If you read my review of Midsommar (2019) for Dead, Buried, and Back, or my commentary on that review, you know I enjoyed it. Yet, there are plenty of people upset or confused by it. I attribute my love of the movie to my study and practice of pagan rituals as part of my craft.
Spoilers for Midsommar ahead!
No, I don’t put pubic hair in food. Eww.
But, when you’re a witch, part of the practice involves reading as widely as you can on every religion that you can. That means I’ve read into Norse mythology, the Ancient Greek methods of ritual sacrifice, modern hoodoo, Buddhist enlightenment, dharma, The Hermetic Order Of the Golden Dawn, and white witch protection magic just to name a few. Seriously, I’ve been looking at this stuff for most of my life out of an INTP urge to know. So hair in food to persuade a romantic partner? Definitely a thing. Using bodily fluids in spells? Yep, it’s a thing. Runes used symbolically or to evoke a particular outcome? Definitely a thing.
But you may also have noticed that Midsommar combines many different religious practices. In my opinion, that only makes it more realistic. Outside of strict ceremonial magicians, most individual practitioners and groups alike develop their own in-house techniques and secret arts drawn from varied influences. Sure they’ll use runic letters, but these mean different things depending on who uses them, their positioning, and intent.
That’s the thing about magic: it’s all about intent.
So the color choices, from the thread in embroidery to the flowers in each crown likely has a cult-specific meaning. And it’s a meaning we outsiders may never know. But we can guess, of course. The film gives us plenty to work with, beginning with the color yellow and it’s clear associations with healing and sacrifice. The yellow flower we see is St. John’s Wort, an herb used for healing but also for magic. And of course named for St. John the Baptist. The goes for flowers, paintings, and also blond hair (see Dani). More interestingly, St. John’s Wort is associated specifically with the summer solstice, Midsummer, during which the film takes place. Yellow, warm and the color of the sun, is evoked during this time of year for joy and progress.
Another color I noticed prominently in the film was white. The fictional Hårga people definitely associate white with purity, including the obvious racial implications, and we see this in their handmade clothes but also in the ashes of the dead village elders, abundant white flowers in the Maypole dancers’ crowns, white linens, and the bleached rocks of the Ättestupa senicide sacrificial site. It’s the same in magic, with white candles and crystals used to purify, bless, or cleanse spaces.
Watching this movie was a treat. It’s horrific and shocking, but it’s also rare to encounter a movie that goes out of its way to get so much of paganism right. I’ve never met a pagan who approved of harming others, but there are extremists in everything. I think some people expected me to find it offensive, but it was actually very respectful. The cultists, as deluded as they are, never stomp on their beliefs for personal gain. They stick together, and that’s something positive.
Ättestupa is still going to haunt me though. No amount of reading prepared me to see it on screen. But the clash of cultures in that scene, the widely varied reactions between members and outsiders? Very accurate.
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4 thoughts on “Horror and Paganism: Watching Midsommar as a Witch”