Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Summer Solstice, Midsummer Day, St John's Day, All-Couples Day, Litha, Gathering Day, Thing-Tide,

In times before we had central heating, indoor plumbing, and self-tanning creams, summer was a joyous time of the year. Especially for people (like the majority of my ancestors) who lived in the northern climes. The snow had disappeared, (or it had stopped raining) the ground had thawed out, (or it had stopped raining) flowers were blooming; (and it was just raining a little bit, enough to make them pretty.)

Although many months of warm/hot weather remained before the fall, they noticed that the days were beginning to shorten, so that the return of the cold season was inevitable. So, as early as people could calculate the shortest night, they celebrated the sun and solstice.

When I think of these celebrations I think of nature, the woods and faeries, of love and magic. Like most pagan festivals, the night celebrations of summer solstice are lit with bonfires.

Summer Solstice

Solstice is derived from the ancient Latin word "solstitium" meaning "sun" and "to cause to stand still." Each year the rays of the sun directly strike one of the two tropical latitude lines marking a "solstice." When it happens in June, it marks the beginning of summer for the Northern Hemisphere, but the beginning of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. The exact moment happens this will happen this year (2006) June 21, at 8:26 a.m. EDT.

  • Traditionally, you are supposed to stay up to midnight on the night before Solstice, the 20th, to welcome the day of sunlight, and then the night of Solstice burn fires to say good-bye to the sun.
  • If you don't want to burn bonfires, you can just burn herbs at midnight to appease Odin.
Midsummer Day

Why did Shakespeare call it Midsummer if it's the just around the first day of summer? Because it is about roughly the middle of the growing season throughout much of Northern Europe. The people who created Stonehenge and Machu Picchu were very aware of the sun and the seasons, and they celebrated accordingly. But then the Christians came along and messed it all up, considering these celebrations pagan. So, just like the winter celebrations got moved from December 21st to the 25th, the June celebrations got moved from the 21st to the 23th. I don't know how technical you want to get with when you want to celebrate Midsummer. I guess anywhere from Solstice Day (June 21st) through Midsummer (June 23rd).
  • Midsummer is a traditional bathing time. If you haven't taken your yearly bath, do so now.
  • Also, wash all your linen, beat all your rugs, and make everything fresh so that no bad spirit will want to linger in your home as the days grow darker.
  • Dew gathered on Midsummer's Night can heal sicknesses.
  • Likewise, leaves gathered on Midsummer's Night and used as bandages relieve pain.
  • Midsummer is supposed to be a favorable time to find a love-mate. If you know who you want, and you need to make them want you, you are supposed to roll around on their property naked in the light of the midsummer moon. (I am not responsible for the consequences.)
  • Or 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.
  • If you don't know who you want, if you place wildflowers under your pillows on Midsummer Eve you will dream of your future mate. Some traditions say you must gather nine flowers, some say you must gather them in silence, and some say that one of the flowers must be gathered from a churchyard.
  • Also, on Midsummer's Eve a single woman could write the letters of the alphabet on pieces of paper. Then she must place them face down in water. On Midsummer's morning her true love's initial should be facing up. I think that this tradition could be unisex.
  • But, all you guys out there, you must crawl under a blackberry bush on Midsummer's Day to catch a glimpse of your future mate's shadow. I am not sure how a glimpse of a shadow will help much, but then, dreams and initials don't help all that much either.
St John's Day

St. John's Day is the name that the Catholic Church gave to the Midsummer celebration. St. John's Day is most strongly celebrated in the Baltic states of Estonia,Latvia, and Lithuania Stuffed Leg of Pork and Apple Pie are what are traditionally eaten on St. John's Day. (I, however, don't believe this "tradition" because apples are not ripe until Early August at the soonest. Strawberries would be a much better fruit to celebrate the coming months, but not strawberry pie, because cooked stawberries are gross.)

Anyway, St. John's Wort is blooming all over the place right now, that is if St. John's Wort grows naturally where you live. St. John's Wort used to be called "chase-devil", "Klamath Weed," or "Goat Weed," but the name was changed to enhance and support the celebration of "St John's Day. People would weave the flowers into garlands and accessories, to decorate their houses, themselves, and farm animals. They believed that the herb could shield them from the power of evil spirits. They also would use the flowers for divination, but I don't know how. Something about throwing a wreath into the water and how far the water carries it tells you something.

Litha, Gathering Day, and Thing-Tide are other names for this summer-happy-that-there-is-sun celebration.

Happy Summering!

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