Monday, 30 January 2017

Banya

In my post "Fulacht fiadh - sweat lodge" I proposed that fulachta fiadh could have been seasonal temporary campaign camps built by Fianna hunting bands, and that they consisted of wigwam type shelters which could have been used as both lodgings and steam rooms.

At the end of that article I said that, there is a place in Europe where we still find a particular type of temporary shelters which are built by soldiers, hunters and travelers on campaigns, which are very similar in construction to wigwams or inipis, which are heated by fire heated stones, and which are used as sweat and steam rooms...

That place is Western Russia, Ukraine, Belarus where the same type of temporary travel "sweat lodges" are still made today and are known as "походная баня" (pokhodnaya banya) meaning "hiking bathhouse".

This is a type of temporary sweat lodges, very popular among the Russian military, mountaineers, hunters and other people who travel for extended periods in harsh environments. It consists of a stone oven set up in a small makeshift tent. Hiking banyas are usually made near a lakeshore or riverbank where many big, round stones are available to build the banya's oven and there is plenty of cool water available for bathing. Large stones are made into a dome-shaped circular oven, one meter in diameter and a half to one meter in height so that there is space left on the inside to make a large fire. Firewood is burned for several hours in this improvised stove until the stones on the surface of the pile become so hot that water poured on them turns into steam. Around the pile, a space is tarped to form a small tent and the banya is ready when it becomes very hot inside. Fresh twig tips can be cut from nearby birch or oak trees and a bath broom called venik can be made and used for sprinkling the hot oven stones with water and for massage.


Bathers using banya can take turns cooling off in the ice-cold river or lake water.

Here are some examples of makeshift "hiking banya" sweat lodges. You can see that all they are basically a very flimsy makeshift huts built over a stone oven.








These Russian videos shows how to make banja stone oven from stones found on a beach:

How to make banja video 1
How to make banja video 2
How to make banja video 3 (and how to use it)
How to make banja video 4


On this great web page you can see pohodnaja banya made in the old style with the cover made from evergreen branches:


Couple of things to note. As you can see from the above pictures the "hiking banya" sweat lodges are extremely easy to make and a single person can put one together in less than an hour. Once you have the frame in place you can use whatever you have at hand as the cover: hides, blankets, tarp, plastic sheet or evergreen or broad leaf branches. Once you make the oven that is. This oven is basically a corbelled roof dry stone dome.


If you want to heat large number of stones, this is the most efficient way to do it. Because the fire is burning inside the stone oven, under the stone dome, and because the hot gases produced by the combustion rise, there is no heat waste. Almost all the heat produced by burning wood inside this type of oven gets absorbed by the stones and then is radiated out long after the fire has gone out. A stone oven heated by the burning fire for 3 hours will radiate heat for 12 hours after the fire is note out. This is incredibly efficient way of heating. Compare this with a hearth which becomes stone cold as soon as the fire is out. Also because the fire is completely contained inside the oven there is no danger that it can spread to its surrounding. This allows these ovens to be positioned next to the walls of the huts even if these walls are made of flammable material like wood.

Now imagine if you wanted to make a permanent banya. A village banya. You would instead of a makeshift shelter make a more permanent shelter, a wooden hut maybe, a log cabin. In my post about log cabins i explained that it was Central European Slavs who inherited the tradition of building log cabins from Central European Celts. The Slavs then passed this building tradition to the Scandinavians during the middle ages. So if Slavs wanted to make a permanent banya, they made a log cabin like this one:


And then inside they built a corner stone stove, just like the one from pohodnaya banya. Like this one.


And this is exactly what the oldest and the most traditional type of banya known to have been used in Slavic countries looked like. The original village banyas were detached, low-lying wooden structures (log cabins) heated by a corner stove which was made of large round stones. Once the stones are heated, the fire was put out, the ashes were removed and smoke was let out before the bathing began.  Hence the soot covered blackened interior and the term "black bathhouses" ("chernaia banya" or "Баня по-черному").

Here is the black bathhouse while the stove is being heated. You can see the smoke bellowing out through the open door.


And here is the interior of the black bathhouse. It's black :)



After the hut was aired, the door was closed. The super heated stones would radiate the heat and the inside of the hut would soon reach temperatures as high as the 90 degrees Celsius. People would come in and would sit naked on benches in the dry heat (sauna) or would splash water on stones creating steam (steam room). They even took stones from the top of the stove and used them to heat water in large wooden throughs which were then used for bathing...

The banya tradition is extremely old in Slavic lands. No one really knows how old. But if we are to believe Radzivill Chronicle, preserved as a 15th-century copy of a 13th-century original, banya was in wide use in Kieavan Rus in the 10th century AD. In this manuscript we find the story of Princess Olga's revenge for the murder of her husband, Prince Igor. Prince Igor was killed by the Slavic tribe of Drevlians in 945 AD. The leader of the Drevlians had hopes of marrying the widow Olga and sent messengers to discuss the idea. 

"When the Drevlians arrived, Olga commanded that a bath should be made ready for them and said, 'Wash yourselves and come to me.' The bath-house was heated and the unsuspecting Drevlians entered and began to wash themselves. Olga's men closed the bath-house behind them and Olga gave orders to set it on fire from the doors, so that the Drevlians were all burned to death."


Now a lot of people would here say that banya was probably brought to the Slavic land by the Scandinavian Rus. After all banya is a type of sauna and "everyone knows" that sauna is a Finish invention which was then adopted by the Scandinavians, who then brought this custom with them when they invaded the the Slavic land. Right? I would dare say wrong...

The sauna in Finland is an old phenomenon but it is difficult to trace its roots. Finnish bathing habits were poorly documented until the 16th century. This is substantially later than the above mention of banyas in the Kievan Russ. Did Fins use saunas earlier than the 16th century? Maybe. How much earlier? As early as the 10th century? Maybe but we have no written records of it. However we do have written records that Slavs used banyas much much earlier than the time when first Scandinavians arrived into Central Europe.

An early description of the banya comes from the East Slavic Primary Chronicle of 1113. According to the Chronicle, or as it was called by its authors, The Tale of Bygone Years, the Apostle Andrew visited the territories that were later to become Russia and Ukraine during his visit to the Greek colonies on the Black Sea. The belief was held that Andrew crossed through East Slavic lands from the mouth of the Dnieper River, past the hills on which Kiev would later be founded, and went as far north as the ancient city of Novgorod. He had this to say about the Slavic bathing customs:

"Wondrous to relate," said he, "I saw the land of the Slavs, and while I was among them, I noticed their wooden bathhouses. They warm them to extreme heat, then undress, and after anointing themselves with tallow, they take young reeds and lash their bodies. They actually lash themselves so violently that they barely escape alive. Then they drench themselves with cold water, and thus are revived. They think nothing of doing this every day, and actually inflict such voluntary torture on themselves. They make of the act not a mere washing but a veritable torment."

If this source is to be trusted, Slavs used banyas every day in the first century AD. Now some people will say this is just a fairy tale, but this fairy tale is supported by archaeological evidence.

This is the map of the Prague-Penkov-Kolochin group of archaeological cultures identified with early Slavic populations in the 6th and 7th centuries. Please note that they cover the whole area between the Balkan and Baltic and that they are centered around Carpathian mountains, a land of forests, rivers and lakes, containing all the material one needs for making log cabins with stone ovens....


These cultures are descendants of the Kiev culture, an archaeological culture dating from about the 3rd to 5th centuries, named after Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. It is widely considered to be the first identifiable Slavic archaeological culture. It was contemporaneous to (and located mostly just to the north of) the Chernyakhov culture which was a mixed Slavic and Gothic culture.

The settlements of these Early Slavic cultures were no larger than 0.5 to 2 hectares. Settlements were often temporary, perhaps a reflection of the itinerant form agriculture they practiced. Settlements were often located on river terraces. The largest proportion of settlement features were the sunken buildings, called "grubenhäuser" in German, or "poluzemlianki" in Russian. They were erected over a rectangular pit and varied from four to twenty square meters of floor area, which could accommodate a typical nuclear family. Each house contained a stone or clay oven in one of the corners, a defining feature of the dwellings throughout Eastern Europe. On average, each settlement consisted of fifty to seventy individuals.




