Pagan God Jumis, (pronounced you-miss for English speakers) is
an agricultural deity representing fertility and a good harvest. He appears
dressed in clothes made from field crops, such as wheat and barley.
The symbol of
Jumis has a symmetrical form somewhat like crossed grain flails or (if you use
your imagination), a shock of wheat. In some forms the bottom ends are bent up.
Any “double fruit” that occurs in nature or in cultivation such as two cherries
fused together or two ears of wheat on one stem is considered representative of
the God Jumis. If there is a double fruit or ear of grain, it should be left “on
the vine” to be used as part of the “catching Jumis” ritual (see below). The
symbol is used as a decorative element and it brings good luck to the user. The
design is woven into the card-woven belts which are an important traditional
folk art among the Latvian and Lithuanian people.
The name of this festival in Latvian
is Apjumibas, after Jumis. It is celebrated at the fall equinox, specifically
for the three days, Sept. 22-23-24. This is an after-harvest celebration and it
is different than many after-harvest festivals which are usually set closer to
Oct 23 or Oct 31, because the Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania) are so far
north. The time between the grain harvest celebration and the slaughter of
cattle is very compressed in northern countries because the growing season is so
short. Another name for the festival is Mikeli which refers to the archangel
Michael, because the feast day of St. Michael also falls at about this time,
Sept. 29th according to the Christian church. In Latvian folk belief, St.
Michael is the receiver of souls, and it would appear that he has accepted this
task from Jumis, simply because his is the next nearest holiday. By the time of
the festival, the harvest must all be brought in and stored. After the festival,
the “gates of winter” are opened.
At the end of reaping, a “Catching Jumis”
ritual occurs in the grain fields which is intended to capture his spirit and
his fertility for the fields of a village. A clump of uncut grain, (preferably
one with a double ear) is left in the field. It is tied in a bundle and the top
is pushed down and weighed down with a stone or soil to press it into the
ground. This is thought to direct the fertility of the field back into the soil
where it will be available for the grain crop next year. Sometimes the sheaf is
plaited into a wreath or braid and presented to a high status woman in the
community who keeps it until spring. In the spring any seeds will be rubbed out
and scattered over the field and the entire wreath is planted under a rock in
When the harvest is done, Jumis is celebrated with a community feast which
includes a special Jumis loaf, and responsorial singing, dancing and fertility
rituals. There are many dainas or sacred songs for Jumis, like this one (No.
50242, given on pages 262-268 of Vol. 9 of the Latviešu Tautas
Jumeits meklej Jumaleņas
Pa teirumu staiguodams
Nu muoseņom viacuodams.
Relationship to other Indo-European Gods
‘twin’ in Latvian and is the cognate form of the Proto-Indo-European God whose name Yama means
“twin” and who represents the ox which was sacrificed to make the world in the
standard Indo-European creation myth. It is this
Proto-Indo-European God who developed into the various Gods and saints among the
Indo-European speakers. I have not seen anything in Latvian sources that shows
that Jumis has any “cow” characteristics although that is one of the most
obvious features of forms of this God in other Indo-European languages. However
it seems likely that Jumis was the original receiver of souls, as is Yama. And
in any case, if the reaping ritual involves “catching Jumis” he is clearly not a
“vegetation” spirit, but must represent some sort of animal.
• Latviešu Tautas Dziesmas (Latvian Dainas or sacred songs), ed. by A. Švābe, K. Straubergs, E. Hauzenberga-Štarma, Imanta,
Copenhagen, 1956. The Latviešu Tautas Dziesmas are available on the net at
the University of Virginia site.
This article was originally published on Associated Content, which went out
of business on Feb. 1, 2010. It was then published at pierce.yolasite.com/jumis but Yola went out of business too, so it is now being republished here.
© 2007, last updated 2/14/2012, piereligion.org/jumis.html