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Article ID: 15103
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Author: BellaDonna Saberhagen
Posted: June 17th. 2012
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Soon the crowds will be gathering at Stonehenge. Based on modern lore, you’d think that Midsummer was of utmost import to the Druids, but you would be mistaken. From what we know, Midsummer was not celebrated by the ancient Celts (it would have been celebrated at the height of their roaming grazing season, so it would not have been a practical celebration since almost nobody would have been home to celebrate it) . Stonehenge’s solstice alignment is much older than the Druids; its importance to the builders is long gone.
We’ll never know why the pre-Celtic race that inhabited the area found the solstice so important, all we can do is gaze in wonder at their creation and use it (respectfully) for our own modern interpretations of rituals (meaning clean up after yourself and watch where you step; I’ve seen images of the Midsummer aftermath at Stonehenge that made me sorely disappointed in my fellows on the path) .
Midsummer is another time strongly associated with Faeries. This is even evident in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Oberon and Puck create great mischief. The modern diminutive faery can be blamed partly on this play (though some of the faeries had to be taller as Titania fell in love and lay with a human given the head of a donkey) . Puck is a very interesting character and may have his roots in actual faeries from English folklore (he is called Robin Goodfellow in the play and thus may have connections to Robin Artisson-the familiar spirit, not the Pagan author; and Puck could be derived from Pucca, which is a very nasty faery from Irish/English mythology) .
Since faeries are still so prominent, the same rules I discussed in my Beltane essay apply. Midsummer almost feels to me like “Beltane the Third” (with Ostara being “Beltane the First” due to its fertility aspects and proper Beltane being “Beltane the Second”) as it’s described in books as the height of fertility of the land (or of the Goddess and the God per some of the books I have) . As Beltane is the sunnier reflection of Samhain, so Midsummer is the sunny reflection of Yule. Much of what is true for Samhain regarding the denizens of the afterlife remains true at Yule; therefore, what is true regarding the faerie influx at Beltane remains true at Midsummer.
In many ways, Midsummer is the transition point from the growing season to the harvest season and the Year of the Sacred King cycle reflects this. At this time, the king is at the height of his fertility and for this reason; it is at this time that his fertility is harvested by way of ritual castration. This makes sense from an agricultural standpoint; you pick fruit when it’s reached its full potential, not before (as it would rot before becoming edible) and not after (as it would spoil far too quickly) . Peter Paddon describes a ritual in which a man is mock-castrated, having a sprig of mistletoe ritually “cut” from the loin area; A Book of Pagan Rituals has a similar rite, but cuts a lock of hair off each man’s head (which seems a bit too Samson and Delilah to me, attaching a man’s virility or “power” to his hair, but to each their own) .
This transition could go one of two ways. If the king has made peace with the loss of his own fertility, the fertility of the land is ensured. He now seeks deeper wisdom and knowledge as he ages with the land to return as a sage and guide. He is also readying himself, in his decline, to become the psycho-pomp that will guide the souls of the dead to the Otherworld. This is a very important function as the year wanes towards the more threatening times from Samhain through Imbolc (Yule is the first glimmer of hope, but real hope for surviving winter doesn’t come until the first milk) .
However, the other way this transition could go does not bode well for the king’s land or its inhabitants. The tale of the Fisher King from Arthurian legend can be attached as the dark side of the Sacred King cycle. In this tale, a king has been wounded in the groin, is largely immobile and spends his time fishing. There are many versions of this tale and I suppose it depends on the version you read (in some versions he guards the Holy Grail and could be healed by that, one would assume) , but the one I remember had him fishing for a magical fish to heal himself. He spent all his time fishing for this healing fish while his country degraded and weakened around him. He could also be fishing for the wisdom he needs to fix his land, not understanding that he needs to pursue the knowledge and wisdom, but just wait for it to come to him (this is a lesson we could all learn, you need to seek beyond what is put in front of you to gain knowledge) .
The supposed connection is that the king’s fertility is tied to that of the land and when he lost his, the land lost its own (this is true within the cycle itself, but the land isn’t meant to be ever-fertile) . However, I think more is going on here. The king became obsessed with regaining his own fertility rather than rising above the loss and moving onto his new role in the cycle. If the sacred king fails to take on his new role, it spells disaster for the kingdom.
That’s the lesson of this holiday. We have to know when to move on, when to switch gears. None of us can get through life unchanged. So even while the sun seems ever-present and cookouts are a-plenty, remember that the harvest is coming. You can’t go unchanged and feel you have truly lived life. If you feel you have lived but also feel you have never had an impactful experience (emotional injury, if not physical) that has changed you, then you haven’t lived yet. Go, live, gain experience and knowledge and through that, gain wisdom. If you do not seek wisdom, Puck may be right when he says “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
A Grimoire for Modern CunningFolk by Peter Paddon
Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham
Dancing with the Sun by Yasmine Galenorn
A Book of Pagan Rituals edited by Herman Slater
Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch by Lora O’Brien
Location: Sunbury, Pennsylvania
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