In the article entitled: "Prague type culture houses, aspects of form, function and meaning" published by Martin Kuna, Nad’a Profantová we can see drawings of the actual Prague culture archaeological sites showing houses with corner stone ovens still standing intact...




On this web page "Как жили и чем питались наши предки" you can see reconstructions of these Slavic houses with stone ovens. Here are two examples of the interiors of these Slavic sunken houses.



They look very much like interiors of black banyas don't you think? Actually they look exactly like like black banyas. Black banyas are just houses used for bathing, bath houses, as opposed to houses used for living. But the construction was identical. The stone ovens are not just amazingly efficient heaters. They are fully functional cooking stoves. You can bake or roast inside the oven, just like inside a pizza oven.


A pot or a cauldron of water placed on top of the oven will quickly boil and can be used for efficient cooking. Here is a cauldron placed on top of a stone oven inside a black banya used for heating water for washing.


What is a house?

A house is permanent dry warm shelter.
Banya hut is just such shelter. The construction of black banya huts is identical to the construction of the early Slavic houses. They are both half sunken log cabins.
A house has a heating and cooking facilities.
Banya oven is just such facility. Identical ovens were found in every early Slavic house.
A house has place where people can sit during the day and sleep during the night.
Banya has benches built along the walls are just such places. They are used by bathers for sitting or reclining.
Identical benches were built in early Slavic houses for sitting during the day and sleeping during the night.
Basically there is no difference between earlySlavic banyas and early Slavic houses. They are one and the same.

If we look at the Wiki article about Finish saunas we will see that:

"...the ancestral type of finish sauna is the so called "savusauna" (smoke sauna). This is a special type of sauna without a chimney. Wood is burned in a particularly large stove and the smoke fills the room. When the sauna is hot enough, the fire is allowed to die and the smoke is ventilated out. The residual heat of the stove is enough for the duration of the sauna."

"...One reason the sauna culture has always flourished in Finland has been because of the versatility of the sauna. When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna. You could live in it, make food in the stove, take care of your personal hygiene, get warm, and, give birth in an almost sterile environment due to constant smoking of the interior of the black sauna and a very high temperature."

Basically Finish saunas are black banyas, which are nothing else then the traditional Early Slavic houses. Now you could say that maybe Fins also had the same traditional houses. But the thing is that during the late iron age, early medieval time, semi sunken log huts with corner stone ovens (black banya, smoke sauna) were exclusively built by Slavs. They were so characteristic for the Slavic culture, that a discovery of these corner stone ovens in an archaeological site immediately classifies the site as a Slavic settlement...So the sentence "When people were moving, the first thing they did was build a sauna." should actually be "When Slavic people moved into a new area, the first thing they did was build a house, which was of identical construction as a black banya or smoke sauna and which could have been used for living or bathing."


The article about Finish saunas continues to say that "smoke saunas are still extant not only in Finland but also in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia". All countries which have been hugely influenced by the neighboring Slavs and their culture.

Now remember "inipi", the Native American sweat lodge? The translation of Inipi is actually not "sweat lodge". The actual translation is "The way we live" or "We live" or "A house, and a sweat lodge and a birthing place and a spiritual place and....".

For Early Slavs, banya was truly "the way they lived". It was a house, a sweat lodge, a birthing place and a spiritual place, considering that a corner stone oven was the most sacred place for every Slav, the place where the spirits of the ancestors lived and protected the house and its inhabitants....


Still think that sauna was a Finish invention? When even the word sauna is not of Finish origin. In the Wiki article about sauna we can read that "Originally borrowing from the early Proto-Germanic *stakna- whose descendants include English stack, the word sauna is an ancient Finnish word referring to the traditional Finnish bath and to the bathhouse itself. In Baltic-Finnic languages other than Finnish, sauna does not necessarily mean a building or space built for bathing. It can also mean a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman." 

