The Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, occurs this year on June 21st. Day light will be at its longest and summer, as the ancients saw it, will be half-way through. The energy of the season will be at its peak (Ellison, 176). Many modern Pagans refer to the holiday as Litha and feel that the sun, having reached its apex, diminishes in power to be reborn at Yule. The solstice did not have the importance to the Celts that Beltaine did. In fact, it seemed to be more important to the Norse. Midsummer was “sacred to the Norse God Balder the beautiful, and to Thor, God of thunder and protector from giants, and his consort Sif, she of the ‘golden hair’” (177).
Although not as sacred, the solstice was still marked as a significant time to the Celts. The energy of the sun was noted, and various solar symbols would occur throughout the land usually in the form of bonfires. Cornwall, for instance, was dotted with bonfires that were danced around and jumped over (Freeman, 170). In Wales, the tradition of rolling a flaming wheel down a hill was developed. According to custom, “if the flames went out [before reaching the bottom of the hill], there would be a poor harvest ahead, but if it continued to burn vigorously, cheers broke out because this guaranteed an excellent yield” (171).
In Ireland, Midsummer gained otherworldly associations similar to Beltaine and Samhain. It was believed that the faery folk would join in the revelries and dance around bonfires atop hills. The Goddess Àine, sometimes considered to be a faery queen, is said to have appeared in County Limerick to celebrate this solar holiday (Freeman, 172).
Midsummer also has strong, herbal associations. According to Mara Freeman, “Midsummer was the traditional time to cull magical plants and healing herbs, which were at their most potent at this time of the year” (174). There was also the custom of creating “Airmid’s mantel” – “a large piece of cloth with the outline of a human body stitched on it. On this outline are placed pictures of the herbs that are beneficial for each part of the body” (Ellison 179). This tradition is derived from the story of Airmid’s cloak, and the murder of Míach.
Unlike his father, Dían Cécht (a physician God), Míach was able to heal Núada. Núada’s hand had been cut off in battle and needed a replacement in order to lead the Tuatha Dé Danann. Dían Cécht grew so jealous and furious with his healer son’s success that he killed Míach. Míach’s sister, Airmid, discovered that from out of Míach’s grave every herb known to man grew. She harvested and separated them on her cloak according to their uses. Dían Cécht, ever the proud and jealous healer, mixed the herbs, confusing the meanings Airmid had given to them (Freeman, 178).
I look forward to celebrating the Summer Solstice, though perhaps not as much as I looked forward to Beltaine since the Pagan community, as a whole, fills May with so much festivity. Midsummer is a time for faeries and enjoying the season at its peak. The flowers are blooming and there is green everywhere. When I think of nature spirits, I think of them as predominantly spring and summer beings. I do imagine there being autumn and winter nature spirits too, but I don’t feel that they are as abundant, reflecting the state of life during those seasons. During summer, however, I imagine every plant having at least one nature spirit out protecting it and even dancing around it at times. That belief easily segues into the story about Airmid and herbs. It is a time of year when the plant life, as well as the sun, is at its peak. The flowers are just beginning to bloom, many of the herbs are ready to be harvested, and crops are starting to bulge with veggies and fruits. The summer solstice is a time to celebrate nature and its abundance.
When I start a family, I hope to teach my children to look for signs of summer. . June has always been associated with roses. When mum’s rose bushes start to bud, they should know that the summer solstice is upon us. I would also like to take special time during this holiday to teach any children I have about herbs and their various properties. What better time than when the children can help me harvest and learn the herbs through touch, feel, smell, and taste?
The Summer Solstice is a special time of year – a time of solar power and an explosion of nature. It is sacred in that nature is ripening its offspring, and in that nature reflects the teachings of the Great Ones.
On Saturday June 23 2007, I went to Muin Mound Grove to celebrate the Summer Solstice. It was lead by Dennis Skinner, a Senior Druid. Various visitors and Folk of the Grove volunteered to fill in certain positions needed to complete the ritual. There were a large number of people who attended – I estimate over twenty!
The ritual began with a processional chant that we sung as we entered the nemeton. The place of worship was truly magical. Before we entered the nemeton, we could already see the glimmer of torch light through the trees. As we entered, we were sprinkled with water and purified with incense. We walked clockwise around the bonfire midst the grove of trees, chanting all the while.
Dennis had explained that the ritual would honor Norse deities, which was fine. I’m more in tune to Celtic deities, but I have Germanic ancestors and I’d never done anything Norse in ritual before. The ritual structure seemed to remain the same. The deities honored were Tyr and Sunna, a sun Goddess. The gate keeper was Heimdall.
The more I attend the grove, the more comfortable I become with the ritual. At first it seemed really formal, but I’m beginning to realize that there is a lot of room for spontaneity, improvisation, and personal expression – all things that are important to me in ritual. At the same time, I’m starting to appreciate a ritual structure. I realize the value of it in that it makes people feel comfortable as they know what to expect, it gives a plan to follow, and keeps everyone on the same page. I felt truly at home.
Some people who had never volunteered to take part in the ceremony were helping out. One man was making an offering to the ancestors. He mumbled that he had never done this before and seemed very nervous, but everyone was truly supportive of him. Others who have often stepped forward to welcome the Kindreds went through it easily, but it wasn’t scripted as I once thought. They said things that were very personal and, perhaps, spontaneous. There was feeling behind what they said, and the environment seemed to respond.
Though I still feel very new to the grove, I stepped forward with an offering of herbs I cut from my garden to dry three days before the ritual. The Solstice is associated with herbs, and I thought it appropriate. I hadn’t planned on what to say, but thanked the Kindreds for the beauty and life that filled my gardens.
The only part of the ritual that made everyone feel uncomfortable was when the Senior Druid’s cloak caught on fire for an instant. Phoenix, too, had been dangerously close to catching her cloak on fire. Luckily, Tyr, one of the patrons, was there to protect us.
The Senior Druid used runes to divine the sentiments of the Kindreds. I cannot remember the exact runes drawn, but it was all very positive, or in the form of advice. The ancestors told us that they are with us always, and the nature spirits warned us to take better care of the environment. I do know that, for the Gods, Tyr’s rune was drawn. It means justice.
Overall, I was very pleased and moved by the ritual. I felt very much a part of it and the energies at work. It is wonderful to be forming a bond with this community.