Summer Solstice

Hark! hark! The lark at heaven’s gate sings, And Phoebus ‘gins arise, His steeds to water at those springs On chalic’d flowers that lies; And winking Mary-buds begin To ope their golden eyes; With everything that pretty is, My lady sweet, arise: Arise, arise. Cloten Scene III Cymberline

Arise, O Sun!
Let the Darkness of Night
Fade before the beams of your glorious Radiance

Midsummer, astronomically is here, and summer has started. Meteorologically speaking it has been here since the beginning of June. In Christian London celebrations were at their height on the Church’s Midsummer’s Day, 24th June, on the Vigil and Day of St John the Baptist (23rd, 24th June). Stow points the way:

‘every mans doore being shadowed with greene Birch, long Fennel, Saint John wort, Orpin, white Lillies, and such like, garnished upon with Garlands of beautiful flowers, had also Lampes of glasse, with oyle burning in them all the night, some hung out braunches of yron curiously wrought, contayning hundreds of Lampes, light at once, which made a goodly shew, namely in new Fishstreet, Thames Streets, &c’

Survey of London, John Stow

Bonfires from the night before were smouldering, where the ‘wealthier sort’ set out tables, furnished with ‘sweete beade and drinks plentifully’ where ordinary people could rub shoulders with the rich and ‘be merrie with them in great familiaritie’. There were large processions of ‘Captains, Lieutenants, Sergeants, Corporals, &c Wilfers, Drummers, and Fifes, ….Ensign bearers, Sword Players, Trumpeters on horseback, … Gunners, …. Archers, …Pike Men, ….Pageants, and, poor people in straw hats holding cresset lamps to make a show in exchange for a wage. All accompanying the Lord Mayor, Sheriffs each with their own Giants, Henchmen and Pageants from the Little Conduit in Cheape to Aldgate, and back via Fenchurch Street.

Midsummer was a mix of May Day, Halloween and a street festival with ‘Robin Hood games’, bale fires, the ‘summer pole’ dancing, merriment and pervading sense of he uncanny.

Midsummer’s Evening – June 20th?

A gentle reminder – Facebook post.

Midsummer Solstice is the 21st of June so today is Midsummer Eve, but the Church hijacked Midsummer’s Day in the early medieval period and transferred it to June 24th St John the Baptist’s Day, so on the Christian reckoning Midsummer’s Eve is on the 23rd June. St John was born 6 months before Jesus, hence the June 24th date.

The Eve is so important because the Celts began their day at Dusk, so Midsummer’s Day begins at Dust today, which is at 22:09 in London where I am writing. In fact in 31 minutes.

Midsummer is a fire festival, dedicated to Belinus. His main festival is Beltane, May Day, but many of the attributes of May celebrations and indeed Halloween celebrations are also carried out in Midsummer. His name might mean Powerful One or Shining One, and he is linked to Apollo, one of the Greco Roman Sun Gods.

John Aubrey in the 17th Century writes:

‘Still in many places on St john’s Night they make Fires on the Hills: but the Civil Warres coming on have putt all these Rites or customes quite out of fashion.’

John Aubrey, Miscellanies, 1695

Like May Fires, the fire should be made from wood donated from all farms in the area, and using a range of trees, ideally collected by 9 men and from 9 different trees. Blazing branches should be carried sunwise around the fields to bless the crops, and it was good luck to jump over the ashes of the fire.

To prepare for Midsummer’s Eve remember that it is, like Halloween, an uncanny night when Hobgoblins, Fairies and Sprites, are, like in Midsummer’s Nights Dream, all abroad making mischief.

First in your line of defence is St John’s Wort, known as Chasse-diable, Demon Chaser, Fuga Daemonum amongst many other appellations it could be used to keep demons away, and to exorcise haunted houses. John Aubrey in Miscellanies talks about a haunted London house which was cured by a Doctor who put St John’s Wort under the pillow of the bed at night. Bankes Herbel 1525 says:

‘The virtue of St John’s Wort is thus. If it be put in a man’s house, there shall come no wicked sprite therein.’

Vervain, yarrow, corn marigold, and orpins were also used often woven into garlands, and hung around the necks of cows, or on door lintels as protection. If the St John’s Wort withered the picker was to die or at least endure disappointment. If orpins entwined themselves on Midsummer’s Night, marriage would follow.

A girl seeking love should walk around the Church seven or twelve times (accounts vary!) at midnight scattering hempseed, and singing:

Hempseed I sow
Hempseed I hoe
Let him that is my true love
Come after me and mow

In the SW of England there was a custom to watch the church porch on Midsummer Evening, when the spirits of all the living people of the village could be seen entering the church. Those not seen coming out again would surely die as would the watcher who fell asleep.

Orpine, (Sedum Telephium) aka Live Long, Life Everlasting was valued for the length of time it remained fresh after being gathered. Medicinally it is good outwardly to cool scaldings, inflammations and wounds.

Sedum_telephium by Bernd Haynold wikipedia

St John’s Wort is known for helping with depression, menopausal symptoms, ADHD, anxiety and other conditions.

St John’s Wort Photo by Lex Melony on Unsplash

Thanks to the ‘Customs and Ceremonies of Britain’ by Charles Kightly.

Druids at All Hallows, by the Tower

Summer Solstice Walk, 21st June 2022.

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