Happy Summer!

Or should it be Merry… hmmm….

 

Any how! 

Some facts, today is the longest day of the year (meaning the most sunlight)!

The Summer Solstice is also known as:  Alban Heflin, Alben Heruin, All-COuples day, Feast of Epona,  Feast of St. John the Baptist, Feill-Sheathain, Gathering Day, Johannistag, Litha, Misummer, Sonnwend, Thing-Tide and Vestalia.

It's also a day that neo-pagans celebrate with picnics and mead.   mmmmm… mead…

And some history!

 

SUMMER SOLSTICE – JOHANNISNACHT – MIDSUMMER NIGHT!

The Summer solstice was celebrated by the Germanic tribes and their

neighbors, the Slavs and Celts, above all with huge bon fires. Druids

celebrated it as the wedding of Heaven and Earth.

Possibly because the summer solstice was celebrated as the day of victory of

sun and light over darkness and death, the church placed the feast day of

St. John the Baptist onto June 24, directly opposite the feast day of the

birth of Christ on December 24. As Jesus is baptized by St. John and

announced as the Savior, it points to Jesus' role as the one who will

triumph over death.

St. John's, Johannestag on June 24, is the name day of all of those who are

named Hans, Johann, John, Jack, etc.

Wide-spread were customs and rituals, the magic of the shortest night, of

nature and the woods. It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic,

of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions,

when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames, maidens

would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were

banished.

Healing attributes were ascribed to flowers and herbs, to waters and brooks.

Water customs were attributed to the day and the cleaning and decorating of

wells and fountains persists to this day. A specific fern that blooms, herbs

that are picked at that time are said to have healing power; a dip at

Johannisnacht has special powers, as have foods like baked elder flower

blossoms.

Customs which have to do with health and fertility for fields, domestic

animals as well as humans, persisted over the ages and church and nobility

joined into these customs. They were also celebrated in cities and towns

with parades, pageants, plays and festivals in the market place, the town

green and in the forests.

Some of these celebrations in their various forms can be found to this day

in parts of Europe and even in the United States. At the Midsummer Festival

in Indianapolis, held June 26, 1993 at the monument circle till midnight,

contemporary music and fine foods could be found. There were four music

stages and over 30 restaurants were serving food. Tucked away somewhere was

a picnic in the park for homeless veterans.

Every year on June 23, the eve before the Feast of John the Baptist, in the

mountains of the Werdenfelser Land (Bavaria) mountain fires are burning.

This old custom developed after the Christianization from the Germanic

summer solstice celebrations. In former times the "fire makers" were mostly

shepherds, who burnt dry wood and kindling. Today old and young are on their

way, shortly before dusk, to peaks, ridges and cliffs, to light fires with a

mixture of wood shavings and oil in old food cans. On hills and open spaces

near villages, children and youth will collect weeks before, large wood and

kindling mounds, which will then be lit with the adults. In the cliffs of

Waxenstein, Zugspitze and other places huge crosses will be put up and lit,

to commemorate a fellow mountain climber who fell to death. Many will meet

in a mountain hut or a mountain farm (Alm) for a bite to eat, music and

Gemütlichkeit. (Der Oberbaierische Fest-Täg-und Alte-Bräuch-Kalender 1993,

p. 67) To say that these were merely pagan traditions would be to simplify

the matter, as would be to say that they were just entertainment.

Shakespeare in Midsummer Night's Dream brings these traditions and their

hidden meanings to life. In the "Dream" the collective myth and the personal

dream are so closely interwoven that a literal interpretation of the play

may leave us puzzled.

What happens to the two pairs of lovers when they leave Athens to spend the

night in a forest on the outskirts of the city. If it is to be comedy in the

sense of being "comical," if all that Shakespeare wants to show is that

humans are fools, as he has Puck exclaim, "Lord, what fools these mortals

be!" there would be no need for the symbolic elaboration that goes into the

making of the play.

The adventure in the woods, in the view of eminent psychologist, Carl Gustav

Jung, is an inseparable part of the encounter between the animus element in

those that dwell in the forest, make darkness their home for one night. The

encounter of the lovers, a shared dream, takes place within their own

unconscious. It is only when they leave the woods at sunrise, that they are

reawakened to a new consciousness. In the words of Demetrius, during the

night some "power" helped him recover from "sickness" to "health."

What then is the play all about? Hermia's father is trying to separate her

from her beloved Lysander. We meet Lysander on his way to the house of a

childless widow-aunt, where Hermia and Lysander are to be married. It is

Midsummer night and to reach her house they have to pass a forest. Hermia,

who is following Lysander, is followed by Demetrius, who dotes on her. He in

turn is followed by Helena who loves him deeply. In the forest Puck plays

tricks on the four bewildered lovers. All the ensuing mischief that Puck

does, when he transforms Bottom into an ass, is a result of Oberon's command

who enlisted Puck's help in his power struggle with Titania.

Titania's pursuit of Bottom (changed into an ass), can be understood best in

terms of the wood symbolism that constitutes the metaphorical background to

the confusion. Jung explains:

… the forest dark and impenetrable to the eye, like deep water and

the sea, is the container of the unknown and the mysterious. It is an

appropriate synonym for the unconscious. Trees, like fishes in water,

represent the living contents of the unconscious. … The mighty old oak

represents a central figure among the contents of the unconscious,

possessing personality in the most marked degree. It is the prototype of the

Self, a symbol of the source and the goal of the individuation process. The

oak stands for the still unconscious core of the personality, the plant

symbolism indicating a state of deep unconsciousness. From this it may be

concluded that the hero of the fairytale is profoundly unconscious of

himself. He is one of the 'sleepers,' the 'blind' or 'blind-folded'… (Jung

in Alex Aronson, Psyche and Symbol in Shakespeare, p. 206).

All the psychic energy, that animated the lovers outside the forest, is

either paralyzed or turned into confusion. Puck is merely an instrument of

the unconscious self, "an archetype closely resembling the 'Trickster-

figure' which Jung discovered in American Indian mythology." According to

myth he is "God, man, and animal at once."

Midsummernight, the longest night of the year spells its magic. With warmth

and light and reborn nature, in stark contrast to winter with reign of

darkness and long cold nights, it calls for special celebrations. Darkness

has lost its power, light is triumphant.

Ruth Reichmann

Max Kade German-American Center

Indiana Univ.-Purdue Univ. Indianapolis

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