Midsummer Eve Maydens


When midsomer comes, with bavens and bromes
they do bonefires make,
and swiftly, then, the nimble young men
runne leapinge over the same.
The women and maydens together do couple their handes,
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde …
—— extract from ‘The Mery Life of the Countriman’ (c. 1585–1603)

My illustration is in part inspired by this quote taken from a Late Elizabethan ballad that refers to some of the folk rites carried out on Midsomer, Midsummer Eve. Celebrations have been historically documented in Britain since at least the 13th century and take place on the 23rd of June, St John’s Eve.

During this liminal time, individuals could receive potents and access powers of divination. If one sat in a church porch on Midsummer Eve, it is possible to have visions of those buried during the year. A maiden who picked St John’s wort on Midsummer Eve and found it still fresh in the morning would be wed soon. Meanwhile, an unmarried girl could also make a special cake on this day and behold a vision of her future husband.

Sources and recommended further readings:

Ronald Hutton 1987 The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain (Oxford University Press, Oxford)

Nick Groom 2013 The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year (Atlantic Books, London)