The word stack probably originally referred to the stone oven, basically a stack made of stones, which was something completely new and previously unseen by the Germanic and Finish people who used central open hearths, which as I already said are very inefficient heating systems. Those Germanic speaking people, probably Norse, who adopted the Slavic custom of building cornet stone ovens (stack of stones) continued to call every house that had these stone ovens "a stack"...They then passed this custom to Fins...And for the name being used for "a small cabin or cottage, such as a cabin for a fisherman" this is a perfect description of an early small Slavic house with the corner stone oven...

Let me present the chronology here:

The Russian chronicles say that Slavs used banya sweat and steam lodges every day in the 1st century AD.

Archaeological evidence shows that Slavs built "black banya" type objects in the 3rd century AD. We don't know if these objects were used only as houses or if they were also used as sweat or steam lodges, but we can deduce from the ethnographic data that they were probably used as both.

Kievan Russ, a loose federation of Slavic and Norse Germanic tribes which existed in Central and Eastern Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Rurik dynasty. During this time Slavs continued to live in the same "black banya" type houses and to use "black banyas" as sweat and steam lodges.

The word Sauna is of Germanic origin.

The first mention of Finish Saunas dates to 16th century AD.

But was it Slavs who invented banya or did they borrow it from someone else? Is it possible that Slavic Banya is a cultural continuation of fulacht fiadh?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

St Gall and the bear

Saint Gall, Gallen, or Gallus (c. 550 – c. 646) according to hagiographic tradition was a disciple and one of the traditional twelve companions of Saint Columbanus on his mission from Ireland to the continent. Saint Deicolus is called an older brother of Gall.

The most popular story about St Gall says that once he was travelling in the woods of what is now Switzerland. One evening he was sitting down warming his hands at a fire. A bear emerged from the woods and charged. The holy man rebuked the bear, so awed by his presence it stopped its attack and slunk off to the trees. There it gathered firewood before returning to share the heat of the fire with St Gall. The legend says that for the rest of his days St Gall was followed around by his companion the bear.

Here are two miniatures depicting St Gall. On one he is walking with the bear and on the other one he is praying with the bear. The illustrations are from "Pontifical-Missal of the St. Gallen" which was made in 1555.




On both pictures there is a strange brownish circular object just behind his head made to look like a halo. The object looks very very very much like bodhrán, the Irish drum. 


bodhran

Bodhrán is one of the most basic of drums and as such it is similar to the frame drums distributed widely across the world. It has been suggested that the origin of the instrument may be the skin trays used for separating chaff, in baking, as a food server, and for storing food or tools. They are very similar to tambourines which are basically these drums with cymbals. In Ireland they are today played with a single drumstick called cipin. 


But is this halo like thingy behind St Gallen's head a bodhran or some other drum very similar to bodhran?

Well bodhrans were apparently once played using fingers just like tambourine or daf drum. This is a daf drum. :) 


The daf is a large Persian frame drum used in popular and classical music. The frame is usually made of hardwood with many metal ringlets attached, and the membrane is usually goatskin. The earliest evidence of the Dap (Daf) dates back to Sassanid Iran. The Pahlavi (an ancient Iranian language) name of the daf is dap. The word daf is therefore the Arabicized form of the word dap. Some pictures of dap have been found in paintings that date before the Common Era. The presence of Iranian dap in the reliefs of Behistun suggests the daf existed before the rise of Islam. Dafs were part of religious music in Iran much before Sufism. Iranian music has always been a spiritual tool. It shows that dafs played an important role in Mazdean Iran emerging as an important element during the Sassanian times.



Now these types of drums were also favorite drums of the Gypsi dancing bear trainers from Eastern Europe. They would play the drum (tambourine) and sing while the bear would dance to the rhythm of their song. I remember these guys from the streets of Serbia from the time when I was a kid.




The Gypsy bear trainers belong to a special caste called the Ursari (generally read as "bear leaders" or "bear handlers"; from the Romanian "urs", meaning "bear". They are also known as Richinara, Mechkari. They are known to have existed during the population's transit through the Byzantine Empire, as early as the 12th century, when they are mentioned in connection with the Athinganoi (Roma people) by Theodore Balsamon.

