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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Midsummer songs

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The Dance of Oak and Linden

If you're looking for a magical dance with which to crown your Midsummer's Eve, here's a new one made of ancient parts: the Dance of Oak and Linden.

In Baltic lore (in the Baltics, Midsummer is still the biggest holiday of the year, bigger even than you-know-when), Oak is considered a male tree, Linden a female: two trees, two genders of beauty and strength.

The Midsummer connection is strengthened by the fact that Oak is also held to be the tree of Thunder, most virile of gods, and that the Linden—known as Basswood in the US—perfumes the White Nights of Midsummer with her spicy flowering. You could think of them as the Midsummer equivalents of Midwinter's Holly and Ivy.* 

The Dance of Oak and Linden is a simple round dance, and better it be if danced around a bonfire, or one of its eponymous trees. At its most basic, men bear oak sprays, women linden. (I'm sure that you don't need me to tease out the various possible permutations for you.)

Bearing your oak and linden, then—or whatever the equivalent trees in your landscape are—you join hands and dance.

Here's a song to go with it, dating from circa 1300, the oldest song in English to which we have both words and tune.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Rhymes with Blithe

Midwinter is to Midsummer as Yule is to —?

If you answered Litha, well...you're mostly right.

Midwinter and Midsummer are ancient. Cognate names survive in every living Germanic language, so they must have been known back in Common Germanic times, more than 2500 years ago.

Both holidays have by-names as well. The Hwicce—the Anglo-Saxon tribe ancestral (some say) to today's witches—also knew Midwinter as Géol and Midsummer as Líða.

Down the centuries Géol morphed into Yule. Líða didn't survive the passage of time, but during the 80s pagans rediscovered the word and gave it a new lease on life.

It's unclear what either word originally meant. Some have suggested that “Yule” may be kin either to gel—because it marks the coming of winter—or to yell, because “crying Yule” is a fine old midwinter's custom. In northern England, after Christmas services, people used to join hands and dance through the church shouting “Yule! Yule! Yule!”

I'll bet the vicar just loved that.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Summer's Oldest Song

It's the oldest song in a European vernacular language to which both words and tune survive, dating from circa 1250.* You can hear it here.

The original Irish Samhradh, Samhradh (“Summer, Summer”) references Bealtaine—it refers to the traditional gathering and bearing-back of wild greens with which to deck the home—but around here we sing it at Midsummer's, the Bealtaine of the North.

I initially learned the song from my friend singer-songwriter (and Dianic priestess) Ruth Barrett; it was released, with original Midsummer verses, on her 1994 album, The Heart is the Only Nation.

I love Ruth's new verses, but thought I'd try my hand at rendering the original Irish words into singable English. Here they are, just as we'll be singing them on Midsummer's Eve on the highest hill in Paganistan, a-conjuring Summer in.

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  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien says #
    Just a point of information -- the translation from the Gaelic that Ruth Barrett uses in her version of this song, which I love, w

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn

A Victorian nationalist wrote the lyrics. The king of British folksingers wrote the tune. The father of modern witchcraft made it part of the Book of Shadows. And across the English-speaking world, pagans sing and dance to it every Midsummer's Day.

How good is that?

Poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) first published the poem A Tree Song in his childrens' novel Puck of Pook's Hill in 1906. Folk-singer Peter Bellamy (1944-1991) wrote a musical setting for the poem (you can hear it here), retitled Oak and Ash and Thorn; it was released on the album of the same name in 1970.

Meanwhile, some time in the 1950s, Gerald Gardner (1886-1964) had written the last verse of the song into the liturgy for Beltane. How did a Midsummer's song (“Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, me love/all of a Midsummer's morn”) end up at Beltane? Well, the cross-quarters were the original sabbats of Gardner's revived “witch-cult,” as in Murray, and the quarter-days (solstices and equinoxes) didn't come in until later. That explains the truncation of the lyrics in the BoS version as well.

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