According to the astronomical definition of the seasons, the Summer Solstice also marks the beginning of summer, which lasts until the Autumnal Equinox (September 22nd or 23rd in the Northern Hemisphere, or March 20th or 21st in the Southern Hemisphere). The day has also been celebrated in many cultures, where in Scandinavia for example, the holiday of Midsummer’s Eveis observed on a weekend near the time of the Solstice.
JUNE and JULY were together known as Liða, an Old English word meaning ‘mild’ or ‘gentle’, which referred to the period of warm, seasonable weather either side of Midsummer. To differentiate between the two, JUNE was sometimes known as [OE]sÆrra Līþa ‘Before Midsummer’, or ‘First Summer’. [OHG] Brāh-mānod Brachmonat ‘fallow month’. In the 14th century misericord calendar, it was shown as the time for hawking and leisure before the start of the harvest. The tree representing June is the Oak, symbol of the god in his guise as Oak King or the Green Man.
Oak Magic: The old saying: ‘two hundred years growing, two hundred years staying, and two hundred years dying’, reflects the great age, which oaks can achieve. Much of European folklore is based upon an inherent reverence for the oak, whose human qualities included a voice that screamed and groaned in agony if the tree was felled – as if it were the genius of the oake lamenting. Touching wood for luck is an expression of these ancient beliefs, reflecting the respect given to the guardian spirits of the tree. The close grain of oak means that the wood burns slowly and gives off a lot of heat; although magical need-fires should not be fuelled with oak timber, the fire can be lit with a brand of burning oak.
9th Vestalia honours Vesta, Roman goddess of hearth and home, who was worshipped in every household, while the sacred Fire of State was kept ever burning (except on the first day of the new year when it was ceremonially renewed). Domestic and family life in general was represented by the festival of the goddess of the house and of the spirits of the store-chamber – Vesta and the Penates – on Vestalia. Today: Use the following poem to carry out a magical cleansing or banishing for the family home.
11th St Barnabas’ Day. Named because this is the time of the hay-harvest and as the saint’s symbol is the rake, he fitted nicely into the Church calendar. A cartload of hay would seem to be too common a sight in rural areas to excite much notice, but an odd set of beliefs held it to be unlucky, which could be averted by spitting for good luck. Today: Celebrate hay-making if only to enjoy the scent of the freshly cut grass.
11th Matralia was the annual matron’s festival at Rome. The festival was only for single women or women in their first marriage, who offered prayers for their nieces and nephews. Today: A good time to treat your favourite family members to a special day out.
Weather-lore: ‘Summer doesn’t start until the elder is in flower.’
13th Feast of Epona. Epona is the Gallo-Roman horse goddess often linked with similar deities such as the Welsh Goddess Rhiannon and the Irish Macha. In statues she is shown seated between two foals, holding a sheaf of wheat or a cornucopia and her worship was introduced to Britain by the Roman Legions. Today: Make it a special day for your equine companion.
15th Anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 at Runnymede. Magna Carta is one of the world’s most influential documents – an agreement granted by King John in 1215 as a practical solution to a political crisis, which in the centuries since has become a potent symbol of liberty and the rule of law. Like other medieval royal charters, the original Magna Carta documents which were drawn up for distribution across the kingdom were authenticated with the Great Seal, not by the signature of the king. The original Magna Carta manuscripts were dispatched over a period of a few weeks in late June and early July 1215. It isn’t known exactly how many copies were drawn up in 1215, but of the original Magna Carta manuscripts, only four survive. Today: Make a point of visiting one of the copies of this famous document if you or any of your family haven’t seen it before.
19th St Edmund’s Day Fair at Abingdon. Traditionally this was celebrated with an ox roast and the meat given to the poor. Dancing the Morris is an integral part of the festivities. Today: If there’s a fair or market is your vicinity, make it a family day out.
21st The Summer Solstice is the pivotal day that heralds the long slide into winter and is a highly significant date in the pagan magical calendar since it is the true Mid-Summer Day at the half-way mark between the Venal and the Autumnal Equinoxes. Check with the Internet for the correct alignment and organise a summer party.
23rd St Audrey’s Fair. At the annual fair in the Isle of Ely, showy lace called St Audrey’s lace was sold, and gave foundation to the word ‘tawdry’, which means anything gaudy, in bad taste, and of little value. Shakespeare makes an allusion to this lace in the Winter’s Tale and possibly the later post-Reformation calendar on 17th October: “Come you promised me a tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves.” Today: Beware of buying anything that isn’t what it seems, i.e, dishonesty.
23rd The Carn Brea Midsummer Bonfire [Cornwall] ceremony was a pagan festival before it was hallowed by the Church to celebrate the Eve of St John. Today: Light the patio fire for Mid-Summer Eve and enjoy a simple meal outdoors with friends or family..
24th Mid-Summer Day was merged with St John’s Day in the Church calendar, and is considered in ancient folklore one of the great ‘charmed’ festivals of the year. Hidden treasures are said to lie open in lonely places, waiting for the lucky finder. Divining rods should be cut on this day. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing, which they retain if they are plucked during the night of the feast; rose, St John’s wort, vervain, trefoil and rue, all of which were supposed to have magical properties. Today: Make sure to stock up with any wild herbs and plants and throw the old stock away by burning them on the bonfire.
24th Mid-Summer Night. Circles that form naturally in the grass were regarded as having magical properties and were termed ‘fairy rings’. In Sussex these are called ‘hag tracks’ and believed, as the names implies, to be caused by witches dancing in the round.
26th Death of the Emperor Julian, the first pagan martyr (d.363). He was a man of unusually complex character, being ‘the military commander, the theosophist, the social reformer, and the man of letters’. He was the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, and it was his desire to bring the Empire back to its ancient pagan values in order to, as he saw it, save it from dissolution. Today: Light candles in remembrance.
29th St Peter’s Day Hay Strewing. New-mown hay is spread over the floor of Wingrave church [Buckinghamshire] replacing the ancient practice of rush-spreading, when the earthen floor of churches were covered with fresh rushes once a year. Tradition tells that a local woman lost her way one winter’s night and nearly dying from exposure was led to safety by the sound of the church bells. The hay is cut from a nearby field she bequeathed to the church. Today: Bring fragrant herbs and cut grasses into your home in a gesture of ritual cleansing.
29th St Peter’s Day and the annual Yarnton Meadow Lottery when the mowing rights of certain meadows in Yarnton [Oxfordshire] are allocated yearly in a ceremony which has remained unchanged for nearly 1000 years. The distribution of the plots is allocated by the drawing of lots. Thirteen ancient wooden balls – known as Mead Balls – possibly made from holly wood and each marked with a name, thought to be that of the original tenant-farmer who held the mowing rights in the 11th century. Today: Take the dog for a long walk and enjoy the day.
Weather-lore: ‘Rain on Peter and Paul (29th June) will rot the roots of the rye.’