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June 24 is the day on which the Christian church honors the prophet St. John the Baptist and it almost coincides with the summer solstice – the longest day of the year. Just like the winter solstice that nearly coincides with one of the biggest feast days of the year – Nativity – it is a day when different rituals have been performed throughout Europe from time immemorial.
In our lands, Midsummer’s day is known as Enyovden or Yanevden. Though it is a day dedicated to the Christian prophet St. John the Baptist, in traditional songs and beliefs we see a character that is somewhat different called Enyo or Yanyo, a mythical hero who draws on the power of the sun to bring fertility, health and a happy marriage to young couples. On this day, it is said that the sun’s power is at its peak and magically passes into the water and herbs.
According to traditional belief, on Enyovden the sun reaches the endpoint of its journey towards summer, takes a rest and turns back towards winter. It stops in its tracks in the skies and shimmers and dances. He who sees it at this precise moment shall be blessed, so popular belief dictates that one should get up before dawn and watch the sun come up.
It is also said that the sun bathes in rivers and lakes and their waters take on medicinal properties. Once upon a time young and old would bathe before sunup in the nearest river or roll in the morning dew – that meant they would be healthy. Magical springs would gush forth on Enyovden and only on Enyovden and their waters were said to cure any disease. It is an important day for treasure-hunters as well: on the night before Enyovden any gold buried in the ground – a symbolical equivalent of the sun – burns with a blue flame, revealing where it is buried.
Herbs have a special place on Enyovden. They have to be picked before sunrise, when their medicinal properties are at their most potent. Unmarried lasses, brides and old women would fill the fields and meadows before daybreak to pick salubrious plants. From them they would make special Enyovden posies and hang them up on the eaves of their houses – to keep evil away and ward off disease and magic spells. People who were sick would be given the infusion to drink or would be sprinkled with it. Big Enyovden wreathes would be made that had to have tansy, melilot, autumn bells and enyovche or goose-grass intertwined into them. In popular belief they had the magic power of keeping dragons and wood-nymphs away, so all women and children would squeeze through them. Wreathes like that are made to this day at the Etura ethnographic complex near Gabrovo.
On Enyovden fortunes would be told about love and marriage. In different parts of the country girls would use different methods to find out who they would set up home with. In some parts they would make a salt cakes made out of pilfered flour, bites of which they would then put under their pillow to see who shall appear in their dreams at night. In other parts of Bulgaria they would leave a mirror on the roof: the young man who would bring it to them in their sleep would be their future husband. Incantations over the posy was another popular ritual: on the night before Enyovden unmarried girls would pour water into a new pot, singing ritual songs and dancing and then take it to the home of one of the lasses. There, each puts her posy, marked with a special sign into it and in the morning ritual incantations would reveal what each one’s husband would be like. In many parts of Bulgaria there is a ritual called Enyova bulya (Enyovden bride) when a little girl is dressed up as a bride and the young lasses make the rounds of the village and the fields together with her.
Prof. Vihra Baeva is a folklore expert at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum