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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  1. Thank you so much, Dara, for this post. So informative, interesting, thoughtful and beautiful - kind of like YOU. :) Also - thanks to Eoghan for providing an image of the beautiful Wissahickon, which inspired a group of mystical Christians whose practices seem to provide some of the spiritual antecedents of hoodoo.

  2. Thank you for your very kind words!
    I too am grateful for that gorgeous image of the Wissahickon. I grew up around rivers that looked like that, and miss them.

    Thanks for commenting!


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