Crumbs of calendar customs in the area of Pilviškiai

Libertas Klimka

The present article of ethnological character deals with the generalisation of the available information about the traditional calendar customs of population in the Suvalkija (Sūduva) ethnographic region. In fact, this is a study of collective memory of rural people in the end-20th century. At the same time, the aim was to highlight the links between customs and phenological natural phenomena, focusing on the semantics of ethnoculture. Therefore, the specific object of research in this article is the calendar customs and folk beliefs of older rural people. This collective memory preserves a very deep experience of the agricultural ethnos: it summarizes centuries-old observations of nature; moreover, subtle connections between phenological phenomena have been revealed.

The material for the article was collected through field research in 1981 during the Ramuva expedition of local historians at Vilnius University; it was supplemented by data obtained from 1994-2012 interviews based on a special astronomical knowledge questionnaire. For comparison, several records of more rare customs from this region were also used, dated back to the first half of the 20th century and stored in the Lithuanian Scientific Society and Folklore Archive.

Calendar customs in Pilviškiai area have received little research in the past. This did not attract the attention of ethnographers, perhaps because of the fact that agriculture here had been developed in a quite modern way following the example of neighbouring Prussia. Thus, advice of ancient wisdom and mythical revelations soon began to wane from human memory due to being of no practical use. To restore a detailed calendar cycle the material collected in Pilviškiai area is too small, however, some local features are expressive and distinctive supplementing the general understanding of the Lithuanian traditional calendar and its development. Using archival data, it succeeds in grasping the structural features of the former body of knowledge.

The article has three chapters corresponding to the natural cycles of rural work: 1. Observing nature while spring is coming; 2. Concerns of summer works; and 3. Autumn and winter works. Analysing the collected material, both relics of the archaic lunar calendar and elements of agrarian magic from the later formed seasonal agricultural cycles can be seen. While from the Christian calendar, emphasis is laid on those name days that correspond to the transformations of nature as well as the ends and starts of the related works. The reason for the long survival of the features of the traditional calendar, which used to be the lifestyle rules, is their relatively objective nature expressing the influence of periodic movement of celestial bodies on the bioprocesses of flora and fauna. Special attention is paid here to the moon, because it affects at a certain level the flow of ground juices trough the plant fibres. Knowledge of the influence of lunar phases on agriculture should be attributed to the field of the practical ethnoknowledge, while the believes in moon influence on the events of human life is the expression of the parallelism, rooted in traditional culture, between natural phenomena and human life events; these are things of similarity-based magic. Counts on the lunar phase are still practiced in some spring and autumn works even today. Thus, it is not just a tribute to the cultural heritage of our ancestors, but also practically valuable farming knowledge. The collective memory of rural people reflects the cyclical concept of time, which is highly characteristic of the ethnic groups of agricultural culture.