Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Ramble, Midsummer Thoughts

Here we are, only a day or two away from Midsummer, also called Litha, the Summer Solstice, St. John's Day and Alban Hefin. This year, the astronomical coordinate for the observance is  Sunday, June 20th, so tomorrow night is Midsummer Eve.

A painting called Midsummer Eve by the British artist Edward Arthur Hughes always comes to mind around this time of year. While the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was influential in shaping his work, Hughes was also strongly influenced by the Aesthetic movement, and a number of his creations were based on Shakespearean themes. Midsummer Eve and Night With Her Train of Stars are two of his most popular paintings.

Sunday is the longest day of the calendar year, the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn. Of course, it is we earthly beings and our dear little planet who are in motion, not the magnificent star at the center of our universe.

This morning's image was taken by the front gate of our Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites. It captures the essence of midsummer beautifully with tall trees and hazy sky in the background, golden daisies, purple bugloss and silvery meadow grasses dancing front and center.

It feels as though the golden season has just gotten started, but things are all downhill from here. After Sunday, daylight hours will wane until Yule (or the Winter Solstice) around December 21 when they begin to stretch out again.  Longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the latter half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning spectacular star spangled tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.

How does one mark this sunlit moment between the lighter and darker halves of the year? The notion of midsummer night skies as a vast cauldron of twinkling stars is apt and magical too.  The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green.

Long ago midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark.  Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time.  Embers were placed at the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, carried home to family hearths for protection.  Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies.

Alas, my days of jumping  midsummer bonfires are over. I try to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple) tea and watch the sun rise.  There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in the village, a quiet meal as the sun goes down, a little stargazing and moon watching later. Beau and I cherish the simplicity of our small festive doings, and the quiet pleasure of watching the moon and stars. As always, we think of our departed soulmate, and we like to think he is celebrating with us.

Happy Litha! Happy Midsummer, however you choose to celebrate, or not to celebrate it. May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there.  May all good things come to you.

1 comment:

Marsha said...

And to you, as well.