Feast of sun and flowers

A custom on Enyovden foretells wedding fortunes through the love power of maidens' bouquets

The summer solstice is a time for celebration in all cultures. In Bulgaria the holiday handed down from early pagan times is called Enyovden and is marked on the eve of 24 June. On that day the Bulgarian Orthodox Church reveres St John the Baptist, and so the holiday has intertwined pagan rites and Christian beliefs.

Enyovden bears a direct connection to the solar cult, as popular belief has it that from that day on, the power of the sun begins to wane. “Enyo puts on his fur coat and looks for snow,” goes a Bulgarian saying describing that time of the year. According to popular beliefs, at sunrise on 24 June the sun “shimmers” and “dances”. That is why everyone should face the sunrise and watch their shadow over their shoulder - if it is full-length, the person will be healthy throughout the year, but if it is cut in half - they will get sick.

On the eve of Enyovden the water in rivers and wells is said to gain magical and healing powers because the sun “has bathed” in it before “heading for winter”. After the sun shakes itself dry, the resulting dew also gains special powers. According to popular beliefs, people should wash before sunrise in running water or roll in the dew for good health.

But above all, Enyovden is the holiday of plants and fragrant herbs. Before sunrise, young and old women used to go out to the clearings to pick herbs for the winter months, whose power was believed to be at its strongest on that day. They had to pick “77 and a half herbs” - one for each known disease and the half for “the disease that has no name”, but the cure for which could only be found on the night before Enyovden.

The women use the herbs they have picked, of which the lady's bedstraw (Galium verum) is the most important one, to make the so-called maiden's bouquet tied with a red thread, which has a great power to cast a love spell. Arranged on Enyovden's eve with the help of seven, nine or twelve herbs, of which peony, rue and primrose are a must, this bouquet has the power to attract and charm the maiden's chosen one.

The most widely spread custom on this day is called Enyova Bulya (Enyo's bride) and it is related to the power of the bouquet to cast a love spell. A little girl is chosen for the part and she donnes a wedding costume. While the maidens sing their songs, the little girl takes out of the “silent water” (called so because it has been poured into complete silence so that the human voice does not kill its magical power) bouquets with rings attached to them, and makes guesses who shall get married, and to whom, in the following months.

However, there is a dark side to Enyovden, too. According to popular beliefs, at the first crow of the cock, witches and sorceresses dance stark naked in the glades, and if they chance upon a young man, they abduct him. Then they ride their broomsticks and fly over fields and meadows and rob them of their fertility and curse them, and all their evil eyes and curses take effect.

There is historical evidence that in the Middle Ages Enyovden was widely celebrated in Bulgaria with unprecedented gaiety and large-scale merry-making. Nowadays, the holiday has been preserved mainly in eastern Bulgaria and some regions of the Rhodope Mountains. Traditionally, a large wreath is made for girls and young women to pass through. In southeastern Bulgaria there is also a custom to watch the sun go down on Enyovden.

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