Hand in hand, with Fairy grace,
Will we sing, and bless this place.
Titania, from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Depending on your time zone, we in the Northern Hemisphere have arrived on the cusp of the profound change that is the turning of Spring to Summer.
Solstice translates from Latin words meaning the stopping of the Sun. At this time, the Sun appears to pause, the daylight hours no longer grow, but for just a day or two, neither do they yet begin their slow decrease.
At this time, we stand on the sacred pinnacle, a moment of stillness in the eternal arc of waxing and waning Sunlight.
In the Southern Hemisphere, this is the eve before Yule, their shortest day and longest night that ushers in the Winter season.
For those of us above the equator, the days are now their longest, and our Sun now shines with its most dazzling power. Tomorrow morning (11:54am, Eastern), the Sun enters the sign of Cancer and will have reached the peak of its annual journey north, commencing the Summer season.
At this zenith, the seed of the dark time of year is now planted and will be quickening soon.
As is the case with all the Sabbats, the time for celebration is rarely based on clock time, but on the signs and energies that dance into our awareness from the Mother of perfect timing – our beloved Gaia.
Midsummer’s Eve Magick
As we bid goodbye to Springtime, let us celebrate Midsummer’s Eve, this night before the Sabbat of Litha (Summer Solstice/Alban Hefin/Midsummer)). Besides Samhain and Beltane, this is one of the most magical nights of the year.
There are Midsummer festivals held across the Northern Hemisphere, as it is one of the oldest holidays of humanity.
At the North Pole, the Sun does not set at all, and throughout the northernmost civilizations, feasting, play, and merrymaking are the order of the day.
I suggest that today, before the blessed Spring maiden gives way to the Summer Mother, you 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.
Dew gathered on Midsummer Eve is said to restore sight. And tonight, weather permitting, those of us who love our herbs will be out at midnight, harvesting the plants that are sacred at this time. It’s especially perfect as we are now in the waning of the gibbous Moon.
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.
Just remember: You should never harvest endangered, stressed plants, and always remember to ask the plant’s permission first — which means LISTEN for their answer and honor their requests!
The wise grandmothers also teach that you should never take the first or last plant you find, and always leave a thank you offering in return (a small sprinkling of organic tobacco, ripe compost, or corn flour is appropriate).
Speaking of offerings, vervain is ideally gathered at Midsummer, and can be burned in ceremony for giving thanks. 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.
By the way, the Litha fire is the one in which it is time to 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 magical cleansing, sweeping out, and letting go is, as mentioned regarding harvesting, ideal during this waning Moon.
On the Subject of Faeries
This is a time when nature is exuberantly alive and the Spirits of Nature are most active. Similarly to Beltane, this when the threshold between the worlds of humans and the Shining Ones is wide open and beckons, making it one of the most magical times when our non-human cousins are likely to be seen.
All continents and nations have stories of original people who are not exactly human – predecessors of the tribes who came after. These Old Ones are an ancient race, cousins to humans, but not human.
For instance, the southeastern band of the Cherokee nation, here in North Carolina where I live, knows them as “the immortals,” “the Spirit People,” the “eternal ones,” and “the people who live everywhere, anywhere and forever.
Please be mindful — the Good Folk are not wee, cherubic sprites on gossamer wings flitting about your garden and granting you wishes. They are not Disney characters, nor are they your servants in any way. In most cultures, there are some who are benevolent to humans, some who are neutral, and others who are vengeful and quite dangerous.
In Western traditions, these beings are a mighty, and 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 Dé Danann (the tribe of the 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 four great magickal cities — 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 cauldron of the Dagda. (You might notice how these gifts align with the four Elements).
It was from these cities that the Tuatha Dé Danann had received all their knowledge, skills and magick. Indeed they were said to be unmatched in their knowledge and beauty. Many of the heroes, and even deities of the Irish pantheon are their descendants, as well as the Sidhe (pronounced “Shee”), the people of the hollow hills who are the Faery races of today.
By the way, traditionally, they are not overly fond of being addressed as “Fairies” by any spelling. I do so here so that we may understand one another using the common term.
But out of respect, I would suggest that when speaking about them, you use other terms: The Good Neighbors, the Shining Ones, the Folk, the Sidhe, the Gentry, or the Fair Folk, for instance. Or if you know for certain, you might acknowledge the particular branch of which you are speaking — selkie, brownies, sylphs, the Nunnehi (one of the Cherokee terms), the Welsh Tylwyth Teg, the Duende, the Seelie and Unseelie Court, etc.
The enchanted dimension of Faery has existed side by side with our human one for thousands of years. It is said that there was once a time when our two worlds were one.
But legend tells that our human ancestors became trapped in the physical world. Humans became less and less aware of what was hidden just beyond their materialist, physical sight, and the vision of the Folk became lost to them.
Scrying with the Nine Holy Herbs
There is a great deal of lore regarding how to contact the Sidhe 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 tradition that I practice suggests 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 have at times substituted basil instead, with good effect. However, it can be purchased by mail order and I have found it to be worth the extra effort).
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.
The Solstice Summer Circle
As our Southern Hemisphere friends did for us when we celebrated our annual Winter Solstice Sun Wheel ceremony, I invite all who are now welcoming Summer to join me tonight in lighting candles on a Summer wreath of herbs and flowers. As they honor their longest, darkest night, we join with them in the rites of the Turning Wheel, for it is our turn to be the light-keepers, and support their progress now as the daylight returns to the Lands Down Under. So, we hope, they shall return the favor to us in December.
Fare Thee Well, Spring; Come Thee Now, Summer
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 the rising and falling. We stand on the sacred threshold, as the Light reaches its most intense and powerful.
Let us tend well what we have planted, bless the seeds of new beginnings as the seasons change, and together bid a tender farewell to Lady Spring.
Tomorrow, we shall open our hearts to fair Summer.