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
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the last day of Spring. Go outside and taste the rich fruit that has come of Spring’s blossoming; feel the subtle shift as we reach the crescendo of the Light’s journey that we began at Yule.
For this is Midsummer’s Eve, the night before the Sabbat of Litha (Summer Solstice) and besides Samhain and Beltane, one of the most magical nights of the year.
Dew gathered at Midsummer Eve restores sight. And tonight, those of us who love our herbs will be out at midnight, harvesting the plants that are sacred at this time. For instance, fern, which confers invisibility, was said to bloom at midnight on Midsummer Eve and is best picked then. 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.
In fact, any magical plants plucked on Midsummer Eve at midnight are doubly efficacious and keep better. In particular, St. Johnswort, mullein, wormwood, yarrow, and mistletoe should be gathered either at midnight tonight or noon tomorrow, to use as a charm to protect your house from fire and lightning, your family from disease, negative sorcery and disaster. 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.
In addition, vervain is ideally gathered at Midsummer, as well as burned for offerings. For it is on this day that Pagans in many parts of England celebrate the Day of Cerridwen, the ancient Celtic Goddess of fertility, and Whose most sacred herb is vervain. With green ribbons tied to trees and green candles lit on altars for Her, celebrants burn vervain in their cauldrons and Litha bonfires in Her honor.
And speaking of the Litha fire, this is the one in which you may burn your Yule wreath, as well as any old amulets and charms that you may wish to dispose of (as opposed to re-charging). The timing for this is exceptionally good this year, as we are in the darkest waning Moon, two days away from the New.
There is a great deal of lore regarding how to contact the Faery 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 wood betony (Stachys officinalis, also known as bishopswort), chamomile, either chervil, fennel or lavender, lemon balm, mullein, rue, St. John’s wort, thyme and vervain. (Because wood betony is not readily available for me, I ordinarily am obliged to forgo it, but I have not noticed any reduction in good effect.)
Caution – you should only burn this mixture outdoors with lots of ventilation; and people with sensitivities or women who may be pregnant should avoid this powerful 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 Shining Ones.
However you and your beloveds celebrate this magical night and the Longest Day tomorrow, take your sweet time, and feel the stillness, the mysterious opening that is between rising and falling. We stand on the sacred threshold, as the Light reaches its most intense and powerful.
Let us honor what we have planted, and together bid a fond farewell to Spring.