Sun reaches the peak of its powers at Midsummer, The Summer
Solstice, on approximately June 21. This is the longest day
of the year and the shortest night. Midsummer marks the turning
point of the year, the end of the Bright, the beginning of
the Dark. The Waning Year begins. Pliny the Elder, a Roman
naturalist who lived from 23-79 CE said of the Sun: "He
furnishes the world with light and removes darkness; he obscures
and he illuminates the rest of the stars; he regulates in accord
with nature’s precedent the changes of the seasons and
the continuous rebirth of the year; he dissipates the gloom
of heaven and even calms the storm clouds of the mind of man
movement of the Sun in it’s Cycle is all-important
to Pagans, as we practice the religion of Nature.
Festival, known as Litha in many Traditions of the Craft,
is called ‘Feill-Sheathain’ in Wales and the name ‘Alban
Hefin’, also used by some Craft Traditions, may be Pictish
in origin (connected to the 9th century kingdom of Alban, which
combined Scots and Picts). This was also the time of the Roman
Festival, Vestalia. The word solstice comes from the Latin
term ‘solstitium’, which translates into English
as ‘sun standing still’.
astrologically, the Sun enters Cancer, a Water sign. Primitives
believed that as the Sun set ‘into the sea’,
its flames were extinguished. In Ancient Egypt, the Midsummer
holiday marked the flooding of the Nile, and was celebrated
as the New Year. The festival was held in honor of Isis, the
Star of the Sea, the Lady of the Moon, Who Controls the Tides.
with the other festivals, with the coming of Christianity,
the Priests of the Church were unable to convince the people
to give up the old traditions, so they incorporated them into
their own practices. Midsummer is now known as St. John’s
Day or Johnsmas, the birthday of St. John, the Baptist. It
has been suggested that the reason this holiday was chosen
for St. John can be found in a biblical quote attributed to
him: "He must Increase, but I must Decrease," thus
associating John the Baptist with Decrease, i.e., the Waning
our own group, the color of Summer Solstice is gold, and
a golden time it is. The Sun’s rays at their peak radiate
and the world is bathed in a golden glow.
School is out, and the streets and parks are filled with children.
The highways abound with vacationers on their way to the beaches
and mountains. They are out to ‘beat the heat.’ Winter’s
icy chill is long forgotten and all are aware of the power
of the Sun, nearer now than at any other time.
customs and traditions associated with Midsummer are many
and varied. This is partly because, according to the climate
of the area, many of Beltane’s rites were performed at
about the time of the Solstice. For example, in Sweden, Germany
and even in some parts of Wales, the Maypole dance is performed
on June 23, and is called the Midsummer Tree or Midsummer Birch.
In Wales, the branches of the tree are cut and used to decorate
the pole. The dancing, beginning at noon on Midsummer Eve,
is said to have continued for nine days in ancient times.
popular book (and motion picture), ‘The Wicker Man’,
made many people familiar with the wicker giant burnt as a
Sacrifice. This was a fictional account of a Beltane rite,
however, according to Frazer (‘The Golden Bough’),
these giants were part and parcel of the Summer Solstice rites
of the Druids, Scots, English, French, Germans and Bohemians.
A member of our group, Joanna B., who has thoroughly researched
Celtic folklore, tells us that giants, in general, were associated
with Midsummer, as were dragons. In some places, whole families
of giant effigies were carried through the streets, and in
Norwich, England, the Tuesday before Midsummer is called Snap-Dragon
Day, and features a procession led by a giant dragon.
The Midsummer Sacrifice (the Sacred King who dies as the Sun
begins to wane)is a custom that was common to many cultures.
