With long dark winters in Scandinavia, the arrival of summer solstice is the most important event of the year. In the northern hemisphere, near the arctic circle, the midsummer night marks a time when the sun doesn’t set and when night and day unite. The midsummer solstice ceremony in Finland and other Scandinavian countries is a celebration of victory of light over a long period of darkness. Fire/Sun is an universal symbol of life force, energy, purification, rebirth, and fertility.
In Finland and Northern Europe the summer solstice marks an astrologically significant turning point in the year, a cosmic portal of light opening in the sky, when the veils between worlds are thin, and the spirits become restless. In the old days it was believed that by making loud noises, singing, and lighting a big fire, any malevolent spirits would be scared away during the opening of the sky.
Growing up in Finland, I attended traditional midsummer fire ceremonies every year. I remember the tingling feeling of anticipation that always preceded the ceremony. Important spells and intentions were to be placed on this “nightless night”.
The Finnish midsummer ceremony is celebrated by lighting a bonfire several feet high at midnight, usually on a lake. The fire is lit by the oldest man in the village or town. Several rites then take place around the fire; dancing, singing, bathing, and gathering of certain plants. Young birch tree branches are harvested for bundles that are used for decorations and for bathing with in a cleansing ritual in the sauna.
The historical origin of the midsummer ritual in Finland (called Juhannus) is rooted in not only celebration of the midnight sun, but the ancient mythology of Ukko – the Finnish God of sky, rain, thunder, and harvest. Older generations in Finland still refer to the midsummer night as the celebration of “Ukko”. Ukko is similar to Thor or Zeus. The midsummer ceremony was organized to appease Ukko, and ensure rain would bring good harvest that year. Preparations for the summer ceremony often began already in the fall of previous year.
More than 2000 years ago Finland had its own nature based religion with Gods and Goddesses who ruled the natural forces, upper and lower worlds. This pagan religion was rooted in Shamanism, song, and ceremonial practice. Stories and legends of this religion were passed on in poetic songs and rhymes, and were not written down until 1835, when the first Finnish national epic, called Kalevala was printed.
Various spells were traditionally cast during the magical hours of the midnight sun for ensuring good harvest or for finding a spouse. I recall my grandmother telling me to place seven flowers from seven different meadows under my pillow on a midsummer’s night, in order to see a future spouse in a dream. Meanwhile, I was to keep to myself and not utter a word to anyone I would meet during the ritual or the spell would not be cast. I could also look into a forest spring naked at midnight, in order to see the face of my future beloved. Numerous variations of this ritual still circulate for finding your true love during midsummer’s night.
Another midsummer legend in Finland was that of Ferns that bloomed only once on a midsummer night for a brief moment. Ferns do not typically bloom at all. However, according to this folklore, whoever would find a Fern in bloom that night would gain supernatural powers and be gifted with not only earthly riches but the ability to understand animal speech. If you caught the seed from a blooming Fern flower that night you would gain the power of invisibility. Ferns have been traditionally associated with the elemental and faerie kingdom. Wherever Ferns grow elves and faeries are not far!
Begin by offering your gratitude and prayers to the sun for all the life he brings. Creating an altar for the sun, or making a small fire ceremony at home with simple offerings, is a great way to participate in this ancient ritual. Meditate in nature and connect with your own light, and then connect it back to the light of the sun.