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Friday, 21 June 2013

Summer is a-comin - The Traditions and Superstitions of the Summer Soltice

It was once customary to turn around three times sun-wise (clockwise) for luck as soon as one got out of bed on the morning of the ‘Summer Solstice’.

The Summer Solstice or
‘Litha’, as it was once called, occurs on either the 20th, 21st or 22nd June and it is the day when the sun is at its highest point in the sky and daylight lasts longest. The word ‘solstice’ has its origins in the Latin word ‘solstitium’ meaning the ‘sun stands still’. This day was important for pagan people who would celebrate this fire festival by lighting ritual bonfires in honour of the sun. They would dance sun-wise around the fire before joining hands and leaping through it and when the fire had burnt out, its ashes were used to foretell the future

The sun has been worshiped since the dawn of man and has long been seen as a power for good, driving away darkness and likewise dark forces. Even today it is seen as a symbol of good fortune, health, wealth and happiness, leading to such sayings as: ‘Happy is the bride the sun shines on’, and ‘The sun shines on the righteous’. However, because the sun is divine since ancient times, it is still commonly believed unlucky to make any insulting gestures towards it, such as pointing at it. According to folklore anyone born at sunrise will be intelligent and quick witted, while those born at sunset will be slow and idle.

The Midsummer moon is often called the "Honey Moon" for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of pagan wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice.

Below: Extract taken from the Chambers Book of Days June 21st 1864, details the traditions of the Summer Soltice.
Characteristics of June

Though the summer solstice takes place on the 21st day, June is only the third month of the year in respect of temperature, being preceded in this respect by July and August. The mornings, in the early part of the month especially, are liable to be even frosty, to the extensive damage of the buds of the fruit-trees. Nevertheless, June is the mouth of greatest summer beauty—the month during which the trees are in their best and freshest garniture. 'The leafy month of June,' Coleridge well calls it, the month when the flowers are at the richest in hue and profusion. In English landscape, the conical clusters of the chestnut buds, and the tassels of the laburnum and lilac, vie above with the variegated show of wild flowers below. Nature is now a pretty maiden of seventeen; she may show maturer charms afterwards, but she can never be again so gaily, so freshly beautiful. Dr Aiken says justly that June is in reality, in this climate, what the poets only dream May to be. The mean temperature of the air was given by an observer in Scotland as 59° Fahrenheit, against 60° for August and 61° for July.

The sun, formally speaking, reaches the most northerly point in the zodiac, and enters the constellation of Cancer, on the 21st of June; but for several days about that time there is no observable difference in his position, or his hours of rising and setting. At Greenwich he is above the horizon from 3:43 morning, to 8:17 evening, thus making a day of 16h. 26m. At Edinburgh, the longest day is about 17½ hours. At that season, in Scotland, there is a glow equal to dawn, in the north, through the whole of the brief night. The present writer was able at Edinburgh to read the title-page of a book, by the light of the northern sky, at midnight of the 14th of Juno 1849. In Shetland, the light at mid-night is like a good twilight, and the text of any ordinary book may then be easily read. It is even alleged that, by the aid of refraction, and in favourable circumstances, the body of the sun has been seen at that season, from the top of a hill in Orkney, though the fact cannot be said to be authenticated.

Marrige Superstitions and Customs

was the month which the Romans considered the most propitious season of the year for contracting matrimonial engagements, chosen were l that of the full moon or the conjunction of the sun and moon; the month of May was especially to be avoided, as under the influence of spirits adverse to happy households.

