Midsummer Solstice: Strange Days Indeed

John head

John, by anonymous Spanish painter, 1600-1645

“The earth, like the heart…travels along an elliptical path, drawn towards a dark bath…” Bjork

“During that summer, when unicorns were possible; when the purpose of knees was to be skinned…during that summer that may never have been…watermelons ruled…bites are fewer now; each one is savored lingeringly…” John Tobias

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these, strange days indeed…” John Lennon

June 21 and 24 are peculiar non-holiday holidays that celebrate the summer solstice and the alleged birthday of a man referred to as John the serial baptizer, prophet, king of summer, and critic. Numerous other events that occur on June 21 and 24 are not widely celebrated, such as the recorded sighting of Halley’s Comet (451), International Yoga and World Music Day, the expulsion of Jews from France in 1322, and the birth of Prince of Wales Williams (6/21/1982).Why do we still acknowledge summer solstice and the feast day of a man that was beheaded?

In our agrarian past, we labored non-stop from February to June restoring and cultivating the land, putting animals in pastures, and restocking larders. In June, the pace slowed; we relaxed. We relished our accomplishments. We arranged festive celebrations and feasts (Litha), and developed rituals to honor our success. Sun based celebrations entreated the sun to remain. The Oak King yielded his crown to the Holly King. In ancient Greece, the festival of Kronia (honoring Cronus) was held. Similar to the UK’s Boxing Day, slaves and the elite celebrated together. In Ireland, the goddess Aine was honored, and in Rome, Vesta took center stage. Different people have called this date Alban Hefin, Feill-Sheathain, Feast of Epona, Gathering Day, Sonnwend, Thing-Tide, Vestalia, and Whitsuntide.

We danced, sung, told stories, and lit huge bonfires. Homes were decorated with mistletoe, ivy, and holly, as well as rue, fennel, and St. John’s Wort. Fires were originally called “bone fires” because young boys threw bones and other noxious-smelling things on the fire to drive away potential monsters and spirits. Some believed their crops would grow as high as the flames reached, or as high as they could jump over burning embers. Farmers drove their cattle through the fires to inoculate them against disease and promote fertility. Sometimes ashes from the bonfires were scattered over fields to protect crops from blight and ensure a good harvest. People knew faeries were about on this night. To see them, according to cunning folk, one should gather ferns at midnight rub over closed eyelids. Carry some rue and turn your clothes inside out to ensure you’re not spirited away by the wee folk. As an extra measure, follow old ley lines that surge with protective energy.

Midsummer bonfires were also associated with courtship and fertility rituals. Girls made wreaths of leaves, vines, and ribbons and hung the wreaths in a tall fir tree that had been cut down and placed upright in the middle of a bonfire. As flames licked at their heels, boys would climb the tree, take down the wreaths, and stand on one side of the fire while the girls stood on the other. Sometimes the girls would just throw the wreaths across the fire to the boys they wanted to marry. As the flames died, the couples would join hands and leap over the fire three times for good luck. A fire wheel was also rolled down a hill. If it remained lit, there would be an abundance of crops at harvest.

The feast day of John the Baptist on June 24 (St John’s Day) is mentioned in Gnostic, Hermetic, Mandean, Masonic, and Egyptian sources. The name John is similar to the Sanskrit Jhana (Gnosis). John’s been called the King of Summer, and allegedly his last words were “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This could refer to the waning of the sun and its rebirth at winter solstice or to something else. John has also been called the first freemason, and some of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (Templars) were called Johannites. Templars were accused of worshiping a mummified severed head referred to as Baphomet. Was it John’s severed head? Templar initiation rites was said to be performed while the head looked on. One Templar tale says the men found the head in Boukoleon Palace in Constantinople during the 4th Crusade and moved it to Amiens Cathedral in the Picardy region of France. It emanated a strange, intense energy, as did John when his head was still firmly attached to his body.

The day John was beheaded (August 29 in what’s now central Jordon) according to several Gospels and Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, isn’t widely noted. On that day, Salome, nubile teenage daughter of Herod II and Herodias (a princess of Judea), widow of Philip the Tetrarch, and Queen of Chalcis and Armenia Minor, danced bewitchingly for birthday boy King Herod of Galilee, her mother’s new lover and husband—though she hadn’t officially divorced Salome’s father (who was Herod’s half bro). I use the word bewitchingly because Herod II’s parents were Herod the Great and Mariamne. She was the daughter of Simon Boethius, a high priest and adept.

The striptease dance Salome performed has been immortalized and romanticized as the Dance of the Seven Veils, though evidence of this is as scant as the veils that revealed rather than hid her alluring figure. Herod was so enchanted by Salome’s clever machinations he said she could have whatever she desired. Coached by her mother Herodias, she demanded the head of John the Baptist. John was already in prison for speaking out against Herodias for changing partners—while still married to Herod’s half bro. King Herod didn’t want to kill the righteous, camel hair wearing holy man for—speaking the truth. Scholars have also alleged Salome wanted John’s head because he’d spurned her veiled sexual advances.

