On the 24th of June, around Midsummer Night, in Romania we celebrate Sanzienele or Dragaica, but also the birth of Saint John the Baptist.
The Midsummer Night in Romania, magic and joy, is known as the Feast of Sanziene or Dragaica (in Moldova and the south of Romania), and is celebrated on the night of 23rd to 24th of June while Sanziene Day, the 24th of June, is also known as the Day of the Sun, Ziua Soarelui, or the Silencing of Cuckoos, Amuțitul Cucului, because from that day on until the spring equinox the following year, on the 25th of March (on Annunciation Day, Bunavestire) this enigmatic bird, the cuckoo, will no longer be heard singing.
The celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist is of special importance in the Christian world as most saints and martyrs are remembered on the day of their death.
From ancient times the Sun was celebrated as the center of the Universe, the supreme cosmic power around which everything revolved, from which everything was dependent upon, and of which everything was born. As a heat source sun symbolizes vitality, passion and youth. In folklore, sunrise and sunset are symbols of birth, death and rebirth.
Sun marks the summer and the winter solstices, the longest and the shortest days of the year. Through millennia the world was inspired by them, rituals coming alive. Of the two, the summer solstice symbolizes Sun’s power. Being the longest day of the year, the summer solstice was seen as a point of balance, a crossroad, the calm before change, a perfect day inscribed under the sign of fire, what sun stands for, of vitality and energy. The Sun is the bearer of spiritual light, the flame bringing life. The one force that binds and unties seasons; dresses and undresses forests. This is why the sun is the sacred symbol of the hearth of the house. But is also symbolizes passion, the human heart, and the power of conception.
The summer solstice (21 June this year) marks the apogee of the solar path, when the brightest star shines at its zenith, on the highest point of the celestial vault and perpendicular on earth. The sun is at its strongest, reining the sky and the earth for the longest amount of hours.
This is why Sanziene Day is also known as Head of Summer, Cap de Vara.
Geto-Dacians, the Romanian’s ancestors, celebrated the sun on this special occasion by choosing Son-Goddesses, Priestesses.
Renowned Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade believed that Sanzienele continued the Roman cult dedicated to the goddess Diana (patroness of countryside and childbirth, among others), who was worshiped on the territory of old Dacia. As a result, Sanzienele are said to intensify the scent of flowers, to increase the healing power of herbs, protect children from disease, grow wheat, increase the fruit of the earth, drive away hail, multiply the birds of the air, and bring beautiful babies.
Today we know them as Sanziene.
Romanians see Sanzienele as elusive, volatile, and endowed with superhuman powers. Sanzienele are generous with those who respect them, even making one’s wishes come true. Carried on the wings of summer winds, they fly from one place to another pausing in the meadows only to increase the scent of flowers and to enhance the powers of medicinal herbs. They might stop to rest in the meadows where the grass is adorned with dew drops, glistening under the moon. They roam all over Romania during their special night, the shortest night of the year.
On Sanziene Eve
Go, go meet your love on Sanziene Eve, the old folk say. Maidens and lads try to meet their beloved on this evening. It is a good omen.
At night, on the eve of Sanziene, the lads weave wreaths made of hazelnut branches, light them up and rotate them as the sun sets, mimicking the sun’s movement on the sky. The fire torches are remnants of a solar ritual meant to purify the courtyards and fertilize gardens and fields. The lads’ calls are meant to hurry any possible wedding plans. After sunset the fiery circles are rolled down the valley, signifying the cycle of life. The peak of the hill signifies birth, while the rolling of the fiery wheel down its shoulder is the life itself. The wreaths will smoke in the valley till they burn out, in death. The burning is a purifying ritual for earth. So the Sun won’t get mad on the village and bring draught or bad weather that will kill the crops.
On the Morning of Sanziene Day
On the morning of Sanziene Day it is said that the sun rises with joy and that’s how he climbs the sky till noon, when it will shine at its brightest. Then it freezes, fiery and victorious, supreme king of both heaven and earth.
The girls bathe naked in the pure, morning dew found in places where no one has set foot, to be as life-giving as the sun. The dew of Sanziene Day is gathered by elderly women in a white cloth made from new fabric then the cloth is squeezed over an unused pot. On the way home, the women gathering dew keep silent and avoid meeting anyone else. Whoever washes in the morning with Sanziene dew is bound to remain healthy and attractive over the year. Bath weak, sick children in water with Sanziene dew and they will become strong. It also heals eye and skin diseases.
On Sanziene Day the Dragaica dance is performed, a ritual similar to that of Calușarii. This time, only girls will dance, some dressed in men’s clothes, called Dragaici, Draghicuțe or Dragane. Just like Calusarii, the procession is accompanied by musicians while one of the girls carries a flag adorned with colorful handkerchiefs, ears of wheat, garlic, wormwood, sanziene flowers and other magical plants. The Dragaica procession strolls along the streets of the village like a protective magic belt surrounding the entire community. The most beautiful girl is chosen Dragaica, adorned with wheat ears and Sanziene flowers like a bride, after which, accompanied by her procession, she roams the fields in a ritualistic journey, bringing abundance and fertility, reminiscent of an ancient agrarian cult.
But the Dragaica girl knows that she will not be able to marry for the next three years. That’s how long it will take her body to release all the powers accumulated on Sanziene day, as Dragaica.
On the day of Sanziene, people sing songs and make good-luck charms, while older women try to predict the weather for the remainder of the year with hopes for abundant crops while the largest ox is turned into a peacock, adorned with flower garlands and paraded through the village. This ritual is observed especially in northern Transylvania in hopes of good weddings, abundant with children.
Despite all the joy and singing everyone remembers that on this special day the cuckoo becomes silent for the remainder of the year and until the Spring equinox, Amutitul Cucului. And that summer begins to return to winter, the flowers of the field gradually losing their scent and their healing powers, and fireflies appear in the forests.
Today the girls weave flower wreaths using blossoms as yellow as the sun and as white as the moon. The lads make wreaths with a cross in it. These wreaths are throws on the house at dawn. You do not want your wreath to fall off the roof. It is a bad omen until next year. But if the wreath gets caught on the chimney it means that a wedding will happen, and soon. The wreaths are kept for the year, believing that they are good for abundance, luck, protection from spells, love, and even turning of the heart:
Flower wreaths are later hung above the door of the house, by the windows, and in the barn, to protect the livestock against diseases and to grow strong.
On Sanziene Night
Sanziene Night is a mystical night when the skies are said to open allowing the two worlds, the immortal heaven and the mortal earth, to communicate. The Midsummer Night, Noaptea de Sanziene, is said to be the night when the healing plants, those with magic powers, are infused with the greatest energy. Around Midsummer Night, on Sanziene Night, the moon shines its most clear and powerful light, while the flowers emanate their sweetest scent.
The Night of Sanziene is magical and Romanians believe that the wishes should be told, shared with the universe found now under the magic power of Sanziene, who roam the fields and can make pure desires come true.
On Sanziene Night it is said that the Sanziene flower, Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) blooms. It is a magic, healing plant. If you bathe in its dew you remain beautiful and will be dear to whoever you wish for; if you wrap it around your waist it will protects you from pain.
On Sanziene Night, the fern Pteridophyta, (a plant that is known to never bloom) produces a white flower, as bright as a star. It is said that whoever sees it acquires the power to read people’s thoughts, understand the language of the beasts and learn from them all the secrets of the world, even discover hidden treasures. Keep this flower for later enchantments and medicinal cures.
Also tonight the beasts’ grass, iarba fiarelor, the white swallow-wort, also blooms. Its flowers will shine in the night like gold. It is also called the robbers’ grass because thieves and outlaws can pick any locks with it. People who have seen it bloom say that it has a human-like head on which a crown sits; that instead of leaves it has wings; that it has no root and it is constantly changing its place from one clearing to another. For the rest of the year, the robbers’ grass will look like an ordinary plant, which is why it can only be discovered by chance, when it breaks the iron of the scythe or the plow, or when it makes the horse’s horseshoe jump off.
Although the beasts’ grass only works its magic between Ispas Day, Ascension in Christian Orthodox tradition, and 27 September, Ziua Crucii, Elevation of the Holy Cross.
On the Night of Sanziene and only then can the mandrake plant (Circe’s herb, Apple of Madness, Witch’s Root) be harvested, but only with a special, chilling ritual. This is one of the oldest plants used in magical rituals, one of the components of the ointment with which witches were anointed in order to fly.
Tonight girls can dream their future love if they don’t know him already by placing under their their pillow Sanziene flowers, basil, jasmine, yellow sweet clover, hollyhock, rosemary, lavander, thyme, sage, chamomile, vervain, black nightshade (known as Love herb).
Men wrap wormwood around their waist so they won’t have back pain when they were mowing the grass. Girls and women would wear the Sanziene flower to get attention. Sanzienele are known, after all, as Sun’s Brides.
Should I have been young(er), I would have tried to dream of my future love. But I’ve found him, so maybe I will collect morning dew in a white cloth made from new fabric and keep it for its healing powers, as good-wealth is one of life’s greatest treasures. Oh, and I might just make a wish. Who doesn’t have at least one wish that makes sense only to him?
Victor Kernbach, Dicționar de Mitologie Generala
Ion Ghinoiu, Sarbatori și obiceiuri romanești
Ion Pop Reteganul, Povesti Ardelenesti
Romulus Vulcanescu, Mitologie Romana
Translations of rhymes an chants are my own.
If you are fascinated with Romania’s folklore or history, have a look at my latest books:
Transylvania’s History A to Z
Dreamland, Banat, Crisana, Maramures, Transylvania, Folklore and History