No Subject

[ INFO ]
[admin] Petrarca : Welcome to You must be a logged in member to use the live chat feature. Sign up for free now.
[ SHOP ]
SpellsOfMagic now has an online store, offering over 9000 wiccan, pagan and occult items. Check it out.
Waning Crescent Moon
Waning Crescent
13% Full
Forums -> Wicca -> No Subject

No Subject
Post # 1

A Midsummer's Celebration by Mike Nichols

The young maid stole through the cottage door,
And blushed as she sought the Plant of powr;
Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light,
I must gather the mystic St. Johns wort tonight,
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
If the coming year shall make me a bride.
In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year, there are four lesser holidays as well: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four quarter days of the year, and modern Witches call them the four Lesser Sabbats, or the four Low Holidays. The summer solstice is one of them.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the calendar creep of the leap-year cycle, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, and we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer.

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down its main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25, Yule, later adopted by the Christians.

Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24 festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23). This was the date of Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream . Which brings up another point: our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that summer begins on the solstice. According to the old folk calendar, summer begins on May Day and ends on Lammas (August 1), with the summer solstice, midway between the two, marking mid summer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that summer begins on the day when the suns power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.

Although our Pagan ancestors probably preferred June 24 (and indeed most European folk festivals today use this date), the sensibility of modern Witches seems to prefer the actual solstice point, beginning the celebration on its eve, or the sunset immediately preceding the solstice point. Again, it gives modern Pagans a range of dates to choose from with, hopefully, a weekend embedded in it.

Just as the Pagan Midwinter celebration of Yule was adopted by Christians as Christmas (December 25), so too the Pagan Midsummer celebration was adopted by them as the Feast of John the Baptist (June 24). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the Midwinter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the Midsummer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

Although modern Witches often refer to the holiday by the rather generic name of Midsummers Eve, it is more probable that our Pagan ancestors of a few hundred years ago actually used the Christian name for the holiday, St. Johns Eve. This is evident from the wealth of folklore that surrounds the summer solstice (i.e., that it is a night especially sacred to the faerie folk), but which is inevitably ascribed to St. Johns Eve, with no mention of the suns position. It could also be argued that a covens claim to antiquity might be judged by what name it gives the holidays.

(Incidentally, the name Litha for the holiday is a modern usage, possibly based on a Saxon word that means the opposite of Yule. Still, there is little historical justification for its use in this context.) But werent our Pagan ancestors offended by the use of the name of a Christian saint for a pre-Christian holiday?

Well, to begin with, their theological sensibilities may not have been as finely honed as our own. But secondly and more mportantly, St. John himself was often seen as a rather Pagan figure. He was, after all, called the Oak King. His connection to the wilderness (from whence the voice cried out) was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines. Many statues show him as a horned figure (as is also the case with Moses).

Christian iconographers mumble embarrassed explanations about horns of light, while modern Pagans giggle and happily refer to such statues as Pan the Baptist. And to clench matters, many depictions of John actually show him with the lower torso of a satyr, cloven hooves and all! Obviously, this kind of John the Baptist is more properly a Jack in the Green! Also obvious is that behind the medieval conception of St. John lies a distant, shadowy Pagan Deity, perhaps the archetypal Wild Man of the wood, whose face stares down at us through the foliate masks that adorn so much church architecture. Thus, medieval Pagans may have had fewer problems adapting than we might suppose.

In England, it was the ancient custom on St. Johns Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits. This was known as setting the watch. People often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cressets (pivoted lanterns atop poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. These wandering, garland-bedecked bands were called a marching watch. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobbyhorse riders. Just as May Day was a time to renew the boundary of ones own property, so Midsummers Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the city.

Customs surrounding St. Johns Eve are many and varied. At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night. Certain courageous souls might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle of standing stones. To do so would certainly result in either death, madness, or (hopefully) the power of inspiration to become a great poet or bard. (This is, by the way, identical to certain incidents in the first branch of The Mabinogion .) This was also the night when the serpents of the island would roll themselves into a hissing, writhing ball in order to engender the glain, also called the serpents egg, snake stone, or Druids egg. Anyone in possession of this hard glass bubble would wield incredible magical powers. Even Merlyn himself (accompanied by his black dog) went in search of it, according to one ancient Welsh story.

Snakes were not the only creatures active on Midsummers Eve. According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween for its importance to the Wee Folk, who especially enjoyed a ridling on such a fine summers night. In order to see them, you had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids. But be sure to carry a little bit of rue in your pocket, or you might well be pixie-led. Or, failing the rue, you might simply turn your jacket inside out, which should keep you from harms way. But if even this fails, you must seek out one of the ley lines, the old straight tracks, and stay upon it to your destination. This will keep you safe from any malevolent power, as will crossing a stream of living (running) water.

Other customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. Johns wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. Johns wort, vervain, and trefoil. Indeed, Midsummers Eve in Spain is called the Night of the Verbena (Vervain). St. Johns wort was especially honored by young maidens who picked it in the hopes of divining a future lover.

