A Midsummer Night’s Lore

by Melanie Fire Salamander

Cinquefoil, campion, lupine and foxglove nod on your doorstep; Nutka rose, salal bells, starflower and bleeding-heart hide in the woods, fully green now. Litha has come, longest day of the year, height of the sun. Of old, in Europe, Litha was the height too of pagan celebrations, the most important and widely honored of annual festivals.

Fire, love and magick wreathe ’round this time. As on Beltaine in Ireland, across Europe people of old leaped fires for fertility and luck on Midsummer Day, or on the night before, Midsummer Eve, according to Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend.Farmers drove their cattle through the flames or smoke or ran with burning coals across the cattle pens. In the Scottish Highlands, herders circumnabulated their sheep with torches lit at the Midsummer fire.

People took burning brands around their fields also to ensure fertility, and in Ireland threw them into gardens and potato fields. Ashes from the fire were mixed with seeds yet to plant. In parts of England country folk thought the apple crop would fail if they didn’t light the Midsummer fires. People relit their house fires from the Midsummer bonfire, in celebration hurled flaming disks heavenward and rolled flaming wheels downhill, burning circles that hailed the sun at zenith.

Midsummer, too, was a lovers’ festival. Lovers clasped hands over the bonfire, tossed flowers across to each other, leaped the flames together. Those who wanted lovers performed love divination. In Scandinavia, girls laid bunches of flowers under their pillows on Midsummer Eve to induce dreams of love and ensure them coming true. In England, it was said if an unmarried girl fasted on Midsummer Eve and at midnight set her table with a clean cloth, bread, cheese and ale, then left her yard door open and waited, the boy she would marry, or his spirit, would come in and feast with her.

Magick crowns Midsummer. Divining rods cut on this night are more infallible, dreams more likely to come true. Dew gathered Midsummer Eve restores sight. Fern, which confers invisibility, was said to bloom at midnight on Midsummer Eve and is best picked then. Indeed, any magickal plants plucked on Midsummer Eve at midnight are doubly efficacious and keep better. You’d pick certain magickal herbs, namely St. Johnswort, hawkweed, vervain, orpine, mullein, wormwood and mistletoe, at midnight on Midsummer Eve or noon Midsummer Day, to use as a charm to protect your house from fire and lightning, your family from disease, negative witchcraft and disaster. A pagan gardener might consider cultivating some or all of these; it’s not too late to buy at herb-oriented nurseries, the Herbfarm outside Fall City the chief of these and a wonderful place to visit, if a tad pricey. Whichever of these herbs you find, a gentle snip into a cloth, a spell whispered over, and you have a charm you can consecrate in the height of the sun.

In northern Europe, the Wild Hunt was often seen on Midsummer Eve, hallooing in the sky, in some districts led by Cernunnos. Midsummer’s Night by European tradition is a fairies’ night, and a witches’ night too. Rhiannon Ryall writes in West Country Wiccathat her coven, employing rites said to be handed down for centuries in England’s West Country, would on Midsummer Eve decorate their symbols of the God and Goddess with flowers, yellow for the God, white for the Goddess. The coven that night would draw down the moon into their high priestess, and at sunrise draw down the sun into their high priest. The priest and priestess then celebrated the Great Rite, known to the coven as the Rite of Joining or the Crossing Rite.

Some of Ryall’s elders called this ritual the Ridencrux Rite. They told how formerly in times of bad harvest or unseasonable weather, the High Priestess on the nights between the new and full moon would go to the nearest crossroads, wait for the first stranger traveling in the district. About this stranger the coven had done ritual beforehand, to ensure he embodied the God. The high priestess performed the Great Rite with him to make the next season’s sowing successful.

In the Middle Ages in Europe, traces of witchcraft and pagan remembrances were often linked with Midsummer. In Southern Estonia, Lutheran Church workers found a cottar’s wife accepting sacrifices on Midsummer Day, Juhan Kahk writes in Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries, edited by Bengt Ankarloo and Gustave Henningsen. Likewise, on Midsummer Night in 1667, in Estonia’s Maarja-Magdaleena parish, peasants met at the country manor of Colonel Griefenspeer to perform a ritual to cure illnesses.

