fire of a candle or by throwing it into a larger bonfire, although, in parallel, there is a tradition of also burning a paper where the wishes for the year are written. next year.

Also, in scattered territories around the world, balloons with candles are released and fireworks are held, illuminating the night sky.

Candle rituals

With candles there are multiple independent rituals. When bonfires cannot be made or one cannot participate in them, it is common to light multiple candles, which must burn at least until midnight, and to walk around them. On the one hand, the lighting of a candle in which to burn the wishes, at exactly twelve at night. The color of the candle with the desired wish also influences, and some choose not to directly burn the paper with the wish, but to put it under the candle, and save it once it is stuck with the wax that does not burn, or bury it. Burying the leftover wax is a common fertility rite both in rural areas for crops and for professional or life success.

On the other hand, two could be lit, if what is sought is love, burning in one the name of the desired person, or the pure desire to be loved. With three candles, past, present and future, or four candles, which symbolize the four cardinal points, or five, for the five elements, balance is sought, placing them on a mat or surface of bright colors (red, yellow, orange, pink, or white that symbolize light), surrounding them with natural elements and a specific element of the desired desire, such as laurel for money, tourmaline for protection, etc. Salt is also poured over them, or surrounded, to ward off negative energies, or with sugar, to attract positive ones.

Burning the herbs collected or chosen from the night of San Juan is common in different regions. In the Canary Islands, for example, spikes are lit and a wish is made by blowing to blow them out. In private rituals, burning a sprig of an herb such as chamomile, olive and laurel with a candle brings financial luck.

Many divination rituals use wax poured over water or paper to interpret shapes about the coming year (as can be seen below). Candles actually fulfill auxiliary functions in all rituals or altars, but their presence on this night is considered much more important. Therefore, on San Juan Night, even if you want to perform a love or luck spell that does not require candles, it is intended that it will be more effective if it is done at midnight and by candlelight. As in any other ritual with candles, the important thing for practitioners is that the candle is completely consumed, or failing that, it is not extinguished by blowing, but with a cap, glass or clap.

Rituals with water

Water is life, and especially for rural people, on whose presence crops and livestock depend. It is not enough, then, to simply look for related mythologies, although, obviously, we find them.

Already in ancient Rome, around these dates, the festivals dedicated to the goddess Fortuna, the Fors Fortuna, took place, at which time they decorated the cities with flowers and transported the young people, who were dressed with flowers, to the festival in boats. with garlands. Water, furthermore, is a purifying element par excellence, and it is known that in the Celtic world water had esoteric characteristics and was home to many divinities.

The best-known rituals have to do with the sea. It is said that going into the sea on your back and receiving nine waves helps women get pregnant, by analogy with nine months. It also applies to jumping seven or nine waves holding hands with your partner. For general and individual desires, it is enough to jump an odd number of waves with your back to the sea, at midnight.

On the Night of San Juan everything takes on a magical value, especially everything related to nature, given the variety of fairy entities in Celtic and rural culture in general. Therefore, it is believed that washing your face with spring water, sea water or morning dew helps maintain youth, grace, beauty, and of course, health. Also, since they go out to look for magical flowers and plants, there are those who take a tour to drink from seven springs. In some places in southern Spain, Water Races are held, where people run through the streets, while soaking themselves in water that is thrown from the balconies, with hoses, and in many places it is common to bathe in the water of seas or rivers that night.

As with fire, there are those who throw their evils into the sea to get rid of them, or their desires, in which case it must be done with their backs turned. There are also those who throw coins and flowers to attract luck, in which case they throw a symbolic number of them.

Regarding personal or individual rituals, there are those who salt or sweeten water, or collect it directly from a source or from the sea, and also those who leave jugs of water in the moonlight of that night, considering that in this way the water is blessed and influenced by the magical energies of that night. This water is then used to clean homes or for purification rituals. Another preparation of this holy or magical water is made by leaving a series of magical herbs in the water, which in each region receive a different name, but can be gathered under the name of St. John's Herbs; All of them have in common the belief in their magical properties, which are enhanced on these dates and must be collected at night or at dawn: let us not forget that the alkaloids of different plants are activated after having received sunlight or having lacked it. . It is one of the mother traditions, from which many magical water rituals are currently performed, leaving it in the light of the moon, and sometimes, putting an element in it (a crystal, an amulet).

