The celebration of Midsummer's Eve was from the most ancient of times a festival of the summer solstice. A time of vivid transitions and often cataclysmic transformation and change. A time of celebration and rejoicing and the joining together of many folklore beliefs and traditions. Weaving them all together as I have here, with re-purposed cloth into many new energies and the ever growing fabric of my own busy and often challenging life.
In ancient times, bonfires were lit to protect this world from the evil spirits who were believed to roam and cross over the transparent veil between their world and ours when the earths spin allowed the worlds to cross and a gate to open.
Commencing at midnight or at dawn, the fires are lit, the dancing under the moonlight begins, and celebrations with food and beverages are shared. Here, my Alaskan cousins and all of our family and friends created a July bonfire from bits and pieces collected all year long. And yes, that is a Christmas tree on the top. Combining of time, of space, and of all of the elements of earth, wind, fire and air.
Each person added to the pile of wood whether it was from the beach, the forest, or cast off bits of rickety furniture. All became one as my own son climbed up to the top to place the last bits of bonfire finery. The torch is carried and the torch is lit and all erupted into one cataclysmic surge of the power and energy of man and natural energies combine.
Pagan influences with modern day interpretations of a very different rejoicing of the gathering of family and friends in the joining of a summer celebration.
As Christianity entered pagan areas, midsummer celebrations came to be often borrowed and transferred into new Christian holidays, often resulting in celebrations that mixed Christian traditions with traditions derived from pagan Midsummer festivities. Midsummer's Eve became St. John's Eve and celebrations honored St. John the Baptist.
The 13th-century monk of Winchcomb, Gloucestershire, who compiled a book of sermons for the feast days, recorded how St. John's Eve was celebrated in his time:
"Let us speak of the revels which are accustomed to be made on St. John's Eve, of which there are three kinds. On St. John's Eve in certain regions the boys collect bones and certain other rubbish, and burn them, and therefrom a smoke is produced on the air. They also make brands and go about the fields with the brands. Thirdly, the wheel which they roll."
The fires, explained the monk of Winchcombe, were to drive away dragons, which were abroad on St. John's Eve, poisoning springs and wells. I don't know about the validity of all of this. But I do know that none of my own family reporting the viewing of any dragons anywhere. Unless perhaps, under the influence of spirits of another kind!
In Finland, where my pioneer Alaskan family finds its roots, the summer solstice is called Ukon juhla ("Ukko's celebration") after the Finnish god Ukko. In Karelian tradition, many bonfires were burned side by side, the biggest of which was called Ukko-kokko (the "Old Man Bonfire"; the prefix ukko- is used in Finnish to denote notable or particularly large objects or entities). After the celebrations were Christianized, the holiday became known as juhannus after John the Baptist (Finnish: Johannes Kastaja).
In the Finnish midsummer celebration, bonfires (Finnish kokko) are very common and are burned at lakesides and by the sea. Often branches from birch trees (koivu) are placed on both side of the front door to welcome visitors. And of course there are maypoles from neighboring Swedish traditions in the Swedish speaking regions of Finland where my grandmother Elli Tiitto was born and nearby in the Finnish speaking majority where my grandfather Herman Saastimoinen grew up to later become Herman Savikko. Our family's own transition from our grandparents transition from their own first world to their second one and immigration to the wild territory of pioneer Alaska.
Myth and magic, folklore and tradition. I love them all. I love the heat and the intensity of the summer solstice and the wispy transparency of change as my energies move from one place, one world, into another.
Inside, in the relative coolness of home, I gather up my own bits and bundles, my collected bits of fabric from many years gone by. Thin and dated, but still vivid with the strong frequencies of color.....the energies of this season of great heat combined with the cooling energies of the evening breeze.
I join these small squares of old fabrics together as I connect the energies of my past...the colors, the fabrics, the people, and yes, my own now healed and transitioned bones into the new and colorful energies combined with peace and calm in the spaces between. One world merges with another. The old times and places with my hopes for the future.
A simple quilt top, backed, then birthed into a new creation. A colorful table cloth to be used at picnics, where the heat of their brightness seems appropriate when cooled by the energies of woodland or waterways, ocean sand or stones of a riverbank.
I go outside, whether in the hot heat of the day, or the cooler dark spaces in the night. It is I, and the wild things. I gather the bits and pieces of nature that are part of the deepest recesses of my heart. and I rejoice in the small night time sounds as my presence sends all but the cats scurrying. Instead, little glowing ovals watch me from the depths and join me in my rejoicing under the moon and the stars.
Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares her creative and healing journey from Alaska to Oregon. Wildcrafting and the textiles arts... sewing, quilting, and creating prayer flags. Join me as I add my healing energies to changing our world..one little project, one gift of sharing from my heart, at a time.