By Jane Lyle
Welcome Summer! It begins with the Summer Solstice in June every year. Well, in the Northern Hemisphere – in the South it’s the Winter Solstice. Either way, we always reach an astronomical seasonal turning point between 20th – 22nd June. And for thousands of years such times have been thought of as magical portals and times for rituals and festivals.
The Summer Solstice brings the longest day. And the further north you travel the longer that day becomes, until there’s almost no darkness at all and we can experience the “White Nights” of Scandinavia and the Nordic regions. The Sun is said to “stand still” on this day, beaming down from its highest point in our sky. From this day on, the nights begin to grow longer.
Here on Earth diverse cultures around the world have always celebrated the Sun’s life-giving light and warmth with dances around (and leaping over) ritual bonfires; rolling flaming wheels down hillsides; and floating lighted candles on rivers, lakes, and streams.
Ancient sacred sites - such as mysterious Stonehenge in Wiltshire - are precisely aligned to the solstices and equinoxes. The Sun’s light at dawn illuminates certain places in these sites, marking the four seasons, and times to celebrate. Human beings needed to work closely with nature’s cycles in order to survive, and they knew that after the Solstice the days begin to shorten as harvest time approaches.
At this point we’re half way between planting and harvest – and you can think of that in terms of how you feel about your own goals, projects, and New Year plans too. As the Sun enters that dynamic, emotional sign of Cancer the Crab, it’s a helpful moment to consolidate things or finish up what’s not working out.
The days around June 21st bring a season of fire and water, imagination, love and intuition. And as with all special moments of change in the year, its said to be haunted by ghosts, not-so-sweet fairies, witches and supernatural energies. This uncanny atmosphere lingers on from the Solstice, through Midsummer Eve or St. John’s Eve (23rd June), until Old Midsummer Eve on 4th July. There are many tales of King Arthur appearing, spectral hounds, ancient sacred stones moving all by themselves, and disruptive tricks played by mischievous fairies.
Seeking protection from all these unruly spirits and sprites was once a big part of the whole midsummer season. Special herbs and flowers were woven into garlands to be hung on your front door, and much sweeping and cleaning to keep away negative energies and spiteful supernatural beings. Wise women went out gathering herbs and medicinal plants before dawn on 23rd June, for these were believed to have extra strength and potency.
Elderflowers, marigolds, and lemon verbena are all edible plants sacred to this time of year that we can enjoy today: you could sip some lemon verbena tea, elderflower cordial, or maybe scatter some marigold petals on a salad. In Swedish tradition they’ll be eating the first wild strawberries of summer.
In fact, the whole midsummer month of June is romantic - named after the powerful goddess Juno, Roman goddess of women, marriage, protection, love and fate. Her sacred month of June is still a traditional month for weddings in many places. It’s another reason why love divination, spells and rituals were said to be especially powerful at this time of year.
Rituals for women to discover who would be their true love must have needed nerves of steel. For one, you must walk seven times round a church at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve in a clockwise direction, sowing hempseed. As you walk, you say:
“Hempseed I sow
Hempseed I mow
Let him that is my true love
Come after me and mow.”
If, say the old books, you look over your left shoulder once you’ve completed this late night walk of heart-thumping terror, you’ll see the image or spirit of your true love following you.
In another old love spell, you simply got naked and peered into a well at dawn on Midsummer Day. The face of your sweetheart was said to appear reflected in the dark, still waters.
Less courageous singles of any gender could always try some midsummer love divination with Tarot cards – some of the cards to look out for include The Lovers (of course!); The Sun; The Star; The Ace of Cups and Two of Cups. The Six of Cups often suggests the rekindling of an old love relationship.
If you prefer to use playing cards, then cards in the red suits of Hearts and Diamonds symbolise many faces of love’s energy and passion. A bowl of flowers and floating tea lights would be a lovely Midsummer accompaniment to a love divination session.
Love spells targeting a particular person are best avoided though. They are deeply unethical, and when - or if - they work they tend to backfire. Remember those untrustworthy fairies are around, and there’s nothing they like better than playing tricks on mortals. It’s more positive to focus on all the varied ways love comes into our lives, love and respect yourself, and ask for something that’s for the highest good of everyone involved.
Wishing you love, light, and some shimmering Midsummer Night’s dreams!