The Summer Solstice is when the sun hits the tropic of cancer and gives the northern hemisphere the longest day and shortest night of the year. A literal translation taken from the Latin ‘sol’ – sun ‘sistere’ – to cause to stand still, i.e. the sun appears to stand still. This year the summer solstice will fall on June 21st in the Northern hemisphere and in December in the Southern hemisphere. The summer solstice is celebrated as it is the beginning of the summer season, a time of light and prosperity.
The Summer Solstice played an important role for many ancient civilisations.
Often referred to as Druids, celebrated Alban Eiler – the light of the earth. At midsummer they would hold a festival celebrating the apex of light, the marriage of heaven (the sun) and the goddess (the earth).
The feminine earth ‘yin’ forces were celebrated, and in winter the masculine ‘yang’ and heavens were celebrated.
The feast of Epona, named after a goddess who personified fertility, sovereignty and agriculture. She was portrayed as a woman riding a mare.
Midsummer was celebrated as fire festivals. They involved love, magic, oracles young couples would jump through flames to bring them luck. It was generally believed that crops would grow as high as the couples jumped. The bonfires were used to enhance the sun’s energy to ensure a bountiful harvest.
The festival of Vestalia was held in honour of the Roman Goddess Vesta. During the festival married women could enter the temple freely, at any other time only virgins would be permitted into the temple. The goddess Juno was also honoured at this time as she was the goddess of women, children and the patron of marriage. The month of June was named after her.
Each town/village would decorate a ‘maypole’ (midsommarstång) with flowers and greenery, and villagers would dance around it.
Early European Christians would celebrate the feast of St John the Baptist. This celebration was observed by both Greek and Latin Christians just after the summer solstice on June 24th.
Both the Hopi and Natchez tribes held summer ceremonies. There are many stone structures in American linked to the solstices.
The term refers to a modern recreation of ancient Pagan beliefs and includes Wicca. They celebrate sabbat (Midsummer) also known as Litha. At this time many pagan traditions worship the Goddess. She is often depicted as being heavily pregnant and represents bountiful harvests. Litha is a time of light, healing herbs and divining rods are traditionally cut at this time.
Ancient European Monuments
There are many prehistoric monuments linked to the summer solstice around Europe. Stonehenge is probably one of the most famous. The design of Stonehenge must have been well planned as the latitude would need to be precise for the sun to rise over the heel stone. Each year the summer solstice at Stonehenge draws people from all walks of life, including modern druids and new age travellers .