This has always seemed like a magical time of year to me, Midsummer, the Solstice, Litha, whatever one wishes to call it; it has ever since I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream when I was eight years old. The Sun is now in the sign of Cancer, my birth sign, the sign of the Moon. The magical forces are now at the height, and Robin Goodfellow puts a girdle round the Earth!
Midsummer Eve itself, St John's Eve, is a major holiday for witches and all who love them, all who love the old power and the ancient ways. Traditionally it was a fire and water festival, a central feature of which was ritual baths and bonfires. The bonfires themselves were closely linked with water, lit as they were on the shores of streams, lakes, rivers and oceans.
Midsummer marks the convergence of the Sun and the Moon. The Sun, now at its height, has entered Cancer, the great water sign, the only sign ruled by the Moon, the only sign ruled by Artemis, Diana and Hecate, the lunar goddesses. All those who share the sign of Cancer with me are collectively the Children of the Moon, hunters, witches, flyers and lovers.
This was a time when witch-hunters of the past claimed that witches rode out to meet Satan, whereas the real witches, not the monsters of imagination, simply gathered to renew their sacred bond with the earth, to celebrate its bounty and fertility. It was a time also for gathering magical plants, a time when they were at their most potent. Russian witches use to harvest those which grew on the top of Bald Mountain, considering them to be the most powerful on Earth.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is by far my favourite Shakespearean comedy, light of touch and light of heart, rich in all sorts of magic, a world of fairy visions. And it just so happens that one of favourite paintings touches on the very same themes. It’s The Fairy Raid: Carrying off a Changeling on Midsummer’s Eve by Joseph Noel Paton, a nineteenth century Scottish artist who painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style. He is better known for The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania but for me The Fairy Raid is just sublime. The technical proficiency is astounding but there is far more here. This is a vision that could only have come of a true love of the Realm of Faerie.
Magic, love and fruitfulness, these are the things Midsummer Eve and the Solstice are about; this is what they will always be about. All hail to thee, Children of the Moon.
Four days will quickly steep themselves in nights;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.