It is customary in Roussillon to light large bonfires in public squares and on the mountains on the eve of Saint John (in the evening of June 23 to 24). They are called the fires of Saint John. But what characterizes Saint John is the picking of "fortunes".
The fires of Saint John
In a joyous exodus, young men and women spread out at dawn across the countryside to make bouquets of plants with a special virtue: stonecrop (herba de sant Joan), verbena, St. John's wort, jasmine, chamomile, lemongrass, fern, thyme or rosemary. Verbena (verbena) and St. John's wort (tresenm) are the most sought after. They are, it is said, sovereign remedies against skin diseases, and it is said in Conflent that a leper is cured if he rolls around, on the morning of Saint John, in a field where miracle plants.
To be effective these plants must be moistened, at the time of picking, with night dew. On the eve of Saint John, young girls place a vase containing water in their window into which they pour an egg white. The pattern formed the next day, before dawn, by the albuminous matter dissolved in water gives precise indications of the qualities or faults of their lover. As for the bouquets they pick in the countryside, they place them on a cross at the doors and windows to prevent the bad fairies from entering their house.
Here is how we explain this custom:
A young girl was said to have fallen in love with a handsome mountaineer whom she was to marry. On Saint John's morning she went to gather fortunes with her comrades, and, on her return home, as if by chance, placed on her door two bouquets of thyme and rosemary forming a cross. When her fiancé came to join her, he dared not go into the house:
"So why are you standing in front of the door," said the young girl.
'I dare not enter.
- And yet
— I'm afraid of this bouquet which has the shape of an asp.
— It's not an aspic, replies the beauty, it's a cross of thyme and rosemary. Bad lonely people are afraid of a cross.
— Well, yes, I will make the cruel confession: .. . I am the demon who came to seek your soul and who would have achieved his ends without this accursed bouquet. Then the mountaineer suddenly disappeared.
Since that day, and in memory of this victory against evil, the young girls do not fail to place a bouquet at their door on the morning of Saint John.
It is said that St John walks in the countryside, the day before his feast day, and gives certain plants a miraculous virtue which benefits those who invoke him devoutly. It is worth noting on this subject that the verbena or herb of Saint John is a plant for which the Druids professed a particular cult. The memory of the saint is therefore foreign to the custom that we are pointing out.
Finally, let us report the version according to which the origin of the custom is linked to the amorous intrigue of a young girl from Vallespir. She was in love with a young man who affected the greatest indifference towards her. Saint John told him in a dream the Infallible way to bend the disdainful boy: pick a bunch of stonecrop and plant it on the door. The process succeeded perfectly and the young girl ensured the love of the rebel. Stonecrop then became St John's weed.