Origins of Lupercalia

WOLVESOrigins of Lupercalia

Type of Holiday: Ancient

Date of Observation: February 15

Where Celebrated: Rome

Symbols and Customs: Blood, Februa, Goat, Milk, Wolf

Colors: Red and white, in the form of BLOOD and MILK , both played a part in the earliest observance of the Lupercalia. Nowadays these are the colors associated with Valentine’s Day, to which this ancient festival has been linked.

Related Holidays: Valentine’s Day

ORIGINS
The Lupercalia was a festival in the ancient Roman religion, which scholars trace back to the sixth century B . C . E . Roman religion dominated Rome and influenced territories in its empire until Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the third century C . E . Ancient Roman religion was heavily influenced by the older Greek religion. Roman festivals therefore had much in common with those of the ancient Greeks. Not only were their gods and goddesses mostly the same as those in the Greek pantheon (though the Romans renamed them), but their religious festivals were observed with similar activities: ritual sacrifice, theatrical performances, games, and feasts.

The Lupercalia festival was held in honor of the WOLF who mothered Romulus and Remus, the legendary twin founders of Rome. During the original Roman celebration, members from two colleges of priests gathered at a cave on the Palatine Hill called the Lupercal-supposedly the cave where Romulus and Remus had been suckled by a she-wolf-and sacrificed a GOAT and a dog. The animals’ BLOOD was smeared on the foreheads of two young priests and then wiped away with wool dipped in MILK . The two young men stripped down to a goatskin loincloth and ran around the Palatine, striking everyone who approached them, especially the women, with thongs of goat skin called FEBRUA . It is believed that this was both a fertility ritual and a purification rite. It may also have been a very early example of “beating the bound, or reestablishing the borders of the early Palatine settlement.

There is some confusion over which god the Luperci or priests served; some say it was Faunus, a rural deity, and some say it was Pan, the god of shepherds who protected sheep from the danger of wolves. All that is certain is that by Caesar’s time, the annual ceremony had become a spectacular public sight, with young men running half-naked through the streets and provoking much good-natured hysteria among the women. February 15 was also the day when Mark Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown. Thanks to this historic event, and Shakespeare’s account of it in his play Julius Caesar, the Lupercalia is one of the best known of all Roman festivals.

It is interesting that such a rustic festival continued to be celebrated in Rome for centuries after it had been Christianized. Its survival can be partially credited to Augustus, who rebuilt the Lupercal in the first century B . C . E ., thus giving the celebration a boost. It continued to be observed until 494 C . E ., when Pope Gelasius I changed the day to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. There is some reason to believe that the Lupercalia was a forerunner of the modern VALENTINE’S DAY: Part of the ceremony involved putting girls’ names in a box and letting boys draw them out, thus pairing them off until the next Lupercalia.

Source:
The Free Dictionary

5 Superstitions and Why They Exist

5 Superstitions and Why They Exist

By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

I was at work a few years ago when a coworker walking by my desk let out a  terrified squeal. “Your purse is on the floor! Don’t you know that’s bad luck?”  Apparently, she was referring to a superstition which holds that to place your  purse or wallet on the floor is to invite money troubles. I had never heard of  this old wives’ tale and didn’t lend it much credibility, but on my way home, I  did notice my lifelong habit of avoiding sidewalk cracks, surely a leftover from  a youthful urge to protect my mother’s spinal health.

Superstitions ascribe supernatural origins to things that  humans don’t understand, and they occur across the world. Early humans had a lot  that they didn’t understand, but modern people are much more enlightened.  Superstitions about bad luck feel like the kind of things we tell gullible  children, so why do I still see people knocking on wood, throwing salt over  their shoulders, and refusing to walk under ladders? Exactly where do these  strange superstitions come from, and do any have even the tiniest basis in  reality?

Don’t Spill the Salt! Salt is one of our most ancient and versatile foodstuffs,  used for preserving food as well as flavoring it. For most of history, it was  incredibly valuable, too, sometimes even used as currency. Spilling such a  precious commodity was akin to dumping the thirty-year-old Scotch down the  drain. For anyone who was careless enough to waste salt, throwing a pinch over  the left shoulder was said to keep the devil away, since he was sure to be  following you after such a grievous offense.

Walking Under Ladders Brings Bad  Luck This superstition has its roots in religion. Some Christians  believe that any object with three points—like a ladder leaning against a  house—represents the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Early  Christians believed that to destroy or subvert a three-pointed object (like by  walking through it) one was expressing disbelief in the Trinity, and would  therefore probably go to Hell. As religious conviction softened, the promise of  eternal damnation was relaxed to merely the threat of bad luck. I admit to  following the rule against walking under ladders, but for a more practical  purpose—I don’t care for things dropping on my head, as is wont to happen when  people are working above.

Un-Lucky Number Thirteen Plenty of otherwise rational  people are loath to schedule important events on the thirteenth of the month,  and many buildings and towns don’t even include a thirteenth floor or thirteenth  street, because so many people believe the number to be cursed. The origins of  this superstition are factually tenuous, and there are many theories about how  it came about. Christian theology teaches that Judas was the thirteenth guest at  the Last Supper, making him unlucky. Norse mythology states that the god Loki,  who was the thirteenth guest at a banquet, killed the hero, Balder. Not to  mention the fact that several serial killers have thirteen letters in their  name, like Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer. Fear of the number thirteen even  has its own name, triskaidekaphobia, and many sufferers refuse to be the  thirteenth guest at a party, or to sit in row thirteen on an airplane for fear  that some terrible fate will befall them. In reality, there’s no credible  evidence to suggest anything sinister about any particular number, and in some  cultures, the number thirteen is actually considered quite lucky.

Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” Many  actors refuse to say the name Macbeth, especially when they’re inside a theater.  The play is said to be cursed, and is usually referred to as simply, “The  Scottish Play.” Some accounts say that productions of Macbeth have been plagued  by an unusually high number of accidents, injuries, and deaths on- and offstage,  perhaps because the play itself is unusually ripe with fights, weapons, battles,  and opportunities for things to go wrong. Since the play features three witches,  some origin stories for the superstition say that the lines uttered by the  witches are real curses, that real witches were offended by the play and cursed  it, or that Shakespeare’s original prop master stole items from a real witches’  coven. The most likely explanation is that Macbeth, being one of the English  language’s most enduring pieces of drama, is often put on by theaters trying to  stave off bankruptcy, and the play eventually got a reputation as foreshadowing  a theater’s demise.

Sacred Sneezes
All cultures offer some sort of blessing  after a person sneezes. While the origins of the benedictions are muddled,  it seems certain that primitive people thought that a person’s soul could leave  the body through the nose, and asking for God’s protection was a way to prevent  its escape. Romans, however, believed that sneezing expelled demons, and  witnesses to a sneeze offered congratulations and support. During the sixth  century, there was a plague raging, and the populace thought that sneezing was a  symptom of impending death. Pope Gregory pronounced that the official response  to a sneeze would be “God bless you,” which was thought to invoke divine  protection for both the sneezer and the sneezed-upon.

