Escape from Oz!

The Wizard of Oz intends to escape from the Emerald City in the same balloon that brought him from Kansas.

It was on August 17, 1978 that three Americans–Max Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman, all from Albuquerque, New Mexico–made the first transatlantic balloon trip. Starting from Maine on August 11th, they traveled in Double Eagle II over 3,000 miles in 137 hours, landing about 60 miles west of Paris.

But perhaps the most famous hot air balloon ride of all time was one that only happened in our imaginations, in Hollywood. It was the balloon ride that brought Professor Marvel from Kansas to Oz in a windstorm, a tornado not unlike the one that brought Dorothy herself to Oz later. And it was in that same hot air balloon that Professor Marvel, after having been exposed as the “Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” proposed to take Dorothy with him back to Kansas. Of course, we all know that did NOT work out as planned! Toto saw a beautiful Siamese cat and jumped out of Dorothy’s arms at the last moment. Dorothy scrambled out of the balloon’s basket to get Toto back and the Professor, having already released the balloon’s ballast, was unable to bring the balloon back down to earth to retrieve Dorothy. He sailed off across the Emerald City and back to Kansas. He got there just in time to welcome Dorothy back when she awoke on her own bed–having returned to black-and-white Kansas herself thanks to the aid of Glinda the good Witch of the North (who told Dorothy to simply click her heels together three times as she repeated, “There’s no place like home!”)

Using air and wind to travel was a longtime dream of mankind. It was also one of the most famous accusations against those accused of witchcraft during the great European witch hunts of the 1600-1700s. Flying on broomsticks–like the wicked Witch of the West!–was taken as a sign of the perversity of the accused by the witchcraft judges but people like Professor Marvel (who were able to use air and wind in a “scientific” way even though he himself confessed, “I don’t know how it works!”) were regarded with awe and amazement.

Double standards? For sure! The boundaries between magic and science prove again to be so porous and permeable that one’s person’s science is another person’s magic and vice-versa!

St.-Swithun-in-the-Swamp

Contemporary Shrine of St Swithun in Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England UK

When I was in high school and hung out in the church office, the secretary and I often made jokes about a fictional parish we named “St.-Swithun-in-the-swamp.” The poor people of St. Swithun’s suffered many indignities and outrageous fortune’s arrows, not least their unfortunate location in the murky swamp. Imagine my surprise, many years later, to discover the real St. Swithun (who died in AD 862), bishop of Winchester, whose memory is celebrated every July 15.

St. Swithun was known for many miracles. One of the most famous incidents involved a group of workmen who broke all the eggs in a poor woman’s basket as she was crossing a bridge. Swithun demanded the workmen apologize to the woman and then he blessed her basket of eggs–which repaired all the broken shells and runny yolks so that she had intact eggs again.

St. Swithun is also said to influence the weather. His feast day is July 15 and determines the weather for the next six weeks–much as the weather on Groundhog Day determines the weather for the rest of February and March.

“St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mare.”

Swithun was initially buried out of doors, rather than in his cathedral, apparently at his own request. William of Malmesbury recorded that the bishop left instructions that his body should be buried outside the church, “where it might be subject to the feet of passers-by and to the raindrops pouring from on high,” which has been taken as indicating that the legend was already well known in the 12th century.

There might be a scientific basis to the weather pattern behind the legend of St Swithun’s day and the weather. Around the middle of July, the jet stream settles into a pattern which, in the majority of years, holds reasonably steady until the end of August. When the jet stream lies north of the British Isles then continental high pressure is able to move in; when it lies across or south of the British Isles, Arctic air and Atlantic weather systems predominate.

Midsummer 2017

 

A bonfire for Midsummer in Mäntsälä, Finland.

A bonfire for Midsummer in Mäntsälä, Finland.

The summer solstice, more commonly known as Midsummer, marked the longest day of the year and the zenith of magical power often called “white magic.” Magic worked on Midsummer was most often concerned with life and fertility. Jumping through the Midsummer bonfire was a way to attract fertility, good luck, and prosperity to both the jumper and the surrounding fields. The bonfires of Midsummer are traditionally kindled from the friction of two sacred woods, fir and oak. Nine different types of herbs are thrown upon the Midsummer fire: mistletoe, vervain, St. John’s Wort, heartsease, lavender, and a choice of four others chosen from herbs typical of this season such as yarrow. Folks would feast, dance and jump the fire for luck and fertility. The herds were driven through the embers in days long ago to purge disease and illness from them. When the fires had burned down, folks would carry ashes back to their homes to sprinkle on fields, the four corners, and lay embers on the hearth. The ashes bring powers of protection, health and luck.

Water is the other important aspect of Midsummer. In times past folks swam in waters that flowed towards the rising sun as it climbed in Midsummer morning sky. Bathing in springs and rivers on Midsummer brings healing, cleansing and protection. The dew of Midsummer is said to bestow health to whomever drinks of it. Especially powerful is fetching running water of Midsummer morn and mixing it with ashes from the bonfire, sprinkling it around the house, yard and on oneself bestows protection and luck. Iceland combined the beliefs about bathing and dew into one practice: Icelandic folklore says that if you bathe naked in the morning dew on the morning of June 24, you will keep aging at bay for longer.) Midsummer Eve, the night before the solstice, is the evening of herbs. The herbs and flowers gathered this night are considered exceptionally potent. St John’s Wort, burdock, thorn, and nettle , should be harvested on Midsummer Eve and hung on doors or windows and placed around the home for protection. Royal Fern seeds which are gathered at midsummer are said to make the possessor invisible. They who find Royal Fern blossoms on Midsummer’s eve become wise, lucky, and wealthy. Women wear braided circlets of clover and flowers, while men wear chaplets of oak leaves and flowers around their heads. In times past, livestock were also decorated with garlands made of flowers, foliage, and oak leaves.