The young maid stole through the cottage door,
And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow’r; —
“Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light,
I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight,
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
If the coming year shall make me a bride.”
— Old German St. John’s Eve divination spell
Today is St. John’s Eve in many old traditions. Well, that is the Christianized version of it, but actually, it is the fixed date for the celebration of Solstice Eve in many countries. Historian Mike Nichols has written that St. John the Baptist was considered to be somewhat of a Pagan figure. He is usually described as somewhat of a wild, but holy man, living as an ascetic and close to Nature. In fact, religious art often depicts him with the cloven-hoofed lower body of a satyr, and sometimes he even appears to have horns. In fact, he may seem a thinly veiled form of Pan that has been co-opted by the Church.
These descriptions, coupled with the fact that St. John was also sometimes even known as the Oak King, portray him as being more of a Jack-in-the-Green figure, than the traditional sort of Christian saint. You could even interpret his story to be that he offered the energy of the Earth and the Wild to initiate the young sun God by Water and Spirit, and thus brought him into his power. John then was sacrificed to Salome, who could be viewed as a fire Goddess figure.
Other midsummer lore surrounds St John. He is the patron of shepherds and beekeepers. Waverly FitzGerald notes, “This is a time to acknowledge those wild things which man culls but cannot tame, like the sheep and bees.” Next week’s Full Moon is called the Mead Moon, since the hives are now full of honey, which is fermented to make the ancient brew called mead. In fact, this is source of the term “honeymoon.”
Of course, the plant named for him, St. John’s wort, is one of the most magical herbal allies in the Witch’s garden. Hypericum punctatum and H. ellipticum are North American varieties, while Hypericum perforatum is the Old World species. By St. John’s Eve, all three are likely to be in bloom, with their sunny yellow flowers bearing five petals
In fact, because of its bright yellow color, it was often associated with the Sun and was often used for many kinds of divination, including determining one’s life expectancy and even the discovery of one’s matrimonial fate. To predict their chances for marital bliss, young girls would pick a sprig of the sunny flowers on St. John’s Eve. If they were still fresh in the morning, their chances were good, but if wilted, a dismal outcome was likely.
A “wort” is a medicinal plant, and St. John’s wort is a powerful one indeed. It has been used for centuries to heal wounds, remedy kidney troubles, and alleviate nervous disorders, even insanity. And recent research supports the ancient uses of St. John’s wort as a modern protector against depression and virus infection–two modern demons in their own right.
Tonight, you should hang St. John’s wort above your doors and windows to bring blessings and protection upon your house, and any that you harvest tomorrow at noon will be especially potent for your spells and medicines in the days ahead.