Summer Solstice & the Celtic Otherworld

by Aine Minogue

While the Solstices were not as important to the ancient Irish as the major fire festivals;

Lughnasadh (August 1), Beltane (May Day, May 1), Imbolc (February 1) and Samhain (Halloween), they were none the less celebrated.

The solstice, much like the fire festivals, was considered a time when the veil between the worlds was thin and lines along which the world of the natural and supernatural might merge. Fairylore is full of creatures that come to life on mid-Summers Eve, and many films, poems and other writings reflect these ideas beautifully. While these themes have been relegated to the world of children, it's hard not to get excited on mid-Summer's Eve, read a few lines from the bard, and go back to a time when the lines of the imagination drew in and out of these realities with great ease.

My strongest mid-Summer association is often with the bard himself. Mind you, the bard seems to have drawn a little inspiration from the otherworld in his "Midsummer Night's Dream."

And as imagination bodies forth?
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen?
Turn them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing?
A local habitation, and a name?

ACT V, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Over time, we've come to view these otherworldly creatures as reflections of our own psyche, a means of taking parts of ourselves, thinking of them symbolically and creating stories around them, in order that we might better understand who we are and what it means to be human. Above all, it enables us to align with the world we live in and for many of us the easiest entrance into that particular castle is through nature itself. Is it any wonder we feel a certain alignment at mid-Summer. The old Irish would have said it was 'our' time. The time of the people. The time to do the business of living. Planting, sewing, reaping, marrying - and for a brief time at mid-Summer wondering what else is out there and what there might be to align with. For this reason, it was known as the 'light half' of the year.

My childhood was full of fairy forts. There's hardly a townland in Ireland without a fort, fairy ring, holy well or some 'place.' Magical places were always thresholds, where rivers met or townlands bounded each other. Magical times were when time met, dawn and dusk. Of couse, no one had to explain this to us back then, we ruled those worlds and happily travelled in and out of them after school each day. Of course they were magic! Such a fuss!

So, here's a simple fairy story, the first one I learned, and the root story of one of the first songs I learned 'De Luain, De Mairt' in celebration of the Summer, the Solstice and the Celtic Imagination!

A Simple Fairy Story

Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived on the edge of the woods. Both were born with a hideous humps on their back.

One day, one of the brothers set out to walk into the village. While passing the fairy fort he heard music. The fairies came out and invited him in. They played wonderful music for him, fed him, played games with him and even took the lump from his back. Delighted, he returned home to tell his brother of his great adventure and good luck.

The next day, his brother set out and also heard music while passing the fairy fort. The fairies invited him in. However, he was not so lucky. They were cruel to him, whipped him and gave him the lump from his brother's back. The poor man went home beaten, disappointed and carrying two humps on his back!

So, is there a moral to this story? I would say - no. Nor will you find a moral in most fairy stories. An interesting thing about fairylore is that it's likely to interweave nicely with whatever it is you believe in the first place. The one thing it clearly does is reflect life. One day you walk down the street and have a great day. For whatever reason, you walk down the next day and all hell breaks loose!