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12. MINNESOTA AND MIDSUMMER MAGIC

AWW VOL. I, ISSUE 12

Minnesota
& Midsummer Magic

Glad Midsommar, traveller, and welcome to a special edition of our Ship’s Log. I’m Linnea Lucifer, Captain of this old Ship, and you’ve arrived just in time to sit down for a cuppa and a natter about Midsummer magic, Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, and Minnesota with me. There’s a squiggly line somewhere in my brain connecting these three dots, and if you give me a minute or ten of your time I’ll explain how.

First things first, though. I know our beloved Quartermaster promised you a Ship’s Log signed by our resident Sea Witch, M.W. McLeod, this week. My bad, I may have forgotten to remind him that, as a witch, she’s contractually relieved from all earthly and shiply duties during sabbaths and traditional festivities. I do apologise and hope you’re not too disappointed to get an old Dragon Lady while the witch is off dealing with the veil between our world and the spirit realm. It’s at its weakest this time of the year…

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Setting the Scene…

John Bauer’s 1913 watercolour, “Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water.” (Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet).

To fully understand the Midsummer magic, I think we need to start by setting the scene. Get us into the feel of the Northern Scandi spirit. (Let’s face it – some Southlanders are more continental. They can’t help themselves.)

Imagine growing up surrounded by nature. Huge forests, wild landscapes, small clusters of people and then wilderness for miles until you reach the next village. You go outside and all you hear is nature. The wind, the trees, the water, the wildlife. In the evening and all through the night silence. Stillness. And it’s still bright enough that you could sit outside and read a book. In the summer. During the winter months it gets dark in the afternoon.

Few have captured the the atmosphere of Scandiland as well as Swedish painter and illustrator, John Bauer. His masterful depictions of our landscapes, mythology and folklore are second to none, and I think it’s fair to say his most famous work are the watercolour paintings of the fairy princess Tuvstarr (Cotton Grass).

So, we’re painting a Midsummer picture here, with Tuvstarr sat alone on the moss floor by the pineland tarn. She’s the embodiment of the stillness I mentioned earlier as she looks into the black water, hoping to find her lost heart. It’s an allegory of innocence lost that I believe resonates with most of us. With our folksjäl – the collective soul of the people.

Now let’s add some music to this scene. Visa vid Midsommartid (Ballad at Midsummer) from 1946 paints a similar picture as the one above, but in music and lyrics. Håkan Norlén’s music is what we would call trolsk (troll-like = magic) and melancholic. It feels just like the Midsummer night. And the lyrics by Rune Lindström puts us right there in the picture, sitting by Tuvstarr’s side helping her look for what she’s lost. Let’s listen to the song and try to imagine it.

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Swedish mezzo-soprano Malena Ernman, aka Greta Thunberg’s mother, sings Visa vid Midsommartid on a recording from 2016.

Yes, I do realise Malena sings in Swedish, so I made an effort to translate the words for you:

You’re binding a Midsummer’s wreath of olvon (a type of toxic bush aka ulvtry = wolf’s wood) to hang around your hair. You laugh at the bone-white shimmer of the Man in the Moon as he stands above the pine trees.

Tonight you shall dance by Svartrama tarn, in long-dance, in leap-dance on red-hot irons. Tonight the mist invites you to dance where Ull-Stina, Kull-Lina walk.

Now you take the Moon from Blåberget’s (Blue Mountain) crest, to give you the shine of a halo. And the spawn bred in the sludge of the tarn become steeds on flying legs.

Now you ride to Mosslinda Mosslunda moar (mossfloor pinelands) where Ull-Stina, Kull-Lina, Gull-Fina live. Tonight you will fall asleep by Svartrama tarn, where the night and the moss are smooth.

Can you picture it? Can you smell the resin from the pine trees and feel the soft, fragrant moss against your skin? How about the musty whiffs of warm tarn lingering in the air? To me, this is the smell and feel of Midsummer. Of summer nights in the Northlands. The smell of magic and life itself.

Now, let’s take a closer look at that magic…

Midsummer Magic

The Midsummer night in the Swedish Northlands is so bright you can sit outside and read a book. We want to be one with nature around the solstice and please, or communicate with, the spirits. (Photo: Kenny Åström, Getty Images)

In case I haven’t said this loud enough, or enough times, I grew up in the north of Sweden where Midsummer is one of our three most important holidays (yule and easter being the other two). Of the three, Midsummer is the one that’s surrounded by magic and rituals. Not saying there are none for the other two, but there are nowhere near as many.

