Past Midsummer Magic

Ilmatar comforts Aisling

Midsummer 2011, the shortest night of the year, passed by with little ado here in Ireland. There was no holiday, just a brief note in the calendar that the midpoint in the waxing and waning of light came. The Irish Examiner did report that some persons in East Cork part took in the ancient Viking custom of burning bonfires on the night. Jumping over the fire 3 times will clear you of sins and sickness for the upcoming year it is said. But there were no reports of wild dancing around flaming heaps of gorse by Kerry maidens engaged in love and fertility rituals.

After the long dark winter in Scandinavia the presence of the light of the long ‘nightless’ summer night is so powerful that celebration should be inevitable. But to my dismay modern Finland no longer celebrates midsummer on the 21st of June. The ever-so-pragmatic lawmakers have instead moved the celebration to the nearest weekend to save labour costs so as, I presume, to keep the industrial machine going. I am dismayed. The midsummer celebration is now a postdated event.  This year it was June 24-25.

For today’s Finns Juhannus (midsummer) is now just another summer bank holiday weekend of sauna, swimming, grilling, drinking, music and mayhem. However having lived abroad since the 70s I recall memories of nightless nights on the date, and the fertility and love rituals associated with it. The ones I learned involved sauna, bonfires, reflections on water, red bands tied to naked waists and gazing at a sun that never sets. Here are some that I have passed on to my daughters:

Lush (2003)

On the midsummer night you must collect seven different flowers, place them under your pillow, and you will meet your love in your dream. Tie the flowers with seven stalks of hay for extra assurance.

A fern flowers only on midsummer’s night. If you can find one, gaze upon it. Your luck in the coming year will be assured.

Listen for and count the cuckoo’s call. The number of calls corresponds to the years it will take for you to meet your love. If you hear none, you will meet your mate in the coming year.

My artwork  Ilmatar Comforts Aisling brings to mind the magic of the midsummer of my youth. It was selected for the Oireachtas Exhibition in 2008, and depicts Ilmatar, the Finnish Goddess of Air, reaching out to Aisling, the Irish embodiment of the ideal dream. It is an unashamedly romantic image with harps, stars, flowing hair and maidens, embodying an ideal of European unity. In the light of EU 2011 is it indeed just a dream?

Forest Floor

Forest Floor (2003)

Lush and Forest Floor are two small oils that depict non-flowering ferns (I’ve never seen them in flower), leaves, berries and grasses that one encounters when walking in nature in the western world. These works have no directional orientation. They can be hung any way up. Turning them around occasionally for a fresh view is encouraged.

All three are on show at Cleo, Shelbourne St, Kenmare

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie Jareckie July 1, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I love your new work. Ever think about designing fabrics? I just recently fell in love with a chair at Crate and Barrel and the print reminds me of your ferns here. The Parker chair. Love it. So, it is Independence Day weekend here in the states so we plan on our custom of fireworks, grilling, and enjoying the great outdoors! Best to you!

Curtis McCosco July 2, 2011 at 12:16 am

i’ve never seen these works before, they’re so beautiful!
this morning KatRama & i went down to the beach here on Kauai’s eastern shore to celebrate and find rhythm with the new moon/eclipse. we touched our hands to a huge moss and lichen coated log that had floated down the Wailua River and washed up ashore to imbed in the tidal sands. there we followed the currents of spirit to let go of past selves, old forms, attachments.
let’s all recapture these synchronous structures of the movements of our planets, internal and external. how absurd to change the “holiday” to suit the commercial calendar.
we need to introduce ourselves to our future ancestors, to the expansive realm of the possible and magical. the world of the “known” is being crushed by the collapse of “reality”, an exhale of cosmic proportions preceding an inhale, an acceptance of the gift.

Regine Bartsch July 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Juhannus! Many a cold, rainy Juhannus aatto was spent by the lake, huddling against the wet and the mosquitos! And many more were partied drinking sahti all night on little islands, days on end, a coffee pot boiling on the embers of the bonfire. Well, this year here in Kerry took the biscuit weather wise, it was so dark and wet that a fire would have shed some light, if it had lit with the rain. I didn’t even try. A sauna could have provided some much needed heat but we don’t have one. I am thinking of your sauna on the yard, that is a great provider and certainly would transport one back to carefree times, maybe whilst eating a piirakka or two!

Helena July 3, 2011 at 10:43 am

Hei Regine! Ihana kommentti sinulta, kiitos! Muistat todella hyvin millaista usein juhannuksena oli… Menen Suomeen 16pv. Toivottavasti aurinko paistaa. Parhain terveisin, H

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