For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today we celebrate the Summer Solstice. On the June solstice, the North Pole is tipped more toward the sun than on any other day of the year.
This means that on the June solstice, the Northern Hemisphere will have the longest day and shortest night of the year. (The opposite holds true for the Southern Hemisphere, where June brings the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year.)
SOLSTICE SPARKED ANCIENT CELEBRATIONS
The summer solstice—also called midsummer—has long been recognized and often celebrated by many cultures. Egyptians built the Great Pyramids so that the sun, when viewed from the Sphinx, sets precisely between two of the pyramids on the summer solstice.
The Incas of South America celebrated the corresponding winter solstice with a ceremony called Inti Raymi, which included food offerings and sacrifices of animals, and maybe even people.
Archaeologists have also discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory in a long-buried Maya city in Guatemala, in which the buildings were designed to align with the sun during the solstices. During such times, the city’s populace gathered at the observatory to watch as their king appeared to command the heavens.
And perhaps most famously, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom has been associated with the winter and summer solstices for about 5,000 years.
Observers in the center of the standing stones can still watch the summer solstice sunrise over the Heel Stone, which stands just outside the main ring of Stonehenge.
Midsummer, also known as St John’s Day, is the period of time centred upon the summer solstice, and more specifically the Northern European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice or take place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures.Midsummer was considered to be a time of magic, and anything to do with nature was thought to have a special power. Gathering flowers to weave into wreaths and crowns was a way to harness nature’s magic to ensure good health throughout the year. Even though most people these days probably are unaware of the magical origins of the tradition, weaving crowns of flowers is still a major part of any Midsummer observance.
The magic of Midsummer also extends to the realm of romance. A Swedish verse says, “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles to rock.” For unmarried girls, it’s said that if you pick seven (or sometimes nine) types of flowers and place them under your pillow, you’ll dream of your future husband.
Midsummer is one of the most important holidays on the Swedish calendar and covers two days — a Friday and a Saturday — in order to accommodate Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer’s Day. It is in Sweden where the traditional, flower-festooned maypole is used as the center of a huge celebration. Swedish Midsummer festivals often have copious amounts of food, flowers and alcohol.
There is also a strong mystical component to Swedish Midsummer traditions. The summer solstice is when magic is said to be strongest, and folks often perform rituals to look into the future. Herbs plucked during summer solstice are believed to be highly potent.
Norwegians celebrate Midsummer on June 23, which is the day before St. Hans’ (St. John’s) birthday. While the celebration is not as grand as it is in Sweden, Norway still upholds the pagan tradition of lighting bonfires. People used to believe that aside from producing fertile soil, bonfires also protected against witches and evil spirits which were especially active on midsummer nights.
Plants and herbs were also prescribed magical properties; it was believed that if a girl could find seven different flowers and hide them under her pillow on St. John’s Eve, she would see her future husband in her dreams.
Portugal’s Midsummer celebration is folded into a series of holidays called Popular Saints, or Santos Populares, each of which is usually associated with different municipalities. St. John’s Day is celebrated more in Porto and Braga. Celebrations here are remarkably similar to Mardi Gras, where anything goes.
Revelers are known to carry flowering garlic plants and hit people on the head with them. This is in honor of St. John, who, it was claimed, was a rowdy youth and was often hit in the head with a garlic plant and admonished to “return to the right path.”
The Russian version of St. John’s Day is Ivan Kupala Day. There are many old folk traditions practiced on this holiday, most of which are associated with water and fertility.
For example, young girls float flower garlands on rivers and attempt to tell their fortunes from the movement. Boys and girls also jump over bonfires to test the strength of their relationship — if they don’t hold hands for the entire jump, the couple is predicted to separate.
St. John’s Day was said to have been brought over to Canada by the first French colonists. Great pains were taken to elevate St. John’s Day to become the national holiday of French-Canadians, and in 1977 it became the National Holiday of Quebec.
French-Canadians often celebrate St. John’s Day by lighting bonfires and hosting impressive festivals.
The Summer Solstice
The summer solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, and its influence has reached into many countries around the world, possibly even yours.
Summer Solstice (Litha) has had spiritual significance for thousands of years as humans have been amazed by the great power of the sun. The Celts celebrated with bonfires that would add to the sun’s energy, Christians placed the feast of St John the Baptist towards the end of June and it is also the festival of Li, the Chinese Goddess of light. Gypsies will also honor this day in similar abandon to their hard work during harvest and their respect for Gaia. 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. It is a time of great power to Pagans as the Suns energy is at it’s strongest.
Summer Solstice isn’t the beginning of Summer as some may say, it is actually Mid Summer, to Pagans summer began on Beltane.
The Sun Wanes and waxes twice a year unlike the Moon which wanes and waxes every month. On the winter solstice the Sun starts Waxing, days start to become longer, it starts to get warmer and flowers start to bud, until the earth is blossoming on the Summer Solstice when the Sun is at it’s highest power, but after this day the Sun will start waning, the days will start to get shorter and colder until we get back around to the Winter Solstice when the Sun is reborn and start waxing once more.
In many Celtic-based traditions of Wicca, there is the enduring legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, or Yule, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until The Summer Solstice, or Litha. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the old king, and defeats him. The Holly King them rules until Yule.
The Oak King and the Holly King are seen as dual aspects of the Horned God such as Cernunnos or Pan. Each of these twin aspects rules for half the year, battles for the favor of the Goddess, and then retires to nurse his wounds for the next six months, until it is time for him to reign once more.
Often, these two entities are portrayed in familiar ways – the Holly King frequently appears as a woodsy character like Santa Clause, he dresses in red, wears a sprig of holly in his tangled hair, and is sometimes depicted driving a team of eight stags. The Oak King is portrayed as a fertility god, and occasionally appears as the Green Man or other lord of the forest.
Ultimately, while these two beings do battle all year long, they are two essential parts of a whole. Despite being enemies, without one, the other would no longer exist.
The summer solstice is a time celebrate the Sun Gods such as Mithras, Apollo, Ra, Horus, Freyr, Pan, Cernunnos, The Oak king. Helios, Sol, Sol Invictus.
It is a time to give thanks for the abundance that the God and Goddess have given us over the year, for a good harvest and for the food, family and homes, and the life given properties of the Sun.