Thursday, November 11, 2010

Full or partial entries of my blogs may be found at LatviansOnline + Forum Home + Open Forum – The 4th Awakening. If you copy this blog for your files, or copy to forward, or otherwise mention its content, please credit the author,, or

I suggest you look at the links imbedded in these blogs or at the end of the blog as an integral part of my argument.
The 4th Awakening

11 Jahni, Bless Latvia

Not long ago (in blog 7), I mentioned that saying “Labdien, Jahni!” or “Labdien, Žane!”(Good day, John; Good day, Jane) was to address dear God, dear Sun, dear Johns, dear Death, and dear Others, all of them dear at the same time. Wow!

The evolution of such inclusiveness in a word, however, is natural enough. It occurred because the individual who came toward you on the country road could be any of the mentioned. You greeted all who came toward you in a way that none would feel slighted. You said: “Hello, John!” with a certain inflection, with certain background information stored in your mind. A friendly greeting was as obligatory (for your personal safety’s sake) as it was a ritual. Though you hoped that the John coming toward you was not the Father of the Dead (veļi), perhaps you wished it was Laima, the Goddess that gave birth to lady Luck, or a piece of chocolate as the modern Latvians have been taught by advertising to know her.

What is it about John that makes the word so embracing and powerful?

One student and historian of religions, John Allegro, opined that the U sound was ancient and sacred. It makes one think of the Tibetan mantra, the Oum. While at the beginning of writing only consonants were written, the absence of written vowels gave the readers a certain freedoms of how to pronounce the words. Thus, the consonant J, pronounced as Y in many languages, could also be pronounced as J in Jazz, or G in General, or even D in Don or P in Pan. For example, the subject of the word janissary could be a gendarme or a general.  In the course of time this led to considerable confusion of names and meanings.

Let us take, for example the name of Don Juan. There are probably not many people who know that the name of the famous lover, Don Juan, actually means John’s John or, yes, Ghengis Khan. It all depended on which vowel the consonant J or Y or G best lent itself to in your native language--if only the vowels could be written! They could be preceded by a soft or strong J(Y). Thus, “Y(J)a”, “Y(J)e”, “Yi”, “Yu”, “Yo” or why Gengis = Jengis + Khan = Gengis Kjan.

The Latvians have a saying: “Jāņi nāk ar joni”, “the Johns are coming upon us a-jonsing (fast)”. The second time the word Johns is pronounced, it appears as “joni” (yoni). The word “joni” declares that the Johns event (Jāņi) is coming on fast, time is a-racing. The O is pronounced as the O in O la la. No, it is not the female sexual organ in Sanskrit, but it may be the origin of “judze” (mile) if we allow that “fast” translates itself into distance covered.

John, the word, is as flexible as it is numinous. It comes with deep down associations lost to conscious memory. John is to be met as Jahnji, Jean, Johan, Huan, Ivan, Ion, Dion, Dionysius, Don, Xian, Yanki, and more. The name “Yank” comes, by way of “yank”, meaning to pull off the table fast, take away, steal, which was how the Dutch thought of some Americans. I am not sure whether the word started in Amsterdam, Holland or New Amsterdam, i.e., New York.

The versatility of the name John is also notable because it presents itself every time that Latvians sing the Latvian anthem: “Dievs, svētī Latviju!” (God, Bless Latvia!) I do not mean that we sing the name “John” consciously, contrary to the official version. However, if one remembers that God was once addressed as “John”—“Yahnis” in Latvian—in the deep chambers of the brain you could well be singing “Jahni, svehtih Latviju!” (John bless Latvia!) The other name that Latvians could address in their national anthem is the Sun, Saulīte. “Saulīt, svētī Latviju!” (Dear Sun, bless Latvia!)

The versatility and fluidity of the name “Ion”, permits it to metamorphose into many names—zhandarmes, gentlemen,  zhenchina. The cloned human beings of tomorrow will also be heirs of a “gene” (or John, or Jahni). Ion has a unique ubiquity about itself. Here it is Daddy God, here a village drunk, here a saint, here a whore.

Baumanu Kahrlis, the artist who drew the first picture representation of John of Latvia as a priest (memorialized in the “Lihgo” flag), nevertheless, tripped on his way to the composing table and instead of “John, bless Latvia” wrote: “Dievs, svētī Latviju!” How could this contradiction within the poet’s self happen?

Well, historically, the time that the first flag and the national anthem were composed is about the time that the Latvian Herrnhuters and Lutherans were filling the draws of Latvian folk collector Krisjahnis Barons with folk songs in which the addressee is not necessarily the same one as in earlier times, but God replaced Dieviņš, Mara replaces Laima, Peter replaces Perkons, John became Son of God instead Son of the Sun, and some Gods were forgot altogether.

However, deep in the subjective self of a Latvian the word (John, Sun, etc.) has not yet been erased. Thus, it is not all that uncommon (though no investigation of the phenomenon exists) for a Latvian to hear him or herself sing: “Saulīt, svēti Latviju!” (Dear Sun, bless Latvia!). I do not believe that I am the only one who has ever replaced the official words with words that make up the undertow of officialize. The phenomenon first came to my attention a long time ago, when Displaced Persons camps in post-WW2 Europe were the homes of a good many Latvians. I am not saying that such memes of past practices floated up to the listening ear often, let alone were considered an alternative to the official version of the text. However, I am saying that for many Latvians such an overlap of names comes naturally.

Incidentally, the word “saulīte” means “dear sun”. While the “Sun” has lost her divinity status due to the media’s overuse of her name, when spoken as “saulīte” (“dear sun”), it retains its meaning as a term of endearment and a term of address, both.

These days the Latvian Johns Festival is often called “saulgrieži" (solstice) or “lihgo”, the last name being the one sown with a needle and thread across the first Latvian flag. Why is the name of Johns absent?

The reason that “John” or “Johns” are not mentioned is because the tsar forbade the use of a name that was so encompassing in meaning. The neo-Christians agreed with the tsar. “John” was a politically sensitive word; best leave him unmentioned, “Lihgo!” will do. However, when the book was published, even “lihgo” was too closely associated with Johns Songs [Did the Herrnhuters at first use “lihgo” instead of “halleluia”?], and the tsar ordered the books burnt. Only a few copies of it have survived.

Lai līgo lepna dziesma! [Let a proud song lihgo!]
Lai ar Joni Latvija zeļ! [Let Johns bless Latvia!]

Asterisks & Links of Interest
Jaņdžs0 comments

No comments:

Post a Comment