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.

A Midsummer Night’s Lore

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 buyat 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.

The Enchanted Nights of Midsummer

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 candlewould 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 spellsinstructed 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.

A Witch’s Charm Twice Told


Author: Zan Fraser

Those who seek clues as to the nature of English witchcraft prior to Gerald Gardner turn their attentions sooner or later to William Shakespeare’s tragedy of Macbeth. “Witch Plays” appear to have been highly popular with Elizabethan/ Jacobean theater-goers; virtually every significant play-writer from the 1580s to the early 1600s contributes a “witchcraft work” and Macbeth’s fame is such that nine people out of ten will cite it as their first association with witches. The virtue presented by these bodies of work is that they describe and demonstrate the puzzling phenomenon known as the “witch’s craft” in a way not found otherwise in period sources.

One should not allow oneself to be distracted by the disagreeable elements of Shakespeare’s presentation, such as the infamous ingredients-litany of the Witches’ Brew (IV.i.1-37) , which starts off with eyes of newts and toes of frogs before culminating in a horrific porridge of body-parts and animal intestines.

Such sections represent Shakespeare’s concessions to the rabidly anti-witch views held by Elizabeth’s successor, the new King James I of England, who ascended following Elizabeth’s death in 1603. As James VI of Scotland, his Majesty had published Daemonologie, an attack on witches as socially corrupt persons and failure to be in endorsement of royal opinion was a severely fraught stance.

Peering through the grotesque but self-protective veil that Shakespeare hangs in front of his work, one finds that the witchcraft depicted by the Bard of Avon nonetheless plays heavily upon two traditional and fundamental concepts- the performance of magic through the creation of charmed, circular space, and the powering of this specialized space by the raising up of magical, charming energies.

Folklorists have long identified the “ring-dance” (holding hands and dancing in a ring) as a particular activity of both faeries and witches; in Witches and Jesuits, Garry Wills interprets the blocking of the Three Witches of Macbeth in terms of their “spinning” or generating a magically charmed precinct through circular motion. (The notorious Cauldron Speech that opens Act IV actually accompanies such an “energy-generating” performance, immediately prior to the Scottish King’s entrance.

It is fascinating to consider that the Witches’ line “Open locks, whoever knocks” [IV.i.45] suggests that they have placed magical protections around their spell-working site- exactly as we ourselves would do- and that it is necessary to “cut” others into the circle. It is also interesting to reflect that they describe Macbeth as the “something wicked” that “this way comes.”) .

The conclusion to the so-called “Witches’ Scene” is another example of a witches’ circle-dance, as the Three launch into an “antic round” (IV.i.130) in mocking contempt for the Scottish King and Murderer: “I’ll charm the air to give a sound while you perform our antic round, that this great king may kindly say, our duties did his welcome pay!” Thus with one final whirling circle, the Three take their last leave of the soon-to-fall tyrant.

The instant before they first greet Macbeth (“A drum- a drum! Macbeth doth come!”) , the Witches (who have been anticipating this encounter since the play’s opening scene) perform a ring-dance (or dance in a witches’ circle) in order to create the charmed atmosphere that the late 1500s and early 1600s considered appropriate for events of a magical nature. As if to remove any doubt about the matter, they helpfully (in fact) inform us so (I.iii.31) :

“The Weird Sisters, hand in hand, posters of the sea and land, thus do go about! About! Thrice to thine and thrice to mine and thrice again to make up nine! Peace- the charm’s wound up.”

As the text makes plain, the Three join hands (“hand to hand”) and “thus do go about”- they go around in a circle (presumably nine times, although one imagines this may be fudged a bit during actual performances) . Their purpose is made explicit when they halt (“Peace”) and judge that their charm is “wound up.”

It is within this mini-arena of charmed and potent space that they greet Macbeth, soon to be the Scottish king through murder and usurpation.

Unique in Shakespeare’s canon is Macbeth’s status as a hexed play with a dark and malevolent curse attached. It plainly is not clear when this superstition might have developed, but within theater communities there is a firm belief against uttering The Name out loud when one is backstage, for to do so is to invite the terrible malignancy of outraged fate. (Productions of the Scottish Play, as it is cautiously called, are famed for plagues of injury and accident.) In sensible and sage manner, a ceremony exists to throw off the dark importuning of the Fateful Word. The rash actor must immediately move herself outside the space of the theater (or at least the dressing room or backstage area) and unwind the grim energies by spinning in a counter-clockwise circle- she must spin widdershins, in other words.