The word veil is intriguing. To veil is to cover or conceal; to unveil is to reveal. Among many cultures, it’s been used to indicate status, chastity, or availability. To a nun, it means to take religious orders; a black veil once indicated a widow in mourning. Religious articles are veiled as a form of protection. The Victorians even veiled or covered furniture legs. Many Muslim women wear a veil as a sign of modesty (hijab); modern women still arrive veiled to a wedding, and are unveiled by their father. Some think the bride’s veil is symbolic of the hymen, the thin membrane traditionally penetrated on the wedding night. Others see it only as a fashion accessory. An unveiling assures the groom he is marrying the right woman. An ambiguous warning is called a veiled threat, and the gossamer, transparent boundary that separates worlds and dimensions has been called the veil.

John is the patron saint of stone masons and was adopted by both the Templars and the Knights of Malta. In the EU and England, festivals are held; in Scotland, bonfires are lit. In Estonia, Jaanipäev Day is celebrated by singing and dancing around bonfires. The glow-worm, which usually starts appearing around St. John’s Day, is called Jaaniuss – “St. John’s Worm” in Estonian. In late June, people gather the perennial herb St. John’s Wort for medicinal, religious, or spiritual use.

Midsummer’s Day morphed with St. John’s Day when the church high-jacked the tradition, saying John had been called ‘a burning and a shining light’ (John 5:35); therefore the fires lit at this time represented John and not the sun. June 21 was also known as a day of sacrifice in addition to celebration. Many have asked what if the beheading of John the Baptist was part of an ancient ritual sacrifice relating to the need for blood to revitalize the land or win the gods favor? Parts of sacrificed bodies were also used for divination.  John was an initiated Essenic prophet, and therefore qualified as an acceptable surrogate for a king. This lends credence to the survival of the Tammuz-Ishtar cult. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians practiced ritual sacrifice via beheading, poisoning, and death by sharp objects. It’s discussed in the bible, and Roman essayist Plutarch notes the Phoenicians and Carthaginians performed infant and child sacrifices. Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Indians, Mayas, Aztecs, Germans, and ancient Celts did also. In early America, people of the Mississippian culture likely practiced ritual sacrifices, dumping bodies in pits or building mounds over the remains. Sadly, as reported in internationals newspapers, BBC, and history texts, ritual sacrifices and massacres are still carried out for very specific purposes (Holocaust; Jonestown, Lydda, and Jeju; Mozambique, Dominican Republic, Indonesia; Viet Nam (Phong Nhi, Ha My, My Lai…); Derry; Munich; Philippines; Hama; Algeria; Luxor; and on and on).

To conspiracy theorists, both June 21 and 24th ae replete with strange and ominous events. In 1308, several of the remaining Templars confirm they saw a “mysterious head.” Their deposition was attested to in the Chinon Parchment. The Grand Lodge of Freemasons was inaugurated on June 24, 1717 in London; the Order of the Garter was founded on this date in 1348. Lucrezia Borgia died June 24, 1519. Deaths of various UFO researchers, writers, and fans have occurred on June 24: Frank Scully, 6/24/1964; Frank Edwards, near midnight on 6/23/1967; Arthur Bryant, 6/24/1967 Willy Ley, 6/24/1969; Jackie Gleason, 6/24/1987. This date also marked the death of renegade publisher Lyle Stuart who published anomalist writer Frank Edwards’ Fortean book, in 1959, Stranger than Science, a paperback full of UFO info and unexplained occurrences. In the US, we’ve seen ‘fire in the sky’ events on June 24. It’s been called the first day of flying saucer history. In Mt. Rainier & Mt. Adams (Washington State) on 6/24/1947, Kenneth Arnold saw a UFO. A woman was attacked and killed by bees or wasps in Seattle on 6/24/1947, and what was called Angora Fire started near South Lake Tahoe, California in 2007, destroying over 200 structures.

On June 24, 1374, a sudden outbreak of St. John’s Dance caused people in the streets of Aachen, Germany to experience hallucinations, and jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapsed from exhaustion. Louis XVI of France was arrested in Varennes on 6/21/1791. On June 21, 2015 (also Father’s Day that year), Bruce Hedendal, PhD was found dead in his car—it was no accident, nor was the motor running. He was a leader of chiropractic medicine, a high performance nutritionist, and advocate of fitness training and natural hormone therapies. He hosted syndicated radio and health programs. Like other researchers, he’d been in conflict with federal authorities over his “alternative” view of medicine. Near midnight June 23, 1694, Johannes Kelpius, a mystic from the University of Altdorf, and his Woman of the Wilderness utopian community arrived in Philadelphia and build a bonfire on a hillside. Blood red rain, reported often by ancient Greeks, fell in Italy in 1877. These are just some of the many strange June 21-24 events.

The question remains—why did—why do people still honor this date, light and dance round bonfires, make offerings/sacrifices, and gather herbs and early bounties from fields and gardens? Is it simply an acknowledgement of nature, of the sun’s power to warm, burn, bake and incite growth? The power of the sun is literally climaxing—post June 21—the suns power wanes. Or is the date a reminder of something else, something veiled from view? Solstice approaches—where will you gather—what will you do?

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