(dreh-geh-kah) Dobrogea, ROMANIA
Drăgaica and Sânzienele are two names for a pre-Christian midsummer fecundity ritual, celebrated on June 24. Drăgaica, from the Slavic girl’s name Draga, is the word used in areas with more Thracian/Dacian influence; (Dobrogea, Muntenia, & parts of Oltenia), while Sânzienele, (singular Sânziene, from the Latin “Sancta Diana”, Roman goddess of the hunt & moon, & protector of virgins) is more common in Transylvania, Oltenia, Banat, & the Carpathians. Drăgaica embodies the memory of the lunar, equinoctial and agrarian Neolithic Goddess. She evolved into Hera and Artemis in the Greek Pantheon, Diana and Juno in the Roman.
Sânziànă & Drăgaica are also the names of yellow flowers (Galium verum and Cruciata laevipes) that bloom at this time, which are used in the associated rituals. They are ALSO the names of (usually) benign fairies prominent at this time of year, AND of young girls who represent these fairies in rituals.
That the festivals are held on June 24 and not the actual summer solstice is perhaps explained by June 24 being the date fixed as the birthday of St John the Baptist. Thus the Romanian Orthodox Church can participate in and sanctify Sânzienele/Drăgaica as a Christian event.
Nevertheless, the event is rife with ancient pagan folk beliefs, which vary tremendously according to local custom. The Sânziene Eve night (June 23rd to June 24th) is considered a mystical time, when nature is at its peak and displays its most vital force. Miracles can happen during the Sânziene Eve, when the heavens open up, making it the strongest night for magic spells, especially for the love spells. Also it is said that the plants harvested during this night will have tremendous magical powers.
The dew that falls is drenched in enchantment and if you bathe your face in it you will be (even more) beautiful. If you take it from the flowers at dawn, it will cure rheumatism, arthritis and other aches and pains of the bones: rejuvenating and energizing. Any object left outside during the night touched by this magical dew may be considered an amulet. And in addition to all this sparkling, glistening alchemy, storms never happen; even the wind is silent.
In peasant stories, Sânzienele are fairies. Or perhaps ‘nymphs’ would suit them better. At night, they turn into fair-haired beauties and dance under the moon. They fly across the country o’er valley, mountain, hill and dale singing and bringing fertility to crops, married women, birds and animals, curing the sick and defending sown fields from hail. If people do not honour them in an appropriate, respectful and grateful manner, they get extremely upset and take revenge.
It is not good to be a male and walk at night during Sânziene Eve, – they do not like to be seen by males, and whoever sees them will be maimed, or the fairies will take their hearing/speech or make them mad.
Tradition requires that on the following day no one will work because it is THE summer’s day, and the Sun is playing in the sky or standing at noon.
The most beautiful maidens in the village dress in white and spend all day searching for and picking flowers, of which one MUST be Galium verum (Lady’s bedstraw or Yellow bedstraw). Using these flowers, the girls braid floral crowns. One is chosen as the Drăgaica and is dressed as a bride with a wheat wreath crowning her head while the other girls wear white veils laced with Sânziànă flowers, which they wear upon returning to the village at nightfall. There they meet with their beloved and they dance around a bonfire. As with other bonfire celebrations, jumping over the embers purifies the person and also brings health.
The crowns are thrown on house roofs, and if the crown falls off, it is said that someone will soon die in that house. If the crown stays on the roof, then good harvest and wealth will be bestowed upon the owners.