Summer Solstice 2012
Today is the first day of Summer! Other names for today are: Summer Solstice, Litha, Alban Heflin, All-Couples Day, Feast of Epona, Feast of St. John the Baptist, Midsummer, Vestalia, etc. For the rest of this, we will assume the reader is in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Soltice” is derived from two Latin words: sol (meaning sun) and sistere (meaning to cause to stand still). As the summer solstice approaches, the noonday sun rises higher and higher in the sky each day. On the day of the solstice, it rises an imperceptible amount, compared to the previous day. This made it appear to “stand still.” This is also the longest day of the year and the shortest night of the year.
The reason we have a change of seasons is the tilt of the Earth’s axis (23.5°). The North Pole is fixed in a set place. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the North Pole will point either towards or away from the Sun. Since this is summer, the North Pole is pointing directly at the Sun.
Let’s explore some of the celebrations (ancient and modern) around this time of year:
- Ancient Celts: Druids, the priestly/professional/diplomatic corps in Celtic countries, celebrated Alban Heruin (“Light of the Shore“). It was midway between the spring Equinox (Alban Eiler; “Light of the Earth“) and the fall Equinox (Alban Elfed; “Light of the Water“). “This midsummer festival celebrates the apex of Light, sometimes symbolized in the crowning of the Oak King, God of the waxing year. At his crowning, the Oak King falls to his darker aspect, the Holly King, God of the waning year…“
- Ancient China: Their summer solstice ceremony celebrated the earth, the feminine, and the yin forces. It complemented the winter solstice which celebrated the heavens, masculinity and yang forces.
- Ancient Gaul: The Midsummer celebration was called Feast of Epona, named after a mare goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
- Ancient Germanic, Slavic and Celtic Tribes in Europe: Ancient Pagans celebrated Midsummer with bonfires. “It was the night of fire festivals and of love magic, of love oracles and divination. It had to do with lovers and predictions, when pairs of lovers would jump through the luck-bringing flames…” It was believed that the crops would grow as high as the couples were able to jump. Through the fire’s power, “…maidens would find out about their future husband, and spirits and demons were banished.” Another function of bonfires was to generate sympathetic magic: giving a boost to the sun’s energy so that it would remain potent throughout the rest of the growing season and guarantee a plentiful harvest.
- Ancient Rome: The festival of Vestalia lasted from JUN-7 to JUN-15. It was held in honor of the Roman Goddess of the hearth, Vesta. Married women were able to enter the shrine of Vesta during the festival. At other times of the year, only the vestal virgins were permitted inside.
- Ancient Sweden: A Midsummer tree was set up and decorated in each town. The villagers danced around it. Women and girls would customarily bathe in the local river. This was a magical ritual, intended to bring rain for the crops.
- Christian Countries: After the conversion of Europe to Christianity, the feast day of St. John the Baptist was set as JUN-24. It “is one of the oldest feasts, if not the oldest feast, introduced into both the Greek and Latin liturgies to honour a saint.” 16 Curiously, the feast is held on the alleged date of his birth. Other Christian saints’ days are observed on the anniversary of their death. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that St. John was “filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb…[thus his] birth…should be signalized as a day of triumph.” 16 His feast day is offset a few days after the summer solstice, just as Christmas is fixed a few days after the winter solstice.
- Essenes: This was a Jewish religious group active in Palestine during the 1st century CE. It was one of about 24 Jewish groups in the country — the only one that used a solar calendar. Other Jewish groups at the time included the Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots, followers of John, and followers of Yeshua (Jesus). Archaeologists have found that the largest room of the ruins at Qumran (location of the Dead Sea Scrolls) appears to be a sun temple. The room had been considered a dining room by earlier investigators, in spite of the presence of two altars at its eastern end. At the time of the summer solstice, the rays of the setting sun shine at 286 degrees along the building’s longitudinal axis, and illuminate the eastern wall. The room is oriented at exactly the same angle as the Egyptian shrines dedicated to the sun. Two ancient authorities — the historian Josephus and the philosopher Filon of Alexandria — had written that the Essenes were sun worshipers. Until recently, their opinion had been rejected by modern historians.
Very interesting and powerful. Summer has always been important to us (Robinson). Enjoy this time. Have a happy solstice!