It’s Estonian Women’s Day – have some red beer!

Today, February 2, is popularly known as Groundhog’s Day in the U.S., but unfortunately, the fun is generally over after the drowsy rodent has seen/not seen its shadow and predicted more winter/early spring.

However in Estonia, Küünlapäev, literally candleday (Candlemas) is an all-day festival for women, who head out to pubs and quaff red-dyed beer or vodka, while the men stay behind to mind the children and do the housework.

What a great idea! I always knew Estonians were geniuses, especially Estonian women. Moreover, this holiday is not just some brainchild of modern-day Estos – it’s been a tradition for perhaps centuries.

February 2 is also known by the name naistepüha or women’s holiday. Women put on their best clothes and necklaces, and went visiting or dancing at local cafes and pubs.  The special beverage of the day is called naistepuna, which literally means “women’s red”. This is beer or another alcoholic beverage colored red.

St. John’s Wort flowers

The word Naistepuna also happens to be the Estonian folk name of a plant called St. John’s Wort, hypericum perforatum in Latin. Traditionally women gathered the plant’s bright yellow flowers during the summer solstice and dried them to make red dye for the Candlemas beer.

Many of you may have heard that St. John’s Wort is considered an herbal treatment for depression, especially by people in northern Europe.  It makes me wonder if the dried flowers were put in the beer on purpose to relieve the gloom of a long northern winter and cheer the women up.  Estonian women still drink red beer on this day, but I believe it’s usually done with food coloring.

The Open-Air Museum outside Tallinn, Estonia, featured a program today in which visitors got to make candles from sheep fat, taste traditional foods and sip St. John’s Wort tea, which supposedly made people’s cheeks rosy. Pink cheeks were considered sign of good health.

In Toronto, Canada, home to a large population of Estonian immigrants and their descendants, members of Estonian women’s academic organizations will probably celebrate their 53rd annual Candlemas event this weekend.

Traditional beliefs of February 2

Traditionally, this day signifies that winter is half over, and that half the food stored for winter should still be in the larder and the barn.  Like Groundhog’s Day, Candlemas was a day for forecasting weather. A rainy day was supposed to predict a rainy summer, while a sunny one meant a dry summer.

All of the women’s winter spinning had to be finished before this day, since it was forbidden for women to spin on Candlemas, lest the sheep get sickly weak and attract wolves.  Sewing was allowed in southern Estonia, where each stitch represented a poke in a wolf’s eye. Almost all other housework was prohibited, maids got the day off, and wages were paid. People ate flitch (unsliced bacon) and barley porridge.

It was believed in Estonia that candles burned brightly on this day.  Candlemas was a Christian holiday when the church candles were blessed for the coming year. In pre-Christian times, candles and fires were used in rituals and magic to honor goddesses and gods of fertility.

The Exalted One

In Ireland, February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began as a pagan goddess, Brid or Brighid. St. Brigid remains the most celebrated and revered figure in Ireland next to St. Patrick. Sometimes this day is also called Midwinter Day, because it falls midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

Fire and purification are an important aspect of the ancient pagan festival of Brid (pronounced breed). In the Celtic world, she is also called Brighid or Brigit in Ireland, Brigantia in Northern England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Brittany. It is believed the name comes from a root Sanskrit word Brahti meaning “The Powerful One” or “The Exalted One”.

Brid was the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. Both goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. On her day, the home was cleaned, old ashes removed from the fireplace, and new fire kindled.

Brid originally was a sun and fire goddess, and this is reflected in her legends: she was born at sunrise on threshold of the house as her mother was on her way out to milk the cow, and immediately a tower of flame emerged from her forehead that stretched from earth to heaven, fulfilling a druid’s prophecy that she would be neither born inside or out, or during the day or night. She was patroness of healing wells and springs, because the fire of the sun was believed to give the water healing properties at certain times of year.

In Pagan belief, the divine aspect of the feminine is associated with water, abundance and fertility. There are wells dedicated to Brigid throughout the United Kingdom, with Brigid’s well in Kildare being the most revered. People cast offerings such as coins, rings or bits of metal into wells. In a 19th century survey it was found that Ireland was home to nearly three thousand holy wells. Of these, at least fifteen are dedicated to St. Brigid.

Wives’ Feast Day

In Northern England and Scotland this day is known as Wives’ Feast Day, which sounds a lot like the Estonian women’s festival. Other members of the household cook dinner for the lady of the house, and she is given small gifts and honored as keeper of the hearth and home. It looks like they’ve got the right idea, but do they drink red beer?

In ancient Rome, Midwinter Day belonged to Juno Februata, virgin mother of the god Mars. The word Februare in Latin means “to purify”. Fires were lit for purification, and candles were blessed and burned in her honor. Women carried candles in street processions in memory of Demeter’s search for her daughter Persephone, as told in the Greek myth. Determined to stop goddess worship, Pope Sergius I in the year 453 ordered February 2 to be celebrated as the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary, forty days after she had given birth.

No matter which name it goes by, February 1 and 2 are celebrations of fertility, the divine feminine, and the awakening of the earth that eventually leads to spring. And, let’s not forget, it’s a day when women can and should celebrate themselves.

A belated Happy 10226!

It’s the Year 10226 for believers of Maausk, the Estonian native religion.

Obviously I’m a little behindhand in offering greetings, since their New Year began on December 25. We’re already a couple of weeks into the calendar. But what’s a few weeks, compared to more than ten millennia?

For the puzzled, who are doubtless wondering what kooky event this dating system memorializes, the answer is simple: it’s the birth of Estonia. And this is not Estonia as we know it today, a remarkably flat country with many forests. Back then it was a remarkably flat country most likely covered with a lot of mud and dying seaweed.