You probably know that Midsummer is connected to the summer solstice, and back in the day we celebrated on the solstice day. But Swedes, being pragmatists who likes to keep things in neat little boxes, decided it was a sodding nuisance to have people skive off work to pick flowers, make babies and get drunk in the middle of the working week. A plan was put in place and since 1953 Midsummer’s Day is always on a Saturday between the 20th and the 26th of June. But the big thing for most of us is this day. The Friday. And that is, of course, why I held back a day on cabling the Ship’s Log out this week. So we could experience this together.

The magic of Midsummer lies partly in tradition and an understanding of how close we used to be to nature. How much we depended on a good summer season for the harvest that would keep our familes alive through the long, dark winter. For the fishing, and for the fattening of the animals before the slaughter and hunting season in the autumn.

There is a relatively short window between the time the frost leaves the ground in the spring, so you can start plowing the land, and the summer solstice. This is the time when nature is at its most fertile, and if you hold to the old ways you may believe that this heightened fertility can rub off on humans too. Generally speaking, this is the time you have to get your seeds in the soil. If they’re not in the ground by now, you may not eat very well come winter. See where this is going? At Midsummer we celebrate life, birth, rebirth and fertility, and we do what we can to help nature do its thing. This is where the rituals come in.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year in our neck of the woods, aka the Northern Hemisphere. Celebrating it is not a uniquely Scandi thing – people across the globe believe in the the power of the Sun and the magic of the Moon/night, and observe the solstice and the changing seasons. We all have so many ancient traditions that are ingrained in us, but we may have different takes on them and different ideas regarding their nature and meaning. Some, and this I find a little sad, take part in the celebrations but have no idea where they came from or what they meant to our ancestors.

Now, for people who hold to pagan beliefs, the Midsummer magic is also related to the veil between the realms. At Midsummer, this veil is at its weakest, making it easier to communicate with the spirits. Magic is especially potent at this time, making all sorts of spells and rituals more likely to succeed. You may even be able to see some aspects of your future if you play your cards right.

So, how do we actually celebrate?

HOW I LIKE TO OBSERVE

Swedish Midsummer












It is of course not mandatory to celebrate in a certain way, and many traditions are local. But in my area, you try to have all the heavy groundwork done before the solstice. Midsummer is a feast for the whole village, and young and old of all stations and walks of life come together to celebrate.

In this, we hold to the old ways, so the principle is simple. Each person will help out and contribute according to their fitness level and the size of their wallet. Before the solstice, the women (and the odd man) pick a day to scrub the old chapel from floor to ceiling. On their knees with soapy water carried in buckets up to the forest clearing where the chapel is hidden. I remember some years back when someone brought a hoover. The scandal!

It amuses my old pagan heart greatly that this tradition has very little to do with Christianity. The chapel was an important building in the old village. This is where people gathered to hold ting (meetings), where justice was meted out and where news was delivered. It was also where all the fishing equipment was stored over the winter season, so the scrubbing served a purpose. When the first ting for the new season was held on the Midsummer Sunday, the chapel would smell fresh and be nicely decorated with pine on the floor, young birch trees outside and fresh wildflowers in the windows. And there would be music, like the song I linked to above.

So the women scrubbed, picked the flowers and cooked the food. The men did the heavy lifting, cut the trees and handled outside decorations. Once the chapel was done, all involved would have a little party. I’m not saying they’d get drunk, but let’s just say more than one lady has been known to be a little out of it the following day. And that was just the warm-up to the main events…

On Midsommarafton (today, Friday), the women normally get up early, have a coffee, fill up a picnic basket and go pick flowers for the midsommarstång (maypole), our midsommarkrans (the wreath we wear on our heads, hand out to those who canät make their own, or hang on people’s doors, as a blessing). We also use them for our doorsteps and tables. This time of the year, the lilacs are in bloom in the gardens, we find lilies of the valley in the forest, and a lot of wildflowers in the fields.

When the baskets are full, we go to the festplats – the area where we hold our parties – and start dressing the maypole. It’s a huge phallic thing made out of a wooden cross that we cover in birch and other leafy twigs. Then we make long garlands of the flowers we’ve picked and hang them on the pole. We also bind the wreaths for our hair and then we go home to get our gladrags on.

