A Summer Solstice Primer
Article ID: 13951
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Posted: June 13th. 2010
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Summer Solstice is celebrated with festivals and rites reaching from Scandinavia to North Africa, marks the sun’s maximum 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 on the Western Hemisphere, 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 the Winter Solstice) . It probably has more to do with the story about St. John 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.
Still other 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 that 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 St. John’s 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 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 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’ve listed only few of the more ancient and unknown goddesses that intrigued me while I was researching and writing this article.
The ancient Persian water goddess, fertility goddess, and patroness of women, as well as a goddess of war. Her name means "the immaculate one". She is portrayed as a virgin, dressed in a golden cloak, and wearing a diamond tiara (sometimes also carrying a water pitcher) . The dove and the peacock are her sacred animals.
Anahita was very popular and is one of the forms of the 'Great Goddess' who appears in many ancient eastern religions (such as the Syrian/Phoenician goddess Anath) . She is associated with rivers and lakes, as the waters of birth. Anahita is sometimes regarded as the consort of Mithra and is also shows some similarities to the goddess Ishtar.
The Roman goddess of the dawn. Later she was known as Mater Matuta, the patroness of newborn babes, but also of the sea and harbors. Her temple was situated on the Forum Boarium (the cattle market) . Every June 11, the Matralia was celebrated here. This festival was only open to women who were still in their first marriage. She was associated with Aurora and identified with the Greek Eos.
Saule ("the sun") is the most powerful of Latvian heavenly goddesses. She is the goddess of the sun and of fertility, the patroness of all unfortunate people, especially orphans (as the only one to substitute the mother, to warm the child; mother is compared to Saule speaking of kindness, and bride as speaking of beauty) . She is the mother of Saules meitas or meita (plural or singular) . She is said to live on the top of the heavenly mountain (some model of world) , where she rides during the day in her chariot. At night she sails with her boat on the world sea. The motif of permanent motion is apparent in this image, as well as the idea of the sun shining somewhere else during the night. Of course, the diachronic aspect is to be taken into account. In several cases she appears as the ruler in heaven, especially in relations with Meness.
Brunissen (Broo-nis-en) – Celtic
Celtic goddess of the black sun of the other world, sunrise and sunset are moments of stillness when the light of Brunissen is most easily found. She is not the sun of the outer world but rather the Black Sun of the inner world. She helps us find the acceptance of darkness and light in ourselves.
Igaehindvo (E- gay -hin-vo) – Cherokee
I am Sun and Day. I am Sun Sister to the Earth Mother, Elihino, and the Corn Mother, Sehu Woman. It was when you forgot to give me proper attention that I, Igaehindvo, began to burn the Earth. It is not too late to once more bring offerings. Carry me in your heart and we, my sisters, will once more walk in honor.
Walu (Wa - loo) – Australia
The Australian aboriginals called the sun goddess by this name and said that she lived with her daughter Bara and her sister-in-law, the world mother Madalait, far to the east. Each day Walo journeyed across the sky accompanied by Bara, until one day the sun goddess realized that the reason the earth was so parched was their combined heat. She sent her daughter back to the east so that the earth could become fertile and bloom.
In Norse mythology, Sol is the sun goddess, daughter of Mundilfari. She is married to Glen. Sol rides through the sky in a chariot pulled by the horses Alsvid ("all swift") and Arvak ("early riser") . Below their shoulder blades the gods inserted iron-cold bellows to keep them cool.
She is chased during the daytime by the wolf Skoll who tries to devour her, just like her brother Mani is chased by the wolf Hati at night. It was believed that during solar eclipses the sun was in danger of being eaten by Skoll. Both wolves are the offspring of the giantess Hrodvitnir who lives in the Iron Wood. Eventually, the wolf will catch her. The goddess Svalin stands in front of the sun and shields the earth from the full intensity of its heat.
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 shine!
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