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MIDNIGHT CUSTOMS
11min of reading

In Laponia, it is traditionally believed that at midnight, men and women are more fertile. Children born from midnight couplings are called children of the nadir. They recognise each other by the constellations which cover their bodies. An astrologer, observing the freckles of a child of the nadir, can easily deduce the exact day of their conception. It is ill-advised, however, to procreate under the midnight sun. Children conceived during this period – around the summer solstice – are very likely to be born albino.

In Farsi, midnight is called بش همین which means: the day’s navel.

In Cantazaro, a talkative town, the silence of midnight is not tolerated. Anyone awake at this hour must find a partner with whom to exchange a few words. Thus, when the clock strikes 12, as the wind wuthers in the winding streets of the city, one can see the ardent lover stop in their tracks to exchange a few words about cabbages and kings with the first drunkard they find. If alone, Cantazaresis must converse with any element in the phenomenal world (plants, animals, objects, clouds). Some people, finding the conversation agreeable, keep it going until the end of the night. But you have to know how to take leave of your interlocutor before 6 in the morning, lest they relieve you of your reason. This is one of the primary causes of madness in this town.

In the judete of Utag, if a morsel of bread remains after dinner, it is incumbent upon the pater familias to cut it into two equal pieces. Just before cutting, knife at the ready, these words must be spoken :

“The bread of today – the bread of tomorrow.”

The two halves must not thenceforth touch each other. When midnight comes, today’s bread becomes yesterday’s bread and can no longer be eaten, not even by the animals. As for tomorrow’s bread, now today’s bread, it is shared first thing in the morning.

On the island of Coron exists a tree which at midnight produces vibrations which can be heard from several kilometres away. The inhabitants of the local village, disturbed in their sleep rather than afraid, decided to cut it down. They despatched the three bravest men in the village. After many hours of marching, they found the village shaman sat cross-legged in front of the imposing trunk. He was expecting them. He began by reproaching them for undertaking such an act without consulting him beforehand. Then he dissuaded them from cutting down the tree. According to him, the tree sheltered the island’s guardian spirit: if it were cut down, the entire island would start to shake, causing the loss of its inhabitants. On the other hand, if one night there were no vibrations, it would be a sign of imminent disaster. To prevent such an eventuality, the tree would have to be uprooted at the break of dawn and burnt the very same evening in the shaman’s presence. Subsequently, in the years that followed, it came to pass several times that the tree did not shake. Happily for it, nobody noticed as everyone, including the shaman, was sleeping.

IN FARSI, MIDNIGHT [...] MEANS : THE DAY’S NAVEL.

Happily for the inhabitants of the island, the earth did not shake.

In Armenian, midnight is called կեսգիշեր which means : the moment of the darkling rose.

A sâdhu known by the name of Baba Chandrakanta (beloved of the moon) had sworn to stop breathing at the stroke of midnight every night which remained to him until death. He hoped, eventually, to be able to go without oxygen until ten past midnight. Over the years of religious devotion, he acquired a prodigious ability to hold his breath. It is said that even in his sleep, Baba Chandrakanta kept his vow, respecting, with a disconcerting precision, the moment at which he had to stop breathing. Despite his efforts, it was only on the brink of death that Baba Chandrakanta reached the goal which he had set for himself. But this achievement set him on the path to dishonour.

The night he managed to go ten minutes without breathing, he decided to push himself still further, and jealously preserved his last breath within himself, thus preventing the reincarnation of his soul. Baba Chandrakanta’s behaviour provoked lively debate amongst his co-religionists, the aghoris. It was the guru Sri Âbha Chavrimoutou who put an end to the debate, declaring:

“He who keeps his last breath within himself with the aim of escaping the cycle of reincarnations does not for all that attain moksha. He is a rebel. And as such, he will have to start the cycle of reincarnations all over again from the start.”

One market day in the village of Fontaine-Guérin, a young woman made the following comment:

“Oh no – I don’t sleep in the same bed as my cousin any more. He has a tendency to mark midnight.”

In Anjou, to mark midnight, means to have powerful nocturnal erections.

In the earliest days of the Roman Empire, a caste of children performed a delicate role. They had to trace in chalk on sundials the night time hours as they passed.

IN SWAHILI, MIDNIGHT [...] MEANS : THE OWL’S MIDDAY.

