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Gardens of Adonis (2)

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04 Religious and philosophical literature and poetry

02 Religious and ideological symbols and iconographic motifs

03 Religious festivals, cults, rituals and practices

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Drower 1956: 41:
In the countries bordering the Mediterranean the Adonis-cult inspired the making of ‘gardens of Adonis’, grain forced into temporary growth in receptacles which were later thrown into the sea or river together with images of the god, at the season when women lamented the ‘youth, untimely slain’, a season which also commemorated his yearly revival. When I was in Sicily many years ago, I saw in the churches during Holy Weeks beds of sand, sometimes coloured, upon which were set pots of wheat forced into pale growth by being grown in cellars. These were called sepolcri and on holy Thursday the figure of Christ was lifted from the crucifix and laid upon them.

Lauterbach 1951: 370:
(Jewish custom of Tashlik, based on Rashi’s commentary on the Babylonian Talmud:) About two or three weeks before Rosh Hashana they make baskets from the leaves of the palm tree and fill them with earth and manure. For every young boy and girl in the house they make such a basket into which they sow Egyptian beans or other kinds of beans or peas. They call it ‘propitio’. On the day before New Year’s each person takes his or her basket, turns it around his or her head seven times, saying: ‘This is for this (evidently pointing to the basket and to himself or herself), this is to be in exchange for me, this is to be my substitute’, and then he or she throws the basket into river.

Frazer 1922: 343:
In Sardinia the gardens of Adonis are still planted in connexion with the great midsummer festival which bears the name of St. John. At the end of March or on the first of April a young man of the village presents himself to a girl, and asks her to be his comare (gossip or sweetheart), offering to be her compare. The invitation is considered as an honour by the girl’s family, and is gladly accepted. At the end of May the girl makes a pot of the bark of the cork-tree, fills it with earth, and sows a handful of wheat and barley in it. The pot being placed in the sun and often watered, the corn sprouts rapidly and has a good head by Midsummer Eve (St. John’s Eve, the twenty-third of June). The pot is then called Erme or Nenneri. On St. John’s Day the young man and the girl, dressed in their best, accompanied by a long retinue and preceded by children gambolling and frolicking, move in procession to a church outside the village. Here they break the pot by throwing it against the door of the church. Then they sit down in a ring on the grass and eat eggs and herbs to the music of flutes. Wine is mixed in a cup and passed round, each one drinking as it passes. Then they join hands and sing “Sweethearts of St. John” (Compare e comare di San Giovanni) over and over again, the flutes playing the while. When they tire of singing they stand up and dance gaily in a ring till evening. This is the general Sardinian custom.

Holes 2004: 276, 284:
A descendant of Adonis garden is also found in Bahraini culture, in the ritual called ḥiyya biyya. This ritual was performed over the first ten days of the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, and involved young girls planting seeds or pulses in small pots made of palm fibres, or any other suitable small pot-shaped container, filling them with earth and watering them regularly. The seeds or beans would rapidly germinate and by the time of Idh al-Adha, there would be a rich green growth in the plant pots. On the night before the Idh, the girls of the neighbourhood would walk in procession, followed by their brothers and other boys, down to the seashore or to a well or an irrigation channel. There they would whirl the plant pots, suspended by the length of palm-rope, around their heads, singing a ditty as they did so, and fling them into the sea, well, or water channel. A key element in the ritual was that the pot had to be thrown into water. The girls would then return home. The girls who processed down to water to hurl their ḥiyyāt into it were sometimes provided by their mothers with painted eggs to eat on the journey in a custom reminiscent of Christian Easter.


Drower 1956, 41Drower, E. S. Water into Wine. A Study of Ritual Idiom in the Middle East. London: Murray 1956.
Frazer 1922, 343Frazer, James George Sir. The golden bough. A study in magic and religion. Abridged ed.. New York: The Macmillan Co 1922.
Holes 2004, 276, 284Holes, Clive. “Arabian Gulf ḥiyya biyya, Jewish Babylonian farfisa, Christian Sicilian sepolcri. Popular Customs with a Common Origin?.” Journal of Semitic Studies 49 (2004) 275-287. [Oxford Journals (requires subscription)]
Lauterbach 1951, 370Lauterbach, J. Z. Rabbinic Essays. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press 1951.

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