Midsummer is when the sun stands the highest in the sky. Daylight dominates, and the night is short. Then, the night reclaims its due.
In the past, on Midsummer Eve, people gathered herbs for healing. (Plants of the wort family were especially prized.) For more healing and cleansing, people then bathed in various springs. After the Midsummer bonfires burn out, people gathered the ashes to mix with water. Then, they sprinkled this ‘glop’ around their houses for protection in the coming year.
To the Norse, Midsummer was as important as Yule. At this time, the Norse gave thanks for the prosperity and fertility of their lands. Also, they prayed for continued prosperity and good health. Sunna (the sun) was honored at Midsummer, as well as Balder (the God of Light) and Nanna (His Wife).
For me, Midsummer is a bittersweet High Day. Because of my on-going depression, I crave the sunlight. At Midsummer, the sun is at its peak, and then daylight lessens gradually. Midsummer is time of joy tempered with the shadow to come.
Lammas / Lughnasadh
Several Indo-European cultures celebrated their first harvests of grains and fruits in August. For example, the Anglo-Saxons of England had Lammas (“Loaf-Fest”), to offer their grain to their Gods. At Lammas, the Anglo-Saxon tribes met in their assembly (the Thing). At the Thing, they held discussions, swore oaths, and enacted laws. Afterwards, everyone celebrated the sacred marriage of Thunor (Thor, God of Farmers and Thunder) and his wife Sif (Goddess of Grain). After offering breads to the Gods, the Anglo-Saxons competed in warrior games in Their Honor.
Meanwhile, the Celts held Lughnasadh festivities to celebrate the marriage of Lugh (Master of All Skills) and the Lady of Sovereignty. This High Day was also the staging of funeral games for His Foster Mother Taithe, (the Goddess of Agriculture). (She had dropped dead from plowing a field in Ireland.) After offering the first fruits of the harvest to Her, the Celts held their games.
For me, the county fair is a faint remnant of First Harvest Holidays. My family often attended the Skowhegan Fair in Maine, where livestock, breads, and other agricultural items were featured. One of my favorite activities was watching the horse pulling contests.
Fall Equinox (Second Harvest)
Around the Fall Equinox, farmers began the second harvest of their crops. After they harvested their grains, farmers left one sheaf of grain. Afterwards, they ceremoniously cut it, and made dollies from the sheaf.
Among various Northern I-E Cultures, the Spirit of the Corn (wheat) resided in the last stalk. As containers of the Harvest Spirit, the dollies were given a place of honor in their homes. People kept these fertility symbols through the winter.
For the Norse, the Fall Equinox was called “Winter Finding”, when people gave thanks to the Vanir (the Gods of Fertility and the Land). The Anglo-Saxons called this High Day “Harvest Home.” For them, it was a time of thanksgiving, and for asking for plenty in the future.
For me, it is the start of fall hunting season. The deer are fat and rutting. Other animals are eating to put on winter fat. Plump squirrels are seen everywhere gathering nuts for the winter. This is the time for gathering meat for the lean times. As part of the second harvest, I also gathered vegetables from the family garden, before the first frost.