Here are some historical images of ursari with bodhran like drums:



As I already mentioned Gypsies arrived to the Balkans in 12th century. By 16th century Gypsies already lived in all parts of Europe



Soooo

Is St Gall's halo from the "Pontifical-Missal of the St. Gallen" gypsy drum then? Did the author of this 16th century manuscript, base his drawing of ST Gall with a drum and a bear on traveling Ursari Gypsy bear trainers? After all he lived and worked in the 16th century in the St Gall monastery located in the north of Switzerland, and by the 16th century Gypsy bear trainers have already reached Switzerland. 

Now here is something interesting.

Here is an early 19th century depiction of Gypsy dancing bear trainers from the area of Hesse in Germany. They have a monkey, and the player is playing flute and a drum.



Here is an illustration from "Roman d'Alexandre", Flemish manuscript dated to 1338-44 written in French. It illustrates legends of Alexander the Great. The scene also has a dancing bear and its trainer, a musician playing flute and a drum and a monkey.



I was also told that there is an even earlier depiction of this scene from 12th century French manuscript. The illustration can be seen in Romanesque Manuscripts - The Twelth Century Vol. 1, P. 159 (Nr. 157), by Walter Cahn. Unfortunately I don't have this book. I will be grateful if anyone has a link to this image so that I can add it to this post. 

On the above map of the dispersion of the Gypsies within Europe, we see that the records show that Gypsies arrived into Netherlands in 15th century. So who are the bear trainers depicted in the Roman D'Alexandre? And who are the bear trainers depicted on even earlier French manuscript? 

Was there the same tradition  of dancing bear trainers in Europe before the arrival of the Gypsies? 

Or were these early images of the dancing bear trainers based on "exotic" images from other parts of the world, like the Middle East or the Balkans and not on commonly seen scenes from Western Europe? After all it was the time of the Crusades, which coincided with the arrival of the Gypsies into Europe. 

Or did some of the Crusaders bring the exotic entertainers back with them to Europe as a show off? 

Or is it that these images are the earliest records of the wandering Gypsy entertainers in western Europe? We have all seen, from the last refugee crises, that it doesn't take 300 years to walk from the Balkans to France? It takes few weeks. So if the first Gypsies did arrive to Balkans in the 12th century, chances are some of them went straight on further into Europe. Balkans was at that time full of the Western European crusaders, who mostly walked there. The inward migrants only start getting noticed when the number of migrants suddenly increase. Which is what happened in the 15th century, when Otomans finally took over the Balkans. So one or two small bands of street entertainers with dancing bears and monkeys would definitely not have been recorded in any official history. But they might have been noticed and recorded as a curio. Which is what these early depictions of bear trainers from Western European manuscripts could be...

What do you think?

Friday, 27 January 2017

Leto

Serbian word "leto" means both "summer" and "year". The word comes from Proto-Slavic *lěto, which comes from Proto-Indo-European *leh₁tom. Cognate with Ukrainian "літо" ‎(lito) meaning "summer", Belarusian "слецiць" ‎(sljecicʹ) meaning "to warm" and "слетный" ‎(sljetnyj) meaning "warmish", Bulgarian "лято" ‎(ljato) meaning "summer", Russian "лето" (leto) meaning "summer, year", Slovene "poletje" meaning "summer", Czech "léto" meaning "summer", Slovak "leto" meaning "summer", Polish "lato" meaning "summer", and Upper and Lower Sorbian "lěto" meaning "year".

Possibly also cognate with Old Gutnish "ladigh" meaning "spring" and dialectal Swedish "låding, låing" meaning "spring", and with Irish "lá" ‎meaning "day".

The etymology of this word is unknown. So let me propose one. Is it possible that the word "leto" comes from the word "let" meaning "flight"? The word "let" comes from Proto Slavic verb "letěti" meaning "to fly".  So why would you derive the word meaning "summer, year" from the verb "to fly"? Because of the migratory birds. Every year, starting from the second half of February, right after the climatic start of the spring, 4th of February,  migratory birds start arriving from their wintering sites. The bulk of the migratory birds return by the end of April, just before the climatic start of the summer, 6th of May.

So every year, during spring, which is in Serbian called "proleće", which can mean both "before summer" and "flying by, migrating", migratory birds arrive back home, signalling the end of the cold part of the year and the beginning of the warm part of the year. 


Equally the end of the warm period of the year, which normally coincides with the end of October, the end of the climatic end of autumn, is signaled by the flight of the migratory birds, this time in the opposite direction, flying away to their wintering sites.


In the old Celtic and Serbian calendar, year only had two parts: the warm, white part, summer (6th of May to 5th of November), and cold, dark part, winter (6th of November, 5th of May).

So the period between these two "let" (flights) of migratory birds, between their arrival and their departure, is "leto" (summer). This beginning of the new "summer" is the beginning of the new period of vegetative growth and abundance, the "important" part of the year. I believe that this is why Serbian word for "summer" and "year" is the same: "leto"...

I was just made aware of the existence of a Macedonian folk festival called Letnik. The following is excerpt translated from Makedonians in Albania by Dragoslav Budimovski. Original title: "Будимовски К, Драгослав. „Македонците во Албанија“. Студентски збор, Скопје, 1983. стр. 151":

"Letnik, which is celebrated every year on March 1 in the old calendar and is associated with the return of migratory birds from southern regions to Macedonia. The return of the migratory birds is celebrated as the beginning of spring or summer, the period of growth and the beginning of agricultural work. Therefore this feast is often considered to be a celebration of the beginning of the year in terms of the active period of the year. 

Holiday is mostly celebrated in Western Macedonia, in Galichnik, Golo Brdo, Pustec, Debar, Prespa, Ohrid and Struga. That this celebration has ancient pagan roots can be seen by the fact that in the areas where we have mixed population Orthodox and Muslim, like in Golo Brdo and Reka area, Letnik is celebrated by both Orthodox Christians and Muslims. However in mixed Macedonian Albanian areas only Macedonians celebrate Letnik. 

According to the testimonies of the local people, Letnik celebrations start in the early morning of the 1st of March. The first thing everyone does in the morning when they wake up is to look for a chicken (bird) so that you can be as light as a bird all year round. My comment: Originally people probably looked for return of migratory birds in flight. Then people look into their pockets so that they will have money and success (prosperity) all year round. People then go out in the forests and mountains and from there they bring home boughs made from blossoming cornel branches and they would put them over the fireplace. Alternately they would bring a cornel branch with which they would touch verige (the chain holding the cauldron over the fireplace), and then they would eat cornel blossom, so that they are healthy as cornel and as solid and strong as iron. My comment: Cornel is probably chosen because it has bright yellow flowers, like the summer sun everyone is awaiting...




Young children would pick dry branches and would go from house to house throwing them into house fires saying: How many sparks so many children (similar to Christmas Eve ceremony my comment: ceremony which is related to rekindling of the sun's fire). During Letnik day it was mandatory to bring a branch of cornel if you visited anyone's house, and in return the hosts would give the guests nuts, boiled grain and sweet. If the year turns out to be good for the host, the person who entered the house on first on Letnik morning is asked to do the same next year as he is believed to have brought luck to the family. my comment: Similar to the Christmas Položajnik (first footer) ceremony

This pretty much confirms my theory that the word leto comes from let. But there is more. 

In Slavic mythology, Jarilo was the son of the supreme Slavic god of thunder, Perun, his lost, missing, tenth son, born during Velja Noć (Great Night), the pagan Slavic celebration of the New Year. We don't really know what the "Great Night" means, but I believe that this Great Night was originally the night before the beginning of winter which in the Irish calendar is marked by Samhain, the 31st of October, and in the Serbian calendar by St Mitar day (Mitrovdan) the 8th of November. I believe that this night was originally the night of the 5th of November, the mid point between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. 

I also believe that the expression Great Night was also an euphemism for Winter, the time of cold and death. Right in the middle of the winter is the night of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, which is also the middle of the winter, the middle of the darkest part of the year. This is the night when new fires are rekindled, to symbolize rekindling of sun's fire, the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This new sun is Jarilo, whose name means the young one, but also the hot one.

