The festival is primarily a Celtic fire festival, representing the
middle of summer, and the shortening of the days on their gradual march to
winter. Midsummer's Day, the middle of summer, falls on on 24 June,
after the longest day (Summer Solstice). The longest day in the
northern hemisphere is today either the 20th or 21st of June, while Midsummer's
Day in Europe is traditionally on 24 June.
Midsummer is a magical time, and there are many superstitions connected
with it. Almost all magic is more powerful at Midsummer.
Midsummer dew has special healing powers. Young girls wash
their faces in it to make themselves beautiful, older people do the same to
make themselves look younger. If you walk barefoot in the dew on Midsummer
Day's morning, it will stop the skin from getting chapped. Herbs,
especially St. John's Wort, gathered on Midsummer's Day and burnt on bonfires
will keep livestock healthy and banish bad luck.
If on MidsummerТs Eve,
you approach a fern leaf backwards, without looking, and - without touching the
leaf - collect the seed (spores), they have to power to make you invisible.
Handfasting was a custom of "trial marriage" where, at
midsummer, couples who had announced their intention to marry at the earlier May Day (Beltane) festival would pledge themselves for a year and a day, and
marry at the end of that period if all went well (divorce was virtually
impossible once married in church.)
Stonehenge is the one thing above all others which
springs to mind when "summer solstice" is mentioned in Britain.
Stonehenge instantly captures the imagination. It still holds great mysteries -
although much research has been done, no-one knows for certain why it was
built, who built it or even how they built it.Midsummer's Eve is a time
associated with witches, magic, fairies and dancing.
On the eve of Midsummer's Day, many bonfires
were lit all over the country. This was in praise of the sun, for the days were
getting shorter and the sun appeared to be getting weaker, so people would
light fires to try and strengthen the sun.
Roses are of special importance on Midsummer's
Eve. It is said that any rose picked on Midsummer's Eve, or Midsummer's Day
will keep fresh until Christmas.
At midnight on Midsummer's Eve, young girls should scatter rose petals
before them and say:
Rose leaves, rose leaves,
Rose leaves I strew.
He that will love me
Come after me now.
Then the next day, Midsummer's Day, their true love will visit them.
The festival is still important to pagans today, including the modern
day druids who (barring any trouble) celebrate the solstice at Stonehenge in
Wiltshire. For them the light of the sun on Midsummer's Day signifies the
sacred Awen. Some occultists still celebrate the ancient festivals around 11
days later than our calendar; this marks the 11 days, which were lost when the
Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar in 1751.