PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIE FLORO
Mariah Lynn Designs @mariahlynndesigns
Dark Horse Botanical @darkhorsebotanical
“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” asks Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby’s great love. “I always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it.”
With all due respect to the divine Ms. B., we would never make such an error. We watch for the longest day … and then celebrate it. With cakes and flowers, candles and crowns. Spellcasting, fortune-telling. Camaraderie.
You see, Daisy (if I may), Midsummer—and summer in general—mean something to us: Magic. Because this is the season of the unexpected.
In summertime, rules are relaxed; vacations and weekends and gorgeous weather spirit us away from the rigid rules of the rest of the year. In particular, the summer nights are as full of possibility as a party in West Egg. To give just a few examples, Midsummer’s Eve is the night on which animals speak and when eating a snail will keep devils away for the rest of the year. It’s when we can say our names seven times into a mirror and possibly meet our own future ghosts.
This is also the time to act on our dreams, because whatever we wish for will likely come true. So we might sleep through the heat of the day and go roaming at night, to meet each other by star- and candlelight. We gather in a field, a forest, on a beach, on a mountain, and we prepare: scatter flowers (Daisies, anyone?) for the blossoming of friendship and magic, candles to illuminate the best parts of our selves.
And so the rites begin. We clasp hands and feel a new energy running through ourselves and around the circle. Sitting or standing, we have just created a separate space, and with a few words, perhaps a song or a first taste of summer fruit, the everyday boundaries are gone.
A sort of gentle chaos takes over. There are no leaders now, no queens and kings, because if everyone wears a crown, everyone’s royalty. A diadem of flowers and leaves twines you into the cycles of love, fertility, and eternity. It asserts that you are a child of the universe and a natural spirit, in touch with the green magic of growth. Even a simple meal together can become a sacred rite as we share the same foods: a sip of elderberry juice, a pinch of sweetness from an annular cake.
There will be no competition tonight. Games have no part in this magic, because a game is designed to declare one winner and set someone up as superior. A game makes the heart race, makes the players taunt each other, sometimes creates hard feelings. It can be great fun—but it’s not right for tonight.
What is right: the magic of transformation.
Who doesn’t change a bit in the balmy season of pleasure? Escaping the everyday rules makes this the ideal time for discovering a secret self. Because here is a lovely paradox: By trying out a different persona, we learn more about who we are at heart. So you might channel the old gods and archetypes or call on the natural spirit in all living things—whatever you’ve wondered about, whatever lures you.
Maybe you’ll shape-shift into a flower or plant, something close at hand, lush, calm. Or become a frog and collect a few hopeful kisses, or a fairy-tale beast, then see who recognizes the rosy prince in you. In many traditions, including Norse and Native American mythologies, this is a good time to turn into a bear. They are not only strong and fierce; they are excellent mothers and protectors, and their hibernation cycles identify them with rebirth and transformation itself.
The simplest spell requires only that you keep an image in mind of the being you want to become—but a token such as a petal or a tooth may help a lot—then chant your command. Use the friends in your circle too; they will make the spell stronger: “Daisy, become a bear. Daisy, become a bear …” What you do when it works is up to you.
Transformation into a donkey has a rich tradition too, and it carries a couple of cautions. In one of the oldest pieces of prose literature, Apuleius’s Golden Ass, we find a case of spellcasting gone wrong. Lucius, the hero, begs a young lady to turn him into a bird, but she misspeaks and he ends up an ass—and one who is frequently stolen from his apparent owners. Lessons learned: You’ll want to be careful about who casts your transformative spell—and keep plenty of flowers on hand, because for Lucius, at least, eating a fresh rose is the way to break the magic.
Then again, if a fairy king puts a donkey’s head on your shoulders, you might want to go with it. There’s a chance that you’ll get to make love to a fairy queen. At the very least, and even at a humdrum gathering of mortals, you can become someone new. Try out a foreign accent. Wear your godmother’s jewelry; switch clothes with a stranger. The subtlest change can awaken you to a side of yourself you’ve overlooked. Maybe some little part of your night’s transformation (or a big part, who knows?) will go with you into ordinary life and be part of who you are now. Maybe a new friend will come too, someone you’d never have met in other seasons—wolf or fairy, elf or beast. In summer, even the shortest evening might seem to last forever. Perhaps it does; we don’t know the true nature of time. We might still be together now, hands clasped tight.