Saturday, 20 June 2015


Midsummer is the time of greatest light, when the days are at their longest and when the weather is (usually) settled and warm. This year, the way we can tell it is midsummer is because the rain is lovely and warm - in the words of the immortal Spike Milligan.

The very longest day of the year is the Midsummer Solstice, and this is the day when Druids and many others will make a pilgrimage to Stonehenge to watch the sun rise. Let us hope they are able to see the sun.

But in former times Midsummer did not refer to the Solstice, but to Midsummers Day, which is the 24th of June and the feast of the nativity of St John the Baptist, and echoes the birthday of his cousin Jesus which was fixed at the 25th of December, and thus takes over the Midwinter Solstice festival.
This means that we can hold our own Midsummer celebrations at any time from the eve of the Solstice, to the date of Midsummer by the Old Julian Calendar, the 4th of July (a day well known for festivals).

This also means that spells which say that a herb should be gathered on Midsummer's Eve, can actually be gathered at any time within this space for the same magical potency, for example in this spell from 1520:

'Yf any woman wyll that her husbande or her paramour love her well, she ought to put in his shoo a lefe of Brekens that had been gathered on saynt Johans even (23rd June) whyles that they ringe none (3pm), so that it be in the left shoo, and without faute he shall love her mervaylously.'

None (to rhyme with bone) is one of the divine services, and takes its name from the Roman way of counting the hours, it is the ninth hour of day light. Brekens can be bracken or any other fern, remember fern are especially magical at this time of year. Fern seen gathered by moonlight can make the bearer invisible and also reveal the fairy folk to your sight. It is also reputed to bring great wealth and good fortune to anyone who carries it.

An Elizabethan ballad captures the fun to be had at the Solstice celebrations:
When Midsummer comes,
with bavens and brooms,
bonfires they do inspire.
And swiftly then,
the nimble young men
run leaping over the pyre.
The women and maidens
forgetting the ravens
together do couple their hands.
With bagpipes' sweet sound,
they dance 'round and 'round
no malice amongst them will stand

Bavens are bundles of twigs for burning in the summer bonfires.

Midsummer is one of the special times for seeing and speaking to spirits of all kinds. From fairies and trolls to spirits of the dead.

One of the easiest ways to interact with the spirits is simply to invite them to your celebration. If you are having a special meal you can lay an extra place for your spirit friend, and make sure you serve them up some of your goodies - they won't need a lot, spirits don't eat much.

You could also leave out some offerings for the fairies. They are partial to a cup of tea, bread and butter and cake. You could make some special cookies, bake a hole in them so that you can thread them on ribbons and hang them from a fairy tree - hawthorn, elder, birch or apple are all good.

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