By Jesper Toad
The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide;
Midsummer heat climbs to its height,
Protects the fields with phallic might;
The Gyre wheel spins from tide to tide.
Midsummer marks the summer solstice, the longest day of the annual cycle of the sun. Known by the name Litha in most Wiccan or Witchcraft traditions—from the Anglo Saxon Liða meaning gentle or navigable—this sabbat falls at the height of the cycle of heat and light, and marks the point when the days begin to shorten, and the growing darkness ushers in the declining half of the year. Situated between the flowering of Beltane and the harvest time of Loaf Mass, Midsummer marks a time of growth—both in the agricultural crops and in the pastoral animals—and a time when these things must be protected from the turn of the tide from light to dark.
French Medievalist Philippe Walter (2014) writes in Christian Mythology: Revelations of Pagan Origins that the Christian saints’ days of the early Catholic Church reflect the belief and practice of earlier polytheistic or folkloric strata. The feast of John the Baptist is celebrated the twenty-fourth of June, near the day of the summer solstice, which wobbles between the twenty-first and twenty-second of June (strangely, the feast of John the Evangelist falls on the twenty-seventh of December, near the winter solstice). According to Walter, The medieval Feast of Saint John the Baptist preserved remnants of primordial folk rites involving the celebration of the high point of summer and rituals of exorcism intended to ward against calamity and bad luck (2014, p. 128). Central to these celebrations and rituals was—and if we bring them into the present, is—the element of fire, often in the form of a bonfire (p. 131). Walter relates that bonfires were built around a tree from which all the branches had been removed. Wreathes and crowns of flowers used to decorate this pole the dry and blacken blossoms would later find use as charms hung in the home to ward against lightning (p. 128-129).
These medieval rituals sometimes took a cruel turn, relative to our modern sensibilities. Toads, vipers, foxes, cats and other animals considered baneful would sometimes be bound in a bag and burned in the fire, although equally efficacious would be the burning of the bones of the offensive animals. This would seem to be a protective act, as these animals might spoil the crop, prey upon livestock, or otherwise prove dangerous. The burning of these animals also served to drive away any spirits of the dead that might be malingering too close to the dwellings of the living (Walter, 2014, pp. 128-129). Images of baleful beings also found their way into the bonfire: giants and giantesses burned in effigy, destroying and dispelling the evil and destructive influences that these being represented (p. 31).
While the bonfire blazed around the flowers and bones hung about the axis mundi, the people would sing and dance, circling the fire, and leaping over the flames to win twelve months of health and happiness (Walter, 2014, pp. 128). Circles and wheels appear to be part of the symbolism of this celebration: these old Indo-European symbols represent lightning, or perhaps the flaming orb of the sun, blazing in an arc past its apogee and down into the decline of the year (pp. 140, 142).
Arousal, whether it takes the form of the triumphant phallus or the tumescent vulva, is connected to the mysterious forces of creativity, and to the origin of life (Hillman, 2007, p. 202). The veneration of the lingam and the yoni is ancient, as evidenced by the extensive archeological record. In regards to the phallus, Contemporary Pagans tend to associate the male organ of reproduction with fertility, reproduction, and perhaps pleasure. However, additional associations emphasize growth, strength, stamina, virility, vitality, authority, power, and protection, connecting the phallus with the sabbats of the Vernal Equinox, Beltane, and Midsummer. The upright, triumphant phallus belongs not only to the world of men, where it is revered as generative, virile, and fecund, but also is possessed of underworld associations, where it is proud, protective, and punitive. (Hillman, 2007, p. 201). The phallus was used in ancient times to represent both gods of growth and ecstasy, like Dionysus, and underworld deities associated with death and rape, like Hades. This connection between desire and terror, life and death, is depicted in the erection of the symbolic phallus (p. 202).
The image of the phallus is still considered to guard against the evil eye: the object draws the gaze of the ill intent away from those things that are under its protection, serving the role of a fascinum (Valiente, 1973, p. 274). Fascinum comes to us, like the related word fascinate, from the Latin fascinus, meaning to enchant or bewitch. The Romans used the word fascinum in reference to the phallus in the form of an amulet, a gesture, or decoration intended to ward off evil and bring good luck (Hillman, 2007, p. 201). The phallus is simultaneously desirable and repulsive, enticing the eye and repelling it at the same time: we want to look at the phallus, and we must not look at the phallus (p. 207). This confusion is exactly the mechanism that baffles and wards against the evil eye. Belief in the destructive power of the evil eye continues into modern times: persons and animals affected by “casting the evil eye” or “overlooking” are prone to injury, fall ill, experience bad luck, wither away, or die (Melton, 2001, p. 548).
Another example of the protective power of the fascinum is recorded by Saint Augustin. In Roman times the god Liber—possibly an alternative name for Dionysis—represented by a phallus, was honored first at the crossroads and then brought into the city for further celebration. The propitiation of the phallus induced the growth of seeds and kept evil enchantments from the fields (Augustine, 1998, p. 292). The Cerne Abbas Giant, on the side of Trendle Hill in Dorset, appears to have a similar function. Doreen Valiente (1973) reports and incident in which a clergyman wanted to plow under the giant’s phallus, but is opposed by the common folk who tell him that if he does so it will result in the failure of the crops (p. 133). The loss of the vitality and growth this chalk figure affords is compounded with the removal of the protective attributes of the phallus, leaving the fields vulnerable to negative influences. In ancient Greece, and later in Rome, the boundaries, crossroads, and borders were marked with herms, square stone pillars surmounted by heads and proudly displaying a phallus. Although revered as luck bringing, the power of the erect phallus also served as sentinel, guarding the lands, and warding them from harm. Another rite, this one directly associated with the summer solstice, is that of the Holy Vinage, which was observed in the French city of Embrun upon Saint John’s Day. A cultic stone, resembling a phallus, was scraped, and the scrapings added to a drink. The ingestion of this ritual beverage guaranteed health, prosperity, and protection (Walter, 2014, p. 134).
