Summer Solstice

Oak_king_by_Ironshodthe_holly_king_by_hikari_ryu1

Summer Solstice

In the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice is on June 20th or 21st, depending on your time zone. It is the day when the sun reaches its furthest point north of the equator (the Tropic of Cancer). In 2015, Solstice, here in eastern Canada, comes in on June 21st at 12:39 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on June 21st. The word solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop), reflecting the fact that the Sun appears to stop at this time (and again at the winter solstice). It is the longest day of the year and a time to celebrate the coming warmth of summer. It is a time of enchantment when, the veil of the year is at its thinnest, the fairies are most active, and the entrance to the Otherworld opens. The other holiday where the veil is thin is Samhain.

There is often confusion regarding whether June 21st is the beginning of summer or as in Pagan traditions, mid-summer. In Canada and the U.S., June 21st is regarded as the first day of summer. This is because we are moving into the warmest time of the year; a time when the kids are out of school; most people take some form of family holidays and generally a time to be outdoors and enjoying the sunshine. Referring to the Solstice as a “mid-summer” celebration has nothing to do with the heat or activity at the beach. It is because it is the mid-way point between the equinoxes when the light and dark are in balance. After Summer Solstice the light begins to decrease and move towards darkness. Although the temperature is at its highest, the days do begin to get shorter. Ancient peoples, who spent more time outdoors than we do, were acutely aware of this annual ebb and flow of daylight, which are anchored at the Summer and Winter Solstices.

In Celtic tradition, it is the time of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. They are seen as the dual aspects of the male Earth deity, one ruling the waxing year, the other ruling the waning year. The Oak King, who is the light twin, rules from Midwinter to Midsummer. Summer Solstice is the point where his power is the strongest, but his light is beginning to wane and the Holly King is gaining strength. By the time of Samhain, the Holly King’s strength is supreme and the Oak King “dies”. He is not really dead, he merely withdraws, some say to Caer Arianrhod, the Castle of the ever-turning Silver Wheel, which is also known as the Wheel of the Stars. This is the enchanted realm of the Goddess Arianrhod where the god must wait and learn before being born again. Arianrhod means “silver wheel” and the castle is the Aurora Borealis. She is the Goddess of the astral skies and there She rules as Goddess of reincarnation. The Holly King rules the dark half of the year from Midsummer to Midwinter. At Winter Solstice, the Oak King is again reborn and gathers strength until Beltane, when he rules supreme until, again, at Summer Solstice he starts to wane. This is not a conflict of “good” versus “bad”, but of dark versus light. As the year wanes and light moves to darkness, only to be reborn at Mid Winter and move to back light, so too, in a natural cycle our lives move to the realm of the dead, only to be reborn another time.

Many other cultures celebrate this time of the year. Ancient Rome chose this time to celebrate the Goddess Juno, Queen of the heavens and protector of women. She is the Patroness of marriage and the month of June is named after her. Vesta, Goddess of the hearth fire was also honoured. The doors of her temple were thrown open and the married women of Rome would make offerings in the form of salted grain meal. In ancient Mesopotamia, the Goddess Ishtar and her lover Tammaz were celebrated at Midsummer. In Greece, the day was sacred to Hera (the Greek equivalent of Juno) as well as Athena, and Adonis.

Some of the customs associated with Midsummer are bonfires, rolling wheels, torchlight processions, gathering plants, seeking healing or practicing divination.

As at Beltane, bonfires are very prevalent at Solstice. The bonfire was built in a round shape on a sacred spot near a holy well, on a hilltop or on a border of some kind. It was lit on Midsummer’s Eve to ward off evil spirits. A Tudor poem reflects its meaning:

When midsomer comes, with havens and bromes they do bonefires make,
And swiftly, then the nimble young men runne leaping over the same.
The women and maydens together do couple their hands.
With bagpipes sounde, they daunce a rounde; no malice among them stands.

People danced around the fires and often jumped through them for good luck. A branch was lit and passed over animals to protect them from fleas, ticks and disease. Children were even passed over the bonfire to protect them from illness during the coming winter. Ashes from the fire were spread on the fields for fertility. They were also used to make charms to cure different diseases.
One fun tradition that still survives is the rolling wheel. Wheels were covered in straw, set on fire and then pushed down a hill to represent the sun rolling through the heavens. If the fire goes out before getting to the bottom of the hill, it is said there will be a good harvest. If it reaches a stream at the bottom of the hill, it is said to bring good luck to the village.

Torchlight processions were held in many areas. They were used for protection and blessing. In farmer’s fields, after the procession, they would be attached to fences and left to burn all night. The ashes were then spread on the fields to increase crop fertility.

Since this is a celebration of the wonderful sun, here are a few things that you could include in your festivities:

• Watching the sun rise
• Marking a special time when the sun reaches its zenith
• Re-enact the battle of the Oak and Holly kings
• Torchlight parades
• Leaving food or trinkets for the faeries
• Any water ritual
• Using fire in your ritual
• Giving thanks for the growing vegetation and for the farmers that grow our food
• Gathering herbs to be used for healing

Some fun tidbits of old folklore about summer are:

Deep snow in winter, tall grain in summer.–Estonian proverb

When the summer birds take their flight, goes the summer with them.

If it rains on Midsummer’s Eve, the filbert crops will be spoiled.–Unknown

One swallow never made a summer.

Easterly winds from May 19 to the 21 indicate a dry summer.

If there are many falling stars during a clear summer evening, expect thunder. If there are none, expect fine weather.

Reference: MidSummer by Anna Franklin

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