Gothic Gardening

Gothic Gardening

A Garden as Black as Your Cloak!

by mAlice

Need an idea for your garden? Don’t want the same old pansies and marigolds this year? Here’s some ideas for making your garden a more gothic place…

Gardening for the Fey

Let’s get one thing straight here: Fairies are not cute. Shakespeare made them seem cute, and Disney finished off the job (sorry, Heather, but it’s true). The fey are capricious, mischievous, arrogant, menacing and sometimes downright evil and dangerous to humans. The fey include elves, fairies, gnomes, trolls, goblins and a host of other supernatural beings who are somewhere “between men and angels.” Almost all of these beings have a very close connection to nature.

Rosemary: Sicilians thought that this was a favorite plant of the fairies and that young fairies would take the form of snakes and lie amongst the branches, and the baby fairies would sleep in the flowers.

Ragwort: Also known as St. John’s wort, this plant has a strong connection with the fey. In Ireland, it’s called fairy’s horse, since supposedly fairies would ride through the air on it. Leprechauns are supposed to have buried their treasure underneath the roots of this plant. And on the Isle of Man, there is the belief that if you stepped upon a ragwort plant on St. John’s Eve (Midsummer Eve) after sunset, a fairy horse would spring up out of the earth and carry you off until sunrise, at which time it would leave you wherever you happened to be.

Elder: Almost all trees are home to some sort of elven kind, including elm, oak, willow, yew, fir, holly and so on. However, elder trees have the highest elf population. The Elder Mother who dwells within the tree is very protective of her domain, and it is taboo to cut part of the tree without asking her permission first. Stories tell of the Elder Mother tormenting children who were in cradles of elderwood (which had not been asked for) by pulling them by the legs. The chant for asking permission is:

“Old Woman, Old Woman, Give me some of your wood And when I am dead I’ll give you some of mine.”

And if you stand under an elder tree at midnight on Midsummer Eve in Denmark, you will see Toly, the King of the Elves, go by.

Oak: In Germany, this is the fairies’ favorite dwelling place, and they are especially fond of dancing around it.

Barley: A common grain, but one of the main foods of the fairy. Fairies would often borrow oatmeal from storehouses and return a double measure of barley as repayment.

Silverweed: Also known as silver cinquefoil, the roots of this plant were another of the fairies’ favorite foods, which they called brisgein. However, it likes to grow in marshy areas, so cultivating it might be a problem.

Heather: This is another of the fairies’ favorite foods.

Wild thyme: Another herb that was thought to be home to fairies, since they liked the aromatic flowers and spent their leisure time among them. If you picked the flowers from a patch of wild thyme where the little folk did live and placed them on your eyes, you would be able to see the fey.

Cowslip: This flower is also known as fairy cups in Lincolnshire and was often a hiding place for frightened fairies. At dawn, as the light shines on the dewdrops, the fairies “hang a pearl in every cowslip’s ear.”

Ferns: This plant was guarded by Oberon on Midsummer Night, since this is when the fern would flower – a beautiful sapphire blue – and Oberon wanted to prevent mortals from obtaining the fern seed. If you managed to collect it despite him, you would be under the protection of spirits, and while you carried the seed it would render you invisible.

Clover: Finding a four-leaved clover grants you a wish and gives you the power to see the fairies dancing in their fairy rings. This is also the main ingredient of fairy ointment, which gives you the power to penetrate the fairies’ glamour and see them as they truly are. Be careful, though: If you unknowingly carry a four-leaved clover (in a bundle of grass), the fairies have the power to enchant you.

Foxglove: The flowers serve as petticoats for the fairies, and in Ireland they serve as fairies’ gloves. Also, flowers are used as thimbles when fairies mend their clothing.

Furze bushes: The cobwebs collected on their branches are used to make fairies’ mantles.

Stichwort: In Devonshire, people do not pick this for fear they be “pixy led.” Held in special honor by fairies.

Strawberries: In Bavaria, fairies are very fond of strawberries and peasants will tie a basket of strawberries between cows’ horns to assure an abundance of milk.

Rose: In Germany and Scandinavia, this plant is under special protection of dwarfs and elves, both who are ruled by King Laurin, Lord of the Rose Garden.

Cabbage stalks: Also serve as transportation for fairies, who ride these like horses.

Cuscuta Epithymum: In Jersey, known as “fairies’ hair.”

Peziza Coccinea: Used for fairies’ hats.

Elecampane: In Denmark, this is known as “elf-dock.”

Toadstools: These are thought to be “stylized pixy stools” and in the north of Wales are called “fairy tables.”

Pyrus Japonica: Used as kindling for fairy fires.

Tulips: Flowers are used as cradles for fairy children.

Wood anemone: Shelters fairies in wet weather.

Wood sorrel: From Wales, its white flowers are known as “fairy bells” and are used to summon fairies to their reveries.

Mallow: The fruit of this plant is called “fairy cheeses” in the North of England.

Nightwort: Evil elves prepare poison in this plant. It is also one of the sacred plants of the Dutch Alven, along with elf-leaf, which they watered and strengthened against the coming day. The Alven would sicken or kill people or cattle that touched the plants.

Globe flower: Also called the “troll flower.”

Hawthorn: In Brittany and Ireland, also called “fairy thorn,” this tree is the trysting place of fairies. To pick a branch or leaf from a hawthorn is to court the displeasure of the fairies.

Wormwood: This is “Dian’s bud,” which Oberon used to remove the enchantment from Titania. Wormwood is also protection against the Rusalky of Russia, who will tickle you to death if they find you in the woods without some of this in your pockets.

Flax: The flowers are not only protection against sorcery but also are beloved of Queen Hulda, who leads a procession through the valley between Kroppbuhl and Unterlassen while the flax is blooming. Fairy-flax is used by the fairies to weave all their linen. Poludnitsa, the Noon Woman, interrogates women she finds in the flax fields at noon, to make sure they know how to cultivate and spin flax. If they answer incorrectly, she kills them.

To prepare a sleeping place for Queen Titania, you should plant these flowers:

“Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with lush woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine, There sleeps Titania sometime of the night Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.”

Any fruit out of season or remaining after the harvest is the property of the fairies. In the West of England, strays are left to assure fairy goodwill. Fairies, like witches, don’t like yellow flowers and will go out of their way to avoid them.

Many thanks to my gothic garden researcher, Anagram…..

Ritual Death: The Adonis Garden

Adonis was worshipped as a god of vegetation, or at least a god associated with vegetation, in the Hellenic world. (I won’t discuss the radically differing viewpoints on this.) Adonis was born of Myrrha, the myrrh tree, seduced both Persephone and Aphrodite with his androgynous charm and died young, killed by his ineptitude in a boar hunt, and his body was found in a bed of lettuce. Some tales even have Aphrodite hiding him in that bed of lettuce.

