Key to the Sacred Pattern

23 June 2007

Midsummer's Eve

This article should be making it's way to Unexplained Mysteries today or tomorrow. But I thought I'd post it here for you all first..

For as long as man has memory, we have ascribed importance to certain days of the year. Be these days’ feasts, astronomical events, birthdays, or anniversaries; a certain day turns into a special event. One has to look no further than their day timer to find multiple examples of how we honor the passage of time in this way. Of all the days in a year, I can think of few that have as much esoteric importance, June 24th.

Primarily, June 24th is the traditional day of Midsummer’s Eve. The ancients identified this day with the summer solstice and ascribed a mystical importance. The summer solstice is the longest of day and the shortest night of the year. Ostensibly due to unusual solar nature of the day, magical powers are at their peak. The walls between this world and the next became thinner on Midsummer’s Eve. Evil spirits roamed the earth that day and the populace used magic to protect them against the hellish onslaught.

The rituals and traditions that developed around the warding off Midsummer’s Eve’s spirits are primarily European and vary from region to region. These origins of these traditions predate Christianity and are lost to the modern day world. However, many of differing traditions live on, in some form, even today. With the diversity of celebrations, there are two common denominators that flow through all these cultures; fire and plant life.

Certain plants and herbs took on magical powers of healing, divination, and protection. Many of the rituals that revolve around flora ascribe a certain effect for a particular plant. Mistletoe was used to protect against misfortune, wormwood placed under a pillow would foster a dream of your true love, Saint John’s Wort protected you from evil and helped you predict the future. The list of plants and effects goes on and on.

Fire was also used to drive the spooks back into the netherworld. Men would strip to the waist and jump through fires to show their courage, thus discouraging spirits from meddling with them. Bones were burned in bon fires and their ashes scattered to the four corners of a field to insure a good harvest. Lovers would leap through the same fires to increase fertility. Torches were carried around flocks to dispel illness.

Some of these traditions are still practiced throughout Europe, but with a slightly different bent. With the introduction of Christianity into Europe, Midsummer’s Eve turned into John the Baptist’s Fest Day. To insure the full overshadowing of any older traditions, John the Baptist’s Fest was elevated to the status of Solemnity. This meant that this was a Grade “A” fest that took place even when it fell on a Sunday.

Also of note, Saint John the Baptist’s Day is one of two Masonic feast days. The other feast day is John the Evangelist’s day on 27 December. Both are viewed as the patron Saints of Masonry. At least in Tennessee, all Masonic Lodges are required to have some service honoring both Johns on their appropriate day.

June 24th is also the anniversary of the Scottish forces defeating the English Army at Bannockburn in 1314. If you’re unfamiliar with the socio-political situation of the English/Scottish conflict, there’s a good article on Wiki to get you up to speed.

The tale goes that Robert the Bruce’s brother, Edward Bruce, had given the forces at Sterling Castle an alternative to a long drawn out siege. The Bruce’s brother made a pact that if the English did not send reinforcements by midsummer night eve that the English commander would hand over the castle. Upon hearing the terms of the pact, English King Edward I, thinking this would be an easy end to the Scottish problem, issued orders for a massive army to march north towards Sterling.

Instead of backing down from the challenge his brother had made, the Bruce decided to turn it into his advantage. His peers would have described the Bruce as an unconventional tactician. The Bruce employed primarily guerilla tactics that made use of very advantage the land had to offer. Bannockburn was no different. The Bruce’s plan was conduct the battle in the marshy Bannockburn. This would slow the advance of both English cavalry and infantry; thus giving the Scots the chance to attack when and where they wished.

The plan worked throughout the first day of battle on 23 June. The English forces were fought to a draw. As midday pressed on the second day, the battle was beginning to favor the English. Then, suddenly on a hill behind the Scottish forces came a group of fresh reinforcements. What ever this force was, it spooked the English army so badly they routed from the field. The route was so severe that Edward II was almost captured as his army fled.

The historical debate still goes on as to who or what these reinforcements were. Historical accounts suffer due the lack of any surviving first hand account of the battle. Conventional history teaches that the mysterious reinforcements were women and children waiving Scottish banners and beating pots and pans while cresting the hill.

Having visited the battlefield, this seems unlikely to me. Given the heat and press of battle was on and the mysterious force could have been in disguise to further ruse. It would still be difficult not to have discerned who was cresting the hill. At present, there is a clear line of sight from the battlefield to the hill. I myself was able to identify a number of people standing at the top of the hill from where the English front lines would have been.

Masonic lore tells a slightly different tale of the reinforcements that won the day at Bannockburn. It is suggested that Robert the Bruce made a deal with renegade Knights Templar. The Bruce gave any fleeing Templar sanctuary in an excommunicated Scotland, in return for their services against the English aggressors. The sight of even 50 fully armored and mounted Templars would have been enough to turn the tide of battle.

The Bruce was so pleased with the ex-Templar’s service, that immediately after the battle he created the Royal Order of Scotland. The Order is said to live on through a Masonic organization of the same name. It is in this way that many try to link Freemasonry with the Templars. The Templars wishing to keep their rituals alive changed them into what we know as Masonic Degrees today.

Wow, that’s a lot going on for one 24 hour span of time. I cannot say that I have been spared by the magic that is Midsummer’s Eve. Every year, I throw a Bannockburn party on the 24th. This year will make the 5th year I’ve held the event. It’s become something of a tradition that my family and friends have come to look forward to. And this year I’ve added a little twist, I’ll be getting married at that party. It’s not necessarily due to the magic that Midsummer’s Eve has, or to any particular belief I hold. I simply wanted to be able to always remember my anniversary, and I guess there is a certain magic to keeping myself out of the dog house for the years to come.

1 comment:

Michael said...

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Masonic Symbol discovered in the picture by Leonardo called The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist