When the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer, its furthest point north, and the sun appears to be directly overhead at high noon it is the day we call the Summer Solstice. Solstice from the Latin solstitium and literally means “sun stands still.” The day is alternately known as “Midsummer” or Litha by the Pagans, and has been celebrated by Christians as the birthday of John the Baptist. In times past, the day was seen as the wedding day of the Earth Goddess to the Sun God, and was celebrated with much revelry.
In practical terms can see why. Midsummer was like a mini-vacation. The planting and tending of spring was over, the crops now thriving and well on their way. The harvest time had not yet begun. This, then, this in between time, for was eating, drinking, and making merry. Men and woman competed in sporting contests for the right to play the rolls of of the Lord and Lady of Summer in a mock marriage ceremony to be re-enacted. Fairies were said to be extremely active this time year, and the revelry was baudy, and fun.
Fortune telling was a feature of the celebration, with many a young girl looking for the identity of her future husband in the blossoms of summer flowers. This is where the old familiar “he loves me, he loves me not” routine of the daisy began.
Another custom of the time was that of filling barrels with tar, or covering wheels with straw, either of which would then be lit on fire, and sent rolling down hillsides by dark of the solstice night. They represent the sun, having reached its height, now beginning its descent.
I’m reminded of these customs every time I sit near a summer bonfire, or see fireworks light up the summer night sky.
The ancients saw the sun as a god, and that too makes sense. Without the sun, there would be no life. I think when we, today, choose to observe, honor and celebrate the earth’s holy days, the solstices and the equinoxes, we bring ourselves closer to nature. We align with it and deepen our understanding, and there’s nothing harmful about that. In fact, I think it can be extremely enlightening.
What does the sun mean to us today? It really is essential to our existence, isn’t it? We forget that. We can light up our dark nights and warm our homes with electricity and fuel. When we go out into the sun, our main thoughts these days are to protect ourselves from it with layers of chemical-laden lotions, hats, sunglasses. We can even get a tan without any help from the sun (not that I recommend it.) We have full spectrum lights now that can do the sun’s job of lifting our mood, burning away depression.
We might almost be able to forget how important this celestial being is to us.
It’s made of the same stuff we are, leftovers from the big bang. Stardust. It provides us with vitamin D and stimulates the release of mood lifting endorphins in the brain, much like an anti-depressant would do. It lights our days, and warms us. If it were any hotter, or any cooler, Earth would be as barren as Venus or Mars. It provides the energy that feeds every green thing on our planet, every blade of grass, and every leaf of every tree, through photosynthesis. It dictates the changing of the seasons. It’s a vastly untapped source of clean, renewable energy we’ve only begun to harvest. It’s even responsible for the light of the moon each night, which is only a reflection of the sun.
In mystical terms, the midsummer sun represents forces like energy, vitality, athleticism, competition, victory, triumph. The prime of life. Force. Expansion. Passion and romantic love. Activity. Vibrant health. Fertility. Physical strength and prowess. Anger and tempers. I liken it to the Strength card in Tarot, the image of a woman holding a lion by a satin ribbon. Powerful force, easily controlled and directed, making it unstoppable.
Summer Solstice is and always has been a moment to absolutely relish and celebrate, appreciate and bask in this thing we call LIFE. So take a few minutes this June 20th and 21st (the Sun reaches Cancer at 7:08 PM EST, so either day will be good to capture its energies.
Celebrate by feasting on summer fruits and veggies, sharing a passionate and romantic interlude with your significant other, getting a reading or doing your own fortune telling or even casting a spell or two to bring your soulmate to you, if you found him, spending time in the sunshine, dancing, drumming, singing, swimming, basking. It’s not a day attuned to deep and silent meditations. It’s one for active things and for getting a little bit rowdy. But mainly, have FUN and celebrate being alive.
I hope you enjoy. I sure intend to. To help get you in the mood, here’s a little music to enjoy that talks about the holiday from a modern day Witch’s point of view.