Sir Albert Ryan has a thing or two to say about the Summer Solstice. PHOTO BY BONDO WYSZPOLSKI
The advent of summer seems like a joyous time, full of carefree activity, with not a care in the world. But according to Sir Albert Ryan, our go-to guy when it comes to folklore, myths and legends, the start of summer once had people feeling an icy chill:
“From the breaking of dawn on the Summer Solstice, the 21st (of June), all the way through till midnight on Midsummer’s Eve, which is the 23rd, the Eve of St. John was a magical period. People could be bewitched, they could be enchanted, they could be taken away into the netherworld, never to be seen again. This is what suspicious people believed.”
Ryan refers to these crucial few days as the original twilight zone, a strange time when anything could happen. “It is a night of fairies and elves and brownies and fairy godmothers and leprechauns.” Although the tales of old still have some cache in northern Europe – June 24 is a public holiday in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania; and Quebec on this continent – it’s primarily William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that keeps the fantastic aspects of the Summer Solstice alive for most people in the U.S.
The Bard’s well-known play plunks us down in Fairyland – or at least in the woods outside of Athens – where we encounter King Oberon and Queen Titania.
“Maleficent,” Ryan says, referring to the surprise heroine of the current film, “is somewhat connected to the idea of Titania. She was partially bad and she was partially good. In the original (both the fairy tale and Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”) she was evil straight through.” Despite the complete makeover, “the world that you see in ‘Maleficent’ was based on Midsummer’s Night. Those fairies, the water sprites skidding across the lake, the ponds; that’s all Midsummer’s Night.”
But “Sleeping Beauty” isn’t the only fairy tale with possible ties to the tales of Midsummer’s Night. “Peter Pan,” says Ryan, in which a mischievous elf-boy steals or entices children away from their homes, could have been derived from such a source, and he also mentions “Alice in Wonderland” and “Cinderella.”
The latter seems possible, with its magical transformations, due to a fairy godmother, of mice into coachmen and a pumpkin into a splendid coach.
“This is a magic event,” Ryan pronounces. “She had to be back by 12 midnight. This all ties in with Midsummer Night. From the beginning of dusk to midnight, all these strange events would happen.”
Even our presumed harmless friend Cupid had a darker side, if what Ryan says is true: “He would go into burial places and mounds to awaken people who were dead. If they were young people and had died suddenly, he would waken them from their sleep. Of course, people associate Cupid with Valentine’s Day. Not really, he’s also associated with Midsummer’s Night.”
We can only hope that Bambi and Tinker Bell are in the clear, but when Sir Albert divulges what he knows or believes then it’s hard to be sure.
“There’s also the enchantment, that you wished for something out of the night, when you wish upon a star. If anything,” Ryan says with an impish smile, “it would be the most interesting night to visit Disneyland.”
Yes, except for the summer crowds, devilish in their own way.
“I have run into people in Europe,” Ryan says, “who believe emphatically that this is a night of magic and strange events, and that if you go out at a certain time something strange will happen to you. It could be good or it could be bad. This is what they actually believe.”
Did you or your friends or family make it through the past few days with nothing out of the ordinary happening? If so, then perhaps you didn’t realize how lucky you were. And if something odd or unpleasant did happen, well, maybe now you know why.