Devotees of his cult, mostly concubines and courtesans, would grow on their rooftops a garden with fast-sprouting plants in baskets and small pots, which surrounded a statue of the god. The plants were always lettuce, barley, wheat and fennel. The rites of Adonia were performed in the middle of the summer, during the time when the sun was at its hottest, so these plants quickly sent up tender young shoots and just as quickly withered in the heat from the sun. They were allowed to grow for only eight days, after which the dry, withering sprouts were throw into the sea, along with an image of the god.

Lettuce, in particular, seems to have a lot of associations with death and sterility in the minds of the Greeks. Of course, it was in a lettuce bed where Adonis met his fate. The Greeks considered lettuce a “wet” plant, and this wet nature suggested to them bogs and decaying corpses. In fact, in one of his comedies, Euboulos wrote, “Lettuce is a food for corpses.”

The Somber Garden

This is the original theme that gave me the idea for Gothic Gardening and will obviously discuss black (or near-black, since in nature black is a fairly rare color) plants. It seems that about once a month on rec.gardens someone asks the question “Are there any black flowers I can grow?” This list is not all-inclusive, but it’s as complete as possible.

Note: I’ve included many plants in this list that I have no earthly idea of where to find them.

Flowers

Roses: I’m sorry to say, there’s just no such thing as a black rose. I could probably write an entire column on near-black roses alone, since this seems to be the black flower everyone wants (but not me… I’d rather have true-black tulips). “Taboo” claims to be the nearest yet, but I found the flowers to be fairly red. The Taboo rose came from Germany, which does earn it some goth points, but it’s still not dark enough for me. In Germany, it’s known as Barkarole. The experts on rec.gardens.roses recently discussed the question of black roses, and the list of cultivars I have is derived mainly from them. I haven’t personally seen many of these roses, so I can’t vouch for just how dark they are, and I am most certainly not a rose expert….

(Note: Many people have e-mailed me to tell me many of these roses are nowhere near black. Caveat emptor.)

  • “Ink Spots”: supposed to be slightly darker than “Taboo” and also supposed to be better able to withstand heat. One description was “sooty black over fiery red.”
  • “Ingrid Bergman”: dark red rose, highly recommended.
  • “Oklahoma”: dark red buds, a dark, purplish red bloom, hybrid tea rose, also highly recommended.
  • “Sympathie”: a climbing rose with dark red buds.
  • “Black Jade”: a miniature rose that is dark red, reportedly about the same shade as “Ink Spots.”
  • “Brian Donne”: another miniature, slightly lighter than “Black Jade.”
  • “Love’s Promise”: a black/red rose with a raspberry scent.
  • “Tuscany” and “Tuscany Superb”: antique roses, deep red with blackish overtones and lots of fragrance.
  • “The Squire”: a David Austin rose with near-black buds and dark red blooms.
  • “Souvenir du Dr. Jamain”: a Hybrid Perpetual, deep burgundy, with some purple.
  • “Nuits de Young”: a purple-black moss rose.
  • “The Prince”: a dark red-purple English rose.
  • “Papa Meilland”: dark red-black in colder climates.
  • “Kentucky Derby”: similar to Papa Meilland.
  • “Onyx”: a Hybrid Tea, dark red-black.
  • “Black Tea”: not really black, but brown.
  • “Deep Secret”: red-black buds, dark red flower, fragrant.
  • “Black Lady”: again, near-black buds and dark red blooms.
  • “Cardinal de Richelieu”: a dark purple Gallica rose.
  • “Deuil de Paul Fontaine”: a dusky purple-red moss rose. Goth points for the name – it translates to “mourning for Paul Fontaine.”

Hollyhocks: Found labeled as Althaea rosea nigra, A. nigra or “The Watchman,” these are single saucer-shaped blooms that are a deep, chocolate maroon. This was grown by Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if he was secretly a goth….

Snapdragon: The “Black Prince” cultivar has foliage that is dark green with dark reddish maroon overlay. When it flowers, the blooms are very dark, velvety crimson.

Gladiolus: Cultivars I’ve seen listed that all seem to be dark black-red, rather than a true black, are “Morocco,” “Black Stallion,” “Black Swan,” and “Bewitched.”

Canna lily: The “Black Knight” canna lily doesn’t look that dark to me. It’s supposed to be deep red with burgundy foliage.

Sunflowers: There isn’t any such thing as a black sunflower, but there are several options for dark colored ones… which are a dramatic change from the big, bright yellow ones people are used to. Deep-hued “Evening Sun” sunflowers have deep, rich, earthen tones (mahogany-red, rusty bronze, deep gold, burgundy and bicolored combinations all with dark center disks). Two other dark cultivars I’ve seen are “Floristan” and “Velvet Queen.”

Salvia: Andean Silverleaf or Peruvian Sage, Salvia discolor, has spikes of dark purple-black flowers and silvery foliage. The scent is a combination of fruit, eucalyptus and resin.

Tulips: “Queen of Night” dwarf tulips are a deep velvety maroon, as is “Black Diamond.” Supposedly, when tulip breeding was an art several centuries ago, there were black tulips. This is the closest I’ve seen commercially available. There’s also a “Black” Parrot tulip, which is deep purple and has “whipped” petals, and a “Black Hero” double tulip, which is derived from “Queen of Night” and has flowers resembling a peony. I’ve also seen a listing for the “Black Swan Tulip,” Tulipa gesneriana, but I don’t know how black it is, or if you can buy it.

Bachelor’s Buttons: Also know as cornflowers, there is a deep maroon variety, known as “Black Ball” or “Black Boy.”

Columbine: Aquilegia vulgaris has a deep maroon and white spurred variety, which is known as “Magpie” or “William Guiness.” A. atrata is the black columbine and has purple-black flowers. A. viridiflora has jade green and black flowers.

Cosmos: The chocolate cosmos has burgundy-black flowers and a slight chocolate scent.

Kangaroo paws: This flower is native to Australia. The black kangaroo paw has flowers and stems that are covered by black hairs – the green barely peeks through.

Fritillaria: F. camschatcensis, also known as the black rice root lily, black lily, chocolate lily, or Black Sarana, has bell-like flowers that are ruby-black. F. davisii has deep-green bell flowers that are heavily tessellated with purplish-brown so they appear black. F. persica has spikes of very dark plum flowers.

Daylilies: The darkest daylily cultivar I’ve seen is “Smoking Gun,” which is a maroon-brown-black color with yellow star points. There are lots deep red-black and purple-black daylilies, including “Eleventh Hour,” “Night Raider,” “Cairo Night,” “Vintage Bordeaux,” “Dominic,” “Ed Murray,” “Khans Knight,” “Midnight Magic,” “Night Wings,” “Super Babe” and “Troubled Waters.”

