Above from left to right: St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), chief among the magical herbs of midsummer; yarrow (Achillea millefolium), used apotropaically and in love divination; houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) kept lightning from the roof.
Then doth the iouyful feast of John the Baptist take his turne,
When bonfires great with loftie flame, in every towne doe burne:
And yong men round about with maides, doe daunce in every streete,
With garlandes wrought of Motherwort, or else with Vervaine sweete
And many other flowres faire, with Violets in their hands,
Whereas they all doe fondly thinke, that whosoever standes,
And thorow the flowres beholds the flame, his eyes shall feel no paine.
—The Popish Kingdom or Reigne of Antichrist written in Latin Verse by Thos. Naogeorgus and Englyshed by Barnaby Googe, 1570
Naogeorgus (Thomas Kirchmeyer), a Protestant pastor and polemicist, goes on to describe fully the paganistic rites proper to midsummer’s eve in sixteenth-century Catholic Germany: leaping through bonfires, casting herbs and flowers into the flames, solemnly invoking that all ills be consumed in the conflagration until the circle of the year comes round again, and rolling flaming wheels down mountainsides in imitation of the sun, in the hope that all mischief, harm, and danger is likewise thrown down to hell. Read more »