Thursday, May 2, 2013

Summer Solstice

          There are as many meanings for Summer Solstice as there are cultures. The time of this holiday’s celebration varies, depending on culture and what hemisphere you live in. They range from an astrological phenomenon to the height of rule for Sun Deities. Even the name varies; Summer Solstice, Mid-Summer, and Litha to name just a few. To get a broader understanding of this High Day one should look at various aspects of the season: the actual astrological phenomenon, the agrarian activities, and a religious aspect.

          The astrological phenomenon happens twice a year, created by the ‘wobbling’ effect of the planets rotational axis. The axis of the planet does not stand directly up and down as a spinning top would. The axis is actually slightly off which in turn causes this ‘wobbling’ effects in the rotation of the earth.  Now because of the actual rotational speed of the wobbling axis along with the rotation of the planet on the axis itself there are periods of time when each hemisphere of the planet is tilted away from the sun. This is the point in time then the tilting is at its maximum facing either further away from or closer to the sun. This causes a period when we see day shorter than all other days in the year and one longer than all the rest. The Summer Solstice is when the tilt lends closest to the sun. In the northern hemisphere this occurs on or around June 21st, in the southern it occurs on or around December 21st. It is the point where the day has reached its maximum length for the year; this is of course excluding the hours either added or subtracted according to daylight savings time. Here we speak of the time from sun rise to sun set. The tilting of the northern hemisphere towards the sun gives the effect of the sun itself climbing higher and higher above the horizon. As it crosses the sky from Spring Equinox to Summer Solstice, the days begin to grow longer and longer because the arc of the sun is becoming larger and larger according to our tilting. Summer Solstice marks the point where the sun has reached the highest it will reach before the northern hemisphere begins moving away from the sun again. This not only gives us more light but it has the effect of increasing the solar radiation that warms the planet causing temperatures to rise.

            With the warmth that has come during the summer, plants that were planted in early spring begin to bring  forth their foods for all creation to feed upon. The early vegetables and fruits include tomatoes, corn, eggplant, summer squashes, cucumbers, peppers, okra , lettuce, watermelons, cantaloupes, peaches and many others. It also becomes the time to harvest many herbs such as chamomile, chickweed, chicory, cinquefoil, delphinium (larkspur), dogwood, elderflower, fennel, figwort, hemp, lavender, male fern, meadowsweet, mistletoe, mugwort, pine, rose, and St. John’s wort, vervain. This also marks the last of the planting season so that crops can be harvested but the end of the growing season. Here in the south it is a time for canning many of the fruits and vegetables there  are now being harvested. From here on out foods will be gathered in for consumption and preserving for the winter ahead. Though it is not traditionally considered a harvest festival, it does mark the turning of the year as well as the first true harvesting of crops from the fields.

            The sun gods are at their height of power this day of the year. Up to this point their rule has been growing, gaining in power. This day is their High Day of worship. From this day forth they shall begin to diminish into darkness, in many cases traveling to the realms of the dead to stay until Winter Solstice when their journey of power begins again with their rebirth. In many cultures this marks the time when the gods move from the mother and father stages into the great sages and hag stage of wisdom that will eventually lead to their deaths and rebirths. This is also a time with nature spirits come into the mortal realm to play, to roam the plains, forests, and mountains. In the case of the  Fairie faiths, this is the season of the great Sidhe, a time when mortals should be wary as they rejoice and  celebrate the end of the planting season.

            With the idea that Summer Solstice is a time of play for the nature and the gods, it would be easy to use this time of year to honor the nature spirits, which was common place among the Greeks. From the information I have gathered it was commonplace to honor the nature spirits of the land by placing shrines out on a corner of the land. There are tales within the Hellenic culture as well that this is a time that Pan, the Nymphs, and many other nature spirits played and danced at Mid-Summer. So for those that have a Hellenic hearth culture this would be a great time to devote a Summer Solstice ritual to the god Pan and all the nature springs helping to create connections with the Kindreds.

            In the end, Summer Solstice marks the passing of time and the great cycles of life that call to us from deep within our souls. No matter what culture you are from there is always meaning that can be found within the turning of the wheels of the year.

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