Thor and San Juan on Midsummer

Well, this is a nice coincidence. I was just looking at the website for one of my favorite seed sources, Native Seeds/SEARCH, where I found this article on their blog:

Celebrate Dia de San Juan!

This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about in my last post on Thor and giving him thanks in June for bringing the rains to the garden. I knew that June 24 was the feast day of St. John the Baptist, but I didn’t know that he was the patron saint of rain. It makes sense though.

Now I’m even more certain that Midsummer is Thor’s holiday in Texas! He fits perfectly to make a Heathenized version of Dia de San Juan.

This year’s Midsummer celebration went very well too. I did my usual barbecue and invited over several guests. Thor got honored, but also Loki. I gave the Trickster a piece of meat by throwing it directly in the fire once the meat was done. The feast contained a lot of vegetables and herbs that I grew in my garden, and the meat was smoked with oak wood from dead branches we trimmed off our own trees.

Then after the feast, even though it was a warm night, we made a bonfire in the fire pit in the back yard out of juniper wood, which repels mosquitoes. Bonfires are supposed to purify the area of evil spirits, right? Well, even if they don’t, it did purify the area of those darn mosquitoes!

Then we had a symbel around the fire with the last of my mead. I think it was the first symbel I had where some magic actually happened, rather than it being just a bunch of people getting drunk and chatting. What happens in symbel stays in symbel, so I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say after that I was like, “Oh, that’s why symbels are a big deal!”

It was pretty cool.

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Happy Midsummer!

See the curtains hangin’ in the window
In the evenin’ on a Friday night
Little light is shinin’ through the window
Lets me know everything’s alright

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

See the paper layin’ on the sidewalk
A little music from the house next door
So I walked on up to the doorstep
Through the screen and across the floor

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Sweet days of summer, the jasmine’s in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune
And I come home from a hard day’s work
And you’re waiting there, not a care in the world

See the smile awaitin’ in the kitchen
Food cookin’ in the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day is through

Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze, makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind

Celebrating Midsummer

Last weekend was the Summer Solstice, and I celebrated it in my traditional way: I had a barbeque!

John Beckett wrote about building a summer solstice tradition, which is exactly what I’ve been doing, but I disagree with him that Midsummer is not an important holiday. It’s Yule’s counterpart, and it’s still widely celebrated in Northern European countries. I actually have a lot more trouble feeling a connection with Lammas/Lughnasadh than Midsummer.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary to build new Midsummer traditions. I’ve written before about the necessity of adapting pagan holidays to the local environment in order to fully appreciate the spirits of your own ecosystem. I’m a Heathen, but I live in Texas, so even if I celebrate Heathen holidays like Midsummer or Yule, I think they should be celebrated in a Texas way.

So what does June 21 mean in Texas?

Well, this is not quite the hottest time of year just yet. Statistically the first week of August is the hottest time of year here, so really Lammas is the hottest holiday. This year we haven’t yet hit 100 degrees, though we’ve come close a couple of times. It’s actually been kind of nice lately. Mostly in the low-90’s with some thunderstorms which have been very helpful putting a dent in this severe drought. Hail Thor! Everything is still green. The grass hasn’t dried to a crisp yet.

I’m harvesting lots of green beans, okra, and tomatoes from the garden. Squash and eggplant is coming soon.

The sunflowers, Indian blanket, esparanza, roses, and Mexican oregano are all blooming nicely.

 

I have decided that the traditional feast for Texas Heathen Midsummer is barbeque. And by that I mean real southern barbeque, not just some hot dogs or burgers on a grill. Every year on Midsummer (or the weekend day closest to it) I get up early (yes, on a Saturday!) and start a big slab of meat or two smoking in the brick BBQ pit in my backyard. To Texans and other southerners, barbeque is slow-smoked meat. In Texas that meat is usually beef brisket, and the wood for smoking is usually mesquite. And “barbeque” also means the social event where such meat is served, because roasting big hunks of meat and celebrations go hand-in-hand. (Sorry vegetarians!)

