The word “Solstice” comes from the Latin words, sol sistere – “sun stand still”. Indeed the sun does seem to stand still as the sun reaches it’s furthest point from the equator. Summer Solstice harkens the longest day of the year, when warmth spills upon the land and fruitful bounties are enjoyed by all creatures. In the northern hemisphere of our planet, the summer solstice occurs during June. This year it is June 21st and many pagans will be celebrating this one day with reverence and celebration.
Long ago, pagans didn’t denote “midsummer” as the first day of summer—for it wasn’t then and isn’t now—save for our modern society deemed the day so. How ironic that after this longest day the daylight gets shorter! So our ancestors realized Summer Solstice is the beginning of the END of summer.
Our ancestors were not ruled by convention or committee—no, they were ruled by the seasons of harvest, sexual awareness in the Spring of all living creatures and the need to store for the winter months ahead. Survival depended on their sensitivity to abnormal weather patterns, bad harvest years, the swelling and receding ocean waves for good fishing days.
The summer solstice is often the time of the first harvest and hence a celebration of this bounty has been held for hundreds of years. The day lasts so long, the gaiety lasted well into night, with dancing, food, mead, wine and merriment. The sun, Sol, brings life to growing crops in the field and warmth to the bones of the workers who harvested. This is reflected in the midsummer rituals or plucking herbs, for this special day brings added vigor, potency to the herbs for medicine and spells.
When night approaches, the pagan fires will burn brightly in honor of the sun. This is a time to strengthen the bonds between the participants as they chant to Sol’s continued service to the earth and it’s creatures. Some sacred sites, around the world will draw huge crowds as the Summer Solstice is honored. Stonehenge has an entrance-way that was aligned with the solstice sunrise and is a popular gathering place for modern druids and others enthusiasts on midsummer’s day.
For Wiccans, Midsummer is one of the four “Lesser Sabbats” or “Low Holidays”. Some now call this day Litha, the day of the Lord of Light, the Oak King who sits solidly on a greenwood throne. Across the world, many pagans will throw off the hooded robes and bath skyclad under the sun while honoring Sol. Gypsies will also honor this day in similar abandon to their hard work during harvest and their respect for Gaia.
So as the Celts & Slavs celebrate with dancing & bonfires to help increase the sun’s energy, the Chinese honor Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light. One of the most enduring rituals of the Summer Solstice is were the Druids’ celebrate of the “wedding of Heaven and Earth”, that brought about our present day belief of a “lucky” wedding in June.
Pagan spirit gatherings or festivals are very common in June and I will festival, eat and drink all day with pagans. Women will wear braided circlets of clover and flowers on their hair, wrists and ankles. Men will wear chaplets of oak leaves and flowers around their heads in honor of the Oak King. On Midsummer’s Eve, I will join the group, assembling to light a sacred fire, then stay up all night to welcome the moon and the dawn. For this year’s “Honey Moon” I will drink the mead made from fermented honey, leap through the edge of the bonfire flames and pick herbs to use in white magick throughout the remaining year. I will wear the protective garland made of herbs and flowers and little else as I bath in the moon’s glow, skyclad. Being Irish I will place yarrow under my pillow to dream of my next lover.
Life comes from Sol, we are all dependent on this magnificent ball of gas, and for one day I will be pagan and in awe. I will give respect and honor as would a child, bearing witness to the beginning of “dream-time” as visions of future events will unfold at nightfall. I will throw nine different types of herbs on the balefire. Just picked-Mistletoe, vervain, St. John’s Wort, heartsease, lavender, and others chosen from herbs typical of this season such as fresh yarrow.
I will swim in the lake as water is an important part of the Midsummer pagan ritual. Like in times past we will swim in waters, flowing toward the rising sun as it climbs in the Summer Solstice morning sky. This is healing, cleansing and protective. Gathering the dew of Midsummer bestows health to whoever drinks the elixir. Fetch running water of Midsummer morn and mix it with ashes from the bonfire that night. On the next day at home, sprinkled the mixture around the house, yard and on loved ones to bestow protection and luck.
May you have wonderful dreams, a fruitful harvest and find the love you search during this Summer Solstice.
In recent years it has started at some time in May for me. A crazy, excited feeling as the nights get shorter, days lengthen and very odd things happen inside my head. I’ve always been light sensitive, and I find it hard to sleep at this time of year. Sleep deprivation, if it goes on too long, causes me to hallucinate (or see things as they truly are, I am uncertain).
I know this mad rush towards midsummer is something others experience. For winter folk, drawn to quiet and darkness it can be a disturbing time. I find it intoxicating – I get merry and silly, I may have the ‘you know I really love you’ phase and I know if I get too carried away there will be backlash afterwards. Akin to being drunk, in so many ways.
Outside my window, the plant life is growing in profusion, caught in the same tides of sun and energy that I’m feeling. The urge to create new things, and to make chaos is very strong. If I’m going to do something mad, or irresponsible, now is the time of year for it. Also in these deranged days comes a courage I don’t have in darker months. I want to grab the moment and squeeze out every last drop of experience.
One of the consequences of highs, are the inevitable lows that follow. The morning after experience, the sense of burnout. If nothing has been achieved during the rush, then there comes a hollow, lost feeling as the days shorten again and the wheel of the year turns.
Every year I get caught up, with no sense of what I should be doing, what it all means, what it might be for. This time last year, Tom and I were just getting together, this year we’re waiting on the visa application, but there should be the most incredible unleashing of potential any time now. Perhaps, for the first time in my life, the midsummer madness will come with purpose, and by the end of it, amazing things will have happened and I will not be left so bruised by the tides of the sun.
It’s Midsummer’s day, and St John’s day – when according to folklore the St Johnswort is supposed to bloom. It’s been in flower for a while.
This morning, Druids gathered at Stonehenge to greet the dawn. I’ve been to Cor Gawr gatherings before, watched the sun come up over Salisbury plain, the light penetrating the circle. I’ve sung to the standing stones, shared bread and mead, seen visions of wild horses and elementals in the mist. It’s a beautiful place. Today the sun shines, and it is a good time to honour life, love and community.
Below is a little something I’m not going to explain just yet. For now, enjoy the scenery, and remember where you saw it!