How to Properly Celebrate Midsummer’s Eve

1. Start by sunbathing naked. It is best and most effective if you can find a secluded, quiet place to do this alone. The intention is not to give people a free show!

2. Acquire a new bottle of scent, preferably from a sister who is away, but don’t open it or try to smell it yet.

3. Indulge in a cook-free lunch. To be truly authentic, eat cold baked beans, bread-and-butter, salted lettuce, cold rice pudding, and two piece of ‘real shop cake.’ Drink milk and share it all with the pets if you have any loitering around.

4. Take a long, day-time nap but be sure to rouse yourself before 4 o’clock.

5. Wash your hair.

6. Gather wild flowers for the rites. If possible, mallow, campion, and bluebells for your neck garland, foxgloves to carry, and wild roses for your hair.

7. Water the flowers…wildflowers die quickly.

8. Gather twigs to start a fire. Arrange for a doting village lad to gather or chop firewood.

9. Pack basket of supplies including a medicine bottle of port (best if donated by the local vicar), cooking herbs, salt, and cake.

10.  Take your time making the garland. It is fine if you take until nearly 8, just when the pale moon is rising.

11. Change into a green linen frock  (or at least a linen frock if you don’t have a green one). Put on your garland.

12. Smell…but don’t wear…the fancy new perfume, lest the artificial scent mask the far lovelier scent of the natural outdoors. Ideally, it is called “Midsummer’s Eve” or  smells like bluebells.

13. Climb to the site of the rites (ancient mound or tower if you have one). Be extra observant and appreciative of the nature and changing light all around you. Store away all the information gathered by your senses for later.

14. At the stroke of 9 o’clock, empty the sack of twigs into the ring of stones that creates the fire pit. Next add the small logs gathered for you by the village boy. Finally, set up long, slender branches like a wigwam over the logs.

15. Go and fetch the needfire. Use a long match to light a taper. Once it is lit, carry it back to the fire pit but DO NOT LET IT GO OUT. Use a lamp glass to shield it if you must. Whoever follows behind shall wave the  foxgloves.

16. Light the fire.

17. Do not be startled if an unexpected visitor calls out and joins you. Unforseen things might happen.

18. Unpack the basket.

19. Go and gather more firewood if needed; this wood you will have to seek out. Bring your unexpected visitor if you have indeed received one. Best if wood is old and found in ancient tower.

20. Again, take special note of the nature around you…the smell and touch of the evening air, the changing light. Reminisce about the past, both your own and the far more ancient past…those who walked the ground you walk before you.

21. Beware the Shape in the mist…elementals are real.

22. Add the newly found wood to the fire. Wait until the flames are blazing high.

23. Now burn the herbs. They’re a charm against witchcraft. Pronounce herbs with an ‘h’.

24. Throw salt in the flames; it wards off bad luck. Watch them turn blue.

25. Show the fire the cake. Then eat it. Share the cake with your pet and a small piece with the visitor.

26. Drink the port. Use the wineglass yourself; allow your visitor to drink from the bottle if necessary.

27. Make libations, including an extra one for those absent.

28. Run around the fire seven times, and add some wild leaps.

29. Sit still while the flames die down and try to think yourself back into the past. It is alright if you end up talking, as long as it is about appropriate things.

30. As the fire breathes its last, ponder if you are seeing the last of the daylight or the first of the moonlight.

31. Have someone, preferably the visitor, stomp the dying embers. Return to the tower or wherever you found the firewood.

32. Give the farewell call…for the year or for forever. “Ayieou!”

33.The rights are finished, but perhaps there are other things in store for you. Wash your hands, grab a coat for the chilly night air, put a hint of the new scent on your dress and handkerchief, and drop your garland in a body of water on the way out. The flowers will be longing for a drink, and you fear the garland will look affected indoors.

If you listen to music later, let it be Debussy and Bach. Clair de Lune, La Cathedrale Engloutie, and La Terrasse des Audiences au Clair de Lune for Debussy;  “Sheep May Safely Graze” for Bach.

Deliberately hold your thoughts away from you until you reach the safety of your own bed; then let them flow in your mind with happiness, however brief it may be.

The ‘Second Child Syndrome’ and Disturbing Literary Love Matches

These two topics are not made up of recent thoughts, but rather have been pondered somewhat extensively if not sporadically over time by my sisters, my cousins, and myself.

And we’re off…

 

The Second Child Syndrome

Fear not; I am not about to wax poetic about the psychology of birth order. I am merely going to humbly (or perhaps smugly) point out that many of my favorite literary heroines-turned-authoresses are the second oldest in a family of multiple daughters/children.

Examples:

Laura Ingalls Wilder, younger sister to Mary and older sister to Carrie (The Little House on the Prairie books)

Josephine March, younger sister to Meg, older sister to Beth and Amy (Little Women)

Betsy Ray, younger sister to Julia and older sister to Margaret (The Betsy-Tacy series)

Cassandra Mortmain, younger sister to Rose and older sister to Thomas (I Capture the Castle)

There is also Lizzie Bennet, and though she  was not a writer it seems very likely that she could have been. Not to mention that Jane Austen herself was the second oldest sister (she did have a series of older brothers who we will overlook for the sake of this argument).