Scabiosa: Also known as the pincushion flower, the “Satchmo” variety is a deep maroon. These are excellent cut flowers.

Hyacinth: “Distinction” isn’t that close to black but is deep cherry with a maroonish-black stripe down the center of each petal. Simply gorgeous.

Dianthus: Dianthus includes pinks, carnations and sweet william. Dianthus nigricans has very dark flowers, and there is a cultivar known as “King of Black,” which I haven’t seen, but I suspect is dark. There is also a cultivar that is deep purple-black with white edging, which I’ve seen named “Velvet and Lace” or “Black and White Minstrel.” I’ve seen mention of a black carnation, but the closest I’ve found is a deep crimson variety, “Douglas Phu.” Sweet william, Dianthus barbatus, has a variety called “Sooty,” which is near black and has green-black leaves.

Dahlia: The pompom form of this flower has several deep purple-black varieties available, including “Glenplace,” “Moorplace,” and “Black Tuber.”

Nemophilia: This is a very short plant with penny sized blooms. “Penny Black” has flowers black flowers edged with white, and “Freckles” has white flowers covered with tiny black spots.

Poppy: The peony-flowered poppy has a black cultivar, sometimes listed as “Black Cloud.” These are a deep purple-black.

Iris: Unlike other flowers, black varieties seem to plentiful in the iris family. Bearded iris varieties include “Superstition,” “Study in Black,” “Licorice Stick,” “Swazi Princess,” “Night Ruler,” “Hello Darkness,” “Paint It Black,” “Night Owl,” “Black Tie Affair,” and “Before the Storm.” There’s the “Black Gamecock” Louisiana iris. And the Chinese iris, Iris chrysographes, has a black, non-frilly flower.

Butterfly Bush: The “Black Knight” cultivar has blue-black flowers.

Hellebores: Hellebores are one of those flowers that have a range of colors from white to near-black. They are prized by many because they are in bloom in late winter, when not much else is growing, let alone blooming. The H. orientalis hybrid “Atrorubens” is fairly easy to find and has plum colored flowers. However, there are blacker varieties out there; they’re just more difficult to find. Some blackish-purple strains I’ve seen listed include “Alberich,” “Andromeda,” “Ballard’s Black,” “Black Knight,” “Castor,” “Pollux” and “Sorcerer.” “Nigricans” is indigo blue-black, and “Philip Ballard” is a very dark blue-black. I’ve also seen some stunning pictures of H. torquatus, which grows wild in (the former) Yugoslavia. The flower color is variable, with dark plum, violet-black, grey (!), and green inside/black outside all seen. This is often the species used to hybridize H. orientalis to get the darker colored flowers.

Geraneum: Geraneum phaeum has very dark purple flowers. It was once known as Mourning Widow because its flowers are so dark.

Sweet Peas: Grown for the blooms, not a vegetable. “Pageantry” is a beautiful deep red-purple. Sweet peas are found most commonly in mixes, though, and almost all the mixes will include a deep maroon or deep purple one.

Primrose: There are very deep purple primroses that look almost black available at most nurseries. There is also a gold-laced primrose, “Black and Gold,” which has a yellow eye at the center of the flower, nearly black petals and a rim of yellow on each petal (the “lacing”). There are show auriculas that have white centers and black petals, although the color of the petals is obscured by either a grey-green or green color, so that there’s only a ring of black around the center.

Heather: The darkest colored heather I’ve seen mentioned is a cultivar of Erica cinerea known as “Velvet Night.” The blooms are supposed to be purple-black.

Rudbeckia: An unusual daisy, “Green Wizard” has only green sepals (no petals), and a prominent black cone. Very odd.

Viola or pansy: Violas and pansies are not the same flowers but are often listed interchangeably. The black pansy really looks black, although you can see the slightest hint or purple around the yellow eye. I’ve seen it listed as “Bowles Black,” “Black Prince,” “Molly Sanderson,” and “Black Magic.”

The Gothic Gardening “Black Thumb” award goes to Clive Lundquist for sending all of the following suggestions for black flowers:

  • Arum conophalloides var. caudatum: Gorgeous, deep purplish black arum.
  • Eminium rauwolfii: As above but very black. Needs dryness.
  • Trillium sessile: Commoner, blacky/purplish “flower.”
  • Calochortus nigrescens: Black hairy flowers but needs warmth and likes it dry in winter.
  • Roscoea scillifolia: Very black, very small, short-lived flowers
  • Gladiolus atroviolaceus: Needs dry summer, black flowers in spring.
  • Arisaema ringens / triphyllum: Black, gorgeously gothy.
  • A. speciosum / griffithii: Brownish but still very gothy aroids.
  • Bellevalia pycnantha: Deep browny-black grape hyacinth.
  • Muscari commutatum: As above.
  • Iris nicolai: Black and white flowers in midwinter (often called I. rosenbachiana black and white).

Ornamentals

Clover: Black four-leaf clover, Trifolium repens “Purpurascens,” is actually chocolate brown with light green edges.

Tiarella: False Miterwort has a new cultivar known as “Inkblot,” which has glossy leaves that are green on the edges, but blackish in the center. It has light pink flowers in the spring (cut ’em off!).

Heuchera: The “Pewter Moon” variety of this plant has purplish black leaves with a silver gloss.

Pussy willow: The black pussy willow comes from Japan. The catkins are so dark that they appear black against the red twigs.

Black Mondo Grass: Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” is not actually a grass (it’s really a member of the lily family). It has purple-black leaves and small pink flowers that are followed by glossy black berries.

Bamboo: Phylostachys nigra has pitch black stems. Warning: Bamboo is usually invasive. Grow it in a pot.

Ornamental Sweet Potato: Ipomoea batatas “Blackie” has black leaves and stems.

Taro: The “Jet Black” ornamental taro is actually deep burgundy.

Fountain grass: Black fountain grass, Pennisetum alope “Moudry,” has ribbon foliage with ebony seed plumes. P. staceum “Rubrum” has bronze-purple leaves and flower spikes.

Smoke Bush: The “Royal Purple” cultivar has foliage that opens red but matures to a deep purple. The flowers are feathery purple plumes.

Carpet Bugle: Ajuga “Royalty” has midnight purple leaves. This is used as a ground cover and can be walked on!

Ornamental Pepper: Capsicum annuum “Black Prince” has black-purple foliage. The young fruit is red but turns black as it matures.

Durum (ornamental wheat): “Black Bearded” durum has cream-colored heads that splay out into 4- to 6-inch stiff bristles, which turn dark black when mature. “Black Eagle” has glumes that are partially black and continue onto the awns.

Broomcorn (sorghum): Two varieties are of interest: “Black Kafir” has black club-shaped heads. “Black Amber” has amber seeds covered with a shiny black coating.