In Denmark, writes Jens Christian V. Johansen in another Early Modern European Witchcraft chapter, medieval witches were said to gather on Midsummer Day, and in Ribe on Midsummer Night. Inquisitors in the Middle Ages often said witches met on Corpus Christi, which some years fell close to Midsummer Eve, according to Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, by Jeffrey Burton Russell. The inquisitors explained witches chose the date to mock a central Christian festival, but Corpus Christi is no more important than a number of other Christian holidays, and it falls near a day traditionally associated with pagan worship. Coincidence? Probably not.

Anciently, pagans and witches hallowed Midsummer. Some burned for their right to observe their rites; we need not. But we can remember the past. In solidarity with those burned, we can collect our herbs at midnight; we can burn our bonfires and hail the sun.

Midsummer Night’s Fire Ritual

Midsummer Night’s Fire Ritual

By Patti Wigington, About.com Guide

The Summer Solstice, known to some as Litha, Midsummer, or Alban Heruin, is the longest day of the year. It’s the time when the sun is most powerful, and new life has begun to grow within the earth. After today, the nights will once more begin to grow longer, and the sun will move further away in the sky.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: Approximately 60 minutes

Here’s How: If your tradition requires you to cast a circle , consecrate a space, or call the quarters, now is the time to do so. This ritual is a great one to perform outside, so if you have the opportunity to do this without scaring the neighbors, take advantage of it.

Begin this ritual by preparing the wood for a fire, without lighting it yet. While the ideal situation would have you setting a huge bonfire alight, realistically not everyone can do that. If you’re limited, use a table top brazier or fire-safe pot, and light your fire there instead.

Say either to yourself or out loud:

Today, to celebrate Midsummer, I honor the Earth itself. I am surrounded by tall trees. There is a clear sky above me and cool dirt beneath me, and I am connected to all three. I light this fire as the Ancients did so long ago.

At this point, start your fire.

Say:

The Wheel of the Year has turned once more
The light has grown for six long months
Until today.

Say:

Today is Litha, called Alban Heruin by my ancestors.
A time for celebration.
Tomorrow the light will begin to fade
As the Wheel of the Year
Turns on and ever on.

Turn to the East, and say:

From the east comes the wind,
Cool and clear.
It brings new seeds to the garden
Bees to the pollen
And birds to the trees.

Turn to Face South, and say:

The sun rises high in the summer sky
And lights our way even into the night
Today the sun casts three rays
The light of fire upon the land, the sea, and the heavens

Turn to face West, saying:

From the west, the mist rolls in
Bringing rain and fog
The life-giving water without which
We would cease to be.

Finally, turn to the North, and say:

Beneath my feet is the Earth,
Soil dark and fertile
The womb in which life begins
And will later die, then return anew.

Build up the fire even more, so that you have a good strong blaze going.

If you wish to make an offering to the gods, now is the time to do it.

Say:

Alban Heruin is a time of rededication
To the gods.

The triple goddess watches over me.
She is known by many names.
She is the Morrighan,

Brighid, and Cerridwen.
She is the washer at the ford,
She is the guardian of the hearth,
She is the one who stirs the cauldron of inspiration.

I give honor to You, O mighty ones,
By all your names, known and unknown.
Bless me with Your wisdom
And give life and abundance to me
As the sun gives life and abundance to the Earth.

Say:

I make this offering to you
To show my allegiance
To show my honor
To show my dedication
To You.

Cast your offering into fire.

Conclude the ritual by saying:

Today, at Litha, I celebrate the life
And love of the gods
And of the Earth and Sun.

Take a few moments to reflect upon what you have offered, and what the gifts of the gods mean to you. When you are ready, if you have cast a circle, dismantle it or dismiss the quarters at this time.

Allow your fire to go out on its own.

What You Need

A place to build a fire

An offering to the gods (optional)

The Enchanted Nights of Midsummer

by Asherah

When I was a young  girl, I had a book of tales and poems about fairies. I don’t know where it is now, probably on  one of my parents’ dusty bookshelves, missorted after a move. It was a  big book, mostly pictures, and it fascinated me: I wanted to get into  that world, in with the fairies.

I only remember one verse: “The fairies will be dancing, when there’s a  ring around the moon.” But I remember that the big fairy holiday was  Midsummer Night.

On Midsummer Night, the witches, the fairies, the spirits of the dead, the wraiths of the living: all will be abroad and visible.

