Fern Seed on Saint John’s Eve

“We have the receipt of fern seed, we walk invisible.” ~Henry IV, Part I (II, i)

Since reading James Frazer’s The Golden Bough in college, I’ve always been fascinated by fern-seed.  Though as a scientist I know that ferns do not produce seeds but reproduce by spores, in folklore fern seed is a mysterious and magical curiosity that confers invisibility, divinatory powers, and/or access to Faery.   These seeds can only be collected at midnight on Saint John’s Eve.  After our bonfire died down that night, I made my way into the moonlight with bread and honey, elderflower liquor, a hazel branch, and a handkerchief.

I left my offerings in a patch of wood fern, watching fireflies dance through the trees.  Lore attests that the arrival of the fern seed is accompanied by a golden light and other portents, so I waited patiently for the signs at the appointed hour and collected a measure of the spores when they occurred.  On the way back home I wondered how many other witches were skulking about in the night collecting fern seed, and if we should happen to meet, if we’d see one another or if they were already invisible.

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