Oats: Yet another ornamental grain, the “French Black” cultivar has jet black heads. All of the ornamental grains work well for unusual flower arrangements.

Vegetables

Everyone knows eggplants are nearly black, but here are a few unusual black vegetables….

Tomato: “Black Krim,” “Black Prince” and “Southern Nights” are all varieties that produce black tomatoes, which are really a dark brown-red or garnet. All of these varieties are heirlooms from Russia. The reason these tomatoes are black is that they retain their green pigment even as they develop the red pigment… other tomatoes lose the green.

Lettuce: The “Ibis Hybrid” variety is such a dark red that it appears black. Another “greens” alternative is Tatsoi, which is an oriental green with black-green spoon shaped leaves.

Bell pepper: There are chocolate peppers, which are really dark brown, but closer to black is the “Purple Beauty” cultivar, which as you may have guessed is very dark purple.

Black Spanish radish: One of the oldest of heirloom vegetables, black Spanish radish has been cultivated since the sixteenth century. The skin of the roots is deep, deep, purple, almost black, with white flesh. Of course, you can’t see the roots while it’s growing, but you could always prepare a gothic salad of black lettuce, black tomato, black bell pepper and black radish.

Black Aztec corn: A sweet corn that should be eaten when the kernels are white but will turn black when fully mature. This was apparently the first corn noted by the Europeans in 1493.

Basil: This is an herb, not a vegetable. The “Dark Opal” variety has very dark purple leaves. It is excellent for flavoring vinegars and oils.

Snap Beans: The “Royal Burgundy” or “Purple Tepee” varieties have beans that are almost black – but unfortunately turn green when cooked.

Fruit: This is a fairly common province of black in nature, including black cherries, black raspberries, blackberries and black plums. These are all really common, so look them up yourself.

The Night Garden

Since you gothy types rarely seen the light of day, what good does a garden do you? Well, here is the answer: a garden that consists of night-fragrant or night-blooming plants. Of course, you can’t really see that black garden at night. The key color here is white. White glows in moonlight. And there are several varieties of plants that bloom exclusively at night, or whose flowers may be open during the day but don’t release their scent until the evening.

Night-Flowering Plants

Evening primrose: “These soft-scented flowers have four satiny heart-shaped petals that come together forming 2-inch open cups with frilly long stamens. When they open in the evening, the blossoms are a soft clear white that gradually fades into pink as the flowers mature. Their luscious scent reminds us of a cross between honeysuckle and lemon custard. The flowers open every evening throughout summer until first frost.”

Sweet-scented nicotiana: These nicotianas (yes, that’s the tobacco plant) have creamy-white tubular flowers borne in graceful sprays on softly draping branches. The 2- to 3-inch trumpet-shaped blossoms are closed in the daytime, but in the late afternoon and evening they fill the air with a jasmine-like scent.

Moonflowers: These 6-inch trumpet flowers unfurl in slow motion every night just at sunset. Pure white with faint green tracings, the blossoms are very fragrant all evening. By noon, the flowers dwindle and close and are barely seen in the dense foliage.

“Midnight Candy” night phlox: “These tidy upright plants bear umbrella-like clusters of small, delicate phlox-like flowers. The insides of the petals are pure white, and the outsides are a satiny maroon with a hint of white where petals overlap. During the day, the flowers are tightly closed, just showing a hint of color. As dusk comes on, there is a magic moment when they open like a display of little firework stars, releasing a delicious almond/ honey/vanilla-like fragrance that wafts throughout the garden.”

Angel’s Trumpet: Datura meteloides has 6-inch white trumpet flowers that open at night and remain open well into the following day. This flower is a favorite subject of Georgia O’Keefe. This was also used by California Indians as a narcotic for the youth to seek their visions and be initiated into society. Warning: poisonous. Don’t eat it to get a high.

Evening stock: Many-branched 1½-foot plants have grey-green leaves and 1-inch star-shaped flowers of very pale violet. The blooms are closed tightly all day but open at dusk to pour out a fantastic spicy fragrance.

Nottingham catchfly, night-flowering catchfly and white campion: These are all members of the genus Silene, which also has several day-blooming members. These plants have sticky stems, hence the name “catchfly.” The odor of the Nottingham catchfly is described as sweet and reminiscent of hyacinths, and its flowers open on three successive nights before withering.

Bouncing Bet (also known as soapwort): With either pink or white blossoms, this plant fills the night with sweet perfume. Also used to make detergent – hence the soapwort moniker.

Four o’Clocks: In late afternoon, Mirabilis jalapa’s 2-inch trumpet-shaped flowers unfurl, releasing a rich jasmine-like perfume. These plants, with blooms in pink, rose, white, orange and yellow, are very easy to grow and fast growing. They’re also known as “Marvel of Peru.”

August lily (fragrant Hosta): The leaves are about six inches long and four inches wide, with eight pairs of impressed veins. The white, waxy, trumpet-shaped flowers appear on 30-inch scapes, and each is five inches long and three inches wide. The scent is of pure honey.

Vesper iris: A native of Mongolia, the sweetly fragrant flowers are a dull greenish white spotted with brownish purple or reddish purple with white splotches. Like many iris blossoms, they become spirally twisted after flowering.

There are also about 50 different cultivars of daylilies that bloom at night. Some of my favorites are called “After the Fall” (tangerine and copper blend with yellow halo), “Jewel of Hearts” (dark red flowers with a red-black center), “Moon Frolic” (near white), “Toltec Sundial” (fragrant sunshine yellow) and “Witches Dance” (dark red with a green throat).

Night-Fragrant Plants

Many plants will have flowers open during the day, but they don’t release their scent until evening.

Perfumed fairy lily: Chlidanthus fragrans has a rich lily fragrance at night. Three or four yellow, funnel-shaped flowers are carried on stems up to a foot high.

Night gladiolus: Gladiolus tristus has creamy yellow blossoms that are intensely fragrant at night with a spicy-sweet perfume, and the unusual leaves look like a pinwheel cut in half.

Tuberose: Victorians loved this sweet and heady (almost overpowering) fragrance. The flowers are waxy white and two inches long.

Carolina jessamine (also known as evening trumpet flower): The evergreen leaves surround sweetly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers of bright yellow that are particularly sweet as evening approaches. This grows wild in the South.

Finally, some suggestions for plants that don’t necessarily bloom only at night or release fragrance then but which have white blooms to glow in moonlight:

  • “Purity” cosmos
  • “Armour White” verbena
  • “Alba” foxglove
  • Summer hyacinth
  • “Bride” impatiens
  • “Alba” bleeding heart
  • “Moonraker” Cape fuchsia
  • “Perry’s White” oriental poppy
  • “White Swan” camellia
  • White forsythia
  • “Alba” columbine
  • “White Lace” Dianthus

And for a note of interest: silver thyme, “Alba” eggplant (egg-shaped fruits of glistening white), “Casper” or “Boo” white pumpkins and Fraxinella (the gas plant: at night, if you hold a match to the plant, either the plant glows with a blue flame – that doesn’t harm it – or the flowers burn with an orange flame and release the smell of lemon into the air).

