Monday, June 24, 2013


WATER, FIRE, AND THE MOON                                           Return to
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A Walk at Dusk.  Caspar David Friedrich, 1830-35
The huge, beautiful full moon shone down as I sat at the computer last night, writing about St.John's Eve and St. John's Day.  I was almost ready to post when the lights flickered and dimmed.  Gadgetry turned fitfully off and on and off again, madly beeping and clicking. Then all went dark.

From Solvang to Cambria, a huge swath of the central coast of California was lit only by lanterns, candles, starlight, and the moon.  I spent the remainder of the evening with a candle and book, luxuriating in the 19th-century calmness which descends when one is completely unplugged.   Note to self:  once a week, when evening comes, unplug and return to the 19th century to calm and center.


A Midsummer bonfire in Scandinavia

Today is St. John's Day!  I hope that some of you were out reveling the night before, singing, dancing, and leaping bonfires under that magnificent moon.

Some bonfires are kept burning through the daylight hours, as well.  Midsummer Eve applies both to the night before the Summer Solstice and St. John's Eve, which is June 23rd.  In many countries, this remains an important holiday, especially in Northern Europe and the Baltics.  Bonfire celebrations on this day are Pre-Christian in origin. Most frequently the sites chosen for these fires are very near to water, for it's spiritual impact.  St. John the Baptist's Feast Day is celebrated on June 24th as well, and overall, the two traditions are strongly braided together.

Although specifics vary a bit from country to country, there are many constants.  The Midsummer tradition of leaping over the fire is said to remove bad luck and ensure a good future.  The fire itself is said to ward away bad spirits, to ward off sickness, to protect homesteads and farms from fire (indeed, not lighting a fire on Midsummer is considered by some to be an invitation to a burnt home at some point during the year), for good luck and an abundant harvest.   Many also regard Midsummer as a highly favorable magical time for those hoping for love and fertility.

Infant Christ Offering a Drink of Water to St. John.  Murillo.   


John the Baptist was born to an elderly cousin of the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, who long believed herself to be beyond childbearing years:  a miracle in itself.  It is often thought that St. John the Baptist was born about six months prior to the birth of Jesus - hence, St. John's Day to Christmas, Midsummer to Yule.

In AD 27, John, who some believe may have been the reincarnation of the prophet Elijah, began baptizing people in the River Jordan,
to cleanse them of that which is unwholesome, to acknowledge their repentance of sin, and to ritually prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.  John baptized Jesus Christ..  

The Baptism of Christ.  Guido Remi, 1622-23
King Herod married his brother's wife, Herodias.  St. John objected to this marriage as unlawful.  Herod, miffed, responded by having him imprisoned, where he remained for the rest of his life.  Herodias harbored a grudge against the John the Baptist, and conspired with her daughter, Salome, to find a way to have him killed.  At a feast, Salome danced for King Herod, so pleasing him and his guests that Herod offered to grant her any wish, even unto half of his kingdom.  Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Though this displeased Herod, who privately knew that his prisoner was a righteous man, her wish was granted.

June 24 is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.


A tradition, especially in (but not restricted to) the New Orleans area, is to collect St. John's Water every year on St. John's Day. This water is protective; it wards off evil and keeps the one who collects and keeps it secure and safe from harm.

River in Midday.  Oil on canvas.  Ostroukhov, Russian.  1892
Take a clean glass bottle with a lid.  A dark colored bottle is best.  I prefer dark blue, but brown will do.  Wash the bottle and lid with hot soapy water and rinse thoroughly, adding a little ammonia to your rinse water.  Allow to dry.

Carrying your bottle, go to a river in your area.  Here on the central coast of California, this means climbing down into an arroyo, full of patterns in the sand from earlier floods, scrub brush, and animal tracks.  At this time of year, though the water is still flowing,  the stream is shallow and narrow.  Rivers are the right body of water to use.  We are, after all, dealing with St. John the Baptist, who baptized in the Jordan River.

The beautiful Wissahickon River
 Recite your prayers, asking for the blessings for the year to come.  The Lord's Prayer is a powerful and very traditional prayer to use at this time.
Ask for the help and the blessing of St. John the Baptist, he who was so intimately aware of the spiritual power of rivers.  Fill your bottle, cap it, and take it home with you.

Set this bottle on it's side by the hinge side of your front door, so that it is a bit hidden from those who come to your door.  Make sure that the neck of the bottle is facing the door.  Keep the bottle in this position throughout the year.

