• Christine Dorman

The Longest Day: Summer Solstice

The Summer Solstice is sacred, magical, and a reminder of how nature impacts us.

Tomorrow will be the longest day of the year. Literally. It’s the Summer Solstice, at least in the northern hemisphere (in the southern hemisphere, the solstice will be in December). The Summer Solstice is the one time a year (per hemisphere) that the sun is the farthest away from one of the earth’s poles. It’s the day when the sun seems to takes the longest amount of time to travel east to west. So, in the northern hemisphere, tomorrow will have more hours of daylight than any other day this year. It will mark the astronomical start of summer. It also is one of the eight major Celtic sacred fire festivals.

On the Celtic calendar, the Summer Solstice is about halfway between Beltane (May 1st) and Lughnasa (August 1st) making it Midsummer’s Day. In Irish, it is called grianstad, which means “sun stop.” This is because, for a few days before and after the solstice, the sun appears to rise and set at the same point on the horizon. It’s unsurprising the ancient Celts would notice something like that. Natural phenomena were important to them. Vitally important. As farmers and fishers, they knew that their lives were impacted by—indeed, depended upon—what the sun, moon, and weather did. Winters were long, harsh, and dangerous. The bright, warm days of summer were a welcome relief. They were a time to sow and tend the crops to be harvested in autumn, the food that would help the Celts survive the dark winter.

Summer Solstice is a time for blessing and nurturing the crops that will sustain us through winter's dark days.

So the Summer Solstice was a time to celebrate, which they did (and still do) in a very Celtic way. With feasting, dancing and, of course, bonfires. You can’t have a Celtic fire festival without bonfires. In the old days, these were lit on top of sacred hills, such as Tara, the seat of the High Kings in Ireland. In fact, crowds still gather each year on Tara to celebrate the solstice. Most bonfires, however, now are lit by the side of roads and only during certain hours which are strictly regulated by the government (killjoys!).

In addition to the bonfires, fire wheels used to be lit too and rolled down hills (that’s kind of frowned upon now too). And lovers would leap over small fires to bring good luck to their relationship as well as to their crops. Folklore said the higher the lovers jumped, the better their harvest would be.

But Celtic feast days are not simply community parties. They have their roots in sacred ritual. On the Summer Solstice, prayers were said and offerings made for good crops and to protect against evil spirits. A goddess was honored too, although which goddess it was is a complicated question. To a degree, it depended on which Celtic country is meant. In Wales, the enchantress and horse goddess, Rhiannon, was honored. The Celts in Brittany celebrated the horse goddess, Epona. The Scots, perhaps, dedicated the feast day to the fire goddess, Brighid, as she had just overthrown the Winter Queen, Bera the Cailleach (see last week’s blog for details). In Ireland, according to some sources, Etain was honored. Others say the Irish Celts prayed to Aine to protect their crops and the people from evil spirits. Or perhaps they turned to Grainne for assistance. After all, she was a not only a sun goddess, but she also is credited with protecting seeds during the winter and nurturing them in the summer. At any rate, at the festival, the goddess—pick one—was honored.

On the solstice, hang honeysuckle over thresholds to protect your family and pets.

Magic is particularly strong and effective during the solstice, especially any magic for protection, healing, or love. It is a time for blessing your home and animals. One way is to hang fennel and honeysuckle above doorways for protection. Light a fire (a simple candle will do) and keep it burning until midnight to bring blessings to your home and family. Be sure not to fall asleep, though, before blowing the candle out! The solstice also is a powerful time for divination. So pay attention to your dreams!

Summer Solstice is a good time to pick herbs for medicinal and / or magical purposes. During this time, the Celts believe, the herbs are filled with light and so are more potent. Always ask the plant’s permission first before picking the herb. Be sure to give thanks or offer a blessing afterwards.

If you think that is silly, consider this: are we really any less dependent on nature than the ancient Celts were? Most of us may not be directly involved in cultivating and obtaining the food we eat but it still is grown or raised in some way. I’ll skip the topic of how hamburgers or chicken nuggets end up at your friendly neighborhood fast food place. But whether you are a vegetarian, a vegan, or an omnivore, the fruits, vegetables, and grains you sustain yourself with are grown on a farm somewhere. The farmers are still dependent on good weather for a good harvest. And even those of us who don’t get down and dirty with the soil are dependent on successful crops.

The Summer Solstice is a time of change, new beginnings, fertility, and an appreciation of nature. And it’s a time for appreciating the sacredness of life and growth. In her book, Celtic Devotional, Caitlin Matthews likens Beltane (during which the Summer Solstice occurs) to young adulthood, filled with passion, hope, ambition, and vitality.

Have you reflected lately on how much nature impacts and blesses your life?

Here are a few reflections for this time:

1) What brings light and warmth to your life?

2) Who can you protect or bless with the warmth of your love?

3) What gives you hope?

4) How can you nourish others and how do you need to be nourished right now?

5) Meditate on the impact of nature in your life.

I would like to close this week with an excerpt from a Caitlin Matthews’ poem:

Dancing be the heart within us

Open be our souls to bliss

Courage vanquish every shadow

Greet midsummer with a kiss

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Slan go foil!

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