23 June 2008
Fire, Love & Magick
Tonight is Midsummer’s Eve. I have just enough Celtic blood in me to not only know this, but to have anticipated the date for weeks.
Midsummer observances pre-date Christianity in celebrating life, love, and light. It is the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. (Yes, I know that June 24th is no longer the first day of summer, nor the longest day according to our calendars, but that’s because the astronomical solstice changes approximately three days every four centuries. So, while our calendars have been updated, thanks largely to Pope Gregory, the date of the celebration has remained the same.) It has been observed in many ways over the years – pagan and Christian – by many different cultures. My ancestors likely marked the date in the Middle Ages by tending bonfires on the hilltops. During the Renaissance I hope they traveled to (or performed in!) Midsummer Carnivals of music, dance, storytelling, and fireworks.
A 13th Century text explains the three-fold focus of Midsummer: Fire, love, and magick wreathe ‘round this time of year. How true that is, even in 2008.
Perhaps as a writer my imagination is especially vivid, but I lay on the grass at dusk this evening, watching the soft glow of porch lights coming on in the distance, and imagining my grandsires in Ireland and Brittany lighting bonfires that could be seen for miles. When the fires were well-lit, they took brands from the flames and walked with them through their fields to ensure fertility. Likely most of them believed their crops would fail if their Midsummer bonfires did.
Since my garden is doing more poorly than I would like, don’t think I didn’t consider the ancient custom more carefully than I probably ought to. Unfortunately, in the time and place in which I reside, a permit is required for a bonfire. (Not only that, but the heat would have given me pause even if the local ordinance didn’t.) Instead, I bought new a string of patio lights in fiery oranges, reds, and yellows and hung them well within view of my struggling cucumbers and tomatoes. In the gentle breeze, the bulbs seem to sway like the flames of a fire, so I hope it will suffice. If nothing else, the warmth it gives the hearth I hold dear is at least metaphorical if not actual.
As Shakespeare observed, Midsummer has long been very much a time of romance. Perhaps one of my many-great grandsires pledged his troth at a summer bonfire by leaping the flames to claim the hand of the woman he loved. Perhaps a grandmother whose name is lost to me until the millennium placed flowers under her pillow on Midsummer Eve to ensure dreams of her one true love – the man with whom she would continue the posterity that eventually led to dreamy, romantic little me.
It is said that divining rods cut on this night are infallible, that dew gathered on Midsummer morn bestows second sight, and that dreams that come between midnight and the dawn are most likely to come true. My great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother almost certainly believed that a plant plucked at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, or noon on Midsummer’s Day, had twice the aroma, taste, and medicinal power. I suspect there is little scientific data to back this up, but I have been dutifully tending my parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, and lavender nonetheless. No blade has touched their tender stalks. I’ve been waiting patiently to pluck a bit of each tomorrow at mid-day. (True, harvesting by moonlight does seem ever so much more romantic but, alas, I struggle to keep my eyes open after ten.) On Midsummer I will do as I fancy many of my foremothers did before me: gather my homegrown herbs with a prayer of thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth and the loving care of He who created and sanctified it. Truly, there is no greater, or older, magic in the world than this. Then I will preserve the plants carefully with the heartwarming knowledge that they will bless my family in coming months, if only in their tempting taste and soothing scents.
Like many of you, I love any excuse to deviate from modern madness; any reason to read of the past, imagine my progenitors in it, and devise ways to honor them through remembrance. Thus, Midsummer’s Eve is one of my all-time favorite days. (I consider it an added bonus that Hallmark doesn’t yet sell cards to commemorate the occasion!) There is too little love, magic, and fire of Elijah extant in the world, if you ask me. Here’s to rekindling what we can from this Midsummer’s Day forward!
Posted by Kerry Blair at 9:38 PM