At 1 pm the whole village meets up by the maypole. Those who can play instruments, and the rest take each others’ hands and sing and dance – in long-dance, in leap-dance – in a ring around the pole. Literally, a giant dick penetrating a hole while its balls are flapping in the wind. It is symbolic and weirdly erotic, meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and a rich harvest. It’s also supposed to make it easier for the women to catch the eye of a suitor and help them conceive. Don’t try to make sense of all that – it’s disturbing if you think too much about it.

After all the traditional songs and games have been sung and played out, there’s a communal fika where people chip in to enjoy hot dogs, non-alcoholic drinks and homemade fikabröd (fika bread cinnamon rolls and biscuits/cookies). The kiddoes get to go fish and haul goodie bags out of the “pond.” And that concludes the organised part of the celebrations.

Between 3pm on Midsommarafton and 1pm on the Midsummer Sunday people do their own thing. This normally means the kids run in little packs from house to house getting treats and whatever goodies are served. The adults set the smörgåsbord that is very similar to the one we have for Yule, but this time of the year we have more fish, eggs, bread and berries and less of the heavy meats.

In the evening, after the kids have been tucked in, there’s an adults-only dance. And this is where things can get… Wild. Not saying they do, but… Let’s just say a lot of kids are born in late March. This is also the time for some of the more interesting magic rituals. Like the one that will show you the face of the man you will marry…

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Some Midsummer Rituals

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More Malena to the people. This time with a summer psalm, conveniently named Sommarpsalm (summer psalm) from 1889. Fun fact: Even the pagans tend to like our summer psalms for the way they capture the spirit of the season and the perishable nature of all living things.

As I said earlier, once the maypole festivities are out of the way, people start doing their own thing. That is not to say each person is left to their own devices. It’s more like a weekend mingle. People with no real work to do (it’s all supposed to be done before the solstice, remember?) finally have half a week to potter about and just enjoy life.

In informal gatherings we may sit around a bonfire, or at the very least in nature, and tell stories, sing, eat, drink, and look for signs of the future.

Smörgåsbord food means no one has to cook, so we often graze and barbeque our way through the weekend. For me it’s not Midsummer unless I’ve had gravlax, dillstuvad potatis, strawberries. and cake. Not at the same time, mind you. That would be a waste of perfectly good food.

Gravlax w. dillstuvad potatis is marinated (cured in salt and sugar) salmon with potatoes cooked in a white cream sauce with loads of chopped, fresh dill. (Photo and recipe: Recept.se )

At night many like to go skinny dipping and, if they have access to one, sit in the sauna. This is all part of the old cleansing rituals (gotta be clean and smell nice if there’s going to be any sexy activities on the menu, right?), and something men and women do together. It’s a special feeling watching the sun set over the water and – depending on how far up north you live – either dip down below the horizon and come straight back up again, or just hover over the water for a bit before it begins to rise. For a short period of time, Sunna is stronger than Mani.

Some people stay up all night, but if you want to know who you’ll marry you have to go to sleep. There are two really simple ways you can do this. The costly one used to be to eat or drink a lot of salt before you go to sleep. Like put it on a sandwich or dissolve it in a glass of water. The free version was to go into the night, pick seven different flowers and climb over seven different roundpole fences. One flower, one fence, one flower, one fence etc and then run home, put the flowers under the pillow and go to sleep. In both cases, your future husband will come to you in your dream. He’ll bring water to the salt eaters, but seems to arrive empty-handed at the flower girls’ beds. These days salt is cheap and the old roundpole fences are few and far between. Funny how things change.

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THE SOCK WARS

Quartermaster’s Log

22 June, 2023

The Ship’s Sea Witch, Marie, has taken shore leave for some other responsibilities so we sit in dock a bit. She left with her little sock demon familiar which I swear looked gleeful as he was leaving. I do not trust that one. Not one iota. I will be glad for a bit of calm though. As it is, the dwarf has been both successful and slightly terrifying. A shipment was loaded this morning from a weaponsmith for the project. Lord help us all.

In unrelated news the sheep also left today. One died while we were en route from an imploded stomach. I honestly don’t even know how that is possible. Many got stuck in port holes trying to shove their whole bodies through. How these creatures don’t all just self destruct is a mystery to me. They are apparently going to the same destination as Marie and she will accompany them overland.

