Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon’s 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 our elves come here anon.
— The Fairy, from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Tonight is Midsummer’s Eve, for tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, by astronomical reckoning (as I mentioned previously, it is also a “fixed” holiday in many places, starting at sunset June 23). Also known as the Sabbat of Litha, this is a time when everything is exuberantly alive and the Spirits of Nature are most active. This is when the threshold between the worlds of humans and the Others is wide open and beckons, making it one of the most magical times of the year. It is a night when the faeries are likely to be seen.
In some Western traditions, the faery folk are an ancient race of people who lived in the British Isles long before the Celts or the Anglo-Saxons arrived. They are believed to have descended from the Tuatha de Danann (the tribe of the great Mother Goddess Danu), a magickal race who, in some tales, were said to have flown into Ireland in ships that descended from the clouds. They came from the four great cities of Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias, and brought with them the four Great Treasures: the Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny), the sword of Lugh, a magic spear, and the endlessly abundant Cauldron of the Dagda.
There is a great deal of lore regarding how to contact the Good Folk on Midsummer’s Eve, if that is something you dare to do. For instance, one of my favorite rituals is based on The Greater Key of Solomon, which contains instructions for making an aspergillum using nine holy herbs. Mentioned in a number of old texts, there is some debate about exactly which ones are being referred to. But one Green Witchcraft tradition that I practice suggests a lighting a cauldron fire and sprinkling it with betony wood, chamomile, either fennel or lavender, lemon balm, mullein, rue, St. John’s wort, thyme and vervain.
Caution – you should only burn this mixture outdoors, please; and people with sensitivities or women who may be pregnant should avoid this smoke.
But otherwise, burning these lovely herbs together is one of the most delightful, simple, and truly fae experiences one can conjure! Scrying with the smoke is especially powerful, and in my experience, its magic is very enticing to the Gentry.
It is an old tradition that couples who may have become enchanted with one another at Beltane are given the opportunity to make a more permanent commitment at Litha. They may do so by jumping the bonfire (or a burning cauldron fire) into which the nine blessed herbs have been cast.
Speaking of herbs, Midsummer Eve is also known as Herb Evening. This is the most auspicious time for Druids to harvest mistletoe with their golden sickles. And many Witches pick their herbs and worts tonight, particularly at midnight, as this is the peak of their most numinous and divine essence. For now is the height of fertility and the Sun’s influence, so they will be most powerful for use in spells and making poppets.
In fact, any magical plants plucked on Midsummer Eve at midnight are especially efficacious and even keep better. In addition to mistletoe, St. John’s wort, mullein, wormwood, mugwort, thyme, and yarrow are especially recommended for harvest, either at midnight tonight or noon tomorrow. Always remember to ask the plant’s permission first, never harvest endangered, stressed plants, or the last bit of one, and be sure to give an offering in return.
Dew gathered at Midsummer Eve restores sight. And fern, which confers invisibility, was said to bloom at midnight on Midsummer Eve and is best picked then. Gather the seeds from the female plant to make a salve that can give you the ability to see to the realms of Faery. And the unopened fronds of a male fern should be gently dried over the Midsummer fire and then kept for protection and magic throughout the year.
Last but not least, offer linden, as a gift for the faeries, and hang St John’s wort and fennel over your doors and windows for blessings and protection.