Beware of the spells: Magic takes over on Sanziene, Romania’s midsummer night celebration

“Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights; Four nights will quickly dream away the time; And then the moon, like to a silver bow new bent in heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.”

― William Shakespeare – “Midsummer Night’s Dream”

The summer has come and we’re getting closer and closer to the midsummer night. When I think about the midsummer I remember the Nordic pagan traditions which celebrate the summer solstice and the fascination on the folk tales. But, when I fall into the magic of the midsummer night, I often remember what Shakespeare wrote in his romantic comedy “A Midsummer Night’s dream” :

“Through the forest have I gone./But Athenian found I none,/On whose eyes I might approve/This flower’s force in stirring love./Night and silence.–Who is here?/Weeds of Athens he doth wear:/This is he, my master said,/Despised the Athenian maid;/And here the maiden, sleeping sound,/On the dank and dirty ground./Pretty soul! she durst not lie/Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy./Churl, upon thy eyes I throw/All the power this charm doth owe./When thou wakest, let love forbid/Sleep his seat on thy eyelid:/So awake when I am gone;/For I must now to Oberon.”

But, beyond all these I think about a very similar celebration in the Romanian tradition – the Sanziene night, on June 24.

The Sanziene is the Romanian folklore name for gentle fairs, and at the same time, the singular of the word Sanziana, is the name of a flower, but also a girl’s name. What is very interesting as etymology is the fact as the word is stands from San which is the common abbreviation of Saint and Zana as the usually word for fairs. Another potential interpretation of the word is the Latin Sancta Diana, the Roman goodness of hunt and moon, the guardian angel of virgins and women and which was annually celebrated in the Roman Empire region, Dacia.

Sânziene rituals have been known for ages on the present Romanian territory implying that beautiful maidens in the white traditional dresses who pick Sanziene flowers (Lady’s bedstraw, Yellow bedstraw, Galium verum) all day long on the eve of this celebration and make floral crowns. After the nightfall, the maidens wearing the braid floral crowns meet with their lovers and dance in the midnight around the bonfire. According to the folk tradition, then they throw the floral crowns over the houses and wherever they fall, it means that someone will die in that house. However, if the crown made of flowers stays on the roof of the house, then good harvest and wealth will be bestowed upon the owners. As with other bonfire celebrations, jumping over the embers after the bonfire is not raging anymore is done to purify the person and also to bring health.

Another folk belief is that during the Sânziene Eve night, the heavens open up, which makes it the strongest night for magic spells, especially for the love spells. Also it is said that the plants harvested during this night will have tremendous magical powers. The tradition says that the Sanziene fairies don’t like to be heard and seen by men in the Eve night, especially when they dance in the air, blessing the bodies and bestowing health for people. So, whoever (man) sees or hears them will be maimed or the fairies will take their hearing and speaking or worse, make them mad.

On the Sanziene night, in some areas of the country, people light a big wheel of hay from the ceremonial bonfire and push it down a hill, as a symbol for the setting sun, from the solstice to come and until the midwinter solstice when the days will be getting shorter.

On the same night, when the heavens are said to be opening, strange events, positive or negative may happen, and it is believed that in forests many weird things happen in the midsummer night.

All these folk traditions related to the Sanzine night fascinated not only the common people but Romanian writers and poets.

One of the best known novels based on the Sanzine night fairy tales is “The forbidden forrest” written by Mircea Eliade (historian of religion, fiction writer, philosopher, and professor at the University of Chicago,1907 -1986), where he describes paranormal events which happen in the Baneasa forest in the north of Bucharest during that night.

A Romanian novel with symbolical references to these beautiful and fascinating women is Camil Petrescu’s “Jocul ielelor” (The Iele’s play). In the Romanian mythology the “iele” are supernatural women who usually dance in the forests and other hidden places during the night and having – in many respects – similar features with Sanzienele, including their effect over men.

The Sanziene night celebration is similar to the Nordic midsummer holiday tradition of the pagan celebration of the summer solstice in June, but in Romania June 24 is a double celebration, on one hand the folk tradition of Sanziene and on the other, the Orthodox Church celebration of Saint John, who baptized Christ.

By Mariana Ganea, guest writer

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