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Merry Midsummer's Eve!

‘When midsummer comes,
with bavens and bromes they do bonefires make,
and swiftly then, the young men runne leapinge over the same.
The women and maydens together they do couple their handes
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde;
no malice among them standes’

Anon 15c Ballad.

The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24, but, in some countries, festivities are celebrated the night before, on St John's Eve. It’s a day to celebrate the fullness of the year and to mark the tuning point towards harvest and shorter days.

St John's Eve (or Oiche Fheile Eoin) is celebrated in many parts of Ireland with the lighting of bonfires. In Northern Ireland it is termed Bonfire Night.[1] This ancient custom has its roots in pre-Christian Irish society when the Celts honored the Goddess Áine, the Celtic equivalent of Venus and Aphrodite.

She was the Goddess Queen of Munster and Christianised rituals in her honour (as Naomh Áine) took place until the nineteenth century on Knockainy, (Cnoc Áine – the Hill of Áine) in County Limerick.

During the festival, people would say prayers, asking for God's blessing upon their crops. They would also take ashes from the fire, and spread them over their land as a blessing for protection for their crops. It was also common to have music, singing, dancing, and games during the festival. The fire was used for destroying small objects of piety (rosary beads, statues, etc.) without disrespecting God. It was also common for people to jump through the flames of the bonfire for good luck.

In Thomas Flanagan's The Year of the French, the ancient festival of St John's Eve takes place. The book is set during the Irish rebellion of 1798. Here is an excerpt from The Year of the French:

Soon it would be Saint John's Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple HIll, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John's Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits. –The Year of the French

I am pleased to share with you the following post by Mxtodis 123, a loyal follower of my blog, regarding this celebration from the herbal point of view, and as previously posted on her site: http://celticdreamscapes.blogspot.com

"Herb Evening"

Midsummer Eve or St. John's Eve is also known as Herb Evening because most of the wild herbs are fully mature by Midsummer making it the traditional time for gathering magical and medicinal plants to dry and store for use during the winter. Any herbs gathered at midnight on Midsummer's Eve were believed to have unparalleled potency and of special power. Some of the more traditional herbs gathered include St. John's wort, plantain, yarrow, mugwort, vervain, lavender, ivy, and mistletoe.

Superstitions were part of the everyday life of our ancestors, and Midsummer was rife with all kinds of strange beliefs. Here are some old Midsummer superstitions regarding herbs that I have discovered throughout the years.

Along with St. John's wort and mugwort, vervain was traditionally tossed on the bonfires of Midsummer Eve at midnight and wear it to church, and your lover will come and pluck it out of your buttonhole. Vines shaken on St. John's day will make wine of a fine flavor

Onions turned in their bed on St. John's day will come out fine.

If on Midsummer Eve nine kinds of flowers are laid under the head of a person, the sleeper will dream of his or her sweetheart.

It is unlucky to gather herbs on St. John's day after the sun rises.

On St. John's eve the people took means of preventing Elfin visitors from entering the house by hanging St. John's wort over their doors.

If you dig up a burdock root on St. John's day between eleven and twelve at noon you will find a lucky coal which is good for many charms. If you find it, it will miraculously teach you what it is good for.

On the Isle of Man it is believed that if you happen to tread on a bit of St. John's wort on St. John's Eve, a fairy will rise up and carry you about at a great pace and neverlet you go till morning, when he will drop you just where he happens to be.

A plantain has a rare coal under the roots, found only on one hour in the day, and on one day in the year. If a maiden will search for it at twelve o'clock on Midsummer's day and put it beneath her head at night, she will not fail to see her future husband in a dream.

Fennel hung over the doors and windows of your house on Midsummer's Eve will keep all evil spirits, sorcerers, demons, and the Devil at bay.

Fennel seeds placed in the keyholes of doors will also keep ghosts from entering a house.
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