If anyone comes to your door who you do not wish to deal with, anyone who may make life difficult for you  - or even if you are just worried that they may come to trouble you - simply roll that bottle with your foot Roll it back and forth on the floor, as you concentrate on exactly what you want.  Then roll the bottle right back into it's original position, where it will continue to guard and defend your home for the remainder of the year.  As always when requesting the aid of any saint, thank St. John the Baptist for his assistance.

Renew this every year on St. John's Day.



St. John's wort - Hypericum perforatum
Herbs like St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which come into bloom in midsummer, have long been harvested on St.John's Eve and St. John's Day.  I myself have gathered it on this day, in gilded fields awash with sunlight.  Midsummer-blooming herbs which are harvested today are believed by many to be imbued with special healing powers.  The fresh flowering tops of St. John's Wort, when macerated in oil, produce a bright, blood-red medicine which is a joy to behold.  Tinctures and teas of the dried flowering tops will also turn beautifully red.  The deeper the red, the stronger the medicine tends to be.

St. John's Wort - Hypericum perforatum - has beautiful yellow flowers with little dark dots about their margins.  The leaves have tiny, translucent glands which look rather like perforations when held up to the sun.  Some say that if a sprig of St. John's Wort, harvested now, is placed under your pillow, you will dream very vividly, perhaps of St. John himself.  St. John's Wort is believed to dispel evil in all it's guises.  To protect your home from wicked practitioners of malefic magic and drive away evil, hang sprigs of St. John's Wort over your doors and windows.

Rue.  Ruta graveolens, the Herb of Grace

St. Johnswort sends internal devils packing too:  it is a wonderful plant for mild to moderate depression and for for irritable and jangled nerves.  Paired with cornsilk and uva ursi, it is helpful for urinary tract infections.  St. John's Wort oil is a healing oil par excellence for bruises, sprains, and scrapes.  It helps to regenerate nerves and is useful in cases of peripheral neuropathy, numbness or tingling of the extremeties, etc.  It helps to heal fresh scars.  It is wonderful to use externally for a painful back.  It is anti-inflammatory, good for joints, wounds, and sores.  It even helps to overcome bed-wetting.

Other plants mentioned in pre-20th century European herbals for harvest at Midsummer for their magical and physical curative properties include fennel, rue, vervain, birch, calendula, rose, and others.   I personally feel that this small window of time right around the Summer Solstice and St. John's Day is one of the very most blessed and magical times for collecting botanicals for medicine-making, whether for conjure oils or for teas, tinctures, poultices, and the like.   I know that my products are made with these deep traditions in mind.


Finally, after all this talk of jumping over fires, herbs, rivers and the moon, one spectacular poem:

On The Origins Of Things

                                 by Troy Jollimore

A Carnival Evening.  Henri Rousseau, 1886
Everyone knows that the moon started out
as a renegade fragment of the sun, a solar
flare that fled that hellish furnace
and congealed into a flat frozen pond suspended
between the planets. But did you know
that anger began as music, played
too often and too loudly by drunken performers
at weddings and garden parties? Or that turtles
evolved from knuckles, ice from tears, and darkness
from misunderstanding? As for the dominant
thesis regarding the origin of love, I
abstain from comment, nor will I allow
myself to address the idea that dance
began as a kiss, that happiness was
an accidental import from Spain, that the ancient
game of jump-the-fire gave rise
to politics. But I will confess
that I began as an astronomer—a liking
for bright flashes, vast distances, unreachable things,
a hand stretched always toward the furthest limit—
and that my longing for you has not taken me
very far from that original desire
to inscribe a comet's orbit around the walls
of our city, to gently stroke the surface of the stars.

© Troy Jollimore

Troy Jollimore is the author of two books of poetry, 'At Lake Scugog' and 'Tom Thomson in Purgatory'.  He is a 2013 Guggenheim fellow. Now in California, he grew up in Nova Scotia.  I am in awe.
Moonlight.  John Atkinson Grimshaw, 1871
Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Wishing you all all that is good,

Dara Anzlowar
St. John's Day, full moon in Capricorn 

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The photo of the Wissahickon is © Dr. Eoghan Ballard.
The photo of the bonfire is courtesy of Wikipedia, altered by me.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Midsummer Night's Eve, 2013


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  Midsummer Eve, June 2013                                                             

Midsummer's Eve.  E.R. Huges, 1908
Tonight is Midsummer Eve, the night before the Summer Solstice.  It is midnight here on the beautiful central coast of California.  The moon is a cool, gravid curve in the glimmering dark.  It will be entirely full within two days, on St. John's Eve.