I couldn’t have been more than five, but it enchanted me, the idea of  slipping out at midnight, stars veiled in the humid dark of summer,  maybe with a flashlight (a candle would have been more romantic but  harder to get), to a ring trodden bare in grass that flickered around my  ankles. The circle would break, a small, bony hand  held out to  mine…

But I knew if I tried slipping out I’d get in trouble. Moreover, I was  confused. It seemed Midsummer Night was June 21, or thereabouts, but  wasn’t that the beginning of summer? If so, why was it called midsummer?  I consulted my mother, but the contradiction didn’t bother her; she said  that was just the way it was. It was only much later that I stumbled on  the answer, that if Beltaine is summer’s start the solstice falls at  Midsummer.

In medieval times, Midsummer was the feast of St. John the Baptist. The herbs of St. John are St. Johnswort, hawkweed, orpine, vervain, mullein,  wormwood and mistletoe. Plucked (depending on your tradition) either at  midnight St. John’s Eve or at noon St. John’s Day and hung in the house,  they will protect it from fire and lightning. Worn about the body, they  will protect you from disease, witchcraft and disaster.

Previously, Midsummer was one of the great fire festivals of Europe. At Stonehenge, it is said, Midsummer was a time of human sacrifice. The  children’s counting-out rhyme “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo” may be a relic of  the means by which the Druids chose their sacrifices.

It was around Midsummer when my friend Holly and I decided to enchant  David, who was the cutest boy in our class. We were 11, and what might  happen if he really fell in love with both of us didn’t cross our minds.  (I think each of us in her heart of hearts felt he’d choose her.) Holly  got a copy of the Dell pocketbook Everyday Witchcraft from the stand at  the grocery store checkout line, and I talked my mother into buying me  one too. One of the love spells instructed us to collect grass from his  lawn and make a charm from it.

So we slipped out and met at dawn . I remember the feel of dawn asphalt  cool beneath my feet. In Kansas City the lawns are pretty big; sitting  on the sidewalk at the far corner of David’s lawn, at the bottom of a  steep incline, we ran little risk of being seen. So we collected a few  strands and sat a while, basking in his nearness.

If an unmarried girl, fasting, on Midsummer Eve at midnight sets the table with a clean cloth, bread, cheese and ale, leaves the yard door  open and waits, the boy she will marry, or his spirit, will come in and  eat with her.

Plant two slips of orpine (Sedum telephium) together on Midsummer Eve, one to represent yourself, one to represent your lover. If one slip  withers, the one it represents will die. But if both take hold, flourish  and grow leaning together, you and your lover will marry.

It was around Midsummer also, and I, 13, but not much the wiser, when my  friend Vanessa and I did candle-magic on a mutual friend, Troy. Vanessa  made a good, thick candle-poppet of him, with the wick for his head. She  was angry at him, and her spell was to banish him; she buried the  candle-poppet in the gutter outside her house. I had a crush on him, and  my spell was quite the opposite, though I didn’t confess this to  Vanessa. Our spells must have crossed, because while Vanessa and Troy  made up, ever afterward Troy had an aversion to me.

To become invisible, wear or swallow fern seed (that is, fern spores) that you collected on Midsummer Eve.

On Midsummer Eve at midnight, the fern blooms with a golden flower. If you pluck this flower, it will lead you to golden treasure. In Russia,  the flower must be thrown in the air, and it will land on buried  treasure. The Bohemians believe that if you pluck the flower and on the  same Midsummer Night climb a mountain with the blossom in hand, you will  find gold or have it revealed to you in a vision. Bohemians also  sprinkle fern seed in their savings to keep them from decreasing.

It was the fairies, and charms like those of Midsummer, that led me to  the Craft. I won’t swear all the high points of the summers of my youth  happened on Midsummer Night, but Midsummer is a kind of distillation of  all summer. On that night, perhaps you can brush back a feathery, green- smelling branch to see, dancing in a ring, fairies. Or  sometimes you  might find such a ring indoors.

[Enter Puck, carrying a broom]

“Now it is the time of night That the graves, all gaping wide, Every one lets forth his sprite, In the church-way paths to glide. And we fairies, that do run By the triple Hecate’s team From the presence of the sun, Following darkness like a dream, Now are frolic. Not a mouse Shall disturb this hallowed house. I am sent with broom before, To sweep the dust behind the door.”

(from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare)

Merry Midsummer to all.