It is almost Midsummer. We face opposite the depths of Winter, at the highest point of the Sun’s journey. Sometime between June 20th and the 23rd, Midsummer’s Eve, the Wild Hunt, spectral hunting party of the Horned God/dess of Many Names rides out.They gather the lost souls of the dead who wander the Earth, to return them to their rightful realm. Summer thunderstorms brew in the distance and the air feels electric. This, Samhain and May Eve are the three ‘spirit nights’, when the veil is the thinnest.
This is one of the liminal times. It was believed that contact could be made with the Good Folk at the 'tween times of dusk on Midsummer's Eve and dawn on Midsummer's Day. Liminal spaces ‘twixt the boundaries of here and there are all historical places to meet the Fae. Beneath certain trees, springs, special earthen mounds, places that are between states. These places are also the meeting houses of Witches, as is expected. Midsummer’s Eve is especially fine for divination, and there is a long and rich history of divining for one’s true love this night. This is a ghostly time, though the Sun is warm and the days are long, every day now until Winter Solstice, becomes shorter and shorter, asking us to face our own mortality and that of the good Earthly beings around us. The shadow of the Reaper’s scythe is cast over the verdant fields.
Many herbs have long standing traditions of use as charms and medicines around this time of year, plants like Mugwort, St. Johnswort, and many more. One of my favorite plants of this season is Yarrow, Achillea millefolium. The white clusters of Yarrow are blooming around the mountains now, preparing us for the upcoming eve of June 20th, and the dawn of Midsummer’s Day, June 21st. I gather the blooms and leaves on Midsummer’s Day when the Sun is at its zenith point, drawing upon that peaked energy for empowerment of charms, talismans and medicines.
Yarrow has a long history of use from ancient Greece and Rome, where it earned its latin name, Achillea from the legends of Achilles. In Greek mythology, Thetis bathed Achilles in Yarrow, which gave the hero, Achilles, its protective powers to make him invincible wherever the liquid had touched his skin, save for his heel, which was never submerged. Achilles also healed his wounded soldiers with Yarrow, a great styptic herb, the warrior’s herb.
Scotland has a large repository of lore surrounding Yarrow as well. An interesting Gaelic woman's incantation from the Carmina Gadelica that is spoken when picking Yarrow goes: "I will pick the smooth Yarrow that my figure may be sweeter, that my lips may be warmer, that my voice may be gladder. May my voice be like a sunbeam; may my lips be like the juice of the strawberry. May I be an island in the sea; may I be a star in the dark time, may I be a staff to the weak one. I shall wound every man, and no man shall hurt me."
It is disputed as to whether this plant repels or draws faeries, and I implore you to see what you think. Yarrow is associated with the element of Air, as it is aromatic. It is also useful in divination, combine it with Mugwort and Chamomile as a tea and dream of things to come. Historically, it was used for divining one's future lover or determining whether one is truly loved. In Appalachia it was stuffed up the nose to divine if one’s true love reciprocated the sentiment: “ Green yarrow, green yarrow, you bears white blow, If my love loves me my nose will bleed now.”
It was also used in love sachets, because it is believed to be capable of keeping a couple together for 7 years. It was also used protectively, much like mugwort. It was strewn across the threshold to keep out evil and worn in charms to protect against hexes. It was also tied to child’s cradle to protect it from those who might try to steal its soul. The Saxons wore amulets made of this plant to protect against blindness, robbers, and dogs. For a love charm: “Yarrow, sweet Yarrow, the first I have found. In the name of the Lord, I pluck thee from the ground. As the Lord loves the Lady, so warm and dear, So in my dream may my lover appear.”
However you use Yarrow in your rites, remember that for good or for ill, Yarrow is of the deep, red blood of the heart. The Warrior's herb, the Lover's herb, the Healer.
The Carmina Gadelica
The Celtic Magazine, Volume 9, p.431. Edited by Alexander Mackenzie, Alexander Macgregor, Alexander Macbain.
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