It is our theory that, in England and other places, the season
of the Sacrifice began on May 29, the holiday now known as
Whitsun. There is much evidence to be found amongst the graffiti
in English churches that the Whitsun King became the Sacrifice
can be expected at this festival, since this is the day of
the Sun’s highest energy, and from now on His
Power will wane. Fires were lit both as a tribute to the Sun
and as a contribution by the people of the energy from their
own fires, to keep the Sun’s fire burning longer. Wheels,
representing the Sun, were traditionally sent flaming downhill
at Summer Solstice, showing the decline of the Sun’s
rays in the months to come. It was said that if the Wheel kept
burning all the way down, there would be an abundant harvest,
but if the fire went out, the crops would fail. This is still
done on St. John’s Day in many parts of the world and,
at least from one part of Yorkshire, we have first hand testimony
that it is an accepted part of today’s Midsummer celebration!
The all-night vigil was common to many cultures at Midsummer.
Some were observing the stars, as in the Egyptian temples,
but there were many other, more personal, reasons. In the British
Isles, it was believed that the spirits of those who would
die within the year could be seen walking abroad on Midsummer
Eve. Many people would stay awake all night to prevent their
souls from wandering. It was also a night for unmarried women
to keep vigil, hoping to be visited by the spirits of their
at the Winter Solstice, the ‘Golden Bough’,
mistletoe, is sacred at Summer Solstice, when it is in bloom.
The Druids gathered the Golden Bough on Midsummer Eve, cutting
it with a golden scythe, and catching it in a cloth, never
allowing it to touch the ground. They believed that mistletoe
could open all locks, cure all ills, and was a lightning conductor.
In Sweden, mistletoe is believed to be possessed of mystical
qualities and, in Wales, a sprig of mistletoe gathered on Midsummer
Eve and placed under the pillow is said to bring prophetic
dreams. This is seen as the second of the three ‘Spirit
Nights’ and is a good time for all forms of divination.
Mugwort is sacred at this time and vervain (and as a later
addition, St. John’s Wort). It is traditional to burn
nine different herbs in the midsummer fires. The herbs burned
are mugwort, plantain, watercress, cock-spur grass, mayweed,
stinging nettle, apple, thyme and fennel. Nine are burned because
nine represents a cycle of completion.
lovely and unusual custom, practiced in South America and
in Austria on the Danube River, is the ‘burning boat’ or ‘candle
boat’. These paper boats are filled with flowers, set
afire and sailed off on the ocean or river, to carry prayers
to the Goddess. The strangest thing about the ‘candle
boat’ is that the custom should appear in two places
so far separate, with no explanation or connection. If you
are near a body of water, this would be a wonderful addition
to your own Midsummer festivities.
We were given the following information when we called the
Public Library research department, regarding Summer Solstice.
The interpretations that accompany the chant were given us
along with it:
‘The Witches in West Cornwall, England, were said (by
the Christians, we will assume) to ‘renew their pact
with the Devil’ on Midsummer Eve, at Midnight. They would
circle seven times around the fire, holding hands and chanting:
is gold -- (nature’s first green is now gold)
Fire is wet -- (candle boats sailed)
Fortunes told -- (fortunes cast)
Dragon’s met! -- (St. George)
would then separate at one point (the rest still holding
hands), and begin a Sunwise spiral dance.’
found this particularly interesting because the ‘candle
boats sailed’ indicates yet another area where this tradition
was observed, but ‘green is gold’ probably refers
to the mistletoe, which is gold at Midsummer, and it is doubtful
that St. George had anything to do with ‘dragons met’,
considering the giant dragons we mentioned earlier. The chant
and dance are fun, though, and well worth trying. Speaking
of Midsummer dancing, it was also believed that skeletons rose
up from the roots of oak trees and danced around them at the
moment of the Summer Solstice!
the way, Summer Solstice is still observed publicly by modern
English Druids, both at Boadicca’s Tomb, Parliament
Hills, London, and at Stonehenge. All night vigils take place
on both sites, and at Stonehenge, there is a second celebration
is not forgotten in today’s world, although
it may be called by a different name. The bonfires are lit,
vigils kept, cartwheels sent blazing down hills. Candle boats
are sailed in Brazil and in Florida, as well as on the Danube.
When you light your fire and stay up throughout the night,
you are celebrating in the way our ancestors did. Have a wonderful
Midsummer and Blessed Be, followers of The Old Ways!