Outside tonight, the entire natural world seems to me to be especially alive, aware, waiting, intelligent, and hushed in anticipation, almost as if it is holding it's collective breath, yet still joyful, exultant and lush. There really is an incredibly strong sense of magic afoot tonight!  All the natural world remembers, even if people forget.

In years past, when living on the East coast where the woodlands are green, moist and leafy, I was blessed to be in Summer Solstice ceremony with others I loved, praying, singing, fasting, and strongly building community.  I remember my old friends, still tonight fasting, praying, and truly in a holy and altered state, with love and admiration.  Prayer of this sort strengthens the world, and helps to ensure the ongoing of all that is good.

Tonight's Midsummer moon, as seen from my house
My strong feeling is that this is a very special time, a doorway through which we can walk.  Tonight is full of magic, a time when you can pray, do ritual, dream, or remain awake and aware of the natural world and all the spirits.  They surely are aware of you.  I encourage any willing to sleep out of doors tonight, and over the next few nights.  Some of you may be doing as your ancestors did, and enjoying Midsummer bonfires.

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, the point of greatest light. I believe that this is prime time to come into balance with anything in your life which is not quite right.  If you have fallen out of balance with another for whom you care, or have been neglecting something which you know you should attend to, or in some other way are not in right relationship with the world, there is no time like the present to cleanse and renew.

A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Henry Towneley Green, 1895
This is best done via a ritual bath very early in the morning, as the sun rises.  Bathe by pouring a solution of spiritually active ingredients (Hoodoo Roots Spiritual Cleansing Bath is a wonderful choice!) over yourself while standing in a small tub or in your bathtub, with the drain plugged.  Think hard on what you need to change, and vow to do so.  Pour the solution over yourself, letting it sluice down your body from head to toe.  You may do several pours.  Focus intently, then step away from the tub.

Allow yourself then to air-dry.  Scoop up a cup of the bath-water.  Dress in clean clothes.  Carry your bath-water to a crossroads.  Stand, and cast the water towards the rising sun.  Then turn around and go back home without looking back either figuratively or literally.  Enjoy the beautiful day!  Be outside and be joyful!  Celebrate the beauty of the world.  Be good to others, and reach out in loving greeting to those you know!  It is a new world and a new life.  Remember your vow, do your best, and know that the world conspires towards goodness. Change has come.

Bonfire on St. John's Eve (Ivan Kupala).  Henryk Siemiradzki, Polish, 1880.  St. John's Eve is June 23.

I also feel strongly that the Summer Solstice is a fantastic time to ritually and respectfully harvest plants for herbal medicine, whether for physical or for subtler emotional, mental, and spiritual purposes.  Remember that a plant's life force is strongest in the flowers when it is in bud and flowering; in the leaves when leafing;  in the fruit, if it is fruiting; and in the roots when it has died back for the winter.  Harvest with this in mind.

Sunflower.  From the Hortus Eystettensis herbal, 1613
Avoid harvesting from areas close to roadways, close by agricultural run-off, and other sources of pollutants.  Always ask permission from the plant prior to harvesting.  Never take more than you need.  If you have a specific problem you are harvesting the plant for, express your need and ask for it's assistance.  Wait until you are sure that you have received the plant's agreement that you may continue.  If not, do not harvest, for what you take without permission will not work well for you, especially on the subtle levels.  Worse, the plant will remember your misbehavior, and will tell all of it's relations.

 I will be harvesting roses and other plants and flowers on the Solstice, myself. I will also prepare some potions and some flower remedies.  I have made flower remedies on the Summer Solstice in previous years, and have always felt that those remedies had a noticeably potent vibe.  These are very easy to make, and I will post soon about how I do this.

Midsummer Dance.  Anders Zorn, 1897

The radiant Summer Solstice is a day of joy and celebration the world over, and it should be part of our awareness as well.  Cultures from every corner of the earth have long celebrated this night and day!  No matter what race you are, no matter from which tribe you come (and everyone belongs to a tribe, or tribes), the overwhelming likelihood is that your ancestors were aware of this night and day, and at some point, celebrated both.  Dancing (often about an erected pole, like the interesting traditional Swedish Midsummer maypole, shown in the painting to the right), singing, bathing in natural waters, and large bonfires are common threads in Solstice celebrations.  Make them yours as much as you can, and mark the beautiful turning of the year with reverence and full enjoyment!
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Wishing you all the blessings of the season.
Happy Summer Solstice!

Dara Anzlowar
Midsummer Eve, waxing gibbous moon in Scorpio

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and may not be mirrored in whole or in part on any other internet websites, nor reprinted for distribution in any format.