Monday, 19 June 2017
The Midsummer Tree
'You might think that the erection of the maypole is a tradition associated exclusively with May Day (Beltane), but you would be wrong. The raising of the Midsummer Tree is an authentic Midsummer custom found in many areas, including Wales, England and Sweden.
The custom was called 'raising the birch' (Codi'r Fedwen) in south Wales and 'the summer branch' in the north and the dancing around it is 'the dance of the birch'. In Glamorgan the birch was erected on St. John's Eve and was called y fedwen haf, or 'summer birch'. It was decorated with ribbons, flowers and even pictures. A weathercock with gilded feathers surmounted it. The cock or rooster was a sacred bird among the Celts and a bird of the sun. The cry of the cock at sunrise indicated the end of the darkness and the start of the day. Celtic festivals were held from dusk till cock crow of the next morning.
Sometimes one village would try to steal another village's pole and it was considered very ill fated and a disgrace to lose one in this fashion. The bereft village was not allowed to raise another until they had succeeded in stealing one from elsewhere and the poles were guarded all night by groups of youths and men. In Carmarthenshire the branches of the summer birch were not trimmed off to make a pole, but were decorated with garlands and wreaths of flowers.
In Sweden and Finland, also, a Midsummer tree of birch was set up and decorated. The villagers danced around it and lit fires and jumped over them. In Russia the summer tree is decked with ribbons.' from 'Magical Celebrations Midsummer of the the Summer Solstice by Anna Franklin.
The picture above is of the Midsummer Tree oak in Milton Keynes, a large new city just north of where I live. The shopping centre was built around the tree, but sadly in 2005 it showed signs of dying and eventually did die. The cause is thought to be bad drainage, but who knows? Perhaps it didn't like being surrounded by shops!
This year Midsummer falls on 21st June. The days will shorten from then on and the nights will lengthen and the Oak King must give way to the Holly King.
Meanwhile, as the flowers open, open your own heart and look for the light within. Amidst all the chaos and confusion of our modern world today, walk amongst the trees and breathe in their life-giving spirit.