Not deferential enough: Medro-saminos

Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2014 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Medro-saminos

by Gina Hamilton

Litha, a word that means stone but is associated with calendars, is the Celtic name of the celebration of Medro-saminos, midsummer, or the Summer Solstice.

In the Celtic tradition, this is a time when the crops are in the ground, the animals have calved, or kidded, or lambed, and everyone can take a brief but well-deserved rest before driving the animals to higher pasture. Before that happens, though, it's time to reorient the wheel of the year by touching base with the local henge, and receiving the blessings of the day.

Most stone henges, or stone circles, are oriented to catch the summer sunrise at midsummer. The act of the sun rising where it is supposed to rise means it's time to shift from seed time to the pastoral duties of moving creatures to unsullied meadows higher up the hillsides.

Nearby the stone henge, there was often a wood henge, which was a place of feasting and life. It was often oriented on a stream or river, and was a large circle at whose heart was a space for a large bonfire. Celebrating those who would care for the animals on their long treks, and who would watch over them, far from home throughout the summer, was an important piece of the festival. A bonfire would be laid, and the shepherds and shepherdesses would dance the Morris dance.

Morris dancing is a form of mummery, which is ritually done at quarter days, but the dancers' bell-jangled calves have a more immediate and more obvious meaning to those who are about to set off through what had been wilderness with herds of the village's winter food supply.

The bells would keep away wild animals, such as bears, wolves, and wild cats.  At least, that was the hope.

After a night of feasting, a morning of watching for the sunrise to take place where it was supposed to be, and another night of singing and dancing, the parents would bid farewell to their young adolescents and young adults who would make up the upland animal tenders. Shepherds, goatherds, and cowherds would separate and take on separate locations, with the young women taking the more upland meadows, for safety, with the sheep and goats, and the young men would take the more lowland meadows with the larger livestock.

Throughout the summer, the families would be comforted by hearing the sounds of bells on the breeze, until the animals were driven down just before the start of the great harvest, just before August.

Many of the adolescents and young adults would have already been handfasted and would be married at Lammas. The separation of the sexes at this critical time meant that the pairs would have sober time -- six weeks worth of it -- to reflect about their choices.  If they were still ready for the committment, they would be married at Lammas with the other couples.  If not, the trial period would end with a no-fault termination of the engagement, and no one would give it any additional thought.

Down in the village, there was still much work to be done. The early harvests of fruits and vegetables would have to be processed, dairy products made from the fresh cows kept back, newly constructed homes to be built for those about to be married, repairs made on houses, barns, fences, and common areas. Wood for the winter must be cut and stacked; hay laid in.

There were still fields to tend, and young children were often put to work keeping vermin and crows out of the grain. Water had to be carried, apples pressed, jellies made and sauces prepared.

But for all the work of summer, it is a time of ease, a time for dancing and playing, a time for collecting sweet smelling herbs, a time of long days and gently warm nights.

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