All these pagan superstitions were retained in the Middle Ages, with many others which belonged more particularly to the spirit of Christianity: people then had recourse to all kinds of divination, love philters, magical invocations, prayers, fastings, and other follies, which were modified according to the country and the individual. A girl had only to agitate the water in a bucket of spring-water with her hand, or to throw broken eggs over another person's head, if she wished to see the image of the man she should marry. A union could never be happy if the bridal party, in going to church, met a monk, a priest, a hare, a dog, cat, lizard, or serpent; while all would go well if it were a wolf, a spider, or a toad. Nor was it an unimportant matter to choose the wedding day carefully; the feast of Saint Joseph was especially to be avoided, and it is supposed, that as this day fell in mid-Lent, it was the reason why all the councils and synods of the church forbade marriage during that season of fasting; indeed, all penitential days and vigils throughout the year were considered unsuitable for these joyous ceremonies.

The church blamed those husbands who married early in the morning, in dirty or negligent attire, reserving their better dresses for balls and feasts; and the clergy were forbidden to celebrate the rites after sunset, because the crowd often carried the party by main force to the ale-house, or beat them and hindered their departure from the church until they had paid a ransom. The people always manifested a strong aversion for badly assorted marriages. In such cases, the procession would be accompanied to the altar in the midst of a frightful concert of bells, sauce-pans, and frying-pans, or this tumult was reserved for the night, when the happy couple were settled in their own house. The church tried in vain to defend widowers and widows who chose to enter the nuptial bonds a second time; a synodal order of the Archbishop of Lyons, in 1577, thus describes the conduct it excommunicated: ' Marching in masks, throwing poisons, horrible and dangerous liquids before the door, sounding tambourines, doing all kinds of dirty things they can think of, until they have drawn from the husband large sums of' money by force.'

A considerable sum of money was anciently put into a purse or plate, and presented by the bridegroom to the bride on the wedding-night, as a sort of purchase of her person; a custom common to the Greeks as well as the Ro-mans, and which seems to have prevailed among the Jews and many Eastern nations. It was changed in the Middle Ages, and in the north of Europe, for the morgengabe, or morning present; the bride having the privilege, the morning after the wedding-day, of asking for any sum of money or any estate that she pleased, and which could not in honour be refused by her husband. The demand at times became really serious, if the wife were of an avaricious temper. Something of the same kind prevailed in England under the name of the Dow Purse. A trace of this is still kept up in Cumberland where the bridegroom provides himself with gold and crown pieces, and, when the service reaches the point, ' With all my worldly goods I thee endow,' he takes up the money, hands the clergyman his fee, and pours the rest into a handkerchief which is held by the bridesmaid for the bride. When Clovis was married to the Princess Clotilde, he offered, by his proxy, a sou and a denier, which became the marriage offering by law in France; and to this day pieces of money are given to the bride, varying only in value according to the rank of the parties.

How the ring came to be used is not well ascertained, as in former days it did not occupy its present prominent position, but was given with other presents to mark the completion of a contract. Its form is intended as a symbol of eternity, and of the intention of both parties to keep for ever the solemn covenant into which they have entered before God, and of which it is a pledge. When the persons were betrothed as children, among the Anglo-Saxons, the bride-groom gave a pledge, or 'wed' (a term from which we derive the word wedding); part of this wed consisted of a ring, which was placed on the maiden's right hand, and there religiously kept until transferred to the other hand at the second ceremony. Our marriage service is very nearly the same as that used by our forefathers, a few obsolete words only being changed.

The bride was taken 'for fairer, for fouler, for better, for worse;' and promised 'to be buxom and bonny' to her future husband. The bridegroom put the ring on each of the bride's left-hand fingers in turn, saying at the first, 'in the name of the Father;' at the second, 'in the name of the Son,' at the third, ' in the name of the Holy Ghost;' and at the fourth, 'Amen.' The father presented his son-in-law with one of his daughter's shoes as a token of the transfer of authority, and the bride was made to feel the change by a blow on her head given with the shoe. The husband was bound by oath to use his wife well, in failure of which she might leave him; yet as a point of honour he was allowed 'to bestow on his wife and apprentices moderate castigation.' An old Welsh law tells us that three blows with a broomstick, on any 'part of the person except the head, is a fair allowance;' and another provides that the stick be not longer than the husband's arm, nor thicker than his middle finger.

