Category Archives: Earth cycle

Seasonal and celetial based

Užgavėnės

Main Text

GD: “Užgavėnės is a Lithuanian holiday, um, that’s translated to ‘The Before Lent.’ So, it takes place, um, right before the Lenten season, the weekend right before that, and what it is culturally is, um. It’s a festival in which we scare away the winter pretty much, and welcome the spring. Um, it’s been compared to, like, Mardi Gras and you’ll see as I talk more about it you’ll be able to connect that a little bit more, but um. The entire festival is just Lithuanian people getting together, making really scary masks and decorating them and going really big with these costumes and these like huge masks that they’ll wear, um, to scare away the winter. There is a structure that we construct that is usually a representation of winter, like taking place in like the form of a man or something or like a stick figure, uh, just this really large totem that we burn ultimately to just say ‘To the end with winter, here comes spring.’ And in the same light there is a little staged playing of a man and another man dueling pretty much, and one guy represents winter with the other guy represents the spring, and always the spring will overcome that and win against the winter.”

Background

GD is a 19 year old Lithuanian-American second year student at USC studying Theatre and Classics. Her mother was born in Lithuania and moved to a Lithuanian community in New Jersey, where GD attended Lithuanian school and church. GD describes Užgavėnės as her favorite holiday growing up, attending it not only in America but also in Lithuania. She remembers waking up before dawn in order to peel potatoes in order to make pancakes specifically for the festival. GD believes Užgavėnės to be so important not only to her but also to her culture because it was one of the few pagan holidays that survived Christianization in Lithuania.

Context

GD describes Užgavėnės as one of the more important holidays in the Lithuanian calendar with it originally being celebrated on the last day of winter before Christianization. It has been hastily Christianized and is now celebrated on the weekend immediately preceding Lent, but the traditions and meaning of the festival remain. GD describes Užgavėnės as being full of food like bagels and pancakes, and performers playing music as people dance.

Interviewer Analysis

Many traditional folk festivals and celebrations have been slightly changed in order to fit into the rising wave of Christianity, even Christmas retains many aspects of its original pagan traditions. It is unfortunate however that many of the traditions were lost in these re-skinnings, so it is nice to see that Užgavėnės, according to GD, was able to keep so many of its traditions. Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the coming of a sweeter season are a very common phenomenon especially in northern countries that experience harsher winters like Lithuania.

Baba Marta

Main Text

CS: “So the next one I was thinking of was the tradition of Baba Marta, which is like the first day of spring for Bulgarians. It’s like the first of March and you hang up these white and red like crochet, or like knitted things, like yarn and they sometimes look like people, sometimes they’re just abstract shapes. I don’t really remember what the shape is. But people always wish each other ‘Chestita Baba Marta’ or like happy first day of spring and Baba Marta is like baba of spring. I guess somewhat similar to the Baba Yaga story, there’s this grandma who is the incarnation of spring and shes just like a joyous type I guess.”

Background

CS is a 21 year old Bulgarian American from California and is a third year student studying Computer Science: Games at USC. CS describes the Baba Marta holiday like Christmas, you do not remember your first one but it is an ever-present time in your life. CS loved Baba Marta as a holiday because he could look forward to seeing his family and having an excuse to eat. His father, aunt, and grandmother all celebrate it with him every year.

Context

Baba Marta is a spring time festival celebrated in Bulgaria on March 1st. Confusingly it is also the name of a physical embodiment of springtime that comes to people as a joyous old woman.

Interviewer Analysis

Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the coming of a sweeter season are a very common phenomenon especially in eastern European countries with Slavic influences, even though Bulgaria’s geographical placement further south in Europe means that its winters would not have been as harsh as say countries like Lithuania. Lithuania’s Užgavėnės festival however is a very similar celebration, in that it celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of a more fertile season.

Gardening for Love and Luck

Informant Information – LM

  • Nationality: American
  • Age: 20
  • Occupation: Student
  • Residence: San Pedro, California
  • Date of Performance/Collection: April 24, 2022
  • Primary Language: English

The informant describes herself as a practicing Wiccan. She learned these gardening practices from her mother. She shared this information with me in an in-person interview.

Informant: 

I’ve learned that there are a few plants that every Wiccan should have. 

