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Weydmonath, from the German weiden, to pasture; Medemonath; Midsumormonath; Braeckmonath, or Brachmonat, i. e. breaking the soil, from the Saxon bræcan; Solstitialis; Woedmoneth, i. e. weed-month; and Lida-erra.
"Midsummer Eve, the Vigil of Saint John the Baptist's Day-June 23. Properly speaking, Midsummer Day denotes the time of the summer solstice, and is not, as many from its name have supposed, connected at all with the idea of middle, though it seems hardly possible to assign anything like a rational derivation to the word mid. In old English, as in the German mit, from which it may have been derived, mid signified with, and adopting Horne Tooke's mode of viewing the prepositions, it had possibly some relation to commencement. Be this as it may, Midsummer Day is now generally understood to imply the twenty-fourth, this change having arisen from the errors and improvements in the calendar, though, as we shall presently see, all the ceremonies, appropriated to it by the Catholics, are in reality nothing more than the old Pagan mode of celebrating the return of summer.
"On the eve of Saint John it was customary, among other observances, to light large bonfires, which at one time were chiefly made of bones and other impurities, if we may believe the Catholic writers on the subject. With them indeed these bonfires had an especial meaning, or perhaps I should rather say they endeavoured to make of the custom a Christian type and symbol, in order to conceal its Pagan origin. For the existence of it we have authorities innumerable. To quote from one only: Durandus has recorded, that men and boys collect bones and other impurities, which they burn, and also carry about burning torches. But it is in the reasons assigned for these observances that we are most called upon to admire the inexhaustible fertility of the author's inventive powers, and his determination at any price to convert Paganism into Christianity. Thus he supposes that these bonfires might be lighted to drive away the dragons, who at this time of the year are flying about in swarms, and who might else drop their spawn into the rivers to the great detriment of water-drinkers and the poisoning of the air in general-or it might be that such conflagrations were intended as a
memorial that the heathens burnt the bones of Saint John at Sebaste-or it might signify that on the coming of the new law, the old should cease. Then again the torches are borne about to signify that John was a burning light himself, and the preserver of the light that was to illuminate all-a mode of argument that is absolutely unanswerable.
"The notion of lighting fires to keep off the dragons bears, or seems to bear, a striking analogy to the old solstitial creed, as typified by Hercules slaying the dragons. This matter has been well explained by Gebelin. The solstices were called the head and tail of the dragon, and the caduceus of Mercury is composed of two dragons strangled at the middle, the one male, the other female; the point of union was called Hercules, and Mercury was the inventor of astronomy. The strangling of the two dragons then by Hercules is an allegory relative to the caduceus, or the subject represented by it, and is intimately connected with the year of the agriculturist, of which it makes the commencement. Now if we adopt this ingenious solution of the classic allegory, we cannot fail to see the connection between the old and the more modern superstition. The dragons of Hercules were but types of the solstices, and the dragons of popery, borrowed from the same fable, are but emblems of the same thing. The fires, of course, were intended, as Gebelin well observes, to express the joy of the people at the commencement of the year, for June in the early times was considered to be its commencement. But I cannot agree with him that the custom which prevailed of dancing about the fires and leaping over them was in early times the result of joy, or merely to show agility. Still less can I agree with Moresin, that this custom is a relic of the ordeal, according to which he who passed safely through the flames was held to be innocent; for the bonfires are a much more ancient observance than the ordeal. It is, I should rather imagine, a religious rite of very remote origin, such as I have already spoken of under the month of May, and I need now only add that a similar custom prevailed in the Cerealia, and it is also mentioned in Ovid's 'Fasti' as being of the superstitious ceremonies used in the Palilia, or feasts of Pales, the presiding goddess of gardens.
"These bonfires, however they may have originated, have
been common on St. John the Baptist's Eve at all times and in all countries. They blazed equally in India and Egypt, in the north and amongst the Druids, from the last of whom the custom was in all probability more immediately derived to us. In Cornwall the day was anciently called Goluan, a word, as Borlase tells us, expressive both of light and joy, while in other parts of the west they had the name of Blessing Fires, a tolerably plain hint of their religious origin. That this has at all times been the notion of the Christian world is plain from the interdictions of the Roman Catholics and the comments of the more rigid dissenters. Prynne, in his Histriomastix' (p. 585), quotes the sixty-fifth canon of the sixth Council of Constantinople, wherein we read, 'Those bonfires that are kindled by certaine people on New Moones before their shops and houses, over which also they use ridiculously and foolishly to leape, by a certaine antient custome, we command them from henceforth to cease. Whoever therefore shall doe any such thing, if he be a clergyman, let him be deposed; if a layman, let him be excommunicated. For in the fourth Booke of the Kings it is thus written: "And Manasses built an altar to all the hoast of heaven, in the two courts of the Lord's house, and made his children to passe through the fire, &c., and walked in it that he might doe evill in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to wrath."
