Monday, 15 June 2009

SUMMER SOLSTICE AND MIDSUMMER DAY


(21st June & 24th June)

In farming communities the summer was a time of hard work and toil to reap the benefits of the growing season. Long hours of work would be needed to weed and hoe all the crops. The sheep would have been sheared and the women would be busy spinning the wool. In England, after sundown, large bonfires would be lit on Midsummer Eve, which would provide light to the revellers and ward off evil spirits. Similar to the traditions at Beltaine people often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and the people carried their own little lanterns as they wandered from one bonfire to another. Lighting the bonfires was known as ‘setting the watch’ while the wandering bands were called a ‘marching watch’. Often Morris dancers and other traditional players joined them.

The summer solstice is the high point of the sun when he is at his strongest, but it is also the day when he begins to weaken. Once again the year has turned and the great wheel goes on. The Druids would worship in their oak groves and the Old Ones would meet at the ancient monument at Avebury, in Wiltshire, the great sun temple of old.

At dawn the sun can be greeted from a hill facing east. Now the best of the summer will follow and we ask that the sun will bless the crops and give us a good harvest.

Summer Solstice was another excuse to deck the halls (although mainly over the front doors) with boughs of greenery. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain and trefoil.

This was an important time for the faery folk who especially liked to go a riddling. Remember to wear your jacket inside out if you venture out on this fine summer night. If you get lost seek out one of the ‘ley lines’, the old straight tracks, until you get home. This will keep you safe, as will crossing a stream of living (running) water.


Puck. How now, spirit! whither wander you?
Fairy. Over hill over dale,
Through bush, through briar,
Over park, over pale,
Through flood, through fire,
I do wander every where,
Swifter than the moon√ęs sphere:
And I serve the Fairy Queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be,
In their gold coats spots you see:
Those be rubies, fairy favours:
In those freckles live their savours.
I must go seek some dewdrops here,
And hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits: I’ll be gone-
Our queen and all her elves come here anon.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
from ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ Cambridge University Press

This is the time of year to be out of doors, enjoying the sunshine (if it’s not a cold summer), the time for barbecues and beach parties. My friend Ruth celebrates this time of year by inviting friends round to a garden party. They have a beautiful garden and bring the food that she has prepared and the contributions from friends onto outdoor tables. Each year the guests try to outdo each other with sumptuous puddings and sweets. She prepares a Pimms cocktail in a large glass bowl and a fruit cocktail for those who don’t want alcohol. The tables overflow with strawberries and cream, salads and fresh fruit. The children all meet up and play together in the sunshine and as Ruth is lucky enough to live near a beach they can enjoy the beauty of a walk by the sea and give thanks for the energy and warmth of the sun and the power and life force of the water.

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