This page was created by Marc Carlson
It was last edited 9 June 2004
This is the night before the summer solstice.
These are listed separately, as the historical treatment of Midsummer is
one of the greatest faerie riddles I can imagine, but St.
John's and Midsummer should be the same holiday.
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 hobby-horse riders. Just as May
Day was a time to renew the boundary on one's own property, so Midsummer's
Eve was a time to ward the boundary of the community
Most young folk held late night partys, planning to stay up throughout
the whole of this shortest night of the year.
Some people might spend the night keeping watch in the center of a circle
of standing stones, risking death to gain the power of poetic inspiration.
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
In Britain, Midsummer night was second only to Halloween for its importance
to the Faeries, who especially enjoyed a ridling on such a finesummer's
night. Some Faerie lore includes:
To see the Faeries, gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub
it onto your eyelids.
You might be led astray by Pixies unless you carry some Rue in your pocket.
Or, you might simply turn your jacket inside-out, which should keep you
from harm's way, as will crossing a stream of 'living' water.
Other customs included decorating the house, especially 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.