Midsummer Eve: Second Faerie Festival of the Year
Midsummer Eve, also known as Litha, Samradh, Alban Hefin, Aerra Litha, Mother Night, and St. John’s Eve, is the second of the three yearly Faerie Realm festivals. This sabbat is tied to the Summer Solstice, which occurs on 21 June in the Northern Hemisphere this year. The other two faerie festivals occur on May Eve and November Eve (Samhain).
Midsummer Eve is a sabbat that has a lot of faerie lore attached to it. This is the time when entrance to the faerie realm is easiest and faerie mounds are practically “open to the public!” Faerie powers are at their strongest, and they are frolicsome and very merry, dancing around bonfires, singing and cavorting with abandon.
Midsummer Eve at dusk, especially if the moon is full, is precisely the best time for viewing faeries—if you have their favor or they wish to procure your services. Oak, ash and thorn make up the faerie tree triad of Britain, and where they grow together one can see faeries. Here is a recipe from the 16th century that, when rubbed on the eyelids, will help one to gain faerie sight:
Take a pint of sallet oyle and put it into a vial glasse; and first wash it with rose-water and marigold-water; the flowers to be gathered toward the east. Wash it until the oyle becomes white, then put into the glasse, and then put thereto the budds of young hazle, and the thyme must be gathered near the side of a hill where fairies use to be; and take the grasse of a fairie throne; then all these put into the oyle in the glasse and sette it to dissolve three days in the sunne and keep it for thy use.
Note that there are several varieties of flowers that go by the name of “marigold.” The marigold referred to in this recipe is the pot marigold, also known as calendula and native to the European continent, and not to be confused with the common marigold, or tagetes, native to the American continent.
Remember to prepare and set out an offering so they will not feel you are infringing on their privacy and whatever you do, look only! Faeries can be dangerous and they are capable of playing all kinds of tricks ranging from innocent pranks to inflicting death. Faerie morality is high unpredictable.
To gain protection from the faerie tricks and mischief, you should jump the ritual Midsummer Eve bonfire and drive your herds (or better yet, walk with your children) between two bonfires. To increase the fire’s protection, add the herb St. John’s Wort, which is in full bloom this time of year. Place St. John’s Wort over your doorway or weave it into a garland with marigolds and ivy, then put it around the neck of any farm animals you possess. If you don’t feel like you’ve done enough, take your protective measures further by following this description of London written by historian John Stow in 1598:
Every man’s door was shaded with green birch, fennel, St. John’s Wort, orpin, white lilies, and the like, ornamented with garlands of beautiful flowers. They…had also lamps of glass with oil burning in them all night; and some of them hung out branches of iron, curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps lighted at once, which made a splendid appearance.
An Irish faerie that changes shape from a very wide man in a high hat and scarf to a beast or bearded sheep, the Amadán-na-Briona, also known as The Fool of the Forth, is very dangerous. His mere touch causes an incurable madness or death. He is very active the entire month of June with Midsummer being especially provocative. If you meet him, shout, “The Lord be between us and harm,” otherwise as the Irish say, “To meet the Amadán is to be in prison forever.” Look for him to knock on your door late at night or pop up from behind a hedge.
A German faerie that loves to create elflocks in people’s hair and beards, the Pilwiz can become dangerous if you trespass in its mountainous lands and it shoots you with an elfbolt. Worse still, the Pilwiz is a thief, raiding cornfields at night. If you can catch the Pilwiz in the act of thievery at noon on Midsummer Day, the Pilwiz will die for a year. However, if the Pilwiz sees you first, you will die. There are less dangerous means of dealing with a Pilwiz and if one plagues you, I urge you not to take this risk.
A Shetland faerie with an aversion to sunlight, Trows, also called Night Stealers or Creepers, live in mounds amongst vast treasure hoards. At Midsummer, the music-loving Trows contort their squat and misshaped bodies in a crouching and hopping dance called henking. Trows engage in kidnapping children and leaving changelings in their place, so it’s best not to spend too much time in their company, although they also are fond of giving gifts of money to humans who please them, especially fiddlers.
Folklore has well documented the existence of faerie paths; dire were the consequences to those who built a human structure on one. Invisible to the human eye, one way to check a site to ensure it would not impede any faerie traffic was to nail down four hazel branches, one each at the four corners of the proposed structure, and see if the branches were disturbed the next morning. If they were, the verdict was in and construction was wisely abandoned.
If you see a procession of lights moving in a direct line from one faerie mound to another on Midsummer Eve, the faeries are on the move along a faerie path. They are on their way to visit their neighbors for a grand Midsummer Eve party, or they are pulling out and moving to a new location. Either way, don’t risk getting in their way.
Midsummer Eve is when male fae are wont to steal away pretty, human girls to become their brides. They often appear as tall, dark, noble looking men that charm the desired girl, dancing with her all night long. The next day the girl, imbued with inhuman, ethereal grace and beauty, will begin to waste away, becoming more beautiful each day, until she dies. Her soul then travels to Tir Na Og, where it is always summer, and she becomes the bride of her faerie sweetheart. Such marriages are accompanied by rigorous taboos and conditions, such as the fairy husband must not be looked upon on certain days nor struck a certain number of times nor touched by the bride with iron. If the faerie husband abandons his human wife, she will waste away and die…again.
Dressing of Wells
The faeries that guard and are responsible for the well-being of fountains, wells, springs, streams and brooks are the naiads. These faeries may appear in the guise of a fish, a frog, a mermaid, a winged serpent, or even a fly.
To honor and appease these guardians, place garlands of flowers, ribbons and other finery around the well at Midsummer. First, approach the well from the east and walk about it sunwise three times. You may also toss offerings of pins or coins into the well. This will ensure that the water runs fresh and clean for another year.
Battle of the Kings
At Midsummer, the sun seems to stand still, for this is the longest day and shortest night of the year. From this time onwards, the days gradually grow shorter again. Although they are not typical faeries, yet neither are they Gods, the Kings of Oak and Holly meet at Midsummer to battle for their kingship. The Holly King defeats the Oak King and begins his six-month reign until the two Kings meet again at Yule. These foliate Kings share many aspects of the Horned God and the Green Man of forest, both of which are dedicated to the preservation of nature, as are the fae. For lovers of the fae to include and honor these two mighty forces in their Midsummer celebration is wholly appropriate.
Bibliography and Works Cited/Recommended Reading:
- Kowalchik, C. and Hylton, W.H. Editors, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs , Rodale Books, 1998, p. 60
- McCoy, Edain, A Witch’s Guide to Faery Folk, Llewellyn Publications, 2006
- Ellis, Jeanette, Forbidden Rites: Your Complete Introduction to Traditional Witchcraft, O Books, 2009, p. 151
- Lenihan, Eddie, Meeting the Other Crowd, Penguin Putman Inc., 2003
- Franklin, Anna, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies, Paper Tiger, 2002
- Franklin, Anna, Working With Fairies: Magick, Spells, Potions & Recipes to Attract & See Them, New Page Books, 2005
- Briggs, Katharine, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Pantheon Books, 1976