The God Stone
The Monad, a Pythagorean figure representing the first metaphysical being, is represented by a single point enclosed and centered in a perfect circle. This figure is a single thing, but represented in two parts: the single point, and the encompassing circle. Like the Indian Shiva Linga, the lingam—the phallic portion of the figure symbolizing energy and potential—is always represented conjoined with the yoni—the feminine and creative element that serves to contain, concentrate, and transform. This point within the circle is also a symbol of the sun: as the sun stands in the center of our solar system, so the planets, and in particular our earth, circle around this source of life and heat. At the time of the summer solstice the sun at it apogee: the solar orb stands at its highest point in the sky, and stands vigil over the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours. The generative and protective powers symbolized by the phallus swell to their maximum potential.
According to Nigel Jackson (1996) sacred stones could serve as containers for those spirits held sacred to Witches. The masculine, phallic pillar of stone—the Godstone—and the feminine, rounded, holed Hagstone serve as physical bodies for the presence of the Master and Mistress of the Witches, the entities I refer to as the Witchfather and the Witchmother. The Godstone was placed at center of the compass, much like the figure of the Pythagorean Monad, and from this single point and the circumference of the enclosing circle all of creation unfolds (1996, p. 21).
For Midsummer, a rite honoring and celebrating the phallic axis of the creation, and the enclosing circle that provides the horizon of existence, seems appropriate given the that summer months are the season of continued growth requiring protection to come to fruition and harvest. The central image that gives form to this ritual was that of a ring of stones containing a fire, and the in midst of that fire an upright stone phallus. Although I have written an ode for this ritual, I have also used the words allegedly chanted by the witches of Guernsey (Valiente, 1993, p. 49). I leave it to anyone willing to perform this rite to improvise both a tune and the steps to the dance.
For this ritual you will need a round fire pit or fire bowl. In this receptacle you will place upright an elongated phallic stone (it may be advisable to place sand in the bottom of the fire pit to facilitate standing the stone upright). You may add a few rounded stones at the bottom of your phallic stone to complete the display. Firewood is laid around the base of the stone, to be lit at the appropriate time during the rite. Bowls of milk, cooked rice, wine, or white and red flowers or fruit are put aside in readiness for the offering. This rite is composed as the central focus of a ritual; the manner of casting of the compass and the quarters is left to the practitioner.
After preparing the space light the fire with these or similar words:
Out from depths the pillar surges
Mightily soaring, it thunders,
Swollen full with seed and wonders.
Now reel around the primal urge—
Dance wild about the sacred peristyle
Begetting wants and witches’ guile.
We crank the handle of the grinding quern.
The phallus in the fires burn!
We wreak the plunger in the butter churn.
The phallus in the fires burn!
We make the gyring spindle twist and turn
Honoring the phallus that in the fires burn!
Join hands in a circle around the fire and begin to dance clockwise, singing:
Har, har, Hou, hou,
danse ici, danse la,
jouce ici, jou la,
Sing and dance until the fire is well established. Begin to pour or cast offerings onto the phallic stone or into the fire with these words:
Blessings of life and strength,
Blessings of joy and abundance,
Blessings of safety and protection,
For what is taken is truly given—
And what is given is truly taken.
Har, har, Hou, hou,
danse ici, danse la,
jouce ici, jou la,
The participants should dance deosil as they turn their attention toward the stone phallus and the brightly burning fire. The object of this rite is to dance until participants have fallen into an altered state of consciousness, and then, utilizing the energy raised within the confines of the compass, engage the forces of growth and protection to energize and watch over those things we wish to bring to harvest come the next turn of the gyre. At the conclusion of the rite, close the compass as you deem appropriate.
Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. (1998). The city of God against the pagans (R.W. Dyson, Ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Jackson, N. (1996). Masks of misrule: The Horned God & His cult in Europe. Somerset, UK: Capall Bann Publishing.
Hillman, J. (2007). Pink madness or why does Aphrodite drive men crazy with pornography, in Mythic figures. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.
Melton, J. G. (Ed.). (2001). Encyclopedia of occultism and parapsychology, 5th Ed., Vol. 1). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc.
Valiente, D. (1973). An ABC of witchcraft past & present. Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing Company
Walter, P. (2014). Christian mythology: Revelations of pagan origins (J. E. Graham, Trans.). Rochester, VT.: Inner Traditions. Original material published 2004.
Jesper Toad is a Georgian and a Gardnerian initiate, and studied the Feri Tradition with T. Thorn Coyle for nearly three years. His personal practice of three decades blends elements of all these traditions, as well incorporating spiritualist, shamanic and depth psychological perspectives. These seasonal writings and images are excerpts from The Enchiridion Magistellus, A Visual Handbook of the Witches’ Art. Jesper can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.