Provided by Douglas Lannark:
- But the more popular tradition is that Midsummer Day is June 24th, the feast of St. John the Baptist, and today, St. John's Eve is noteworthy for the wealth of superstition that surrounds it.
- The writer John Aubrey, who lived from 1626 to 1697, was an expert on such matters. Aubrey is best remembered for his whimsical biographies that tell us much of what we know today about Milton, Shakespeare and other well-known people of that time. Of the latter, for example, he wrote: "His father was a butcher, and I have been told heretofore by some of the neighbours that when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade, and when he killed a calf he would do it in high style and make a speech."
- But Aubrey also knew about contemporary folklore, and he notes that "Midsummer Eve is called the Witches' Night; and still in many places on St. John's Eve they make fires upon the hills".
- The tradition is common to many cultures throughout Europe; the fires were said to represent the sun, and men, women and children would pass through the flames to ensure their well-being during the coming year.
- The date, like many others, was an important one in the calendar of wooing. Young maidens, for example, could discover the state of their lovers' affections by observing the behaviour of a sprig of orpine, known colloquially as Midsummer Man. The plant was loosely clamped in clay, and the romance was fated to endure if it leaned over to the right, but doomed if the plant was noticed listing to the left.
- And if a girl's affaires de coeur were rather less advanced, John Aubrey had this advice, which for all we know may well be efficacious still: "At midnight on Midsummer Eve walk several times around a church, clockwise, scattering hempseed and saying: Hempseed I sow, hempseed I mow, Let him that is my true love come after me and show. Then look over your left shoulder and you will see, following behind you, the form of your predestined lover."
- And on this day, too, young men — one suspects with intentions that were rather less than honourable — sought to become invisible by plucking fernseed. To succeed they had to do so on the stroke of midnight, and without making any contact with the plant itself.