The Latvian version of this text is the first blogs of this series.
Why “Temple John of Disappeared Forests”?
© E.A. Benjamins, 2010
The name “John” is one of the most widely known cognates in Europe and beyond. We may meet “John” in such names as Johann, Huan, Jean, Ivan, Giovanni, etc. If we know that the consonant J may with time slip slide and become a G, H, D, V, X, etc., and that it may even disappear as in, say, Angus, then the number of words of “John” at their root may reach hundreds. In Latvian the word may also be verbalized, re “jonjot” (joņot) and become an adjective, re “jancihga” (jancīga), a person with something of a chip on the shoulder.
In the days of proto-Latvians (those who lived before Latvians had their own nation), the word John, Jahnis, was pronounced with a G, re Ganis or Gans (a herder of cows, pigs, geese, sheep, etc.). Do we now see that John, Gans, is the same as a king, that is to say, a herder of nations? In the days of yore some societies (the Turks for example) had two kings. One of the kings was the spiritual king, the other was his executive. Words such as gendarme, jannisery received their name as a result of being the king’s right (executive) hand.
Let us also remember that John the Baptist was not only a herder, but a healer and a shaman. John the Herder was the one who came in touch with plants and got to know their characteristics. It is likely that the word “gens” (man) was originally identified with “herder”. This is also why “John” is at the root of so many other words.
We can now better understand why the Children of Johns, a Latvian religious sect from the times of the Bogomils and the Cathars et all (known from about the 11th and 12th centuries of our era on), were thought of as a community. This was a time when our planet was still overgrown with forests. The Johns, itinerant teachers all, went from one clearing in the forest to another and brought to the people news from other parts of the world. Incidentally, the Latvian verb “jonjot” (to run fast) may have a distant echo in the English word “jog”, which j may at one time have been pronounced as a y.
John the Jogger was also known as the son of the Sun, because he was always (or most of the time) on the road and, thus, always in sight of the Sun. At the the time of the great solstices, Midsummer and Midwinter, the Children of Johns lit fires atop tall poles to lead the Johns to their villages in the forests. Of course, in the winter the hearth with its Yule log enticed the Johns to come into the house.
When the people made a clearing in the forests, they did so not only to build them selves shelter, but to grow plants in soil that became extra fertile due to the ashes left by the burning of the roots and the brush. When this fertility was exhausted, the people moved on.
Alas, there came a new caste of men for whom the forest was an object of exploitation. This caste no longer identified their living space with the forest, but cut down the forests to build themselves castles, castle walls, ships of war, and huge furnaces where they baked clay into bricks. The caste of princes did not allow the cleared forest to grow over, but sowed the clearings over with seeds of grain. They made thus more money. While a tree takes fifty years or more to grow into a harvestable product grains take only one season.
The process of “desertification” of Latvia allows us to recall that John the Baptist (or Savior) of the New Testament is portrayed as a man who lives in the desert and eats grasshoppers. In the days of the New Testament John there were still Children of Johns. Many went to see John (maybe also known as the Water Curer) who had come to the River Jordan. However, John was soon captured and executed.
The name of Johns (John) disappeared. One way to disappear the name among the Latvians is to replace the Johns Festival with names such as Midsummer Festival, the Lihgo Festival, Family Festival, and the like. This process is well on its way of receiving the Nobel Prize for Destruction.
The desertification of Latvia continues. Though forests in Latvia still cover a significant (46%) area, the figure reads false, because the deforested land is not replanted with trees, but allowed to overgrow with brush.