Meanwhile, I’ve filled some space in the back of the cargo hold with seventeen crates of vintage smut magazines. They were delivered specifically to me with a note that said “safe keeping” and no indication of who sent them but were shipped from Ukraine. I’m marking these as ship’s supplies, miscellaneous on the inventory until I get a chance to review them.


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Moberg and Minnesota








Now, if you were wondering if I’m a little homesick right now, you’d be absolutely right. I always miss my family, but during the holiday seasons that are all about family, friends and traditions back home home (home is England – home home is Sweden) I do find it hard not to be with them.

Someone who captured that feeling, and maybe even the essence of Swedishness, better than most was Vilhelm Moberg. In his four-novel epic, The Emigrants, he wrote a moving story about the Swedes who fled the country in the mid-1800s after years of poor harvests and starvation. (And religious persecution in some cases.) They ended up in Minnesota where many of them faced more poor harvests and starvation. And even colder winters than they had back home, given that they were mainly Southlanders. Over time those who made it were better off than they would have been if they’d stayed, but the golden land they had been promised wasn’t worth much in those early years. And they were ill-equipped to handle what awaited them once they arrived.

Swedish music legends Benny Andersson and Björn Ulveaus, still most famous as the two Bs in ABBA, wrote a musical based on Moberg’s books. It’s called Kristina från Duvemåla after the main female character, Kristina Svensson. She doesn’t want to leave Sweden, her family and everything she knows and loves, but her husband, Karl-Oskar, is convinced that America is the promised land.

Eventually, after losing one of their children to starvation, Kristina realizes that she’s just as likely to lose them if they stay as if they get on that ship. The family joins a group of other emigrants from the same area, and they make it across the pond together. Poor Kristina never warms to her new home, however, and she’s extremely homesick for the rest of her life.

In the song Hemma (at home), Kristina stands on the deck of the ship taking her away from Sweden and sings, heart-wrenchingly, about where home is and what it means. And of course, she mentions Midsummer, knowing they are dancing and feasting at her parents’ farm back home while she’s going away. Forever.

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Helen Sjöholm, who played Kristina in the Swedish runs of the musical, sings Hemma (with subtitles) at the Minnesota concerts for descendants of the emigrants Moberg studied and wrote about. The lyrics stab at something in my heart every time I hear this song.

#sobsdramaticallyinswedish

When I asked Google’s AI, Bard, what the point of Swedish Midsummer is, it told me it’s to “celebrate the beauty of summer, to connect with nature, and to make memories that will last a lifetime.” It failed to mention the magic of it all, but maybe the true magic lies in those things.

      • Celebrating the summer.
      • Connecting with nature.
      • Making memories that last a lifetime.

Let’s go out there and do just that.

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We’ll Meet Again!

Thank you very much for tagging along on this little dip into the depths of my mind at a point in time where all it does is churning out facts and snippets of home home, traditions, and the old ways. I will tell you more about how that relates to my upcoming Ulfrheim series next time we talk about my writing.

I’m afraid next time is next week as we return to our normal schedule after this little sidestep. We’ll be discussing AI and whether it’s pheasible for authors, and readers, to stay away and wash our hands of it all. I know what I believe, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the topic too. But first I’m going to pester the Quartermaster until he agrees to read a book with me. At night. On deck.

Right, I’m done. Here’s wishing you a wonderful Midsummer weekend full of memories to carry with you for all the days to come.

Puss & Kram,

//Linnea 🏴‍☠️🖤

ABOUT LINNEA LUCIFER


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Linnea Lucifer is the Captain of the imaginary, yet very real, pirate ship Resilience and her merry crew of indie authors. But that is not all – amateur liar, weaver of stories, peddler of merch, lifelong spoonie, ancient dragon lady and Maddox Rhinehart’s irreverent pet are a few more words often used to describe the bearer of many names.

Linnea writes fantasy rooted in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore under the pen name Saga Linnea Söderberg. She writes sweet’n’spicy spoonie smut together with Leto Armitage under the joint pen name Linn Rhinehart. As Evalena Styf, she’s known as a knowsy roll model and prolific content creator. She’s also a retired writing coach, editor and graphic designer.

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