24 June – Midsummer’s Day

While the solstice date varies, Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day is fixed on the calendar as 23 and 24 June, pegging a moveable feast to a fixed date, and the folk customs of the solstice moved with it.

The date for celebrating the movable summer solstice became fixed on the Day of St John the Baptist, thus enabling the Catholic Church to associate many of the ancient summer solstice customs with his worship. The solstice fires became the fires of St. John, whom Jesus called “a bright and shining light”. The early Christians had a deliberate policy of transforming Pagan celebrations into church occasions. Some of the representations of John are rather strange for a Christian saint. He is often depicted with horns, furry legs and cloven hooves, like a satyr or woodwose or satyr. His shrines too are often of a rather rustic nature, ostensibly because John was fond of wandering in the wilderness. It is possible that John not only took over a Pagan Midsummer festival for his feast day, but also the attributes and shrines of an earlier green god. Other midsummer symbols accumulated around St John and he was made the patron of shepherds and beekeepers.

In the Middle Ages, Christian mythographers declared that St John was born at the summer solstice at the time of the weakening Sun, announcing his own power would wane with the birth of Christ at the winter solstice, the time of the strengthening Sun, [1] associating them with the oak and holly respectively, perhaps drawing on earlier myth and folklore. The evergreen holly persists through the winter death-time and so was identified with Christ, the white flower emblematic of his purity, the prickles his crown of thorns, and the red berries the drops of his shed blood: “…of all the trees that are in the woods, the holly bears the crown” in the words of the old carol. [2]

It was widely believed that spirits gathered on Midsummer’s Eve. In parts of England it was the convention to light large bonfires after sundown to ward off evil spirits; this was known as ‘setting the watch’. [3]

Midsummer’s Eve was believed to be one of the great fairy festivals [4] when fairies are abroad, moving amongst human kind, frolicking around the Midsummer bonfires and playing all sorts of tricks ranging from stealing human brides and performing innocent pranks to inflicting horrible curses and even death. [5] In the Shetlands, the mysterious selkies come ashore. They normally look like grey seals but on this night they shed their skins to become human and dance on the shoreline. If they are disturbed they will grab their skins and run back to the sea, though if a man can steal and hide the skin he can force a selkie maid to marry him, but if she ever finds her skin she will put it on and be off back to the sea. In Russia, the green-haired Rusalka fairies walk the land at Midsummer, and where they tread, flowers appear, and when they move through the grain it causes it to grow. The mischievous Robin Goodfellow or Puck is about in English woodland, playing tricks on unwary travellers and leading them from their paths. Certainly we had a strange experience in the coven one solstice, when we turned away from the circle and couldn’t find our way back, even though it was only a few yards away and knew the woods intimately. Eventually, after walking a just few paces, we found ourselves at the other side of the woods, at least a mile away, so I do believe it happens!

According to fairy lore, if you want to see fairies then you will need the aid of certain magical herbs such as thyme. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon tells Puck “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows/ Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,” because at midnight on Midsummer’s night the King of the Fairies dances with his followers on wild thyme beds. It was an ingredient of many magical potions, dating from around 1600, which allowed the user to see fairies. One simple charm was to make a brew of wild thyme tops gathered near the side of a fairy hill plus grass from a fairy throne. It was also an ingredient of the fairy ointment which was applied to the eyes of new-born fairy babies to enable them to see the invisible. Like other fairy flowers, wild thyme is unlucky if brought indoors. It is one of the best herbs used to attract and work with the fairy wildfolk, in offerings, incense and spells.

Midsummer Fairy Ritual

Prepare a garland of lavender flowers, rosemary, violets and thyme sprigs, all of which you must pick yourself. Go to a fairy haunted place at dawn, taking with you a bottle of home-made wine, a cup, some cakes that you have made yourself, and a garland of flowers.

Put on the garland. Say:

Spirits of this place I call to you. Spirits of this place I honour you. Attend me now and witness my intentions.

Pour some of the wine into the cup. Pour a few drops on the ground saying:

Spirits of this place, I make this offering to you.

 Drink some of the wine.

Take the cakes, and crumble one onto the ground saying:

Spirits of this place, I make this offering to you.

Eat one of the cakes. Say:

Spirits of this place draw near and listen to my words. I come to honour you, to pledge to you that I shall honour the sacred Earth on which we both live; I shall not pollute or harm it.  I shall honour the wild places and hold sacred the creatures of the Earth, my brothers and sisters of fur and fin, of leaf and bark. I shall hold sacred the cycles of the seasons and be part of the dance of the Earth.

 Like you, spirits of this place, I shall be brave and compassionate, humble and honourable, taking no more than I need, and treading softly on the Earth. I shall be wild, I shall be free.

 Test my words, and if you find them truthful, spoken from my heart, then accept me as your friend. If you find them false then treat me accordingly.

 Sit quietly for a while and listen to the world around you. You may see evidence of spirit presence, hear voices in the trees, or whispering in the wind.

When you are ready to leave, get up and leave the rest of the cakes, pour the wine onto the ground and say:

Spirits of this place, you have listened to my words and weighed my intentions. I go now, but I shall hold you in my heart. Spirits of this place, hail and farewell.

It is important to build up a relationship with the place that you work, and the spirits that inhabit it, over a period of time. It would be foolish to descend on a spot and demand its energies: it takes a long time for the spirits to get to know you and trust you. You should carry out most of your magical work in the same place. Over the years, it will become more and more powerful, and you will gain the trust of its spirits.

Text © Anna Franklin, adapted from Midsummer (Anna Franklin, Lear Books), The Hearth Witch’s Ritual Year (Anna Franklin, forthcoming, Llewellyn), Working With Fairies Anna Franklin, Career Press)

Illustration by Paul Mason, © Fairy Ring Oracle by Anna Franklin and Paul Mason, Llewellyn

 

[1] Phillipe Walter, Christianity, the Origins of a Pagan Religion, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 2003

[2] John Williamson, The Oak King, the Holly King and the Unicorn, Harper and Row, New York, 1986

[3] R.L.Tongue, Somerset Folklore, Folklore Society, 1965

[4] According to the folklore, good fairies start to come out around the vernal equinox, are very animated by Beltane, and at the peak of their activities by Midsummer. By Halloween, most of the good fairies have disappeared from sight and the bad fairies, such as goblins, rule the winter period.

[5] W.B.Yeats, Folk and Fairy Tales of the Irish Peasantry, 1888

Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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