Nowadays the Summer Solstice has superseded Midsummer’s Eve and Day for celebration, however in folklore traditions and records tell us this was not the case in our past. The 23rd June is Celtic Midsummer’s Eve and the Eve of St.John’s Day which marked the sun at its highest point in the northern hemisphere. Large tar or pitch covered sun-wheels were made and set alight to be rolled down hills, chains of bonfires were lit and divination activities took place. In Cornwall a revival of Gol-Jowan (St. John’s Eve) bonfires began in 1929 led by Old Cornwall Societies who have continued to light a chain of bonfires across the county on this auspicious evening.
The June sun brings out butterflies and dragonflies, the cuckoo can be heard making its last calls. It was considered very bad luck to hear a cuckoo on or after Midsummer’s Day, although as the cuckoo’s numbers have declined it may now be a time to rejoice.
Moon daisies, clover, rattle, foxgloves and fern adorn any spare patch not caring if the soil is poor and trees now in full leaf bow heavily when summer gusts blow. Beautiful Spotted Orchids are now more prevalent as more fields are left to wild.
However the flower of the month has to be St. John’s Wort which was known for both healing, protection and magickal uses. If collected on Midsummer’s Eve it was believed to be at its most potent as it is the eve of the feast day of its namesake St.John the Baptist. It was thrown into Midsummer bonfires which in Cornwall are known as Tansys Golowan fires. Other plants thrown onto the bonfires are sage, valerian and oak to guard against evil and bramble, dock and cinquefoil that suppressed malign influences. The plants are traditionally tied by ribbons in symbolic colours. White for strength, green for wisdom, blue for love, red for sacrifice and yellow for the sun. The ashes from these fires were considered as a protectorate and as lucky and often people would take some home and sprinkle them on their threshold.
Bracken or fern is also potent at this time of the year.
" On Midsummer Eve, when it wants a little of midnight, spread your smock where the bracken grows. for this is the night of the flowering of the brake, that beareth a blue flower on the stroke of midnight....but is withered afore morning...Come you again about the time of the first bird-call. If aught is in the smock, take it; it is the dust of the flower. Sleep above it, and he you dream of is your lover. This is a sure charm, and cannot be broke."
Extract taken from wonderful Shropshire author and folklorist Mary Webb’s novel ‘Gone to Earth’ written in 1917 provided by Liz Stamps of the Mary Webb Society.
It was also believed that the seeds dropped by the fern on that night if collected and carried rendered invisibility.
The sun has reached its zenith and from now will slowly decline. Although July and August are often our hottest months our daylight will gradually begin to dwindle. We are witnessing a change, a part of our ever moving seasonal cycle. It can often be a good time to take stock if any changes are needed in your life and if we are at our zenith of what we can do and perhaps recognise that we need to let a few things go. It’s good to have reached our full potential and to recognise if we have but equally a bit like our gardens it can all go a bit mad if we don’t keep on top of the deadheading and pruning which lead not to flowering stopping but encourages new fresh growth as the plant has time to restore itself. Nature can teach us a lot about how we best to lead our lives.
For some the knowledge that we are turning towards the darker half of the year can be quite distressing, even if this is a slow process and not noticing for a few months. I hunk the saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’ is a good one for this as we can at least enjoy the light and warmth we have now and try to apply a mindfulness approach of looking at the now rather than the what’s time come. By Autumn, which is all about preparation, we can start to do things that will help us get through the shorter daylight but for now wear bright colours, eat bright colours food, be outdoors as much as possible and do things that make you happy. I love making mandalas out of dropped petals as a meditation and then gathering them all up and saving them for pot-pourri.
Sadly the weather has turned here for todays honouring of the sun and we will be more likely to be honouring the rain ! However as always we will mark the day. We have travelled to Penzance to enjoy the midsummer festivities taking place and to gather images and folklore first hand. There will be fireworks in the harbour, the serpent dance and we are hoping to catch sight of Penglaz the Penzance ‘obby oss’. Mazey day and Quay day take place on Saturday and Sunday respectively with parades so we are hoping the sun will make an appearance after all the hard work of community groups and organisers and for all the people these celebrations attract.
We wish you a happy midsummer and hope you get to mark the day and honour our sun in some small way as a way of keeping our traditions alive.