Solstice is coming soon, arriving on June 21st as Summer Solstice north of the equator and Winter Solstice south of the equator. How do you celebrate Solstice?
My celebrations for solstice have evolved over the years. I initially honoured the beginning of solstice season with rituals and traditions similar to that of my ancestors (although our lifestyles are very different!). But those traditions of our ancestors were not static. They evolved as their society evolved, as new influences or new beliefs emerged. I soon begann to realize that my practices must also reflect my contemporary beliefs, and elements of my locale. So, I began to create my own traditions.
For me the best and most meaningful rituals continue to be ones that come from our heart and also reflect the spirit or intention of those original celebrations, connecting people to the land, sea and sky.
I like to think of this time as an Inner Soul-Stice for each of us, as we explore how our inner world and outer world coexist and align at Solstice.
The Energy and Magic of Solstice
We have very many names for the Summer Solstice — including MidSummer, Grianstad an tSamhraidh, Samhradh, Alban Hefin, Litha and more — but all celebrate the longest day of the year, the tipping point from waxing-to-waning (and vice versa at the Winter Solstice), and the bursting forth of growth and abundance and creativity.
In our contemporary Western world, this day also marks the astronomical first day of Summer.
The Summer Solstice honours and celebrates the Fire element, growth and self-empowerment and the Sun / Divine Masculine within us. That definitely feels like a Third / Solar Plexus Chakra connection to me!
From this point, the Sun begins its waning cycle, the days get slightly shorter (outside of the equatorial regions). Here in the northern temperate regions, we will soon experience the first harvests of Autumn, such as grains, as we move along the spiral in our own evolution (and revolution!) in the cycle of our life’s journey.
For my Celtic and English ancestors, Solstice was celebrated as MidSummer, as for them Summer began at Bealtaine (aka Beltane) and continued until the First Harvest of Lúnasa (also the word for August in Irish and also known as Lughnasadh and Lammas).
On this glorious Solstice day, we celebrate and honour the gods and goddesses of the Tuatha Dé Danann associated with Summer such as An Daghda (dag-dah) and Áine (aw-nyuh), Father Sun and goddess from other traditions such as Gaia and Demeter. The Mother Goddesses of all cultures are associated with this peak of Summer and Fire energy.
There are many ways to celebrate the Summer Solstice, either with traditional practices or with new traditions that you create.
History, Lore and Traditions
Like many of the land-based festivals in Celtic traditions, the Solstice / MidSummer celebrations were often centred on the health and sustainability of the land itself such as safeguarding the health of the livestock and ensuring the abundance of the crops. By MidSummer the crops would be flourishing, the livestock would be fattening on summer meadow grasses and hopefully the milk would be flowing. The first harvest would be mere weeks away, at Lúnasa (August, in Irish), when the grains (such as corn, wheat, oats, barley and rye) had ripened reading for cutting and milling into flour.
In an agrarian cultures, MidSummer also marked perhaps the busiest time of year. The long days of sunshine also meant more time to tend the crops, do repairs in the home and paddocks, build new shelters and homes, and till and nurture the fields. A day or two celebrating MidSummer with bonfires and other festivities was likely a welcome break in those small communities before the hard work of bringing in the crops began.
And it was possibly still a time of hunger, as the previous year’s year’s crops may already have been consumed. In his book The Year in Ireland (click to read free on archive.org), Kevin Danaher devotes an entire chapter to “Hungry July”, (Irish Iúl an Ghorta), suggesting that the MidSummer celebrations were a time of hope and optimism as new crops were close to harvest.
Solstice and The Sídhe
Summer Solstice (and MidSummer’s Eve particularly) is a magickal time, and was known as a Spirit Time. Once again the veil is thinnest between the Otherworlds and our world, like at Samhain and Bealtaine. It is a time for the Sídhe (pronounced “shee”), Si or Sídeog in Ireland— aka the Fae, Fey, Faeries, Fairies, Good Fellows, Tylwyth Teg(Wales), Fair Family, the Daoine Síth (Scotland), the Ferrish (Manx), Pobel Vyghan(Cornish), the Gentry, the People of Peace or Themselves — come out to play and frolic in our world. You may recall Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the humans and the Fae had some remarkable adventures! And I love that my Celtic ancestors had many festivals celebrating the Sídhe!
There are so many names for the"other folk" (and many varieties such as Leprechauns, Ban Sídhe, Púcas). So, of course, the question always arises: "How do you address a faery?" Known as tricksters, the correct answer is always "With great respect!"