The perfect accessory for any night garden, besides some lovely gargoyles, would be a moondial.

There are many, many more plants that can be included in the night garden. If you want more information, I suggest either The Evening Garden by Peter Loewer, or Evening Gardens by Cathy Barash, both written exclusively about gardening for the evening and night hours.

The Enchanted Nights of Midsummer

by Asherah

When I was a young  girl, I had a book of tales and poems about fairies. I don’t know where it is now, probably on  one of my parents’ dusty bookshelves, missorted after a move. It was a  big book, mostly pictures, and it fascinated me: I wanted to get into  that world, in with the fairies.

I only remember one verse: “The fairies will be dancing, when there’s a  ring around the moon.” But I remember that the big fairy holiday was  Midsummer Night.

On Midsummer Night, the witches, the fairies, the spirits of the dead, the wraiths of the living: all will be abroad and visible.

I couldn’t have been more than five, but it enchanted me, the idea of  slipping out at midnight, stars veiled in the humid dark of summer,  maybe with a flashlight (a candle would have been more romantic but  harder to get), to a ring trodden bare in grass that flickered around my  ankles. The circle would break, a small, bony hand  held out to  mine…

But I knew if I tried slipping out I’d get in trouble. Moreover, I was  confused. It seemed Midsummer Night was June 21, or thereabouts, but  wasn’t that the beginning of summer? If so, why was it called midsummer?  I consulted my mother, but the contradiction didn’t bother her; she said  that was just the way it was. It was only much later that I stumbled on  the answer, that if Beltaine is summer’s start the solstice falls at  Midsummer.

In medieval times, Midsummer was the feast of St. John the Baptist. The herbs of St. John are St. Johnswort, hawkweed, orpine, vervain, mullein,  wormwood and mistletoe. Plucked (depending on your tradition) either at  midnight St. John’s Eve or at noon St. John’s Day and hung in the house,  they will protect it from fire and lightning. Worn about the body, they  will protect you from disease, witchcraft and disaster.

Previously, Midsummer was one of the great fire festivals of Europe. At Stonehenge, it is said, Midsummer was a time of human sacrifice. The  children’s counting-out rhyme “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo” may be a relic of  the means by which the Druids chose their sacrifices.

It was around Midsummer when my friend Holly and I decided to enchant  David, who was the cutest boy in our class. We were 11, and what might  happen if he really fell in love with both of us didn’t cross our minds.  (I think each of us in her heart of hearts felt he’d choose her.) Holly  got a copy of the Dell pocketbook Everyday Witchcraft from the stand at  the grocery store checkout line, and I talked my mother into buying me  one too. One of the love spells instructed us to collect grass from his  lawn and make a charm from it.

So we slipped out and met at dawn . I remember the feel of dawn asphalt  cool beneath my feet. In Kansas City the lawns are pretty big; sitting  on the sidewalk at the far corner of David’s lawn, at the bottom of a  steep incline, we ran little risk of being seen. So we collected a few  strands and sat a while, basking in his nearness.

If an unmarried girl, fasting, on Midsummer Eve at midnight sets the table with a clean cloth, bread, cheese and ale, leaves the yard door  open and waits, the boy she will marry, or his spirit, will come in and  eat with her.

Plant two slips of orpine (Sedum telephium) together on Midsummer Eve, one to represent yourself, one to represent your lover. If one slip  withers, the one it represents will die. But if both take hold, flourish  and grow leaning together, you and your lover will marry.

It was around Midsummer also, and I, 13, but not much the wiser, when my  friend Vanessa and I did candle-magic on a mutual friend, Troy. Vanessa  made a good, thick candle-poppet of him, with the wick for his head. She  was angry at him, and her spell was to banish him; she buried the  candle-poppet in the gutter outside her house. I had a crush on him, and  my spell was quite the opposite, though I didn’t confess this to  Vanessa. Our spells must have crossed, because while Vanessa and Troy  made up, ever afterward Troy had an aversion to me.

To become invisible, wear or swallow fern seed (that is, fern spores) that you collected on Midsummer Eve.

On Midsummer Eve at midnight, the fern blooms with a golden flower. If you pluck this flower, it will lead you to golden treasure. In Russia,  the flower must be thrown in the air, and it will land on buried  treasure. The Bohemians believe that if you pluck the flower and on the  same Midsummer Night climb a mountain with the blossom in hand, you will  find gold or have it revealed to you in a vision. Bohemians also  sprinkle fern seed in their savings to keep them from decreasing.

It was the fairies, and charms like those of Midsummer, that led me to  the Craft. I won’t swear all the high points of the summers of my youth  happened on Midsummer Night, but Midsummer is a kind of distillation of  all summer. On that night, perhaps you can brush back a feathery, green- smelling branch to see, dancing in a ring, fairies. Or  sometimes you  might find such a ring indoors.

[Enter Puck, carrying a broom]

“Now it is the time of night That the graves, all gaping wide, Every one lets forth his sprite, In the church-way paths to glide. And we fairies, that do run By the triple Hecate’s team From the presence of the sun, Following darkness like a dream, Now are frolic. Not a mouse Shall disturb this hallowed house. I am sent with broom before, To sweep the dust behind the door.”

(from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare)

Merry Midsummer to all.

A Midsummer’s Celebration

 by Mike Nichols

The young maid stole through the cottage door, And blushed as she sought the Plant of pow’r; — “Thou silver glow-worm, O lend me thy light, I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight, The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide If the coming year shall make me a bride.”

In addition to the four great festivals of the Pagan Celtic year, there are four lesser holidays as well: the two solstices, and the two equinoxes. In folklore, these are referred to as the four “quarter days” of the year, and modern Witches call them the four “Lesser Sabbats”, or the four “Low Holidays”. The summer solstice is one of them.

Technically, a solstice is an astronomical point and, due to the calendar creep of the leap-year cycle, the date may vary by a few days depending on the year. The summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, and we experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer.

However, since most European peasants were not accomplished at reading an ephemeris or did not live close enough to Salisbury Plain to trot over to Stonehenge and sight down its main avenue, they celebrated the event on a fixed calendar date, June 24. The slight forward displacement of the traditional date is the result of multitudinous calendrical changes down through the ages. It is analogous to the winter solstice celebration, which is astronomically on or about December 21, but is celebrated on the traditional date of December 25, Yule, later adopted by the Christians.

Again, it must be remembered that the Celts reckoned their days from sundown to sundown, so the June 24 festivities actually begin on the previous sundown (our June 23). This was the date of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Which brings up another point: our modern calendars are quite misguided in suggesting that ‘summer begins’ on the solstice.  According to the old folk calendar, summer begins on May Day and ends on Lammas (August 1), with the summer solstice, midway between the two, marking midsummer. This makes more logical sense than suggesting that summer begins on the day when the sun’s power begins to wane and the days grow shorter.

