June 1st – The Elderflower Festival

Whilst the elderflowers in the hedges and fields that surround the City have been ready for a week or two, the start of June is generally considered the beginning of the traditional harvest. Folk today will line the hedgerows, cutting the sweet fragrant flowers from the bushes, for use in the prodigiously fizzy elderflower champagne, or perhaps in elderflower cordial, or to be eaten as fritters, in cakes or salads, even in some medicines. Some perfumes use elderflowers as a primary ingredient, and some people just use them to decorate their homes.

Walking groups set out with large sacks, looking to sell them later on street stalls, or to dry them out for use throughout the year. Cookery schools will today dedicate various classes to the use of the well-loved bouquet. It’s safe to say that almost everyone loves elderflowers, perhaps partly because they are a sign that summer is around the corner, that the sharp knife of winter is a distant memory. Yet there is one group that professes a love for elderflowers greater than any else: witches.

Elder trees have long featured in folklore and mythology as signs of evil (you must not drink water from a pool surrounded by elder trees, or you will be driven mad), or conversely as bringers of great medicinal benefit (the flowers are said to cure all manner of ailments, some of which are actually proven). Perhaps this dual ‘personality’ is down to their differing appearance at different times of year; whereas they look angelic now with their whitish bouquets, later in the year they appear potentially sinister, with their wizened wood and dark, purgative berries.

According to other elements of folklore, witches are said to have been descended from each aspect of the elder. The two main Buentoilliçan covens, The Infused Sisterhood and the Coven of Irah, perpetuate this belief in their claims of descendence from each element; the Sisterhood claim the ‘brightening’ mantle of the elderflower witches, whereas the Coven claims the ‘darkening’ berries for their own. Whilst there appears to be some witchery associated with the elder tree in Strigaxia, it doesn’t seem to hold the same primogenitive status, understandable since Strigaxians are often thought entirely separate to the Buentoilliçan concept of a witch.

Today, then, is one of the primary days of celebration for the Infused Sisterhood, and they will spend it, like many others, gathering the flowers for their own uses. Yet the method of gathering, and the uses themselves are somewhat dissimilar to the general population of Buentoille. Firstly, when gathering the flowers the Sisters must repeat an incantation, an askance of the Elder Mother, the first witch who dwells still in the trunk of every elder tree, so that they may take of her bounty. The incantation is sung, and involves not only words, but also hand and foot movements, so the harvest resembles something of a twirling, light footed dance. They use only brass instruments to cut the flowers.

Secondly, instead of making elderflower wine, champagne or cordial (the most popular uses for other Buentoillitants), all of which they disdain as ‘sugar-filled nonsense,’ the sisterhood make elderflower tea. Again, there are very specific processes involved in the making of the tea: it is not merely for enjoyment, but made as a method of communing with their origins. Before any tea is made, they first elect a witch and make her a dress from the flowers themselves, strung together with white thread, then given greater structure with the application of spider’s silk. The effect is very pretty, like a natural lace, and is intended to symbolise the first Bright Witch. They then, against the advice of folklorists everywhere, take three pails of water from a pool surrounded by elder trees, and pour them into a cauldron before the chosen witch. Old, dried elder wood is burned beneath the cauldron, and the chosen witch stirs the elderflowers in when it begins to boil.

A few minutes later, the infusion is ready to drink, and the Sisterhood all gather around to receive their cupful. This is perhaps one of the simplest teas made by the witches. Another song is sung, low and slow this time, as the witches sit cross-legged, each with an elderflower in their hair, and meditate on their origins together. When the sun has set the witches will return home.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Helpful Nudges
  • The Festival of Deliberately Spilling Milk and Crying