An English wedding, in the time of good Queen Bess, was a joyous public festival; among the higher ranks, the bridegroom presented the company with scarves, gloves, and garters of the favourite colours of the wedding pair; and the ceremony wound up with. banquetings, masques, pageants, and epithalamiums. A gay procession formed a part of the humbler marriages; the bride was led to church between two boys wearing bride-laces and rosemary tied about their silken sleeves, and before her was carried a silver cup filled with wine, in which was a large branch of gilded rosemary, hung about with silk ribbons of all colours. Next came the musicians, and then the bridesmaids, some bearing great bridecakes, others garlands of gilded wheat; thus they marched to church amidst the shouts and benedictions of the spectators.

The penny weddings, at which each of the guests gave a contribution for the feast, were reprobated by the straiter-laced sort as leading to disorders and licentiousness; but it was found impossible to suppress them. All that could be done was to place restrictions upon the amount allowed to be given; in Scotland five shillings was the limit.

The customs of marrying and giving in marriage in Sweden, in former years, were of a somewhat barbarous character; it was beneath the dignity of a Scandinavian warrior to court a lady's favour by gallantry and submission—he waited until she had bestowed her affections on another, and was on her way to the marriage ceremony, when, collecting his faithful followers, who were always ready for the fight, they fell upon the wedding cortege, and the stronger carried away the bride. It was much in favour of this practice that marriages were always celebrated at night. A pile of lances is still preserved behind the altar of the ancient church of Husaby, in Gothland, into which were fitted torches, and which were borne before the bridegroom for the double purpose of giving light and protection. It was the province of the groomsmen, or, as they were named, 'best men,' to carry these; and the strongest and stoutest of the bridegroom's friends were chosen for this duty. Three or four days before the marriage, the ceremony of the bride's bath took place, when the lady went in great state to the bath, accompanied by all her friends, married and single; the day closing with a banquet and ball.

On the marriage-day the young couple sat on a raised platform, under a canopy of silk; all the wedding presents being arranged on a bench covered with silk, and consisting of plate, jewels, and money. To this day the bridegroom has a great fear of the trolls and sprites which still inhabit Sweden; and, as an antidote against their power, he sews into his clothes various strong smelling herbs, such. as garlick, chives, and rosemary. The young women always carry bouquets of these in their hands to the feast, whilst they deck themselves out with loads of jewellery, gold bells, and grelots as large as small apples, with chains, belts, and stomachers. No bridegroom could be induced on that day to stand near a closed gate, or where cross roads meet; he says he takes these precautions ' against envy and malice.' On the other hand, if the bride be prudent, she will take care when at the altar to put her right foot before that of the bridegroom, for then she will get the better of her husband during her married life; she will also be studious to get the first sight of him before he can see her, because that will pre-serve her influence over him. It is customary to fill the bride's pocket with bread, which she gives to the poor she meets on her road to church, a misfortune being averted with every alms bestowed; but the beggar will not eat it, as he thereby brings wretchedness on himself. On their return from church, the bride and bridegroom must visit their cowhouses and stables, that the cattle may thrive and multiply.

In Norway, the marriages of the bonder or peasantry are conducted with very gay ceremonies, and in each parish there is a set of ornaments for the temporary use of the bride, including a showy coronal and girdle; so that the poorest woman in the land has the gratification of appearing for one day in her life in a guise which she probably thinks equal to that of a queen. The museum of national antiquities at Copenhagen contains a number of such sets of bridal decorations which were formerly used in Denmark. In the International Exhibition at London, in 1862, the Norwegian court showed the model of a peasant couple, as dressed and decorated for their wedding; and every beholder must have been arrested by its homely splendours. Annexed is a cut representing the bride.

