British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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JUME 23.]                         MIDSUMMER EVE.                                       313
not a word must be spoken all the time. This being done, the diviners are sure to dream of the man they love. There was the divination by hemp-seed,* which consisted of a person sowing hemp-seed, saying at the same time,
Hemp-seed I sow. Hemp-seed I hoe. And he that is my true love, Come after me and mow.
The lover was sure then to make his appearance.—Soane's Book of the Months.
Towards night, materials for a fire were collected in a public place and kindled. To this the name of bonfire was given, a term of which the most rational explanation seems to be that it was composed of contributions collected as boons or gifts of social and charitable feeling. Around this fire the people danced with almost frantic mirth, the men and boys occasionally jumping through it, not to show their agility, but as a compliance with ancient custom.f—Book of Days, vol. i. p. 86.
In the reign of Henry VII. these fires were patronised by the Court, and numerous entries appear in the " Privy-purse Expenses" of that monarch, by which he either defrayed the charges, or rewarded the firemen. A few are subjoined, as examples of the whole :
" June 23 (1493). To making of the bonefuyr on Midsorner Eve, 10'. " June 28 (1495). For making the king's bonefuyr, 10s. "June 24 (1497). Midsomer Day, for making of the bone-fuyr, 10s. " June 30 (1498). The making of the bone-fuyr, £2.
Med, Mm Kalend., 1841, vol. i. p. 303.
In the months of June and July, says Stow, on the vigils of festival days, and on the same festival days in the evening
* See page 100.
t Fuller (Mixt Contemplations in Better Times, 1858, p. 25) says he has met "with " two etymologies of bone-fires. Some deduce it from fires made of bones, relating it to the burning of martyrs, first made fashionable in England in the reign of King Henry the Fourth; but others derive the word from boon, that is, good, and fires." The more propable explanation seems to be that of Dr. Hickes, and which has been adopted by Lye in the Etymologicon of Junius, namely, that it was derived from the Anglo-Saxon bxlfyr, a burning pile, by the change of a single letter only, baal in the Islandic signifying a conflagration.
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