Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Festa di San Giovanni in Bragora

The Solstice Rites get off to a blazing start
If the Catholic mass had featured a flame-breathing shaman in a peaked wizard's hat when I was a boy I probably would not have dreaded Sunday mornings so much.

Or if they'd kicked off with guided group folk dances, given away hand-tied clusters of wild flowers and herbs with medicinal qualities, and free wine.

Well, I suppose they did have the wine, but not in any quantity, and it certainly wasn't serve yourself.

The opening night of the six-day La Festa di San Giovanni in Bragora last night featured all of the above--and there was not a priest in sight.

In other words, the whole thing seemed at least as pagan as it was Catholic. Or perhaps it just foregrounded the pagan roots of Catholicism (if I can write such a thing without getting in trouble).

For as much fun as the dancing was, the Rito del Solstizio held after darkness fell was the main event, with an opening shamanic invocation accompanied by didgeridoo, and then the reading of history and fables.

An Italian woman I met last night--a Venetian resident, but raised south of Naples--told me that San Giovanni and the Summer solstice were considered one of the calender year's two "doors" (the Winter Solstice and Christ are the other). I'm not exactly sure how to take this, but others may know.

She also told me to sleep with the little cluster of flowers and herbs I was given under my pillow and, basically, make a wish (of, say, good health for me or my family, or success in some endeavor). Along with lavender and sage, the little bunch included iperico, or St. John's wart, which she told me had potent powers.

I'm sorry to say my dreams last night were no more interesting than usual, but I consider this no fault of, nor reflection upon, the flowers and herbs. They smell wonderful.

Putting together the flowers and herbs
The man in the white hat reads by flashlight into a microphone, kids enjoy some flowers


  1. "an opening shamanic invocation accompanied by didgeridoo"

    What! There was an Australian in the festivities??

    And, don't they sound like a lot of fun. Sigh.


  2. You just never know where people in Venetian festivities are from anymore!

    But I think the didgeridoo player was Italian, even if his instrument wasn't.

    In NYC I met a digeridoo player from Mexico who used the instrument for healing purposes. Is this something that goes on in Australia?

  3. Hmm, I think the didgeridoo was used for ceremonies and dancing, originally. In remote areas, this would no doubt still take place. Now, they seem to be a semi-popular musical instrument. We have one aboriginal bloke, William Barton, who plays with symphony orchestras, on his didgeridoos. He's brilliant.

    As with the North American Indians, our aboriginals have had their culture degraded by the "GREAT WHITE MEN".

  4. Degraded, yes, but it's at least something that it and they have managed to survive at all.

    I just heard about an interesting documentary about the Sicilian/Southern Italian near equivalent of the bagpipe (except the Sicilian version literally looks as if they're playing an entire bloated goat), but I'm not familiar with anything that resembles the didgeridoo. And it really does seem to be pretty popular in North America among certain circles (don't know about Italy yet).