A blessed Summer Solstice to all on this space in time when the Earth's axis is tilted towards the sun at its maximum angle of 23° 26', also referred to as Midsummer. Worldwide, interpretation of the Summer Solstice has varied among cultures, but most have held a recognition as a sign of fertility. It is especially celebrated in Europe. One of my favorite traditions occurs in northern Spain where pagan beliefs are especially evident. These beliefs are based on three planetary elements: Earth, Fire and Water, which are exemplified as the importance of medicinal plants, especially in relation to health, youth and beauty; the protective character of fire to ward off evil spirits and witches and, finally, the purifying, miraculous effects of water.
- Medicinal plants: Traditionally, women collect several species of plants on St. John's eve. These vary from area to area, but mostly include Fennel, different species of fern , Rue, also called Herb of Grace, Rosemary, Dog Rose (rosa canina), Lemon Verbena, St. John's Wort, which blooms on St. John's Day, June 24th, (it has bloomed a week earlier this year) Mallow, Foxglove, and Elder flowers. In some areas, these are arranged in a bunch and hung in doorways. In most others, they are dipped in a vessel with water and left outside exposed to the dew of night until the following morning (o dia de San Xoan -St. John's day), when people use the resulting flower water to wash their faces. Calendula flowers were historically picked throughout Europe on this day as their potency was deemed to be most powerful and could ward off evil spirits.
- Water: Tradition holds it that the medicinal plants mentioned above are most effective when dipped in water collected from seven different springs. Also, on some beaches, women who wanted to be fertile would bathe in the sea until they were washed by nine waves.
- Fire: Bonfires are lit, usually around midnight both on beaches and inland. Occasionally, a dummy is placed at the top, representing a witch or the devil. All gather around them and feast mostly on potatoes boiled in their skins and maize or cornbread. When it is relatively safe to jump over the bonfire, it is done three times (although it could also be nine or any odd number) for good luck at the cry of “meigas fora” (witches off!). It is also common to drink Queimada, a potent Galician wine called grappa mixed with sugar, coffee beans and pieces of fruit, which is prepared while chanting an incantation against e vil spirits...