The Eve Of Saint John’s day happens in the night from June 23 to June 24, and is one of the most magical nights of Canarian folklore. It is also celebrated in the rest of Spain, and in other countries as well, but on this blog post I will focus only on Canarian traditions.
Although not specifically on the same day, Summer Solstice celebrations predate the Spanish invasion – the Guanches believed that the days around the summer Solstice were specially propitious for connecting with their Dead, whom would come back as human-shaped mists coming from the sea.
Today, Saint John’s Eve is entirely devoted to the power of fire and its ability to clean negativity, and its main magical element is the bonfire. Created on public spaces (rural and urban alike), the bonfires are made entirely of salvaged wood – old furniture, pallets and any wood scraps from home renovations or carpentry. Other regular additions are old clothes, papers with petitions for what people want to forget or finish, and school papers from students, as the school year has just finished here. No matter what you use to build your fire, the point is that it’s no longer necessary, because this turn of the wheel is all about renovation, rebirth, about cleansing the old and welcoming the new.
The bonfires are lit at dusk and, by midnight, when the bonfires are reduced to burning coals, the tradition asks to jump over them three times to be cleansed of all negative energy for the whole next year. If the bonfire is made in a beach (which is quite usual here), the tradition calls for three baths in the sea after jumping over the coals, to assure the good luck of the following year, and the banishing of all evil spirits. The baths must be taken facing the beach, not facing the sea, so the waves can take all negative energies away from us.
Speaking of specifically Canarian traditions, each island has different ones, and sometimes even each region; in the north of Tenerife, we have the sadly disappearing tradition of the Hachitos , which are burning three-armed ornaments made of wood, flowers and ribbon, where dry corn kernels soaked in tar are used as torches. The Hachitos burn during the whole night, marking the path towards certain churches or places or prayer for the pilgrims, or being taken along with the pilgrims’ processions.
In Puerto De La Cruz, my mother’s hometown, Saint John’s Eve’s central celebration is the bathing of the goats, a ritual where thousands of goats from shepherds from all towns in the north of the island are led to the beach, to be bathed and purified for the next year – truly a beautiful celebration! I would like to add that in this ritual, absolutely no goats are harmed – actually, sea water is extremely beneficial to them, as it removes parasites, and aids in healing wounds because of the iodine content in sea water.
There are also many small local superstitions around the night of San Juan; we have been pestering our family and revising our books, gathering them for you :).
· That night, place a big bowl of water outside. Before the sun comes up, look at yourself in the water. Whoever that does not see their image, won’t live to see another night of San Juan unless they get help from a Curandera immediately.
· If you have seen your image in the water, use said water to wash your face; it is the best beauty aid you will ever try. You can bottle the rest of the water and use it as a beauty tonic until finished.
· Saint John’s Eve is a night of powerful divination; the most common method is lighting a white candle and putting a glass full of water between you and the candle. On the glass, break an egg that has been laid that day and study the figures that the egg and the water form, much like when making tea leaf readings. We have found a version of this spell using molten lead, probably using the small drop-shaped lead pieces called sinkers.
· Whoever is holding a branch of fern exactly at midnight, will be lucky for a whole year. The fern branch must be hung over the front door before the sun comes up.
· At the exact time of midnight, place a candle between you and a mirror. You will see your funeral behind your reflection in the mirror, for a brief instant. We have also found a version where you will see the Dead instead of your funeral.
· Any woman looking to be pregnant in a year shall wear wormwood in a sachet next to the skin while jumping over Saint John’s Eve bonfires.
· Choose three small potatoes with similar shapes and, in a jug filled with water, put one completely peeled, one half-peeled and one unpeeled. Place the jug under your bed; when you wake up the morning of the 24th, and before you put your feet on the floor, reach the jar without looking and take one potato, the one you first touch. If it’s peeled, your husband will be poor; if it’s half peeled, he will be just rich enough to support the family; if you get the unpeeled one, your husband will be very wealthy.
· Instead of potatoes, there is also a spell made using paper bits with the names of the “competitors” for a woman’s heart. The paper bits are rolled and placed in a jug of water; the morning of the 24th, one paper will be unrolled and floating over the water; the name on that paper will be the name of the girl’s husband.
· The name of the first man that walks by your door after you wake up on the morning of the 24th, will be your husband’s name.
Note – none of the images used in this post is mine; on that night, I am usually too busy witching to take pics :). They were all found online, mostly on local newspapers’ websites, and are shown here only for educational purposes.
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