A Midsummer Night’s Lore
by Melanie Fire Salamander
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 nabulated 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.
Midsummer, 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 them 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.
Magick 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. Johnswort, 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. A pagan gardener might consider cultivating some or all of these; it’s not too late to buy at herb-oriented nurseries, the Herbfarm outside Fall City the chief of these and a wonderful place to visit, if a tad pricey. 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.
Some 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, 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? Probably not.
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.
Gods and Goddesses
Gods and goddesses: All father gods and mother goddesses, pregnant goddesses and Sun deities. Particular emphasis might be placed on the goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar and Venus and other goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include the goddesses Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis and Juno and the gods Apollo, Ares, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak/Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus and Thor.
Sage, mint, basil, fennel, chive, chervil, tarragon, parsley, rosemary,thyme, hyssop, honeysuckle, red heather, white heather, rue, sunflower, lavender, fern, mistletoe, St. John’s Wort, mugwort, vervain, meadowsweet, heartsease, feverfew, iris, rowan, oak, fir, pine, aniseed, hazelnut.
Ruby, garnet, diamond, seashell, Herkimer diamond, clear quartz crystal, amber, citrine, cat’s-eye, yellow topaz, yellow tourmaline, gold, silver, peridot, carnelian, calcite
Midsummer Incense #1:
Recipe by Scott Cunningham
2 parts Sandalwood
1 part mugwort
1 part Chamomile
1 part Gardenia Petals
a few drops Rose Oil
a few drops Lavender Oil
a few drops Yarrow Oil
Burn at Wiccan rituals at the Summer Solstice (circa June 21st) or at that time to attune with the seasons and the Sun.
Midsummer Incense #2:
Recipe by Scott Cunningham
3 parts Frankincense
2 parts Benzoin
1 part Dragon’s Blood
1 part Thyme
1 part rosemary
1 pinch Vervain
a few drops Red Wine
Recipe by Jan Brodie
1 lb. Mixed Red Soft Fruits
4 oz. Sugar
Enough White Bread to line a Pudding Basin
Whipped Cream for serving
Trim the crusts off the bread and line the pudding basin with it, cutting a circle for the base. Ensure that the basin is lined without any gaps. Cook the fruits and sugar, without adding extra water, for a few minutes until the juices run. Drain the fruits and retain the juices. Fill the lined bowl with fruit and place a circle of bread on top, enclosing the fruit. Then put a plate on top held down with a weight on top. Place in fridge overnight. When ready to serve, turn out onto a plate and pour the reserved juices over the top. Serve with whipped cream. (The above recipe for “Summer Pudding” is from Jan Brodie’s book “Earth Dance: A Year of Pagan Rituals”, page 98-99, Capall Bann Publishing, 1995)
Recipe by Gerina Dunwich
3/4 cup Softened Butter
2 cups Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 teaspoons Grated Lemon Rind
2 cups Flour
1 cup Finely Chopped Pecans
Cream the butter in a large cast-iron cauldron (or mixing bowl). Gradually add the brown sugar, beating well. Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rind, and then beat by hand or with an electric mixer until the mixture is well blended. The next step is to stir in the flour and pecans. Cover the cauldron with a lid, aluminum foil, or plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
When ready, shape the dough into one-inch balls and place them about three inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Bake in a 375-degree preheated oven for approximately eight minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks until completely cool. This recipe yields about 36 cookies which can be served at any of the eight Sabbats, as well as at Esbats and all other Witchy get-togethers.
(The above recipe for “Cauldron Cookies” is quoted directly from Gerina Dunwich’s book “The Wicca Spellbook: A Witch’s Collection of Wiccan Spells, Potions and Recipes”, page 167, A Citadel Press Book, Carol Publishing Group, 1994/1995)
Activities for Litha
* Tie a sprig of rowan, a sprig of rue, and three flowers of St. John’s Wort with red thread and hang over the door.
* Make amulets (simple charms) of protection out of herbs such as rue and rowan. If you make new amulets each year you can dispose of the old in the midsummer fire.
* Create a pouch for psychic dreams (mugwort and bay leaves in a cloth of lavender, blue, or yellow and sewn with red thread) and place under your pillow.
* Make a Solar Wheel as a terific family project – everyone can make one for their bedroom. Wind palm or grape vine into a circle, twisting as you go. Cut two short lengths of stem to be just a bit larger than the diaameter of the circle and place one across the back horizontally and the other vertically crossing in back on the horizontal one and coming forward to the front of the circle to secure both, then adorn with symbols of the elementals (stone, feathers, ashes in a pouch, or a small candle, and a shell) and festoon
with green and yellow ribbons. Hang in a tree outside or indoors at a reminder of the God’s protection.
* Make a Witch’s Ladder (another fun family project) using three colored yarns (red, black, and white for the Triple Goddess) braided together to be three feet long. Add nine feathers all the same color for a specific charm (such as green for money) or various colors for a more diverse charm, tie ends and hang up. Colors are red for vitality, blue for peace and protection, yellow for alertness and cheer, green for prosperity, brown for stability, black for wisdom, black and white for balance, patterned for clairvoyance, and iridescent for insight.
* Make a rue protection pouch out of white cotton. Add two or three sprigs of rue, bits of whole grain wheat bread, a pinch of salt, and two star anise seeds and hang indoors (can do one for each bedroom).
* Tie vervain, rosemary, and hyssop with white thread and dip the tips into a bowl of spring water (you can buy bottled spring water in grocery stores) and sprinkle the water about the house to chase out negativity, or sprinkle your tools to cleanse and purify.
* Soak thyme in olive oil, then lightly anoint your eyelids to see faery folk at night
* Tie a bunch of fennel with red ribbons and hang over the door for long life and protection of the home.
* Look for the faery folk under an elder tree, but don’t eat their food or you’ll have to remain with them for seven years! (Which could be a lot of fun, but will seriously wreck any plans you may have made!)
* Think of warm summer days and sunny cloudless sky.
* Candles: blue, yellow-gold candle to represent the sun. Orange, gold, green
* Oils: violet, rose, orange, lime, thyme, citronella
* Altar cloth: red or gold
Faery magick, protection, purification, love/sex spells. Fire magick. Animal blessings or magick. A good time for scrying and divination. Traditionally the Great Rite, symbolic or actual, is enacted.