The Sun and the Summer Solstice
Despite the chaos and unpredictability that is a dominant theme in our lives these days, there is one daily event that is immutable and predictable: the sun will continue to rise every morning and set every night, no matter where you are in the world and no matter what else is going on, nearby or on the other side of the planet.
A related fact is that every six months, the sun will appear to stand still for about three days, then will reverse its direction. In the northern hemisphere in mid-winter it will begin to rise northward and in mid-summer southward, conversely in the southern hemisphere. In fact, the word “solstice” comes from the Latin words “sol” (sun) and “stitium,” meaning still or stopped, so solstice means “still sun.”
Throughout history humans have honored both equinoxes and solstices through festivals, celebrations, and sacred ceremonies. For the ancient Greeks, the summer solstice marked the start of the new year with its accompanying festivities, including Kronia, a celebration of Cronus, the god of agriculture. In this holiday, the Greek’s rather strict social customs were turned upside down, and slaves were allowed to participate in the merrymaking and would also be served by their masters.
The Romans celebrated Vestalia in honor of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. Married women would enter the temple of Vesta and leave offerings to the goddess in exchange for her blessings of the family. In Northern Europe, it’s referred to as Midsummer, while Wiccans and other Neopagan groups call it Litha, the goddess of fertility, power, and abundance.
The spring equinox is a marker for planting and new beginnings. It’s a time to seed the land and begin the cycle that would eventually lead to the harvest at the autumn equinox. The summer solstice was a marker to further nurture that which had been seeded in the spring. These are also applicable to ideas and projects that had been planted and started at the spring equinox and are now beginning to bear fruit, to manifest throughout the remainder of summer until they are harvested in the fall.
As the light increases, you will likely feel those characteristics attributed to the goddess Liths—fertility, power, and abundance. The land is reaching its peak of fertility and the plants are showing themselves in full blossom. It’s a time to appreciate the full power of the sun and the maximum fullness of the light. It’s an intensely erotic and sensual time of the year—even our clothing is looser and lighter, and we’ll wear much less—or be absent altogether! It’s also a time we take off from work and go on vacation, and a time when we realize that the daylight will start to gradually wane and the nights will begin to grow longer.
Yet, like our ancestors who honored these seasons, including the summer solstice, here are some ideas how you can do so.
- Say farewell to the sun as it sets. Take a drum, rattle, or flute to a high point where you can witness the sunset, meditating for a few minutes. As it settles in for the night, express your gratitude and say farewell in your own way by singing, playing an instrument, or in stillness and silence, knowing that even though the days will still be long and hot for a while longer, the light will be decreasing steadily.
- These are still days of fire, so do a fire ceremony, just as many of our predecessors have done. This is a time to reflect on the cycle of the growing light, from Imbolc (spring equinox) to now, and note what’s manifesting from the seeds that were germinated at that time. Did you finish that project that you started at Imbolc or at least put it into action? If so, dance around the fire and drum and play music to celebrate. If not, do a release ceremony, using the fire to transform that which is holding you back from finishing it, represented in written or other symbolic form.
- When the sun is directly overhead, a simple way to honor the season is to stand with feet wide apart, arms open wide with palms facing up to the sky, head tilted back with eyes closed and embrace the warmth of the sun with gratitude. It’s a very honoring gesture and can be repeated a few times during the solstice. It can also put you in touch with your inner light, reminding you to bring as much of this as possible to the world.
Know that any sacred ceremony you enact to honor the solstice will put you in touch with your ancient ancestors and will serve to remind you of the sacredness of this dramatic marker of the season we call summer.