Litha - Midsummer's Eve

This is the eve of St. John's Day, which replaced the more ancient celebrations on Summer Solstice with a Saint's Day. In a Victorian book of spells and incantations, I found this divination which is supposed to be performed on Midsummer's Eve, around sunset. An odd number of women (three, five or seven) go into a garden and each picks a sprig of red sage. They put these into a basin of rosewater setting on a stool in the middle of a room they have set aside for this purpose. Then they tie a line from the stool to the wall and each woman takes off her shift and hangs it, inside out, on the line. I assume this leaves them naked. Then they sit, silently (no matter what happens), in a row on the other side of the stool. Around midnight, each one's future mate will take her sprig out of the water and sprinkle her shift with it.

Cagliostro, attributed to, Spells and Incantations of Yesteryear, from an earlier edition by J Fletcher & Company, 1876, reprinted by Metheglin Press.

Midsummer's Eve is also called St John's Eve. The official version says that St John was assigned this feast because he was born six months before Christ (who gets the other great solar festival, the winter solstice). Actually it may have more to do with the story of St John losing his head to Salome. In ancient times, a ritual sacrifice was made to the goddess of midsummer.

Other midsummer symbols also accumulate around St John. He's the patron of shepherds and beekeepers. This is a time to acknowledge those wild things which man culls but cannot tame, like the sheep and bees. The full moon which occurs in June is sometimes called the Mead Moon. The hives are full of honey. In ancient times, the honey was fermented and made into mead. According to Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Year, this is the derivation of honeymoon.

This is a traditional time for honoring water, perhaps because it plays such a vital role in maintaining life while the sun is blazing overhead. Several of the goddesses worshipped at midsummer - Matuta, Anahita and Kupala - are associated with moisture and dampness. St John baptized with water while Christ baptizes with fire and the Holy Spirit. In Mexico, St John presides over all waters. People dress wells and fountains with flowers, candles and paper festoons. They go out and bathe at midnight in the nearest body of water. In the city, they celebrate at the bathhouse or pool with diving and swimming contests.

Herbs and Lovers

Midsummer Eve is also known as Herb Evening. This is the most potent night (and midnight the most potent time) for gathering magical herbs, particularly St John's wort, vervain, mugwort, mistletoe, ivy and fern seed. In some legends, a special plant, which is guarded by demons, flowers only on this one night a year. Successfully picking it gives one magical powers, like being able to understand the language of the trees.

This is also a time for lovers. An old Swedish proverb says "Midsummer Night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking." According to Dorothy Gladys Spicer in The Book of Festivals, Irish girls drop melted lead into water and interpret the shapes it makes. In Spain, girls do the same with eggs. In Poland, they combine three of the symbols of the holiday for a divination. Girls make a wreath of wild flowers, put a candle in the middle, set it adrift on the river and tell the future by observing its fate.


This is a great festival to celebrate outdoors. Go camping. Go out into the woods or up into the mountains or down to the beach. Find some place where you can build a bonfire and light it when the sun sets. Bring along plenty of flowers (especially roses or yellow flowers like calendulas, St John's wort, or marigolds). Fashion them into wreaths, wear them as you dance around the fire and throw them into the fire at the end of the night. Bring along sparklers too (but use them carefully). Indoors, use whatever symbols represent light and warmth to you: golden discs, sunflowers, shiny metal trays, chili pepper lights.

Gather magical and healing herbs at night on June 23. Hang St John's wort over your doors and windows for protection; toss some on the fire as well. Harvest your garden herbs now so they will be extra potent.

To acknowledge the gift of water in your everyday life, decorate the faucets in your house. Z Budapest in The Grandmother of Time suggests walking to the nearest body of water, making a wish and then throwing in a rose you have kissed to carry your wish home. She provides the following wishing poem:

Yes, you are here in the soft buzzing grass.
Yes, you are listening among the flowering gardens.
Yes, you are shining from the most royal blue sky.
Yes, you are granting me what I wish tonight.
Grant me a healthy life rich with high purpose,
A true partner to share my joys and my tears,
Wisdom to hear your voice giving me guidance,
Wealth to give to others as you have given to me.

Honoring Your Strength

The sun is associated with will, vitality, accomplishment, victory and fame. As you throw your flowers into the fire, acknowledge your accomplishments. Write about these at length in your journal, perhaps while sipping a cup of tea sweetened with honey, or gather your friends in a circle and go around several times with each person boasting about their strengths. Assign a different topic for each round, for instance, aspirations, courage, achievement, competence. Toast each other (with mead, if you can find it). This is your night to shine. Source: School of the Seasons.

Britain: Traditional Midsummer. Although Midsummer is celebrated by most Pagans worldwide on the eve and day of the actual Solstice, Britain traditionally celebrates on June 23rd. The Neo-Pagan holiday has been dedicated to the Green Man. The day also commemorates Cu Chulainn, a legendary Irish hero.

Asatru: Sommerblot. The Midsummer Festival is a century-old tradition in Scandinavia, celebrating the earth, summer, and the longest day of sunlight -- the Summer Solstice. In the North it is the time of the midnight sun. As with most Old World celebrations, Christianity has influenced some of the traditions. The festival now honors St. John the Baptist rather than pagan gods. Huge bonfires are built.

In Finland, the bonfire is called a "kokko". The wood used is collected throughout the year. Homes are decorated with garlands of wildflowers and greenery. People dance, visit friends and relatives all night. In pagan times people would jump over the bonfires for luck,

and rituals and dances were once used to drive away evil spirits and ensure a fertile land. Today, Maypoles are erected and danced around. Huge crosses called "midsommarstoeng" are also built. The branches from birch trees are used to build the structure, and then covered with leaves and flowers. Young girls collect wildflowers and place them under their pillows to dream of their future loves, boys use a copper coin.

Slavic Pagan: Kupala - Kresen (June) 23. In the Old Russian tongue, Kupala means "bather", and the holiday is celebrated in remembrance of the human sacrifices made in olden times to the Master of things Submarine, Jasse, the Dragon. All through the night, people celebrate, sing songs, hike, and tell fortunes. A blot is held near water. In times gone by, fires were lit in preparation for a sacrifice of a young maiden by drowning in the river. Later, human sacrifice was replaced by a doll made of bread (a loaf-doll).

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