Midsummer is a glorious time of the year, the longest amount of day light, the shortest night. Our ancestors have honoured it since time began. It is a time of celebration, of reflection, of gratitude. The time when us Druids remind ourselves of all that is good in our lives, we encase that in ritual and draw on it at times of challenge. I've invested a lot in this midway point of a challenging year. I somehow made it in my mind, the time when things would turn around for me, as it does in nature, and all would be well in my world.
For our Gaelic ancestor druids, the day began at midnight, moving from darkness into light. There is such excitement around this time for me that lack of sleep is never really a chore. Dawn, with her swift and rosy fingers, happened at 5.46am. I watched the sunrise in the east over a field of round bales, always a privilege, in the cool of a morning in the hottest summer on record in France where temperatures reached in excess of 43 degrees on the 17th of June. A hawk circled above me, and I watched it dive into the cornfield, taking with it their first meal of the day. Who needs ritual when nature honours you with her own?
I have gotten into the habit of sitting beneath the canopy of a great and ancient walnut tree. I began with a caim prayer, a version of The Deer’s Cry, this I do every day, then I say the druid's prayer for peace. The tree had left a branch and a walnut kernel where I usually sit and those were the first of my gifts. I sat fashioning a wand, peeling bark, and reflecting on what it is that I am grateful for in my life. There is a lot, thankfully, and mostly it is the people who dare to love me, bless them all, but much about survival and how nature is so abundant in her praise and how we must never let go of our commitment to be kind back. Then I said the Druid’s Vow, imagining myself holding hands with ancestors, the Foufadets and friends around the ancient trunk.
I moved from East to South in my garden and you can imagine my delight when I discovered a sun cross carved into a corner quoin of an old barn. I just stood there, tracing my fingers on the warm sandstone sculpture. There was an indescribable joy in that moment, at this other midsummer gift, presented in this way, on this day, and the number of times I have walked past that barn and never noticed it before. As the sun climbed higher in the sky and the day began to heat up, I moved to the western side of the garden and immersed myself in the pool and lay face up being warmed by sun and cooled by water all at the same time. Then I moved to the northern part of the garden where the neat rows of vegetables grow, complete with bright red beef tomatoes and I plucked me some lavender and made a posy of flowers in the hum of bees that accumulated there, and set it to dry some in the sun beside kernel and wand.
I read for a while then poolside, a biography of Judas Iscariot, the renegade apostle, though what drew me to the subject matter I have no idea, except save for identifying with the maligned perhaps. I was reminded of a stint spent in the kibbutz in Israel in the 1980’s and trips in and around Jerusalem. All in that black and white phase of my life when I thought nothing of traveling alone, flying in the face of convention, in my arrogant righteousness to change the world, and I did too, changed the world a bit. I reflected some more on what I am grateful for in my life, the travels and travails and life’s lessons learned. I still change the world, just do it differently. I thought of Martha of Bethany and Mary of Magdalena, the women at the foot of the cross, who ended their days in France, and Martha who has a whole church named in her honour in my village of Xaintray and vowed to write her next.
Solar noon was 13.52 and that is when I did my ritual, en plein air, in the height of the day, beneath the great sheltering canopy of the Walnut. I didn’t rush it. I included everyone who came to me, some I haven’t thought about in years, just those whom I feel an affinity with. I asked in the place of light in the eye of the sun that every good seed planted bear fruit and that their harvest’s would be bountiful. I asked the sun to be my inspiration, my 'imbas' *, and to shine light into my heart and help me to forgive my detractors. I wished them bounty too. Light within and light without. I infused myself with gratitude of all that nature provides in the height of this summer. Then I sup French wine with my baguette.
Earth Mother, Sky Father, gentle Spirits, and revered Ancestors, 'b'fhéidir go mbeadh comhchuibheas i gcónaí eadrainn agus idir gach saol agus gach tír. Mar sin b’fhéidir.' **
I left offerings and special ones at the oak sapling. I wrote some, letters and cards, thoughts and insights and sketched, circles and spirals and suns. I sent texts, greetings, wishes, blessings, photographs, smiled at the return wishes. All in the round.
I thought of the many lovely midsummers I have spent in the company of friends. Of the sites that I have visited, Lough Gur, the Goddess Aine's Stone circle, in Co. Limerick, and Knockainey where she rests. I remembered being taught Binn Lisheen, a tune on tinwhistle by a native, who told me of how Aine inspired it in a file poet. I've watched sunrises over mountains, and oceans and sitting up in bed looking out my back window. I look forward to the next time I can celebrate in ritual in Kilkenny Druid Grove. I remembered especially the writer friends who literally broke for the hills with me last midsummer, straight out of lockdown, to a standing stone in the Comeraghs. Such memories, having friends who will brave the elements at dawn with you is special.
The sun sank at around 10pm and I was rewarded by that beautiful tawny corona of light that she leaves in her wake. I captured three photos in the western skies and thought about my Irish ancestors, the warrior Begleys in particular and nodded to them, once upon a time in the west. It was then I lit my candles and placed my wishes and vows beneath. I watched a frog hop creep across the yard, he was tiny.
The sun of course is ever constant, and we spin around it in some sort of ordered chaos, not the other way around. We speak in terms of sunrise and sunset, like it is something she applies to us, whereas in fact we are what moves and shifts. She has us though, tethered to her axis, held by gossamer threads.
'Before light, of the midsummer sun
I head eastward towards the dawn,
Take my crane bag and gather Hypercum
And chain my hair in a golden diadem.
On the brow of the hill where sits the ancient cairn,
I whisper with Enbharr of the Flowing Mane.
And shrouded in my emerald cloak,
Lay down my Ogham inscribed staff,
And ask for peace in the four quarters.
The sturdy Oak and the Holly evergreen
Swop places as nature’s King And I,
I leave an offering.
As the sunrises to the Caw of Morrigan,
I warmly greet Dagda and Etain
And Lugh and Aine too
Welcome, peace, tranquillity, Love and light.
And as the solstice rays Light on my speckled skin,
I nod to the year gone by
Ring my silver branch and sing.'
© Mawie Barrett 17/06/2020
* Gaelic for 'Inspiration' or druid awen.
** May there always be harmony between us and between all lives and all lands. So may it be.