Saturday, June 25, 2011

Midsummer — A Time of Faeries and Flowers

It is Midsummer – the time of year when the growing light has reached its peak. A time of days outdoors, harvesting the garden’s early bounty; a time of bonfires at the beach, picnics at the park.A time of the delights and enchantments of summer. A time of faeries and flowers.


Aine – The Bright Spark

The Irish goddess Aine is associated with Midsummer. Aine was extremely popular in the southern Ireland area of Munster, where she was considered the Queen of the Faeries.

She is thought to be a regional version of Anu, in whose honor two local mountains were named. Quite likely, Anu is the same being as the great Celtic Mother Goddess Danu for whom several rivers in Europe are named, and who was known in Ireland as Dana. Aine’s lore links her with earth, air, fire and water. The two mountains were thought to be her breasts; she had a home in a special hill named Cnoc Aine (Aine’s Hill), and was thought to have created the enchanted lake known as Lough Gur, over which she sometimes appeared in the shape of a faery whirlwind. Aine is very much associated with the sun, and was known as the wife of the sea god Manannan MacLir, from whose bed she arose every morning.

She was worshiped at the Summer Solstice, at which time people lit torches of hay upon her hill of Cnoc Aine, carried them around the hill in a counterclockwise direction, and conveyed them home, bearing them aloft through their fields while waving the blessed fire over livestock and crops. Not surprisingly, Aine is also linked with the fertility of the land.

An Herb of Midsummer
There are many herbs associated with the Midsummer. In fact, most plants with bright yellow flowers that bloom around this time of year were associated with Midsummer. My favorite of these is the lovely St. John’s Wort, named for John the Baptist, whose June 25th feastday was the day when the summer solstice was observed in northern Europe.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum; Hypericacea; Irish Gaelic: Luibh Eoin Bhaiste) is an herb of the sun, fire and light. It was thought to be very powerful, especially if pulled at noon on the Summer Solstice. A beneficial herb with several medicinal uses, it was used to break faery spells and to cure illness caused by faery darts. In the Highlands, it was thought to be protective against being taken by the faeries while asleep, especially if the herb was found rather than sought.

On the Isle of Man, however, the plant was sacred to faeries, and one must avoid stepping on it or else risk being pixy-led by the offended faeries. In Ireland, Scotland, and other of the Celtic countries, St John's Wort, the herb of Midsummer, was potent against spells and the power of faeries, evil spirits and the Devil.

St. John’s Wort blooms in mid June near the time of the Summer Solstice, June 21-22, the Christian equivalent of which is the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24th, from which the plant derives its name. Its Irish Gaelic name, Luibh Eoin Bhaiste, means herb of John Baptist.

The use of St. John's Wort on Midsummer's Eve enabled one to see the faeries. St. John’s Wort was burned on the Midsummer bonfires, along with several other herbs (a simple and early form of smudging), for its protective influence in purifying the air of evil spirits. Modern magical uses include its use in protective incense blends.

It was also used for divination. On St. John's Eve (June 24), young, unmarried women picked it and hung it on their bedroom walls in order to bring dreams of their future husbands. It was also used as a protective amulet, hung in houses and barns, and worn around the neck to keep away ghosts, bad spirits and evil-doers in general.

It’s Latin Name, Hypericum, is from the Greek and means "over an apparition" or "holding power over spirits," a reference to the belief that this herb was distasteful to evil spirits and that a whiff of it would cause them to flee. In addition, the little black dots on the backs of the flowers and leaves contain a red dye known as Hypericine. This red dye, which readily releases when the plant is infused, may have been yet another reason that this plant was especially sacred, since red was considered the color of life, vitality, and potency.


(excerpts from Faery Healing: The Lore and the Legacy, pp 136 & 213)

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