Jumis, Latvian God of the Apjumibas Festival

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Jumis

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The Latvian 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.

Symbol of Jumis 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.

Apjumibas Festival
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.

Catching Jumis
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 the field.

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 Dziesmas):

Jumeits meklej Jumaleņas
Pa teirumu staiguodams
Bruoleits meklei līgaveņas
Nu muoseņom viacuodams.

Relationship to other Indo-European Gods
Jumis means ‘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. [fuggle26]

Reference
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 published at pierce.yolasite.com/jumis but Yola went out of business, so it is now republished here.

© 2007, last updated 3/1/2015, piereligion.org/jumis.html