In the movie The Dresser, Albert Finney plays an actor who must perform this ritual when he lets slip the Name of the Scottish King. The superstition is fascinating because it mimics in minor the execution of a witch’s round-dance. However, in this instance, one does not “wind up” a charm- one “unwinds” bad or wicked fortune.

An activity on a par with much documented English folk-magic, the ceremony of “casting off” the dark energies of Shakespeare’s Scottish play has become as intertwined with the play as any portion of its text. How remarkable then, that within the play’s lore, are found two examples of the logic that lies behind the witches’ ring-dance – an express instance of the “winding up” of a witch’s charm and an implicit demonstration of the “unwinding” of ill-omened actions.

In both cases, these seem to me to be examples of the strange and obscure practice attributed to witches and articulated by Gerald Gardner as “raising energy.”

 

the daily humorscopes for 3/28

Monday, March 28, 2011

Aries (March 21 – April 19)
Today old Monty Python skits will keep running, unbidden, through your mind. The only cure will be to be to drink a glass of a fine Australian wine, which has a bouquet like an aborigine’s armpit.
Taurus (April 20 – May 20)
Through a casual remark in an elevator, you will realise that both you and your fellow passenger have seen John Cleese’s informational film called How To Irritate People. By the time you reach the 10th floor, you will both be severely vexed with one another.
Gemini (May 21 – June 20)
Excellent day to devour fruit, while making snarling sounds and glaring at persons nearby. Next, tear the heads off the carnations and stuff them partway up your nose, and make strange wuffling sounds while vigorously wiggling your eyebrows. Or don’t, if you’re going to be stuffy. It’s your life.
Cancer (June 21 – July 22)
Beware of being cautious, today.
Leo (July 23 – August 22)
In a savage reaction against what you view as New Age Wooly-Mindedness, you will write a best-selling book titled I’m Ok, You’re A Twerp. Later, people will often regard you as having “defined” the current decade.
Virgo (August 23 – September 22)
You will get one of those pre-mixed salads in a new high-tech bag that “breathes”. Or, in this case, wheezes.
Libra (September 23 – October 22)
You know that how you dress will inevitably send a message to those around you. In this case, your message is “Help! Help!”
Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)
Time to stop beating around the bush. Beat the bush itself. Give it a good thrashing, and say “bad bush!” in a loud stern tone.
Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)
You will discover what Shakespeare actually meant, when he wrote “Hey nonny, nonny”, in Much Ado About Nothing. It turns out that it was simply in-field chatter that somehow made it into the play, and that Shakespeare not only enjoyed softball, but was a reasonably good shortstop.
Capricorn (December 22 – January 20)
You’ve about had it with one particular fool in your life. Have you considered investing in a tranquilizer gun? Mine comes in very handy, especially at work.
Aquarius (January 21 – February 18)
You will discover a causative link between politics and food. While the liberalizing action of granola has long been commented upon, and the patriotism-enhancing qualities of apple pie are well established by now, you will go further. In fact, you will discover several other links. Fiscal Conservatism? Tuna Hot Dish. Reactionary Bible-thumping? Grits. Idealism? Pizza with artichokes. You’ll even (eventually) uncover the link between saturated fat and Rush Limbaugh!
Pisces (February 19 – March 20)
If you don’t start relaxing a bit before lunch, you’re going to develop a close cousin to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) — the dreaded Disgruntled Stomache.

 

Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)

Herb of the Day: Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus):

Local name: Clove Pink.
“The clove gilloflower is most used in physiche… and is accounted to be very cordiall.” John Parkinson.
Folk Names:
jove’s flower, gillies, gilliflower, sops-in-wine
Gender: Masculine
Planet: Sun
Element: Fire
Powers: Protection, Strength, Healing

When made into a syrup (5 pints boiling water to 3 pounds flower heads; 2 pounds sugar per pint), Parkinson claimed it to be “good for disorders of the brain.” Gerard said that it help ease heart sickness.
CAUTION!! Commercial Carnations are often “DYED”. Not knowing what the dyes used are, I would NOT ADVISE you to use Commercial Carnations!!
Magickally associated with: Sun, Fire. Was once worn by Witches to prevent capture and hanging. A sachet stuffed with the flowers and inhaled deeply, is said to help you to get over heartaches. Said to produce added energy in ritual when used in incense. Use in all-purpose protection spells. Gives strength and energy to the sick. Place fresh carnation on the altar during healing spells and add dried flowers to healing sachets and incenses.
“Carnations and streaked gillyflowers, the fairest flowers of the season…” William Shakespeare, A Winter’s Tale
Blessings,
Lady Becky

‘May we live in peace without weeping. May our joy outline the lives we touch without ceasing. And may our love fill the world, angel wings tenderly beating.’
The Universal Heart Center