For example, every witch should have a rosemary bush planted in their front garden or near the entrance of their home. Rosemary is used in lots of magical practices, including cleansing and protective rituals. 

Lavender should also be planted near the entrance of the home, as it is said to attract love and happiness. 

If possible, mugwort is also really common in Wiccan’s gardens, as it is frequently used in divination rituals. 

Analysis:

The role of intention is very interesting in this piece of folklore. My informant specified that it isn’t just the plants themselves that are magical; the act of planting them with the intention of drawing out their magical properties is also necessary. Thus, the planting can be understood as a sacred ritual, in which the act of gardening is completed with the hopes of achieving a desired effect. 

Danza del Venado (the deer dance)

–Informant Info–

Nationality: Mexcian

Age: 31

Occupation: Lawyer

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): Spanish

(Notes-The informant will be referred to DA as and the interviewer as K)

Background info: DA was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when he was 15. He would go back to Mexico to visit family, and while there saw the deer dance performed by various members of his community. While telling me about the dance, he would occasionally perform small parts of it.

K: So what’s the dance called, and what’s the context of the performance? Like when or under, uh what circumstances was it performed.

DA: Its called Danza del Venado, or the deer dance in English. There’s a few different reasons why it would be performed. After Catholicism mixed with Mexico, it was performed around Lent or Easter. When my people still hunted, it was performed before hunting to ensure success, or as a welcome to spring.

K: Ok, so whenever you’re uh…ready to tell me about it go ahead

DA: I already mentioned when it’s performed but I forget to say that it’s now, along with the easter practices, a means to communicate with the spirit world, in which deers’ spirit resides. The dance is simple; it consists of a few men who are dressed in a cloth wrapped around them like a skirt, held up with a belt made of deer hooves. He has more hooves tied to his ankles and holds dried uh…calabaza (gourds) filled with beans or rice to make large rattling sounds. They would also have deer skulls attached to their heads with red uh…Cintas (ribbon) tied around the horns. All of this is meant to sort of thank the deer and celebrate how hard it fought and ran not to be hunted. All the noise from the hooves and calabaza is like it running and us chasing, while the cinta is meant to represent flowers actually, like rebirth and growth from spring. The entire dance is a thank you to earth.

Interpretation:
This was the first folklore I had collected specifically on a dance and it was so interesting to read about. The change in the dance from how it originally was, it being dedicated to the hunt and directly to spring, to the version it became after Catholicism was introduced, with the dance now being dedicated to easter, was so interesting to hear. DA also showed me a video he had taken of his family performing the dance, so I got to see it actually be performed. It’s a beautiful dance full of color and culture. What DA did not mention is how much audience participation there is. In the video I was shown, the entire audience was chanting and singing along with the dancers, and young children were even at the front of the room dancing alongside them. People in the audience were also dressed in ribbons and a few even have a hoove or two with them.

Michigan state flower

Background: Informant is a 19 year old college student. They grew up in Minnesota and have lived there until college, where they relocated to Los Angeles. The informant says that this is an indigenous story that they learned in school about why the Minnesota state flower is called the lady slipper flower.”

Informant: There was a girl, and she had these special slippers. And they were beautiful and made for her. But she was told to go and deliver these slippers and she had to like, go very far away and all the seasons went by, and in the winter no one would help her, so she got stuck with the slippers in this field and she like, died with the slippers there. But they were like, magical or something? And so like, the slippers were in the snow where she died, and then in the spring they thawed into the ground and a flower grew from them. And that flower was the lady slipper flower. And then it was like, a memorial of her journey. 

Me: Where did you hear this for the first time?

Informant: This is definitely incorrect, but in my Elementary school when we were talking about Minnesota state history. 

Reflection: My informant mentioned that this story was told to them in school. They made sure to mention that they are not indigenous themselves, but it is an example of how cultures intermix when colonization occurs. This indigenous story has made its way into American culture, with the state flower of Minnesota being inspired by an indigenous story. It’s interesting how when nation-states are created, they sometimes borrow from the indigenous groups they steal from. It’s an unfair, odd phenomenon where the nation-state will pull from native folklore to honor their culture, but walk all over their land and disrespect their humanity.