I sometimes vary a little bit from the traditional beef brisket. I’ve also done pork shoulder, ribs, turkey, and chicken in my smoker. I always fill up the smoker no matter how many guests I’m having since it’s the same amount of work whether the smoker is full or not, and smoked meat makes great leftovers. Smoking the meat becomes a ritual in itself. It forces me to be outside in the backyard, with all the nature spirits and birds and plants and bugs and heat and humidity. I’m serenaded by cicadas as I tend the fire, turn and mop the meat occasionally, and get all sweaty and smoky. It’s a lot of work, but I think that preparing a ritual feast should be.

(Meanwhile, my husband mowed the yard, which is a really big deal when you have a yard as big as ours, with only a push mower.)

This year I cooked two chickens and two large fillets of steelhead trout, which my guests all thought was salmon until I told them otherwise. Farmed steelhead trout is a “Best Choice” on the Seafood Watch list, costs half as much as the sustainable wild Alaska salmon, and the same amount as the unsustainable farmed salmon. I’d never done fish in the smoker before, but it turned out amazing. I used the recipe for smoked salmon from amazingribs.com, and based the chicken off his Simon and Garfunkel chicken recipe (using almost all herbs from my own herb garden). I sometimes wonder things like what would Meathead think if he knew his recipes are being used in a ritual feast to honor pre-Christian Norse deities.

I ended up using oak for the fish, and a mixture of oak and mesquite for the chicken, since that’s the kind of wood I have on hand. We have a lot of oak wood from a few of our trees that died in the horrible summer of 2011. Oak is a pretty good all-purpose smoking wood, but mesquite has a powerful flavor that can overwhelm fish, which is why I didn’t add it to the fire until the fish was done and I was just doing the chicken. I also feel good about using wood that my husband and I harvested ourselves to cook the meal. I wanted to put as much connection to our land as possible into the meal, which is why I tried to put something I’d harvested myself into every dish, even if it was just an herb from the herb garden.

To go with the meat was pasta salad containing green beans and cherry tomatoes from the garden, sweet tea with some peppermint from the herb garden, and a pound cake with seasonal fruit on top.

OK vegetarians, I also made a pot of beans. I usually put pork products of some sort in my beans, but I had some vegetarian guests coming, so I wanted a vegetarian protein that was just as special and delicious as the meat. So I got some heirloom Anasazi beans (not just ordinary pintos!) and cooked them in my Lodge cast-iron camp Dutch oven in the bottom of the smoker. I pre-cooked them a little the day before because dry beans take a really long time to cook, but finishing them off in the smoker let them absorb some smoky flavor.

I prayed to Frigg before I started cooking to ask her to help make everything delicious, and apparently it worked. I always make tons of food for these kinds of things, and everyone happily ate their fill, with just enough left to offer some to the deities and land spirits, and for my husband and I to take some to work for lunch for the rest of the week.

 

As the sun finally set on the longest day of the year, we made a Midsummer fire of juniper wood in the backyard fire pit. Juniper (a.k.a “cedar”) has a wonderful smelling smoke that also repels mosquitoes. There were several Heathens in attendance, and the rest of the guests were all pagans of some sort, so we decided to do a Symbel in my ritual circle. One of the heathens brought his drinking horn and some home-brewed cider. We first gave an offering to the gods, and then did rounds of boasting and gratitude. Instead of making oaths, which I think is more of  a Yule thing, I thought boasts would be more appropriate. During the dark time of year, you can think about what you lack in your life that you want to change, but under the abundance of the Midsummer sun, it’s time to focus on what you DO have.

Focusing on the positive is a difficult thing for me, so I think doing a ritual like that is especially important. It takes me out of my comfort zone much more than a more somber ritual would. During the boasting part, I was forced to say nice things about myself, and during the gratitude part, I had to hear other people saying nice things about me. But perhaps getting out of your comfort zone is what good rituals are all about.

