This summer between Saturday June 21st and Tuesday June 24th we will be hosting Latvia’s first regional burn on an industrial hemp farm that sits just a few meters north from the border of our neighbors to the south, Lithuania, and we are excited. We chose these dates for 3 reasons – first and foremost to coincide with Latvia’s biggest national holiday, Jāņi (pronounced yah-nyee) that is also known as Līgo (lee-gwah), a festival that traditionally begins to be celebrated on the night of the 23rd and goes on all through the night into the eve of the 24thin order to commemorate the summer solstice or midsummer as it is commonly known. These days are public holidays, bank holidays even, and people usually spend them in the countryside. Second, as a nod and a tip of the hat to the first burn that took place on Bakers Beach 28 years ago, this coming summer. And lastly but no less important, to align it with the actual solstice as the holiday was once celebrated prior to the Christianization of our country.
According to the tradition, a bonfire must be kept burning from sunset until sunrise, and Latvians do well in keeping this tradition going, Jāņi bonfires can be found across the entire nation on this night and on almost every hilltop and in every yard. Bonfires aren’t confined to hilltops – a pūdelis, or a barrel filled with firewood is sometimes set up on a post, raised and lit up. The farther the light from the pūdelis reaches, the farther the sacredness and protection of this magical night reaches, too. Lore has it that the shortest night of the year must be spent by staying awake all night singing songs and eating traditional foods around the glow of the bonfire. The belief is that those who go to sleep before sunrise on Jāņi will be sleepy all summer long.
This pyromaniacs dream known as Jāņi originates from an ancient celebration. According to folklore, Jānis would come to Latvia, bringing luck and fertility to the people. Jāņi has been considered a time when the natural forces are at their most powerful, and the veil separating the physical from the spiritual world is at its thinnest. In order to protect themselves from the spirits that would roam during the night, many would place birch and rowan branches on their property to keep these evil spirits at bay. Many other mystical traditions still remain for this holiday, from fortune telling, to the gathering of herbs associated with the folklore of increased magical powers attributed to collecting them on this day, to ancient fertility rites where people jump over the fire for wealth, love, prosperity, fertility, luck or better yielding crops. Another known practice is to run naked through the morning dew in order to bathe oneself, the belief herein being that he who bathes nude in the morning dew of Jāņi will have a year of beauty, endurance and strength. One other well known tradition is searching for the mythical fern flower, some say if you seek it alone you will attain a great spiritual revelation, although more traditionally couples who go looking for this “flower” are more than likely to find a synonymous euphemism for shagging outdoors in nature. Amongst less magical customs, women wear wreathes made from wildflowers and men wear oak wreathes. Traditional foods for this day include beer and a special type of cheese made with caraway seeds. Folk songs are sung which progressively become ‘spicier’ as the night progresses.
This summer, our theme will be TRADITIONS, where the traditions and culture of Burning Man will blend with the traditions and culture of Latvia. Our effigy that will burn on the eve of the 23rd was inspired by one of the traditional symbols of the nation, the Auseklis, known as the morning star or guardian star, that also happens to represent the third most popular deity in Latvian mythology. On this night a three dimensional representation of this symbol will light up the night sky waiting for Saule (the sun) to emerge in the early hours of the dawn. Our burner family from Lithuania will join us in our gathering in what we hope to be the seeds that will spawn an eventual three state Baltic Burn in the coming future. Will you be there to join us? We invite you to make the trek and help us co-create this experience.