THE FEAST DAY of ST.GEORGE ( Ðv. Jurgis IV, 23 )
According to legend of the Catholic Church, St. George was a martyred
knight. He is Lithuania’s second guardian. The name George spread throughout
Lithuania from the Eastern regions of Greater Lithuanian territories, before
official Lithuanian baptism. In the 16th - 18th centuries , Lithuanian
St. George’s feast day customs found a rich, local heritage.
Ethnographically, it is possible to select this Feast’s two complexes,
put into fewer words agrarian labors and widely written cattle rearing.
J.Lasickis, in his work, published in 1615, " About Samogitian false Christian
gods and other disgraces", discusses the agrarian half of this holiday.
He writes, " on St. George’s day they made offerings to Pergrubis, who
was believed to be the God of all plants. The ecclesiast , whom he referred
to as the chief of the rural district, holds in his right hand a wide bottomed
goblet, full of beer and having called by name a God, sings the following
in his honor, " You chase away winter, you return the pleasantness of Spring,
fields and forests turn green".
Having finished the song, he drinks the beer, holding the goblet with
his teeth and throws the empty goblet over his head. The goblet is picked
up, filled again with beer, and is sent around those present, who continue
singing, honoring God Pergrubis. The rites of spring holidays are carried
on in like fashion in Lithuania Minor, Ásrutis, Ragainë, Kurða,
about in 1278, by M.Strijovskis in, " Polish, Lithuanian, Samogitian
and Russian Chronicle". Example, " In spring, when snow melts, grass appears,
several villages prepare a quarter or a whole barrel of rye malt to brew
beer….As everyone gathers in one house, the ecclesiast picks up a container
of beer, raises it, saying, "our Almighty God
Pergrubis! You chased away winter, doubled greenery on all the land,
we are now imploring you to increase the growth of our grain, to destroy
all weeds". He then picks up the goblet with his teeth, drinks it empty,
throws it over his head, not touching it with his hands. Another official
of the rural district, standing behind, catches the goblet, quickly fills
it with beer and sets it in front of the ecclesiast. He picks up the goblet
in his hand, requests Perkûnas, God of Thunder, to curb hail, lightning,
rain, storms and destructive clouds. Everyone present starts drinking after
this, the third request to Almighty God of Light - Þvaiþdiklá,
to supply plenty of light for fields of grain, hay fields, flowers and
animals. Then prayers continue to the fourth God, Pilvièius, so
that the harvest would be gathered properly and barns are filled. These
rituals continue until offerings are made to fifteen Gods".
In the end of the 16th century, J.Bretkûnas describes similarly,
spring holiday rituals…..
"people in the region of Suduva, every year, celebrated two holidays.
First was called holiday of Pergrubijus, celebrated in the spring, before
plowing fields. People gathered from different villages, brought several
barrels of beer that were purchased with money coming from sales of products
that grew in one common field".
At the start of 19th - 20th centuries, there are numerous writings
about ritual bread baking, offerings and ritual eating. This is again connected
to agrarian traditions, assuring a better harvest. In the morning of St.
George’s day, it was tradition to take one or two loaves of bread, in which
five eggs were baked, carry them around the fields three to twelve times.
Then one loaf was dug in the field, requesting a good harvest. The remaining
loaf was broken into the same number of pieces as there were family members,
and eaten. In the
region of Dieveniðkës, Eastern Lithuania, at the end of last
century, on the Eve of
St. George’s day, the owner plowed the first furrow in the field,
he had a sash tied around his waist with a linen bag filled with bread
and salt. Upon return from plowing, distributed the bread with salt, so
that in next plowing the plow would not break and family would not run
short of bread. Again, in the same region, on St. George’s day, the owner
took the ritual bread roll to the rye field, put it on the ground and bent
his ear towards the earth to listen to what the rye was talking about.