However, on the same night when he was born, according to the Slavic tradition, Jarilo was stolen from his father and taken to the world of the dead, where he was adopted and raised by Veles, Perun's enemy, Slavic god of the underworld and cattle. The Slavs believed the underworld to be an ever-green world of eternal spring and wet, grassy plains, where Jarilo grew up guarding the cattle of his stepfather. In the mythical geography of ancient Slavs, the land of the dead was assumed to lie across the sea, where migrating birds would fly every winter. This land of the dead was by Slavs known as Iriy, Irij or Vyriy (Russian: ирий, ирей, вырий). And when do the migrating birds leave the land of the living? By the beginning of the winter, which is marked by Samhain (Mitrovdan).

With the advent of spring, Jarilo returned from the underworld, that is, bringing spring and fertility to the land. Spring festivals, actually more precisely summer festivals of Jurjevo/Jarilo, St Georges day,  that survived in the Slavic folklore celebrate Jarilo's return, the return of the summer heat. This is also the time when in Irish folklore we find Beltane, the day of bonfires...

And when does Jarilo return from the land of the dead? When the migratory birds return from Irij, the land of the dead where they spend winter, the period between Samhain (Mitrovdan) and Beltane (Djurdjevdan)...So again we have the link between the migrating birds and the beginning and the end of the year...

And there is more:

Remember my post about Radegast - Welcome guest?

In it I talked about a group of bronze idols which was discovered in mid 18th century in the lake Tollensesee near Prillwitz in Mecklenburg, South Baltic. Many of them bear Slavic inscriptions in runic letters. A significant number of the figures shows the characters with lion heads and lush manes. 



Baltic Slavs who lived in Pomerania, Pomorje, Fomorie and other Western Slavs had a god called Radegast of which we have many medieval records but of which we know very little. What is interesting is that the lion headed idol with the duck on his head from the Prillwickie idols group has inscription on identifying it as Radegast. 

Radegast, who has a lion's head, has bull's head on his chest. Why? Summer, starts in Bull (Taurus) and ends in Lion (Leo). The Lion headed figure has bull on his chest because the Leo sun, the old sun at the end of the summer contains Taurus sun, the young sun at the beginning of the summer. The old Sun is the young sun at heart :) 

Slavs also had god Belbog of whom we know even less. I would like to propose that Radegast and Belbog are one and the same deity and they were represented as the man with the lion's head. 

Belbog means white god. This god is the equivalent of the Celtic god Belenos and Welsh god Beli. This is the god of day, summer, light. The white part of the year and the white part of the day. The name of the Celtic god Belenos comes form bel + nos. In Slavic languages bel, beli, beo means white, and nos means carries, brings. So belenos = bel + nos = white + brings = the bringer of the white. Belbog comes from bel + bog = white + god.

Why is this god represented as a man with the lion's head? This is a representation of an anthropomorphic sun. Sun is the strongest in the middle of Leo. And the middle of Leo is also the middle of the white part of the year, which as I said, in Serbian and Celtic calendar starts on the 6th of May Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day) and ends on the 5th of November Samhain (Mitrovdan, St Martin's day). This is the day of Thundering sun, Grom Div, Crom Dubh, Hromi Daba.

You can read more about this calendar in my post "Two crosses".

And what is the duck doing on Belbog's head. He has a duck on his head, as ducks, and other migratory birds return by the end of April just before Beltane (Djurdjevdan, St Georges day), announcing the beginning of the summer, the white (bel) part of the year. It is the duck who is the "welcome guest" = Rad Gost, Radegos. Radegast. This is basically an euphemism for the long awaited beginning of the new summer...The beginning of the new Leto.

I wish it was summer now...I hope the welcome guests start arriving soon :)

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

King John



Does anyone else think that this picture, allegedly showing king John on a stag hunt, looks strange, and may be hiding something in plain sight?

Well I checked and officially there is nothing special about this picture. It is simply a picture depictint the king who liked hunting chasing a stag day and night.