They were called midnight’s guardians (mediae custodies). Nyx was their tutelary divinity; all of them were the illegitimate sons of priests. In the major cities, there would be five of them at any one time and they would take it in turns to perform their duty. The mediae custodies recognized each other by the grimace of exhaustion that never left their livid faces. They would keep this grimace until the day of their death. Depriving someone of sleep at a tender age is the surest way to ruin them. In their undertaking, they were assisted by an hourglass which marked the hours. It is said that a media custos from the city of Pergamon invented an apparatus which let him snatch a few hours of sleep a night. He attached the hourglass to a little bell which woke him up every hour. From a very early age the mediae custodies were taught the art of drawing lines as fine as shadow. The line marking midnight, was traced not in chalk, but in charcoal made from olive wood. The day their cheeks were shaded by a fine down, they left their post as a midnight guardian to become a servant of the vestals.

In Swahili, midnight is called usiku wa manane which means: the owl’s midday.

Among the Okate people of New Guinea, a marriage proposal must be made at midnight. When a young man finds a young woman to his liking, he declares to the father of the woman that he wishes to make his proposal. It is the young woman who decides the day of the proposal, although it must be within five days. During this period of reflection, she gazes often upon the sky.

IN ARMENIAN, MIDNIGHT [...] MEANS: THE MOMENT OF THE DARKLING ROSE.

Once her mind is made up, she removes her numerous earrings : tonight she will be able to hear what the young man has to say to her. She leaves her earrings behind her hut, in a conspicuously placed chest. Her suitor will have to collect them, to bring them to her on the night of the proposal. The following day, the father of the young woman gives or withholds his consent. If at midday the sun is shining, the marriage is accepted; otherwise, it is refused. In Okate culture, the patriarch is assimilated to the sun. When it comes to important decisions, one cannot proffer his opinion without the advice of the other. It is easy to see therefore why the proposal is made at midnight – the hour when the sun is on the other side of the world, the hour when the patriarch is sound asleep. In actual fact, the patriarch is never asleep on the night of the proposal. He watches over to make sure that his daughter and her suitor do not consummate the marriage prematurely. He must, however, simulate a thunderous snoring, to enable the two young people to believe themselves alone.

On the night of December 31st, throughout the world, the sound of men shouting the countdown to the New Year can be heard. In Salamanca, where the countdown is performed much more quietly, its duration is determined by a chance snip of the secateurs. A little before midnight, every member of a group holds in their hand a bunch of grapes which they have themselves picked. Whoever’s bunch contains the greatest number of grapes begins the countdown. Every second a grape is swallowed. In due course, the other participants join in the countdown. One man, standing on a chair, keeps time with his hands. He enjoys this privilege having swallowed the biggest bunch of grapes the previous year and managed not to suffocate himself in the process. In fact, this custom, while apparently convivial, is extremely dangerous. Choosing an imposing bunch of grapes is a sign of courage and of a gluttonous virility, two qualities demanded of a Salamantino in the prime of life.

In yi, midnight is called ꌴꏞ which means: the hour when the world is in the inkpot.

In the time when Corsica was inhabited by the Vanacinis, once a year, the ritual known as pig fishing took place. This ritual took place during the first two weeks of May, in the following stages : Some fishermen accompanied by a priest and a pig embarked on a modest boat, taking with them a brazier.

IN YI, MIDNIGHT [...] MEANS: THE HOUR WHEN THE WORLD IS IN THE INKPOT.

When, at midnight, the constellation of the pig appeared on the horizon, the priest lit the brazier and sacrificed the pig. Its remains were thrown into the sea. For the Vanacinis, the sea was the quickest route to the heavens. So the pig, plunged in the reflection of the constellation bearing its name, took the place of the pig killed the previous year. Then the fishermen cast their nets, which would quickly be filled with fish attracted by the light of the brazier. A group of women welcomed the returning boat with song. They were split into three age groups, each with a different role. The oldest would skin the fish – most likely bream – taking care to lose as few scales as possible. The middle-aged women would take responsibility for the cooking of the fish. This would be done on the fire of the brazier, brought ashore by men willing to run the risk of burning themselves.

The young girls were given the skins of the fish with which they had to form a large disk within a sacred space demarcated by megaliths. This disk was the mirror of the sun. After the priest had blessed this large mirror the whole village returned to the beach to feast on grilled fish. Sated, everyone would gather round the brazier to sing whilst waiting for daybreak. This custom was linked to the fear that the sun one day might decide not to rise. Men flattered the sun by making the mirror in which it could admire its own beauty; they proved their love for it through their songs, and asked it to come back again and always. One of the songs from the occasion summarizes the Vanacinis’ adoration of the sun :

Sun you do not age
Ever burning you remain
See your reflection in the mirror Age does not wither your beauty You entrust your wrinkles to men Who accept them with joy

Using the skin of the bream to make the mirror had a two-fold purpose: as well as reflecting the light, the skins, as the sun rose, began to stink. Thus the sun could not admire itself for too long. When its image reeked too strongly of rotten fish, it became unbearable, and thus the sun retreated to the other side of the earth. If these men adored the sun, they also craved the night.

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