If he expected the rye harvest to be good, while listening he heard
a voice from the earth, "move away, I will sow here". If that year’s gain
harvest was to be a poor one, there was no sound from the rye field. Then
the owner carried the ritual bread around the field, later carried it to
church and placed it on St. George’s altar. Orchard growth and its harvest
had to be awakened on this day, by a boy born at sunrise on this
day and named George. Near Raseiniai, in Samogitia, at the end of 19th
century, as orchards were in bud, such child was treated to delicious foods
and at sundown was undressed naked and walked about the orchard, making
all kinds of promises.
Another wider known St. George’s day ritual complex is attributed to
animals’ first driving outside. 17th and 18th centuries’ joint
M.Pretorius’ writings, "Prussian interests or Prussian theater", animals’
first drive outdoors is described, "when people take animals outside for
the first time, they behave this way, the owner alone does that from barns
near gardens, he walks three times around the animals, praying to God to
protect the herd. He also thanks for the herd’s life till now and requests
St .George to keep dogs, bears, foxes and wolves away from the herd".
That day, no one eats, fasting continues until the herd is brought
When the cattle are herded into barns, food is set out. The owner is
first to have a drink, then sends the drink around to those present, then
everyone sings and starts eating.
After eating, everyone prays again. Then frolicking and fooling around,
the happier they become, the better it is. This is done so that the animals
will be always in good spirits and health. M.Pretorijus relates that Lithuanians
during horse blessing rituals sacrificed a rooster to Goddess Þemyna.
While eating the cooked rooster meat, beer was poured on the ground, the
following words were spoken to the Goddess, "Þemyna, be happy riding
our horses". At the rituals’ end, the owner dug the roosters feet in the
" I will have good mares from these feet and bones".
D.Poðka, in his 1823 writings, " About ancient pagan, religious
rites in Lithuanian and Samogitian principalities", relates about God Ganiklá.
" This God, in both principalities, is honored and remembered until now,
however now Christians have given away the care of cattle, horses and other
animals to St. George, in whose honor, every April 23rd they carry to church
offerings of new born calves and other offerings. Also, among country folk,
the following prayer is repeated everyday by landowners and shepherds,
"St. George look after grazing horses and cattle". In some regions, at
the end of 19th century, remained the tradition of taking to church offerings
of lambs, calves, baby goats and piglets.
Until middle 20th century, in some Lithuanian regions remained
the tradition of herding animals outdoors on April 23rd. The entire family
gathered to do so. The owner walked
at the head of the herd carrying a plate, covered with a linen towel,
the dish contained a pair of eggs and a candle on the edge. His wife followed
him, carrying incense, behind her walked a shepherd with branches of juniper
and willow in his hands. All three of them walked around the herd, the
wife incensing , the shepherd swinging the branches three times. After
that, the wife took the lighted candle off the plate, using it rubbed the
animals’ necks, loins, stomachs and cows’ udders, so that they would not
be attacked by wild animals and witches would not take away the cows’ milk.
The ritual eggs were given to the shepherd, one ritual branch was stuck
into the barn roof, near the door so that the God of the Forest, Miðkinis,
protects the animals from getting lost in the woods. The unlit candle was
placed on the barnyard gate and remained there until the animals were herded
back into the barn, after that was taken into the house.
Animals herded outdoors for the first time were stroked on their backs
with a willow branch, covered with pussy willows. This was done in the
hope that the animals will remain healthy, fat and safe from wolves. On
the first day of herding, even shepherds tended animals with willow branches
and upon return from the pastures, placed the willows under the barn roof,
to assure the animals’ safe return. In the region of Akmenë,
before herding animals outdoors, a candle was picked up and carried
three times around the herd. Shepherds also sprinkled holy water or just
plain water, while herding the animals, washed horses in lakes and rivers.
At the beginning of 20th century, in regions of Ðvenèionys,
Ignalina, Tvereèius, special bread was baked, called "for animals".
