Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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How to Make an Oak Leaf Crown

Across the North, the two preeminent sacred trees of Midsummer's are the ("male") oak and the ("female") linden.

On the linden, whose spicy flowering perfumes the longest nights of the year, more in a future post. But for today, the oak.

The Oak is the tree of Thunder, most virile of gods,* whose thunderstorms rumble spectacularly across the prairies at this time of year—the Ojibway call July "Thunder Moon"—and, they say, "holds fire in its heart." (In his youth, the Horned hid the fire of the gods there after he had stolen it from Thunder's hearth, but that's another story.) Fire drills used to be made from oak, and their "cradles" from linden wood. Extinguishing all the fires in the village and kindling the New Fire from wood on wood is an old, old Midsummer's tradition.

Throughout the Baltics, men wear crowns of fresh oak leaves on Midsummer's Eve: even (as in this evocative still from Latvian director Alexander Hahn's 2007 film Midsummer Madness) when they're not wearing anything else. (Did I mention that the first skinny-dip of the year is an old Northern Midsummer's custom?) Although more frequently crowned with flowers, women sometimes wear them too, as the old Latvian daina attests:

Who's a mother, who's a maid?

Hard to tell, Midsummer's Eve,

when maid and mother alike

wear crowns of green oak leaves.

You can easily make your own oak crown. You'll only need three things: oak leaves, florist's wire (or cord), and lots of patience.

Place one oak leaf on top of another. Leaving yourself an extra couple of inches at the end, wrap the wire once or twice around the stems. Add another leaf, and wrap. And so on, until you have enough to reach all the way around your head. Then twist (or tie off) the ends of the wire (or cord), and voilà: a crown worthy of the Oak King.

You can use the same technique to make a Midsummer's wreath for your front door or long garlands with which to deck your house, another immemorial Midsummer's custom.

After Midsummer's, the customary way to dispose of the crowns is to float them off on the waters of a river or lake. If you throw one up into the branches of a tree and it catches on a branch, they say that you'll marry the one you love best. Obviously, such usages are best reserved for bio-disposible crowns.

Crowned or not, clothed or not, a very Merry Midsummer to you and yours!


*It's interesting that this most masculine of gods is sometimes shown in mythology wearing women's clothing. Þórr is said to have dressed as a bride to retrieve his Hammer from the etin Útgarð-loki, and Changó to have escaped from enemies once, aided by Oyá, disguised as a woman. One finds this cross-dressing motif in Hellenic and Indic mythologies as well (although not, to my knowledge, specifically involving the Thunderer). Non-pagan students of Norse mythology have sometimes posited that Snorri's amusing tale is late, dating from a time when people no longer respected the old gods. Not only is this triumphalist "supersessionist" reading of the paganisms outdated—there's no evidence that the paganisms of late antiquity were especially "decadent"—but I think that such interpretations essentially misunderstand the nature of relationship between pagans and our gods. In a pagan world, humor and respect are not mutually exclusive categories.

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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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