Divination rituals

Returning to Roman religion, the goddess Fortuna was also called Vortumna, the one who changes, referring to both the passage of time and luck. Perhaps this is the reason for the many popular rituals to tell fortunes, as well as propitiate it, that are carried out this night. Not everything, however, is due to the Romans: it is reasonable to think that if the bad is burned and the new is made way, it is inevitable to wonder what will happen in this new period.

Some of these divination systems are typical, but imbued with the magic of this special date, as is the case of divination by wax dropped in water: on this night, it is thought that using the wax from the candle lit at midnight It will reveal the future with more precision, a practice widespread throughout all territories, from Latin America to the Slavic world, although the forms of interpretation vary: while in Latin America the interpretation of letters or initials seems widespread, in Europe forms and symbols are sought. It was also made with tin, but the popularity of wax compared to this material is understandable. Among other traditions of love divination, we find that pins or needles are also thrown into a basin of water to see if they separate or stay together, resembling the relationships of a couple or friends. In the Slavic world especially, but also in rural European areas, onions are cut in half and left in water, having written or put on a piece of paper with the name of several suitors or love interests, and it is thought that the first onion that grow up he will be the right person. In some countries, putting the rings in the glasses from which you are going to drink on certain special dates brings luck, and on this night, in addition to luck, it is said that single people can, with a ring inside the drink, visualize to the person who will be your partner.

Other types of divination, loving or not, play with the classic "yes-no" or "even-odd", removing flower petals, lighting matches, taking a handful of rocks or nuts, and counting them, lighting them or throwing them, starting to give interspersed answers, and the last one being the valid answer of the oracle. Finally, the use of mirrors seems to have spread: although it is considered that beauty rituals tonight do not work if the person looks in a mirror before dawn, many people use them to see the future, surrounding it with two or three mirrors. candles, and placing it facing the night sky, so that the reflections form figures.

The egg is a universal symbol of reset, and it is also used on these dates. In some places you pour the egg white into a glass of water and make a wish. It is left overnight in the window and the next day the field is watered with it or buried. But for divination, the egg is poured into a glass, which is left covered overnight; The next morning you observe the columns that have formed: thick columns that reach to the top will indicate accomplished objectives and good luck until the next San Juan, but thin threads will indicate illness and hardship. If one is cut, it will mean the death of a person or the end of a project.

Other rituals involve pouring ink on paper, folding it and letting it dry, to interpret the resulting stain the next morning. It is also made with hot wax, although it cools quickly and you have to be skillful to pour it in at once, since it is not enough to simply melt the wax, and it must come directly from the melting of the candle.

It is said that that night it is possible to know the future through dreams. To do this, there are those who leave the so-called San Juan herbs, or herbs that they themselves have collected, under the bed, considering that their aroma and presence will send them premonitory images. A simple oracle widespread especially in South America, which is why its possible indigenous origin is questioned, is to put three potatoes or sweet potatoes under the pillow that night: one must be completely peeled, another half-peeled, and one unpeeled. The next morning, the first potato pulled out with the left hand will reveal how the year will go: the unpeeled potato indicates that all possessions will be kept and more will be obtained; the half peeled, a balance between good and bad; completely stripped, it will be a year of many losses.n Latin America, with the number three as well, beans or other legumes are planted, each with a wish, the order in which they are born being the one in which they will be fulfilled (and if they are not born, technically it means that they will not be fulfilled), or they are prepared three grilled tortillas, and the puffiest one indicates the wish that will be fulfilled.

Luck rituals

They are many and very varied, as in the entire field of folklore and popular traditions. As said before, the general thinking is that whatever is done tonight will have more value. However, there are some specific ones of San Juan, like jumping over bonfires.

Some people, like others, keep the logs to protect themselves from the rays, collect the ashes from these bonfires, and either keep them or throw them on their hair, considering that they have a special power.