Billingen Catastrophe

It appears that 10,226 marks the number of years since the land now called Estonia appeared from the receding waters of the Baltic Sea due to what is known as the “Billingen catastrophe.”  This is when the waters of an ancient ice lake, known formally as the late Baltic Glacial Reservoir, penetrated an area near Mt. Billingen in what is now Sweden, to meet the Atlantic Ocean. It drained a heck of a lot of water from the Baltic, leaving behind new coastlines, islands and territories.

This was not a long, slow process. Research into sediment deposits makes it possible to date the event rather precisely. In 8213 BCE (Before Common Era), evidence indicates that water levels in the Baltic sea dropped about 30 meters in a single year, revealing – ta-da! – Estonia. Here is a more technical description of the event.

“The Baltic Sea, with its unique brackish water, is a result of meltwater from the Weichsel glaciation combining with saltwater from the North Sea when the straits between Sweden and Denmark opened. Initially, when the ice began melting about 10,300 ybp, seawater filled the isostatically depressed area, a temporary marine incursion that geologists dub the Yoldia Sea. Then as post-glacial isostatic rebound lifted the region about 9500 ybp, the deepest basin of the Baltic became a freshwater lake, in palaeological contexts referred to as Ancylus lake, which is identifiable in the freshwater fauna found in sediment cores. The lake was filled by glacial runoff, but as worldwide sea level continued rising, saltwater again breached the sill about 8000 ybp, forming a marine Vittoria Sea which was followed by another freshwater phase before the present brackish marine system was established.

“At its present state of development, the marine life of the Baltic Sea is less than about 4000 years old,” Drs Thulin and Andrushaitis remarked when reviewing these sequences in 2003.

“Overlaying ice had exerted pressure on the earth’s surface. As a result of melting ice, the land has continued to rise yearly in Scandinavia, mostly in northern Sweden and Finland where the land is rising at a rate of as much as 8-9 mm per year, or 1 meters in 100 years. This is important for archeologists since a village that was coastal in the Nordic Stone Age now is inland.”

Link to this website is http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=127303

My note: ybp means years before present (time).

Whew. Got all that? I’m not clear on why they need to create so many different lake names. And the term catastrophe is a presumption, not necessarily a fact.

“This retreat (of the waters) is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe,” says the unnamed author of a History Files website section on Eastern Europe.

Link: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsEurope/EasternPrussia.htm

Was it really a catastrophe?

Catastrophe? Are they sure about that? Did they ask anybody who was there? Maybe folks stood there open-mouthed, staring until someone said, “Wow, new beaches! Last one in is a rotten… aieeeee…that’s cold!

Maybe some of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers looked around at all the mess and decided that this brand-new territory would make a dandy new homeland, if only it were cleaned up a smidgen. All the hunters (men) suddenly remembered an urgent appointment with a herd of elk, and took off running as if pursued by demons. This, as usual, left the gatherers (women) to gather up their prehistoric brooms and dustpans, shoo the kids out from underfoot, and begin the massive, unsung struggle to tidy up. That struggle continues, 10226 years later.

Who were those early settlers? I’m not sure if they were the ancestors of the Estonian people or not. The oldest known evidence of human settlement in that part of the world dates back to 9000 BCE, or 11,000 years ago, give or take a few hundred years. So people were living in the region well before the so-called catastrophe. Some authorities claim that those people were of Indo-European origin, reindeer-hunting ancestors of the Prussians, Latvians and Lithuanians who eventually settled parts of the southern and eastern Baltic coast. Others insist that the ancestors of the Finns and Estonians, or possibly the ancestors of the Saami (Lapps) people, were the first inhabitants.

Strange new land

How weird and wonderful to think of people witnessing the then-inexplicable appearance of thousands of kilometers of land in so short a time. It sounds like something from a fairytale. One wonders whether those early witnesses told and retold the story for many generations.

It reminds me of the well-known stories of Atlantis, and the Arthurian tales of the lost land of Lyonesse, which according to legend sank off the Cornish coast of England. One wonders what happened to the lands off the Atlantic Ocean that were affected by that sudden onrush of water from the Baltic region. Did some coastal settlements disappear under the rising water? Was that the basis for the legend of Lyonesse?

At any rate, those Estonians who practice Maausk in the present day have adopted the year of the Billingen event and the subsequent rising of Estonia as the beginning of their chronology. The native believers call this year “the birth of the land.” Estonia, they say, has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. They consider Maarahvas (Earth folk or Earth people) and their religion just as old as the land itself.

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=293&op=lugu

It must be pointed out that my translations of Maausk and Maarahvas as Earth religion and Earth people are not wholly accurate, since the word maa in Estonian has many meanings. Ahto Kaasik, scribe for the Maavalla community, explains it far better than I possibly can, on the Maavald website.

“When Maausulised (followers of Maausk) are told that Maausk is not a religion they generally agree, adding that Maausk is something much more than a religion. Maausk is our vernacular, our songs, our customs, our beliefs, our archetypes and culture. Maausk is thousands of years old, a tradition that binds us to our land,” Kaasik writes.

“To understand Maausk better it is essential to understand that the word maa in Estonian has many meanings and connotations. Maa can mean Earth, mother Earth, ground, land (as opposed to sea), cultivated land, earth (as soil), also country (state), country (as rural, opposed to the city) or finally as a suffix in the name of an Estonian county. But foremost maa denotes the land or country of indigenous Estonians. Thus Estonian’s have called themselves maarahvas, their country Maavald and their traditional nature-worship Maausk.”

Link: http://www.maavald.ee/eng/uudised.html?rubriik=50&id=363&op=lugu

It’s an incredible story, another one of those cool things about Estonia that we never learned in Estonian school. But now you know.

One wonders how many other peoples of the world are able to point directly to a geological event in the far past and say that this was the year when their land was created?