Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Midsummer Day's Introduction

Welcome to the first of hopefully many talks about knitting, books, running, mythology and other interesting things that go on in life. This week, I'll show you what I'm knitting right now and  tell you a bit about Midsummer (as you probably have already guessed from the title).

First, The Knitting:
I am working on a woollen baby blanket for some good friends of mine, who are expecting. The pattern is Vortex Shawl by Kristina McCurley; it can be found on Ravelry for free.
This is a lovely knit: quick and easy to do, but interesting - unless you're prone to vertigo, I suppose. It is stocking stitch, worked in the round, with yarnover increases that form a vortex or spiral. I love it, I think it's beautiful, and it is simple enough that I can knit it while I read - when I can get the book to lie flat.
And the yarn is gorgeous, too: Kauni Effektgarn, colourway EQ. That is the rainbow coloured one. I have a shawl in that yarn and sometimes wonder why I haven't made tons of stuff in this yarn - but then, there really is a limit to how many rainbow coloured garments you need.

When I'm not reading, I'm knitting another shawl, this time a lace shawl for myself: Regrowth by Toby McNutt, also a free Ravelry download. This is going to be big, but light, in Semilla Fino from BC Garn.

Both of these knits are on KnitPro interchangeable circulars, with cubic needles. I discovered them only recently, and I love them!

Apple of the Week:

Tonight at 23:09 UT, the Sun peaks in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the time of the Summer Solstice.
A time of light, of celebration and lamentation; here in the North, a time of daylight (almost) around the clock. We celebrate the sunlight and warmth, that is so necessary for life, and at the same time know that the Sun is turning away from us, that even though the weather will be warmer, the corn in the fields and the fruit on the trees will grow and ripen - even so, darkness and winter is nearing.

In ancient calendars, the summer solstice was regarded as the middle of summer and the night as a time for revelry and magic, as in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The name of the official midsummer day in the Western, Christianized calendar, is John, from John the Baptist. The names John and the Danish version Hans (and lots more) both derive from Johannes, the Latin form of the Hebrew name Yokhanaan or Yehokhanan meaning ‘Yahwe is gracious’. According to Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist was 6 months older than Jesus, which would put his birthday on or around 24th June.

The Danish celebrations take place on the eve of St. Johns’ Day, Sankt Hans aften on 23rd June. Until 1770, it was a national holiday; this year, we can be happy it’s on a Saturday :o)
The main feature of the festivities are big bonfires, traditionally to ward off evil.
It is all very jolly (a bit less so, of course, when it rains), people bring food and drink, local politicians hold speeches, we all sing together – and some of the ancient fertility rites associated with summer festivals probably also take place: couples sneaking off behind some bushes to do whatever it is young couples do when they’re alone.

The bonfires are traditionally set on a beach, or, if a beach is not available, by or even on a lake (on a raft). These traditions go way back in time to before anybody in these parts had even heard of St. John or of baptism, to the times when Midsummer was what it was all about.
A beach is the border between land and sea, between known and unknown, between home and away; and as such provides a naturally liminal setting for placing a guard against evil forces, be it enemy invaders on ships or spirits on the wind.
Fire is well known to chase away wild animals and may therefore also be thought to protect against more disembodied predators, again spirits or even trolls.

Midsummer is an auspicious time to gather herbs for healing (practically and symbolically); the wise men & women of old would use this day to gather what they needed for the coming winter.
Maybe that is why, in the 1920’s, the Sankt Hans bonfires saw the addition of an effigy: a witch to be burnt. It is said that the burning of the doll, usually clad in a dress and a headscarf like an old woman, will make the witch fly away to Brocken (Bloksbjerg) in Harzen, Germany. Thus evil is warded off. The Midsummer Song by Holger Drachmann speaks of ‘a witch in every town and trolls in every parish’ to be kept away by bonfires of joy.

I’m all for warding off evil and celebrating summer and all that, and picnics on the beach with bonfires and singing – but celebrating the burning of wise women and healers? Not so much. It seems to me that it makes light of what really was persecution of individuals who stood on the edge of or outside the community, who were socially and physically vulnerable and at the same time feared because of their knowledge and powers, real or perceived.
In our present day and age, we should not fear or condemn those who know more than most, who push the boundaries of science and open up vistas of knowledge for all of us. Exploration into remote corners of the Earth, the ocean depths and outer space can and do bring new and wonderful techniques and insights that benefit the advancement of health & happiness all round, often in unexpected ways or areas. The search for knowledge ought to be always celebrated and encouraged.

Well, that's all for this week. Thank you for stopping by, I hope to see you again soon.
Happy knitting!

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