Although our Pagan ancestors probably preferred June 24 (and indeed most European folk festivals today use this date), the sensibility of modern Witches seems to prefer the actual solstice point, beginning the celebration on its eve, or the sunset immediately preceding the solstice point. Again, it gives modern Pagans a range of dates to choose from with, hopefully, a weekend embedded in it.

Just as the Pagan Midwinter celebration of Yule was adopted by Christians as “Christmas” (December 25), so too the Pagan Midsummer celebration was adopted by them as the Feast of John the Baptist (June 24). Occurring 180 degrees apart on the wheel of the year, the Midwinter celebration commemorates the birth of Jesus, while the Midsummer celebration commemorates the birth of John, the prophet who was born six months before Jesus in order to announce his arrival.

Although modern Witches often refer to the holiday by the rather generic name of “Midsummer’s Eve”, it is more probable that our Pagan ancestors of a few hundred years ago actually used the Christian name for the holiday, “St. John’s Eve”. This is evident from the wealth of folklore that surrounds the summer solstice (i.e., that it is a night especially sacred to the faerie folk), but which is inevitably ascribed to “St. John’s Eve”, with no mention of the sun’s position. It could also be argued that a coven’s claim to antiquity might be judged by what name it gives the holidays. (Incidentally, the name ‘Litha’ for the holiday is a modern usage, possibly based on a Saxon word that means the opposite of Yule. Still, there is little historical justification for its use in this context.) But weren’t our Pagan ancestors offended by the use of the name of a Christian saint for a pre-Christian holiday?

Well, to begin with, their theological sensibilities may not have been as finely honed as our own. But secondly and more  mportantly, St. John himself was often seen as a rather Pagan figure.  He was, after all, called “the Oak King”. His connection to the wilderness (from whence “the voice cried out”) was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines. Many statues show him as a horned figure (as is also the case with Moses).  Christian iconographers mumble embarrassed explanations about “horns of light”, while modern Pagans giggle and happily refer to such statues as “Pan the Baptist”. And to clench matters, many depictions of John actually show him with the lower torso of a satyr, cloven hooves and all! Obviously, this kind of John the Baptist is more properly a Jack in the Green! Also obvious is that behind the medieval conception of St. John lies a distant, shadowy Pagan Deity, perhaps the archetypal Wild Man of the wood, whose face stares down at us through the foliate masks that adorn so much church architecture. Thus, medieval Pagans may have had fewer problems adapting than we might suppose.

In England, it was the ancient custom on St. John’s Eve to light large bonfires after sundown, which served the double purpose of providing light to the revelers and warding off evil spirits.  This was known as “setting the watch”. People often jumped through the fires for good luck. In addition to these fires, the streets were lined with lanterns, and people carried cressets (pivoted lanterns atop poles) as they wandered from one bonfire to another. These wandering, garland-bedecked bands were called a “marching watch”. Often they were attended by morris dancers, and traditional players dressed as a unicorn, a dragon, and six hobbyhorse riders. Just as May Day was a time to renew the boundary of one’s own property, so Midsummer’s Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the city.

Customs surrounding St. John’s Eve are many and varied.  At the very least, most young folk plan to stay up throughout the whole of this shortest night. Certain courageous souls might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle of standing stones. To do so would certainly result in either death, madness, or (hopefully) the power of inspiration to become a great poet or bard. (This is, by the way, identical to certain incidents in the first branch of The Mabinogion.) This was also the night when the serpents of the island would roll themselves into a hissing, writhing ball in order to engender the “glain”, also called the “serpent’s egg”, “snake stone”, or “Druid’s egg”. Anyone in possession of this hard glass bubble would wield incredible magical powers. Even Merlyn himself (accompanied by his black dog) went in search of it, according to one ancient Welsh story.

Snakes were not the only creatures active on Midsummer’s Eve. According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween for its importance to the Wee Folk, who especially enjoyed a ridling on such a fine summer’s night. In order to see them, you had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it onto your eyelids. But be sure to carry a little bit of rue in your pocket, or you might well be “pixie-led”. Or, failing the rue, you might simply turn your jacket inside out, which should keep you from harm’s way. But if even this fails, you must seek out one of the “ley lines”, the old straight tracks, and stay upon it to your destination. This will keep you safe from any malevolent power, as will crossing a stream of “living” (running) water.

Other customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain, and trefoil. Indeed, Midsummer’s Eve in Spain is called the “Night of the Verbena (Vervain)”. St. John’s wort was especially honored by young maidens who picked it in the hopes of divining a future lover.

And the glow-worm came With its silvery flame, And sparkled and shone Through the night of St. John, And soon has the young maid her love-knot tied.

There are also many mythical associations with the summer solstice, not the least of which concerns the seasonal life of the God of the sun. Inasmuch as I believe that I have recently discovered certain associations and correspondences not hitherto realized, I have elected to treat this subject in some depth in my ‘Death of Llew’ essay.  Suffice it to say here, that I disagree with the generally accepted idea that the Sun God meets his death at the summer solstice. I believe there is good reason to see the Sun God at his zenith—his peak of power—on this day, and that his death at the hands of his rival would not occur for another quarter of a year. Material drawn from the Welsh mythos seems to support this thesis. In Irish mythology, midsummer is the occasion of the first battle between the Fir Bolgs and the Tuatha De Danaan.

Altogether, Midsummer is a favorite holiday for many Witches in that it is so hospitable to outdoor celebrations.  The warm summer night seems to invite it. And if the celebrants are not, in fact, skyclad, then you may be fairly certain that the long ritual robes of winter have yielded place to short, tunic-style apparel. As with the longer gowns, tradition dictates that one should wear nothing underneath—the next best thing to skyclad, to be sure. (Incidentally, now you know the real answer to the old Scottish joke, “What is worn beneath the kilt?”)

The two chief icons of the holiday are the spear (symbol of the Sun God in his glory) and the summer cauldron (symbol of the Goddess in her bounty). The precise meaning of these two symbols, which I believe I have recently discovered, will be explored in the essay on the death of Llew. But it is interesting to note here that modern Witches often use these same symbols in their Midsummer rituals. And one occasionally hears the alternative consecration formula, “As the spear is to the male, so the cauldron is to the female.” With these mythic associations, it is no wonder that Midsummer is such a joyous and magical occasion!


Document Copyright © 1983 – 2009 by Mike Nichols. Text editing courtesy of Acorn Guild Press. Website redesign by Bengalhome Internet Services, © 2009

Wishing You & Yours A Very Blessed & Prosperious Samhain!

Samhain Comments & Graphics


Double, double, toil and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble…
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. 

