June 24, 2022 — The Icelandic Sagas tell how Christian, Viking chieftains sought to ban Midsummer rituals and replace them with Catholic celebrations. In more recent medieval sources from the 1500s, Swedish writer, cartographer, and ecclesiastic Olaus Magnus mentions midsummer bonfires. Those are no longer common in Sweden but are still practiced in Finland.

By introducing a Catholic saint to be celebrated parallel to the ancient fertility rites of the Nordic summer solstice, which had been established several thousand years earlier, local priests tried to overlay the tradition by introducing a John the Baptist veneration which eventually became fixated on June 24 (the actual time of the summer solstice date fluctuates from year to year.)

The Baptist veneration was, of course, an ill-disguised attempt to take over yet another “Norse” tradition, but despite being Christian, in medieval times, many Goths, Swedes, and other regional “tribes” in what is today Sweden were still believers in the Old Gods; hence the Church’s Baptist cultural coup of Midsummer failed.

“May’s climate was unfitting for Sweden’s peasantry, which is why the erection of the Irminsul-like “maypole” took place in late June. A correct translation of the maypole, in a modern Swedish context, would be “junepole.”

In contrast, the rest of Europe fell for the priests’ “trick” and celebrates Midsummer on the fixated date of June 24 to this day, while Sweden honors the turning point of the year and its longest day (which took place on June 21 this year) in a far more ancient tradition on dates from Friday-Saturday June 20-26.

Does Midsummer Really Hail From Ancient Times?

Some historians believe Sweden’s unusual Midsummer maypole is a German cultural import that came about in recent, medieval times, but sources are vague. It is likelier the Swedish Midsummer phallus-like pole raised in June is related to the Saxon Irminsul tree — the etymology of which is reasonably clear: The stem -sul translates to “sun” in Swedish, but in Germany, it is considered to mean “pillar” and perhaps there is truth to both. Irmin means large.

Also, more confusion about the origins and the historical validity of Sweden’s Midsummer’s Eve has come about. In bygone days, tribes in continental Europe celebrated a similar event in early May, about a month and a half before the Nordic region. The reason? For sowing crops, May’s climate was unfitting for Sweden; hence, raising the “maypole” takes place in late June. Besides, a correct translation of maypole, in a modern Swedish context, would be “junepole”.

There seems to be a lot that suggests Midsummer is the most Swedish of all holidays. For example, rolling naked in the midsummer dew is still considered strengthening for health, and there is a known tradition of saving a summer wreath and putting it in the Christmas bath (that is no longer practiced.) Another remnant from ancient times exclusive to Sweden that is still alive is to put seven or nine kinds of flowers under the pillow on the Midsummer night. Then, in the following dreams, people can sense who they live with for the rest of their lives.

Midsommarblót Seiðr Magic

The summer solstice was the subject of magical performances in pre-Christian times since the vegetation was attributed to supernatural powers. Also, spirit beings were assumed to be particularly active at this time.

Midsummer’s night was considered suitable for collecting healing herbs and foretelling the future. In the harsh conditions of the Swedish peasant society of the Viking Age, Migration Era, and earlier times, seiðr (magic) was a way to master the unpredictability of life.

Intriguingly, Finnish and Swedish Midsummer is not entirely dissimilar except when it comes to the symbolic elements. While the Midsummer “junepole” is still used in Sweden, lighting a midsummer bonfire in Finland (and Denmark) is still practiced.

Instead of singing and dancing to the contemporary song “The Little Frogs” in a huge ring hand in hand, in Finland, people sit by the shore and watch a big fire as they enjoy a long, bright summer evening and night. The Finnish fires are called “Juhannuskokko” — it is said these great bonfires scare away evil spirits that can destroy the harvest.

The bonfire tradition was also common in Sweden until late medieval times, as noted by Olaus Magnus in the 1500s as mentioned above. To those who are tuned in to Draugablíkk, connections to an unconscious and historically inherited fertility cult can be felt, especially by those born with the blíkk.