It is said that the flowers of the fig trees open that night, and that seeing their flowering and obtaining one of those flowers and keeping it will fill its bearer with luck. About the fig tree there is a Hispanic tradition that says that the devil teaches how to play the guitar to whoever sits under a fig tree that night, which although it is not luck as such, it is certainly an opportunity. Flowers, in general, are bringers of good luck on this night: in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and the Celtic world it is common for participants to crown themselves with flowers and decorate the doors with garlands, similar to Beltane. In the Mediterranean world it is also done, although less frequently, and what is given value is not the decoration, but the amulet that can be made with said flowers or plants that are collected that night. The fern (according to the tradition of the Slavic world, this is the plant that blooms on Saint John), tonight gives very good luck both picking it and carrying it. Something similar is said about the Christmas flower in Mexico, about, ivy, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, laurel, and clovers, without it being necessary for them to have four leaves. It is also common to fill colored bags with salt. Any amulet or talisman made this night is valid for an entire year, so there are those who choose to prepare air fresheners or perfumes with these flowers.

You could also sleep with a bean or flower under your pillow that night, and then it should be kept for the rest of the year. There are lucky rites in Latin America such as preparing a dish with different legumes and a chestnut: interested people surround the dish, turning around three times with their eyes closed, and put their hand in the dish, trying to get the chestnut, which ensures that the wishes expressed that night are fulfilled.

In the Portuguese world, an altered tradition of a custom spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean world is preserved: the beating of the leek. In the ancient Greek world, for example, it was common to hit the thief or the lazy with leeks, and "expel" him from the city, thus expelling everything bad. Well, this tradition finds its parallel in the Portuguese world, where in Portugal and Brazil, on the night of São João, just a century ago, people went out to beat walkers to "purify them with blows" when entering the city. That day, today it is done with toy hammers and people protect themselves with helmets. Just as in the north of Spain garlic is hung behind doors to ward off the devil, it seems common that in Portugal either a leek or the modern hammer (martelo) is left hanging that night.

On the other hand, it seems that with a double function, bouquets are left in the windows: on the one hand, they are the amulet of the consecrated herbs of that night; On the other hand, it was a loving declaration made by young people, with different messages depending on the flowers and plants in the bouquet, and its orientation.

Other rituals, undoubtedly more modern in their method, consist of mixing incense or herbs with money in a bag, and closing them with a red cord, creating an amulet to carry. They are also made with coins left in the moonlight, or coins that are buried that night. Any amulet is valid, it seems, to energize it and prepare it that night: some are more natural, such as the peach pit (the one found inside the false peach pit), or an egg, on which the wish or wish is written. A cord of the color corresponding to the wish or the person is tied, and it must be kept until the key moment, in which the remains must be cracked and eliminated in a stream of water.

Other rituals: spells and dances.Of course, in each and every one of these rituals mentioned, a spell can be pronounced that enhances the expressed wishes. These spells are usually done, except in cases of private rituals, in a group, in a circle or around the bonfire, and drinking and eating, such as the Galician Conxuro and queimada. Many of these spells refer to Saint John, witches, the sea and the sun, and magic practitioners consider that it is enough to manifest the desire in a confident manner. The importance of traditional food and meeting with family and friends is much more notable in Latin America. All of this, in addition to having a magical function that is preserved today by tradition and individual practitioners, is a natural reinforcement of the feeling of community, despite the fact that it has sometimes led to debauchery and celebration totally unrelated to the traditional issue. Another way to visualize what would be sacred processions in their day are the current parades or parades, whose noise (cowbells, drums, music) it is unknown that, in their beginnings, they sought to ward off evil spirits.

In the Portuguese area, the mastros, the central poles of the bonfire, are maintained, which are arranged decorated in different areas of the cities and danced around them, in a very similar way to the majstång or Swedish May cross.

We left out many more rituals, without contradicting all those that, because they are typical of different regions or specific towns, are known exclusively in those environments. Without a doubt, more articles about these regions and traditions will be necessary, but in the meantime, it doesn't hurt to try to summarize a little of tonight's magical Portuguese and Hispanic heritage.

Pietro V. Carracedo Ahumada - pietrocarracedo@gmail.com


-De Mendoza, V.R.R., La noche de San Juan en diversos lugares de México. Revista de la Universidad de México, 7, 1954 (pp. 11-12)
- Flores Arroyuelo, F. Diccionario de supersticiones y creencias populares, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 2000
-Irribaren, J.M. El folklore de la Noche del día de San Juan. Príncipe de Viana Vol. 3 Nº 7 (pp. 201-217)
-Medina González, M. Los misterios de la noche de San Juan. Plaza & Janés, Barcelona, 2007

-Plath, O. Folclor chileno. FCE, (15ª edición). Chile, 2009.

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