So what is it that I am saying with all of this? That second oldest daughters make the best authors? That they are the most well-equipped to be insightful and articulate? That their lives make the most interesting books? That I, as a second oldest daughter myself, am predestined to become a famous writer?

Perhaps. That is all.

The second order of business is Disturbing Literary Love Matches



This simply refers to all the girls in books who (in my opinion) didn’t end up with the man/boy they should have.

1. Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon (should’ve been Willoughby, that scoundrel!)

I will have to reread Sense and Sensibility again soon, because I know there are many who will disagree with me. I know that it’s Willoughby’s own darn fault that he didn’t end up with Marianne. And I know that the type of man who ignores true love for money is ultimately a shallow, gold-digging rogue who deserves whatever misfortune befalls him. However, I can never help feeling like Marianne settled when she married the Colonel. I know he is a good man. I know he truly loves her. But he lacks the artistic camaraderie that Marianne shares with Willoughby. Willoughby, who rescues her in the rain! Willoughby, with his carefree ways and devil-may-care demeanor! Willoughby, with his outspoken views on music, art, and poetry! ( I must reveal my own shallowness and admit that much of my bias is purely aesthetic…who wouldn’t root for Greg Wise, sideburns smoldering and wet blouse clinging, over the dull and looming Alan Rickman? Professor Snape!) Anyhow…maybe this is one of those matches that age and maturity and wisdom will render more desirable.

2. Josephine March and Professor Bhaer (should’ve been Laurie)

Laurie Laurie Laurie! I will never forgive Jo for refusing him. I trust that she knows what I don’t, that being that her and Laurie could never have worked out. But still…they have such romping good times together, and can match each other passion for passion and temper for temper. Also, I usually hold the opinion that the length of time you’ve known a person trumps more recent connections. And like with Marianne, I feel as though Jo is settling. Such an interesting person for such a dreary little German man. Again, I must point out that I do try to trust Jo’s judgment and have faith that she made the right choice. I try to console myself by thinking that Laurie wasn’t smart enough for her, and Professor Bhaer is. But I’m still saying that if I were the puppet master pulling the strings on this one, Jo would’ve ended up with Laurie. Simple as that.

*I am currently in the process of re-reading Little Women, so maybe my opinion will change.

3. Miriam Williard and Phineas Whitney (should’ve been Pierre LaRoche or even Mehkoa)

This is perhaps the worst mismatch of all three! Probably because she is the heroine who’s judgment I trust the least. She retains a little too much Puritanical prudeness, when no one would blame her for “straying from her roots” in such extreme circumstances. At the beginning of this book, yes, Phineas Whitney seems mildly exciting and suitable. But at the end of the book, once Miriam has experienced all that she has, Phineas is nothing but a faded image, just a tall man ducking his head through a doorway. Pierre, on the other hand, is alive and real and vivacious! (As vivacious as a man can be…somehow vivacious doesn’t sound very masculine. There’s a word I’m looking for that I can’t quite recall…I keep thinking of ‘vital’ or ‘vibrant’, but vital makes him sound like an organ and vibrant like a piece of art…) Miriam is NOT the same person at the end of the book as she is at the beginning. I’ll concede to the fact that Phineas may have indeed been the man for her on page one, but he is not the man for her on page 300 (or whenever the book ends).  She has so much spice and spunk and industriousness that I feel relegating her to the role of PASTOR’S WIFE would be seriously limiting and insulting. Where as the role of a voyageur’s wife sounds like it would suit her divinely.

Again, I fear she is settling. But hell’s bells, I am really a hypocrite for having all of these thoughts, I who always feel the most loyalty to the thing I saw first…first pair of shoes, first dress, first favorite color, first favorite movie…

I guess at the heart of each of these matches, and the way they turned out, is the heroine’s search for goodness. In each of these circumstances, it’s certainly the more dashing of the fellows that I’m bemoaning the loss of. But one thing that is true of Colonel Brandon, Professor Bhaer, and Phineas Whitney (that last one is a stretch, since we see so little of him, but I’m assuming it’s true if he’s going to be a pastor, for heaven’s sake) is their loyalty, consistency, dependability, unadulterated and unwavering love for the heroine. Which I suppose in the long run is worth far more than flashing white teeth, childhood romps, or a good poetry-reading voice.

But still…I wish it didn’t seem as if the passion had to be sacrificed for the goodness. Are not there men able to hold their own with  our banter, interested and educated in our passions, capable of knowing us for who we truly are, and still worthy of our goodness and devotion?

And suddenly some names are rushing to mind… Nat Eaton…Gilbert Blythe…Christopher Heron…Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Perhaps it is not impossible after all.