~William Shakespeare, “Macbeth” 

~Magickal Graphics~

The Enchanted Nights of Midsummer

The Enchanted Nights of Midsummer

by Asherah

When I was a young girl, I had a book of tales and poems about fairies. I don’t know where it is now, probably on one of my parents’ dusty bookshelves, missorted after a move. It was a big book, mostly pictures, and it fascinated me: I wanted to get into that world, in with the fairies.

I only remember one verse: “The fairies will be dancing, when there’s a ring around the moon.” But I remember that the big fairy holiday was Midsummer Night.

On Midsummer Night, the witches, the fairies, the spirits of the dead, the wraiths of the living: all will be abroad and visible.

I couldn’t have been more than five, but it enchanted me, the idea of slipping out at midnight, stars veiled in the humid dark of summer, maybe with a flashlight (a candlewould have been more romantic but harder to get), to a ring trodden bare in grass that flickered around my ankles. The circle would break, a small, bony hand held out to mine…

But I knew if I tried slipping out I’d get in trouble. Moreover, I was confused. It seemed Midsummer Night was June 21, or thereabouts, but wasn’t that the beginning of summer? If so, why was it called midsummer? I consulted my mother, but the contradiction didn’t bother her; she said that was just the way it was. It was only much later that I stumbled on the answer, that if Beltaine is summer’s start the solstice falls at Midsummer.

In medieval times, Midsummer was the feast of St. John the Baptist. The herbs of St. John are St. Johnswort, hawkweed, orpine, vervain, mullein, wormwood and mistletoe. Plucked (depending on your tradition) either at midnight St. John’s Eve or at noon St. John’s Day and hung in the house, they will protect it from fire and lightning. Worn about the body, they will protect you from disease, witchcraft and disaster.

Previously, Midsummer was one of the great fire festivals of Europe. At Stonehenge, it is said, Midsummer was a time of human sacrifice. The children’s counting-out rhyme “Eeny, meeny, miney, mo” may be a relic of the means by which the Druids chose their sacrifices.

It was around Midsummer when my friend Holly and I decided to enchant David, who was the cutest boy in our class. We were 11, and what might happen if he really fell in love with both of us didn’t cross our minds. (I think each of us in her heart of hearts felt he’d choose her.) Holly got a copy of the Dell pocketbook Everyday Witchcraft from the stand at the grocery store checkout line, and I talked my mother into buying me one too. One of the love spellsinstructed us to collect grass from his lawn and make a charm from it.

So we slipped out and met at dawn . I remember the feel of dawn asphalt cool beneath my feet. In Kansas City the lawns are pretty big; sitting on the sidewalk at the far corner of David’s lawn, at the bottom of a steep incline, we ran little risk of being seen. So we collected a few strands and sat a while, basking in his nearness.

If an unmarried girl, fasting, on Midsummer Eve at midnight sets the table with a clean cloth, bread, cheese and ale, leaves the yard door open and waits, the boy she will marry, or his spirit, will come in and eat with her.

Plant two slips of orpine (Sedum telephium) together on Midsummer Eve, one to represent yourself, one to represent your lover. If one slip withers, the one it represents will die. But if both take hold, flourish and grow leaning together, you and your lover will marry.

It was around Midsummer also, and I, 13, but not much the wiser, when my friend Vanessa and I did candle-magic on a mutual friend, Troy. Vanessa made a good, thick candle-poppet of him, with the wick for his head. She was angry at him, and her spell was to banish him; she buried the candle-poppet in the gutter outside her house. I had a crush on him, and my spell was quite the opposite, though I didn’t confess this to Vanessa. Our spells must have crossed, because while Vanessa and Troy made up, ever afterward Troy had an aversion to me.

To become invisible, wear or swallow fern seed (that is, fern spores) that you collected on Midsummer Eve.

On Midsummer Eve at midnight, the fern blooms with a golden flower. If you pluck this flower, it will lead you to golden treasure. In Russia, the flower must be thrown in the air, and it will land on buried treasure. The Bohemians believe that if you pluck the flower and on the same Midsummer Night climb a mountain with the blossom in hand, you will find gold or have it revealed to you in a vision. Bohemians also sprinkle fern seed in their savings to keep them from decreasing.

It was the fairies, and charms like those of Midsummer, that led me to the Craft. I won’t swear all the high points of the summers of my youth happened on Midsummer Night, but Midsummer is a kind of distillation of all summer. On that night, perhaps you can brush back a feathery, green- smelling branch to see, dancing in a ring, fairies. Or sometimes you might find such a ring indoors.

[Enter Puck, carrying a broom]

“Now it is the time of night
That the graves, all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite,
In the church-way paths to glide.
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate’s team
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream,
Now are frolic. Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallowed house.
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.”

(from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare)

Merry Midsummer to all.

Deity of the Day for June 9th is THOTH

Deity of the Day

THOTH

Also known as TAHUTI, TEHUTI, THOT
 

Well-known God with the head of an Ibis. He’s a good all-rounder for Arts, Science, Music, Astronomy, Speech and Letters. A good egg. Thoroughly recommended.

If ever a God was greater than great it was THOTH. In one translation his name is prefixed with the word ‘great’ no less than eight times. Thith may have helped to reduce the embarrathment cauthed by having a name that lookth like a lithp.

His resume seems too impressive to be true — but most of the facts speak for themselves. He is the master of time, mathematics, astronomy, readin’, writin’, ‘rithmatic — and almost anything else you can point a pair of dividers at.

365 days in a year? Thank THOTH (see AAH for the full story). 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night? Thank THOTH. Circles having 360 degrees? Thank THOTH.

His bestselling BOOK-OF-THE-DEAD is still in print and you will never be able to hitch-hike to Heaven on the Nile without it.

He does have his eccentricities — he sometimes likes to revert back to the good old OGDOAD days and appear as a baboon. Not just any old baboon, but one that could have written the complete works of Shakespeare before Shakespeare existed. (Now there’s an idea — it’s always been known that Shakespeare could hardly write his own name let alone spell it, so who really wrote all those plays that bearded scene-shifter claimed as his own?) In the custom of the times he chose the head of an Ibis with a fancy wig for those high-flying occasions.

Encouraging RA to call himself Top God left THOTH free to run just about everything without any fuss or hassle. Pocket calculators? THOTH used the whole firmament, available to all on a grand scale. Think Sky.

To make it easier, all the stars and planets required for calculation are associated with favorite Gods. Need to work something out via Sirius? Log in and have HATHOR guide you. Need the moon for phases, time or tides? Go to THOTH; he chose to be Top Moon God alongside his best buddy KHONSU.

Cool, modest, unflappable, and a brilliant arbitrator, THOTH has stood the test of time, time and time again. Full ticks and tocks to this tip-top God.

He was also known to Greek God geeks as Hermes Trismegistus, possibly to avoid talking with a lisp.