Midsummer's Eve: moon magic and bonfires

Midsummer's Eve: moon magic and bonfires

Clearlake : CA : USA | Jun 19, 2012 at 9:01 AM PDT
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juhannus helsinki 2010 (ashish)

The dark moon is rising on Midsummer’s Eve this June 19, and it's the evening before the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year. The timing is when the sun reaches its farthest point north of the equator, which is June 20 this year. The night before is called Midsummer's Eve and is a time for wishes and magic. The new moon, or dark moon as it is called, is mysterious and auspicious. It’s a time of beginnings and having faith in something new. An Old English tradition holds that a new wife seeing the new moon for the first time should run quickly to her bedroom and turn down the covers on her bed to ensure a happy marriage. If you happen to be holding something, in both of your hands, when you see the new moon for the first time, you will never want for anything. A wish made while looking at new moon will come true within a year.

In Irish folklore on Midsummer’s Eve, the Selkies would come ashore. There are many stories about mysterious creatures who can transform themselves from seals to humans. These beings are called selkies, silkies, selchies, roane, or simply seal people. The seals would come up onto rocks or beaches and take off their skins, revealing the humans underneath. There is no agreement among the stories of how often they could make this transformation. Some say it was once a year on Midsummer’s Eve, while others say it could be every ninth night. Once ashore, the selkies were said to dance and sing in the moonlight. Although most mythological sea creatures were considered hostile or even evil, selkies were considered to mostly be gentle beings, perhaps because of seals’ kind-looking eyes. Selkies are also seen in Scottish, Icelandic, and Scandinavian mythologies. There is a wonderful movie called The Secret of Roan Inish about a selkie in Ireland.

In Sweden, Midsummer Night is the lightest day of the year and was long considered a magical night, as it was the best time for telling people’s futures. Girls ate salted porridge ("dream porridge") so that their future husbands might bring water to them in their dreams to quench their thirst. They also kept watch at springs for a reflection of their husband-to-be in the water.

On Midsummer Night there is moon magic when you discover places where treasure is buried by studying how moonbeams fall. When digging, you might be confronted by strange sights that would tempt you to laugh or speak. If you managed to keep silent, you would find the treasure.

One of the most traditional customs of Finland on Midsummer’s Eve is the building and burning of the bonfire, called "kokko.” It is lit close to midnight on Midsummer's Eve, mostly along lake and river shores, and even on islands. Usually the oldest man in the village had the honor to light the bonfire.

Of course one of the most followed traditions is the Midsummer Night's sauna, after which you can enjoy the magical sight in the land of the midnight sun at the lakeside and listen to the Finns shouting to each other from the opposite sides of the lakes. The Fins enjoy 24 hours of continuous daylight in the summer months.

On Midsummer Day dew has special healing powers. Young girls wash their faces in it to make themselves beautiful, older people do the same to make themselves younger. It is good to walk barefoot in dew on Midsummer Day's morning, for it saves the skin from getting chapped.

Midsummer Day and the time immediately preceding it is believed to have special powers. Medicinal herbs collected from June 1 to the Midsummer Day can cure 12 (some say 99) diseases. There are girls who save their Midsummer Day's wreaths all the year round. Great importance is attached to the Midsummer Day's fire. Its embers are brought home to make the hearth fire, and its ashes are spread in the fields.

Consider the mythical fern-seed, which is popularly supposed to bloom like gold or fire on Midsummer Eve. Thus in Bohemia it is said that “on St. John’s Day, fern-seed blooms with golden blossoms that gleam like fire.” Now it is a property of this mythical fern-seed that whoever has it, or will ascend a mountain holding it in his hand on Midsummer Eve, will discover a vein of gold or will see the treasures of the earth shining with a bluish flame.

There are numerous stories about the fern, which comes into blossom in the thick of the woods on Midsummer Night. He who finds a fern blossom becomes a wise, rich and happy man. Only a very good man can hope to find a fern blossom and it can happen only once in his lifetime, Sometimes the fern blossom drops into a poor man's best shoe unawares and suddenly the man acquires knowledge of the hidden treasures, of the speech of animals and birds, trees and bees. But when the man comes home and takes off his shoes, the fern blossom falls out, all the man's knowledge disappears.

Young people play games all through Midsummer Night until sunrise or until dew falls out. Girls float wreaths on rivers to find out their prospects for marriage. The farther their wreaths float the sooner they will get married. It is also very important which bank the wreath will stop at. Sometimes a burning candle or a bowl filled with burning tar is fixed in the middle of the wreath. A great number of Midsummer Night's superstitions and customs are similar to those observed on Christmas Eve. A girl will marry the man whom she will see in her dream walking along the straw placed across the bowl of water under her bed, or the man who will dry his face on the towel placed beside her bed. The future husband will come from the direction in which she notices the first bonfire on Midsummer Night.

Midsummer’s Eve myths and legends are plentiful, but they all share the common thread of beginnings, promises and bonfires burning brightly in the landscape and in the hearts and hearths of believers. The brighter the fire the more intense the love it proclaims.






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Midsummer's Eve
June 19 is Midsummer's Eve and is celebrated in many countries with myths and legends of magic.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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