Monday, June 21, 2010

Mid-Summer's Eve

"I believe that faeries exist as a tribe of spirits, and appear to us in the form of men and women." -- Donald McKinnon, 96 years old, Barra Penninsula, Scotland, 1910

In Faery Tale, one of the many startling discoveries that I made was that my trip to the United Kingdom to collect faery lore and study what may be left of local belief, followed another momentous search conducted by an academic at Oxford named Walter Evans-Wentz: exactly 100 years earlier, to the very day.

Academics like Walter Evans-Wentz and even poet and writer William Butler Yeats traveled the countryside in their day, searching to solve the riddle of faeries for themselves. They collected stories and first-hand testimonies from the country folk they encountered who referred to the faeries deferentially as "Themselves," "The Fair Folk," "The Shining Ones." Many a farmer at the turn of the century in Britain and Ireland could claim to have spotted lights coming from within a dark glen, music floating on the evening breeze with no explicable source, catching sight of a ring of faeries dancing, hand-in-hand, and even long lines of tall, stately dressed men and women coming down from the dark hills under the light of the moon.

In faery lore, references abound of the faerie's love of feasting, dancing, and celebration. Since faeries are believed to be spirits of the earth, many believe that on important days like the fall equinox, the summer solstice, Samhain or All Hallows Eve, were of particular importance to the faery race, and at these times of the year the world of magic became a little more tangible: our world was drawn somehow closer to theirs.

While we today classify June 21st as the First Day of Summer, in ancient times festivals that honored today celebrated the summer solstice as Mid-Summer -- the ancient Summer season began on May Day and ended on August 1st. So today is actually the very height of summer. It begins a time of incessant heat and humidity for many of us, of global warmth, thriving of plants and fruits and vegetables, and today being the longest day of summer, we will have 15 hours of daylight. All across Europe and Scandanavia bonfires were built to celebrate this, the pinnacle of summer and of the earth's miraculous bounty and fertility. And yet today, with more environmental heartache than we've seen in decades, many of us feel hopeless, sad, and disillusioned.

Many of us are asking, what can we do in a time like now? The press says volunteers are not needed to clean the shores of the gulf. Any who are able can of course send money, but where could we send it where it can have the most impact? It's easy to feel helpless on a day like today, even guilty -- after all, when we acknowledge the importance of today, it's a terrible feeling to understand that instead of honoring the earth and its cycles, we are destroying it. But this has been on my mind a great deal. We can't deny this is a tremendous wake-up call. And I think the most important thing we can do, on a day like today, is give the earth our love.

It's easier than it sounds! I'm not talking about meditating, or chanting, or building your own private ritual bonfire under your next-door neighbor's window -- I'm talking about seeking a way in which to make your own footprint lighter. And there are so many ways that we can begin, today, to make a difference. No matter where we live. We only need to understand that each of us does indeed, have the power to make a change.

-How much trash are you putting in the trash can on a daily basis?
-How many plastic bags are you using, both grocery bags and ziplock, for example?
-Are you leaving lights on and electronics plugged in perpetually, when things could get switched off and unplugged?
-How much water are you using for brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, washing your hands and taking your showers? Can you shut off the water while you soap up, or fill up a dishtub part way, rather than letting it run?
-Can you set your air-conditioner at 76 degrees instead of 72?

Recently Eric and I started composting -- we got a pretty silver container with reusable filters from Crate and Barrel, and a $40 black recycled plastic compost bin for outside. Yes, we were late to the eco-party, but I've been amazed at how conscientious it's made me about everything else. It feels so amazing to see it fill up with summer's bounty: Watermelon rinds, local lettuce, summer squash and garlic skins. All of these will mingle with our shredded paper, our eggshells, our pine straw from our big lady pine in the back yard, producing good, sweet soil to nourish our tiny garden of zucchini, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. We walk around feeling unplugged and not knowing why. This is a way to plug in, and the more we plug in, the more we can recognize harmful habits and work to improve our relationship to the one thing that sustains us all: our planet. So in celebration of today, think about what change you might be able to make and do something today to put it into action. You'll feel incredible, I promise!

As I was reading up on Midsummer, as often happens these days, I came across something that surprised me. Any of you who read the book will read about this plugging in, and how once we do, we may even begin to get little... feelings about things. These whispers of intuition have become, since my journey, as familiar as my own reflection in the mirror. A big believer in purifying my living space using the ancient method of burning sage, I recently gave my last sage bundle to a friend who was moving out of town and into a new home. I knew she'd use it well, but it made me sad that I had none left, and no place in Charleston to buy more. It occurred to me then that I have sage growing quite well now, in the little herb garden I planted on the side of the house. Why did I need to rely on someone else to sell me dried sage when I could produce my own? Perhaps this came as a whisper. I read up on how to harvest herbs properly, respectfully, when they are to be used for such purposes, and was planning on waiting until the end of the summer to harvest from my plants. But yesterday I kept feeling that I should harvest it now, now, now. So last night at twilight, I knelt in the dirt and clipped three long bundles of the fuzzy green leaves, making sure to leave enough growth for it to regenerate in  the next few months. Taking it inside, I bound it with thin, pink yarn from New York State Sheep and hung it in my closet to begin its drying process. My very own sage!

It wasn't until this morning that I read that herbs for sacred and magical purposes have always been gathered on Mid-summer or Mid-summer's Eve (the night before) for centuries. This is because it is believed that plants around this time possess their most intense essence, as this is the day when the sun is at its most powerful. So there you go. Perhaps today, if nothing else, is a good day to begin listening to that inner-voice, and see what surprises it gives you!

Attached are some pics I took moments ago of the entrance to our backyard with our gardening shed, my teeny herb garden, and just so we know the faeries are paying attention -- a dragon fly that sat oddly still, letting me snap its photo to say happy mid-summer to us all! Can you spot it perched on the unopened Canna Lily?

With hopes for an enchanted evening of your own,

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