Kernavė: A Spring Equinox Stop in an Ancient Medieval City
Hi, everyone! Welcome back to Into the Forests I Go, a small piece of my mind and heart as an expat living in Lithuania.
Today's post is simultaneously a coming home and a bit of a departure for me. I'm willing it into existence, dreaming of warmth and new cycles. (Considering the hilariously low FIVE HOURS of sunshine Vilnius received during the month of January, it only makes sense that my mind is gravitating towards the light.)
One of my favorite places in all of Lithuania is a small town called Kernavė, which was once the medieval capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. That's cool and all, but I'm more interested in it as an archaeological and ritual site. (Kernavė has been inhabited since the 9th and 8th century BC!) Remember my summertime post on Joninės - or Rasos - Lithuania's massive and vibrant Summer Solstice festival? I ended up celebrating at a huge gathering on a hill fort in Kernavė, a place I'd visited before...
But I never really shared that first experience with y'all, did I?
I remember it so vividly.
Almost a year ago, The Scientist and I were nudged toward Kernavė for a cultural event related to the equinox. Y'all know I'm all about rituals and cycles, so this experience next to the Neris River was an easy yes for me. With a 40-minute drive from Vilnius, we arrived after sundown to Lithuanian chanting - sutartinės. The Scientist and I looked at each other like, "Is this real life!?"
The full moon was beaming through up-lit trees, beckoning us over to this ritual area. And while it was still cold enough to wear our winter jackets, this forested ceremony signified a conscious movement from Winter to Spring. Members of Medgrinda wove it into a - dare I say - magical moment, harkening back to my original thought that many Lithuanians have an innate depth and understanding of nature.
Images from the Pavasario Lygiadienis, Kernavė
Because this isn't our tradition, we mostly watched and listened, but there was a clear air of reverence and holiness to the whole thing - chanting around a fire, watching performances, staying warm, being reminded of the warmth. Eventually, we warmed up to the idea of singing along around a huge fire. It was all so authentic and culturally ripe - not a hint of commercialism. It's true: all over the Northern Hemisphere, worlds are starting to wake up. In the Jewish tradition, for instance, we celebrate Tu B'shvat this week - a day of spiritual renewal and celebration of and for trees. In the 16th century, Jewish mystics developed a Seder to celebrate the holiday, which has now morphed into a cultural Earth Day - a chance to repair the world. While not immediately linked, it's interesting to me that so many cultures honor this time of year. And much like Kabbalah's Tree of Life, Lithuania has its own version of the world tree. How separate are we, really?
Why am I sharing this post now? Like I mentioned at the top, I'm willing - magnetizing - the sun toward me in this month of February. This post was inspired by a favorite Albert Camus quote: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” We're almost there. Even if Spring looks different here than anywhere else I've lived, it's still on its way. I have a little over a month to go before celebrating the Spring Equinox. If you live in Lithuania, don't be surprised if you see my face in Kernavė that week... I'll be around. ;)
As per usual, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!