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Interweaving of Magic and Religion – Jónsmessa

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Yesterday was a special day on the Icelandic calendar called Jónsmessa or St. John’s Day, which is celebrated on June 24 each year.

Jónsmessa has some magical stories associated with it. Cows can talk in human language, seals turn into humans, and you can find special Magical Stones. If you roll around on the dewy grass, naked of course, you can receive unbelievable healing. While you are down in the dew, be sure to make a wish because on this special night, your wish will be granted.

There is a wonderful book written by Sólveig Eggerz called Seal Woman. She takes part of her story from an Icelandic folk tale that tells of a seal who transforms herself into a human. As a human, she falls in love with a farmer and has children. However, she returns to her seal form in the ocean and is deeply torn by the choice she had to make. To listen to the Icelandic folktale, click on the link:

Jónsmessa and the historical Saint, John the Baptist, are important in the Christian faith. John was the son of a priest named Zachary in Jerusalem. John’s mother, Elizabeth, was related to Mary. The Angel Gabriel told Zachary that this baby would come even though Elizabeth was an old woman. John began preaching when he was thirty and called people to baptism. He baptized Jesus. His role is revealed in Luke 1:17 as “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Eventually, he was arrested by King Herod Antipas and then beheaded. The feast of his death is celebrated in August.

I love the way that Icelandic folklore interweaves religion, pagan stories, and the heroic ideals within human limitations, to tell these old stories. There is so much history to be discovered. It is important to share these stories with our children, so they can learn more about their ancestors.

What is your favorite Icelandic folktale?

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