In pagan days, when Rolf married King Erik's daughter, the king and queen sat throned in state, whilst courtiers passed in front, offering gifts of oxen, cows, swine, sheep, sucking-pigs, geese, and even cats. A shield, sword, and axe were among the bride's wedding outfit, that she might, if necessary, defend herself from her husband's blows.

In the vast steppes of south-eastern Russia, on the shores of the Caspian and Black Sea, marriage ceremonies recall the patriarchal customs of the earliest stages of society. The evening before the day when the affianced bride is given to her husband, she pays visits to her master and the inhabitants of the village, in the simple dress of a peasant, consisting of a red cloth jacket, descending as low as the knees, a very short white petticoat, fastened at the waist with a red woollen scarf, above which is an embroidered chemise. The legs, which are always bare above the ankle, are sometimes protected by red or yellow morocco boots. The girls of the village who accompany her are, on the contrary, attired in their best, recalling the old paintings of Byzantine art, where the Virgin is adorned with a coronal. They know how to arrange with great art the leaves and scarlet berries of various kinds of trees in their hair, the tresses of which are plaited as a crown, or hang down on the shoulders. A necklace of pearls or coral is wound at least a dozen times round the neck, on which they hang religious medals, with. enamel paintings imitating mosaic.

At each house the betrothed throws herself on her knees before the head of it, and kisses his feet as she begs his pardon; the fair penitent is immediately raised and kissed, receiving some small present, whilst she in return gives a small roll of bread, of a symbolic form. On her return home all her beautiful hair is cut off, as henceforth she must wear the platoke, or turban, a woollen or linen shawl which is rolled round the head, and is the only distinction between the married and unmarried. It is invariably presented by the husband, as the Indian shawl among ourselves; which, however, we have withdrawn from its original destination, which ought only to be a head-dress. The despoiled bride expresses her regrets with touching grace, in one of their simple songs: 'Oh, my curls, my fair golden hair! Not for one only, not for two years only, have I arranged you—every Saturday you were bathed, every Sunday you were ornamented, and to-day, in a single hour, I must lose you!' The old woman whose duty it is to roll the turban round the brow, wishing her happiness, says, ' I cover your head with the platoke:, my sister, and I wish you health and happiness. Be pure as water, and fruitful as the earth.' When the marriage is over, the husband takes his wife to the inhabitants of the village, and shows them the change of dress effected the night before.

Among the various tribes of Asia none are so rich or well-dressed as the Armenians; to them belongs chiefly the merchandise of precious stones, which they export to Constantinople. The Armenian girl whose marriage is to be described had delicate flowers of celestial blue painted all over her breast and neck, her eye-brows were dyed black, and the tips of her fingers and nails of a bright orange. She wore on each hand valuable rings set with precious stones, and round her neck a string of very fine turquoises; her shirt was of the finest spun silk, her jacket and trousers of cashmere of a bright colour. The priest and his deacon arrived; the latter bringing a bag containing the sacerdotal garments, in which the priest arrayed himself, placing a mitre ornamented with precious stones on his head, and a collar of metal,—on which the twelve apostles were represented in bas-relief, —round his neck. He began by blessing a sort of temporary altar in the middle of the room; the mother of the bride took her by the hand, and leading her forward, she bowed at the feet of her future husband, to show that she acknowledged him as lord and master. The priest, placing their hands in each other, pronounced a prayer, and then drew their heads together until they touched three times, while with his right hand he made a motion as if blessing them; a second time their hands were joined, and the bridegroom was asked, 'Will you be her husband?' will,' he answered, raising at the same time the veil of the bride, in token that she was now his, and letting it fall again. The priest then took two wreaths of flowers, ornamented with a quantity of hanging gold threads, from the hands of the deacon, put them on the heads of the married couple, changed them three times from one head to the other, repeating each time, 'I unite you, and bind you one to another —live in peace.' Such are the customs in the very land where man was first created; and, among nations who change so little as those in the East, we may fairly believe them to be among the most ancient.




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