“In summer, the song sings itself.” – William Carlos Williams
Today (and last night) is the celebration of the Summer Solstice*, also known as Midsummer, or Litha. It is at this time that the Northern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun (the opposite being true for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere who are celebrating the Winter Solstice). It is a time of fertility and celebration: bonfires, maypoles, dancing, and outdoor festivals have been traditional during this time for most of human history. In some modern Pagan faiths it is believed that this holiday represents the highest ascendancy of masculine divinity.
Here are some recent quotes on this day from the press, along with some words from those who celebrate the Summer Solstice as a holiday.
“Once, humans were intimate with the cycles of nature, and never more than on the summer solstice. Vestiges of such awareness survive in White Nights and Midnight Sun festivals in far northern climes, and in neo-pagan adaptations of Midsummer celebrations, but contemporary people take little notice of the sun reaching its far point on the horizon. Tomorrow is the longest day of the year, the official start of the summer season, the fullest of light — yet we are apt to miss this phenomenon of Earth’s axial tilt, as we miss so much of what the natural world does in our surrounds.” – James Carroll, The Boston Globe
“Legends describe the solstice as a time when the doors to enchanted castles and the underworld were cast open and mortals could mingle with fairies and imprisoned princesses and explore hidden caverns. Shakespeare set his silly and brilliant comedy on this night, depicting the collision of three very different worlds in a magic forest where fairies work romantic mischief on sleeping couples, while bad actors rehearse a Roman play about doomed lovers. The youth of today may not pause to think that they are reenacting ancient midsummer celebrations or mating rituals when they get debaucherous at the many music festivals that kick off around the solstice, but the primal desire to be outside dancing and carousing late into the night is irrepressible at this time of year.” – Megan Cytron, Salon.com
“Midsommar, the Swedish celebration of summer solstice, is a pretty easy holiday to love — perhaps because it’s more of a party than a holiday. This year, the solstice itself falls on June 21. Swedes, like many in Europe, have celebrated the longest day of the year since pagan times. And with good reason: In a northern land where the sun barely rises during the dark, snowy winter, summer is a time to celebrate the golden outdoors. It’s a time to sing and dance (ideally around a flower-studded maypole or frighteningly large bonfire), eat the best of the summer crops, and toss back shots of bracingly strong alcohol.” – Deena Prichep, NPR
But for some, midsummer is about more than glorious dawns, for pagans it is a very significant date. Steve Ludford of the Pagan Federation explained: “In essence it is a time to celebrate the strength of the sun, which is the masculine element in paganism, and obviously in midsummer the sun is at its strongest.” “The word solstice actually comes from the Latin meaning to stand still, because at midsummer the sun appears to stand still in its path.” Although thousands of pagans will head to Wiltshire to celebrate the occasion, Chair of the Druid Network Phil Ryder believes most will head to our own monuments to mark the occasion “Most druids would rather avoid Stonehenge like the plague. The land where we reside is most important to us, so for that reason, people are most likely to navigate towards the ancient sites near them. In many cases the ancestors built the stone circles and burial cairns oriented towards the solstice which makes them a good place to see the dawn and celebrate.” – Western Telegraph
“While it heralds the sun’s waning, Litha is not about light or dark winning victories over each other, even temporarily, or about one end of the polarity between ice and fire being the “good” one; it’s about the constant interplay in the dance that is the turning of the Wheel of the Year. That cooperation and interaction are the real story of destruction averted, and not just averted, but transformed into the ongoing process of re-creation. Now that’s something to celebrate.” – Literata, The Slacktiverse
A blessed Midsummer to you all!
* Technically speaking, the 2011 Summer Solstice occurs at 17:16 on June 21st. Please check your local time-zone for accurate Solstice timing.