And the glow-worm came
With its silvery flame,
And sparkled and shone
Through the night of St. John,
And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.
There are also many mythical associations with the summer solstice, not the least of which concerns the seasonal life of the God of the sun. Inasmuch as I believe that I have recently discovered certain associations and correspondences not hitherto realized, I have elected to treat this subject in some depth in my 'Death of Llew' essay. Suffice it to say here, that I disagree with the generally accepted idea that the Sun God meets his death at the summer solstice. I believe there is good reason to see the Sun God at his zenithhis peak of poweron this day, and that his death at the hands of his rival would not occur for another quarter of a year. Material drawn from the Welsh mythos seems to support this thesis. In Irish mythology, midsummer is the occasion of the first battle between the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha De Danaan.

Altogether, Midsummer is a favorite holiday for many Witches in that it is so hospitable to outdoor celebrations. The warm summer night seems to invite it. And if the celebrants are not, in fact, skyclad, then you may be fairly certain that the long ritual robes of winter have yielded place to short, tunic-style apparel. As with the longer gowns, tradition dictates that one should wear nothing underneaththe next best thing to skyclad, to be sure. (Incidentally, now you know the real answer to the old Scottish joke, What is worn beneath the kilt?)

The two chief icons of the holiday are the spear (symbol of the Sun God in his glory) and the summer cauldron (symbol of the Goddess in her bounty). The precise meaning of these two symbols, which I believe I have recently discovered, will be explored in the essay on the death of Llew. But it is interesting to note here that modern Witches often use these same symbols in their Midsummer rituals. And one occasionally hears the alternative consecration formula, As the spear is to the male, so the cauldron is to the female. With these mythic associations, it is no wonder that Midsummer is such a joyous and magical occasion!

Document Copyright 1983 - 2009 by Mike Nichols.
Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press.
Website redesign by Bengalhome Internet Services, 2009

Permission is given to re-publish this document only as long as no information is lost or changed, credit is given to the author, and it is provided or used without cost to others.
This notice represents an exception to the copyright notice found in the Acorn Guild Press edition of The Witches' Sabbats and applies only to the text as given above.
Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike Nichols.

Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 2
Interesting; but much of it is wrong! For instance, December 25 was never Yule. That date was adopted by the early Christians at the Nicene Conference.Originally it was the birth date of the Roman God,Mithras.The only bonfires in England in ancient times were at Yule, and April 30, to welcome the Sun and the first day of Flora, Goddess of Spring.
Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
Post # 3

Oh right, I never knew that it was like that before or that this was decided at a conference, thanks for the heads up :)

Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 4

There is also some evidence of bonfires at Samhain and Beltane. Ronald Hutton talks about these in his book "Stations of the Sun; The Ritual Year in Britain".

Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 5
I do think there were bonfires in various parts of Britain at Beltane and Samhane, certainly in the far North,especially in the Scottish Islands. But very few really in England. There were some ceremonial fires, such as old time weddings. (Hand Fasting). But that type of fire was not very large. Even that type of fire has largely died out! (Pardon the pun!). But some villages still have "wedding fires".
Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
Post # 6
"But werent our Pagan ancestors offended by the use of the name of a Christian saint for a pre-Christian holiday?"

I don't know if they were "offended" more than "murdered".

Merry Meet,

So much information, sorry if I didn't get all of it, but from what I read, you might wish to research a bit more. The holidays of Litha and Yule, as well as Ostara and Mabon, are on solstices and equinoxes so they are not on an exact date every year, usually there's a four day window. If it was a specific date, most people I know place it on the 21 of whichever month - December, March, June, September.

Furthermore, Yule itself has a tug of war history between Pagans and Christians. We decorated with evergreens, but bringing a tree indoors was a Christian concept, I believe 1600 in Germany? Can't remember exactly. I understand you're making a point, but I feel we should move on from the "Christians stole from Pagans" mentality.

I do agree with your point on the God does not die on Litha, but only because many feel he dies at Mabon. Lughnasadh I believe is the funeral games for Lugh in Celtic faith, but I don't study it so I'm not 100% on that. I know some see that day, August 1, is when the Lord dies. Litha he begins to grow old, not die, unless you refer to the Oak and Holly Kings. Litha is when the Holly King defeats the Oak King to bring winter.

Interesting read, I quite enjoyed the chants/prayer you included.

Blessed Be.
Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 7

Actually Lughnassad marks the funeral games for Tailtiu, Lugh's mother, not Lugh, in Irish mythology.

Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
Post # 8
Thank you very much Lark. I read somewhere it was the funeral games for someone gods mother, but I could only remember the name Lugh and I wasn't sure if Lugh was the mother or the son.
Login or Signup to reply to this post.

Re: No Subject
By: Moderator / Adept
Post # 9
Christians didn't really "steal" the Pagan feasts. They "adopted" them. You are right about the decorated Christmas tree being first in Germany.But the YUle log is definitely Pagan. To learn more about the Christian "mix" of Roman and early Pagan beliefs the Conference at Nicea, with the emperor Constantine and the early bishops is worth a read.
Login or Signup to reply to this post.


© 2016
All Rights Reserved
This has been an SoM Entertainment Production
For entertainment purposes only