Jurģi

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In ancient Latvia, Jurģi was a festival held on April 23. It was the beginning of summer, and the first day of outdoor farmwork and shepherding. It was sacred to the god Usins.

Livestock were allowed to graze outside after this day. In the morning, their stalls were locked, with a riding crop and a knife hanging above them because Ragana and other evil spirits were on the hunt the night before. A black rooster was sacrificed to Usins, and then eaten by the man. The blood of the rooster was sprinkled around the barns and the ground bones were scattered among the rushes.

The horses were bathed and brushed, but nothing else, in order to bring good luck. They were not fed before the sunrise.

The farmers gathered under an oak and then let out the livestock, sprinkled with ashes so that bees would not sting them. Three pitchforks-full of manure were removed from the stones. Some of the men were given eggs, boiled with hot stones, and these were thrown in shrubs or a knothole in an oak tree. The horses drank the water left over from the baking to help them grow strong.

Cows' snouts were washed in milk, bringing an increased milk production. A heavy dew on this day also increased milk production.

Wolves were warded away by tying a special knot with a sheep's tether and repeating magical words, and by refraining from chopping wood on this day.

If possible, washing in the morning snow was good luck. Fires were not lit, warding away fires for the rest of the summer. Washing one's face on this day would cause fires and all washing was done in a river. Beer, bread and mead were laid out for the spirits.

Jurgi was often used for moving, preferably on a Saturday. The movers brought the rushes, salt, bread, eggs (thrown onto the house, then sprinkled on the pigs), and wisps of hair from the animals from their old house. Milk and brooms were not brought from the old house. On the way to the new house, salt was sprinkled on the ground, preventing forgetfulness. The new house was entered with the sun at the back and a book or bottle was left in one corner of the house, which was thoroughly swept, to ward off evil spirits.

At night, there was a feast, supposedly joined by Usins himself. Chicken, eggs and beer were consumed. Usins was offered soil, bread and bacon.

Alternative: Usini (Ūsiņi)


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