Happy Summer Solstice everyone. It is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Though the traditional date of Midsummer, when the Sun will appear to start moving again is 24th June. The word Solstice comes from the Latin “Sol” meaning sun and “Sistere” meaning to stand still. It is the longest day of the year with 15 hours of sunshine. The sun is at its most powerful today. Celebrated by almost all cultures historically, it is an important time of the year for Pagans and Pantheists as one of the major festivals. Also known as Litha after the Anglo Saxon name for the summer months or Alban Heruin (light of the shore) in revival Druidry traditions, it is a great time to celebrate by having a BBQ and bonfire on the beach.
Crops have all been planted and are growing strongly, the earth is alive with blooming flowers, green trees and insects busy collecting pollen and making honey. It is a time to rest, to have fun and to celebrate before the hard work of the harvest begins. From now on the days begin to shorten again as we move back towards the winter. In the agricultural community, this is the traditional month for sheep shearing.
Although its not one of the four Celtic Fire Festivals, the day was probably celebrated by the Druids and its quite possible that places like Stonehenge were used by them at this time (no they didn’t build it). On the Isle of Man, there is a tradition of “paying rent” to the patron of the island, and Celtic god of the sea, Manannan Mac Lyr on this day, by offering him bundles of reeds, meadow grasses and yellow flowers, along with prayers for aid and protection in fishing. Another deity related to this time is the goddess Aine, the Irish goddess of summer, love, fertility and sovereignty. She is sometimes seen as the wife or daughter of Manannan Mac Lir, and is the queen of fairies because this is traditionally the night when they come out and join in celebrations. Aine is honoured on Midsummers eve with a feast, procession and bonfires.
Midsummer is very important in Northern Pagan traditions such as Heathenry and is a time to honour Sunne, goddess of the sun, the landspirits and sometimes Balder/ Baldaeg is also honoured. Grimm talks in Teutonic Mythology of setting up a “Sun-wheel.” There are some who say this was historically thought to be a time when the Wyrms (dragons) and ill meaning spirits are about so Thunor could be honoured for his protective role. The Anglo Saxon god of the sea was Wada, and he could also be a good deity to honour on Midsummer as Midsummer is a traditional time to honour the Sea God (such as Celtic Manannan). According to Jaan Puhvel in “Comparative Mythology”, the idea of a fiery power in water is a traditional Indo-European mythology so this fits quite well. For Wiccans, this is when “the powers of nature reach this highest point. The Earth is awash in the fertility of the Goddess and God.”
Historian Ronald Hutton says that at this time “Midsummer bonfires, with much the same rituals, are recorded all over England, Wales, Ireland, Lowland Scotland and the Northern Isles.” The first record of lighting protective fires on midsummer’s eve is from the 12th century, however in the 4th century pagans celebrated by rolling flaming wheels downhill to a river, a practice that can be traced right up to the 19th century in Dartmoor, Devon. It was a time for divination and the Anglo Saxon Lacunga says its the best time to collect certain plants for healing. In fact, St John’s eve was seen as the time when herbs were most potent and magical. In 13th and 14th centuries there are records of people carrying fire around their fields on midsummers eve, people staying up all night around bonfires in the street and youths gathering at wells for songs and games. Hutton says “the dossier seems to be complete enough to speak confidently of a pre-Christian seasonal ritual of major importance.” Meanwhile, in Audoenus’s 7th century text Vita Eligii, there is the statement “Let no Christian believe in bonfires or sit at incantations, which are diabolical works; let no Christian perform the solstice rites, or dancing or leaping to flute-player or diabolical chants, on the feast of St John.” Other traditions from Northern European countries include having a maypole, going to a “midsummer-tree” to pray that the fields might be given growing strength or making large Midsummer’s wreaths and giving them to others as a sign of affection. Bonfires were made in the streets and marketplaces and homes were decorated with sprigs of birch, fennel and flowers.
This year I will be celebrating on the more traditional date of Midsummer’s eve, 23rd and 24th June. I will try to spend time out in nature, do a ritual and decorate my altar with solar symbols like some oak leaves and some sunflower seeds.
Here’s a list of some good ways to celebrate the Summer Solstice this week –
- Strawberries are in season, so have some strawberries and cream
- Have a BBQ, bonfire or picnic. Get outside.
- Do a ritual to honour the Sun or other deities of Summer. Be grateful for the Sun’s warmth and enjoy it.
- The bees are busy making this year’s honey, so it’s a great time to make your Mead for the year.
- Elder flowers are in season so it’s also a good time to make Elderflower cordial.
- Go camping, maybe at Stonehenge if you can, and get up to watch the Sunrise.
- Do a beach clean
- Make an offering of rushes to Manannan, god of the sea.
- Collect herbs such as Mugwort or St John’s Wort for herbalism.
- Decorate your altar with symbols of the season such as Oak Leaves and Sunflower Seeds.
Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Kveldulf Gundarsson. Our Troth: Volume 2 – Living the Troth. USA: Booksurge Publishing, 2007.