British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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312                                  MIDSUMMER EVE.                        [JUNE 23,
cloth with bread, cheese, and ale, and then sat down as if going to eat, the street door being left open, the person whom she was afterwards to marry would come into the room and drink to her by bowing; and after filling the glass would leave it on the table, and, making another bow, retire.—Grose.
The same writer also tells us that any person fasting on Midsummer Eve, and sitting in the church porch, will at midnight see the spirits of the persons of that parish who will die that year come and knock at the church door, in the order and succession in which they will die.
The fern was a most important object of popular super­stition at this season. It was supposed at one time to have neither flower nor seed, the seed which lay on the back of the leaf being so small as to escape the sight of the hasty observer. Hence, probably, proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible seed would be themselves invisible, a belief of which innumerable instances may be found in our old dramatists.—Soane's Book of tlie Months.—See Brand's Pop. Antiq., 1849, vol. i. p. 314.
People also gathered on this night the rose, St. John's wort, vervain, trefoil, and rue, all of which were thought to have magical properties. They set the orpine in clay upon pieces of slate or potsherd in their houses, calling it a Midsummer-man. As the stalk was found next morning to incline to the right or left, the anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to her or not. Young men sought also for pieces of coal, but in reality certain hard, black, dead roots, often found under the living mugwort, designing to place these under their pillows, that they might dream of themselves.—Book of Days, vol. i. p. 816.
In addition to the superstitious customs already mentioned there was the Dumb Cake: *
Two make it, Two bake it, Two break it;
and the third must put it under each of their pillows, but
* See page 199.
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