Welcome to Theo’s Blog

Welcome to Theo’s Blog

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Welcome to Theo’s Blog. And it is a very happy blog because we can all cast our sheepskins aside and bask almost naked in the weather of midsummer. Official midsummer in Ireland in 2013 is Friday, 21 June.

In Ireland, many towns have some sort of shindig. They are loosely called ‘Midsummer Carnivals’. But it is really just an excuse to hear some live music, light some big feck-off fires (mostly illegally) and set off some fireworks (mostly illegally). But hey the otherwise usually stern Irish Protection Agency won’t put us in jail this one time. On midsummer night they do tend to look the other way because bonfires on midsummer night have been around as long as the Celts themselves have! The traditions live on since pagan times, so we are given special permission to go burn a whole pile of stuff in a green just this once.

Midsummer is officially the longest day of the year, and why not celebrate it? We all like to celebrate the most liked season – long days, more drinking time, and sunshine on our skin.

However, the summer solstice is a double-edged sword. It is high summer, which is great, but it also signifies a turn of the tide. The summer solstice marks the sun’s journey back to the dark night.

Days start to get shorter, and we know winter is on the horizon. However we humans have always tended to live in the now, so today, let’s celebrate our pants off.

The Celts often noted throughout history that at this time of the year, the night time sky doesn’t become truly dark – a bright yellow sunset will be visible all along the northern horizon during the night. While our sun does eventually go down on midsummer night (albeit briefly), in places like Scandinavia, the sun grazes the horizon but never goes under it. This is why the area is the “land of the midnight sun”. We don’t get midnight sun, but after the drip-fest that was the start of 2013, we are grateful for any ray of anything.

Although Midsummer started out as a pagan celebration, with the arrival of Christianity, it soon morphed into something a bit different. Now, within the church calendar, it is celebrated as the birthday of John the Baptist, one of Jesus’ mates and possible relative of the dude. But John the Baptist didn’t light any fires. He was too busy running around baptising people. But like a lot of traditions in Ireland that were originally Pagan, the church celebrations, rather than totally overriding the Pagan celebration, ended up blended with the Pagan ways in a cocktail of stern ceremony and nature-based pleasure. The new Christian beliefs didn’t entirely envelop the old belief system. Up until the late 1950s, accounts from old folk showed that some people still believed that on midsummer’s eve witches were thought to be on their way to meetings with other powerful beings!

In Ireland, many people believed that plants had miraculous healing powers and they were at their most potent on midsummer’s eve. They were picked on this night, and preserved for later use. St John’s Wort was one of these plants. It has been used medicinally for centuries in Ireland. It was deemed so important that on Midsummer’s eve many a picking party would be out scouring the fields for the stuff. Also, many a young maiden would put a piece of yarrow, picked on midsummer’s eve, under her pillow, and supposedly that night she would dream of her future husband! Many young girls now would largely hope to dream of One Direction. You’d need 5 chunks of yarrow for that I guess.

But the main thrust of the night was to light a big fire. Jumping over it was seen as a cleansing for the year. Prayers were often said to obtain blessing for the crops, which at this time of year were in full bloom. Humans could not relax until the harvest was in during autumn, so they prayed seriously hard. Women prayed for success in their garden crops and for good weather. I think we stopping praying for that about 2010, because something has broken in that regard.

Another tradition was to walk through the fields with lit torches to bless the fields, and then throw the torch into the fire afterwards, ensuring the banishment of evil away from the crops.

It was also a tradition to jump over the fire for luck. Luck is a broad category, it covered new businesses, fertility, good health, marriage or just pulling someone, anyone. Lovers would jump through the flames holding hands, ensuring a long and successful relationship. Sometimes this was just a flirtation, but people who saw it knew that things were hot and happening at this point.

After the fires had burned down to flickering embers, the ashes would be distributed through the fields as a blessing of the crops. If the people failed to do this, it was seen as inviting trouble onto their crops. Some of the ashes were kept for medicinal purposes. I hope I never have an ailment that would require me to take charcoal internally. So I’m off to jump the hell over a fire.

So go forth, modern-day Irishers, and enjoy the bejapers out of midsummer’s eve. The celebrations pre-date Jesus, but if you want to invite him and his mates, and roll it into one, then do so. It’s not a good celebration unless everyone is invited.

Just don’t set your pants on fire.

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