On the 24th of June, Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist and on the eve of this feast the custom of “Klidonas”/”Kleithonas” still takes place. Since ancient times various customs related to summer solstice were passed in the Christian world and linked to the Nativity of John the Baptist. These customs are related to the summer solstice and to the perception that something happens to the sun this day and this affects people.
Excerpt from The Feasts of Memory Passage – The Unknown God
[…]Once a year, each June on the feast of Kleithona, if a girl was virtuous and faithfully performed a ritual, she might be granted a vision of her future husband.
“Don’t say a word,” hissed black-cowled maidens. “In the name of the Virgin, keep a cross upon your lips.”
In silence, the young boy would fill the barrel with water from the cistern and with the help of these maidens, he would set the barrel on the roof. The women would cover the barrel with a red handkerchief and seal it with a padlock to keep the potion pure. Now the water was “speechless water”, possessed of magic powers. All night, it would sit on the housetop where the stars could see it and impregnate it with their powers of augury.
The next morning, on the feast of Kleithona, all the unmarried girls of the village would gather at this house of the newly married bride. Accompanied by mothers, aunts, and cousins, they would make a circle in the courtyard, and the barrel of water would be brought down and set in the middle. Each unmarried girl would bring a ripened fruit, a pear or peach or pomegranate. She would pin a piece of jewelry in it so that it could be identified as hers, and put it in the water.
A virtuous girl, one whose father and mother both were living, would be chosen to sit beside the barrel. Then the mandinadhas would begin. Around the circle, a low poetic murmuring would proceed, as each venerable muse would deliver a couplet of her family.
“Your body is a minaret, Your shadow is a garden. And all the moisture on your brow, Is perfume from Arabia.”
As soon as the mandinadha was completed, the virtuous girl would thrust down her virgin hand and draw out a peach or a pomegranate to see whose it would be.
“My Kyrenia’s!” cried a mother, recognizing a filigree earring or an Austrian coin in the fruit. All her friends would scream with pleasure, and Kyrenia would blush and keep her eyes on the pebbled courtyard floor. For she was the one whose body was a minaret, whose shadow was a garden, and the moisture of whose brow was perfume from Arabia.
One by one, the elder women sang their couplets, and one by one the fruits of the maidens were drawn from the speechless water by the virtuous girl presiding at the rim. Finally, each girl learned something either of herself or of her future husband, and blushed at the announcement, however inconclusive it might be.
Each girl would then take home a glassful of the speechless water, the potion fructified by the bejeweled fruits of every maiden in the village. And that night, before she went to bed, she would go out into her courtyard with a red ribbon tied around her waist. She would take a mouthful of the water and two handfuls of barley.
Wearing her nightgown, with the red ribbon around her waist, she would turn around in the center of the courtyard, lightly as a nereid. With both hands full of barley and a sip of speechless water unswallowed in her mouth, she would turn faster and faster, her arms stretched out like the blades of a windmill.
Turning as fast as she could go, she would open her fists so that the barley flew out and scattered against the courtyard walls. Next she would go to her room, drink down the rest of the speechless water, and have a little wine and a salt koulouri to disturb her sleep. (A koulouri is a dry Kasiot doughnut made of barley flour.) Then, with the red ribbon still around her waist, she would get into bed, and as she set her head against the pillow, she would murmur this prayer to the three black-shrouded women of antiquity:
“In Hades my Fates are dancing, And the Fate of my Fates, And if she is sitting let her stand, And if she is standing let her come And bring me a dream this night Of the man I’m to marry.”
That night, if the girl was virtuous, the Fates would hear her prayer. In her sleep, her Unknown God would come to her. He might be someone she knew or he might be a stranger. But whoever he was, she would not be afraid as he bent over her, for he would be smiling in a kindly way and she would know he was the man she would belong to for the rest of her life.
He would take her by the red ribbon around her waist, and she would feel herself drawn toward him by a power beyond herself. She would see his face, smiling at her, and she would hear his whispering voice, as soft as milk: “Let us go together now and reap the harvest you have sown.”
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