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 circumambulated
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.
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 their 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.
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. John’s Wort,
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.
pagan gardener might consider cultivating some or all of
these; it's not too late to buy at herb-oriented nurseries.
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 Wicca that 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.
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 and 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?
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.
and Wagnall's Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology
Rhiannon Ryall's West Country Wicca
Juhan Kahk's Early Modern European Witchcraft:
Centres and Peripheries, edited by Bengt Ankarloo and
Jens Christian V. Johansen's Early Modern European
Jeffrey Burton Russell's Witchcraft in the