Queimada for Litha
Litha is a time for the sun. It is a time for weddings and celebration and games. It is also often a time that fairies are especially attracted to human gatherings. I think that I’ve mentioned before that I’m not overly fond of fairies.
My partner and I were recently interviewed on Pagans Tonight (the interview is archived here if you would like to hear it) and one of the things we discussed was human relationships with fairies and how they often go badly. The original fairy tales were, excuse the pun, pretty grim. A lot of the knowledge that passes to us from these stories are how to treat the fey and what to do when we’ve drawn their attention. Some fairies will help you, but just as often, if you don’t get it right, they will harm you.
Take the story of Lusmore for example.
Once upon a time there was a humpback named Lusmore who lived at the foot of the mountains. Most people were more than a little afraid of him. He had a great knowledge of herbs and charms, but made most of his livelihood off of braiding rushes.
One night he was walking home along the moat of old Knockgrafton, when worn out by the walk, he sat down to rest.
Presently there rose a wild strain of unearthly melody upon the ear of little Lusmore; he listened, and he thought that he had never heard such ravishing music before. It was like the sound of many voices, each mingling and blending with the other so strangely that they seemed to be one, though all singing different strains, and the words of the song were these -
Da Luan, Da Moti, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort; when there would be a moment’s pause, and then the round of melody went on again.
Lusmore listened attentively, scarcely drawing his breath lest he might lose the slightest note. He now plainly perceived that the singing was within the moat ; and though at first it had charmed him so much, he began to get tired of hearing the same round sung over and over so often without any change; so availing himself of the pause when the Da Luan, Da Mon, had been sung three times, he took up the tune, and raised it with the words augus Da Cadine, and then went on singing with the voices in side of the moat, Da Luan, Da Mort, finishing the melody, when the pause again came, with augus Da Cadine.
The fairies within Knockgrafton, for the song was a fairy melody, when they heard this addition to the tune, were SO much delighted that, with instant resolve, it was determined to bring the mortal among them, whose musical skill so far exceeded theirs, and little Lusmore was conveyed into their company with the eddying speed of a whirlwind.
Glorious to behold was the sight that burst upon him as he came down through the moat, twirling round and round, with the lightness of a straw, to the sweetest music that kept time to his motion. The greatest honour was then paid him, for he was put above all the musicians, and he had servants tending upon him, and everything to his heart’s content, and a hearty welcome to all ; and, in short, he was made as much of as if he had been the first man in the land.
Presently Lusmore saw a great consultation going forward among the fairies, and, notwithstanding all their civility, he felt very much frightened, until one stepping out from the rest came up to him and said
Doubt not, nor deplore,
For the hump which you bore
On your back is no more;
Look down on the floor,
And view it, Lusmore !”
And his hump fell off his back! He was so overwhelmed that he feinted and didn’t wake up until morning! When he woke up, the hump was gone and he was finely attired in a new set of clothes that the fairies made for him.
As he walked home, he had to convince everyone he met that it was, indeed, Lusmore that they were seeing!
Of course this news spread through Ireland. One day, an old woman came up to his cottage and told him that the son “of a gossip” that she knew was also humpbacked and wished to also be rid of his hump. Would he tell her how he had lost his?
Lusmore more than happily explained and sent the woman on her way.
The woman returned home and went to the son of the gossip to tell Lusmore’s tale. Jack Madden was his name and he was known to have been a “peevish and cunning creature from his birth”.
Jack Madden went to Knockgrafton and waited.
He had not been sitting there long when he heard the tune going on within the moat much sweeter than before; for the fairies were singing it the way Lusmore had settled their music for them, and the song was going on; Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, Da Luan, Da Mort, augus Da Cadine, without ever stopping. Jack Madden, who was in a great hurry to get quit of his hump, never thought of waiting until the fairies had done, or watching for a fit opportunity to raise the tune higher again than Lusmore had; so having heard them sing it over seven times without stopping, out he bawls, never minding the time or the humour of the tune, or how he could bring his words in properly, augus Da Cadine, augus Da Hena, thinking that if one day was good, two were better; and that if Lusmore had one new suit of clothes given him, he should have two.
No sooner had the words passed his lips than he was taken up and whisked into the moat with prodigious force; and the fairies came crowding round about him with great anger, screeching, and screaming, and roaring out, “Who spoiled our tune? who spoiled our tune ?” and one stepped up to him, above all the rest and said:
“Jack Madden! Jack Madden
Your words came so bad in
The tune we felt glad in ;-
This castle you’re had in,
That your life we may sadden
Here’s two humps for Jack Madden !”
And twenty of the strongest fairies brought Lusmore’s hump and put it down upon poor Jack’s back, over his own, where it became fixed as firmly as if it was nailed on with twelve-penny nails, by the best carpenter that ever drove one. Out of their castle they then kicked him; and, in the morning, when Jack Madden’s mother and her gossip came to look after their little man, they found him half dead, lying at the foot of the moat, with the other hump upon his back. Well to be sure, how they did look at each other ! but they were afraid to say anything, lest a hump might be put upon their own shoulders. Home they brought the unlucky Jack Madden with them, as downcast in their hearts and their looks as ever two gossips were; and what through the weight of his other hump, and the long journey, he died soon after, leaving they say his heavy curse to any one who would go to listen to fairy tunes again.
So if you happen to come across any of the fair folk this Summer Solstice, remember to tread carefully and to treat them with respect. You may receive an excellent reward, but you might also be punished for a blunder. In fact, just try to avoid the whole thing. Competing with other humans should satisfy you enough.
One traditional way of holding the otherworld at bay for the night is making and drinking Queimada. Queimada is a fiery drink ritually made to hold off the darkness in traditional Celtic lore.
The night before Litha, gather around an earthenware bowl. Do this in a ring of candlelight, preferably outside with your family and friends. On a lit grill, set the bowl and mix in: 1 liter of grappa, 2/3 cup sugar, lemon rind bits from one lemon and ¼ cup whole coffee beans. When all of the ingredients are combined, stir until heated, chanting whatever you think is appropriate and infusing the liquid with your energy. Invoke the sun, pour out your feelings about what the solstice means to you. Summon the light for the longest day of the year. And then (using a long match or lighter for safety) light the mixture on fire! When the flames turn blue, extinguish them by putting a lid over it and then dip it into mugs and serve. This beverage will keep you immune to the wee folk through the solstice and anything else that might be lurking in the shadows of the longest day.
Blessed Litha all!
(Carrying an iron nail or a pinch of salt with you never hurt anyone either…)
* This particular recipe was from Llewellyn, you can find others out there.
*If you would like to read the full story of Lusmore, you can find it here!