Among Stars and Fire – Mėnuo Juodaragis Festival in Lithuania

Text and images: Maria Fernanda Stinghen Gottardi

Magic, symbolic, idyllic and inspiring. Those are the words that come to mind when I remember my experience at the festival Mėnuo Juodaragis (MJR) XVII, in Lithuania, a  mosaic of Baltic culture where old and new traditions meet. From bonfires to jewellery, from sculptures and ceramics to a childeren’s play, straw ornaments, singing, dancing, fishing, painting, lullabies, theatre, lectures, movies, concerts, pottery, archery and the protagonist, the nature. I´ve never seen so many arts combined and working together and an audience so inspired and involved.

This year Mėnuo Juodaragis (the name means “Black Horned Moon”), took place in the stunning Skinderiškis Dendrological Park, in Kėdainiai District. The park is not marked on the current maps. It was created in 1971 when Kęstutis Kaltenis started planting trees within the territory of a former manor and restored its ancient name. It is located on the bank of the Šušvė River between the villages of Pilsupiai and Pajieslis, 10 km from the town of Josvainiai.

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The theme of this edition of MJR was Slumber and Dreams. Although during daylight there were many attractions, it was during the night that magical atmosphere reigned. Torches were lit, bonfires were crackling, the stars were shining and the park slowly was acquiring fathomless and mysterious atmosphere with the dark. Then you entered a world of dreams , giving the audience an opportunity, not only to have more fun, but to sink into deep tranquility and relaxation, sitting in the grass, watching the stars or enjoying the attractions, like the odd but interesting Dream Machine, located in a cave, or the Altar, a stone bonfire surrounded by magic and ancient symbols.

It was rainy, but the audience didn´t seem to be bothered about that. Everyone was in a good mood. There were people applauding and dancing and singing in the rain in a collective sentiment of respect and reverence for nature.1_MFSG

The selection of bands mixed styles like neo-folk, gothic, tribal, ambient, industrial, metal and avant-garde. Most of the bands were from the Baltic states. Special references to Kūlgrinda, Juodvarnis, Spanxti and Donis (from Lithuania) and Frailty (from Latvia) were made. The public were diverse also with fans of many kinds of music and families with children (the programme actually included the kids), babies and even dogs. The beers available in the festival were a good and a welcome surprise. Different from other festivals, the public had the opportunity to taste a great variety of beers from local craft brewers.

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It was necessary to make some long walks to get from one place to another, but this was no problem since you could enjoy the nature and discover other attractions. During one of these walks I had the privilege to meet a Lithuanian ceramist, who was exposing his work. Vladas was a talkative and outgoing old man with white hair and white long beard; the looks of a clever wizard. Although he lives in Los Angeles for many years – he moved to United States to be free from the Soviet Union repression – he says that Lithuania and his art are with him everywhere he goes and his heritage is priceless and changeless.

I was thrilled to see the culture of a country – that speaks one the most ancient language of Europe – preserved and active in MJR. At this festival every detail mattered, from the trees to the bands; no element was more important than other. While immersed in the atmosphere of insomnia, you could dream with open eyes. People say that dreams always carry special messages. In MJR the dreams were materialized and the messages were literally blowing in the wind.

Maria Fernanda Stinghen Gottardi is a Brazilian journalist, writer and beer sommelière. She is recently spent some time in Lativia and Lithuania. You can read more about her travel experiences here: www.facebook.com/labilatvia

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