Duchas, the National Folklore Collection of Irish lore, has some interesting tales on how the Sídhe acted at MidSummer. Here is one that tells of their pranks, tricks and general bad behaviour:
One midsummer night about thirty years ago a man called Paddy O’Hara was coming down the flags on Dalkey Hill. He heard music coming from the next field. He went in to the field and listened to the music. He saw a white ring in the grass in the grass with fairies with dancing around it. When they saw him they beat him with rocks and sticks. The next morning he was found half dead in the field. The fairy ring was gone. SOURCE
Perhaps this is why torches were lit to greet the Sídhe or, more likely, to scare them off and provide a little distance from these mischievous folk.
Solstice is strongly associated with the healing powers of the “good folk”, and their knowledge of herbs, magic and spells. In ancient legends throughout the Celtic lands in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall, it was believed that human faerie doctors could diagnose ailments caused by the Sídhe (often known as tricksters!) and would provide a suitable healing.
The skills of the faery doctors often overlapped with the herbalist traditions of Wise Women and Wise Men who were knowledgeable in herbal remedies. It was believed many had learned the healing secrets of the Sídhe by spending time in the Otherworld, either taken there/kidnapped by the Faeries or experiencing the Otherworld through a sickness which opened up the veil between the worlds and allowed them to experience that other realm. Their time in the Otherworld both healed them and transformed them. I find it very interesting that many cultures describe the near-death experience as an initiatory experience into shamanism.
At Solstice, bonfires were also built to celebrate the Sun —to ask Father Sun to stay just a little longer before turning once again towards Autumn and Winter — and for the goddess Áine (also known as the Fairy Queen) who is strongly associated with County Limerick. The hill of Knockainey (Irish Cnoc Áine) is named for her, and celebrations in her honour were common until the late 19th century (and are being revived by many now).
In 14th century Shropshire, England, the MidSummer tradition included three different kinds of fires:
“In the worship of St John, men waken at even, and maken three manner of fires: one is clean bones; another is of clean wood and no bones, and is called a wakefire, for men sitteth and wake by it; the third is made of bones and wood, and is called St John’s fire.’ The stench of the burning bones…was thought to drive away dragons.”(Source: Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun, 1996, p 312.)
The term Litha for the Summer Solstice is a more recent practice, more common in Neo-Pagan and Wiccan practices. There is evidence from the Venerable Bede (672-735 A.D., the English chronicler-priest who wrote on culture, society, history, grammar, chronology, and biblical studies) that Litha was the Old English name for the month before/after Solstice.
In many cultures, MidSummer was (and still is) a time to honour and celebrate the grain, corn and mother goddesses such Ceres, Demeter, Gaia, Hestia. Each was a manifestation of the Great Creatrix, celebrating the Womb of Mama Earth, and the peak of Summer and Fire energy. Some call this the Festival of Attainment. In the Woman’s Wheel of Life, this is the manifestation of The Mother archetype where, like Mama Earth, we step into our own abundance, fertility, creativity and mastery.
In earth-based spiritualities such as those celebrated as Neo-Pagan or Druid, for instance, MidSummer marks the meeting of the Holly King (ruler of the Waning half of the year) and the Oak King (ruler of the Waxing half of the year). Meeting is perhaps too mild a word — it was a neverending battle for seasonal supremacy. At Summer Solstice, the Holly King challenges the Oak King for supremacy, and rules until MidWinter. At Winter Solstice, the Oak King returns and conquers the Holly King. Read more about that battle and lore here.
Create your own Solstice Celebrations
The legends and lore shared above are rooted in Celtic and northern European spirituality. But those traditions may not be indigenous to your family history or to your current locale.
Strengthen your connection with Solstice by researching your locale and/or your family history (or DNA), exploring the spiritual or cultural history, asking and exploring questions such as:
- What are the indigenous or local traditions celebrating the start of Summer?
- Who are the gods and goddesses associated with the peak of Summer?
- What rituals or celebrations were or are practised?
- What herbs, plants and/or trees were used or honoured?
- What foods and drinks were traditionally consumed at those celebrations?
From what you have learned in your explorations, what new ritual or tradition can you now begin?
For those interested in traditional celebrations throughout the year, I recommend Kevin Danaher’s “The Year in Ireland”, published in 1994. This book can be bought on-line, and can also be read online at Archive.org. You may view without a membership (which is free, so a good investment) at this link: https://archive.org/details/yearinireland00kevi/mode/2up
I also recommend Mara Freeman’s Kindling the Celtic Spirit, published in 2000.
And do check out our previous post, Celebrate Solstice with a Candle Circle Ritual.
Featured image in header: “Firedance” by Julia C. Gray, painter and ceramicist