Today is the Summer Solstice, celebrated with festivals and rites reaching from Scandinavia to North Africa, marks the sun’s maxium height in the sky, making it the longest day and shortest night of the year. Before the calendar was changed in the 18th century, the Solstice was celebrated on the 4th of July. Now the date of the summer solstice varies slightly from year to year. This year it happens to fall on June 21st but generally the actual can vary from June 20th through June 24th, with some solstice customs associated with a fixed date, such as the Wiccan Midsummer festival on June 23rd (Midsummer Eve) through June 24th (Midsummer Day).
Also celebrated as Gathering Day (Welsh), Ivana-Kupala (Russian), Lithia (Saxon) Alban Heffyn (Druidic), Feill-Sheathain (Scottish), even St. John’s Day (Christian), Summer Solstice festivals and gatherings may differ in practice from culture to culture but they all have celebrating and honoring the progress of growing season and the journey of the sun in common.
“Solstice” is derived from the Latin “sol” meaning sun, and “sistere”, which means “to cause to stand still”. Since the Winter Solstice (Yule) the days grow longer and at the Summer Solstice, the sun “stands still” for approximately three days. Although the hottest days of summer still lie ahead, we enter the waning year and the sun will recede from the sky a little earlier each day, until the Winter Solstice
(Yule), when the days will begin to lengthen again. In the southern hemisphere, it happens the other way around.
While we are celebrating Summer Solstice the Western Hemishpere, the Southern hemisphere is celebrating Winter Solstice, the south is celebrating and vice versa.
In ancient times, the Summer Solstice was a fire festival of significant importance. Great bonfires made of bales of hay were lit, usually referred to as balefires, and were kept going from sunset on Solstice eve until sunset the following day. The use of fires, as well as ritually strengthening the sun, drove out evil and brought prosperity and fertility to people, crops and livestock. Torches made from thorny evergreen were carried around cattle for protection against disease and misfortune.
Agriculturally, the crops are in full growth, reaching the pinnacles of maturity and moving closer to the harvest time. To strengthen this growing season, people would dance clockwise around the bonfire or leap through its flames as a strengthening or purifying rite. Crones
often told that the summer’s crop would grow as high as the leapers were able to jump so accordingly they would exert themselves accordingly to benefit growth and prosperity. As most wild herbs and plants are fully mature by Summer Solstice, it was (and is) also the ideal time to gather magical and medicinal plants and herbs, to dry and store for winter use, which is where the Welsh, Gathering Day comes from.
The rites and rituals of the Summer Solstice survived despite calendar changes and efforts to Christianize it just as the Church had done to other sacred days. The official version converted the Summer Solstice to the Christian Feast of St. John the Baptist which celebrated St. John’s birthday, born six months before Jesus (who got Winter Solstice). It probably has more to do with the story about St. John losing his head to losing his head to Salome. In ancient times, sacrifices were also often made to a goddess of summer solstice. Mostly, though St. John’s Day became associated with wild dancing, horseplay, bawdiness and general rowdiness.
St. John’s Wort over their doors as an amulet of protection while another legend sayswort flower on Summer Solstice
night, you will magically transported to the Land of the Fae.Still more serious summer solstice symbols and talismans accumulate around St. John . As the patron of shepherds and
beekeepers, this is a time to recognize those wild things which we can harness but cannot tame. The full moon that accompanies June is sometimes referred as the Mead Moon. Beehives are filled with honey and the honey was often harvested, fermented and made into Mead. People also hang Wort over their doors as an amulet of protection while another legend says that should you step on a St. John’s wort flower on Summer SOlstice night, you will magically be transported to the Land of the Fae.
Water is also often honored at summer solstice festivals because also plays such a significant role in sustaining life while the sun blazes overhead. Saint John was baptized by water while Jesus baptized by fire and the Holy Spirit, therefore it is St. John who presides over the waters in Mexico.
Rural people bathe at midnight in the nearest body of water and festoon wells and fountains with flowers, candles and colorful paper ornaments, while city folk celebrate with pools, holding swimming and diving contests.
Faeries are also associated with the Solstice through rites and ritual, most famously celebrated in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the Fae take advantage of the Sun’s three day rest. Just as with Winter Solstice, the veil between the~ worlds is thinnest, allowing us to see the elves, faeries, pixies and brownies more easily. We are cautioned to walk more carefully in forest mist so that we
don’t stumble into the Land of the Fae where time is suspended and we can be lost to our world for longer than it seems.
Any goddess who deals with strength, courage, abundance, prosperity, protection, passion, fertility, the sun, water or any of the elements would be appropriate to invoke. Solar Goddesses to invoke into your summer solstice circles or prayers are many- so many in fact, I’ll list only few of the more ancient and unknown goddesses that
intrigued me while I was researching and writing this article. For more
information about these Goddesses, do a Goggle search or surf the Mythica site listed with this article for a good place to begin:
Russian Goddess of Fertility
Walo (Wa-loo): Australian Aboriginal Goddess of the Sun
Gnowee (No-wee): Southeast
Australian Goddess of the Sun
Etain (Et Oyn- oy as in
boy): Ancient Irish Sun Goddess
(Broo-nis-en): Celtic goddess of the black sun of the other world
Saule (Saul-a): Latvian
Goddess of the Sun and Fertility
Aztec Maiden Goddess of Fertility and Corn
Igaehindvo (E- gay -hin-vo): Cherokee Goddess of the Sun
Since this sabbat revolves around the Sun, light a candle for the entire day. Fire represents the sun and is a constant reminder of the power of the sun. Because the sun signifies will, vitality, accomplishment, courage, strength, victory or fame, acknowledge your accomplishments, courageous acts and leaps of faith in some way. Write about them in a journal or create art or craft work that symbolizes these attributes.
This is definitely a time to let your creativity shine!