 

So that is how you celebrate Midsummer, Texas-style! With wood, fire, and smoke, meat and beans and garden-fresh tomatoes and sweet tea, ale and cider and citronella candles and the smell of fresh-cut grass and a bunch of good friends. I would say this is one of the best Midsummers I’ve had in a while.

Happy Midsummer!

I am working on a post about the trip to Big Bend National Park my husband and I took the last week in May, but first it’s time to celebrate Midsummer!

Midsummer is one of the holidays of the Wheel of the Year that can be a little tricky for me since it doesn’t have a secular American equivalent (like Samhain, Yule, and Ostara do). The big summer holiday of the United States is Independence Day on July 4. Sure, that’s a popular time for grilling, going swimming, and eating watermelon, but when I think of July 4, I think of fireworks and brass bands at the park. It’s more a celebration of American culture and mythology than the season of summer itself.

In celebration of the season of summer, a few years ago I started a tradition of having a barbecue every summer solstice. It was actually an offshoot of having a Yule get-together. Not much was happening in summer, so I decided it might be even easier to have a big celebration for Midsummer than Yule (when many people had already left town to visit family for Christmas). And when I say barbecue, I don’t mean grilling some hot dogs. I mean slow-roasting a large piece of meat or two over a wood fire for several hours until it falls apart. That is, Southern-style barbecue. For hundreds of years it’s been the perfect food for a large summer gathering. It’s a lot of work to fire up the barbecue pit unless you’re going to make a lot of meat, and so you need a lot of people to eat all that meat. Plus, outdoor cooking of any kind is popular this time of year because it doesn’t heat up the kitchen.

Being a Texan, I usually try to get beef brisket, but since I insist on only free-range, organic, grass-fed meat for my holiday feasts, sometimes I can’t find a brisket and have to settle for a pork shoulder, ribs, or in the case of this year, a couple of chickens.

Even though I’m sure it’s not what my ancestors did for Midsummer, there’s something satisfyingly primal about cooking meat over an outdoor fire.

I view Midsummer as a type of harvest festival. Most people these days, if they are growing anything, aren’t growing grain, they’re growing things like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, green beans, sweet corn, and zucchini. Midsummer is peak harvest time for all those wonderful summer garden vegetables. It’s also Texas peach season, though this year the Fredricksburg peach harvest was damaged by a late frost. I usually make peach cobbler for dessert (with vanilla ice cream on top of course!), but this year I’m making bread pudding from some Challah bread left over from Easter (I baked three loaves!) that’s been in the freezer since then, so it’s nice and stale. Bread pudding with Bourbon sauce is a traditional Southern dessert too, and I bet it would also go well with some ice cream on top.

Yes, in case you haven’t noticed, holidays are all about food to me. I’ve been eating much healthier lately, taking advantage of all the fresh fruits and vegetables available this time of year, from both my own garden and grown by others. I’ve actually lost a few pounds, and could stand to lose a few more.

Though I suppose Midsummer isn’t only about food. The post on the Solitary Druid Fellowship blog about Midsummer as the Feast of Labor rings also true to me. Midsummer is also about work. As I said in my last post, the light half of the year is a time of action for me, not contemplation. I’m teaching summer classes at the community college, and summer classes are a LOT of work! The full-time professors go on vacation this time of year, so the college relies almost entirely on us adjuncts to teach the summer classes. It’s the same class for four hours a day, four days a week! When I was a student I never took summer classes because that condensed schedule seemed crazy for anything but the easiest classes, but now as a professor I do welcome the extra-large paychecks I get for teaching them.

So even though I’m not a farmer, summer is still a time of plenty, and a lot of extra work! I’m very blessed that I’m doing fulfilling, meaningful work though. So many people are stuck in jobs they hate, but I’m doing a job that I mostly enjoy, and one that I feel is very beneficial to the world. It almost makes up for the poverty-level wages and total lack of benefits that adjunct instructors receive!

OK, well, like I said, this is a time of action, not of sitting around typing on the computer. I’ve got a house to clean and a feast to prepare!