But maybe, just maybe, there is more in this image than meets the eye.

In Europe, St John's day, (Ivandan, Jovandan in Slavic languages) is Christianized Midsummer, Summer solstice celebration.

In Serbia Midsummer, Summer, Summer solstice day is also known as Vidovdan, day dedicated to Svetovid, sun god. The sacred animal of Svetovid is white horse. This is an image of the solar rider on a white horse is also found on (medieval???) standing stones from Bosnia.



I already wrote about this in my post "The horseman".

The same solar rider and horse are found on many Celtic coins:






The rider of the solar horse on Celtic coins often had solar head, a head with hair sticking out like sun rays. The rider was the sun, sun god. We can see this from the fact that the rider is sometimes the sun disc. John has the ray crown which actually represents the sun rays. The same crown was worn by Sun god in later Roman period of Sol Invictus worship and by emperors who worshiped the sun god. This is Aurelian in his radiate crown on the left with Sol Invictus on the right.



The crown that John is wearing is the same radiate crown, the solar crown.

The line between the light (red) and dark (blue) part of the picture can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly this  could be the line between the day and night, so the evening. Secondly this could be the line between the period of the year when the days are getting longer and the period of the year when the days are getting shorter, so the summer solstice. Regardless of which one of these two interpretations we take, it seems that the painter went through considerable pain to make it obvious that this change from light to darkness is important. King John is depicted right on the line between light and darkness and his clothes are also made of the same light and darkness. Meaning he is related to light, he is light. He is the sun. I believe that the line between the "light" and "dark" part of the picture is the summer solstice, because this fits with St John's day being the midsummer, summer solstice celebration.

King John is chasing the stag, another solar symbol.

The same stag hunt scene is represented on many Bosnian medieval standing stones, like this one from Crljivica:


But just like King Arthur and his knights, who are unsuccessfully trying to catch the white stag, King John and the unknown deer hunter from Bosnia will never catch his stag...Because the stag is just the symbol of the sun, more precisely the 9 sunny months of Spring, Summer and Autumn.

King John is also holding his hand in a very strange way, with the palm pointing up, towards the sky, towards the sun. The reason why palm up means salvation is because sun god and heaven is "up". The reason why palm down means damnation is because earth, devil and hell is "down".  And he is pointing up...Towards the sun on the St John's day, the day of the summer solstice. The day when the sun, the king of heaven is on his throne, the highest point the sun reaches in the sky on the northern hemisphere...

Lastly, the corners of the picture are very interesting. They all have the same symbol, "the hands of god" which represent the solar year, divided into four seasons around solstices and equinoxes with three months each...The god whose hands these are is the sun. 


This symbol is found on Serbian Christmas cakes. Christmas is the Christianized winter solstice celebration, the celebration of the birth of the new sun, new solar year. This is why there is so much solar imagery on Serbian Christmas cakes which are votive offerings to the sun god.


You can read more about these cakes and their ritual use in my post "Can you see me".

No what about the lanterns? Well officially they are not lanterns at all, but just "patterns"...In Serbia midsummer celebrations and customs have been during Christian time spread through the summer and associated with several summer saints. One of these is St Peter's day which used to be celebrated on the is celebrated on the 28th of June according to Julian calendar but is today celebrated on the 12th of July according to the Gregorian calendar. During St Peter's day celebrations in Serbia people light up special votive torches called "lile".


I believe that these were once lite up on the eve of the summer solstice.  In Southern Europe (including Angevin domains in southern France) this is the time when grain ripens and the time when fireflies light up the night.



South Slavic words for firefly are "svitac", "svitnjak", "svijetnjak", "svitaljka", "cvitnjak", "kris", "krijes", "kres", "kresnica"...These are also words used for fire and torches which are lit up on the shortest night of the year, as part of the Slavic summer solstice celebrations...

Are the "lantern" like "patterns" on the picture fireflies or votive toches? 

So that's it.

Interesting? 
Possible? 

Well yes and yes. 

Overanalyzing of a pretty but otherwise meaningless painting? 

That is possible too.

We will never know :)