In the months of June and July,' says Stow, 'on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evenings after the sun setting, there were usually made bonfires in the streets, every man bestowing wood or labour towards them; the wealthier sort also, before their doors near to the said bonfires, would set out tables on the vigils, furnished with sweet bread and good drink, and on the festival days with meats and drinks plentifully, whereunto they would invite their neighbours and passengers also to sit and be merry with them in great familiarity, praising God for his benefits bestowed on them. These were called bonfires'-(another derivation of the word!) as well of good amity amongst neighbours that, being before at controversy, were there by the labour of others reconciled and made of bitter enemies loving friends; and also for the virtue that a great fire hath to purge the infection of the
air. On the vigil of St. John the Baptist, and on St. Peter and St. Paul, the Apostles, every man's door being shadowed with green birch, long fennel, St. John's wort, orpin, white lilies, and such like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night; some hung out branches of iron curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps alight at once, which made a goodly show, namely, in New Fish Street, Thames Street, &c.'
"This pleasing picture is in a great measure confirmed by other writers, and even by one, who speaks of the custom only incidentally, and in illustration of his doctrines. 'Seie to me,' says Bishop Pecock, good sire, and answere hereto; whanne men of the cuntree uplond bringen into Londoun in Mydsomer-eve braunchis of trees fro Bischopiswode, and flouris for the feeld, and bitaken tho to citessins of Londoun, for to therwith araie her housis, schulen men of Londoun receyving and taking the braunchis and flouris, seie and holde, that the braunchis grewen out of the cartis, which broughten hem to Londoun, and that the cartis, or the hondis of the bringers weren groundis and fundamentis of the braunchis and flouris? Goddis forbade so litel witt be in her hedis. Certes though Crist and his apostlis weren now lyvyng in Londoun, and wolde bringe, so as is now seid, braunchis fro Bischopis-wode, and flouris fro the feelde into Londoun, and wolden hem delyvere to men, that thei make therwith her housis gay into remembrance of St. John the Baptist, and of this that was prophecied of him, that manye schulden joie in his burthe,' &c.
"Hutchinson, also, in his history of Northamptonshire, shows that the day was celebrated with kindred festivities, as indeed it no doubt was through the whole island. His words are, another custom used on this day, is to dress out stools with a cushion of flowers. A lair of clay is placed on the stool, and therein is stuck with great regularity an arrangement of all kinds of flowers so close as to form a beautiful cushion; these are exhibited at the doors of houses in the villages, and at the ends of streets and cross lanes of larger towns, where the attendants beg money
* i. e. garlands of with or willow, upon which the flowers were wreathed.
from passengers, to enable them to have an evening feast and dancing. This custom is evidently derived from the Ludi Compitalii of the Romans; this appellation was taken from the Compita, or cross lanes, where they were instituted and celebrated by the multitude assembled before the building of Rome. Servius Tullius revived this festival after it had been neglected for many years. It was the feast of the Lares or household gods, who presided as well over houses as streets. This mode of adorning the seat or couch of the Lares was beautiful, and the idea of their reposing on aromatic flowers and beds of roses was excellent. The chief part of the ceremonies and solemnities of this feast used by the Romans, as we are told by the poets and historians, was exhibiting the household gods, crowning and adorning them with chaplets and garlands of flowers, and offering sacrifices up and down the streets. Suetonius tells us that Augustus ordered the Lares to be crowned twice a year. We are not told that there was any custom among the Romans of strangers or passengers offering gifts. Our modern usage of all these old customs terminates in seeking to gain money for a merry night.'
"Before quitting this part of my subject, I have yet a few words to add in regard to bonfires. This term has been derived by some from the circumstance of the fires having been originally made of bones. Thus, Fuller says, 'Some deduce it from fires made of bones relating it to the burning of martyrs, first fashionable in England in the reign of King Henry the Fourth. But others derive the word (more truly in my mind) from boon, that is, good, and fires; whether good be taken for merry and chearful, such fires being always made on welcome occasions.' It is hard to say which of the divine's derivations is the most absurd. The more probable explanation seems to be that of Dr. Hickes, and which has been adopted by Lye in the 'Etymologicon of Junius-namely, that it was derived from the Anglo-Saxon-bælfyr, a burning pile,-by the change of a single letter only-baal in the Islandic signifying a conflagration.
"It appears, too, among other ceremonies, that on these occasions a wheel covered with lighted straw was taken to the top of a hill and rolled down, which we may presume