Friday, June 13, 2014

Midsummer Tree

Midsummer is the period of time centered upon the Summer Solstice, between June 20 and June 25.  The exact dates vary between different cultures and locations.  The Sun reaches the peak of its powers; it is the longest day of the year and the shortest night.
Midsummer is the time when everything is abundant and flourishing.  Flowers smell their sweetest, colors are their most vibrant, trees are their greenest and berries are their sweetest.  It is said that during a full moon on Midsummer Eve a mortal may witness fairy dances and celebrations.

The customs and traditions associated with Midsummer are many and varied.  In Sweden, Germany and Wales, the Maypole dance is performed on June 23, and is called the Midsummer Tree or Midsummer Birch.  In Wales, the branches of the tree are cut and used to decorate the pole.  The dancing, beginning at noon on Midsummer Eve, is said to have continued for nine days in ancient times.

In the Finnish Midsummer celebration, bonfires are very common and are burned at lakesides and by the sea.  Often two young birch trees are placed on either side of the front door to welcome visitors.  The traditional Midsummer party in Spain is the celebration in honor of Saint John the Baptist. 

In Geneva, Illinois, USA, hosts a Swedish Day festival on the third Sunday of June.  The event features maypole-raising, dancing, and presentation of an authentic Viking ship, dating back to 1911.  In South America and Austria, it is the burning boat or candle boat.  Paper boats are filled with flowers, set afire and sailed off on the ocean or river, to carry prayers to the Goddess.
In the Harz Mountains, Germans keep up a custom of dancing around a tree of life on the Summer Solstice.  They cut a tall fir; shave off the lower bark leaving its top green, decking it with flowers and eggs.  They put this sanctified tree in the center of their Midsummer ritual, and come dressed in their festival best to play music, sing and dance rounds.

Before a tree is raised, greens and flowers are collected and used to cover the entire pole.  Midsummer poles were raised and dressed with flowers and ribbons and cloths and crowned with ginger-cakes.  Dancers course around the tree that they had ritually set up and decorated.  Musicians play beneath the pole as dancers competed in hopes of winning the cakes.  All over Europe, people dance with wreaths on their heads, hopping and leaping to the music of bagpipes and handclapping.  And many people are handfasted during these celebrations. 


For your own Midsummer Tree, start by choosing a tree.  The apple tree was sacred to the Goddess Idunn.  Idunn was the Maiden who provided golden apples to the Gods that gave them eternal youthfulness.  Birch twigs were used to bring prosperity and to encourage conception.  Cradles were once made from birch so that the infant within would be protected. 

The oak tree is the tree of Zeus, Jupiter, Hercules, Thor and other Gods.  The oak is the most sacred of all trees; its wood is often used in the making of magical tools.  Hang a sprig in the home to ward of negativity and strengthen family unity.  Carry a piece for wisdom and strength, for luck, to preserve youthfulness and to increase attractiveness.

One day Odin, Vili and Ve walked on the beach.  There they found two logs; one appeared to be from the Ash tree and the other appeared to come from an Elm tree.  The first man was given the name Ask and the first woman was given the name Embla.

If you have a maypole, you can decorate that.  Since this day is opposite to the Yule, try to find a deciduous tree.  Find a tree that has green leaves, outside and easy to access.  Be respectful, if there is a nest in the tree or if it needs cutting to access maybe choose another tree.  Shortly before the Solstice, decorate the honored tree or pole. 
The Midsummer is about life and light.  You do not want to cover the tree with plastic or harmful litter.  Try pine cones, peanut butter, flowers, bird seed, paper, fruit, feathers and solar lights.  Try hand-making some ornaments.  This is fun with children using paper, leaves or string.  Use your imagination to string popcorn together, loop paper ribbons into a chain, and hang berries or other decorative offerings.  If you are using a pole, generally green leaves and flowers are wrapped around.    

On the day of the Solstice, attend to the tree.  Bring some music to dance around it at high noon.  Weave prayers and offering into the decorations.  Start a bonfire to light the night, singing and dancing between them.  This is also a good time to recharge tools and other items with sun energy.  Or try the Yggdrasil mediation practice.

No celebration is complete without a meal to go along with it.  Try a picnic around the tree.  Celebrate with foods that honor the fire and energy of the sun.  Enjoy light summery snack wraps, some fiery grilled salmon and sweet candied ginger.  Remember to share and thank the Divines for your food. 

A picnic is a great idea for the more Urban Pagans or those without a tree or pole.  Go to a local park or roof top with some treats for both humans and animals.  Make little piles of bird seed around your picnic area.  Or if there are trees in the park, leave natural offering in the tree limbs.  Just know the park rules. 

Many times during a handfasting (marriage), trees are decorated.  Similar ideas could be used but like the handfasting basket, try to fit the decorations to the couple.  Many times photos, keepsakes, memories, prayer cards or other items are used that match the theme or the couple. 

Take advantage of the extra hours of daylight and spend as much time as you can outdoors.  After the feast, clean any litter.  And do not leave a bonfire hot and unattended.  Have fun in the sun.

The sun is high above us
shining down upon the land and sea,
making things grow and bloom.
Great and powerful sun,
we honor you this day
and thank you for your gifts.
Ra, Helios, Sunna, Aten, Svarog,
you are known by many names.
You are the light over the crops,
the heat that warms the earth,
the hope that springs eternal,
the bringer of life.
We welcome you, and we honor you this day,
celebrating your light,
as we begin our journey once more
into the darkness.



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