A small roll was baked for each animal or one huge loaf of bread with as
many groves in it as there were animals. Pieces of this loaf, were taken
to beggars, sitting near churches, so that they pray for the animals.
Eggs played an important role in the ritual of first outdoor herding.
A pair of eggs was placed, one on the inside, the other on the outside
of the barn doorstep. In other regions, an egg was placed in each corner
of the bar. After a while, one egg was given to the shepherd and another
was taken to church. Sometimes both eggs were given to the shepherd, so
that sheep would bear twin lambs. In the region of Ukmergë, the shepherd
received a bag with two white and two motley eggs, was instructed to eat
the white eggs and to return the motley eggs, unbroken. If the shepherd
did as was told, the owner knew it would be a good year with animals. In
the region of Tilþë, the elder herdsman walked several times
around the herd, throwing an egg at it. The animal, which was touched by
the egg, was allotted to wolves, he would not be protected and when wolves
took it away, the entire village reimbursed its owner. In other regions,
scissors and an egg were dug under the barn doorsill.
Upon the shepherd’s return, he was sprinkled with cold water by the
owner’s wife, so that cows would be good milkers, grass would grow abundantly,
summer would not be too rainy. The wife then invited all shepherds to sit
at table, eat butter, cheese, cottage cheese and eggs. In Dzûkija,
south eastern region of Lithuania, on the eve of St. George’s day, young
men walked around houses greeting and wishing all the best, also requesting
eggs of many colors ( eggs were dyed for St. George’s day ), sang and danced.
Men, whose name was George, decorated their hats with ears of grain.
Here are most interesting, characteristic Lithuanian beliefs and witchings,
connected to St. George’s day :
1- as cows are herded out for the first time, a piece of turf
should be placed at the gate, with two eggs placed at the turf’s end. If
the eggs do not get broken, animals will not die that year. Having walked
across the turf, they will be fat like the piece of turf.
2- when sheep are herded back from the fields, a sash should
be hung in the gate and sheep enter through it, then sheep will always
return home, in line, like the sash.
3- Herding animals outside the first time, place two eggs and
a pair of trousers in the middle, then evil eyes will not stare at the
4- when horses were taken outside for the first time, an axe
was hewed into the barn doorsill from the inside, a saw was placed, with
teeth up and horses and horses were led across it. This was done to prevent
robbery of horses.
5- to keep animals from bewitchings, mercury was poured into
a horn, through a small hole, which then was sealed.
6- to keep the devil from carrying lambs, the lambs were smoked
with wolves’ dung as they were led out for the first time.
7- shepherds took flour and cooked porridge into which they added
butter. The porridge was eaten with thin pieces of wood, constantly mentioning
the name George. This was a way of feeding wolves, so that they do not
8- shepherds were not allowed to sit on the stove when putting
on shoes, to take knives into their hands, so that wolves do not carry
away the sheep.
9- to make shepherds rise early and not nap when herding, they
were told to wash with water from oxen foot prints or water from animals’
10- do not loan a sieve on this day, if you do, carry it under
lock and key.
11- between new and ancient ritual styles of this day, it was
not good to throw out linen, because the animals will not feed, will die.
12- so that the linden tree blossoms profusely, this day
hang a white linen cloth on its branches.
13- to assure an abundant apple crop, make sure that apple trees
are planted on this day.
14- in the morning of this day, pour the tree sap onto the ground,
because witches usually bathe in it.
15- it was said that in the evening of this day, comb your hair
and go to bed, your loved one will come in a dream and will kiss you.
16- grassy wreaths were dropped into water. Your lover will come
from the direction to which the wreath floats.
17- on the evening of this day, sow poppy seeds under your pillow,
you’ll marry whom you dream of.
1- if the morning of St. George’s day is very starry, it will
be a good year for animals.
2- if the day is cold, it will be a good year overall.
3- if snows and freezes, there will be tons of hay.
In Lithuania, even today on St. George’s day, eggs and moneys are offered